Science Careers 2014: The year’s best stories


2014 was a mixed year for careers in the sciences. Federal spending on research stayed flat or worse, at least in the United States, forcing paylines down, likely to record lows. The economy was better though, allowing some private philanthropies to take up some of the slack. And that improving economy led to somewhat better job prospects for scientists in industry but not so much as to change the complexion of hiring overall: It remained an employer’s market, with many job-seekers taking what they could get and being happy to have it.

While the job market for Ph.D.-level scientists continued to be poor, recognition of the problem reached a new high, with an influential paper out in April, a meeting organized by Boston-area postdocs in October, and an important new report from the National Academies in December. Policymakers still can’t agree on how (or whether) to address it, but widespread recognition of young scientists’ plight is welcome progress.

At Science Careers, we kept doing what we’re best at: covering career-related news, talking to scientists young and old (and in-between), telling their stories, and passing along their best advice about how to manage a career in science. Here are some of the best stories we published this year, as determined by editors and readers.

Paying graduate school’s mental toll Carrie Arnold, 4 February Many science graduate students are overworked, overwhelmed, and struggling psychologically—but there are ways to get help and to help themselves.

Spelling, grammar, and scientific publishing Jim Austin, 12 February In the era of rapid online publishing, scientists can no longer assume that editors will catch their casual mistakes.

How I learned to stop worrying and love meeting people Melissa D. Vaught, 12 March A networking-averse young scientist learns not just to tolerate but to enjoy and value meeting people and establishing new networks.

Scarcity breeds opportunity Trisha Gura, 03 April Science done with serious resource constraints can be more varied, open, and passionate than ordinary science.

Another call to reform biomedical research and training Beryl Benderly, Jim Austin, 14 April Four prominent scientist-administrators call on policymakers to reform a system that discourages “even the most outstanding prospective students from entering our profession.”

Our readers voted with their fingers for their favorites among this year’s articles, clicking on these more often than all the others.

Facilitating feedback David Jensen, 15 May Feedback can help you improve your day job and your interviewing skills.

Forgive me, scientists, for I have sinned Adam Ruben, 20 May To be a proper scientist, is it necessary to conform to the standard template?

Breaking the class ceiling Elisabeth Pain, 22 May Working-class students and faculty face disadvantages, but mentoring and resilience can help them through.

Winter is coming Christina Reed, 27 May Meteorologist Elena Stautzebach will spend more than a year at the German research base Neumayer-Station III, in Antarctica.

Want to be a PI? What are the odds? John Bohannon, 02 June Using an analysis from a new paper, we built an app that predicts the probability that you’ll become a principal investigator someday.

Tim Hunt Elisabeth Pain, 12 June Hard work, early independence, and playfulness were instrumental in Nobel laureate Tim Hunt’s success.

What’s your science degree worth?  Jim Austin, 25 June Yes, a new study says, going to college does make financial sense—especially if you major in a STEM field (or business).

Tell the negative committee to shut up Fanuel Muindi, 17 July An MIT postdoc tells the negative committee to sit down and shut up.

The stressed-out postdoc Carrie Arnold, 28 July The postdoc period is stressful, but there are some things postdocs can do to stay healthy and focused.

International scholars: Suffering in silence  Erica Westly, 18 August Visa anxieties and communication barriers can keep international researchers from speaking up about workplace conflicts and other problems.

When women have it all Jyoti Mishra, 27 August A young faculty member argues that it is, indeed, possible for a woman (or a man) to ‘have it all.’

Managing a lab move Rachel Bernstein, 23 September When a professor moves to a new institution, there’s a lot to consider beyond the physical move.

The long harm of the law Adam Ruben, 25 September For some nutty reason, scientists sometimes become lawyers.

The articles below were among the most popular stories in 2014, even though they were published before the year started—in some cases, long before. Jim Austin, 26 July 2002 Peter Fiske, 18 October 1996 Michael Price, 18 November 2011 David Jensen, 21 June 2002 David Jensen, 10 July 1998

Life inspires clinical applications Sharon Ann Holgate, 07 October His life partner’s illness led fundamental chemist David Smith to change his research focus.

Building the Bionic Woman Ayanna Howard, 09 October Ayanna Howard is a rarity: an African-American woman with an endowed engineering faculty chair at a major research university. Here’s how she rocked it.

Overqualified or underqualified? Carrie Arnold, 14 October Scientists with Ph.D.s are finding themselves overqualified for certain jobs—but also lacking important skills for others.

Nothing but networking Adam Ruben, 23 October The worst part of networking, our columnist says, is that it feels like spending time marketing yourself in lieu of doing science.

Postdocs speak up Beryl Lieff Benderly, 05 November As many senior scientists dither and protect the status quo, postdocs organize a conference to take matters into their own hands.

Is academic science sexist? Rachel Bernstein, 06 November A controversial study argues that women who pursue math-intensive academic careers are just as likely to succeed as men.

Ask Alice: Don’t waste my time Alice Huang, 15 December Help! My adviser wants me to work on her half-baked pet project instead of my good one!

Yes, you can attend that career event, says the U.S. government Rachel Bernstein, 17 December A policy clarification from the Office of Management and Budget says that graduate students and postdocs are entitled to explore a variety of training opportunities. Will your adviser agree?

These are the most popular career articles published by the /AAAS Custom Publishing Office during 2014. Virginia Gewin, 17 October For the companies identified in the 2014  Careers Top Employer Survey, innovation and keeping employees engaged and excited about their research are top priorities. Alaina Levine, 13 June Big data is pouring out of life sciences research, creating ample opportunities for scientists with computer science expertise. Kendall Powell, 22 August Now more than ever, postdocs need a broad range of beyond-the-bench skills to stay competitive. Chris Tachibana, 28 February Online networking tools offer postdocs new ways to make connections, exchange scientific ideas, and advance their career. Gunjan Sinha, 28 March To land a job in any emerging area of cancer research, interdisciplinary training is becoming increasingly important.

UK Royal Society: Universities must be honest with grad students

Help me change my field