Tag Archives: Careers


Internships Boost Postdocs’ Skills, Worldliness, and Marketability

20131021_LLaursenPostdocInternship_KellyAndringa_160x160When Kelly Andringa began to get calls from faculty anxious about their paperwork, she wondered whether she’d done her assignment right. As a 2-days-a-week intern on the conflict-of-interest review board at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), she had written a Web-based tutorial explaining to faculty how to properly fill out compliance forms. Her main job, however, was as a postdoc in environmental health at the same university; administration was new to her. But, as more calls came in, Andringa realized that the concerns of most of those faculty members were unwarranted: They had completed the forms correctly. “I was quite proud,” she recalls. “I felt good about communicating it well.”

Andringa is one of a small but growing cohort of scientists who take time off from postdocs to complete internships outside of academia. In its latest survey of postdocs, Vitae, an organization based in Cambridge that supports the career development of U.K. research staff, found that 9% of respondents have done placements or internships outside of academia, up from 5% just 2 years earlier. Andringa’s internship helped her get a job in her desired field: After finishing her postdoc in the winter of 2009, she first took a program management job at UAB before moving to her present grant administration job there.

Many postdocs use internships, as Andringa did, as bridges to jobs outside research, but some continue on as researchers and are better rounded for it, says David Taylor, who, after doing a postdoc at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), completed an internship in the hospital’s administration department. His internship, too, led to a job: Taylor now facilitates internships for CHOP’s current postdocs. Whether you leave research or stay in, internships can give postdocs a chance to look at their academic work with outsiders’ eyes and position themselves better to move forward in their careers.

Applying skills to new sectors

Physiologist Sara Borniquel of the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden, is not yet sure what she will do when her postdoc is over, but she is ready to leave academia. A couple of years ago, Borniquel attended a seminar on internships for postdocs offered by the KI careers office. The Spanish native recalls reasoning, “I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years and this seems like a good opportunity to widen my knowledge and learn a bit more about Sweden.” Borniquel has since done two 3-month internships, one at Karolinska Institutet Innovations AB and the other at Stockholm-Uppsala Life Science. “I learned that I’m not just a scientist. I have another area of knowledge, other skills, which I can apply in other areas.” She now feels comfortable interviewing experts and preparing market-research reports.

Vitae development director Alison Mitchell, says that companies see internships as “an opportunity to have some innovation, new solutions, new resources, and increase their visibility and relationship with the university—and also recruit new talent.” Postdocs offer more experience and specialized skills than doctoral students and undergraduates do, and are closer to the job market, she says.

Internships are a good way to get your foot in the door. “We do give a preference for individuals who have been an intern at IBM,” says Jim Spohrer, who is the director of IBM’s global university programs in San Jose, California. This is because such applicants know the IBM culture and the company has a good idea of how they will perform. Altogether, IBM’s worldwide research labs host between 350 and 400 interns per year. It isn’t clear what proportion of interns become IBM employees, but three of the 10 advanced-degreed participants in IBM’s Zurich and Haifa-based Great Minds program are now IBM employees, says IBM communications manager Chris Sciacca.

According to Spohrer, postdocs are more likely than doctoral students to match the company’s ideal employee hiring profile: a so-called “T-shaped” professional, with both depth of training in one area and a breadth of experience, such as having worked in different countries or having both scientific and business skills. While an internship may or may not lead directly to a job, it can still make you more employable.

What will my principal investigator (PI) say?

Andringa, who knew from the start of her postdoc that she might not want to become an academic researcher, made sure to tell her supervisor of her intentions during her first interview so that there were no surprises later. That made things easier for her, but many postdocs may not start looking around at other opportunities until after they’ve taken up their posts. For them, an early step toward pursuing an internship should be a conversation with their PI.

It can be a tough sell. Postdoc advisers generally expect their postdocs to spend most of their time doing their research, leading to new insights and publications. Why should they allow key lab personnel to go off and do an internship?

One thing postdocs can do to convince their PIs is offer to keep the research going. During her 3-month internship, Andringa was away from the lab just 2 days each week. Borniquel did two 3-month internships, both full-time, but she had two advantages: She received funding for her internships from the KI careers office, which helped compensate her supervisor for her time away, and her supervisor was “pretty open.” Even so, she offered to work some weekends. At one time CHOP compensated PIs for postdocs’ time away, Taylor says, but due to budget cuts the program’s administrators now make all their internships part-time so that they’re less disruptive.

Another way to convince your PI, Mitchell suggests, is to offer to extend the postdoc to make up for the time you’ll be missing. “It’s got to be done in an appropriate way so they’re still making progress on their postdoctoral research,” Spohrer says.

But, while it’s important to reassure PIs they are not going to lose their workers (at least not completely), postdocs can also make a case that their exposure to new work environments is a benefit to PIs. An internship can, for example, bring new ways of thinking into the lab, Mitchell says. Taylor adds that, given the current job market, many academic supervisors understand the need to place their postdocs in nonresearch posts. “I think that reflects to an extent the way the biomedical community is going,” with researchers ending up in a wider variety of jobs, Taylor says.

Finally, both the postdoc and the PI must ensure that the resulting arrangement satisfies the requirements of the contract with the research’s funders.

So, how do I do it?

When Borniquel went searching for internships, a career office identified interested companies and agencies. Andringa’s university had a similar program. Postdocs who don’t have access to such programs can start by identifying people in their network who could help them find a placement. “Very often it’s [after] talking within academia that the opportunities arise,” Mitchell says.

Postdocs should choose their internship with care, aiming to maximize the career benefits of their time away from research. CHOP interns spend a month exploring possible projects and then 5 months carrying them out, Taylor says. Even if a researcher has identified a target company, they should research that company and find out what projects are afoot and whom within the company they might work with, and come to the interview with questions, Spohrer says.

Finding a placement is only the beginning. Spohrer advises that postdocs maintain an inquisitive attitude throughout their internships. The researchers who get the most out of their placements at IBM attend colloquia, shadow a range of colleagues, and seek out mentors, he says.

Structure can make the experience more valuable, says Mitchell; she recommends a discussion ahead of time about what the various parties are expecting from the internship and a final review at the end. Taylor’s internship was capped with a presentation, which he says is a good way to take stock of what you’ve learned.

An internship is an opportunity for postdocs to broaden their experience and outlook. “It made me more aware of what was out there,” Andringa says. As a result of the internship, her professional network, credentials, and job opportunities expanded. And when the time came to apply for a job, people in the administration office where she worked could vouch for her understanding of administrators’ roles at the university.

“Everybody going through the program has the opportunity to find a new niche,” Taylor says. “Even if they’ve stayed in research, they’ve found it very positive.”

First published by Science Careers [html] [pdf]

Asking the Public for Money

Postdoctoral research fellow David Kipping has often seen other astronomers don smart jackets when attending meetings or giving presentations, especially when they knew that funding powers-that-be would also be there. So before heading to one of his science presentations last year, Kipping pulled on a smart jacket. His next moves, however, were less conventional. He climbed the stairs to the roof of the Perkins building at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, pointed his laptop’s video camera at himself and, with the center’s 9-inch Clark telescope dome in the background, made a science sales pitch directly to the public. The video, which appears on YouTube and on the science crowd-funding Web site Petridish.org, raised $12,247. The pitch was to buy and install a small supercomputer, which he would name for the biggest donor, to speed up data processing on a search for moons in other solar systems.

Direct public funding of science in return for recognition is nothing new: A century ago Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton named dogs on one of his expeditions for the British schools that helped pay for it. He also named a lifeboat for his biggest donor. Today’s online platforms like Petridish.org, however, may be more efficient than Shackleton’s fundraising, which took him 2 years. Kipping secured his funding during a 30-day campaign and got the check within weeks of completion. For now, the amounts of cash raised this way remain small—Kipping’s funding is typical for online science-funding campaigns. But it is extra money for scientists strapped for funds, provided they know how to navigate the opportunities and pitfalls.

What is crowd-funding?

Scientists using crowd-funding sites put together an online profile describing their project, their target amount, and the rewards they are willing to offer to donors. Some sites allow anyone to initiate campaigns, but others sift through scientific proposals and try to screen out those which do not have academic affiliations or are obvious quackery. Some offer advice and promotion.

Then the countdown, often from 30 to 90 days, begins. If, during that time, donors pledge to meet the target amount, the site charges the pledgers and passes along the money, minus an 8% to 10% commission, to the proposer, who then begins making good on the rewards and research. In order to encourage accurate goal-setting, some sites also allow researchers to collect donations that fall short of their target, but at a higher commission.

“It’s outside the standard procedure of funding that we learn as graduate students,” Kipping says. He did not have to go through a traditional funding body, such as NASA, which funds his salary and an annual research supplement, nor did his proposal encounter expert peer review. But he did engage in a monthlong, online question-and-answer process with potential public funders. Kipping says they asked “really smart questions, … particularly on the computing side,” challenging, for example, his plan to use clusters rather than distributed computing. While he did not change his supercomputer’s design as a result of those questions, he says he could imagine doing so given a good idea.

Current success rates are hard to estimate. Petridish.org co-founder Matt Salzberg claims that about 80% of the campaigns the company has selected and promoted since its launch in March have met their funding goals. RocketHub and Kickstarter report rates in the 30% to 40% range, depending on the category. But in all cases in science, “We’re talking about a tiny amount of money,” says astronomer Giovanna Tinetti, who co-supervised Kipping’s Ph.D. research at University College London. For now, Petridish.org advises scientists to aim for $10,000 to $50,000.

An emerging platform

Online crowd-funding is still in its infancy, especially in science. Some researchers are concerned that the crowd-funding process could allow weaker proposals to win funding because it bypasses peer review. In a blog post last year, biomedical researcher Matthew Hirschey of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, also questioned whether crowd-funding was an efficient use of a scientist’s fundraising time and whether it was a sustainable funding mechanism.

But users say crowd-funding is earning a place in the current funding landscape. The money Kipping obtained through crowd-funding allows him to speed up an ongoing project for which he already had funding from NASA. Crowd-funding can also allow researchers to meet needs unmet by conventional funding sources. Researchers sometimes need only small amounts of money, but today’s funding structure is such that “it’s paradoxically sometimes harder to get smaller amounts of funding” than it is to obtain the funds to run an entire laboratory, paleontologist Alton Dooley says. Dooley, a curator at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, was able to raise $4000 through Petridish.org for fieldwork to save fossil whales in Virginia. Kipping says that crowd-funding can also be a way to pilot ideas that might later be developed into full-fledged grant proposals to more traditional funders. “Because [crowd-funding] is funding small projects, it’s got its own niche,” he says.

Winning over the crowd

What you first need for successful crowd-funding is a clearly defined project, says ornithologist Thomas Hart of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. When using RocketHub to fund a prototype penguin-monitoring Web cam, Hart found that the public likes it when “you have a clear, defined” goal, he says. The ability to communicate your project in a clear, concise, and compelling way is also paramount. And not only in the written form: Kickstarter, for example, tells campaigners that projects with videos succeed about 50% of the time while those without only achieve 30% success.

Perks count, too. Filmmaker Lucas McNelly, who keeps statistics and sometimes consults on crowd-funding campaigns, found that filmmakers tend to get the most donations in exchange for a DVD of their film, regardless of where it is on the donation scale. Scientists need to think of what perks will have a similar, irresistible appeal, he says. In addition to naming the computer for the biggest donor, Kipping will also sign artists’ renditions of exomoons or name donors in the acknowledgement section of future papers. Dooley promised his Petridish.org donors casts of fossil bones from the excavation.

Whatever perks campaigners decide to offer, they should understand that crowd-funding efforts are not strict market transactions but rather are based on personal relationships. The first donors are often members of the scientist’s network, with unknown members of the public joining in when the project gains momentum. As a potential funder, McNelly says, “I’d want to get to know the people doing this work so that I could root for them to accomplish whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish.” Kipping says that responding to the public’s queries during the campaign took about the same amount of time he spends checking his e-mail every morning. Donors often expect the relationship to keep going during and after the project. Dooley will use his existing blog to keep in touch with donors during the fieldwork and afterward when he’s analyzing his data.

Navigating the crowd

If cultivating relationships with donors is novel to many scientists, so is releasing their research ideas to the public before peer-reviewed publication—and formal acknowledgement of who came first. Those with patentable ideas may also wonder how much they can give away without losing control of their intellectual property (IP). “There is actually historical precedent to warrant such caution,” Kipping says. The dangers are not the same for all scientists, however. “In our case, the idea of looking for an exomoon is something many groups are trying to accomplish and it is widely known we are one of the teams leading this effort, so I had no concerns about discussing this plan with the public, too,” Kipping adds. Being scooped is also “perhaps of less concern in a field such as paleontology, where the results are often tied to particular specimens or locations,” Dooley adds.

Another crowd-funding platform, FundaGeek, offers campaigners the ability to restrict the visibility of their campaign to registered potential donors who have agreed to a non-disclosure statement. They also offer an IP guide. Researchers considering weighing how much to share ahead of publication can also look to the Open Science movement for useful discussions and guidance.

Researchers can also seek legal and logistical help from their institutions. Universities and museums, for instance, have a long tradition of raising money from crowds, even if their platforms predate the Internet. Dooley says he consulted his museum’s marketing department, which promoted his project via its Twitter and Facebook accounts. Other universities have promoted campaigns by their researchers to attract press attention and online donors. Harvard University helped Kipping administer his crowd-sourced funding as a gift rather than a grant so he would not have to pay high overhead fees.

But crowd-funding is so new that some universities and institutions may be less prepared to support their researchers in getting crowd-funding. They may be unsure how to handle money generated through crowd-funding, or worry that crowd-funding might interfere with their own fundraising campaigns, wrote ecologist Jai Ranganathan of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a post. In 2011, Ranganathan co-founded the #SciFund Challenge using the general-purpose crowd-funding site RocketHub as an experiment to test whether scientists can use crowd-funding to support their research. Ranganathan advises scientists to contact their university administrators early on to smooth the way.

Because crowd-funding bypasses some of the traditional gatekeepers and shrinks the distance between researchers and the public, it warrants care. But the users Science Careers reached report no criticism from their institutions or peers. Kipping’s colleagues encouraged him to pursue the campaign when he discussed it with them, and Dooley’s institution adopted a “let us know how it goes” attitude, he says. After trying it, the crowd-funded scientists found no downsides, and they praised the easy application process, short turnaround time, and extra money. “If the science is good then it’s always good when it’s funded,” Tinetti says.

First published by Science Careers [html] [pdf]


Grant applications: Find me the money

The e-mails were arriving in Pete Kissinger’s inbox almost every day: “TODAY ONLY: Extra 25% Off … Craft your R01 Grants Management … Only 1 Day Left.” They were from consultants trying to charge him to do something that scientists have long done for themselves: search for research-grant opportunities, write proposals and, in some cases, manage the grant once it has been won. Eventually, Kissinger’s curiosity got the better of him.

Having founded his first company in the 1970s, Kissinger, an entrepreneur and bioanalytical chemist who works part-time at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is no stranger to the challenges of raising start-up capital and research money. But he says that it is harder to get funding now than when he began. For one thing, the paperwork is more onerous. “And that’s not really the thing most of us in science enjoy doing,” he says. So about 18 months ago, when he needed money to develop a device for sampling blood to speed up clinical diagnoses, Kissinger hired FreeMind, a funding consultancy with offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Jerusalem. He is waiting for decisions on two applications that he made last year with their help, and on another that was put together in March.

Types of funding finder range from services offering online information packs that cost a few hundred dollars to consulting firms such as FreeMind, which can charge up to 10% of the grant total. In return, they offer familiarity with the applications process and established relationships with the programme officers and businesses that are offering the funds. Nothing stops a scientist from going directly to the US National Science Foundation for funding information, notes Ram May-Ron, vice-president of FreeMind. “We don’t claim to have any special powers, but we have lots of experience.”

Consultants say that they can help to highlight and emphasize the aspects of a proposal that increase the chances of funding. “It’s not just about how you raise money, it’s about how to direct what you’re doing in a fashion that will extract the social, medical and financial value of it,” says Mark Goldstein, chief scientific officer of MammaCare, a medical-device firm based in Gainesville, Florida. Goldstein has worked with Kirk Macolini, a funding finder at Centurion Technologies in Ithaca, New York, for more than 10 years.

Making the most of that help means knowing when to seek assistance, whom to ask for it and how to work well with a consultant.

Read the rest of this feature at Nature Careers: [html] [pdf]


Field hospitality

Early in his career, Paul Olsen sat in front of a television, expecting to see his own image. He had hosted a television crew on a research expedition to Manicouagan Crater in Canada, where he and his team were investigating the Triassic–Jurassic boundary in the geological record. Olsen, a palaeontologist at Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York, had spent hours explaining and re-explaining for the camera how scientists used the site to reconstruct ancient ecologies. As the opening credits rolled, Olsen wondered how he would come across on the small screen.

But by the end credits, he was still wondering. All that had appeared on screen was a brief flash of Olsen’s disembodied hand, as the documentary focused on other researchers from the expedition. In the decades since then, Olsen has hosted at least a dozen teams of journalists, from National Geographic, the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation among others, each time devoting days to assisting them and solving logistical challenges on their behalf. He has learned that a journalist’s gratitude does not always translate into a starring role — and nor should it. Although some of his colleagues express disappointment when their hours of storytelling don’t make the final cut of a documentary, Olsen acknowledges that journalists must be “fairly ruthless”, because “they’re there to tell a story”. Scientist hosts might find that they’re not part of that tale.

Hosting guests such as journalists, policy-makers or teachers during research fieldwork is a gamble. In exchange for a shot at publicizing their work or educating a wide audience, scientists must give up an unknowable amount of time and accept the risk — and the added cost — of taking extra people to a remote location. If it goes well, a visiting teacher might help to spread the word, or a policy-maker might be able to make more informed decisions; but scientists may also end up with recalcitrant or shivering visitors who hole up in their rooms instead of getting close to the fieldwork. To make the most of bringing guests to the field, hosts should plan ahead, communicate their goals, try to head off conflicts and expect to exercise patience.

Be prepared

Hosting may give researchers an opportunity to sell their science. “It theoretically helps your career,” says Kevin Krajick, a media-relations manager and science writer at Lamont–Doherty, who helps to connect journalists with scientists. “It’s a bit of marketing — organizations such as the National Science Foundation love to see media — and it can help educate the general public.”

The impact may be more important for general fields of study than for any one researcher’s work. “I don’t think there are too many benefits directly to the scientist,” says Olsen. Yet he continues to host guests owing to a sense of responsibility to members of the public, whose taxes fund most of his work. Jill Baron, an ecologist at the US Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado, says that bringing policy-makers closer to the wilderness helps to persuade them that such places are worth protecting. Visits can also establish useful relationships. “When they need information they are likely to call you,” says Baron, who has hosted policy-makers ranging from local air-quality commissioners to US senators.

Communicating science in the field can help to further a cause and even, in rare cases, catalyse research-vindicating policies. In 2007, after decades of visits by Colorado officials to Baron’s field sites, a consortium including the US Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado’s air-quality commission and the US National Park Service drafted a plan to reduce nitrogen deposition in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Baron says that without such visits, “it’s hard for people to actually visualize” environmental threats. She once spent hours explaining to a mayoral staffer from Denver how agricultural fertilizer used on Colorado’s plains infiltrated the Rocky Mountains. After walking all day through the Rockies, the staffer stopped and asked her: “’You mean what we do down in Denver makes a difference up here?’” Baron recalls. “You can talk until you’re blue but until they see it they won’t understand,” she says.

When David McGee, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, hosted freelance writer Douglas Fox on a field trip, he expected to teach Fox about the science involved in his work. But McGee was surprised by what he learned from the experience himself. “It improved my ability to talk about what I do,” he says. “You get better at breaking out of the jargon and lingo and assumptions about what is important” to outsiders (see Nature 468, 465–467; 2010). McGee took Fox, who is based in San Francisco, California, on a trip to the dry bed of Lake Bonneville, which once covered much of what is now northern Utah. McGee says he was excited that someone was interested in his work and helping to publicize it. The expedition led to a feature story in High Country News, a magazine for the western United States (go.nature.com/qiiyqj); McGee now shares the article with prospective graduate students and postdocs.

As useful as these outreach lessons were, they did cause frustrating and time-consuming complications. One of McGee’s Utah field sites was on US military property. McGee had arranged permits long before the expedition — for scientists. But when his military contacts discovered that Fox was joining the trip, they decided that the team would need a military supervisor. They also decided that they were willing to send the supervisor for only one day. So Fox missed out on some of the expedition’s scientific research and McGee got stuck with lengthy, last-minute negotiations. “Once you’ve invited this person along and they’ve got their plane tickets, you end up with some responsibility to help as an intermediary,” he says. “It all worked out in the end, but it was a headache.”

McGee also learned that journalists are attracted to the little conflicts that scientists are less eager to broadcast. With Fox around all the time, every prickly exchange among the researchers, no matter how routine, was potential story material. “Sometimes with collaborators you’re short about someone’s difference of opinion,” says McGee. “But that’s not the thing you want to see in print.” As a result, some of his colleagues were not comfortable with Fox’s presence, and McGee now knows that he needs to check with other members of his team before taking a journalist along.

Lesson planning

A proactive approach before the field visit can help to mitigate misunderstandings, says Krajick. “You want to be prepared,” he warns scientists before they take visitors on trips. “Be ready to explain your stuff and have a talk over the phone before going on the expedition to make sure you’re on the same page.” That allows scientists to lay ground rules such as when they will be available for questions; and it gives journalists a chance to explain when in the editorial process they might want to consult the scientist to check facts.

Olsen discusses mutual expectations with all guests ahead of time. He also prepares handouts for teachers and journalists, summarizing the main points of interest of the field site and the objectives of the expedition. Baron and her students and technicians separate groups of policy-makers into different hiking parties, on the basis of their physical abilities. “Don’t take staffers or policy-makers or senators, especially senators, anywhere they’re going to be cold or thirsty or get altitude sickness,” she advises.

It helps for scientists to have some control over who goes into the field with them. “One of the things we have learned in the past is that the researchers need to be able to pick their teacher,” says Janet Warburton, an education coordinator at PolarTREC, a programme based in Fairbanks, Alaska, that gives school teachers a hands-on research experience in the polar regions. PolarTREC filters applicants for motivation and the ability to translate their experience into lesson plans; researchers themselves must ensure that the teacher will be able to cope with the challenges of life and work on their field trip. Lack of filtering can cause wasted opportunities: in one unfortunate case, says Warburton, a teacher not up to the physical challenge of the daily walk to a field site remained in the barracks instead of participating in the fieldwork.

Mark Goldner, a teacher at Heath School in Brookline, Massachusetts, learned about research expectations first hand. Goldner was shortlisted for an expedition to the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic last July. Before he could join the trip, he had to pass a thorough interview with the principal investigator — Julie Brigham-Grette, a palaeoclimatologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “Julie came right out and said, ‘Here’s some things we expect of you — what do you think?’” Goldner remembers.

As a trip leader, Brigham-Grette always tells potential participants in her field trips about the physical demands of excursions, such as long walks in the cold, and asks them about their ability to handle responsibilities that include blogging about the trip and helping with expedition equipment. She had one teacher who wasn’t able to operate his computer or blog effectively on a trip — and because Brigham-Grette considers communication an important part of a visiting teacher’s role, she now asks about those skills. “When I’m in the field, I can’t help them navigate that,” she says.

Meeting in advance can mitigate stress and distractions once the trip is under way — in the field, it is sometimes hard for scientists to explain the big picture of the research effort because they are so caught up in the mechanical details of data collection. “When teachers are going out in the field, they’re seeing only one piece of the process,” says Warburton. “The team is usually very stressed collecting data and may not have the energy to explain the big picture in the moment.”

For teacher trips, pre-planning should entail some thought about how the experience will benefit the classroom. Before his own expedition to Siberia with Brigham-Grette, Tim Martin, a teacher at Greensboro Day School in North Carolina, discussed with her how his web design and photography skills could help to translate her science into useful lessons for his students. He also improved his understanding of her work.

Since their expedition together, Brigham-Grette and Goldner have stayed in touch so that she can share her group’s analyses of the data that they collected. “The whole goal of PolarTREC shouldn’t be about me, or my trip to the Arctic, it’s really about my students and the outreach that I can do,” says Goldner. “That ongoing collaboration is really important.”

On the record

Allowing guests, especially journalists, to participate in expeditions may not be the best choice for every expedition. Anything from precarious logistics to bad weather or sensitive politics might cause scientists to postpone, says Olsen. Krajick adds, “If you’re not prepared to go on the record all the time, I don’t think you should take someone along.” Most fieldwork takes place in too intimate a setting to expect much control over gossip or frayed nerves.

Sharing the experience doesn’t have to mean relinquishing all control. Olsen has experimented with one way of dealing with the time demanded by television crews: he has decided to not bother trying to conduct real science for the cameras. Mock observations are enough for television journalists, and not having to worry about botching precise measurements makes answering questions easier.

Indeed, hosting often requires flexibility. “You can’t plan which days are for discovery and which are photo days,” says McGee. He acknowledges that Fox’s visit was rather long at four days, but McGee liked the result — a nuanced depiction of his work.

Field guests can be an asset, even beyond outreach: scientists may be able to put visitors to work and make use of their skills. When Brigham-Grette first offered him a place on her trip, Martin was “ready to mop floors”. But the team found more useful things for him to do: he had once worked building houses in needy communities, and had construction skills. On one occasion, Brigham-Grette assigned Martin to work on a drill. He didn’t falter when the sub-freezing temperatures chilled the drill’s fluids and shut it down. Instead, he assumed the role of foreman. “We brought it inside for warmth,” he recalls. “But the exhaust was poisonous, so I built an enclosure to channel the exhaust outside.”

Goldner happened to know how to drive boats, so Brigham-Grette asked him to ferry scientists and equipment around. And on a remote field site in Morocco, Olsen once asked a television crew with a large budget to transport some of his team members between sites. When it comes to field-trip guests, he says,“their needs and your needs can overlap.”

This feature first appeared in Nature Careers: [html] [pdf]