Al Sklover related an instructive case about reimbursements
for travel for an interview where a first time interviewer was
denied full reimbursement and only offered partial
reimbursement for expenses. It is a lesson to learn early
in one’s career.
- always be up front about financial details of an interview
trip. That means when invited get full details of what
is your responsibility and what the company will cover.
Get it in writing. Use their reservation services, when
- treat spending as if it were your money. Don’t go
overboard and understand what conditions will and will
not be covered.
- sometimes an expense may not be covered that you
think should be. Be professional about dealing with
1. One client wished me to interview in Palm Springs and
wished to have me book my travel and hotel through
their organization. It was double the price I could pay,
yet I used the service as it is a condition for the
arrangement. Before agreeing to interview, I also asked
what will be covered and what are my responsibilities
specifically asking them to either provide in an email
or agree to an email I sent with detailed estimates.
Be as accurate as possible. Where costs can only be
estimated offer a reasonable range.
2. A client asked me to perform a workshop in a
location where I wanted to do a little site seeing
travel on my return requiring an extra day’s stay.
Although I had obtained approval in advance, when
it came to reimbursement, details were questioned and
not all the expenses were reimbursed, although they
were negotiated lower, approved in advance
and reasonable. This is a business situation that
I want to continue in good faith in the future. I did
not contest, in fact I agreed to be responsible for
the charges thanking them for the opportunity.
Look at the personal relationship and trust situation
first, even if you thought you had previously negotiated
a fuller reimbursement.
3. Another client asked me to perform a workshop
that would be required to be coordinated with other
travel. I provided cost estimates and received
consent for reimbursement. Since it was coordinated
travel the costs ended up being lower. So, my
reimbursement request was lower. I reported it
truthfully. The reimbursement sent was higher, the
estimated amount, despite the lower request.
It is only the right practice to show high integrity
in financial details and responsibilities. Sometimes
you will get unexpected benefits, as people respect
the effort and honesty.
Did you read the article: “mistakes in research papers
fuel a surge in retractions,” by G. Naik? It lays
out where, over two recent five year time periods,
leading journals published retractions. Then, it tries
to show expertise by citing various sources on
distantly related topics about dangers and fears.
The COMMENTS component of the online
version, no secret, hums on people’s favorite
controversies [global warming, economy and
economists, genetically modified foods].
Ok, the data on retractions are solid. There are
real reasons for each of these. The article tries
to infer a “rise in fraud”. If not fraud, it uses
terms like incompetence, spectacular results
for headlines and backpeddling. We, scientists,
need to be clear and vocal about the process of
scientific inquiry where we question, test, draw
conclusions and, sometimes, try to generalize.
Many times, we are wrong, but not deterred.
Different fields or different constituencies seek
certainty, like business, and have trouble
understanding the nuances of:
- Complex systems
- Unintended consequences of Interactions
- Funding sources “drying up”
- Rush to publish to support new or ongoing work
and other complications.
All of these things are part of our generation of
scientists’ and engineers’ (to a lesser extent in some
We all face this connundrum in our careers.
A more open discussion of the ethics held
in different fields may help misinformation
from taking headlines. A related entry on
Tim Harford’s book Adapt offers some insight.
The rain shower stopped, the grilling at the Weber
was done for the time being and I decided to sit at
a table on the lawn at this bar-be-cue we attended
Not knowing people there, I introduced myself and
one person blurted that she is a clinical chemist and
…. She did not feel comfortable saying she was
looking for a new job.
It hits most everyone, but clearly she has not gotten
through this shock. So I joined the table and when
she felt comfortable she told her story.
What did we learn? She is a mid-level manager in
Big Pharma and has a family to support, no mentor,
no internet presence, and only an internal company
Sound familiar. It is not uncommon. Companies do
not generally support external networking and
professional society participation, unless it is part
of their business model.
This setting is a good one for opening up like this
and developing friendships to help advance your
career. Take every opportunity to attend, meet
new people, tell your story and listen intently.
Earlier in the day, I read an artful piece in the WSJ
weekend issue by Marc Andreessen about the
radical changes SOFTWARE is bringing about in
the world. He opined…”software is poised to take
over large swathes of the economy.” and offered
rise of Amazon….suicide of Borders
largest video service- Netflix…cable companies
adapting to offer software to allow
beaming content to wireless devices
fastest growing entertainment- videogames
largest direct marketing company- Google
fastest growing telecom- Skype
software runs the engines, controls the safety
features, guides drivers to destinations and
manages power supplies in hybrids and electrics
Read the COMMENTS attachment and many
more parallel ideas are revealed.
While I did not talk about this in the lawn
conversation it was in my mind as I encouraged
her to develop a stronger Internet presence,
for this is where many of us are finding our
next positions, or “positions are finding us!”
[There was a line about LinkedIn, too.]
In a recent conversation, a protege offered a noteworthy
comment: in our tight economy, cover letters
represent an even more distinguishing component
of our public relations.
This is a worthwhile comment.
Cover letters have been discussed in the blog
earlier and nearly everything mentioned remains
Recently, WSJ pointed out ten things that one should
not do in cover letters. This blog post highlights a few
- Length: 200-250 words describing why the reviewer
should read the resume
- Complete your research on the company and use your own
words to make your compelling case. Using others’ words
or oft-repeated gimmicks say “FAIL”.
- triple check everything in the message for accuracy
and keep it cordial and business-like, not appearing
desperate. Consider having an experienced person
or two review the letter and follow their input.
Was reading David Brooks’ blog and agree with
his opinion that Tim Harford’s book, Adapt , is a
must read. These days, as all readers know, you
can find books on Amazon, get a Kindle version
online, get a review and find all sorts of insights
by and with the author interviewed by other writers.
This post tries to save some time and summarizes
seven amazing take-aways about this book.
1 Building on Benjamin Jones intuition that the
burden of knowledge demanded to make breakthroughs
happen in our complex world inspires the use of “prizes”
and “competitions”. [Don’t be surprised if the ACS
‘builds on’ crowdsourcing Innocentive to use prizes
as a mechanism for innovation.] page 108.
He cites HHMI, Gates Foundation, Innocentive and
other prize funding sources.
2 Our world is too complex for quick and easy
solutions to complicated problems, he points out.
Biologists have studied similar situations and have
found what nature does– evolution. either learn
from failure or learn to be satisfied with continuous
improvements. Find ways to allow for failures
and learn from them. Page 10.
[Sounds like searching for a job!]
3 Apply Peter Palichinsky’s three principles
(not the Peter Principle!! an incredible Russian
engineer) of innovation page 25
a. seek new ideas and try new things; realize
some will fail
b. when trying something new, try it on a
scale that you can observe the result quickly and
it is survivable
c. know when you fail and learn from it
4 Understand that many people and organizations
are not comfortable with trial and error, and
admitting error (or ‘failure”). page 32
Organizations need to manage trial and error by
- having an accurate “big picture” of what they are
doing, what their competition is and their goals
(adjusting on the way)
- having all constituents in good communication
working on the same goals with honesty and
integrity (no filtering of negative information!)
5 There are three classes of errors, it is
pertinent to know:
- slips: human mistake due to our frailties,
like “fat-finger mistakes” selling 1 share of stock
at 60,000 units of currency rather than 60,000
shares at 1 unit.
- violations: known unethical or illegal action
like Enron or Bernie Madoff.
- mistakes: actions done on purpose, with unintended
consequences, due to incorrect instructions or a
poor model, like CDOs in the last financial meltdown.
Much time and energy goes into differentiating
violations from mistakes.
6 Humans have difficulties dealing with mistakes.
They are generally of three natures–
- denial: ‘we can’t separate our error from our worth’ ,
- chasing our losses until they go away: we could not
have made a mistake and we go over the same route
- hedonic editing: ‘the mistake does not really matter!’
7 Adapting is an acquired skill and needs a supportive
Personal senses of security and self confidence that it
is worth dealing with errors to get to the goals are
Recently, NS, a mid-career project manager, has been
upgrading her public relations documents for an
industrial or government position. One item she
asked about presenting is her American citizenship.
Since her name is not immediately obvious to many
US natives it would be appropriate to indicate that
by stating directly under her name– American
citizen or Permanent Resident.
As we dug deeper into NS’s background, we found
strong and most notable accomplishments. They did
not appear at first in the usual outline of
Heading– Qualifications– Experience– Education–
Honors and Awards– Affiliations.
Our interaction revealed that she had originated over
$1.6M in grants with different federal agencies and
ventures with companies as sub-contractors. She also
had fostered and engineered a series of unique
university collaborations in a number of project areas.
None of these will show up in publications or are
hard to describe in a typical technical resume. In fact,
it almost seems that a CV is a better format. However,
personal situations do not permit the time commitment
an academician would need to be successful for her and
Together we crafted a resume file that brings out her
contributions in which transferable skills were developed
that could be applied in other organizations.
Interesting feedback she offered was that the interaction
was much more valuable than she could ever have
imagined. Top on her list was the feeling of self-
confidence she gained that her work and the skills
she developed to achieve results were significant.
- Indicate the awarded contracts with various clients
and area in her Qualifications
- Point out significant university and industrial
collaborations in her Qualifications
- Leading bullet in her Experience section should
be a statement of the awarded grants.
It did not hurt that our ideas were seconded by
Looking at someone’s resume alone is so hard to
evaluate whether it does a good job representing
them to possible employers. In a particular case,
I had a terrific telecon conversation with NS who
was referred by a recent protege the other evening.
She has had a successful career with a couple of
productive post-docs and is currently employed at
a project oriented concern. Her issue is that she
is an accomplished material scientist with group and
project management and leadership experience but
has the challenge that little of her work is published
or has been publicly presented.
Interestingly, this situation may be represented well
by creating a resume file, incorporating a resume (note
separate document) and a separate Project List (note
separate page with title and your name at the top) which
offers the major projects in which she played a key
role. Each project item Don Straits suggests using
a couple of sentences..
Where there are publications, consider listing in the
List of Publications, Presentations and Patents (note
separate page in the resume file, not part of the
“resume”) a link to the .pdf file for the item. If one
is not directly available consider creating a document
in the cloud (like– google-doc) and provide link
Another job searching issue relates to networking. While
she is a member of ACS and MRS, where should she
seek out opportunities. One place that might be a good
fit is the WCC Women’s committee of ACS. I noticed
several things that could be helpful there: 1 2
So, mid-career people might consider having (1) other
documents in their resume file to inform potential
new employers of their work– Project list and List
of papers, presentations and patents (with links) and
(2) find other pertinent avenues to network (especially
meeting people in person).
We sat at a table in Starbucks and first talked
about what we were currently doing, after we
did some small talk about the Red Sox and
Yankees and the NFL. This is a common way
for career consulting conversations to start.
Then he asked a question that troubled him:
How should I respond to the question: What
motivated you to take a post-doc at [name
institution] in a field and area completely different
[biology at a med school] from your doctoral
and course [chemistry- biochemistry and
analytical chemistry] work?
He went on to say that he had been advised
when he was finishing up to seek post-docs
in fields related to his research area. As previous
posts have mentioned, when someone accepts
a post-doc in a completely different field, one’s
‘expertise clock’ resets to zero. It may be less
of an attribute, at least for obtaining grants and
working at academic institutions.
He later described that he was in the process of
beginning to write up at least two papers and
that they were reluctant to present for fear of
being ’scooped’ by competitors.
He was pleased that we structured his resume
to reflect this status.
The experience, he continued, was a great challenge
but he felt he grew from the experience and although
not fully an expert he was clearly competent in
setting and reaching meaningful goals with new
techniques in an important field.
We even spoke about the possibility of being
invited to return to his doctoral institution to
offer a seminar on his recent research. It is a
great audience, provides an opportunity to
reconnect and helps build confidence in the new
Well, when one works in industry time is an
incredibly important resource that cannot be
wasted. Your time must be purposefully used.
Point out that you set out specific goals and
benchmarks, as B. Blazer as outlined.
Point out that that you have in depth experience
in entering new fields and being able to come
up to speed and contribute at a high level. That
you worked in different environments with different
people and learned new and important things.
Seeing different approaches has taught you how
to value attributes of people — management skills,
leadership abilities, how to motivate and integrate
knowledge workers. It is not enough to be smart
and hardworking; in many cases having different
backgrounds, skills and approaches to solving
problems is of high value.