From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

November 2013
« Oct   Dec »
Trends in Technical Careers. 11. Small talk, Interdisciplinary developments
Filed under: Interviewing, Position Searching, Leadership, Post-docs, Observ. Trends, Alternate Career Paths
Posted by: site admin @ 10:05 am

Sitting with drinks we chatted about how their workplace culture
was changing as a result of a recent change in CEO.  She mentioned
that it was quite curious and impactful that she found herself staying
quite late one evening.  She took a short break and walked down the
hall and found herself seeing the new exec coming toward her.  She
smiled and greeted him.  He responded and asked what kept her late
at work.

It was review time and the forms they need to fill out take a great deal
of time and effort.  He was grateful to receive the frank and honest
input.  He had some ideas about how to improve them.

A week later the division devised a new research reporting scheme,
much like group meetings reporting and commenting on literature
results.  Her group was selected to go first and so she sat in the middle
and near the front.   The CEO came in just before the start and sat
directly in front of her.  At a break in the session he turned to her
and engaged in small talk.  Then, he mentioned that he had put in place
a change to the review process and wanted her to come to him and
let him know if it was shorter, easier and met their needs.

She was approached by a number of her direct reports and superiors
about how did she have the new CEO want to speak to her.  What did
he say, etc.

It goes to point out the importance of confidence, and the ability to
engage in small talk and know that decision makers need unfiltered
information with specific data. 

NPR, C. Trageser, 11-30-13 wrote a piece and offered a linked
podcast so you can gain more information on the importance of
small talk
.  It is good reading.
Note especially the “contrariwise” comment not liking it.  “…failure
to hire the most qualified individual the result of a poor hiring process
rather than scientists not learning skills relevant to their jobs after
spending nigh three decades on developing their necessary skills…”

Technical skills alone are not enough to be offered the jobs you
  Round out your education with co-curricular skills

Robert Stevenson American Laboratory N/D 2013 made me want
to change my plans at an upcoming meeting when he extracted the
essence of Eric Topol’s book and distributed it throughout an
article on precision medicine.  Precision medicine is where
patients and health care providers team up to assess and treat risks
and deliver “the right [therapy] in the right dose at the right time.”

Notable factoids
20000 genes are regulated by >4 million regulators.  Complex.
No surprise that one mutation can disable a “stop signal”
“Stop signals implicated in autoimmune diseases and cancer.”

Personal electronics ideal interface for connecting biosensors to
the digital world.

FDA approved pills with RF chips to “time stamp” ingestion of pills.

Patients diagnosed with cancer should request a portion of their
biopsy frozen for sequencing and “inquire about whole genome

Decreasing value of “population medicine”

Strong consideration for “”no nuke” policy for exposure to radiation.

Server farms consume as much energy as the world’s airlines.

 Caren Les reported Eijiro Miyako’s composite biooptical
material from butterfly wings and nanotubes using lasers

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Copying, Scooping and Plagiarism. In the digital age.
Filed under: Mature professionals, Observ. Trends
Posted by: site admin @ 1:53 pm

When you or I read or author a blog in the digital age,
one of the notions that can come up is originality of
KEY ideas.  It appears to be different than the school
age notion of duplicating someone else’s graded homework
or copying answers in an exam.  But is it?
[After all, are exams good measures of what a student learns?]

1.  The simple action of COPYING is reproducing the content
of an original.  The process by which the original was created
is not repeated.  (In the digital realm, we recognize
a signal to noise terminology where copying can result in
increased noise unless special filtering and enhancement occurs.
This is out of the scope of this post’s argument.)

In the legal arena, copying can be quite significant, especially
in areas of intellectual property, when actions are taken to define
originality and preserve exclusive use. [patents and copyrights]

2.  Technical plagiarism is where one copies the work of others and
claims the originality.  There is a sense of relaxation in this concept
if it is either fiction or considered common knowledge in nonfiction.
Fiction or novels do not usually incorporate references.  In written
work this implies word choice and syntax.

Technical plagiarism can be claimed in nonfiction work when nonfiction
uses similar language, if not referenced adequately.  We have seen
situations where ideas are directly duplicated without reference by
people in prominent positions, despite protests. 
One sentence is a situational occurrence;  paragraphs or whole ideas
reflect a pattern.

3.  Scooping is a term in scientific publication where current research
or ideas are published by another group first.  Another situation that
falls under this genre is where someone’s research proposal ideas
come out in another author’s publication without reference.  Signed
confidentiality agreements or secrecy agreements aim to hold
parties to ethical standards.

 It seems like copying could be a more frequent occurrence.  Consider
two other trends— half life of facts and publication of incorrect
data or interpretations (which are not rebutted in later issues.)

Samuel Arbesman wrote the Half Life of Facts in which all the facts as
we first learned them change.  While we search for the truth and the
useful, we should adapt our thinking to the latest advances.

Science sees advancement by confirmation.  Much of what
is published, I am sorry to admit, can be misapplied or may be incorrect
and not removed from our data-stores.  So, I subscribe to the notion that
duplication when verified by experiments with controls offers more
value by being published than not.
Fruitful ideas have no borders.


Entrepreneurs. 10. Pitching, Patenting and Principals
Filed under: Observ. Trends, Alternate Career Paths
Posted by: site admin @ 2:08 pm

Where does a new company begin?  Too often we begin
with a great idea that everybody needs.  In the chemical
enterprise or technical fields, this may not be the only
way.  Knowing things about ‘adoption curves,’ experience
and ‘feedback loops’ is essential for adapting to the
marketplace of ideas.

Well, first let’s go with an initial idea, concept or product
innovation that will disrupt the product or service space
Much of the literature suggests that it is appropriate to
start small and in fact begin a marketing campaign earlier
and on a different time line than the production/service
rendering and sales plans. 
The marketing scheme markets the core idea to mentors
and backers first.  Then, a subsequent plan markets to customers
often and in different ways.
With technical ideas we need to seek out mentors to consider
implications and unanticipated outcomes and even experienced
patent agents or attorneys.  One outcome could be infringing on
someone else’s patent or someone infringing on your patent
or trademark.

I thought John Greathouse of Rincon Ventures offered
some ‘first rate advice’ on how to act prudently to avoid IP
catastrophes and minimize IP legal fees without
jeopardizing trademark or patent ideas.
-  Consider a single patent with fewer, yet comprehensive,
-  draft your own protectable claims (with suitable
-  focus your initial patent application to where you expect
early sale opportunities to be, not going for large range
and costly international scope.

Protecting your investment is not an area to overlook or
seriously cut corners on in the initial marketing of the idea. 
So, Pitching and patenting go hand in hand.

The person who ‘takes the first plunge’  and founds a
business provides the original idea.  (S)he can come up
with the initial gameplan, insight, customer group, yet
others may help “scale” repeatable business and growth.
Conflicts can arise when members of this secondary
founding team wish to wrest “control” from the founder.

Either they recognize their strengths and the organization’s
needs or they decide that a new role is needed, that of a

Steve Blank outlined an intriguing pattern where a person
who is “first among equals” emerges to allocate resources.
We see an example of this with the way Google had
a business minded technical leader, Schmidt, assume leadership
from Brin and Page.

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Wise Skills. Keystone Habits, NOW Habit
Filed under: Interviewing, Networking, Mentoring, Observ. Trends
Posted by: site admin @ 8:42 am

Should I be surprised?  At a recent workshop we
addressed “wise skills” which are deliberate, proactive
skills that we practice as a result of co-curricular
, not the “hard skills” from our formal education
and not “soft skills” that all employers expect each one
of us to demonstrate and use.  Wise skills set us apart
from all other the highly qualified candidates.

Surprise #1:  Many could identify with procrastination
as a common weakness, once they thought about their
behaviors and responses to situations.  They liked
learning about the “NOW Habit” which is a stepwise
understanding of usual causes of procrastination and a
thoughtful routine to “push through” the barriers to
reach our objectives.
Procrastination is that habit we use to “ease our fears,
anxieties and self-doubts.[the cue]” 
It can result in “busywork”.  But, another outcome of the
cue is to treat everything that comes up, as important. 
This results in many interruptions, which adds to more
time to restart our work and delaying doing the important
Plan to do play things.  So that you can return to the urge
to do work toward goals
Set goals and workable objectives.  Think backwards from
when you want to achieve your goals.
Know your “flow states” and how to enter them.
Plan that you will have adversity.  Learn from each setback.

Surprise #2:  It is possible to identify habits that do not
lead to positive outcomes.  But what was surprising
members did not realize you can intentionally change
habits to achieve desired outcomes, by knowing: 
CUE-ROUTINE-REWARD (The ‘Habit outline’ of Duhigg.)
This is something they could do for themselves, but it
takes specific action and thought to develop
Keystone Habits. (Duhigg, Chapter 5 in book)

Surprise #3:  Some members mentioned that the pace
of the workshop changed from one section to another part
of the workshop.  Where there was interaction among
participants it seemed slower but was absorbing.  When it
was more lecture, it moved faster and then engaged the audience
via  questioning and response.  There could have been another
exercise, one commented.  I thanked them for the comments,
the whole strategy was to reveal the importance of
face-to-face communication
[liking the exercises and sharing with others],
time management

[creating incidents and situations where surprises or unexpected
outcomes were teachable moments, yet we finished ahead of time]
and keystone habits.

Surprise #4:  Subliminally at the beginning, we did a series of
activities that were analyzing who was attending the session.  Yet,
each person felt the exercise revealed things to each participant. 
This was a pursuit of reciprocal audience analysis, where the
presenter learned about the audience and the audience learned
about themselves.  [Audience analysis is another wise skill.]

Watch-outs. 49. In-the-meantime clause and Internet security
Filed under: Position Searching, Mature professionals, Legal matters, Observ. Trends
Posted by: site admin @ 9:26 am

It is humbling to be in Al Sklover’s network.  Not only
do I list his blog in the blogroll — Employment law, but
also I enjoy reading his regular comments.  Also, I
have recently gotten on a list receiving “tech trends”
and one on Internet security caught my eye.

SOURCE:  Sklover Working Wisdom Nov. 2013
Re telling a story about a professional who joined a firm,
was promised bonus potential, and was disappointed
that the firm buy-out left her holding an empty bag,
he pointed out the usefulness of “in-the-meantime”
clauses in contracts of employment.  This is a
protection for a contracted ‘thing of value’ offered
[Al lists bonus, vested stock or stock options, promotion,
partnership, sales territory, and so forth] that for
‘any reason [except employee misconduct, Al points out]
you do not receive it, you will be tendered either its
monetary value or its equivalent.’

SOURCE:  ThomasNet Tech Trends 11-4-13
It is easy for cyber criminals to capture all your information
when you are logged into free, unencrypted wi-fi.

use websites that require your password or other confidential
information, - See more at:
1. Do not use websites that require your passwords
or other confidential information.
2. Stay on encrypted channels:  https
3. If the only information is “free WIFI”, avoid using it.
4. Any misspelled words in addresses or entries, get out or
5. Erase any history of your browsing.
6. Using Windows OS select location type “public”
7. When in an establishment, ask for the validity of the “hot spot”

attention to your Wi-Fi usage when on the road will go a long way to
keeping data safe. As a matter of practice, turn off Bluetooth and any
features on a device that automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks. It’s
easy for cyber-criminals to steal information through an automatic

The rule of thumb is to
avoid public Wi-Fi networks, especially a network that doesn’t require a
password to access — and certainly never, ever enter any credit card
information in a “free” public Wi-Fi network.

- See more at:

attention to your Wi-Fi usage when on the road will go a long way to
keeping data safe. As a matter of practice, turn off Bluetooth and any
features on a device that automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks. It’s
easy for cyber-criminals to steal information through an automatic

The rule of thumb is to
avoid public Wi-Fi networks, especially a network that doesn’t require a
password to access — and certainly never, ever enter any credit card
information in a “free” public Wi-Fi network.

- See more at:

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Mentoring. Case Studies for Post-doc, Permanent and Entrepreneurial Positions
Filed under: Position Searching, Mentoring, First Year on Job
Posted by: site admin @ 5:49 pm

This might be a controversial entry describing what happened recently.

A hand full of situations of professionals who have asked for
specific mentoring assistance from me are shared.

MM has a world of experience going for him.  He is a service
veteran who returned to graduate school and has finished his PhD
in materials science.  We worked hard on his public relations
documents and interviewing skills.

He told me when we met in June that he landed a full time position
in a government engineering facility. saying he was most comfortable
in the military environment.  I congratulated him on his achievement,
but offered my thoughts that he may find his career stifled.  If he was
happy, secure and challenged by what he was tasked to do, I was pleased
for him.

Speaking with one of his classmates, I learned that he was starting a
new assignment in the US PTO (patent and trademark office).  Now,
I was pleased.  He was listening–  landing one position in government
is like getting your foot in the door and other opportunities can open
up to you.

AG asked if we could have a conversation about his start-up
venture.  He had formulated a good idea and was seeking advisers
and help getting started.  We agreed that he could pick me up at
the airport and discuss things over lunch. 

He made his “idea pitch” to me with enthusiasm, passion and promise.
He even asked for a small amount of follow up involvement.  Then,
I had to ask some “stinging questions.”  Does he have mentors in
the field?  which I learned from Tom Ashbrook’s podcast.  I asked AG
if he was planning to have a “board of advisers?”   While he did not
he thought it was a solid idea.

Did he have a timeline, first product innovation and a first customer
in mind that will shake out the bugs?  He and his collaborator had
initial notions and a start, but it is still in the formative stages.

Then, I asked for a business card.  He had one but it did not
describe what he and his business can do for customers.  Then,
we reviewed his personal performance–listening skills, body
language, small talk, willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ and more.

AG is technically skilled.  Technical skills alone do not get
you the job
or assignment.  So, my role as a mentor was to
provide honest, objective feedback.  His role was to assess
it and provide appropriate follow-up.  It should involve three
 1- donor motives;  were my motives in his interest?
 2- idea merit;  what was the merit of each point.  Did he note
and create a strong plan to follow up and execute?
 3- response;  what will emerge from the ideas  and assessment
yielding productive results.

My future involvement will depend on how well he responds.  If
he only comes back with items he wished for me to do, it may
take a long time to respond.  If he creates a “punch-list” in
project management lingo– mentors, board of advisers, first
customer, first product, business card and such, in addition to his
request, the connection was made.

Speaking with a mentor is a two way street.  Communication is essential.

Several people seek help figuring out what they will do next.
None want to follow an academic path and each is in a
different technical field. 

So, we work on identifying their “target rock stars” that will
enable them to land their desired position.  Once they have their
list we reduce it down to their top three and work on each one
separately by revising their master resume into their targeted
working document.  Then hard work goes into making an initial
contact, through a common associate, at a meeting, through
their graduate PI, or other “warm” connection.  Followed by
a winning cover letter of request.

As we have mentioned before, special considerations need
to be incorporated into this letter, revealing what you seek,
that you have read and benefited from his/her work, that you
have ideas of your own, and that you would be willing to
write proposals for funding.
  It is not going to be successful
if you cut and paste something someone else has written.
It needs to be authentic.

This role of mentor I sense is different than the student’s
of a mentor.

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Proposal Writing and Review. For entrepreneurs, small businesses and academic professionals
Filed under: Position Searching, Mentoring, Post-docs, Legal matters, Observ. Trends
Posted by: site admin @ 2:50 pm

A great deal of research gets its “jump-start” by crystallizing its
ideas for products and processes in a research or grant proposal.

Grant writing is a special skill that can be learned and improved.

This week I was invited to join a panel that reviewed proposals.  It is
so important for proposal applicant to read the solicitation very
to determine whether they think their idea(s) match the
solicitation and time frame for the grant.  The solicitation for
application might be offered in more than one phase, like in a
screening or feasibility for a short time, followed by a follow-on
Phase II.  A Phase III can sometime be required for promising
concepts that often would be found with matching grants or awards
from a non-governmental organization.

The proposals we reviewed will commonly be evaluated for
(1) appropriate match to the federal organization mission and
(2) scrutinized via preset and robust criteria
(3) before a technical review.
(4) Then, with the evidence in hand and summarized grant administrators
review and decide from the highest rated proposals.

External reviewers
are brought in, meet, and decide the technical
merits of the proposal again recognizing the agency’s mission and
and solicitation’s goals.  [For the most part reviewers are not
revealed to applicants.]

Each proposal is reviewed for specific criteria  and classified as:
- excellent:  outstanding with numerous exceptional attributes
- very good:  strong proposal offering many noteworthy merits
- good:  strong proposal however containing smaller gaps, deficiencies.
- fair:  an offering with one serious deficiency or several gaps that
are not compensated for by strong elements
- poor:   a seriously lacking proposal

Each proposal we reviewed used the same outline but varied within
a range in each section.  So, for the timeline, for example, some
proposals will use a Gannt chart, some will use a work breakdown
structure, some will use six sigma process map and definition of
KPIVs and KPOVs (key process input and output variables).

Each proposal should address the “Heilmeier commandments” which
1.  What will you accomplish (without jargon)
2.  what is done now, what are the limits and what is the background
3.  what is new, and why should it be successful
      Any preliminary supporting information
      Applications, possibilities
4.   how does it fit the mission and objectives
5.   if successful what difference does it make
6.   what are the risks and benefits
7.  what is the timeline for tasks and opportunity costs if not supported.

The proposal needs a descriptive summary, a budget, a timeline. CVs/
appropriate biographies of the principle investigator, project team and
consultants and advisers.

There is commonly a time deadline for submission and page length
limit that are strictly followed.

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