Science Careers

Pollinating His Own Science

Pollinating His Own Science

Even a graduate student working on a pressing, real-world problem needs diversions. Noah Wilson-Rich went to the Topsfield agricultural fair, an annual event in Essex County, Massachusetts and was drawn to the Bee House with its observational hives. Local honey was on sale, and apiarists were on hand to talk about what they do. The young entomologist—whose knowledge about insects had so far come largely from textbooks—put his name on the sign-up sheet for a beekeeping course. Before long, he was a certified beekeeper. Back […]



Freedom isn’t free

Freedom isn’t free

In the acknowledgements section of NW, her 2012 bestseller, Zadie Smith thanked a computer application called “Freedom” for “creating the time” she needed to finish the book. It may be the highest-profile printed acknowledgment of a computer program in a work of fiction—The New York Times put NW on its list of the ten best books of 2012—and Smith is not alone in her admiration. The Economist called Freedom “the virtual equivalent of retiring to a remote getaway, or going on a writers’ retreat, to […]



Starry-Eyed Astronomer no more

Starry-Eyed Astronomer no more

“Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on Mars.” This was headline news on the day I went to meet Jane Luu, defense systems engineer and award-winning planetary astronomer. Early in her career, Luu scoped the cosmos, studying the dark void beyond Neptune. With her Ph.D. adviser David Jewitt, she discovered the Kuiper belt, vastly increasing the number of known objects in the solar system. At the same time, her research helped reduce the number of planets in our solar system to eight. Yes, she shares responsibility for […]



YouTube at the Bench

YouTube at the Bench

As a graduate student at Princeton University, Moshe Pritsker tried in vain to grow a culture of embryonic stem cells from instructions laid out in the methods section of a journal article. A colleague with more bench experience tried and also failed. Finally, Pritsker flew to Edinburgh to visit the lab where the paper originated to witness the procedure in person. He learned that the cells and solutions simply had to be handled in a particular fashion. It was a small detail that the written […]



Those TAs with Thick Accents

Progress has been made in recent decades on ensuring that foreign graduate students at American universities have sufficient facility in the language–English, in the case of the United States–that they’re likely to be teaching in. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the comparable IELTS exam, has long been required for most international students. But with the old paper-based test, which is still in use, a person could ace the test and still be unintelligible in the classroom. There’s good news for […]



Just Herself

Just Herself

Nergis Mavalvala, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, can check off a whole lot of boxes on the diversity form. She isn’t just a woman in physics, which is rare enough. She is an immigrant from Pakistan and a self-described “out, queer person of color.” “I don’t mind being on the fringes of any social group,” she says. With a toothy grin, the mother of a 4-year-old child explains why she likes her outsider status: “You are less constrained […]



A Computer Scientist In a Lab Coat

A Computer Scientist In a Lab Coat

In 1994, the world was on the verge of the dot-com boom and Ron Weiss, a graduate student in the computer science program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, had just earned a master’s degree for his work on a Web application to manage video streams. But just as Internet technology was heating up, the focus of his adviser’s research was starting to shift to a more esoteric topic: DNA-based computers. Weiss, who had not taken a biology class since high school, […]



Scientist will head to ISS in summer

Scientist will head to ISS in summer

One afternoon two summers ago, Kathleen Rubins, a principal investigator at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, gathered her lab members for a quick meeting. “Have we done something wrong? “, the lab manager, recalls thinking. Then it struck her: A while ago, her boss had mentioned that she was applying to astronaut training. Rubins had downplayed her chances of getting in, so no one gave it another thought. Her intuition — that Rubins must have heard from the folks at NASA — was correct: Rubins […]



A Scientist Becomes a Social Entrepreneur — In Science

A Scientist Becomes a Social Entrepreneur — In Science

Nina Dudnik, a molecular biologist from Harvard, is the founder and CEO of the Boston-based Seeding Labs. The non-profit organization tries to bridge the resource gap between research labs in the U.S. and the developing world, starting with lab equipment. Dudnik is on the Massachusetts High Tech council’s list of women to watch in 2011. Dudnik did a research stint in the Africa Rice Center in Cote d’Ivoire, in 2000, as a Fulbright scholar. During her time there she realized, she says, that the technicians at […]



Making Each Other More Human

Making Each Other More Human

A husband and a wife working in the same scientific discipline are ideally positioned to be collaborators, but aligning ambitions in the professional niche of fundamental research is seldom easy: Institutions must accommodate not just one scientist but a pair. And once a married couple succeeds in securing suitable positions, their respective temperaments must allow them to thrive together. By working and living together for nearly 5 decades, cell biologists Donald and Ada Olins have shown that it can be done. Their joint signature on […]