<![CDATA[INet NYC - Blogs ]]>Sun, 11 Feb 2018 23:54:04 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Immigration Info Session]]>Wed, 14 Jun 2017 13:35:48 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/immigration-info-sessionBy Chiara Bertipaglia, CUPS
     Jaime Jurado, INet NYC
    Advisory team of ECUSA-NYC

On Wednesday May 17th the Columbia University Postdoctoral Society organized an Info Session about Immigration at Columbia University. The event was co-organized by Columbia University Postdoctoral Society (CUPS), INet NYC, ECUSA (Spanish Scientists in USA), Einstein Postdoctoral Association (EPA), Postdoc Executive Committee at ISMMS and co-sponsored by Columbia University Postdoctoral Society (CUPS), Columbia University Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA), Rockefeller University Dean's Office, NYU School of Medicine Postdoctoral Affairs through their BEST grant and Graduate School of Medical Sciences (at Weill Cornell Medicine) Postdoctoral Affair office.The idea was to provide the large community of New York postdocs with information on how to transition from non-immigrant to permanent resident status, or immigrant, in the United States.

The event got fully booked within 24 hours. The massive attendance of 185 people from 9 different institutions (Columbia University, Cornell University, NYU, Mount Sinai, Albert Einstein, The Rockefeller University, CUNY, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rutgers, among others) speaks loud and clear about the discomfort of the time that we are living and the uncertainties that we, the international scientific community, face here in the United States.

Research in the U.S. is carried out and progresses thanks to many outstanding international PhD students, Postdocs and associate researchers on non-immigrant visas, who seek to become permanent residents to be able to stay and do the their best Science. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the current number of international scientists and engineers in the U.S. workforce is estimated to be 5.2 millions, constituting almost 20% of the sector. This number has increased 2.5 fold in just the last decade.

The session started with a presentation about the main categories of visa given by attorney Aviva Meerschwam from Fragomen. Then, a panel of researchers that have successfully applied for and obtained an H-1B visa or a Green Card introduced their case and answered questions collected from the public, discussing the alternatives that students and postdocs have to apply for permanent residency.
Panelists included:
- Sophie Colombo, from Columbia University, H-1B (academic, professional);
- Kiran Kumar Andra, from Cornell University, EB-1A Green Card (obtained with the help of a lawyer);
- Hourinaz Behesti, from The Rockfeller University, EB-1B Green Card (obtained without the help of a lawyer);
- Chamara Senevirathne, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, EB-2 Green Card (obtained without the help of a lawyer);
- Wissam Hamou, from Mount Sinai, EB-2 Green Card (obtained with the help of a lawyer);
- Alicia Perez-Porro, from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, Green Card through marriage (with a pro-bono lawyer);
- Jose Ignacio Garzón, from Columbia University, Green Card through lottery.
The session was broadcasted live for people who could not attend and the video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR9_-vvWQIQ 
Let’s summarize the information gathered during the meeting.
The status of non-immigrants is for foreign nationals that come to the U.S. temporarily and keep their residence abroad. In the field of academic research, common categories of visas include:
  • F-1, for academic students;
  • J-1, for exchange visitors;
  • H-1B, for professionals. In particular, TN for Canadian and Mexican citizens, E-3 for Australians and H-1B1 for Singaporeans and Chileans;
  • O-1, for foreign nationals of extraordinary ability.
F-1 visa is available to foreign nationals entering the USA for academic studies and are eligible to work 12 months under the Optional Practical Training (OPT), either pre- or post-graduation in the field related to their studies. STEM degrees students may apply for a 24-months extension.
J-1 visa allows foreign nationals to participate in an approved exchange program to gain experience, study or do research in their field. Examples of exchange visitors include, but are not limited to, trainees, interns, teachers, professors, research scholars, specialists, students and foreign medical graduates.
H-1B visa types are open to professionals that work in a “specialty occupation” and are going to remain in the U.S. for a minimum of 6 years. 65,000 H-1B visas can be issued annually, beginning each year on April 1st. However, certain employers are exempt from this quota (e.g. non-profit and governmental research organizations). Premium processing for this visa type have been temporarily suspended under the current administration.
O-1 visas are open to foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, arts, business or athletics. Applicants have to meet certain requirements such as:
  • having risen to the top of their field,
  • having a publication record,
  • being internationally recognized for their achievements in the field,
  • having collected awards and membership in associations.
Most of foreign Postdocs enter the U.S. with a J-1 visa, stay for 5 years and then shift to a H-1B type of visa for another 6 years. This can be done as long as they remain in academia. Eventually, as non-immigrants, they may decide to pursue the status of permanent residence while in the U.S. territory. Many do it because they do not want to deal with visa bureaucracy and paperwork every few years. Plus, being a permanent resident is definitely an advantage when transitioning from academia to industry. This change of status from non-immigrant to permanent resident can be done either from an F-1, J-1 or an H-1B visa.
The way to become a permanent resident, or immigrant, is by obtaining a Green Card.
A maximum of 650,000 Green Cards can be given each year, and they are distributed through the following different application processes:  
The employment based Green Card application is a two or three-step process, where the applicant needs to provide:  
The employment based Green Card categories are:
  • EB-1, for priority workers (40,000 cap), who have an extraordinary ability in a specific field (such as sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics) and can demonstrate it through sustained national or international acclaim and extensive documentation. No offer of employment is required.
  • EB-2, for advanced-degree professionals and aliens of exceptional abilities. A labor certification is required.
  • EB-3, for professionals, skilled and unskilled workers. This is the most commonly used employment-based category. A labor certification is required in all cases.
The EB-1 category is subdivided into:
  • EB-1A, for people of extraordinary ability, who may also self-sponsor.
  • EB-1B, for outstanding professors and researchers, with internationally recognized achievements. These applicants must be sponsored by the employer and must be seeking a tenure teaching position.
  • EB-1C, for multinational executives/managers, who must be sponsored by an employer that does business in 2+ countries. The job position, of managerial or executive capacity, must last at least 3 years.
The EB-2 category is subdivided into:
  • EB-2A, for advanced degree professionals. A labor certification is required.
  • EB-2B, for persons of exceptional ability in the fields of science, art or business. A labor certification is required.
The EB-3 category is subdivided into:
  • professionals that have at least a bachelor degree;
  • skilled workers with a minimum of 2 years working experience and/or training;
  • unskilled workers (limited to 10,000).
For further information on the various Green Card categories, you can also check www.uscis.gov.
The audience asked lots of questions to the panelists. We have summarized their answers, at times commented by the attorney.
Q1: Can J-1 or F-1 visa holders adjust their status to immigrant?
A1: Yes, J-1 and F-1 visa holders can apply for a Green Card while in the United States. Nevertheless, they may have a travel restriction upon filing a petition application to change or adjust status. Moreover, some J visa holders might be subjected to the 2 years rule, which means that they must return to their home country for 2 years after completion of program, before seeking another non-immigrant visa category or permanent residence. Also, since F-1 is not a dual-intent visa category (i.e. it does not permit immigrant intent), there are certain restrictions related to traveling while the application is pending and to the timing for filing the application, which must be carefully considered. As such, it would be advisable to consult with a lawyer before proceeding with a Green Card application while in F-1 status.
Q2: Can one apply for J-1 visa when the current visa is F-1?
A2: Yes, you can move from a F-1 to a J-1. However, the applicant needs to meet the following requirements:
  • non-U.S. degree,
  • non-U.S. previous working experience.
Moreover, eligible applicants may have to look for more than just one sponsor, to try to justify and demonstrate how the applicant’s professional growth will benefit from this additional training.
Q3: What are the requirements for EB-1?
A3: There are 10 criteria to demonstrate extraordinary ability in your field. Applicants must meet 3 of these requirements or provide evidence of a one-time achievement (i.e., Pulitzer, Oscar, Olympic Medal).

  1. Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence.
  2. Evidence of your membership in associations in the field, which demand outstanding achievement of their members.
  3. Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media.
  4. Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel.
  5. Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field.
  6. Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media.
  7. Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases.
  8. Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations.
  9. Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field.
  10. Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts.
Q4: How does one meet the scientific standards required to apply for the EB-1?
A4: There are no minimal requirements (no minimum number of research or review papers). It is crucial to highlight how your achievements have had a great impact on the American society and internationally. Therefore, more than the number of publications, you may want to highlight how your research has been cited or disseminated. Also, non-scientists will read and evaluate the paperwork, so avoid jargon and technicalities and go straight to the point of why your work matters.
Q5: Can O-1 visa be self-sponsored?
A5: No, you need an employer or an agent who will act as a sponsor/petitioner.
Q6: How many recommendation letters is it advisable to submit?
A6: Between 5 and 10 letters of recommendation. It is better if the letters do not come from your past boss or supervisor, but are rather signed by third parties or your future boss. It is crucial to follow the template when writing these letters, which can be crafted also by the lawyers. Hiring lawyers with a science background may help (as it happened to one of the panelists). Sometimes this turns out to be the best option because the right content will be conveyed through the right amount of bureaucratic language.
Q7: What happens if the current visa expires while you are in the process of applying for a Green Card or H-1B visas?
A7: When you apply for a Green Card or H-1B visas, it is also strongly advisable to apply at the same time for an Employment Authorization (Form I-765) combined with a Travel Document (Form I-131). It allows you to work and travel even if your current visa status expires.
Q8: Is it allowed to switch jobs while filing a Green Card or H-1B application?
A8: Since this will most likely imply a change in sponsor, it is not advisable to do so. It is definitely advisable to keep the same employer (= sponsor) through the whole application process.
Q9: Can one apply for multiple Green Card categories at the same time?
A9: It is possible but not advisable.
Q10: How much does the whole application process cost?
A10: The panelists reported the following experiences:
- $13,000, for 1 person + spouse, with the help of a lawyer;
- $7,000, for 1 person, with a lawyer;
- $1,800, for a spouse of a US citizen, with the help of a pro-bono lawyer;
- $2,800, for 1 person, with the application managed by herself, without the help of any lawyer. This included the option of faster processing request (Form I-907) which costs  $1,225;
- $1,500 for the lottery process.
Some lawyers refund you half of the costs if the application is not successful.
Q11: How long does it take to get a Green Card, depending on the different categories?
A11: It is slower to obtain one of the EB-1 Green Card types than one of the EB-2 or EB-3 types. According to the historical average processing times, the government processing time for the EB-1 visa is about 6 months. Once the EB-1 has been approved, the government takes additional time to issue permanent residence. According to the panelists, the whole application process took up to 18, 9 or 6 months when applying for employment, family or lottery-based categories respectively. The premium service shortens the processing decision down to 15 calendar days.
Q12: Can you switch to industry or a different postdoc if you have an academic position-related H-1B?
A12: No, you can’t with the same H-1B. If you have an H-1B visa and you want change your employer (which could be a different academic group leader or an industry employer), you also have to change your visa. However, the applicant can apply for a H-1B visa transfer, which allows to start working for the new employer as soon as the H-1B transfer petition is submitted, without having to wait until the transfer is issued. This is the list of the required documents when issuing an H-1B visa transfer:
  • up to 3 months latest pay stubs;
  • copy of your existing H1B approval;
  • passport copies;
  • copies of I-94 records;
  • copy of Social Security Card;
  • latest resume;
  • copy of existing valid visa;
  • copy of all your diploma/degrees. 
Q13: Are O-3/O-1 and H-4/H-1B dependents respectively allowed to work?
A13: Different from J-2 (J-1 dependents), O-3/H-4 are not eligible. However, H-4 can apply for permission to work only when a permanent residency petition, based on the H-1B’s employment, has been pending for a year or more.
Q14: Is it worth it responding to Request for Evidence (RFE) for the EB-1A Green Card or is it better to apply again?
A14: RFE is requested from USCIS when a petition is lacking initial documentation or the officer needs additional evidence. The petitioner should respond to the RFE usually in 30 days and will receive a status case respond in 60 days. Keep in mind that USCIS is perfectly able to deny any immigration application without first issuing RFEs, so this might be your last chance to prove what they have asked. Here you will find more information about this process.
Q16: How can you apply for Green Card without a lawyer?
A16: Panelist Hourinaz Behesti applied for EB-1B without a lawyer and shared her experience. Being EB-1B an employment-based Green Card, the employer (i.e., the University) was the “Petitioner”. The applicant was the “Beneficiary”. Applicants need to have a title other than “postdoctoral fellow/associate” as the USCIS does not recognize “Postdoc” as a permanent position. However, a transition to “Research Associate”, for example after the postdoc position, is considered a permanent position. The employer has to write the cover letter based on material provided by the applicant and has to fill out the forms. On the USCIS webpage, all relevant forms can be downloaded in the “forms” tab. Here is the EB-1B forms checklist:
  • Cover letter written by the petitioner (i.e., the University that employs you), listing what is included in the application;
  • Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alian Worker);
  • Form I-907 (only if you want to request premium processing);
  • Filing fees in the form of checks;
  • Petitioner’s letter of support (i.e., your boss). This is a pretty extensive letter and you can find templates online regarding the format of the letter and what it should include;
  • Supporting documentation:
    • Copies of passport bio page, I-94 information and I-797 Approval Notice for valid H1-B status or other visa type you are on.
    • Petitioner information (i.e., the University that employs you).
    • Copy of petitioner’s offer of permanent employment to the beneficiary.
    • Evidence of grants or fellowships obtained or awards won for outstanding scientific contributions to your field of study (you should ask for letters from the granting bodies if you do not have an official letter from them already).
    • Evidence that you are a member of professional societies (again ask for letters from all societies you belong to, asking them to outline what their organization is about and what it takes to be a member).
    • Evidence of any talks/poster presentations you’ve been invited to give.
    • Evidence that you have been asked to be the judge of others’ work in your field (reviewed articles, grants, etc.).
    • Evidence of articles authored in international journals.
    • Letters of recommendations from experts in the field who can vouch that you have made original scientific and scholarly contributions to your field of study (the panelist included 7 of these). Include their CVs too.
    • Evidence of published materials written by others about your work (if you have any).
    • Your citations (Google Scholar or web of science printout).
  • Form I-485 (Application to register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status);
  • Form G-325 (Biographic Information);
  • Form ETA 750 Part B;
  • Filing Fees for adjustment of status;
  • Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization);
  • Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document);
  • Letter from your employer confirming its intention to continue to employ you;
  • Copy of your birth certificate;
  • 2 x Color photographs;
  • Form I-693 (Medical Exam and Vaccine Record, this has to be done by an authorized Doctor).
Q17: As a scientist/researcher, would it make sense to apply for EB-1, EB-2 or EB-3 types of Green Card?
A17: EB-3 is for professionals, skilled workers and other workers, which could certainly include scientists/researchers. However, since scientists/researchers usually have advanced degrees and good credentials, it would be more appropriate for them to apply for EB-1 or EB-2 rather than an EB-3.
Q18: Who is eligible to obtain a Green Card through family?
A18: The following categories are eligible:

<![CDATA[The mentor-mentee program of INet NYC: A mentee's review]]>Sun, 26 Feb 2017 08:00:00 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/the-mentor-mentee-program-of-inet-nyc-a-mentees-reviewPicture

By Inna Bakman-Sanchez
Edited by Gayathri Devi Raghupathy

Finding a good career mentor is very important and yet at times we take it for granted. Career mentors have valuable experience and can help guide and advise you on your career path, establish clear and achievable goals, teach you how to overcome challenges in your field of work, as well as introduce you to the right people. For international students, such as myself, finding the right mentor can be priceless. Having come to a new country to pursue a PhD in the STEM fields, far from all things familiar and comfortable, sometimes you may find yourself overwhelmed by the language, culture, work demands, and lack of connections. Without guidance and help, it's far more challenging to discover all the great career opportunities that await outside academia.
So, how do you find a mentor? Your PI can answer some of your career related questions, but if they are not international or if your questions are not necessarily in their zone of expertise, there is a small but an important gap that needs to be filled.
I decided that first step will be to go to the event hosted by INet NYC with collaboration with the Science Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences - “Success Stories in Non-Academic Career Tracks: Overcoming the Barriers of an International Scientist in the USA". The major point that was made by the speakers was the importance of a career mentor and how that helped them to pursue and achieve their high positions outside academia, either as a science journalist, patent lawyer, consultant, pharmaceutical industry position, and more. At that event, I also learnt about the INet NYC Mentor-Mentee program.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to be a mentee at the INet NYC Mentor-Mentee Program. 
At first, I hesitated to partake in the program since one of the guidelines was to know what I want to do after my PhD. The goal of this information was to match you with the right mentor. But what if I don’t really know what I want to do? Having a career mentor pushed me to do some soul searching and to be honest with myself about what I am passionate about and what will make me happy even if that is not directly related to what I am doing right now.
My mentor, Dr. Roberta Marongiu, an assistant Professor of Neuroscience in Neurological Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine/NYP hospital, does research on developing novel gene therapy approaches for Parkinson’s disease. She moved to NYC from Rome, Italy where she did her PhD in Medical Genetics and Neuroscience. Even though our research interests are different, we were able to connect on a personal level - we could relate to the challenges of being foreign in the US. Having open conversations with my mentor allowed me to learn that sometimes your path is not clear right away, but with an open mind you may fall into research that you never thought would interest you, yet surprisingly grow to love and find success. The most inspiring moment for me was learning about my mentor's achievement in organizing a non-profit organization that combines both her passion for boxing and the fight against Parkinson’s disease - stoPD. Her example has inspired me (more than I can give credit to it in this post) to consider my own joy in the practice of painting, photography and working with children in the sciences, as well as the wonderful potential in combining these activities into an ideal career.
Next, I wondered whether there are other ways to still be a scientist and educator in the US without going through a post-doctoral training or dealing with limited OPT. Dr.Marongiu’s perspective was that it is preferable to do at least one post-doctoral research in order to take up more responsibilities, be more independent, extend your network and potential collaborators for the future. One key point is to put a strict deadline of two years to the length of that position. Since I am interested in teaching and working with the youth, my mentor recommended me to look for positions as a post-doc at universities and community colleges that have undergraduate programs rather than graduate-research programs or medical-research colleges.
Following my mentors’ advice, I took immediate action in finding volunteer programs and grants that will strengthen my resume as a science educator. Ultimately, my time with her so far has been transformative in coming to terms with what I could be passionate about and what work makes me happy, regardless of its relevance to what I am currently doing.
It is important to remember that a career mentor is one of the best tools at your disposal to figure out and navigate your future. Sometimes you may need only two or three meetings before you are looking in the right direction. It could also be a longer process that requires opening up, exploring, researching, and deciding on a path. Our relationship has run for several months so far, extending beyond the program’s pairing, since a mentor cannot simply help you forge your career overnight. I connect with my mentor primarily via email and phone conversations.
Should you apply for the mentor-mentee program even if you know exactly what you want and know how to get it? Definitely yes! Should you do so if you are completely lost? I believe that in order to benefit the most from this program, you should have some idea about what career paths excite you. Thus, considering this program presents a great opportunity to pause for a moment and envision your future self. Don't be shy to have open and productive conversations. Remember to have fun and, when you've found what you're looking for, to pay the service forward.
<![CDATA[Career in the Patent Field: Decision Pending?]]>Mon, 04 Apr 2016 15:50:20 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/want-to-become-a-patent-agent-but-is-your-decision-pending
Roshni Ghosh, Ph.D. Patent Agent, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
By ​Gayathri Raghupathy | Doctoral candidate in Biology at CUNY Hunter College
Edited by Tessa Barrett
​I have to say that I am quite lucky to catch someone who commutes roughly 83 miles a day, NYC—Westchester—NJ—NYC!! I immensely thank Roshni Ghosh for generously sitting down with me at my favorite coffee place for a good 2 hours. 

Roshni received her PhD in Developmental Genetics from St. Johns University, NY and is currently a patent agent at Regeneron while also working towards her JD at Seton Hall University. 

What motivated you to look outside bench work?
A whole bunch of failed experiments! I started attending events and conferences to learn about career options that did not deal with bench work. 

How did you get interested in patent law? 
The first time I heard about patenting was at a NYAS (New York Academy of Sciences) event. I learnt how scientific skillsets could be transferred to the field of patenting, and that you are still connected to science in a way.

How did you pursue your interest in patent law? 
To get a better understanding of the field, I searched for an internship opportunity in patent office and technology transfer office at my University. I also made a list of patent agents with a science background in the NYC region and sent out cold-emails. In fact, some of them replied and I connected with them for informational interviews. 

Did you enroll in any courses or internships to learn more about patent law? 
In the last year of my PhD, I enrolled in a certificate program in intellectual property (IP) at NYU.  I also landed an internship opportunity at a technology transfer office in Albany. Yes, I was juggling between wrapping up experiments, writing my thesis, a manuscript, IP coursework and internship.

Tell us about how you managed to undertake an internship and wrap up your PhD studies. 
My first internship was at a technology transfer office in Albany, NY. I was able to work remotely from NYC on a case for a client who wanted to license and market a product. I identified a product best suited to their need, identified the assignee of the patent and negotiated the license of the patent while working with a cross functional team. I also did an internship at the NY Blood Center, identifying potential licensees for their technologies. Overall, as a voracious reader, I had fun reading and digging information related to that project on patent websites. That was when I realized that this was a career path that I would really enjoy!

When did you start applying for full time jobs?
Towards the completion of my PhD program, I started searching positions with the patent field, and that’s when I came across a Regeneron job posting for a patent agent with a background in science. In preparation for the interview at Regeneron, I set up mock interviews with mentors from my internship. Some of the important aspects that they stressed were how to negotiate compensation and how to ask good questions during the interview. 

What was your interview experience at Regeneron like?
Most of the questions asked were about my internship experiences and my coursework at NYU. I remember one of the interviewers asking me, “are you sure that you want to do this?” a question that I was asking myself for quite sometime was now being asked aloud by someone else. As an assertion to my own inner voice, I confidently said, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do’, and now there has been no looking back….. 

Explain what you do at Regeneron as a patent agent. 
I wear several hats within the patent ‘world’; broadly divided into patent research, surveillance, drafting new patent applications and inventor interviews, all which require a lot of paper work! I also perform competitive intelligence for new molecular targets. For instance, if our R&D team was interested in pursuing a new cancer target, I would research the current patent landscape to find out which companies currently hold patents in the field and their patent portfolio. The research aspect of my work keeps me touch with the trending science. 

Tell us about the patent department at Regeneron.
When I joined the patent team there were 8 members, in the last year we’ve expanded to more than 20. Almost all the agents at Regeneron have a PhD and post-doctoral experience. 

What is it about the patenting field that excites you? 
During my PhD, I realized I didn’t enjoy bench work; however I loved reading articles, identifying problems and designing solutions. As a patent agent I am able to transfer those skillsets and interests to my cases. I’m an introvert, I love reading, and I can sit for hours in front of the computer. But at the same time, to break my routine, I get to conduct interviews and communicate my findings to my team. As a patent agent at Regeneron, I have front row seats to see some cutting edge science and technology. 

What is your next big move? 
Recently, I passed the patent bar exam but I couldn’t stop there, so I’ve enrolled to law school (Seton Hall University of Law, NJ) to get my law degree. While you don’t necessarily need a law degree to get into patenting, in the future I’d like to become a patent attorney.  So, I’m back juggling between work, law school and of course the long commute….

What is your advice for our readers who want to pursue patenting? 
-Enroll in courses related to patenting (courses-NYU SCPS, WIPO, certificate programs)
-Search for internships at technology transfer offices (talk to someone at your University technology transfer office)
- Set up informational interviews with those in patent roles
-Register for relevant events/conferences 
<![CDATA[You Are Not Alone Series continued... "Sharpen Your Professional Writing Swordsmanship" -By Yue Liu]]>Tue, 08 Mar 2016 15:10:34 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/you-are-not-alone-series-continued-sharpen-your-professional-writing-swordsmanship-by-yue-liu
By Yue Liu | Doctoral Candidate in Biology at CUNY Hunter College. 
Edited by Tessa Barrett

You Are Not Alone series: If you are an international student or a post-doctoral fellow in the USA and feel isolated, confused, or misunderstood, you are not alone. This is a continuation in a series that explores common challenges faced by international students. 
Sharpen Your Professional Writing Swordsmanship

Writing in English is unquestionably one of the major challenges international students must conquer. Professional writing, especially scientific writing, is particularly challenging, due to the requirements for clarity, accessibility, and accuracy. The first step in becoming competent in professional writing is to sharpen your writing skills. But how can we do it given our tight schedules, limited funds, and intimidating academic requirements? The following is a range of options arranged by accessibility, depending on your skill level, from which international students can choose:

Read Quality Materials on a Daily Basis
Nobody can become a good writer without reading. A benefit of intensive reading is the broadening of our working vocabulary. Besides understanding every single word within various contexts, Monica Thorn, a very organized and encouraging English tutor at Hunter College, suggests comparing a group of related words such as synonyms and antonyms from a thesaurus every day. Personally, I have signed up to receive the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day. I also recommend an affordable and portable book, Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder, which is organized by word-building roots. Thorn also recommends devoting 15 minutes per day to reading quality materials, such as The New Yorker, The New York Times (many universities provide free access), Wired, The Economist, and so on. In addition to building vocabulary, Dr. Kate Gao (a scientific editor at Nature Communications) believes reading not only brings great pleasure but also inspires us to generate our own beautiful stories. Dr. Gao suggests reading several great writers to progressively internalize their ways of storytelling to develop one’s own unique writing style.
Read and Analyze Well-written Scientific Articles
We usually read scientific articles for research, but how often do we pay attention to their logic and sentence structure? Does the article present an engaging argument like telling a captivating story? Dr. Gao suggests reading well-written scientific articles and learning how to organize data logically, precisely, and compellingly. Moreover, closely comparing one’s first draft of a research paper with the final version will help us find the areas that need improvement.
Get Free Assistance from the Reading and Writing Center at Your Institution
Most institutions provide free materials and one-on-one tutoring for students to develop fundamental reading and writing skills through Reading and Writing Centers. I met Thorn at the Reading and Writing Center at Hunter College. However, the levels and styles of tutors are quite different, and it may take time to find a good match. In addition to tutoring, you can find many useful handouts and resource links on their websites.  
Take Writing Classes and Workshops for Free   
I have audited writing classes at my institute and learned how to compare various forms of literatures and write critical analyses. For professional science writing, most graduate schools provide free science writing workshops. In addition, we can also take online science writing classes, such as the Writing in the Sciences course offered by Stanford University, as recommended by Dr. Jun Tang (a postdoctoral scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). Dr. Tang strongly believes that non-native English speakers will become good writers with practice, and suggests reading good resources to absorb the language usage in one’s own writing, as well as writing regularly and revising intensively.  .
Get Continuous Feedback from a Good Writer
Dr. Tang also suggests finding a good and patient writer (a friend, an English tutor from a Reading and Writing Center, or a professional writer if you can afford it) to go through your writing (e.g. essays, research proposals, and cover letters). Continuous feedback is key to improving your writing skills. For example, I was very lucky to work with Jane Shmidt (a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at CUNY). Shmidt was very patient and scrupulous in examining my writing. I developed a better sense of logic and realized the importance of organizing the structure. Shmidt gave me two pieces of advice: 1) keep a daily journal to practice writing; and 2) have a reader relay a draft back to the writer, who will then know the parts that require clarification.
Take More Advanced Writing Classes and Workshops
If free resources such as Reading and Writing Centers, auditing classes, and taking online classes do not satisfy your craving for further improvement, there are many more classes and workshops available. Dr. Gao suggests the creative writing classes offered by the Gotham Writers' Workshop (https://www.writingclasses.com/) and the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop (http://sciwrite.org/).
Join Professional Organizations for Writers
Dr. Joan Liebmann-Smith (a consulting writer and editor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) suggests joining organizations such as National Association of Science Writers, Science Writers in New York, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Writers Association, The New York Academy of Sciences, or any other organization related to your field.
Hone Analytical Skills through Editing
Dr. Liebmann-Smith also suggests forming or joining a reading/writing group to analyze and critique each member’s writing. For example, Jordana Lovett (a doctoral candidate at CUNY), who has always been passionate about scientific writing, finds the most satisfying means of improving her writing is to edit other people’s work. The critical reading and editing process trains her mind to write more effectively.
        “You don’t succeed as a scientist by getting papers published. You succeed as a scientist by getting them cited. … You succeed when your peers understand your work and use it to motivate their own…. Success, therefore, comes not from writing but from writing effectively.”
Joshua Schimel
Acknowledgement: I am very fortunate to know many great writers who are generous in sharing their valuable experiences with me: Dr. Kate Gao, Dr. Joan Liebmann-Smith, Jordana Lovett, Jane Shmidt, Dr. Jun Tang, and Monica Thorn.

<![CDATA[Parenting and graduate school- By Jyoti Panta]]>Mon, 18 Jan 2016 18:47:05 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/parenting-and-graduate-schoolBy Jyoti Panta (edited by Tessa Barrett) 
PicturePic by Jyoti Pant
   Graduate school is an arduous path, requiring hard work and patience spanning over multiple years. The process can get more complicated when other issues such as family, financial requirements, and the concerns about future career overwhelm this challenge. The Commission on the Future of Graduate Education found that the dropout rate for doctoral degrees is 40-50% (1), while another report found dropping out of graduate school was dependent on the field (2). Many who fail to complete their studies do so because of socioeconomic, financial, family-related, or mentoring and advising issues. Moreover, path to graduation can be more difficult sometimes for women with a family than men.
     The PhD completion rate of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is lower than men by 7-8% (3). However, according to a recent study, representation of women attaining PhDs and pursuing academic careers post-PhD in STEM has increased from 3% in 1990 to 27% in 2012 (4,5). Although this result is encouraging, the gender gap between men and women still persists. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women represent less than 25% of the total STEM workforce (5). On a global scale, women are underrepresented in scientific research roles, publication track record, and have less national and international collaboration when compared to men (6). Although various factors can account for this disparity, one of the major factors is the need for a balance between work and life, which is particularly difficult to establish for those who have kids.
     Being in graduate school with kids can be difficult and daunting at times. Here, I address some of these issues and provides tips on how to overcome them from a graduate student (with kids!) perspective.
Set Goals:
Set goals and act to finish them in a timely manner. While setting goals pertaining to the PhD project is essential, one should also set personal objectives with consideration to family.  It is very helpful to write down the aims and evaluate them on regular basis in order to monitor one’s progress. Although it is okay if some of the goals are not completed as planned, do not procrastinate. Finishing required work before deadlines is essential especially for parents, as they face surprises everyday! For example, your kid may be sick, you may have to attend programs at their childcare center, etcetera.
Ask for help:
“It takes a village to raise a child,” holds very true. Whenever possible, ask for help from family and friends. For example, we can ask family members to baby sit at home when crucial scientific endeavors cannot be put aside. Spouse or other family members can occasionally meet the child’s appointments as well. Picking the child up from school or day care is something that must be arranged every single day at a time that typically interferes with the later stages of a workday. Teaming up with one’s spouse, for example, to alternate between who has this responsibility each day can provide extra key hours for completing thesis work. Likewise, seeking out help and delegating tasks in the workplace can be an effective way to increase productivity in graduate school. Although, this most likely depends on your laboratory setting, respecting other people’s time and offering help in return whenever possible can be an effective way to get assistance from coworkers. Such practice also helps to develop collaborative skills and team spirit.
Socialize and Network:
Graduate students with kids have to be very efficient in both their thesis work and parenting. Obviously, the vast majority of our time is occupied between graduate school and family. This is good in a way, as it helps to keep us more focused. The downside of this busy life is that we may be isolated from our peers. Needless to say, we may not have as many opportunities as others to network, which is an essential activity if you have any plans to land a job after finishing the PhD. Therefore, moms in graduate school must make every effort to make time for socializing with peers and potential employers. There are many different types of networking events in every major city that we can and should essentially treat as a part of our coursework. Expanding your network as well as maintaining those contacts will eventually benefit in career building and growth.
Believe in yourself:
The key to success is your own effort. Being a parent and a graduate student is tough but both are achievable with persistence and determination. Self-motivation and self-discipline in extreme situations is a critical aspect of one’s future. We occasionally feel guilty for not giving enough time to the kids and the family. But we must remember that our family and people around us can be happy only when we are happy. Be the in charge of your own success and do not settle for less than what you deserve. So, if getting a PhD is what makes you happy then follow that dream!
  1. Wendler C., Bridgeman B., Cline F., Millet C., Rock J., Bell N., McAllister P. “The Path Froward. The Future of Graduate Student in United States”. Executive Summary. www.fgereport.org
  2. http://www.phdcompletion.org/information/executive_summary_exit_surveys_book_iii.pdf
  3. http://www.phdcompletion.org/information/executive_summary_demographics_book_ii.pdf
  4. Miller D. I., Wai J., “The bachelor’s to PhD STEM pipeline no longer leaks more women than men: a 30 year analysis”. Front. Psychol. 2015.
  5. Beede D., Julian T., Langdon D., Mckittrick G., Khan B., Women In STEM: “A Gender Gap to Innovation”. Executive Summary. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration. www.esa.doc.gov
  6. Lariviere V., Chaoqun Ni., Gingas Y., Cronin B., Sugimoto C. R., “Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science”. Nature. 2013.

Jyoti Panta is a PhD candidate in Molecular Biology at City University of New York, Hunter College.
​Jyoti can be reached at jpanta@genectr.hunter.cuny.edu
<![CDATA[From Geneva to New York City…. career path of an international scientist! By Gayathri Raghupathy]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 17:55:57 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/from-geneva-to-new-york-city-career-path-of-an-international-scientistBy Gayathri Raghupathy (edited by Chrystelle Montagne and Tessa Barrett) 
PictureChrystelle Montagne
On a crisp and sunny day this summer, Chrystelle Montagne and I sat down in a coffee shop to discuss science and careers, while I should have been running a gel or doing a PCR (shhh…!!). Chrystelle’s energy was quite contagious, which kept the discussion about her arduous 10 month search for a career opportunity interesting. Chrys gained her PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Geneva; where she developed a novel live imaging technique to study intestinal stem cell divisions in the Drosophila midgut. Chrys was clearly passionate about science and excited about the work that she did during her PhD, however she has made the move to leave benchwork for good. I found this interesting as for some time now I have wondered what makes someone with all the essential credentials for ‘scientific glory’ drift away from bench science and move into a new field? Chrys answered my questions by walking me through her thought process of transition from bench scientist to her current role as a Senior Project Manager at the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia University.

What was your career plan following your PhD? 

I studied biology to have an impact on the wellbeing of patients. I love science and bench work but I was not able to clearly see the application of my findings to public health research. Since I love team spirit, I was feeling too isolated working alone on my research project. At the end of my PhD, I decided to move on from bench work and look for positions that would allow teamwork, management and direct impact on patient lives.

What got you interested in exploring non-academic career fields?

During my PhD I had the opportunity to work with some exceptional people to organize a scientific event in Geneva to promote collaboration between 30 laboratories at the University of Geneva, and a local biopharmaceutical company. The conference gave me first-hand experience in fundraising, logistics and price negotiations, and made me realize that I loved managing and interacting with people more than bench work/science research. So I focused on finding a non-bench work career that would excite me.

How did you specifically decide to look for a project manager position?

It took me almost 2 years to identify all the different positions present outside of academia and match that to my skillset and interests. Once I embarked on the journey of exploring what I wanted to do after my PhD, I became very active outside the lab; I attended career assessment workshops and talks about opportunities in various fields outside of academia. Connecting with terrific people at ‘Uni-emploi’ in Geneva helped me assess my skills and figure out that what I love: Project Management. Thanks to some fantastic people who helped me shape my career path amidst their busy schedule. I highly recommend informational interviews and creating a strong professional network.

What motivated your move to NYC?

I presented my research work at an international conference in Athens.  After my talk, a Professor from Columbia University who shared a similar line of research to me was quite interested in my results. He offered me post-doctoral research position in NYC, and although at that time I had not decided to move to NYC, at a later point, personal reasons made me move to Manhattan and take up that job offer. This was a great experience for me to close my academic research chapter by sharing my expertise and knowledge on the live imaging assay that I developed.

How did you pursue looking for project manager positions during your post-doc at Columbia?

I conveyed my future career plans and interests in precision medicine to my PI so that helped me to freely attend talks and networking events. I identified weak points of my CV and worked on strengthening them according to my career plan. For example, I didn’t have experience interacting with patients, so I volunteered in hospitals to demonstrate my interest in clinical studies. I sent out emails and LinkedIn invitations to develop connections and learn more about project management. My mentor Peter W. Park, PhD (Medical Affairs, Pfizer Inc) guided me through the job search process, put me in contact with interesting people and beyond that encouraged me through difficult moments. I am deeply grateful to him.

Tell us about how you landed your current position?

‘I was lucky’ (-says Chrys, modestly). I applied for a Clinical Research Coordinator  position at the Institute for Genomic Medicine (IGM) at Columbia University that I was very interested in. I directly sent out an email to the IGM director.  While waiting for a reply, I attended a seminar where the IGM director was giving a talk. Right after his speech I literally ran to him to introduce myself and explain my interest in working for IGM. He said that the position was already filled up, but was interested in my profile and would like to discuss with me. I met him a month later and what was intended to be a casual networking meeting turned into an ‘interview’ followed by a job offer! I was thrilled to work for this incredible institute that is doing so much for patients and thus I accepted the Senior Project Manager position at IGM …this is a dream come true!

What is your role as a Senior Project Manager at IGM?

I am handling three major precision medicine initiatives; Epilepsy, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and the Maternal and Fetal Medicine initiative. I am also in charge of all the collaborations that the institute has with the industry. I love the diversity that this position offers; I am involved in the writing of clinical proposals, recruitment of post-docs, organization of events, budgeting. But most of all, I am interacting with a lot of people from various fields (clinicians, genetic counselors, scientists, project managers, bioinformaticians…) which is really rewarding and a tremendous experience.

Any tips for job search?

·  Work on your ‘elevator speech’: How to present yourself in less than 2 minutes
·  Identify your strength and your weakness: Develop new skills to match the job     that you are targeting
·  Build your network and keep it growing
·  Have a mentor who can guide you through the job search process

At this point, Chrys had to run to another meeting and I had to run those gels …

Chatting with Chrys about her career search journey helped me understand some simple things that we often miss out when we dive into the large pool of career options: sit down and think about what you love to do, what are you good at and find a career to match. It is crucial to network aggressively but always politely. Overall, set a goal, be persistent, and just make it happen!

(Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Chrystelle Montagne for this interview. Chrys would like to immensely thank the people who have helped her through this journey and specifically thank Peter W. Park for his support and mentorship


The author Gayathri Raghupathy, is a doctoral candidate at Hunter College, CUNY and IT/Social media manager for INet NYC. 

Please email Gayathri at 
graghupathy@gradcenter.cuny.edu if you have any questions. 

<![CDATA[The Exodus of STEM Professionals: Implications for America’s “intellectual capital”- By Ekaterina Taneva]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 17:55:47 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/the-exodus-of-stem-professionals-implications-for-americas-intellectual-capital
By Ekaterina Taneva (edited by Tessa Barrett and Gayathri Raghupathy)
Background: The United States used to be a welcoming country for foreign nationals, fostering growth, encouraging competition, and seeking to retain US-trained scientists. Post-graduation, most foreign scholars were able to acquire work experience at top American companies and even obtain permanent citizenship. All international students I met as a freshman in a US college were hired in high-level positions prior to graduation and transitioned smoothly into the American working force. What is the current landscape for foreign scientists in the US? America still imports much of its scientific talent from abroad, with foreigners representing over 50% of STEM graduates (college.usatoday.com). However, the outflux of foreign scientists post-graduation has increased dramatically and is often referred to as the “brain drain” phenomenon. David Heenan, author of “Flight Capital: The Alarming Exodus of America’s Best and Brightest”, estimates that as many as “1,000 skilled legal science non-US professionals make 
“U-turns” daily and join other developed economies”. A survey conducted using LinkedIn revealed that the US is no longer the #1 destination of choice for foreign scientists. A comprehensive article by Vivek Vadhwa (Senior Research Associate with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School) elaborates on the reasons for the “talent outflow”: restrictive visa policies tightly linked to anxiety due to constant deadlines and the fear of being “out-of-status”. The reasons for the “exodus” are clear; however, the economic ramifications associated with the outflux of US-educated scientists and innovators is murky.

Hypothesis: The outflow of skilled, non-US science professionals, whose education has been an enormous financial undertaking, will have a significant, long-term impact on the American economic, scientific and technological dynamism. The exodus phenomenon will shift the balance of intellectual power to a “net loss” of skilled US-trained STEM immigrants and will accelerate unethical behavior (e.g. seeking loop holes in the immigration system).

Rationales: The “brain drain” phenomenon is occurring at a time when the US economy needs external help more than ever. According to a recent LinkedIn talent blog, the United States was a “net loser of talent” in 2014. Foreign STEM professionals are “flocking” to other countries, such as Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Singapore, and Germany, which have enacted a more tolerant “open-door” policy for educated and skilled scientists. 

Methods: A survey was conducted amongst my network of international scientists at INet NYC and LinkedIn with regards to the overall cost of their American science education and the financial resources that made it possible for them to acquire their unique skill set. I very well understand that adding a “price tag” to a degree is considered, to say the least, a superficial or uncomfortable concept, considering that education is commonly perceived a priceless endeavor. Nonetheless, it as an investment, which is two-sided: the foreign student invests a tremendous amount of discipline and endures separation from the nest; the US system, on the other hand, invests a considerable amount of effort and financial resources in recruitment and facilitation of the student’s transition into one of the most advanced and challenging professional pathways.

Results: Based on a small sample size survey (n=6), which is by no means powered to provide any “statistically significant” form of analysis, the US invests, on average, half a million dollars per student in the form of tuition reimbursement, scholarships, fellowships, travel awards, and conference trips and registration fees. For internationals, who start their scientific development in the US as an undergraduate students, this number can be close to $ 1 million! A million dollars to mold a foreign national straight out of a foreign high school into a uniquely specialized scientific powerhouse that is less and less likely to be retained in the US for a multitude of reasons. You may be wondering why the investment is so high if most PhD programs “waive” their tuition fees (which amount to approximately $50,000 per year for most institutions, particularly in the NYC area). Well, they do not actually waive it. It is usually covered by an external source, such as the National Institutes of Health, private sponsors, donations, scientific foundations, and/or PIs grant money: an immense amount of resources invested in the noble concept of nurturing intellectual enrichment, diversity, and dynamism within the American higher education system. 

Discussion: Based on the results of my survey, every international scientist is an upfront investment, a “walking human capital”, which theoretically, should be retained in order to “give back”. The idea of investing money to make money is not foreign, even when it comes to education. And yes, US science institutions accept international scholars for the noble reasons of enhancing diversity, rankings, and ultimately providing a stepping stone for young professionals. Yet, in a time when the US is facing budget cuts and economic recession, policy makers may have to consider whether such investments provide sustainable revenue for their own country’s economic advancement. If education is truly the key to American competitiveness and economic success, then the current goal should be not to restrict access to jobs but to make sure that the continued financial investment in highly skilled, US-trained scientists is retained. Most of my fellow American scientists, whom I have spoken with regarding this issue, understand the importance of investing in education and ensuring that all students, both local and international, reach their highest potential. They all indicated that educational funding needs to be not only sufficient but also ensuring of “returns on investment” after spending. Instead, the proposed bills aim to curtail work offers to foreign nationals and to further limit possibilities of switching jobs. The lengthy and anxiety-producing waiting periods associated with obtaining working permits and the funny, and yet undeniably degrading hint to “speed-date” an American in your last year of grad school, push a lot of foreign students to contribute their intellectual capital to economies abroad. 

Conclusions: In summary, the exit of ambitious and highly educated STEM professionals, who could have created jobs, filed patents, and established companies and startups represents a loss of intellectual manpower that can now be applied outside of the US. After presenting to you an excruciatingly long, vague and scientifically weak introduction to a vast topic that is beyond the scope and limits of any scientific dissertation, I will commit the mistake of posing my main question at the end, rather than at the beginning of my abstract: What is the benefit of educating, training, and investing in a foreign national if you plan to have them leave and apply their US- acquired skills in a competing economy? And last but not least, why is the chance of “Tinderella marriage” statistically more likely to come to fruition than winning the H1B lottery?

Conflicts of interest: As all of you may have already guessed, I am an international student. Therefore, my opinion is extremely biased. 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank INet NYC for the wonderful opportunity to write about whatever I want in any format I find suitable. 

College USA Today: http://college.usatoday.com/2015/07/08/international-students-stem-degrees/
LinkedIn Talent Blog: https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/2015/08/the-top-countries-gaining-and-losing-talent)
Vadhwa, V. “An Outflow of Talent: Nativism and the US Reverse Brain Drain”, Harvard International Reviews: 2009, p. 76-80


Ekaterina Taneva is a PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an Institutional Representative of INet NYC.

<![CDATA[You are not alone series: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone- By Yue Liu]]>Thu, 01 Oct 2015 16:30:19 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/you-are-not-alone-seriesstep-out-of-your-comfort-zone
PicturePhoto by Anna Galuza
 Dr. Weigang Qiu, an Associate Professor of Bioinformatics at Hunter College, CUNY, shares his experiences of adjusting to a new culture when he moved to the US from China in 1993. As a graduate student at Stony Brook University, SUNY, he found the cultural transition quite challenging. The main reason was the language barrier. He could read Sherlock Holmes and research papers without a dictionary, but he couldn’t understand headlines in The New York Times. With no clue about celebrities, pop music, TV shows, movies, or current events in America, he struggled with conversational English and social events. 

    Realizing the problems and following the advice of a fellow graduate student, he subscribed to The New York Times, The Economist, News Week, and National Geographic. Immersion in daily reading not only helped relieve his loneliness, but also made him more knowledgeable about the US culture. He also consciously made time for daily conversation and socializing with native English speakers. 

    “The mentality to get out of your comfort zone and set time for socializing is crucial in breaking the shell that capsulizes you,” says Dr. Qiu. While many international students can perform well academically, some do not realize the importance of interacting with people. The people around you have valuable experiences and resources to share—the social and historical context of their professional work is not written in any textbook. Human beings are social animals: interacting with each other can build networks, strengthen communication skills, and release anxiety and stress. To crack open the insulating shell, one way is to be more adventurous and curious about new cultural experiences. 

   The Internet: a blessing and a curse. Dr. Qiu notices a serious impediment to social integration for younger generations of international students: the easy access to media in their native languages. It is rare to see international students read news from traditional media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Wall Street Journal—all of these can offer in-depth coverage and professional analysis of current events. Even fewer students keep at hand a copy of The New York Times best-sellers (fiction or non-fiction) for leisure reading. “You will find these books not only entertaining and informative, but also highly enlightening and rewarding.” Dr. Qiu recommends.  

    It is unquestionable that the Internet makes the new generation of international students more familiar with American pop culture prior to arriving in the US. Paradoxically, the Internet also becomes a barrier to experiencing the US society firsthand after their arrival. People use cell phones to instantly check posts from friends, news about their admired celebrities, and current hot topics, all in their native languages and through home-country media outlets. Dr. Qiu regards this both a blessing and a curse. Instant and constant connection to their home countries makes people feel less nostalgic and isolated. Therefore, the Internet becomes a cultural umbilical cord hard to cut. However, they also feel less motivated to reach out for face-to-face interactions and to acculturate themselves.                                
    Even after living more than twenty years in the US, Dr. Qiu and his wife still work to improve their English pronunciation. (He highly recommends the book Mastering the American Accent by Lisa Mojsin.) The reason is simple: no matter how brilliant and humorous you are, if you have a strong accent, it will be very difficult for others to understand you. 
 “For international students, investing time and energy in cultural understandings is not opposed to career development. In the long run, cultural integration is a necessity and an asset for professional success. Plus, it’s fun and enlightening to bridge the gaps (and, sometimes, to reduce the hostility) between the cultures. To get started, wean yourself from reading news in your native language for a day, if not a week, a month, or a year.”
                                                                                                                              --------- Weigang Qiu

Special thanks to Dr. Weigang Qiu for sharing his experiences. 

The author of the You Are Not Alone series, Yue Liu, is a doctoral candidate at Hunter College and CUNY’s Institutional Representative of INET NYC.

Please email Yue at 
yliu@genectr.hunter.cuny.edu if you have any ideas for our future blogs. 

<![CDATA[From String to Strand- By Jordana Lovett]]>Wed, 09 Sep 2015 16:10:41 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/from-string-to-strandBy Jordana Lovett (edited by Tessa Barrett and Gayathri Raghupathy)
PictureCold Spring Harbor Labs (Photo by Gayathri Raghupathy)
Ask a molecular biologist what image DNA conjures up in the mind. A convoluted ladder of nitrogenous bases, twisting and coiling dynamically. Pose the very same question to a theoretical physicist, chances are that DNA takes on a completely different meaning. As it turns out, DNA is in the eye of the beholder. Science is about perspective. Moreover, it relies on the convergence of distinct, yet interrelated angles to tackle scientific questions wholly.  

When I met Dr. Vijay Kumar at a Cancer Immunotherapy meeting, I was immediately intrigued by his unique background and path to biology.  Vijay largely credits his family for strongly instilling in him core values of education and assiduousness. He was raised to strive for the best, and was driven to satisfy the goals of his parents, who encouraged him to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. While slightly resentful at the time, he now realizes that this broad degree would afford him multiple career options as well as the opportunity to branch into other fields of physics in the future. 

As early as his teenage years, Vijay had already begun thinking about the interesting unknowns of the natural universe. With his blinders on, he sought to explore them using physics and math, both theoretically and practically. As he advanced to university in pursuance of a degree in electrical engineering, he strategized and planned what would be his future transition into theoretical physics. He dabbled in various summer research projects and sought mentorship to help guide his career. Vijay ultimately applied and was accepted to a PhD program at MIT, where he studied string theory in a 6-dimensional model universe. He describes string theory as a broad framework rather than a theory that can be related to the world through ‘thought experiments’ and mathematical consistency.  Vijay continued his work in string theory during a post-doc in Santa Barbara, California, where he found himself surrounded by a more diverse group of physicists. Theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, and biophysicists were able to intermingle and share their science. 

This diversity spurred new perspectives and reconsideration of what he had originally thought would be a clear road to professorship and a career in academia. As one would imagine, the broader impacts of string theory are limited; the ideas are part of a specialized pool of knowledge available to an elite handful. Even among the few competition was fierce, at the time there were only two available openings for professors in string theory in the United States. Additionally, seeing the need and presence of ‘quantitative people’ in other fields, such as biology made him increasingly curious about alternatives to the automated choices he had been making until this point. With the support of his (now) wife, and inspiration from his brother (who had just completed a degree in statistics/informatics and started a PhD in biology), he networked with other post-docs and set up meetings with principle investigators (PI’s) to discuss how he, as a theoretical physicist, could play a role in a biological setting. He spent time during his post-doc in Santa Barbara, and throughout his second post-doc at Stony Brook reflecting, taking courses and shifting into a different mindset. Vijay interviewed and gave talks at a number of institutions, and eventually landed in lab at Cold Spring Harbor, where he now is involved in addressing some of the shortcomings in DNA sequencing technology. 

Starting in a different lab within the confines of a field means readjusting to brand new settings, acquainting with new lab mates and shifting from one narrowly focused project to another. Launching not only into a new lab, but into a foreign field adds an extra unsettling and daunting layer to the scenario.  Vijay, however, viewed this as yet another opportunity to uncover mysteries in nature - through a new perspective.  He recognized an interplay between string theory, wherein the vibration of strings allows you to make predictions about the universe, and biology, where the raw sequence of DNA can inform the makeup of an organism, and its interactions with the world.  It is with this viewpoint that Vijay understands DNA. He sees it as an abstraction, as a sequence of letters that allows you to draw inferences and predict biological outcomes. A change or deletion in just one letter can have enormous, tangible effects. It is this tangibility that speaks to Vijay. He is drawn to the application and broader consequences of the work he is doing, and excited that he can use his expertise to contribute to this knowledge.

While approaching a radically different field can impose obstacles, Vijay sees common challenges in both physics and biology and simply avoids getting lost in scientific translation. Just as theory has a language, so too biology has its own jargon. Once past this barrier, addressing gaps in knowledge becomes part of the common scientific core. Biology enables a question to be answered through various assays and allows observable results to guide future experiments- expertise in various subjects is therefore not only encouraged, but necessary. Collaborations between different labs across various disciplines enable painting a complete picture. “I’m a small piece of a larger puzzle, and that’s ok”, says Vijay. His insight into how scientists ought to work is admirable. Sharing and communicating data in a way that is comprehendible across the scientific playing field will more quickly and efficiently allow for scientific progress.

If I’ve learned one thing from Vijay’s story, it is to understand that science has room for multiple perspectives. In fact, it demands questions to be addressed in an interdisciplinary fashion. You might question yourself along the way. You might shift gears, change directions. But these unique paths mold the mind to perceive, ask, challenge, and contribute in a manner that no one else can. 

Many thanks to Dr.Vijay Kumar for sharing his experiences with me for this article. 


The author Jordana Lovett, is a doctoral candidate at Hunter College, CUNY. 

Please email Jordana at 
jlovett@genectr.hunter.cuny.edu if you have any questions. 

<![CDATA[You Are Not Alone Serie Lack of Public Speaking Training… or, Grandma to the Rescue- By Yue Liu]]>Sat, 01 Aug 2015 16:02:54 GMThttp://inetnyc.com/blogs/-you-are-not-alone-serie-lack-of-public-speaking-training-or-grandma-to-the-rescueBy Yue Liu
PicturePhoto by Anna Galuza
Due to language barrier, many international students and post-doctoral fellows cringe at the thought of public speaking. However, in the movie The King's Speech, King George VI, a stuttering sovereign, overcame his stammering condition and successfully made his first wartime radio broadcast. His experience tells us: persistence in practice is the pathway to success.   

Americans have been trained to express themselves with comfort and confidence since kindergarten. On the contrary, the lack of public speaking training imposes threats to the advancement of many international students’ graduate study and career development. Especially for international scientists, the intensive bench work makes receiving public speaking training almost impossible. Therefore, presenting research in an engaging manner is a constant challenge for them. In contrast, their admirable American peers can give brilliant talks about their research even when the results do not concur with the proposed hypothesis. The reality is, no matter what career path you pursue in the future, the skill to give a clear and accessible presentation is essential. 

When I realized my problem in public speaking, I felt aimless and desperate until I finally joined a public speaking club, recommended by my friend (the cute girl who ordered ‘cauliflower’ by saying ‘albino broccoli’ to the waiter in the first blog of this series (see our first blog). The name of the club is Toastmasters International (https://www.toastmasters.org/). The meeting we went to was at Hunter College. The meeting was organized by a Toastmaster, the host. The Toastmaster sets up a theme and introduces different speakers and evaluators with fun transitions related to the theme. There are three sections of a meeting: prepared speeches, table topics, and evaluations. The prepared speeches are delivered by well-prepared and passionate club members. The table topics section is a series of impromptu speeches. A participant comes up to the stage, and the Topics Master throws a question. At the end of each meeting, there is an evaluation section and each prepared speech is evaluated in an encouraging and stimulating way. 

As a welcomed guest, I was volunteered by others to participate in the table topics, although I had no idea what I should do and felt frightened in front of all those strangers. The theme of the evening was “Hero,” and the question was “Who is your hero and why?” I fumbled through my memory storage system and felt terrified that there was nothing I could come up with at that moment. My body was frozen, my blood was burning, and my heart was jumping to my throat. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and thought about my grandma, who has remained a comfort and inspiration to me, even though she passed away many years ago. Right! She is my hero! She is someone I continue to love and admire so much. I opened my eyes, relaxed my body, and told some stories about my dearest grandma sharing food with others during the Great Chinese Famine in the 1960s. She was always courageous, generous, and kind. Her experiences and actions shaped who I am, with all her kindness and virtuousness running in my blood. As I reminisced, I almost forgot I was on the stage. My emotional memories brought my grandma to life for the audience at that moment. Therefore, I received a very big applause, which really built up my confidence. My friend told me she almost cried when she heard my grandma’s body was swollen due to the lack of protein during the Famine. This experience tells me that I am more comfortable if I talk about someone I love, something I am familiar with, or a topic that has grabbed my passion. 

Attracted by the friendly and passionate atmosphere, I joined the club and received two basic manuals. One is the Competent Communication manual, which focuses on learning and practicing speech skills, such as the organization of a speech, the use of body language, and vocal variety. The other is the Competent Leadership manual, which includes different tasks and responsibilities to develop leadership skills, such as evaluating other people’s speeches, being a Toastmaster, and mentoring a new member. Upon completion of each manual, a corresponding award is granted, and there are more advanced manuals to help continue one’s improvement afterwards. Since I began the adventure of improving my public speaking and leadership skills at the Hunter Toastmasters club (http://huntertoastmasters.org/), I have given six prepared speeches, participated in a debate tournament, organized a meeting as a Toastmaster, led table topics as a Topics Master, and evaluated three speeches. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined being able to find the courage to do all these things a year ago.

Since I became a member of the club, I have heard about many hilarious experiences, touching stories, and inspiring speeches. I have met great people who are so energetic and encouraging. For example, Junior Baptiste, the President of the Hunter Toastmasters, felt painfully anxious at the thought of performing in front of a large audience when he was in high school. However, his passion for poetry helped him build confidence in front of the audience when he performed at talent shows. Afterwards, he took classes such as Argument and Debate and Public Speaking in college, which led him to where he is now. Junior told me, “…the audiences are almost always supportive.., and the fears that we experience … are nothing other than negative stories our mind creates.” I also met a member of Toastmasters International from Canada, Marie Betteley. Marie has been visiting different clubs in NYC, Paris, and Moscow when she travels around the world. These experiences have opened up new horizons for her. She has met many international friends with the same goal-- building self-confidence through developing leadership and public speaking skills.

Now, going to the club has become part of my life. Strong friendships have been established among the club members. When I need help, I know I am not alone and I am learning every day. Although the change we seek always requires great courage, it is never too late to improve.  

Many special thanks to Junior Baptiste and Marie Betteley for sharing their experiences with me for this article. 


The author of the You Are Not Alone series, Yue Liu, is a doctoral candidate at Hunter College and CUNY’s Institutional Representative of INET NYC. Please email Yue at yliu@genectr.hunter.cuny.edu if you have any ideas for our future blogs.