Monday, November 10, 2008

The DNA Network

The DNA Network

7 Ingredients for a Successful Job Application [Bitesize Bio]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 06:23 PM CST

In my current position, I had the opportunity to hire a new R&D scientist to join the team. I was excited at being able to build my team and take my time to find the perfect fit for our company.

My experience in the process of hiring gave me a new perspective on all the reasons why people fail in interviews, or even to get them at all, and what the recipe for a successful job application.

I thought I would share with you some of these new insights and maybe I can spare you from making some of the common mistakes people made in applying for my job.

Here's my advice:

1. Read the job description and write a cover letter that is specific to that job

Common sense, right? Not as far as I’ve seen.

Many applicants sent us an apparently generic cover letter that was presumably used to blast numerous hiring managers. Often, nothing in the cover letter mentioned any of the key words from our ad

And even worse, many applicants had absolutely no experience all in the area of research we asked for. It was obvious they never visited our web page or even read the ad.

The best cover letter tells why they are the best candidate based on the specific qualifications – make sure yours fits the bill.

See our article on killer cover letters for more tips.

2. Visit the website before applying and make sure you have an understanding of what the company does.

If you don't thoroughly read the website, you won't really understand the job you are applying for and, worst of all, you demonstrate a lack of interest in the company.

This lack of knowledge will be apparent in your application, or glaringly obvious in the interview if you are called for one and kill your chances of getting the job.

Make sure you read the web page, understand the company; what it does, where it came from and where it's going. Don't just scan it, get as much information as you can and make sure you can impress the hiring manager every step of the way.

3. Know why you want to work for that company

One question we always ask is: why do you want to work for us?

Is it because you need something local? Is it because you want to get the hell out of wherever you are now? Is it because you love our products and love our culture?

You need to have an answer to this question and the answer needs to be positive and needs to tell the hiring managers that you believe in our mission and want to be a part of it.

Surprisingly, some people could not answer this question, or answered it in a way that made us feel that we were something to hold them over until a better position came along.

I'll let you guess whether or not they got the job.

4. Make it clear: “I want to work for you”

What the hiring people and your new colleagues want is someone that really wants to be part of the team. They want someone who is as passionate about the same things they are.

Are you a person who will fit in and get along with others? You need to show it.

The key is that if you think the job you are interviewing for is the perfect position for you, then say so, and say why.

Make it clear that you really want this job above all others you have applied to and want to be on this team.

5. Be positive about yourself and your abilities

No candidate actually matches every qualification on the list - employers don't expect you to. If they list 10 "nice-to-have" qualities and you have 5 of them, apply.

For example, if you have experience searching for and writing patents but no experience in presenting at conferences, let them know your strengths. Do not focus on the qualifications you don’t have or any other weaknesses for that matter.

In fact you should never mention your weaknesses unless and until they are specifically brought up in the interview. If you have a specific weakness that you know may be a problem for the job, come to the interview armed with good suggestions on how you could overcome it and examples of how you have overcome similar (or other) hurdles in the past.

This is the attitude that a hiring manager wants to see: someone who is not afraid to try new things and willing to learn and push themselves past their comfort zone.

We covered an interesting approach to being positive in job interviews in this article.

6. Be friendly and energetic… and make eye contact

Especially in small research groups or companies a major emphasis is (and should) be placed on how well any new employee would fit with the personalities and culture in the group.

It is impossible to predict exactly what different groups are looking for in this regard as all are different but something virtually everyone will be attracted to is a friendly and energetic approach.

So if you get an interview, be friendly; look people in the eye, smile where appropriate and show that you have an enthusiasm for life that you will bring to the job.

Of course you are likely to be nervous so you should give yourself a pep-talk before you go to the interview to get yourself in the right frame of mind and having something as simple as being friendly to focus on can help you get over your nerves.

7. Salary negotiation- a tricky area

It was shocking to me the amount of salary some post-docs wanted for their first job. Salary can range depending on the size of the company and the position. Beginning PhD scientist positions with no industry experience will range between $70,000-85,000 US. [Nick's note: it's way less in the UK - you can probably expect something like 20-25K, depending on subject and geographical area]

For a small company with less than 100 people, it will be on the low end and for a large company with >1000 people, it will likely be on the high end. Some start-ups with venture capital can also offer attractive salaries.

Your salary will depend on your degree, experience and whether you have specific expertise in a technique or area that is highly valued, and if you have previous industry experience, you can negotiate a higher salary.

A person coming from academia to industry has a big adjustment to make in their mindset toward their research so hiring company knows there is going to be more training around a company mindset and a slower learning curve.

The company is taking a big risk in hiring someone with no experience in an industrial lab just as you are taking a risk in making the jump out of academia in exchange for the big salary.

When asked for your salary requirements, say instead "the going rate" and then see what is proposed to you.  It is ok to counter-offer if you amount is below your expectation but keep it within $5000-$10,000.

Asking for too much more gives the impression that you will not be happy with your salary and will consider leaving the first chance you get.

Facilitated Variation: How the genetic code hedges its bets on a variable environment [Yann Klimentidis' Weblog]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 05:13 PM CST

Haven't had the chance to look very closely at the details, but this paper looks very interesting. Evolution thrives on variation, and according to them, the genomes of organisms can accumulate a sort of stored memory of past adaptation to varying environments that as they say "makes it more likely that random genetic changes will result in organisms with novel shapes that can survive."

Facilitated Variation: How Evolution Learns from Past Environments To Generalize to New Environments
Merav Parter, Nadav Kashtan, Uri Alon
PLoS Comput Biol 4(11): e1000206.
Abstract: One of the striking features of evolution is the appearance of novel structures in organisms. Recently, Kirschner and Gerhart have integrated discoveries in evolution, genetics, and developmental biology to form a theory of facilitated variation (FV). The key observation is that organisms are designed such that random genetic changes are channeled in phenotypic directions that are potentially useful. An open question is how FV spontaneously emerges during evolution. Here, we address this by means of computer simulations of two well-studied model systems, logic circuits and RNA secondary structure. We find that evolution of FV is enhanced in environments that change from time to time in a systematic way: the varying environments are made of the same set of subgoals but in different combinations. We find that organisms that evolve under such varying goals not only remember their history but also generalize to future environments, exhibiting high adaptability to novel goals. Rapid adaptation is seen to goals composed of the same subgoals in novel combinations, and to goals where one of the subgoals was never seen in the history of the organism. The mechanisms for such enhanced generation of novelty (generalization) are analyzed, as is the way that organisms store information in their genomes about their past environments. Elements of facilitated variation theory, such as weak regulatory linkage, modularity, and reduced pleiotropy of mutations, evolve spontaneously under these conditions. Thus, environments that change in a systematic, modular fashion seem to promote facilitated variation and allow evolution to generalize to novel conditions.

DNA in the Plot [Genome Blog]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 02:00 PM CST

My Biopunk partner hasn’t written about these ones yet, but on Sunday, I ended up watching a series of movies on TV with DNA in the plot. First up, the B-movie Sumuru. I channel surfed into this one and would have gone right out except the discussion of DNA caught my attention. What I gathered was that these two guys from earth pick a planet full of women to help the human DNA line survive. I think they were suggesting some kind of founder effect into the future. I wondered if in fact they were not suggesting more a Genghis Khan effect. I never found out as before the movie was resolved my doorbell rang and by the time I got back to my TV, Star Trek: Insurrection was on. What!!! Now we have regenerative radiation having a positive effect on the DNA to prevent ageing. Wow!!!

Recycling Myths Debunked [Bayblab]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 01:12 PM CST

Ran across this quick read about the realities of recycling on Bottom line is that recycling makes more sense than ever. Although I have read that the 'economic crisis' has recently caused a drastic reduction in demand for recyclable waste.

Worldmapper: viewing the world in new ways [Discovering Biology in a Digital World]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 12:21 PM CST

Worldmapper is a web site with 366 maps of the world. These maps however, are not the kinds of maps you've seen in school, with every country shown by size. These maps are cartograms. It's a bit like seeing a cartoon version of a Thomas Friedman book. These maps present a whole new way of visualizing information about the world.

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Do It Yourself: searching for evolution's signature in 53 human populations [Genetic Future]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 07:18 AM CST

Note: I'm introducing Do It Yourself as a new and hopefully semi-regular section on Genetic Future. The aim is to provide readers with instructions on how to access online resources for sequence analysis - an activity traditionally restricted to researchers, but one that will no doubt become more common as more and more people begin to access and interpret their own genetic data.

In this post I'll introduce the brand new HGDP Selection Browser, a tool for exploring traces of recent positive selection in the human genome produced by researchers at the University of Chicago.

Introduction: the traces of positive selection in the human genome
multiethnic_panel_tiny.jpgOver the last 50-100,000 years the human species has successfully spread from its African homeland to colonise nearly every corner of the globe, including environments ranging from desert to tundra. Adaptation to these diverse environments, along with major dietary changes, rapid population growth and exposure to a range of novel infectious diseases, has left its mark on the human genome. Essentially, all of us carry a molecular record of our ancestors' adaptation - and with the recent growth of databases of human genetic variation, we can actually determine (albeit imperfectly) which genes played a role in this process.

Genetic variants that offer a benefit to the individuals who carry them - such that they have, on average, more surviving offspring than non-carriers - will tend to increase in frequency in a population through positive natural selection. This relatively rapid increase in frequency has a substantial impact on the region of the genome immediately around the selected variant, resulting in what's known as a "selective sweep": a local reduction in genetic diversity, and an elevation of long-range linkage disequilibrium.

(You can think of these signatures as being a consequence of a selected variant being younger (on average) than a neutral region at the same frequency, due to its rapid increase in frequency. The low genetic diversity and high linkage disequilibrium result from the fact that there hasn't been much time for mutation and recombination, respectively, to act on the section of the genome closely linked to the selected variant.)

If the selection is restricted to just one or a few populations (due to a specific environmental pressure, or simply a lack of the beneficial variant in other populations) there will also be an increase in population differentiation in the region; in other words, in this portion of the genome, human populations will tend to look more different to one another than they do in other areas.

These classic signatures of a selective sweep have been used to hunt for genes subject to recent positive selection in humans by many groups, taking advantage of genetic variation data from the HapMap project and various other sources. The results of these analyses have been used to argue that recent human evolution has been characterised by pervasive, often population-specific positive selection, presumably resulting from the adaptation of modern humans to diverse, novel environments outside of Africa.

What's been lacking in most of these studies is analysis of a broad range of human populations - most attempts, by necessity, have been restricted to the European, East Asian and West African populations samples by the HapMap project. That's changed now with the arrival earlier in the year of data on 650,000 genetic markers (SNPs) in 938 individuals from over 50 populations, using DNA samples from the Human Genome Diversity Panel.

These genome-wide data have now been analysed for various signatures of recent selection by a team at the University of Chicago - and while the publication isn't out yet, the team has generously made their data available through a nifty online browser. It's worth noting that the same group previously produced the Haplotter browser, which allows you to examine signatures of selection in the four HapMap populations (for an introduction to Haplotter and other online resources, see the So you want to be a population geneticist? post on GNXP).

Using the HGDP Selection Browser
If you want to see if your favourite gene shows a signature of population-specific positive selection, here's how the browser works:

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Sciencebase Siblings [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 06:00 AM CST

sciencebase-siblingsJust a quick reminder of the various sites now associated with the Sciencebase Science Blog:

Over on we have an active science news forum, recently discussing everything from the morning banana diet scam to space elevators.

On you can find computing tips and tricks, hacks for making your blog or website work better for you and your readers and the occasional editorial on the latest research into social media, the web, computing, and related areas.

Free trade magazines, white papers, and other resources can be found at, including free subscriptions to Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, The Scientist, and BioTechniques, all journals to which I have contributed.

On,, and - chemistry news, molecular views, and chemical interviews

Under the Intute Spotlight - - the latest physical sciences news, and news with a spectroscopic, cheminformatics, or diffraction connection can be found at

That’s probably enough to be going on with, do check out the Sciencebase sibling sites, there are lots of free resources to read, download, and even listen to. But, if that’s not quite enough, you can find Sciencebase on social media, networking and bookmark sites, including twitter, digg, delicious, facebook etc. Usually available as username sciencebase or as David Bradley.

Meanwhile, if you are in the US and you spot Sciencebase syndicated on Reuters, Biospace,, Chicago Sun Times,, Livestrong, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Austin American Statesman,, or

Sciencebase Siblings

A Grad Student, a Postdoc, and a Professor are Walking… [Bitesize Bio]

Posted: 10 Nov 2008 04:10 AM CST

A grad student, a post-doc, and a professor are walking through a city park and they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out in a puff of smoke.

The Genie says, “I usually only grant three wishes, so I’ll give each of you just one.”

“Me first! Me first!” says the grad student. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat with a gorgeous woman who sunbathes topless.” Poof! He’s gone.

“Me next! Me next!” says the post-doc. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with a professional hula dancer on one side and a Mai Tai on the other.” Poof! He’s gone.

“You’re next,” the Genie says to the professor.

The professor says, “I want those guys back in the lab after lunch.”

Outside interests

There’s some reality behind that humor, albeit less extreme than the joke of course. This is a fairly common mindset in academia. However, industry has it’s own boss-related challenges. You still have a boss who wants to keep your productivity high, although you still look forward to those vacations.

But I’m finding that working in industry is growing on me. I get to leave my work at work, and just forget about it. And I have a reliable income, not having to live from grant to grant.

It’s also sort of what I was forced into. Living in a small Mediterranean country (Cyprus) with a small research infrastructure, I consistently got the response from heads of laboratories that “I’d love to hire you, but I don’t have enough funding.” Getting involved as a microbiological analyst at a pharmaceutical factory has been the best opportunity to a solid career, and the chance to support a family.

What do you think about the challenges of working in academia vs industry?

Next Gen-Omics [FinchTalk]

Posted: 09 Nov 2008 10:05 PM CST

Advances in Next Gen technologies have led to a number of significant papers in recent months, highlighting their potential to advance our understanding of cancer and human genetics (1-3). These and...

At least Spore didn't confuse my kid [adaptivecomplexity's blog]

Posted: 09 Nov 2008 09:37 PM CST

OK, so you all know that Spore isn't based on how evolution actually works. There has been some concern that playing the game would cause players to develop a faulty understanding of evolution.

So I was pleasantly surprised tonight at my 8 year-old's response (completely unprompted, honest!) when I read her the following:

How does life change over time, and how did all those different forms of life come to be?... [Evolution] is the result of tiny changes adding up to bigger changes. These changes happen deep inside the cells of every living thing - in the genes, the instructions that make that living thing what it is. Genes are passed along from a parent to its offspring, and every living thing has its own unique combinations. Every individual is different. Just like you are different from your parents, every generation of living thing is different, in small ways, from the last.

Over time, these small differences add up. With enough time, they can add up to whole new forms of life.

read more

How fast do you have to run if you're being chased by a velociraptor? [Discovering Biology in a Digital World]

Posted: 09 Nov 2008 08:36 PM CST

Brian Switek, from Laelaps, could probably tell you.

And, if you vote for him in the 3rd Annual College Blogger Scholarship competition, he just might.

He'll tell you why should you vote for him, too, and I agree.

And below the fold, is an inspirational cartoon.

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Putting Your DNA To Use In Bad Economic Times [Eye on DNA]

Posted: 09 Nov 2008 08:08 PM CST

An email I just received:

i looked briefly at your site and i was wondering if this is really true and i can donate my dna for money. please email me back and let me know if thats the case and how i can go about doing this. times are very rough now days and im willing to be a guinea pig if i can get help i need.

It can’t be THAT bad yet, can it?

Singapore Company DNA Dynasty Will (Not) Tell Your Children’s Future [Eye on DNA]

Posted: 08 Nov 2008 09:34 AM CST

No matter what they say, DNA Dynasty will not and cannot tell you what your “kids (sic) innate talent” is via “DNA discovery.”

National Society of Genetic Counselors President Angela Trepanier would agree. From her interview with Karen Kaplan of the Los Angeles Times:

Should DNA tests be used to test for traits like intelligence, athletic aptitude or artistic talent?

I would not use DNA tests for any of those reasons. All of these traits develop as a result of genetic and environmental factors. So for instance, even if a person has a low genetic aptitude for music, if her parents routinely play music in the house, send her to lessons, take her to concerts, and she is a highly motivated person who does what it takes to accomplish her goals, she may become a concert pianist despite her genetic makeup.

I would not want to use information in any way that could pigeonhole a person’s potential or desires or prevent them from having the same opportunities that others have, and I think that genetic tests for these types of traits could do that.

By the way, doesn’t their company logo look awfully familiar? That’s right, it’s the same “DNA in a test tube” design that Ricardo Vidal made especially for The DNA Network.

dna dynasty stolen logo

For more opinions on DNA Dynasty, see:

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