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Swarthmore in the NewsMarch 23, 2012

Postdoc or not?

By Karen Kaplan

March 21, 2012

Life-sciences graduates interested in academic research typically need to do at least one postdoc. For physics students, there are multiple caveats to consider.


Science postgraduates, especially those in the biological sciences, often see postdocs as a way to continue and refine their research, learn to run a laboratory and develop a broad, deep collaborative network. ... Although researchers in the biological sciences may have to take multiple postdocs before landing their first permanent post, the landscape is shifting for physicists. Nearly 70% of physicists who earned their degree in 2004 took a postdoc, but the proportion had fallen to 56% in the classes of 2007 and 2008, according to the Statistical Research Center of American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland.

One reason for the decline is that fewer people with physics PhDs are pursuing an academic research career. This is in part because there are, and have been, fewer positions to pick from....


A postdoc could even be a drawback for physicists considering the private sector. ....

Physicists with experience in US industry warn that a CV with three or more academic postdocs can create the impression that the applicant had hoped for a career in academia and does not really want one in industry. ...


The requirements are different for those seeking a government or academic research post, including at US liberal-arts colleges. Catherine Crouch, a materials physicist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, completed two postdocs at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned her PhD. In the first, she focused on physics-education research, with some teaching duties; in the second, she specialized in experimental research in a liberal-arts environment - important at Swarthmore, a liberal-arts college that heavily weights faculty research. As well as honing her research, she says, the fellowships taught her how to run a lab independently - and signalled to potential employers that she was capable of such. "When academic hiring committees are reviewing job applications, they look for a postdoc as evidence that you've had this kind of responsibility - how to run a research programme, how to pick good projects, how to decide what equipment will serve you well," she says. "There are all these meta-questions that don't necessarily come into your arena as a graduate student."

A postdoc expands young physicists' networks far beyond what they can typically achieve as a doctoral student, says Eric Jensen, chair of Swarthmore's physics and astronomy department. "It gives you the chance to build more collaborations and develop a network of colleagues at other institutions that you can be in touch with and work with," he says.


Women in Academia Report

Five Women Faculty Earn Promotions at Swarthmore College

March 20, 2012

Swarthmore College, the highly rated liberal arts college in suburban Philadelphia has announced the promotions of five women faculty members.

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt was promoted to full professor of Spanish. Her research is focused on Mexican and Central American social movements in literature, indigenous populations, immigration, and pre-colonial critical theory.

Professor Schmidt completed her undergraduate work in Mexico and earned a master's degree and Ph.D. at Temple University.

Elizabeth Vallen was appointed professor of biology at Swarthmore. She conducts research on coral reefs.

A graduate of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Dr. Vallen holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton University.

Jane Gillham, an associate professor of psychology at Swarthmore, was granted tenure. She studies the prevention and treatment of depression in children and adolescents and autism.

Dr. Gillham is a graduate of Princeton University. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Linda Chen was promoted to associate professor of mathematics and granted tenure. Her research is focused on algebraic geometry and algebraic combinatorics.

Dr. Chen is a graduate of Harvard University. She holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago.

Tomoko Sakomura was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor of art. She specializes in Japanese and East Asian art. Dr. Sakomura is a graduate of Keio University in Tokyo, Japan. She earned a master's degree and a Ph.D. at Columbia University.


Waging NonViolence (Web site)

Living Revolution

Three 'apps' for nonviolent action

By George Lakey, visiting professor at Swarthmore College

March 20, 2012

We're used to it by now: once an invention gets established, people add applications of it to situations the originators never imagined. This seems to be just as true with social inventions, such as nonviolent action.

I'm remembering a workshop that exiled Palestinian Mubarak Awad and I were leading in Washington. Among the activists in the workshop were several of the lead organizers from an eco-justice organization, and they started leaning forward when I described differences between nonviolent action when used for change and when used for defense. I could almost see thought bubbles forming over their heads, the concentration was so intense. The difference was something they'd seen again and again but didn't know how to name.

"For us, a typical campaign is to stop a company from dumping toxic waste in a poor neighborhood," one woman explained. "We organizers do our usual thing - contact people on the margin of the community who have an interest in change and persuade them to get active on the issue. Then suddenly we're surprised when a mainstream leader or two jumps into the campaign, and the next thing you know, they're out in the street blocking a trash truck, and we're wondering why are they so ahead of schedule?"

The other organizers with her laughed.

"We're perceiving the situation as just change, but they aren't. They're seeing it as defense - they are defending their community against the bad waste dumpers. And one of the things that's different about defense is that it's the responsibility of community leaders to defend their community, or they lose their credibility as leaders!"


Defense shows up more frequently on a smaller scale - for example, neighborhoods defending themselves against the threat of an expressway coming through. Some urban black neighborhoods in the U.S. used nonviolent action to fight the invasion of drug dealers; they marched, prevented drug dealers from using favorite street corners, and even used sledgehammers to beat down the doors of crack (cocaine) houses and chant their way inside while the dealers ran out the back!


I have no doubt that additional applications will be found for nonviolent action, because organizers are always looking for ways to stand up for themselves and others. Distinguishing among the three so far identified - change, defense, and third-party nonviolent intervention - gives us a head start on strategy. We won't act like social-change activists when defense is what people want. We won't waste our time "speaking truth to power" when it's change that we want. And we'll know how to profile ourselves for maximum leverage when we're seeking to protect others from victimization. Most of all, we'll experience ourselves as more powerful in those situations where it's a judgment call; we can decide for ourselves whether we'll win more easily by framing our campaign as one app or another.

Being able to strategize this way puts us ahead of previous generations, and it makes victories even more likely in our future.


NPR: All Things Considered/All Tech Considered

Digital Technologies Give Dying Languages New Life

March 19, 2012

Anchor: Tom Banse

Guests: Bud Lane, David Harrison [associate professor of linguistics], Gavin Nesbitt

(Parital transcript)

Robert Siegel: Now some digital efforts to rescue dying languages. There are about 7,000 spoken languages in the world is in and linguists reject as many as half of them may disappear by the end of the century.

Some language activists are trying to prevent that with high-tech tools, as we hear from Tom Banse of the Northwest News Network.

Tom Banse: Members of the Native American Siletz Tribe on the Oregon coast take pride in a language they say is as old as time itself. But today, you can count the number of fluent speakers on one hand. ...


Banse: The word translations are now available online along with lesson plans as part of a so-called talking dictionary. The site is hosted by Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. There, linguistics Professor David Harrison has also posted talking dictionaries for seven other highly-endangered languages from around the world.

David Harrison: This is what I like to call the flip side of globalization or the positive value of globalization. We hear a lot about how globalization exerts negative pressure on small cultures to assimilate.

Banse: But Harrison says language activists now have modern digital tools with which to go on the offensive, including iPhone apps, YouTube videos and Facebook pages.

Harrison and a colleague in Oregon have mapped hotspots for endangered aboriginal languages. One region is the Pacific Northwest. Also judged at high risk are tribal languages in Oklahoma and the U.S. Southwest. In Canada's far north, the Inuit people are struggling to preserve their native language. Part of their strategy was to work with Microsoft to translate the ubiquitous Windows Operating System and Office software into Inuktitut.



Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Blackouts lit way to energy career; Patricia Kampling, who grew up in N.Y. in 70's, will take over Alliant on April 1

By Judy Newman

March 18, 2012

Patricia Kampling ['81] was only 6 years old but she remembers the night the lights went out in New York City in 1965.

"My dad was stuck in the subway. He had to walk home," said Kampling, who grew up in Queens and Westchester County, N.Y. The massive Nov. 9, 1965, blackout left more than 30 million people in the dark for up to 12 hours in seven Northeast states and Ontario, Canada.

Then, just after Kampling graduated from high school, another blackout struck, focused this time on New York City, on July 13-14, 1977.

"I wanted to find out more about that industry," she said. "I wanted to help people."

When Kampling graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with degrees in engineering and economics, the energy industry beckoned. After the oil embargo of the 1970s, utility companies were building power plants and hiring engineers. "It was a very exciting, dynamic time," she said.

Kampling is about to begin a different type of dynamic time: She will take over April 1 as chief executive officer, president and board chairwoman of Alliant Energy. As the successor to Bill Harvey, who has been chairman and CEO for the past six years, Kampling will be one of only a handful of women in the U.S. to lead an investor-owned utility.



Engadget HD (Blog)

Universal ticker hack takes a look back at a time before NASDAQ

By Joseph Volpe

March 17, 2012

Know what takes the sting out of your crashing stock portfolio? Arduino fun, silly geeks. Alright, so in this case it's an FTDI Basic board, but the spirit of this hack remains the same. A Swarthmore student by the name of Ames Bielenberg ['13] picked up where his hobbyist Pops left off and cooked up a Spring Break scheme [watch: ticker] to reanimate a late 19th century Universal Ticker. What's that, you ask? Only an old timey way of printing out pulses of what those monthly dividends were going to look like. So, while other youngins were going six shots deep, our enterprising tinkerer blacked out the windows, forgot about the bikinis and gently transformed this rare relic (of which there are only 6,000) into a Mac accessory. ... Ames was able to breath new life into an antiquated piece of Americana. ...


The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Media and Technology Institute

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Media and Technology Institute holds a Technology Forum

March 15, 2012


Ralph Everett, president and CEO, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Joe Miller, deputy director of Media and Technology Institute, The Joint Center and and Senior Policy Advisor


(Partial transcript)

Everett: ... It is my pleasure to welcome you here today at this Joint Center Media and Technology Event. ...

As you know, the privacy debate is a very important issue in the 112th Congress and even so, it is more important to consumers that it is best they knew .... The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is a 42-year-old public policy research institution that posts issues and concerns to African-Americans and people of color. These communities generally make up the majority of new internet users, so it is natural for the media and technology institute to take such a vested interest in this issue.


Everett: At this point, I would like to introduce and call to the podium, Joe Miller, who is the Deputy Director of Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center and Senior Policy Advisor who will set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.


Miller: I just want to introduce Danny Weitzner ['85]. Danny is the deputy chief technology officer for Internet Policy in the White House Office of -- of Science and Technology Policy. His areas of responsibility include online privacy, cybersecurity, Internet copyright protection and the global free flow of information on the Internet.

Prior to joining the White House, he was associate administrator for policy at the United States Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and CIA and before that he served as a member of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Project Technology Policy team.


Weitzner has law degree from Buffalo Law School, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Swarthmore College. His writings have appeared in Science magazine, the Yale Law Review, Communications of the ACM, Computerworld, Wired magazine and Social Research.


Weitzner: ... As -- as you know all know, we're here to discuss the Administration's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. We released it at the White House just a couple of weeks ago, ...


I think frankly there are few communities in this country more than the civil rights community that understand the importance of privacy protection. We've been taught by -- by this country; we've been taught by the courts in their evaluation of how privacy rights apply in the political environment through cases like NAACP v Button about how important privacy is to people's ability to exercise their freedom of association to exercise their basic rights to participate in our -- in our political process in the economy, in social life, in educational life.

So, I think it's especially fitting that -- that you're having this event here today, and those -- those values -- those values of -- of freedom association and liberty and dignity, I think are really the values that we all ought to keep at the core of our thinking as we move forward on this issue.