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In 2003, two brief pieces appeared on the site to fill what was then a new section. Over the years a theme developed, and now the essays all deal with some aspect of technological change, usually with a consumer bent. Generally three to four essays appear on the site each year. The current essay is also moved into the Essay Archives the month after it appears on this page. Click here to go to this month's article, or continue scrolling down the page.

     "The ancient Indian, Arabic and Persian tales known as "The Arabian Nights Entertainments" first appeared in their present form as collected in a fifteenth-century Arabic manuscript. Because of the way they are related, the stories are also known as "The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night."

     Most readers are familiar with the framework: Shahryar, emperor of Persia and India, having observed the treachery of his brother's wife and his own, vowed that he would marry a new wife every day and have her executed the next morning. But when the wise Scheherezade [also written Shahrazad in translations] became the emperor's wife, she determined a scheme to save the young women of Persia.

     On the night of her marriage to Shahryar she began to tell him a tale which fascinated him so much that he postponed her death for one more night so that he could learn the end of the story. Scheherezade told him stories for a thousand and one nights [some 273 tales]. Convinced of her worthiness and goodness, he let her live . . ."

From Introduction and Preface, Easton Press Sir Richard Burton translation of The Arabian Nights Entertainments

This Month's Essay - August/September 2009

Work in Progress - Stories for Summer 2009
Part II - Stories Skirting the Edge of Science

     Each year the essays included in this section have been the product of countless hours spent reading or browsing through hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of reports, documents, online materials and other information related to the topic at hand. When possible, the essays have been augmented by interviews with authorities in related fields. This year's subject has presented challenges, due to both the downturn in the economy as well as specific constraints I have faced, so the topic has shifted slightly from what was mentioned at the conclusion of the first part of the series. Part I of "Stories for Summer 2009" began by saying that the summer's essays would look at "creating the technology-related jobs of the future, particularly through technology start-up companies," and concluded by saying that the series "(hopefully) would present stories of local technology start-ups . . . and challenges they've encountered . . ."

     Part II will continue in looking at aspects of creating the technology-related jobs of the future, but with less emphasis on specific start-up companies. In revising this second part of the series, a basic question posed to me was, "How do you define a 'high-technology' industry?" For that answer I turned to a report called Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, a publication of a division of the National Science Foundation available at A note toward the end of the report (p. 8-102) gives the following definition:.

     "High-technology occupations include scientific, engineering and technician occupations. These occupations employ workers who possess an in-depth knowledge of the theories and principles of science, engineering and mathematics, which are generally acquired through postsecondary education in some field of technology. An industry is considered a high-technology industry if employment in technology-oriented occupations accounts for a proportion of that industry's total employment that is at least twice the 4.9% average for all industries (i.e., 9.8% or higher). Level I high-technology industries include 14 industries in which technology-oriented employment is at least five times the average for all industries, or 24.7%. Level II high-technology industries include the 12 industries in which the high-technology occupations are 3 - 4.9 times the average, or 14.8% - 24.7% of total employment. Level III . . . industries include 20 industries with a proportion of high-technology employment that is 2 - 2.9 times the industry average or 9.8% or 14.7% of total employment." (Since these are measures of private sector activity, the category of "Federal Government, excluding Postal Service," is not included in the high-technology list.)

     Level I industries cited in the report include pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, communications equipment, semiconductor and electomedical instrument manufacturing, and scientific research and development services, to name a few. Also, to my surprise, internet publishing and broadcasting was included in that category. This presumably would mean designing, creating, compiling and developing materials for a site such as this one. I say "to my surprise" because I have no formal training or in-depth knowledge in the field. To me, working on this site has been more like "skirting the edge of science and technology" rather than participating in what could be considered one of the highest level of high-technology occupations. Hence, however, the title of the August/September essay.

     Regular readers of the essay series will find this piece to be in a slightly different format than others which have appeared on the site. The 2009 series will continue to focus on some of the technology- and employment-related issues raised in Part I of the series, particularly in the context of materials presented in chapters from the Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 report. In addition (and in keeping with the site's summer theme), personal stories anecdotes and observations from the "annals" of will be included. The essay will not include some of the extensive footnote and bibliographic materials as have been included in the past, and page numbers for information drawn from the Science and Engineering Indicators report (i.e. 1-223, 4-102, etc.) will be included in the text. Links to PDF files of the actual report will be included at the end of the essay.

"CORAL TREE FLOWER" © 2009 Dorothy A. Birsic

Science and Engineering Indicators 2008

     So what exactly is Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) and why consider it? The report is a factual and policy-neutral volume of record containing high-quality quantitative data on the U.S. and international science and technology enterprise. (xii) The data provided are "indicators," or summary information bearing on the scope, quality and vitality of science and engineering (S&E) activity in this country. There is no riveting plot line, but if there was it would probably revolve around a world shifting to more knowledge-intensive economies dependent on an ongoing inflow of individuals with post-secondary training into the workforce. To be fair, the proportion of the U.S. workforce directly involved in S&E occupations is small (less than 5% in 2006) (p. O-25), but has risen nearly 60% since the early 1980s (p. O-25). This especially has been true for workers 25 - 34 years old, whose numbers more than tripled between 1950 and 2000.

     Consider also the importance of those involved in S&E activity to the state of California. For the most recent years of data available in the report, California ranked in the 1st quartile in the U.S. in:

- Academic patents per 1000 S&E doctorate holders (p. 8-84)
- Patents awarded per 1000 individuals in S&E occupations, and 3rd overall in the U.S. (p. 8-86)
- High-technology share of all business establishments (p. 8-88), and
- Employment in high-technology establishments as a share of total employment.

     The importance of the state in terms of technology-related and other start-up ventures with the potential for generating the jobs of the future also cannot be understated. This is partly reflected in the sources and amounts of new funding made available to enterprises in the state. According to the report, California ranks in the 1st quartile for both SBIR funding (p. 8-94, an indication of small business firms doing cutting-edge development work which attracts federal funding) and venture capital disbursed. Figures found in the 2009 National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) Yearbook further emphasize the role played by start-up and growing ventures in the state. In 2008, more than $15 billion in new venture capital (VC) funds were committed to investments in California, more than 4 times the amount invested in the next highest state (MA), and more than half of the total amount of total VC funds committed in the U.S. (n1) Overall, in 2008 there was more than $84 billion in venture capital under management in California. Though this was down slightly from the peak of $110 billion in 2006, the amount still represented about 43% of the total venture capital under management in the U.S. (n2)

     Again, as was stated in the July essay, a full discussion of where the jobs of tomorrow might come from would take more time and space than what can be accommodated here on the site. However, those wishing to find out a bit more about the specific enterprises receiving VC funds and the VC firms themselves may want to visit a site called "The Money Tree" ( The site is described as a "quarterly study of venture capital investment activity in the United States. As a collaboration between PriceWaterhouse Coopers and the NVCA based on data from Thomson Reuters, it is the only industry-endorsed research of its kind. The MoneyTree Report is the definitive source of information on emerging companies that receive financing and the venture capital firms that provide it." (n3) You must register (no fee) to gain access to the information.

Training for Tomorrow's Jobs Today

     Not only does California top the list in companies receiving venture capital funding, but according to the SEI report, four of the country's top ten academic institutions in terms of research and development (R&D) expenditures are also in the state (Pt. II, p. A5-19). In 2006, the state also ranked in the 1st quartile of individuals in science and engineering occupations as a share of the total workforce (p. 8-58).

     Three of the four academic institutions mentioned above are campuses of the University of California (UC) system. In addition to funding important basic research, the dollars spent fund research which may lead to future medical treatments and/or cures for diseases, new energy systems or technologies, or any of hundreds of products or services that help improve life in some way (see again Some of the research produces patented products or technologies which universities such as the University of California make available for licensing to other academic institutions or companies. You can read more about these in the annual reports of the UC system's Office of Technology Transfer (, and You can also browse lists of technologies currently available for licensing at

     The technologies included on the lists are in many cases complex and their use not necessarily clear to the viewer without a relevant scientific or technical background. What is obvious, though, is that they are products of expertise developed over a very long period of time - perhaps decades - often beginning with elementary school and continuing beyond a doctorate degree. There are many conclusions which can be drawn from the SEI report, and one of the most basic ones is that ". . . the progressive shift toward more knowledge-intensive economies around the world is dependent upon the availability and continued flow of individuals with postsecondary training into the workforce." (p. O-22). While the U.S. has typically maintained a strong lead in science and engineering activity, that lead is being challenged by rapid growth in a number of other countries, particularly China. Given the time that it takes to develop a workforce capable of conducting research or doing work in the type of science and engineering fields discussed, the question that may follow is, "Are we doing enough to both interest today's youth in these fields as well as train them adequately for the future?"

"CALIFORNIA POPPIES" © 2009 Dorothy A. Birsic

A Brief Look at California and the Nation

     For anyone wondering why the question is asked, consider the following two statements from the report:

     "As countries strive to develop knowledge-intensive segments of their economies, they promulgate policies to strengthen domestic S&T capabilities so as to become less reliant on foreign expertise. Some results of these efforts are difficult to measure, . . . but others are eventually reflected in readily-quantified data. Intellectual property rights in major markets in the form of patents are generally accepted as indicating a degree of technology innovativeness and sophistication, [and] publication of rising numbers of scientific and technical articles in international, peer-reviewed journals is evidence of growing scientific capacity . . . Patent applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) seek intellectual property protection in the world's largest national economy. Applications from foreign sources reveal growing technological capabilities around the world, as well as rising incentives to protect the exploitation of potentially economically valuable inventions. Such applications have more than tripled [in the U.S.] since 1985," (p. O-11), and as was outlined in the previous month's essay, in 2008 for the first time more U.S. patents were granted to applicants of foreign origin than to those of U.S. origin.

     "In the U.S., increasing proportions of S&E workers are foreign born and/or foreign educated, a fact that has been interpreted from a number of perspectives (more on this below) . . . According to census data, the number of foreign-born workers in the U.S. S&E workforce more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2000, with most of the increase taking place in the 1990s. As a result, the percentage of foreign-born workers in the U.S. S&E workforce increased from nearly 10% in 1980 to . . . 18% in 2000. Increases occurred among S&E workers at all educational levels but were especially pronounced among the more highly educated (Figure O-52). Thus, the proportion of foreign-born doctorate-level workers rose from 24% in 1990" to about 41% in 2005. (p. O-32) Also, the number of S&E doctorates awarded by U.S. academic institutions reached a new peak in 2005, but virtually all of the growth reflected higher numbers of S&E doctorates earned by temporary visa holders. Students on temporary visas earned more than 30% of all S&E doctorates awarded in 2005 (p. 2 - 5), and temporary residents earned half or more of all U.S. doctorates in engineering, math, computer science, physics and economics in 2005 (p. 2 - 6).

     As stated above, these facts are interpreted from a variety of perspectives. "Some observers stress strengths of the U.S. economy that pull in foreign workers, including the attractiveness of living in the United States and the favorable opportunities for high incomes and career advancement in the S&E workforce." (p. O-32) A report written from a comparable perspective can be found on the National Venture Capital Association website ( The report, commissioned by the NVCA, is called "American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness." The report "consists of three main sections. The first sections provides data on publicly traded and privately held venture-backed companies. The second section provides the results of a recent NVCA survey on immigrant entrepreneurs and H-1B professionals. The third part presents U.S. government data highlighting the importance of foreign-born scientists and engineers in the U.S. The study also showcases the extraordinary contributions of five immigrant founders of venture-backed companies from China, India, Israel, Lebanon and Taiwan." (n4)

     Other observers "express concern about the inability of U.S. society to prepare and interest young Americans in the S&E jobs that the economy makes available. (p. O-32) It is this concern that "has drawn intensive public scrutiny to the achievement levels of American students in mathematics and science in recent years." (p. O-33) For those interested in the subject, the report covers education-related statistics extensively in the first two chapters, and information broken down by state in the 8th chapter. What does it say about students in California? In a brief snapshot of the data available, for example, California 4th and 8th graders placed in the lowest (4th) quartile in math performance and science proficiency and performance, and in the 3rd quartile in math proficiency. (pp. 8 - 8 to 8 - 22) At the same time, the state ranks in the 1st quartile in the share of public high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams (in 2006, p. 8 - 30). There are also interesting statistics citing differences between the degrees earned by men and women in the U.S. (overall) in S&E fields. Women earned more than half of all bachelor's degrees and S&E bachelor's degrees in 2005, but major variations persist among fields. Women earned more than half of the bachelor's degrees in psychology (78%), agricultural sciences (51%), biological sciences (62%), chemistry (52%), and social sciences (54%), [while] men earned the majority of bachelor's degrees in engineering (80%), computer science (78%) and physics (79%). (p. 2-5) While women make up about 47% of the college-degreed workforce, they make up only 25.8% of college-degreed individuals in S&E occupations, [but] . . . since 1980, the share of S&E occupations has . . . more than doubled for women (from 12% to 25.8%). (p. 3-27)

     These represent only the most simple of the data points available on the very complex subject, and there is much more to the report than can be discussed here, especially as to how later education correlates with employment in S&E fields. Those interested in exploring the report in greater depth can go directly to the National Science Board/National Science Foundation website at or, or click on the pdf file links below.

-- Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 Part I
-- Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 Part II

Beyond the Numbers

     To their credit, the authors of the SEI report clearly state that there are "gaps" in the data and that it "leaves many questions about the state of science and engineering (S&E) enterprise unanswered." (p. O-36) Examples of areas for which information is lacking are clearly defined. Some of these areas include: informal learning experiences in K-12 education, S&E learning through museums, science centers, etc., emergence of multidisciplinary degree programs in higher education, employer-provided lifelong learning for S&E workers, innovation indicators, and many more.

     In looking at some of the "gap" categories, many brought to mind anecdotal S&E-related experiences, some of which may indirectly be part of the reason this site even exits today. An enduring interest in science and technology is one of the strongest threads which has woven its way through my life. This site, in "skirting the edge of science," is part and parcel of that, especially since I do not believe that my experiences over the years have been that different from those of many women of my generation, growing up in a period when there weren't many (shall we say) "skirts" in science.

     Surprising as it may seem, this website may have as much to do with my elementary school math teacher as it does with music or anything that has appeared on the site over the last seven summers. In the fourth and seventh grades I tested in the top one and two percent nationally in math, and in the 8th grade I was sent to the high school next door to take high school-level science courses. The path continued in high school, and in my senior year I was taking courses at the junior college across the street. During that time, my favorite field trip was always to the (old) Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles (am I the only one who remembers the static electricity-generating ball?), and I could hardly wait for the campus assembly when the explorer John Goddard returned to the high school. The teachers at that time always made learning interesting, from "Magical Mel" (who interspersed some very mundane trigonometry with some very amazing magic tricks), to biology instructor Mr. Bradshaw, who probably introduced all of us to our first mnemonic devices (Keep Pink [word substituted] Cars Off Fullerton's Great Streets -- for Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and for anyone interested in mnemonic devices I would highly recommend the book "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci," but I digress).

     Upon reflection, the first time I can actually recall being nudged (both subtlely and overtly) away from anything analytical, mathematical or scientific, was in college. (And ironically, it was at about the same time that I discovered exactly what the broad defintion of engineering was. Until then, I really never associated engineering with science and technology, mostly because of trains. I grew up in a town with many streets crossed by railroad tracks, in the days before underpasses were built. We often had to wait for trains to pass, and when I was little my father would always tell me to wave to the engineer. For the longest time I associated the word engineer only with the people who "drove" the trains!). Anything that happened, however, was overshadowed by what was for me a life-changing event in my sophomore year. That event kept me (with the exception of one semester) in two jobs and night classes just to be able to finish college at the same school in which I started. During my senior year I was offered two once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, which I chose to accept, but which also occupied the next three years of my life. After a brief period in a new occupation I was back in graduate school, where I thought finally I would be able to begin to weave a few seemingly disparate threads into a more complex personal and professional "tapestry."

     As is outlined in greater depth in the "About the Site" section, I designed a program combining an MBA with a M.A.L.D., or Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (international relations) in preparation for the work I thought I would be doing. The coursework I chose (when a choice was possible) revolved around entrepreneurship, managing and developing technology, private (i.e. corporate) law, and trade, especially in high technology products. Most of my research revolved around the effects of the rapid pace of technological change, especially on the state (i.e. governments). Upon being graduated I accepted one employment offer made to me, but I also continued to follow the advice given to me by most recruiters from science- and technology-oriented companies, which was to work in general management while trying to pick up coursework in scientific/technical fields. When the opportunity arose, I began coursework toward what I thought would eventually become a second baccalaureate degree in an undergraduate science field (at the time, any member of the public could enroll in any UC system course on a space-available basis through the school's extension program and by paying a basic fee, but I don't know if this is still in effect). Again, life intervened in ways too complex to explain here, but my ability to stay with the coursework was cut short (no tapestry, but the rug pulled out from under me, perhaps).

     Rather than let the momentum completely slip away, I tried to find a way to mark at that point what the level of my ability was and what direction I might have taken had the right opportunities arisen. As I looked for possibilities, I found that I had about six weeks before the next testing dates for the subject tests of the Graduate Records Exams (GRE). The tests are ones most people who have completed or are about to complete an undergraduate degree take for admission to a particular field of study in graduate school. I signed up to take the test in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology. Although I knew it might be something of an impossible task (I'd only completed four undergraduate courses officially and one unofficially), I decided to try it anyway.

     Over the next five-and-a-half weeks I accessed every piece of material in every library I could find and studied virtually non-stop. When the day came to take the test, I had only a marginal idea if I'd prepared properly, but it worked. I passed the test at a "C" level. (To put this in perspective, any student trying to gain admission into a top graduate university would be extremely disappointed with the grade, but it was fine with me, given the amount and type of preparation I'd had).

     In the years following that, I had a chance to look at a variety of formal and informal science/technology training and employment mechanisms. This eventually led me to the Cypress College computer lab, a facility which at the time had available a full menu of computer-based tutorials designed to help teach and familiarize people with computer-based business concepts such as data mining and warehousing, software programs like those by Oracle and Microsoft, and computer programming languages such as HTML, Java and C++. In three months I completed about 35 separate tutorial certificate programs (at a variety of proficient/expert levels). Two of these were for the HTML programming language and for Front Page (web-authoring software), and from that experience was born.

     Two final anecdotes . . . The first regarding a neuroscience laboratory in dissecting a sheep's brain, and the second regarding the change from old Museum of Science and Industry to the California Science Center. One of the classes I took through the UC system was a basic neuroscience class, and in the lab associated with that class we were required to dissect sheep's brains to examine basic brain structures. On one of the first days of the lab, none of the people in the room noticed, until the floor was very wet, that the vat holding the sheep's brains had leaked, and the liquid had spilled out over a good section of the floor of the room. The lab instructor told us to "get out of there," so the lab promptly disbanded, and presumably many "un-'ewe'sed" brains were discarded. (OK, sorry for the pun). And . . . for those of us who were fans of the (old) Museum of Science and Industry, it was quite an event when the place closed for its re-do and was re-opened several years ago. On one of the weekends after the re-opening, I decided to make a trip up to the museum. I parked on Exposition Boulevard, in an area I'd parked in hundreds of times over the years, but nearly went into shock when I came back from the short visit. My car was gone, and I thought it had been stolen! Then the tow trucks returned and began towing other cars in the area, and a man (presumably whose car was also towed) pointed out a small sign perched at an angle on the top of a ten-foot pole the said "No Parking" (that day) in very small print. The whole experience became even more strange as I walked the mile or two to the tow yard to retrieve the car and eventually ended up fighting the whole incident with the L.A.P.D., but needless to say my experience that day with the Museum was marred, and I haven't been back since.

     The moral of the story? None, really, except that perhaps just as learning experiences can be formal or informal, the types of events that can make an environment hospitable or inhospitable can also be formal or informal. How a person interprets and/or reacts to the information presented in the Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 report may depend on whether that person is a scientist, politician, business professional or student. The factors which make any job or profession attractive to some and not to others are as varied as the individuals considering them. However, for those considering a job or occupation in an S&E-related field, it would also be nice to think that there are not an undue number of "get out of here" or "no parking" messages greeting them along the way. Thank you for visiting the "This Month's Essay" page in 2009, and please come back again next summer!

FOOTNOTES - The following are the footnotes indicated in the text in parentheses with the letter "n" and a number. If you click the asterisk at the end of the footnote, it will take you back to the paragraph where you left off.

n1 - National Venture Capital Association, National Venture Capital Association Yearbook 2009, New York: Reuters, March 2009, p. 21. Available at, and viewed July 2009. (*)

n2 - Ibid., p. 17 (*)

n3 - Description viewed August 2009 at (*)

n4 - Anderson, Stuart, and Platzer, Michaela, American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness, Arlington, Virginia: National Venture Capital Association, 2006, p. 5. Available at, and viewed July 2009. (*)

LINKS INCLUDED IN ESSAY - The following is a list of links included in the August/September 2009 Esssay.

  • National Science Foundation - and

  • The Money Tree (U.S. venture capital information site) -

  • Association of University Technology Managers, "Better World Project" -

  • University of California Office of Technology Transfer -

  • Annual Reports, UC Office of Technology Transfer -

  • UC technologies currently available for licensing -

  • National Venture Capital Association -

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