Spotlight on O*NET Users: Dr. Sandra Slutz

Dr. Sandra Slutz

Staff Scientist at Science Buddies

You are in for a treat when you make your first visit to Science Buddies, the Website for students, teachers and parents interested in science exploration, . A bonus treat is meeting the staff scientist behind the Science Buddies site’s tab. Dr. Sandra Slutz holds a PhD in Genetics from Stanford University and also holds the interest of millions of students around the planet, as she opens a window to the world of science occupations.

Key to the wealth of information at is O*NET data. Thanks to a generous grant from the Noyce Foundation, Science Buddies has been able to develop a library that gives visitors an in-depth look at a wide range of science-related careers. For each career the visitor accesses an overview, salary information, links to interviews and videos, and more.

“We launched on the site about a year ago,” explains Dr. Slutz. “It was a natural progression for us. Many students enjoy selecting a science project from the site and are excited about learning science. They don’t know how to bridge the gap between enjoying science and exploring a science career.” Now they can make the leap with a click.

Many of the site’s science project descriptions have a link to an occupation that is related to the science behind the project. Students who are interested in a project now can easily explore in-depth information about a related career. The career information comes directly from the O*NET database— wage data, work environment, required training, occupation tasks, related occupations.

Science Buddies decided to use O*NET information because they were looking for standard information about a large swath of careers. “Everyone we talked with about this sent us to O*NET and the BLS. They have all the statistics. And every single occupation in the database has on-the-job tasks. This is important. There are no gaps, no inconsistencies,” Sandra explained.

How does Science Buddies select which science occupations to highlight? “This is another way in which O*NET is very helpful!” exclaims Sandra. “We went live with about 100 careers. Now we are adding about 50. First, we want to cover a broad span of science careers. Initially we worked on presenting the most common, the ones people think of, working in medicine, for example. These were easy to select with O*NET. And now, O*NET helps us a lot in determining what careers to add. When we wanted to expand, it made sense to select the careers that are in demand, that have a bright future, or that use green technology. Well, O*NET has that information! O*NET labels all those types of occupations! This makes it easy to select new careers to feature.”

The Science Buddies staff have found the O*NET database easy to work with. One programmer does this work. Then one of two staff writers “comes along to do the additional work. They have to go to professional associations, read about the occupation, sometimes find people working in the field to interview, and locate videos of people working in the occupation,” Sandra explains. The results of these efforts fill out each occupation’s page beautifully. This is the work that requires more time.

When Science Buddies features a longer-standing occupation, with many people working in the field, preparing the page might take just a few hours. “We can easily access an interview with someone in the occupation. It’s easier to find a video. A professional association has literature and practitioners. And corporations are happy to cooperate by contributing practitioners for interview time,” explains Sandra. However, if it’s an emerging career, it takes more energy, time and research. For example Sandra offers, “Consider a sustainability specialist. We have to use different techniques. Perhaps we go to a job board and pursue the hiring firm to find out ‘What are you looking for in a job candidate?’ It’s more difficult to find interviews. In some of these occupations it isn’t entirely settled yet exactly what the person in the job will DO.”

Sandra explains that the Science Buddies’ corporate sponsors “have been incredibly supportive” as her team creates the pages on the newer occupations by networking. While illuminating the newer occupations requires more energy and hours, the work proves beneficial in strengthening relationships and in putting very new information out there.

“I would say to people who want to leverage O*NET to make a Science Buddies-type site for their field, go to the people in the occupational field. They can help you create something worthwhile. They provide experts, interviews, pictures and videos. They make it possible to show credible settings in which the people in related careers work,” counsels Sandra.

One of the best features of O*NET, in Dr. Slutz’s opinion is, “People have the ability to look at families of occupations and then focus on a few specifics they might be interested in. You don’t have to know going in precisely what you are looking for. The ability to come to good information through occupation families is attractive to students who are just beginning to explore in science.”

Sandra explores with her family. When she has a chance to do something for fun, the family goes exploring throughout the area south of San Francisco. Whether they hike a favorite trail or make a leap to a new park, she embraces the exploration.