Monday, April 20, 2015

David Harwell and the STEM panel: no hope

From a random clicking around, I happened upon one of my old bugaboos, Bayer MaterialScience, and a YouTube of flogging of the "STEM crisis" in a December 2013 panel. If you'd like to listen to it, there's over 90 minutes of self-congratulatory hogwash from a variety of people who claim that there is a vast shortage of STEM workers. I was pretty irritated at it, but then I heard this exchange from Dr. David Harwell, an American Chemical Society staff member, asking the panel a pretty darn good question (starts at 1:21:17 on the video): 
David Harwell, American Chemical Society: Thanks for the conversation, it's been great. I'm David Harwell, from the American Chemical Society. It's National Chemistry Week, so yay! 
Our unemployment rate in chemistry is 3.5% - that's good, until I look at new graduates. So new graduates, new bachelor's in chemistry are over 16% unemployment, new PhDs, 9%. 
So I'm not so worried about those more experienced people -- we've been able to place them. What I can't place are the new grads because I think that we overshot, there's this miscommunication that you've been talking about, where people have been encouraged and there's uh, for these students, or students that can't find a job, they feel that there's a broken covenant. Often times when I'm counseling them, they're saying "You told me" -- I didn't tell them anything -- but somewhere along the way, somebody promised them, "Get a degree in STEM and you'll be taken care of." And so they end up going for their master's or their Ph.D. because they can't get a job and at least they'll get paid in grad school in chemistry. That's the good thing about chemistry. 
So how do we, how can we address this - you have two lost boys, I have 6,000 lost students. How do we address their needs, can we get them back into the workforce somehow? Is there demand for them, or is it only at the manufacturing level?  
Laurel Rutledge, VP for Human Resources at Bayer MaterialScience: (laughter) I'm like, you know, chemists, you know seriously, I'm thinking about some retirements that we've had and some very serious changes in our workforce and Bayer is a company that's 150 years old, 150 years of making science make sense, that's Bayer. And so, we have, and it's a place that people don't leave. They come to Bayer and they retire from Bayer. What means is that if you look at the way the generational curve is happening, we are approaching a point in time where we are going to have more people retiring as fast as we need them. So, I'm not sure what's happening everywhere else, but we are looking for people daily. Daily. Entry as well as experienced, bachelor's, 2 year degrees, master's degrees, Ph.D.s, we want 'em. We want 'em.  
Nicole Smith, Research Professor and Senior Economist: And you know, it's not much consolation to tell them, well, your 16% is much lower than the 27% for some other degrees. But, what I would say is that you need to extend your search. All chemistry majors don't have to become chemists and first evaluate what your competencies are, sit down and you can go to the end O*NET site, discover what your knowledge, skills and abilities are, what your interests are and look outside of that. 40% of jobs require STEM competencies today that are not your traditional chemist, mathematician, actuary job. They're way beyond that, so just broaden that set and you can have a lot of opportunities outside of the chemist occupation. 
I've heard Dr. Harwell talk a few times, but I don't think I've ever heard him grok the #chemjobs problem for younger chemists as well as he does here. "Broken covenant" is a great way to put it. And the answers that he gets are appalling -- the VP for Human Resources basically tells him that, from where she sits, he's wrong, and the economist basically tells him to tell students to look elsewhere (gee, no kidding.)

I don't know what kind of long game the STEM shortage myth makers are playing, but it is clear that (much like many of us) when they are confronted with contrary evidence, they dismiss it pretty easily.  

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting tidbits in this week's C&EN:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Science nightmares

It's been a long week of late nights and late consultations at work.

Last night, I dreamed that I was up for my doctoral thesis defense and I couldn't find the presentation room, didn't have a presentation and I was pretty sure that I didn't have my Powerpoint slides. It has been quite a number of years (5+) since I somehow managed to squeak by successfully defended my thesis, so that was interesting. 

It has been the only time in my life where I have woken up from a dream and realized, "I need to blog about this." 

I also remember a time in graduate school where I dreamed my advisor looked at me and said "[CJ], I don't think you're Ph.D. material." Considering that he was always supportive of me (and continues to be), it was obviously my subconscious feelings of inadequacy at work. 

Readers, what have been your dreams about science been about? 

More coming, but have a great weekend! 

Job posting: experienced Ph.D. medicinal chemist, Seattle, WA

The candidate is expected to utilize cutting-edge chemistry techniques to design and synthesize novel peptide conjugates, as well as the characterization of the physiochemical properties of both free and conjugated Optides. The position requires a strong background in protein chemistry, bioconjugation and analytical techniques. The chemistry will include highly potent/toxic chemotherapeutic agents and incorporation of radiolabeled tracers. Key goals are to design and execute on the synthesis of highly potent chemotherapeutic PDCs, develop novel means of improving pharmacokinetic properties while maintaining efficacy, and establish critical acceptance criteria for development and progression of optimized PDCs. The position will require contribution with a high degree of independence as a senior member as well as mentorship of junior team members. The candidate will act as the medicinal chemistry expert on a multidisciplinary team to develop effective anti-cancer therapeutics. 
To be considered the successful candidate must have:
A PhD in chemistry or related field with 8+ years of post-graduate research experience
Expertise in the synthesis of highly potent chemotherapeutic compounds.  Experience with conjugation techniques is highly desired
Experience with medical chemistry optimization of therapeutic candidates is desired
Training/experience in the use of radioactivity
Experience with solid phase and/or peptide/peptidomimetic chemistry techniques is highly desired
Well-organized with strong attention to detail
Best wishes to those interested. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

C&EN request for stories of infertility

From the inbox:
Nobody likes to talk about infertility, but it’s a growing problem, especially among busy professionals who are putting off starting a family to start their careers. Once they start down the path of infertility treatments, however, it can be financially draining and take an emotional toll.

C&EN senior editor Linda Wang is looking for chemists (both male and female) willing to share their experiences with infertility and what impact it’s had on their lives and careers. Sources may choose to remain anonymous. E-mail Linda at if you are willing to contribute to the conversation.
Note e-mail address has been spam-proofed.  

The most brutally honest sentence I read today

I've been reading Daniel Drezner (professor of international political economy at Tufts) for a very long time. This was a very interesting statement on his part:
The first is that if your goal is to become a professor and you are not accepted with a scholarship into a top-20 political science program, I would not in good conscience recommend that you get a PhD.
Most of the professoriate in international relations comes from the elite schools. Whether this is because these schools function as a prestige cartel or not is immaterial: the reason will not change the current realities. The academic job market is brutal; getting an academic job without a degree from a top-20 institution is even more brutal.
I applaud him for his honesty.

(The whole article is good, and a reflection of what I should be doing here more often.) 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tom Connelly to C&EN readers: meet ACS' new girlfriend, hotter than ACS' old girlfriend

This was an interesting portion of new ACS executive director Tom Connelly's "Hello, nice to meet you!" column in this week's C&EN
...Like our profession, there are aspects of our society that also require examination. We need to continue to strengthen our service to members, while recognizing that their needs are changing. Our membership must reflect the full scope of the practice of chemistry. Our industrial membership has been drifting down recently. It is important to understand this tendency at its root causes and to reverse it. We need to update our value proposition for chemists and engineers in industry, and for their employers. 
We cannot ignore the fact that we are operating in a challenging job market and also that more and more of the world’s chemists are practicing outside the U.S. and the other developed countries. Increasingly, our journal authors are in developing countries. More than half of CAS revenues originate outside the U.S. These new realities must be reflected in all aspects of our society.
Regarding the "root causes", Occam's Razor suggests that the loss of industrial members might have something to do with the Great Recession and the recent historically high unemployment of ACS members.

(Occam's Dull Spoon suggests that we need another ACS Presidential Commission to determine what happened to those industrial members - perhaps they were abducted by aliens or decided that forced early retirement at 51 with 10 years left on a mortgage and 3 kids needing to go to college was a great way to start one's golden years.)

Dr. Connelly's apparent nonchalance at "the challenging job market" (where? I wonder) and immediate pivoting to the rest of the world suggests to me that the American Chemical Society is becoming an International Chemical Society that has an unusually high number of paying American members. If so, I suspect that these new realities will include a further drop in American dues-paying members.

Time to get a new ghostwriter! 

Job posting: Sr. Research Scientist II, Analytical Development, Gilead , Edmonton, AB

From the inbox, another worthwhile Canadian position: 
Position Description: Gilead in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is seeking an experienced and knowledgeable professional to assume the position of Sr. Research Scientist II in Gilead Alberta’s Analytical Development department.  
Essential Duties and Job Functions: 
- Responsible for directing and executing scientific research for the development of drug candidates or the research support of marketed drugs.
- Investigates the feasibility of applying advanced principles and techniques of related scientific specialty to products and problems.
- Advances the development of state-of-the-art techniques to characterize substances, assays and tools.
- Plans, designs, implements and analyses laboratory experimentation to advance scientific knowledge of drug substances or drug products.
- Directs Research Associates or members of project teams in the initiation and execution of laboratory experimentation, considering economic, regulatory and safety factors.
- Works on a wide range of problems where analysis of situations or data requires evaluation of intangible variables, requiring regular use of ingenuity and creativity.
- May act as a spokesperson, internal consultant, or advisor to top management on corporate research and development direction.
- Maintains in-depth knowledge of principles and theories, applying such knowledge to the direction that supports Company interests.
- Demonstrates technical proficiency, scientific creativity, collaboration with others and independent thought in suggesting experimental design and research strategy.
- Must think critically and creatively and be able to work independently, determine appropriate resources for resolution of problems and have strong organizational and planning skills.
- Excellent scientific communication skills (both verbal and technical) and interpersonal skills are required.  
Knowledge, Experience and Skills: 
- 12+ years of industrial experience and PhD in Chemistry.
- BS or MS degree with extensive industry experience.
- Aptitude to make significant contributions within specialty and sustained strong performance and accomplishments that align to company goals.
Job code 21448. Interested? Contact Mark Yedor at

Job posting: M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemists desired, Montreal, Canada

From the inbox, an astute reader passing along an ad:
NuChem Therapeutics is looking for MSc or PhD chemists (preferably with experience) to join our team in drug discovery and custom synthesis. Please contact me at or at 5/1/4-2/8/3-1/9/2/0. 
Best wishes to those interested. (I've spam-proofed the phone number and removed the "@" from the e-mail, but other than that, it's the same. 

Teleconference blues

The ACS Network is slowly building its variety of bloggers on its Industry Voices site. One of the more interesting bloggers is Quan Zhou, who is working in life sciences in Shanghai. This post of his about teleconferences (TCs) is quite good, I thought:
...Obviously, the difference between a late night TCs and normal TCs is when it is held.  Recently, I have been working on a global project that involves four different sites located in Cambridge UK, San Diego US, Boston US and Shanghai China, respectively. On projects like these, it is impossible to find a perfect time to hold regular TCs for all four sites. In this case our teleconference was finally scheduled for 3pm in UK, which is 7am in San Diego, 10am in Boston and 11pm in Shanghai. It is slightly painful, although not impossible to adjust for the awkward time - by turning your alarm clock 2 hours ahead if you are in San Diego or staying up 2 more hours if you are in Shanghai like me, you can make it work.

When planning these types of TCs it is even more important to carefully select the participants that you need to include on the call. The odd hours make it even more of an inconvenience for those colleagues who are asked to attend but are not critical to the issue being discussed.  Onetime we had a TC discussing a primarily chemistry related project. At the end of the TC, it was almost 12pm for the biologist who had been asked to attend.  He did not have much input for this particular meeting and finally exclaimed, “You chemists could have had this meeting without me.”
Read the whole thing. It's good, and a good perspective on teleconferences and one that's not often heard. 

Want to do a survey on your career path in science?

From the inbox, a survey:
While the number of PhDs conferred in the U.S. has increased over the past several decades, the number of tenure-track faculty positions has remained flat. Recent studies have illuminated the change in career decisions of some PhDs over time, but none has described or visualized a career map detailing where recent PhDs are currently employed.

The study “Identifying Career Pathways for PhDs in Science” will endeavor to accomplish this visual representation by collecting current employment data from PhDs who have studied, worked, or trained in the U.S. and received a doctorate in the last ten years. The study author and administrator is Melanie Sinche, Senior Research Associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

If you have received a PhD in any of the physical, life, engineering, computational, or social sciences between 2004 and 2014 from any institution worldwide and have ever studied, worked, or trained in the United States, you are invited to participate in a survey study by completing the online survey below.

The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete and includes questions about career interests, activities, current employment, and motivations for choosing your career. At the end of the survey, you will be invited to participate in a drawing for one of five (5) $100 gift cards to Responses to this optional drawing will not be linked in any way to the Career Pathways survey.

The survey can be found at
Seems like a good idea to participate.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

The most incorrect article you will read this week on undergraduate chemical education

Chemistry Departments Try to Attract More Students by Retooling the Major 
Universities begin to overhaul traditional curricula in science field that some worry is churning out too few graduates for nation’s needs 
Forget economics. Chemistry might be the real dismal science. 
Undergraduate programs have been characterized for decades by rigid, yearlong sequences of organic, physical and biochemistry classes that emphasized rote memorization and taught about reactions in isolation. They left little room to pursue side passions—and attracted worrisomely few students, policy makers say. 
As business and biology majors get a reboot, chemistry professors find themselves waging a fierce battle to appeal to undergraduates who might want a scientific grounding to pursue careers in forensics, molecular gastronomy or politics, but who are turned off by the degree’s onerous demands...
I think it's rather interesting to note that the number of chemistry graduates is actually up, according to the NSF's most recent data, from 10,388 in 2000 to 12,888 in 2011.* **

The article goes on to suggest that goes on to suggest that the American Chemical Society is an industry group (it's not - it's a non-profit professional society), that medicinal chemistry is useful to attending medical school (nope, not really), and that Emory University didn't tell its students what "bonds" do until their sophomore year. It suggests that chemotherapy and nuclear chemistry are related (uh, sort of, not really?) and that the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University are teaching their students something called "three-step synthesis." What the heck is that?

A couple of other random questions: who interviews for Ph.D. admissions to organic chemistry programs these days? There can't be very many schools that have instituted this. Who are the policy makers who believe that there are a shortage of chemistry majors? I want to know this, so I can egg their homes tell them they're wrong. Which one of you has been through rote memorization for physical chemistry? That's a really dumb approach, so dumb that I doubt anyone actually does it.

Finally, I would really, really, really like to know this: who is responsible for this mess of an article? There are many good articles to be had about innovative approaches to chemical education - this is not one of them.

*link to NSF SEI Excel spreadsheet here.
** Also, holding fire on the headline and subhed, because reporter may not be responsible for them.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Job posting: synthetic organic chemist, Google, Mountain View, CA

...If you get excited about building new things and aren't daunted by the challenge of building something from scratch, then our team might be your next career step. 
You will be responsible for the design and implementation of bench-scale synthesis experiments to support various project needs. You have expertise and hands-on experience in synthetic organic chemistry is expected, along with knowledge of polymer chemistry. 
Use synthetic organic methods to prepare various quantities (mg to 10’s g) of materials for use by project team members.
Initiate and manage outside custom synthesis projects on an as needed basis.
Interface with team members of different technical backgrounds in engineering and science. Use technical expertise and laboratory techniques to address problems in support of research and development of the team.
Provide and present progress reports; present issues, results to the team.
Contribute to other project activities as appropriate. Develop competence in other lab techniques. 
Minimum qualifications 
PhD degree in synthetic or polymer chemistry, or related field, or equivalent practical experience.
3 years of industrial experience with experience in synthetic and polymer chemistry.
Experience and ability to use state of the art chemical instrumentation (HPLC, GC, NMR, etc.) and interpret the results. 
Preferred qualifications 
Experience and knowledge in fluorescence and other optical chemical reagents development.
Experience relevant to development of medical devices that involves chemistry as an essential part (i.e. biosensors, in-vitro assay, and in-vivo monitoring).
Knowledge and experience of enzyme modification, bioconjugate techniques.
Ability to work independently and also enjoy the work in a multidisciplinary environment using chemical approaches to design and develop chemistry methods to solve applied problems.
Willing to perform hands-on lab work.
I think this speaks to the breadth of what Google is thinking about doing more than anything else -- I guess this is an indication that they're responding to Peter Thiel's challenge after all. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Daily Pump Trap: 4/9/15 edition

Good morning! A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs recently:

Richmond, VA: So I'd really like to know what this "Senior Scientist Postdoc" position with Eurofins is about. They'd like industry experience as well.

What the hell? Bluntly put, if it's a postdoctoral fellowship, it sure as hell isn't a "senior scientist" position.

Mansfield, TX: Tyco Fire Protection hiring a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist - something tells me that'd be a pretty interesting position.

Stanhope, NJ: This "senior research scientist" position with Isolatek (what do they do? fireproofing, it seems) looks lucrative at 100-120k.

Watsonville, CA: Driscoll's is looking for a senior scientist for "managing and leading plant metabolomics research at Driscoll’s main research facility." I'm going to guess that finding someone who can do this is going to be pretty tough?

Oregon, OH: Toledo Refining Company looking for a senior chemist; B.S. + 5-10 years experience.

Interesting: Rarely see paint companies around these parts, but Benjamin Moore posted three jobs recently.