Friday, August 14, 2009

Interview: a job hunt story with a nice ending


A while back, I received a comment from Mr. Edward Fritzen, mulling over a potential high school teaching position. I wandered over to his blog and CV, which shows him to be a rather experienced medicinal chemist who's currently looking for a position. Seeing as how Chemjobber is (partially) about how chemists look for and find new positions, I asked Mr. Fritzen if he'd be willing to answer a few questions and he graciously agreed. What follows is the Q&A by e-mail -- Mr. Fritzen has looked this post over for approval.

1. Do you still see yourself as a bench chemist or do you see yourself more as a medicinal chemist?

Good question. I guess I've always thought of myself as a medicinal chemist. I really don't like it when people try to differentiate between medicinal chemistry and either synthetic organic chemistry and/or bench chemistry. Medicinal chemists use synthetic organic chemistry to make molecules having biological activity against a target, while optimizing the physical properties to give that molecule the best chance to hit that target in an living organism. Medicinal chemists have more knowledge about pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, etc, but they're essentially synthetic chemists at heart. I have always worked at the bench, to make these molecules, some of which I designed, other being designed by others. Just because I worked at the bench, does that exclude me from being a medicinal chemist? I don't think so, although I do know of some medicinal chemists who haven't seen the inside of a hood for years. From my first days in industry , this is how I was trained. I always made molecules to learn something about SAR or other physical properties and was encouraged to always think about the SAR to design better molecules. After 24 years of working in drug discovery research and having survived various mergers and acquisitions my then current employer told me, "you need to learn more medicinal chemistry". I thought that was what I was doing for 24 years! Apparently, since I was doing bench work, I couldn't possibly be medicinal chemist. So maybe one can only be a bench chemist/synthetic chemist or a medicinal chemist, but not both. I don't agree with that. I believe I'm a medicinal chemist, who actually does work at the bench doing synthetic organic chemistry.

2. How has it changed to be a medicinal chemist over the time that you've been in the industry?

I think one of the biggest changes I've seen is the development of high throughput screens, not only against a biological target, but also to screen for other properties such as solubility, permeability, ADME and toxicology. All of this additional information is available to the medicinal chemist much earlier in the drug discovery process and often early hits/leads are dropped based on this information. The sheer amount of knowledge available on early hits is much greater now than it was when I started. I can remember optimizing for biological activity as a first step before we even looked at other physical properties. Now the medicinal chemist is trying to optimize all these properties at once.

3. Chemists seem to like to grouse about their bosses -- has that always been the case? How has management changed over the time that you've been around? Were scientific decisions as "business/economics"-driven as they seem to be now?

I believe that today's management is very driven by business and economics, much more so than it was when I started my career. Early in my career, I felt management was interested in doing good science and would allow the scientists the time to do the right experiments or make the right compounds, even if it took more time and might only result in doing a small number of good experiments or good compounds. Today's management looks at metrics, and tries to apply business models much more appropriate for managing a factory or other manufacturing facility and don't really work well for managing research.

4. How has the job hunt been? What are you hearing from interviewers/recruiters about how many people are out there?

I was laid off on May 15, so it's only been about two months. I have applied for a number of positions for which I'm qualified, and it has resulted in two interviews . I have heard that I won't be getting an offer as a result of my first interview, however I did receive an offer from my second interview.

Thanks to Mr. Fritzen for his answers (and patience!) Always nice to see a happy ending -- best wishes for his new position.

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