Fenton Heirtzler is a frequent commenter on Chemjobber; he is currently looking for a position in chemistry. Recently, I asked him a series of questions on his job hunt. This e-mail exchange has been lightly edited and checked for accuracy by Dr. Heirtzler.
CJ: How long have you been looking for work?
Fenton: Until 2003, I was faculty at a university in England, which closed its chemistry program. So I returned to North America, and post-doc’ed for four years while applying for faculty jobs over here. For the past three years, I've also been applying for industry jobs. In the summer of 2009, I had a three-month appointment as 'Visiting Scientist' at Brookhaven National Laboratory. That is a really great place for science geeks to work.
CJ: If you were to estimate the number of positions that you’ve applied for, what would that number be?
FH: This year, I've been busy with an adjunct position at a university in central/southern New Jersey, where I'm also allowed to do my own research (volunteer basis) on a shoe string budget. So I've been applying for fewer positions in 2010 (there have also been fewer ones which are appropriate). For 2010, the totals are: industry: 9; academia: 9. For 2009, from September to December I applied for 119 positions at companies and 28 with universities (of which some were abroad). Most recently, I've been inquiring with academic polymer scientists and engineers about temporary positions to retrain in that field.
CJ: How many interviews have you received?
FH: Beyond the aforementioned period of time, I have had maybe four interviews with companies - but none since September 2009. From this year's applications for faculty jobs, there was one interview in April. Over the past three years, I've had six university interviews. Two interviews with government or military laboratories, but the positions were cut.
CJ: What emotions go through your head when you think about getting work?
FH: Anger. Depression. Frustration. Indignation that all the talk by Obama about "new jobs" and "science" does not include New Science Jobs. "Could have - should have - would have".
CJ: You mention age discrimination as something that you're concerned about. I have a feeling this is something that some of my readers are concerned about and that all of my readers may face at some point. Can you elaborate a little more about your concerns?
FH: Post-doc positions are slanted so that salaries for those who are more than five years beyond their doctoral degrees are too expensive for the P.I. to afford. I have even heard from faculty at Ivy League universities that this policy "prevents exploitation" (huh?).
Also, DOE laboratories (e.g., NREL, Sandia, PNW National Laboratory, Brookhaven and Lawrence Berkeley) refuse to appoint as post-docs those who are more than five years beyond their doctoral degrees. Of course, who wants to become a professional post-doc? Nevertheless, this is closing the door on a major re-training opportunity for US scientists. In spite of the occasional person who completes their doctorate at a later age, this policy still overwhelmingly amounts to age discrimination.
Finally, NUMEROUS advertisements for industrial positions stipulate that only RECENT PhDs are welcome.
CJ: Can you describe the day-to-day process of “getting by” financially? What has been the most telling part?
FH: Limiting myself to an internet job search of twice per week. Counting pennies. Applying for free medicine from Pfizer and BMS (why not a job, instead?). Registering for "Charity Care" at a clinic in a nearby city. Getting an "Energy Supplement" from the State of New Jersey to pay for gas and electricity. Hoping that I don't have to (again) raid my pension in order to pay the rent. Advertising as a private tutor on Craigslist. Otherwise, on a daily basis, I try to stay focussed through the aforementioned research program activities. Being my own PhD student :-)
CJ: How long will you keep looking for work in chemistry before you consider another field?
FH: Good question - the only retraining option that gets a lot of coverage is becoming a schoolteacher. Teaching without research I find to be intellectually repugnant. There should be other options for retraining those with advanced science degrees . But I love Chemistry.
CJ here again. Thanks to Dr. Heirtzler for the interview and best of luck with finding a position in these tough times.