Monday, December 27, 2010

The 1950's and 60's: when chemists were kings?

Over the long weekend, there was one (and only one!) comment. Anon1226100642p writes in that:
I am one of those organic chemistry PhD chemists from the early 70s. The factors for so many of us chemists from that era were:
1) the baby boom #s
2) we were inspired to be scientists by society's worship of atomic, space, agrichemical and pharmaceutical scientists' betterment of all our lives and their role in winning WWII. Remember plastics!! and nylon stockings and DDT?

3) we could play with chemicals in back yard laborators making all kinds of obnoxious things like bromine, white phosphorus, nitric acid, lead azide, silver fulminate and nitroglycerin without worrying about the fire marshall, DEA, AFT or EPA taking us to jail or showing up in bunny suits. Yes I made them all by age 14. You could buy all kinds of chemicals and glassware at the local hobby shop back then. I even purchase sodium azide, and it was sent to me by US mail!

4) we were highly employable and highly valued by industrial employers. Chemists today have no idea how well scientists were treated by corporate types in the 50s and 60s. We were considered company crown jewels.

5) a vast expansion of academic employment and government funds for training the baby boomers
Anon goes on to talk about the factors that changed; a lot of us are pretty familiar with that story. But I think the one thing that surprises me (perhaps because I've never known this world) is statement #4: that chemists were highly valued and well-treated by management.

I think you can find a few companies that treat their chemists particularly well: high pay, good benefits, nice bonuses. (And of course, they don't hire very many people these days.) But for those companies, I don't really think that they treat their chemists any differently than say, their development staff or their accountants (other than pay differentials -- which is a pretty big thing.)

Do I want to be treated better than the average employee, other than pay? No, I don't. But I do believe (what entry-level employee doesn't) in treating employees well with perks: occasional free food, nice end-of-year bonuses, free corporate-labeled trinkets from China, you know, that sort of thing.

Of course, not being first on the layoff line would be nice, too, but I'm not holding my breath there.

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