Thursday, September 30, 2010

More hours, more results?: questions for Professor Scott Kern

In the open thread at In the Pipeline yesterday, Virgil posted a link to an article titled "Where's the Passion?" by Professor Scott Kern at Johns Hopkins. In the article, Professor Kern (an associate professor of oncology in the School of Medicine) laments that, on a random Sunday afternoon in the spring, he could barely find 5% of his building's research staff.

Professor Kern goes on to quantify the vast sums of money that were spent on the highly advanced cancer research center that he works in and that stands mostly empty on Saturday afternoons as well (so sad.) He also notes that the research staff does not seem to work any more than the required 40 hours a week, and that people seem to arrive sometime after 9:30 am and leave sometime around 5 pm. Professor Kern seems frustrated that students rely on faster techniques and commercial reagent kits for their research, but do not seem to be generating more oncology advances in spite of it. All of this, according to the author, betrays a lack of passion from their students and more of a "9-to-5" attitude.

Far be it from me to offer some questions to such a prolific member of such an august medical institution, but I feel that I must:

1. Professor, could it be that your surveys of the building are not measuring things accurately? What about weeknights? That before writing such an impassioned article and publishing it in a journal of research (albeit one with an impact factor of 2.8 (oops, 2.7)), perhaps you should use a more quantitative measurement of time spent in the lab? Surely such an advanced building has a key card system -- doubtless, you could sift through all of that data instead of relying upon personal observation.
2. What percentage, do you think, of your research workforce are 40-hour clockpunchers? I would hazard a guess that they're less than 33%.
3. In the graph above, there are two curves. Which curve do you think reflects reality more? If you choose B, can you suggest a numerical inflection point?
4. Perhaps in your census of the weekend population of the building, you could also perform a CV analysis. Do you think that weekend research hours are correlated with published papers? Would you be willing to wager a small sum (to be donated to the charity of the winner's choice) that 1) the correlation is weak and 2) the research productivity is not much higher for our weekend warriors than the rest of the workforce? (If we're concerned about a Heisenbergian effect, perhaps we could choose another institution.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is a messy lab unsafe?

Messy much? The Chemjobber Archives
 Paul's post on gloves on doorknobs and a Hall of Shame made me think about one of my biggest faults: I'm a messy chemist.

When I was in graduate school, I would have flasks littering my hood sash, each with 50 to 100 mgs of material that was waiting, waiting to be either cleaned out or stored in a vial. Quite honestly, it got pretty bad. Sadly, not much better in my postdoc. I'm a lot better at work, but that's with a fair bit of peer pressure to Keep Things Neat.

I try to clean up the clutter, really I do -- but the tide of stuff just keeps coming. But the one critique that seems to resonate more than others is that messy labs can be a safety risk. I can think of many anecdotal stories about chemical accidents where the situation was made worse by some amount of Reagent X in unclean glassware Y that Chemist Z had failed to put away in time. In the assessments of one of the recent university lab accidents, I seem to recall (but cannot find) that because the lab was relatively neat and clutter-free, a bad accident was not made much worse.

I'll tell you this: if I found a picture of my hood in the Wall of Shame, I'd probably be humiliated and (potentially) angry. I'd also clean up my hood pretty darn fast. To paraphrase something I've said elsewhere, the only things that seem to change human behavior are guilt, greed or fear. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 C&EN Back-to-School Issue Analysis: type of faculty opening

by Chemjobber. See post for footnotes and methodology.

As promised, we're going to take a little closer look at the 88 or so postings in the September 13, 2010 issue of C&EN. I counted the different positions and classified them as best I can; the tabulated results are above, with the spreadsheet here.

From just the ads, you can see that organic professors and professors doing things with either the energy or the environment are in high demand. If you added up the positions that were "bio-hyphenated" (as one of the universities put it), you'd have a goodly number of those positions as well.

*I did my best to shoehorn very odd positions into either the more recognized field, or I dumped it into the "Any" category. The "Any" category is pretty catchall, including ads/positions that said things like "we're interested in candidates excellent in p-chem, biochem and supernanotechnologychem." An analysis of the "any" category is coming tomorrow (or tomorrow or tomorrow). (UPDATE: See below.) Also, there were probably more than 29 positions in the category, as some universities announced their intentions to hire more than one assistant professor.

**There were more than 10 energy/environment positions as well, as some universities announced their intentions to hire more than one assistant professor.

UPDATE: As you can see from the above graph, the "any" category is not too different from the overall picture. Interesting how many organic chemistry profs are desired...

Daily Pump Trap: 9/28/10 edition

Good morning! Between September 23 and September 27, there were 60 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 36 (60%) were academically connected.

Hmmm: Pfizer desires a Ph.D. chemist with experience in organic chemistry and/or bioconjugation chemistry to work in their vaccine development division at the Pearl River, NY facility. [Insert Wyeth crack here.]

Ink!: Z Corporation (sounds like a movie, doesn't it?) wishes a senior chemist to perform and direct research on inkjet technology. Experience with coatings and inks desired.

Do you get Cubs tickets, too?: The Wrigley Company desires a rheologist with a "MS or Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, Material Science, Physical Polymer Chemistry or related areas with a strong emphasis in hands on rheological method development, characterization, analysis, and interpretation." Here's an interesting statement from them: "Today we lack the core competence in this critical area of science and this position will lead building a rheology centre of excellence that is key to delivering strategic initiatives." Wow -- uh, good luck with that.

Armorer wanted (sort of): The Armament R&D and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ wishes an analytical chemist (advanced degree desired) to set up and run an analytical chemistry lab. Looks like a pretty interesting (if not very detailed) position.

Startup corner: NanOasis Inc. is a company that is working towards membrane technology for purification purposes. They desire a M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemist with at least 4 years of experience; looks like polymer characterization experience may be desired.

Monday, September 27, 2010

How often do chemists divorce?

In a recent study of data from the 2000 Census, one could find the divorce rate of chemists: 12.01%. I found this number to be high, even though it was below the overall divorce rate of 16%.

(From a Washington Post article on the study: "Dancers and choreographers registered the highest divorce rates (43.1 percent), followed by bartenders (38.4 percent) and massage therapists (38.2 percent). Also in the top 10 were casino workers, telephone operators, nurses and home health aides. Three types of engineers -- agricultural, sales and nuclear engineers -- were represented among the 10 occupations with the lowest divorce rates. Also reporting low marital breakup rates were optometrists (4 percent), clergy (5.6 percent) and podiatrists (6.8 percent).")

What contributes to the divorce rate of chemists? I dunno, but one of the things HAS to be the long-distance relationships engendered by what's called the two-body problem, or the difficulty of finding two science jobs in the same metropolitan area. In a rather wonderful comment thread on the organic professorships post, bad wolf has an interesting theory about chemist/professor marriages:
"I think there was a generational shift in the last X years. Professors up to the 1960s or so met their wives as undergrads. They were rarely chemistry PhDs themselves, and were either housewives or had relatively flexible careers (K-12 teaching, eg). Also the PhDs only spent 3 or so years in grad school.

A generation later many grad students meet significant others IN grad school. Schools have more gender parity (even in chem), students spend long hours and long years getting their degrees and often pair up with people with very similar interests.

When the couple then looks for a job and they have to take 2 (almost identical) careers into account you have departments having to hire or make some employment arrangements for the trailing spouse. Unfortunately if the trailer is not as motivated to be a PI you have departments stuffed with nonproductive faculty."
I think bad wolf is on to something. My anecdotal experience agrees that the two-body problem is something that occupies our generation of chemists a little more than previous generations; I've been told innumerable times how fortunate I am to have a wife that 'can work anywhere!' (She can't, but compared to a professor of organic chemistry, her career is a lot more portable.) I suspect it might even be the #1 contributor to chemist marriage stress.

Unemployment would have to be something that contributes to scientist marriage stress; I predict that the divorce rate for chemists for the 2010 Census will be higher. We'll see.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Want to be an organic chemistry professor?

Every fall, C&EN has a 'back to school' issue that has a bolus of ads from universities seeking professors. This year is no different, with 88 different ads for schools. I'm planning a much more detailed, graphical look at these ads, but first, I wanted to make a note of how many positions were available to graduate students and postdocs in organic chemistry. I picked out the ads that mentioned "organic chemistry" in the text; I also picked positions that were aimed at "assistant professors" or "all levels", as opposed to the positions aimed at senior faculty. Positions for "any area of chemistry" were not counted.

Here are the listings for the 2010 'back to school' C&EN issue:

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY
Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Washington University, St. Louis, MO
Benedictine University, Lisle, IL
Roanoke College, Salem, VA
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
York College of Pennsylvania, York, PA
Southern Methodist University, University Park, TX
George Washington University, Washington, DC
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Bryn Mawr College, Byrn Mawr, PA
Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
California State University - Bakersfield, Bakersfield, CA
Smith College, Northhampton, MA

There you have it -- 21 potential positions for organic chemists. Good luck, folks.

Daily Pump Trap: 9/24/10 edition

Good morning! Between September 21 and September 23, there were 26 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 11 (42%) are academically connected.

Woburn, MA: Organix is a privately-help organic chemistry CRO; they're advertising for postdocs. Curious to know if anyone has worked with/for them.

Fremont, CA: Bruker is looking for a B.S/M.S./Ph.D. chemist to perform technical support and teaching for its instruments; at least 3 years relevant experience desired.

Poor you: The Transportation Security Administration is looking for a Chief Scientist to "serve as TSA's expert in explaining the advances in science and technology for the detection of explosives, explosive devices, or components of such devices and how they can improve our ability to counter their use and resulting impacts." If you get the job, do you have to still take your shoes off at the airport?

Longmont, CO: Matheson Tri-Gas desires a Ph.D. chemist with knowledge in "fundamental reactions and interactions in silicon based semiconductor etch and chemical vapor deposition processes"; "Detailed knowledge on molecular modeling and molecular interactions between molecules and surfaces" desired. Sounds like a good position for someone.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Fall 2010 corporate recruiting stats

After some, um, encouragement to look somewhere other than Harvard (and other helpful commenters who found other sites), I was able to get some numbers on what other major chemistry departments are seeing as far as corporate recruiting. The results are tabulated above, with MIT coming out ahead by a nose with 14 companies coming to visit.

A potentially interesting note: it's not much of a surprise to see a corporate recruiter visit both Harvard and MIT -- you've just flown across the country, so why not visit both institutions? But for a company to visit either (or both) Boston school(s) and Stanford shows a certain level of commitment to finding people; in no particular order, those companies are Amgen, Dow, Dupont, Genentech, Lilly and Novartis. Have at, folks.

P.S. bad wolf suggests looking at both UC-Irvine and UIUC and the commenters respond!

A8:52p responds for UC-Irvine: "Recruiting at Irvine has gone downhill recently, mirroring other top-notch organic programs. Prior to Merger Mania, something like 40 companies (Pharma and Biotech) showed up to campus. From 2005-2007, the number of recruiters hovered around 25-30. After the economy tanked, the number dropped to around 12. I wouldn't be surprised if Irvine is looking at single digits this year. Like at other places, the postdocs and super-ambitious senior grad students are probably trying to pull every trick up their sleeves to secure an onsite interview."

A7:53a reports some UIUC RUMINT: "I had an interesting discussion with the chair of UIUC's department today at lunch (he was visiting/speaking at my department). He said that they usually have 8-10 companies on campus recruiting throughout the fall/winter and that this year is about the same. I found this particularly interesting considering the fact that my department, Emory University, has 0 lined up."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

San Diego Chemistry Job Market: 2009-2010 update
It's been a while since I've looked at the San Diego job market for chemists; by this measure, things aren't going so hot. The local ACS section for San Diego has a newsletter that typically contains job ads for local companies; I tabulated the current issue and the twelve issues before. As usual, there's all sorts of reasons why this data could be wrong; nevertheless, it's what's available to be measured easily.

As you can see, it's been slim pickings, including a number of months where there were no ads at all. In addition, the number of ads is nowhere near the recordable peak achieved in May of 2008. Best of luck to all out there looking for work. Sorry I can't report better news.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Recruiting visits at Harvard's Department of Chemistry, 2010 update

*2010 data incomplete; recruiting season in progress

Last year, CJ published its first analysis of corporate recruiting at Harvard's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology on September 12, 2009. The dropoff between 2008 and 2009 was significant (going from 21 to 2009's final total of 12 companies that visited and interviewed.)

One year later, recruiting is still down from 2008. It should be noted that the 2010 season* has not ended, so there is a possibility that more companies will visit; in 2009, 4 more companies were added to Harvard's schedule after the post was made.

Best of luck to all the candidates involved; here's hoping there's a lot more chances for interviews.

*For the purposes of this post, it is assumed that ConocoPhillips and Merck is rescheduling and interviewing candidates; it is also assumed that AZ will not be interviewing, but only presenting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

GIVE ME MY COFFEE! said the trapped PhD scientist

From the struggle between the trapped Chilean miners and the psychologists who are taking care of them:
After weeks of demands, the miners are now focusing on a few precious requirements - they want daily letters from their families and wine to celebrate Chile's Independence Day today, particularly noteworthy this year as Chile celebrates its bicentennial.

While NASA experts brought to Chile as advisers have recommended sending the wines and withholding the cigarettes, the Chileans have done the opposite, saying the miners have nearly two kilometres of ventilated tunnels to smoke a cigarette and relax (as opposed to the confinement of space travel) while further noting the average miner consumes large quantities of alcohol.

''These are not PhD scientists, they are rough and tumble miners,'' said one doctor who asked not to be quoted for fears of losing his post.
If I were, say, a Ph.D. scientist and I were trapped in a dark, dank place (like a mine, or a lab), and someone was withholding needed stimulants (cigarettes, alcohol, ice cream, chocolate, nicotine) from me, I'd be pretty upset. Just sayin'. Oh, and by the way, anonymous doctor, I think grad school teaches you to drink like a miner pretty well.

Does chemistry make you happy?

"Ryan Bingham: Your resume says you minored in French Culinary Arts. Most students work the frier at KFC. You busted tables at Il Picatorre to support yourself. Then you got out of college and started working here. How much did they pay you to give up on your dreams?

Bob: Twenty seven thousand a year.

Ryan Bingham: At what point were you going to stop and go back to what made you happy?" - from "Up in the Air"
The other day, I watched "Up in the Air"; for those of you who don't know, it's a movie about a man (Bingham, played by George Clooney) who flies around the country meeting with people who are about to get laid off. Despite the rather cruel job, he's quite humane about it.

Contra the above exchange, someone paid me a lot less to go to graduate school and chase my dream. To be stereotypical, I think Hollywood is full of people who feel a tad guilty and smug that they get to do what they like, while the rest of America slaves away in a cubicle or stands behind a cash register. But this guy (two thumbs pointed at me) mostly loves what his hands have been doing for the past ten years or so. While I might wish to change some details of my working situation (and who doesn't?), I like my job and the people I work with a lot. I don't find myself daydreaming about what I might do if I won the lottery.*

I'm sure that, for some, chemistry is 'just a job'; however, I've mostly met other people who really like chemistry too. It's really sad that, in our tough time, chemists can't find jobs doing what they love.

So here's to chemistry, a job that makes me happy. I hope it makes you happy, too.

*I don't play the lottery.

Daily Pump Trap: 9/20/2010 edition

Good morning! Between September 16 and 20, there were 31 new positions available on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 22 were academically connected.

Huh: Quaker Chemical Corporation of Philadelphia, PA is looking for chemists that have experience in formulating for work in "lubricants and process fluids in our Steel Rolling Lab, Metal Working Lab, and Metal Forming lab." Now where's the annual lubricant issue of C&EN?

Polymers and personal care?: HallStar (a manufacturer of the latter) desires a "MS/PhD in polymer science, with 2-5 years of experience working with engineering thermoplastics and elastomers." Ideally, the candidate will have had "hands-on lab work with polymer compounding and performance characterization" and worked with "structure/property-based design and evaluation of polymer additives which deliver improved performance in a variety of polymer systems."

Metabolism: Novartis is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist for metabolism studies who has "[p]rior experience with radioisotope handling (e.g., 3H, 14C), biochemical techniques and in vivo and in vitro metabolism is required" and "[a]n excellent working knowledge of general laboratory techniques, HPLC and LC-MS/MS operation, and troubleshooting and method development is essential."

Not too far from Yonkers!: BASF's Tarrytown location desires a B.S. chemist to "assist with the preparation and testing of formulated products in the Epoxy Composite Laboratory." You will help keep "a clean, neat lab environment", so I'm not qualified for that position.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Intermediates are important, too.

Photo credit: Washington Post/TWP,

In Derek Lowe's post on SixSigma! (snerk) in drug discovery and how chemists tend to work as individuals instead of a team, Kay writes:
The problem with working on a "group" project is that the person who makes the final compound often gets the credit for the work, since their name is on the compound. If you are a lower level chemist, you may get shuttled off to do scale-up, and if you stay there long enough, it can derail your career. You may be doing work that is crucial for the team, but it tends to be invisible work that may not be recognized when it comes to raises and promotions. At the small company where I worked, it led to a lot of competition and infighting among the chemists.
I hate to admit it, but I have also found this to be the case. The person who does all the intermediate steps, purifications and chromatography often seems to be little more than a lab sherpa, humping molecules through a five step synthesis for the med-chem glamor folks. The person who tacks on a head-group with a Suzuki and registers the compound seems to be the important one. (N.B. I am obviously oversimplifying here.)

This is not quite right, in my humble opinion. Armies can't fight without their logisticians, and medicinal chemistry teams can't make new drugs without that gal down the hall who did the 100 gram Sonogashira. I think there's a lot to be said for the team approach to chemistry projects, but until people learn to really, truly share credit, it's going to be every man and woman for themselves. (And just putting their name on the obligatory acknowledgements slide just doesn't cut it, all you Powerpoint chemists.)

UPDATE: Okay, okay, it wasn't the first hit, it was the fourth hit. What, you want dejected Patriots? No, these are hard-working chemists I'm trying to analogize here! You want linemen! and blocking sleds! (even if they are terrible....)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Money tips for grad students

I have a few more points about graduate school and personal finance. (Why isn't this sort of thing covered by graduate schools? I mean, you'd think it wouldn't be that hard for someone to come up with a glossy one-pager that would help out the students that are going to be populating your halls for the next 5 years...)

The taxman interfereth: An astute commenter (Anon709p) notes that, if you're being paid by a graduate student stipend (rather than a salary), you are not allowed to contribute to an IRA. (IRAs are meant for people who have taxable income.) The law around this is a little complex, but a good indication is that if you're not paying FICA taxes, you can't use those funds to fund an IRA. Doesn't mean that you can't save that money up, which brings me to my next point...

An emergency fund: Starting out in graduate school? First time that you're making your own money? You should probably save up an emergency fund of some sort. A good rule of thumb is that it should be about 2 to 3 months' worth of expenses (rent, groceries, gas, car insurance, etc.) Remember, it's an emergency fund, not a fund for quick vacations to Panama City.

Credit cards = mostly bad news: If there's anything to be learned from the last 3 years, it's that credit cards and other forms of consumer credit can be really, really harmful to your medium-term and long-term plans. I'm not saying that you should cut up your awesome American flag Discover card, I'm just saying that running a balance will cost you. But you knew that already, right?

Student loans -- what are they good for?: Should you get a student loan? That's a really tough question, balancing your long-term employability and financial goals against short-term quality of life.

If it's genuinely going to increase your quality of life (e.g. you really like your sleep, so you don't want a roommate), it might be worth it. But if you're taking a student loan so you can afford short-term consumption (dinners out, spring break in the Outer Banks, microbrew sixers instead of Natty Ice), this is a bad idea. If you get a postdoc, you will be on the hook to pay that loan back six months after you graduate -- and you know how lucrative those postdocs are. Don't forget, student loans obligation are darn near impossible to escape, even in bankruptcy. Treat them like thionyl chloride -- useful, but dangerous.

Daily Pump Trap: 9/16/2010 edition

Good morning! There are 22 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 9 (41%) are academically connected.

The wave of the future?: Rennovia is a start-up with an eye towards using catalysis for chemical manufacture from biorenewables; they're looking for a Ph.D. chemist to "scale and manufacture catalyst formulations identified by the discovery team into commercially viable catalysts for company’s targeted processes." 6+ years experience desired, with "experience with the construction and operation of small heterogeneous catalyst test reactors preferred." Sounds neat.

Nothing comes close: Samsung Cheil Industries continues its search for new staff for its San Jose, CA location; they desire a Ph.D. chemist (3+ years post-doc or industrial experience) to be their senior R&D manager. Experience with amine and polyamide chemistry strongly preferred.

To the Golden Coast: FormFactor is a company that performs electroplating research; they desire a B.S./M.S. chemist or engineer with "manufacturing experience in plating, electrochemical processing, and/or microfabrication." They are located in Livermore, CA.

Except maybe New Jersey: Lexicon is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist to be a research associate for medicinal chemistry; 2+ years lab experience desired.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why grad students should think about contributing to an IRA

It's not easy being a graduate student -- chances are, you're not making a lot of money and you're definitely not thinking too much about retirement. Nevertheless, retirement is coming your way, and it's not a terrible idea to start thinking about how you're going to prepare for it. Hopefully, this post will go a little way towards starting a long-term conversation about the 5+ years that people trade for a degree. One of the clearest places where there is a tradeoff is in retirement savings (typically done in the US with 401k plans and IRAs.)

Assume that we have 3 individuals. They all graduate from college the same year, they're all the same age, gender, whatever. At year 0, they decide to take 3 different paths, as shown below:

Chemist A: takes B.S. immediately, goes to work for 50k, gets 1% raise a year, contributes 5% of salary to a 401k, gets a 1.5% match. Chemist A contributes 3k every year to an IRA. All investments get 5% return.
Chemist B: goes to grad school, gets Ph.D. in 5 years, goes to work for 80k, gets 1% raise a year, contributes 5% of salary to a 401k, gets a 1.5% match. After graduating, Chemist B contributes 3k every year to an IRA. All investments get 5% return.
Chemist C: goes to grad school, gets Ph.D. in 5 years, goes to work for 80k, gets 1% raise a year, contributes 5% of salary to a 401k, gets a 1.5% match. In Year 1, Chemist C contributes 3k to an IRA (life savings?) and only $500 a year for the rest of graduate school. All investments get 5% return.

After 25 years, what are their total nest eggs?

Chemist A, B.S. (year 25 total nest egg): $314,125.04
Chemist B, Ph.D. (year 25 total nest egg): $285,501.86
Chemist C, Ph.D. (year 25 total nest egg): $300,895.18

The spreadsheet is here, if you would like to check my figures.

From this point of view, the 5 years in graduate school will "cost" somewhere around 30k in retirement savings (all things being equal.) With a $5,000 investment during graduate school, you can recover about 15k (or about 50%) of those lost retirement savings.

Now, the caveats to this sort of figuring are pretty darn long, but let's list a few. First, it's a little bit unfair to compare a 25 year career with 20 year careers. Also, Chemists B and C could put more of their salaries into their IRAs (you'll note their 401ks end up bigger than Chemist A.) Do remember, their net worths could be very different, too. There aren't big promotions figured into this calculation, or job switches, or layoffs or any of the other things that actually make up real life. Chemist C could have a nasty gambling habit, Chemist A could enjoy investing in real estate in Belize, no investment this side of Bernie Madoff has a steady 5% return with no dips, you get the idea.

Going to graduate school for an extended period (longer than 2 years?) basically puts parts of your life on hold. Whether or not you want to admit it, there are costs associated with that pause; contributing to a very basic IRA (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index, anyone?) might be a way of alleviating some of those costs.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Caught in a lab romance (sorry)

Milkshake's comment about synthetic chemist intermarriage reminded me about a recent post by Liberal Arts Chemist on "research incest." Go ahead and head over there to read the story. Short version: a young PI catches his postdoc and his grad student in flagrante delicto; they are both married, but not to one another. LAC's question: is policing this behavior the responsibility of the PI? In the comments, LAC also notes that we're typically uncomfortable with directly addressing the infidelity issue.

If I were the PI, I'd want it out of my lab. Other than that, I don't feel that I have the power or influence to address it. I could imagine the HR- and E&HS-like bloodless speech that I would probably give: "Inappropriate place for such activities... lots of reactive chemicals around, bad chemical hygiene... affects the morale of the group, blah, blah, blah, etc."

Of course, I do have a moral and/or religious point of view on the issue. [Short, boring version: Marital infidelity is wrong, from a relationship and a spiritual perspective. Exciting, I know.] But labs (especially academic labs) are such cultural mixing bowls and (for better or for worse) we've arrived at a relatively judgment-less place in our workplaces; there's just not a lot of room for moralizing. Also, I'm not sure that anyone would take the ethical stylings of a young, 30 to 40-year old professor very seriously.

Perhaps later (much later?) in my career, I'd be comfortable in launching into a 10 minute sermon on the holiness of marriage and how they need to go home and beg forgiveness! right! now! But the safety perspective is um, safer, more relevant, and probably much less controversial.

Daily Pump Trap: 9/14/10 edition

Good morning! From September 10 through September 13, there have been 81 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 68 (84%) are academically connected and 1 is from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

DuPont: Their Crop Protection Process R&D group is looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist, preferably with 3 years industrial experience. Experience with chemical engineering concepts and Six Sigma (I should have a crack here, but I can't think of one) desired.

And the pay is good: BioScale desires a Ph.D. biochemist for assay development research. They wish "strong experience in developing processes and test methodologies associated with immunoassay products, preferably including microparticles... Broad biochemistry knowledge of proteins, antibodies, protein purification, labeling and immobilization processes."

What a name!: Living Proof, Inc. is looking for a B.S/M.S. chemist to perform analytical research on cosmetically-oriented polymers; strong background in organic chemistry also desired. No relocation offered to this Boston location.

CaCO3: Omya, Inc. ("a producer of fine ground calcium carbonate") desires a B.S. chemist with 7+ years experience for research into "the improvement of new calcium carbonate products to meet customer demands in the paper and plastics, paint, coating and adhesives industries." It's in Vermont, so that's a plus. (Pretty state.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Myers-Briggs personality types are chemists?

Reading my new Twitter feed (in the process of setting up my own --, I see that David Kroll of Terra Sigillata is talking about Myers-Briggs personality types. I'm not much of a believer in psychology, but I've had a long-running arm's-length fascination with the Myers-Briggs test. You can take a quick five or ten minute version of the test here.

Basically, the test measures you on 4 variables -- whether you are an Introvert or an Extrovert, whether you are iNtuitive or Sensing, Thinking or Feeling and Judging or Perceiving. The questions are always a bit difficult to answer: "It's difficult to get you excited - Yes or No?" Well, it depends -- are we talking football or NMR results? I've tested as either an INTJ ("The Scientist") or a ISTJ ("The Inspector") with occasional results as a "E", if I'm in an expansive mood.*

I suspect that, within chemistry, there are a wide variety of personality types with a moderate bias towards introversion. (If you have time, Jonathan Rauch's essay on the care and feeding of introverts is a classic.) Chemistry, in the end, is a solitary pursuit. With the exception of the most complex machinery, most chemistry operations are done by one person, even if everyone is working as a team. Two people can't perform an extraction (one person holds the sep funnel, another shakes?) and a HPLC is too small to have two people standing in front of it for very long. Folks who need constant human interaction, I suspect, have a difficult time with life in the lab. (Was your favorite time in the lab when you can be alone? It is/was for me...)

Other than introversion, I doubt there's other signficant personality biases. It's also the introversion that makes group meetings such a joy. (That's a whole 'nother post.) What's your Myers-Briggs personality type? Leave it in the comments, if you dare...

*Those personality profiles always strike me as just a little bogus, sort of like Facebook quiz results. How Awesome Are You? You're Super Awesome! Where's the MBTI that's "The Sociopath"?

Friday, September 10, 2010

A comparative timeline

Graphic modified from Mirkin Group website.

Daily Pump Trap: 9/10/2010 edition

Good morning! From September 7 to September 9, there were 44 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 25 (57%) are academically connected.

Careful with those wildfires: Boulder Scientific is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist to manage their new production facility; 3+ years with batch manufacturing processes desired.

A plum: Samsung Cheil Industries desires a B.S/M.S. chemist to perform organic and organometallic research towards electronic materials. The positions is San Jose, California; this looks like a nice job for someone.

Georgia on my mind: Duane Morris LLP desires technical advisors to become patent agents in Atlanta; a Ph.D. in synthetic and/or nucleoside chemistry is desirable.

Irvine? on my mind: Allergan is looking for a B.S. chemist with experience in project management to be their chemical sourcing manager. An MBA is a plus.

Broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder and show (respectively) 299, 643 and 3,344 positions for the search term "chemist".

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Interview: Dr. John Spevacek, "It's the Rheo Thing"

John Spevacek is the writer of the rheology and polymer blog It's the Rheo Thing and a valued Chemjobber commenter. Not knowing much about either the rheology and polymer fields, I asked him for an interview. What follows is an e-mail interview that has been lightly edited and checked with Dr. Spevacek for accuracy.

CJ: Can you tell us a little about your background and your experiences?

JS: My degrees (Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctorate) are all in chemical engineering (Minnesota and Illinois–Urbana). There are very few schools where you can get a formal degree in polymer science or engineering. Most commonly, professors who study polymers are in a university’s chemistry, chem-eng, mech-eng or material science departments. This difference is not a concern, as the quality of the education can be excellent in both settings.

I’ve worked for a number of companies over the past 20 years (Hercules, 3M, Conwed Plastics, Envoy Medical and now Aspen Research). I didn’t get to do any polymer chemistry in school but have been able to do so while working. With each passing job, I have become more and more involved in polymer chemistry and loving it. Having been educated more on the physical side, it is fun to be able to manipulate the chemical end as well. I now have twice the levers to play with.

CJ: What is rheology? How is it different from polymer chemistry, as understood by organic chemists?

JS: Rheology is the study of the flow and deformation of materials. It is purely a physical study and shows that the line dividing liquids and solids is not a clear as most people think. It also can be used to understand some of the underlying chemistry.

Whenever a stress is applied to any material, the molecules will try and move past each other so that they end up in a lower stress – rheologists speak of this as relaxation. For small molecules that form the basis organic chemistry, this can happen quite quickly, but for very long molecules, it takes quite some time – seconds, minutes, days or even years in some cases. The issue then becomes a matter of comparing the relaxation rate to the rate at which a stress is applied.

The iconic example is Silly Putty. When you first take the Silly Putty out of its container, it has the shape of the egg-shaped container. Gravity has stressed the Silly Putty, and over a long period of time, the molecules have been able to move past each other and the Silly Putty has flowed like a liquid. However, if you then take the Silly Putty and roll it into a ball, it will bounce like a solid. In this case, the stress is applied very quickly, quicker than it can be relaxed and so the material appears as a solid. So Silly Putty has both liquid and solid characteristics. Which one you see depends on how fast you stress it.

I used Silly Putty as an example because it is something everyone is familiar with and the relaxation time is in a convenient range, but all polymers, both hard and soft, show similar behavior. The physical properties depend on the rate at which you stress the material. Unfortunately, the physical properties also depend on temperature, the extent of the stress, and even the stress history. In short, things can get very complicated very quickly. Much of the mathematics used to describe this is the same that was used by Einstein to develop the Theory of Relativity!

CJ: What does a typical polymer chemist/rheologist do all day?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why are people frustrated with ACS and C&EN?

parody of cover of C&EN 11/2/09 issue
Rudy Baum published an editorial yesterday noting the frustration that is always evident with both ACS and C&EN in online forums, especially In The Pipeline. I confess that I can't get myself geeked up about ACS very much, but I do understand the indifference that some (like this post by David Perrey) feel about the organization.

Some things I think other people think about ACS/C&EN:
1. Why do I keep giving money to this organization? What have they done for me lately?
3. Who is this organization run for and by, the individual bench chemist, the academic community or industry?
4. C&EN's focus on the job market seems to happen about 4 times a year -- why don't they realize that we're hurting 52 weeks a year here?
5. Who is this organization run for, the global community or domestic chemists?

Speaking for myself, the Society sometimes seems a bit monolithic and divorced from the concerns of its individual members.* I think the leadership could do a better job of communicating to chemists about what they're doing, where the dues money is going and why they believe that they're working in the best interests of chemists. I don't think members understand the structure of ACS, how it's governed or what it does. I don't think they know how much or how little power their local ACS regional representative has, or how he or she relates to the larger structure.

In the end, though, the core dissatisfaction with the Society and its newsmagazine comes from the structure and (terrible) state of the chemistry job market. That's one thing that can't be easily fixed by anyone.

*I should note here that my interactions with individual ACS/C&EN staffers has been tremendously, extraordinarily helpful -- they've been so willing to respond to cold e-mails with lots and lots of information.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Daily Pump Trap: 9/7/2010 edition

Good morning! From September 1 to September 6, there were 43 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 28 positions (65%) are academically connected.

Academia: Note the high percentage of academic positions -- fall recruiting season is ramping up nicely.

What is this doing here?!?: Stanford University is advertising its "Annual Johnson Symposium" in the database. What's that about? (note that I'm not making any inappropriate jokes... even though I could.)

Can't be outsourced? (probably): E&J Gallo Winery is searching for a B.S. chemist to perform analytical testing on alcoholic beverages. I'm guessing that this is quite a job.

Microwaves: CEM Corporation desires a B.S./M.S. chemist to perform organic synthesis in the lab, travel with the sales team and perform product development. Sounds interesting.

Cleveland!: Eastman Kodak is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemist to "identify potential materials, synthesise test quantities of these polymers in the laboratory for testing in new litho plate products for Computer-to-Plate systems." I have no idea what any of this means.

Rocks!: GE desires a chemist (B.S. required; M.S. or higher preferred) to manage their materials characterization laboratory, also in Cleveland, OH. Local candidates only, no relo offered. "Minimum 10 years inorganic laboratory experience, including method development and analytical techniques."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day!

Photo credit: Unknown. 

Hope everyone is having a happy and restful Labor Day! Back to work tomorrow!

Friday, September 3, 2010

BREAKING: Unemployment at 9.6%, up 0.1% from July

Fresh electrons from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the official unemployment rate is 9.6%, up slightly by 0.1% from July. The broader measurement of unemployment (U6) is up from July as well; it is 16.7%, up from 16.5%.  Things are basically moving sideways right now.

More as time permits, and analysis rolls in.

UPDATE: The initial consensus is that things are improving (but slowly) and that the uptick in unemployment is happening as discouraged workers come back into the market. Thanks, as always, to Calculated Risk for the graph.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cork rings: a collection of links

Some small and useful things this morning:

- Wavefunction's account of the R.B. Woodward symposium at the Boston ACS is excellent.
- Check out this interview with PhD Comics' Jorge Cham that Leigh Boerner conducted -- very winning.
- Liberal Arts Chemist has 2 interesting posts, including pictures of an accident at (yes) the Klapoetke lab.
- Happy 100th post to the Haystack! As long as I can read about getting rid of unsightly chin fat, I'll be there.

Chemjobber C&EN Index: August 23, 2010 issue

Industrial positions (non-academic, non-governmental):
Total number of ads: 0
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 1
- Ratio of US/non-US: 0
Area: 67 sq. cm.

Governmental positions (US, international):
Total number of ads: 0
- Postdocs: 1+
- Permanent positions: 1
- Ratio of US/non-US: 0/0
Area: 118 sq. cm.

Academic positions:
Total number of ads: 24
- Postdocs: 1
- Tenure-track faculty: 27
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions: 0
- Staff positions: 4
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 31/1
- Area (square cm): 1142 sq. cm.

It's back!: Well, the Index had to come back. If only there were a big spate of industrial jobs to talk about. Sadly, there's just a senior associate position at Celgene. But it's in San Diego -- lovely city.
Fall faculty searches: The academic recruiting issue is coming, and the number of available professorships is beginning to rise in the back of C&EN. September 13 is the big issue -- I'll be analyzing that, when it comes. Nevertheless, this issue is the first in a while to have more than 1 page of text ads.
Small college of the week: Rollins College (Winter Park, FL; student population: 3,294, SA-LUTE!) is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry. Hey, they have a 300 MHz NMR! So if living in the Orlando area sounds like fun, this position might be for you!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Daily Pump Trap: 9/1/2010 edition

Good morning! From August 30 to August 31, there were 16 new positions on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (25%) are academically connected and 2 (13%) are from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

Football!: Wildcat Discovery Technologies is a battery research start-up. They're looking for a B.S./M.S. research associate to help with the synthesis and analysis of new materials. It might be too trendy, but I find this position to be really neat. (Obscure reference sort-of explained here.)

Weeds: The University of Illinois is looking for a B.S. chemist who is interested in weed science. Specifically, they someone with  "a thorough understanding of analytical laboratory equipment and techniques for chromatographic analysis of plant secondary compounds and metabolites."

Mountains, too: W.L. Gore's facility in Flagstaff, Arizona desires a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to work in their medical devices division. Required:  3 years of experience working in a regulated environment and demonstrated in-depth working knowledge of GCMS and/or LCMS analytical techniques.

Nanonanonano: Adama Materials in Hawaii wishes to find a M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemist ("with emphasis in advanced polymers and their chemistry, or related discipline with 5 + years of research and development experience (of which at least 2-3 years were in industry)." Interesting commentary for the job description: "University lab setting in a startup business environment (fast paced and potentially longer working hours meeting deadlines)." Great!

Conservation of a different sort: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art wishes to hire a Ph.D. chemist for a postdoctoral research position in the field of art conservation. "Previous experience in a museum environment is not required, but a strong interest in the visual arts is important." You can read up on the job here, with Leigh Boerner's great interview of a similar lab in Indianapolis.