Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is there a "last bastion of making stuff"?

In his follow-up post to his potential graduate school picks, Chiral Jones asks (regarding total synthesis):
Is there a last bastion for those of us that want to “make stuff,” or will we forever run into the dilemma of choosing a field we like, but with less job security, or choosing a field we’d rather not do, but take content in being able to find a job later on?
This is a difficult question. I should note that I really want to avoid the classic (and beat-to-death) "total synthesis is dead!" / "No, it's alive, well and the only way to show you're smart!" debate.

But to answer Chiral Jones' question, my answer is: no, there is no bastion. The global economic forces that seem to shape our lives will forever commoditize whatever can be commoditized. Unless the world we live in dramatically changes, it seems that if chemistry is simple, easy to communicate and profitable, there will always be a push to make things more profitable by substituting a cheaper chemist.

In regards to making stuff, I suppose it's the inorganic/materials folks will be the ones who are going to be 'making things' worry-free for the next twenty years or so. I'd like to think that organic chemistry and organic chemists will find a way to remove themselves from the commoditizing/outsourcing bullseye someday, but I don't think it's anytime soon.

Daily Pump Trap: 11/30/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 23 and November 29, there were 31 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 19 (61%) of these were academically connected.

really? Really? REALLY?: Dolcera, an outsourcing company based in India, is looking for polymer chemistry intellectual property analysts in Hyderabad. They are paying a whopping $6,000 to $20,000 for that privilege. Well, folks, there's the outsourcing advantage right there; man, I made more in graduate school.

Formulations: Amgen is looking for a B.S. chemist to perform solid dosage formulation research; sounds like fun, especially if you like playing with tablets.

CSI: Argonne: ATL International is looking for 2 B.S. chemists; one for a radiochemistry manager position in Richland, WA (Home of the Bombers) and a nuclear forensic chemist position at Argonne in Illinois. Nuclear forensic chemistry -- that's got a pretty high "exotic" factor right there.

OLEDs: DuPont is looking for a kilogram-scale B.S./M.S. synthetic organic chemist to perform research on organic LEDs for use in flat-panel screens. This looks like a great job for someone; one of those jobs of the future, if I do say so myself. Good luck!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Help Chiral Jones pick his graduate school

Chiral Jones is looking to apply to graduate school in organic chemistry. He's posted a pretty darn comprehensive list of universities that he's looking at. Go over there and help him out.

What does a grad student or a postdoc owe their PI?

Photo credit: wikimedia.org
Two weeks ago (remember last week? I don't, either), I asked the question "What is desired from a chemistry PI from their grad students and postdocs?", especially in regards to employment seeking?

I think it's only fair that we assess this question from the other side: to deserve a good phone call or a nice letter from their PI, what does a graduate student or a postdoc need to do? Here's a small list:

Results: It's brutal, but it's true. If you're productive, things will come your way (hopefully.)
Effort/perseverance: Barring lots and lots of results, I think it's fair that you throw the kitchen sink of effort at your work. This doesn't mean chaining yourself to your hood, necessarily -- I think it means a thorough assessment of the problem you're working on, from the literature on down. You have to be able to answer the typical PI (and interview questions!) that start with... "Did you try [list of random but obvious techniques]?"
Leadership/mentorship: It could be as simple as setting a good example, or it could be as complex as training new graduate students in the lab's special techniques.

Of course, all too often, students' contributions to their groups are missed; and true, some PIs are just clueless. In those cases, of course, you're really in trouble.

Readers, I'm positive I've missed something. What does a grad student or postdoc owe their PI?

UPDATE: Liberal Arts Chemist, an actual PI, writes in the comments:
Loyalty: I would not want blind loyalty or an unsafe loyalty but in the ups and downs of the PI - research group relationship I have seen too many students piss in their own well. Departmental politics are brutal and a tired and bitter graduate student can really cause problems if they find a kind and listening ear in a competing faculty member. This is the kind of loyalty that feeds to departmental tribalism and in fact will do the grad student no good at all. It will come back to them either through faculty - faculty gossip or a less than supportive letter of reference. Students need someone in their lives to whom they can download their "Bitter" file ... but that person should not be in their department.
For what it's worth, I agree with him.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Good morning, folks!

Things that I'm thankful for:

- The health and wellbeing of my family
- A wonderful community to live in
- Employment, no matter how humble
- A blog community that I can learn from
- Commenters that are knowledgeable and aren't afraid to challenge
- Readers that keep coming back for more

Seriously, guys. Thanks for a pretty good year so far.

As Leigh said, if you're in the US, Happy Thanksgiving. And if you're elsewhere, Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Labs of the Future or, Chemists are Introverts, darnit!

Lab of the Future, at the Swiss Novartis campus
Via Derek Lowe, I see that Novartis is charging ahead with its architectural attempt to get scientists to interact more (picture above, sans snark). It's an open floor plan design, with lots of windows and open space and the like. I keep expecting Tom Cruise's character from Minority Report to show up.

I'm not one for the Myers-Briggs much, but I do believe in the difference between introverts and extroverts. I think it's common wisdom that most chemists (and, for that matter, most research scientists) fall into the introvert category. Attempting to force people to act otherwise is a minor bit of folly. A great comment about this is from Al at In The Pipeline:
how about you recognise that scientists generally have a personality type that favours a small number of close colleagues/friends, and design an office space and working environment that doesn't broadcast everything we say across the entire planet/unit/company? I mean thats not too hard to understand is it? How about designing offices that foster close collaboration with close colleagues (say unit of 6 persons perhaps). Maybe put the other folks that I have to work with either side of me in offices of 6 persons too. Or maybe down the hall a bit, or even downstairs. That way I am close to those that I need to be close to. You could even put the labs across the corridor.

And quit with the goldfish bowls.
Exactly so.

Daily Pump Trap: 11/23/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 18 and November 22, there were 45 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of them, 26 (58%) are academically connected.

Outsource yourself: Albany Molecular is hiring for their international locations; if you're a B.S. through Ph.D., there's work in Hungary, Hyderabad and Singapore. (That last one's sort of tempting. Sort of.)

Pigments: Sun Chemical is searching for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with more than 5 years experience in pigment technology for a group leader position. "The Leader of Effect Pigments Technology proposes, initiates, and manages the development from ideation through product launch of new effect pigment products and processes." Ideation? Sounds, um, fancified.

Bioseparations: Dionex is searching for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience in separations of proteins and nucleic acids. "Substantial knowledge of set-ups and operation of liquid chromatography systems, including hardware, software and consumables."

Spectroscopy: Total Petrochemicals (the French one, I think) is looking for a chemist to perform FTIR and NMR spectroscopy in support of their research functions.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview: Kay, chemblogosphere commenter

Kay is a longtime reader and commenter on the chemblogosphere and I’m pleased that she’s reading and commenting here as well! Kay is a former Big Pharma chemist; I asked her some questions about her background and experiences in chemistry. This e-mail interview was edited by CJ and checked for accuracy by Kay.

Chemjobber: Can you describe your background a little?

Kay: I always loved chemistry as a kid, but I also loved books and reading and writing. I went to a small liberal arts college which had an excellent chemistry department but also allowed me to take a lot of other classes outside of science. I decided to go to graduate school in chemistry, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to get an MS or a PhD. I was in the PhD program for a while but I spent more time writing articles and reviews with my advisor than I did at the bench. I eventually decided to leave with a master's and get a job.
I stayed at my first job for 9 years, then left and worked at a small biotech for about a year. It went under, and I got a job at another big pharma company. I'd been there about 3 months when they announced a major "restructuring" was coming. I was eventually laid off after I'd been there 9 months. I started interviewing and I was offered another job at a medium-size pharma company, but by that point I was burned out on working in the lab. I was also worried about my future job prospects in the pharmaceutical industry. I didn't want to go through layoffs again in another year or two, but that seemed to be where the job market was heading. I decided to hold off on taking another pharma job and I started looking into other career fields.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Your lab horoscope

How much help (and what kind) in finding a job should PIs give?

From bullybloggers
Anon201011181220p would like to see "PIs take more interest in the career development of their students & postdocs. I am dismayed to hear from my friends in some flagship groups that their PIs are still taking employment prospects of their academic progeny for granted."

What is desired from a chemistry PI from their grad students and postdocs? I don't know what others expect, but here's what I would desire from any PI I were to work for*:

- An acknowledgement that most, if not all, of their students will not end up in academia as tenure-track professors.
- Use of their personal network to help their workers get hired.
- Being willing to pick up the phone and make a call (or take a call) on behalf of their students.
- Willingness to support training in graduate school in basic business savvy (gee, how should I act during an interview?) and communications skills (what should my research summary, CV and presentation look like? Do you present your work well?)

My PI in grad school was willing to do all of this for me, and all of his workers. (I'll note that I was, at best, an average student in the group.) For that, I'm forever grateful.  But it surprises me that other PIs don't necessarily do that. That's just surprising, and depressing.

Readers, what do you (or did you) expect from your PI?

*I should do a post on what PIs should expect in return; this is obviously a two-way street.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What will recovery look like?

Listening to Rudy Baum and Susan Ainsworth's keynote address at the 2010 ACS Virtual Career Fair, I was struck by a simple question: how will we know when the chemistry job market has recovered? In her article and her comments, Ms. Ainsworth notes a couple of things: mass layoffs are slowing down (the problem of the second derivative), and some mid-career scientists are finding positions.

Here are some signs that I think might herald an actual recovery:

- Multiple double-page ads in the back of C&EN. (The only one this year (that I can remember?): SABIC.)
- Ads that aren't regarded as "fishing." (Millenium, I'm looking at you.)
- Recruiters for contract employment agencies that can't seem to fill their positions
- An article from C&EN that there aren't enough chemists (I kid because I love, guys.)
- Comments from federal employers that they're can't compete with industrial positions
- Rumors of starting bonuses (remember those days?)
- Pharma companies begin hiring fresh PhDs at mid-tier universities (an indicator of a peak?)

Readers, what do you think? Do you remember the last boom employment time for chemists ('96 to '03(?)) What were the signs that things were good or even getting too hot?

Daily Pump Trap: 11/18/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 16 and November 17, 9 new positions were posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (44%) were academically connected.

Formulation: Got experience with developing paper formulations? YourEncore ('connects the growing number of veteran/retired scientists and engineers with Member Companies to leverage their expertise') wants to hear from you.

Thermal analysis: DuPont is looking for a Ph.D. chemist with experience in thermal analysis to set up a laboratory specializing in the same for new material development. Sounds fun.

Broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder and Indeed.com show (respectively) 268, 617 and 4,100 positions for the search term "chemist."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"I need to get back in the lab"

Thanks to James for the inspiration.

Process Wednesday: aqueous extractions with water-miscible solvents

Another handy tip from Anderson's Practical Process Research and Development:
To rapidly develop extractions of reactions run in water-soluble solvents, e.g. THF and acetonitrile, first try washing reaction aliquots on a test-tube scale. Note any phase separation, the presence of any emulsions that take a significant amount of time to separate, and any losses to the aqueous phase. If problems arise, inorganic salts may be added to the mixture in order to "salt out" the organic product into the organic phase. Effective phase splits may occur if there is less of the organic solvent present, i.e. if the reaction were run more concentrated. A cosolvent such as ethyl acetate or toluene may be added to improve the partition coefficients of the product in the organic and aqueous phases, thus elimination emulsions. As a last resort, replace the reaction solvent with a higher-boiling, more water-immiscible solvent, and reexamine extractions.
This is a tip that has a little bit of relevance to the small-scale aqueous extraction that is being annoying and forming an emulsion as well. Remember, as the chemist, you control the vertical and the horizontal.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How long can a bench chemist be away from the bench?

From zazzle.com
I've heard it said that your job skills begin to deteriorate about six months after a layoff. If so, one imagines that it could be a terrifying ticking clock for a bench chemist.

Let's start from the outlandish numbers. Is ten years away from the bench too long? Yes, probably. Would you hire someone to be a bench chemist if they've been away for 5 years? Unlikely -- if they had a really impressive run beforehand, absolutely, I'd might take a shot. How about 2 years? What were they doing during those 2 years? If they were just one level above (supervisor/manager/junior project manager, whatever), yeah, sure, they're in the running for a bench chemist position.

For those of us (myself included) who could not imagine life that doesn't involve standing in front of a loud, boxy vacuum, these numbers are a little bit stressful. Considering current job searches seem to take the better part of a year (for the lucky ones), it might be interesting to take stock of the different ways that a person could attempt to remedy the loss of time in the laboratory. Readers?

Daily Pump Trap: 11/16/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 11 and November 15, there were 54 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 27 (50%) are academically connected and 1 (2%) is from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Multiples!: Cambridge Major and Rennovia each have ads with multiple positions! Good news for all, especially if you're an experienced analytical chemist or a plant engineer.

Light up my life: DuPont is searching for a Ph.D. chemist who has 5+ years experience in organic light-emitting diode technology for work on flat-screen monitors.

Desk work: The US Patent and Trademark Office is looking for people with B.S. or above degrees in, among other things, chemistry. For the life of me, federal postings are nearly incomprehensible.

Do you ever get the feeling?...: Allichem is looking for B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. chemists to perform organic synthesis research for, well, not very much money. At least they're up front about it. Check out their website to catch some screamer typos. 'Bulky intermediates', indeed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Unemployed Ph.D. chemists: Bethany Halford of C&EN wants to hear from you

Crack C&EN reporter Bethany Halford wants to hear from you about Ph.D. chemist oversupply:

I’m working on a story that addresses the question: Are we training more Ph.D. chemists than we can employ? I’d like to get a “view from the trenches,” so to speak, from folks who are struggling to find work with their advanced degree. Please contact me at b_halford (at) acs (dot) org if you’d like to talk to me about this subject. You can remain anonymous, if you prefer.

Go at it, folks.

Loyalty: an idea from the past?

Brian from pharmnbiofuel comments on the last post:
My second job lasted almost 8 years in Big Pharma and it seems that now, just like everyone else, there is no security for the employee and no accountability from the employer. We all have to be ready jump ship at any moment. This is on top of an abyssmal employment market for chemists. How does this affect everyone's loyalty to one company when contracts are so short? Not good. 
Brian said the magic word: loyalty. A favorite passage from American popular literature springs to mind; I've been trying to figure out a way to fit it into the blog, and now I have a chance:
The Great Depression increased the power of Vito Corleone. And indeed it was about that time that he came to be called Don Corleone. Everywhere in the city, honest men begged for honest work in vain. Proud men demeaned themselves and their families to accept official charity from a contemptuous officialdom. But the men of Don Corleone walked the streets with their heads held high, their pockets stuffed with silver and paper money. With no fear of losing their jobs. And even Don Corleone, that most modest of men, could not help feelings a sense of pride. He had not failed those who depended on him and gave him the sweat of their brows, risked their freedom and their lives in his service. And when an employee of his was arrested and sent to prison by some mischance, that unfortunate man's family received a living allowance; and not a miserly, beggarly, begrudging pittance but the same amount the man earned when free. 
This of course was not pure Christian charity. Not his best friends would have called Don Corleone a saint from heaven. There was some self-interest in this generosity. An employee sent to prison knew he had only to keep his mouth shut and his wife and children would be cared for. He knew that if he did not inform to the police a warm welcome would be his when he left prison. There would be a party waiting in his home, the best of food, homemade ravioli, wine, pastries, with all his friends and relatives gathered to rejoice in his freedom. And sometime during the night the Consigliere, Genco Abbandando, or perhaps even the Don himself, would drop by to pay his respects to such a stalwart, take a glass of wine in his honor, and leave a handsome present of money so that he could enjoy a week or two of leisure with his family before returning to his daily toil. Such was the infinite sympathy and understanding of Don Corleone.
Of course, our chemical and pharmaceutical employers are most certainly not Vito Corleone (and, of course, organized crime is not the poetically just place that Hollywood makes it to be.) Nevertheless, loyalty is a two-way street, and these days, it seems one of those lanes is closed.

Our chemical mercenary future?

An interesting trend in Susan Ainsworth's Employment Outlook article was the mention of contingent or contract workers:
Although job prospects in pharma companies are slim right now, employment opportunities are growing elsewhere as drug firms increasingly rely on outsiders to supplement their bone-lean workforces. "As a result of this shift, there is likely to be greater demand for consultants and contract workers," Saras points out. "While these positions may be less desirable than those in a drug company, they can help people keep their skills fresh and expand their networks and can lead to full-time opportunities in the future."
Life-sciences-based firms are not the only ones relying more on contract workers, says Kelly Services' Edwards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total contingent workforce accounts for at least one-quarter of all workers and is growing at two to three times the rate of the traditional workforce. What's more, contingent workers are expected to comprise nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce added after the recession.
This recent Vertex position is a great example of this potential trend (sent in by an astute reader):
Temp. 3 Month Contract 
A Scientist will design and develop chemistry on a synthetic project and will be involved in conducting laboratory experiments to enable the delivery of compound to support early toxicology and technical transfer.  A Scientist will physically be involved with developing new chemistry and demonstrating that chemistry by delivering bulk intermediates or API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) at expected purity for phase of development. 
While you can easily understand the motivations behind the position for each side of the table ("We need hands now!!" / "It's not a great job, but it's a job for a while"), I would argue that this is a not a good trend for the pharmaceutical industry. I cannot imagine that you can have an effective R&D workforce if it is constantly thinking about looking for a new position.

Perhaps I should grow up and embrace this potential harbinger of our brave new future. One could imagine (please forgive the mixed metaphors) a pseudo-liberal arts academia model: a few permanent staff that have lifetime employment and a vast sea of M.S./Ph.D. chemistry ronin that wander about from company to company, working 2 year contracts. "We deal in compound, friend." 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Truth in advertising

Scientist unemployment is procyclical, too.

from the Martin Prosperity Institute
In my journey to find more data about scientist unemployment, I came across the above graph comparing different classes of occupations between 1983 and 2008. I think it's interesting and certainly more evidence that chemist unemployment is basically pro-cyclical.

More tidbits:

- The jobless rate for all college graduates in September 2009 was 4.5%.
- The jobless rate for all male college graduates in September 2009 was 4.6% and 4.4% for women.
- The jobless rate for male college graduates older than 45 in 9/2009 was 4.5%.
- By comparison, if you're a male non-college graduate who is older than 45, your rate is 11.9%
- The overall measure of scientist unemployment by NSF was at 2.5% in 2006. Huh.
- The unemployment rate for electrical engineers in the first quarter of 2009 was 8.6% -- wow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is chemistry employment cyclical or counter-cyclical?

Original graph: C&EN, 11/1/10, 88 (44), pp 38.
Modified by Chemjobber
  Anon111010653a asks "is chemistry somewhat sheltered from economic crises, or do they underrepresent unemployed chemists?" in regards to the graph (modified by CJ) to the left from Susan Ainsworth's article in last week's issue of C&EN.

My take home from the graph is this: you can see the last three recessions (90-91, 2001, and 12/2007-) represented in red in the modified graph.* In my experience, this is evidence that modern unemployment in chemistry is at least somewhat correlated with the overall unemployment picture.

Anon's real question is "what does the gap mean?", i.e. "Why isn't the ACS unemployment rate also 10% right now?" My answer: honestly, I don't know. It's certainly not the "sheltering" hypothesis in my opinion. Whether the ACS salary survey undermeasures unemployment is, of course, a different question.

*Important to remember: unemployment is a lagging indicator of the economy.

Daily Pump Trap: 11/11/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 9 and November 10, there were 24 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 13 (54%) were academically connected.

VRTX: Once again, Vertex's development side is calling for more steam. Five new positions, all in formulation or development. Good news, I think.

USD: The Federal Reserve Board is looking for a Ph.D. scientist to work on currency counterfeiting issues. "You will be responsible for directing and leading technical activities related to the security of Federal Reserve notes..." Dude, good luck with that -- it's a pretty nice salary, even for D.C.

A2P DAS: Dow AgroSciences is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to work in its active-to-product development group. "The candidate will lead research activities in the area of analytical chemistry in support of active ingredient and formulation development." As the saying goes, if you eat, you might be interested in this work.

PGN: Progress Energy is a power generation company; they are searching for a A.A./B.S. chemist (7+ years experience) to lead their analytical department at their Southport, N.C. facility. Radiochemistry and analytical instrumentation experience is required.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This is every place I've worked

job lols - I Believe In The Solvent Fairy
see more Monday Through Friday

Ten signs that the relationship between you and your advisor is souring

1. Your dreams (nightmares?) are about his/her disapproval.
2. That postdoc that's a stand-up gal offers to be your second.
3. You go to the bathroom in another building to avoid walking by his office.
4. Your lab mates begin carrying white flags and wearing T-shirts that say "NON-COMBATANT."
5. You get nervous every time you start your junker car, and not because you're worried it won't start.
6. George Mitchell drops by and offers to start negotiations for partition of the lab.
7. Brochures for the Merchant Marine and Alaska crab fishing companies begin appearing on your desk.
8. Your lab is referred to as "the DMZ."
9. Taste testers at group lunches.
10. During group meeting in the conference room, you notice there's a red button by her chair (ff to 1:57).

Chemjobber: like Cosmo, but with slightly less photoshopping!

Charts of the week: Industrial ads and positions, September 2008 to September 2010

You may have seen a version of these charts in Susan Ainsworth's Employment Outlook article in C&EN article last week. These are my tabulated results of two years of tracking industrial ads in C&EN. I confess that I can't really find a trend, but (as I said in the article) the bottom was probably in August of 2009.

The spreadsheets are here. Enjoy!

C&EN Industrial ads (tabulated by month); all ads were counted -- duplication is possible. by Chemjobber

C&EN Industrial ads and positions (tabulated by month); all ads and positions were counted.
Duplication is possible. by Chemjobber


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ask CJ: what does it take to get a B.S. synthetic chemistry position?

A reader we'll call "W.O." writes in to ask a few questions about getting a bachelor's-level position as a synthetic chemist:
1. What kind of skills are expected of an incoming B.S. chemist? What keywords are needed on one's resume?
2. What kind of skills will make a resume float to the top of the pile?
3. Do employers look at classes that you're taking or you're going to be taking?
4. Do I have to worry about competing with more experienced and/or more educated (M.S.) chemists?

Here are my answers:

1. I would expect a B.S. synthetic chemist to be able to competently synthesize, isolate, purify and characterize organic molecules. I would also like some ability to search the literature for reaction conditions.
2. Things that I would be impressed by:
 - Publications (no matter how humble) where the student was a participating author
 - Able to plan chemistry, troubleshoot reactions or identify alternate synthetic routes
 - Able to work with others (i.e. a recommendation from a mentor in the lab.)
3. No, I don't really think employers care about coursework. But maybe I'm wrong.
4. No, I don't think new B.S. chemists have to worry about competing with more senior chemists. You're going to be expected to be somewhat competent at the bench, be able to learn and follow directions and be able to work independently just a little. That's a different skill set than I'd expect out of a more experienced chemist. Assuming that the relevant job posting desires new B.S. chemists, that's what they're looking for.

Beloved readers, collectively you've got much, much, much more wisdom and experience than I do. What would you tell "W.O."?

Daily Pump Trap: 11/9/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 4 and November 8, there were 49 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of them, 29 (59%) are academically connected.

Good news for organikers?: Eisai is searching for a M.S. chemist to be a medicinal chemist in the areas of inflammation, immune disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Oh, that's all.

Good news for inorganikers?: BASF is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. inorganic chemist (experience needed, respectively: 11, 7, 0) to work at the interface of organic and inorganic chemistry. "Preferred technical skills would include prior research in diverse areas of chemical synthesis at the juncture of organic and inorganic chemistry including experimental knowledge of optical thin films, fine particle, surface and materials science."

Stay out of my lab!: Quanta LifeSciences is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to help create emulsions; yeeeecch! Honestly, though, it sounds interesting. You'll be "design[ing] and synthesiz[ing] surfactants and related additives/stabilizers for development of water-in-oil emulsion formulations" and "generat[ing] and analyz[ing] scientific results to systematically characterize and screen for optimal candidate emulsion formulations." Experience with polymer chemistry and/or PCR techniques sounds important.

After Deepwater, they're the good guys: Chevron desires a B.S. chemist for its Richmond, CA facility. Experience with basic synthetic lab skills with skills in mass spectrometry desired.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How bad do you have it? How bad do you want it?

When I was interviewing for positions, I was lucky enough to score an on-site interview with a little start-up. During my conversations, it was beginning to become very clear as to what working at a super-tiny company would mean: lower salaries, less-than-fantastic benefits, but the chance to make a lot of money (yeah, right) and a World War II belly gunner's shot at making it all the way to Phase I without losing your job.*

It was all brought home to me when I asked about their instrumentation capabilities. Do you have a NMR? No, we use a courier service for one of the commercial NMR sites with a 12 hour turnaround. Do you have a LC/MS? No, we don't. (Seriously, a well-run, working LC/MS is worth every penny.) But, [CJ], "TLC is a very powerful technique." You know what? My interlocutor was probably right. That being said, I'd rather have an on-site NMR than not.

It seems like every start-up has a story like that. "Why, it used to be just us two and this garage", and that sort of thing. But it reminds a person about the humble beginnings of most of the large companies that we hope to work for, and the conditions and the courage it takes to work there, in the beginning.

*I hasten to note the benefits of working at a small company: independence, a lack of bureaucracy and extreme organizational flexibility. And sometimes, free Diet Coke and peanut butter and honey sandwiches. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

BREAKING: October unemployment rate stays flat at 9.6%

Good morning! Fresh electrons from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. October's official unemployment rate has stayed flat at 9.6%, compared to September's numbers. The broader (U6) unemployment rate was down 0.1% to 17.0%.

UPDATE: Not much good news, but private payrolls are increasing, they say.

Thanks, as always, to Calculated Risk for the graph.

Everyone's favorite slide

Enjoying your lunch at your interview

For the lucky few that are getting on-campus interviews this fall, one of the less-noticeable obstacles to surmount is the lunchtime meal. Usually with more than one person, it's your job (as I see it) as the candidate to help keep the conversation moving. Otherwise, there are awkward silences -- who wants that? -- and then they'll start whipping out napkins and asking you to explain the 'particle in a box' problem. Helpful topics to consider:

Cute anecdotes: Assuming that you're a good storyteller, there's never any harm in a good story (assuming it's in good taste and non-offensive.) Lab accidents, stories of you falling asleep at 3 a.m. at your columns, stories of you solving your colleagues problems are all fair game.

Asking questions: Many (most?) chemists are introverts; nevertheless, people like attention. If they're game to talk, ask them about their backgrounds, what they like about the company and their current lifestyles. Questions about the area are always helpful and conversation-producing. Treat them like the experts on their organization that they are.

A little bit of dish?: [This one may not be good advice.] If you can feel the conversation being willing to move in that direction, it's fun to ask people what they think of the management. If you get the typical enthusiasm-less enthusiasm ('oh, they're fine'), they probably don't want to talk about it. But sometimes, you get someone who's willing to tell you the truth; sometimes, even, it's a happy answer.

Good luck out there, folks!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How long is long enough at the bench?

You could share my lab bench, pardner
(Photo credit: HenrySheehan.com)
A recent conversation brought this question up: Not counting graduate school, what is the minimum amount of time required to gain 'enough' experience in the working world of chemistry? It's only a select few chemists that get to spend a lifetime working at the bench; most chemists, for one reason or another, seem to end up somewhere else (in front of a computer, usually, these days.)

One or two years is not enough, in my opinion. A year isn't enough to experience the ups and downs, the changes in procedures, the successes and failures, the "hey, we used to store that over here" and the changes in coworkers and supervisors. I expect that 20+ years identifies you as a grizzled bench veteran. Given this range, I suspect the tipping point between "bench newbie" and "bench Clint Eastwood / Sarah Connor" is somewhere between 7 and 15 years (again, not counting graduate school).

Readers, what do you think? If you're the bench equivalent of Julio Franco, when did it happen for you?

Daily Pump Trap: 11/4/10 edition

Good morning! Between November 2 and 3, there were 17 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 8 (47%) of them are academically connected and 2 (12%) are from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

You can't get there from heah: IDEXX Laboratories in Westbrook, ME is looking for a M.S. chemist to work in their "Rare Reagent Pilot Plant", among other places. "The ideal candidate will have a background in protein purification, virus isolation, chromatography, particle coating, and biophysical characterization in a GMP environment."

The miracles of a job: DuPont desires a M.S. chemist to be a staff associate investigator in an NMR facility. Knowledge of analytical and organic chemistry is desired; you will be "conduct[ing] non-routine Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) analyses in support of a wide range of CR&D and business technical programs."

Blinky, Pinky, Clyde and...: Sun Chemical is looking for a Ph.D. surface/physical chemist with experience in inks and digital dispersions. You ("a highly motivated, hands-on professional") will "develop new products and technologies related to digital dispersion technology." Good luck!

Oh, why not?: Kelly jumps into the race for neat batteries and is hiring for a Wisconsin company that desires a battery research executive.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A chemistry grad student talks about money worries

Not much time to blog today, but I enjoyed the recent interview by NPR's Planet Money of one Diogenes Placencia (what a wonderful name!). He's a chemistry doctoral student who grew up poor in the Bronx and is now ABD at the University of Arizona:
Do you worry about money?
Constantly. I worry mostly about my mother. I worry about providing for her when she gets older, and giving her some good years.
Are there any recent purchases you regret?
I really don't regret anything, because I put everything through such a rigorous process of whether I should get it or not. I do a cost-benefit analysis.
So what was the last purchase you put through this process?
It was an arm-band for my iPod. I swear it was like $15, and I looked at it for two months.
What's the next thing you're going to buy?
A pair of flip-flops.
Have you gone shopping for flip-flops?
I went around the other day and I looked at some. And I was like, "Oh, 20 bucks. That's a lot."                            
A son like that will put a smile on a mother's face.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Does research in chemistry teach you to be efficient?

I voted this morning (don't forget to vote!); what should have taken 2 minutes to confirm my identity, sign the signature page, etc took a lot longer. I walked in about 30 seconds after the polls opened, but it was quite clear that they hadn't gotten their system worked out yet -- sigh.

While academia is not really known for efficiency, I think that performing research in chemistry is one of many different ways to learn how to work quickly and effectively. You have a column to run, fractions to TLC and product to isolate; if you do this haphazardly, it will take 2 hours. If you do this efficiently, it will take 45 minutes. Which do you think is a better use of your time? I've also found that setting up a system to quickly perform a task is a great way of achieving some sense of "flow" and enjoying one's self in the lab.

Of course, not all of chemistry is about 'increasing sample throughput' or turning yourself into a robot; sometimes, it's about taking 2 hours to carefully stare down all your data. But if you've got a task to do, you might as well get a system in place and just do it. Here's to taking care of business in the lab, and here's hoping those poll workers get their system in place before noon.

Daily Pump Trap: 11/2/10 edition

Good morning! Between October 28 and November 1, there were 141 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 28 (20%) were academically connected and 1 was from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Wow, temps: While Kelly was more or less dormant, a bunch of other staffing agencies were big publishers of positions this week. Prymus had 1, Aerotek had 5 and the Ropella Group weighed in with 25 new positions.

FOB labs: Ideal Innovations, Inc. apparently works with DoD to supply scientists to bases in Afghanistan. They desire (among other positions) B.S. chemists to run analytical tests on IEDs.

You'd get to try 'chicken rice': Lonza's plant in Singapore wishes a Ph.D. scientist to help run their bioreactors; interesting?

NREL: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is searching for new Ph.D. chemists for 21 postdoctoral positions in alternative energy research.

Lundbeck: Lundbeck's US branch in New Jersey is seeking experienced Ph.D. medicinal chemists.

Virtual career fair: Today, here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Have you been shorted by chemical suppliers?

Like everyone else, I greatly enjoyed Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential"; for those not in the know, Bourdain writes very entertainingly about his twenty-some years in the restaurant business. He talks about a little escapade with one of his mentors, who he called "Bigfoot":
Once, after years of ordering frozen BeeGee shrimp from a reputable seafood purveyor, Bigfoot discovered a hastily applied label indicating net weight. When it peeled off, he realized the company had, for years, been printing their own fake labels, heat-sealing them over the actual weight printed on the box and cheating him out of a few ounces of shrimp every five pounds. Next time the company sent Bigfoot a bill, he simply send them a Polaroid photo of the incriminating box, label peeling off to reveal actual weight. And the next time, too. And for almost a year after, Bigfoot didn't pay for fish. He never discussed it with the company -- and they never said a word. They just kept sending him free fish until they figured all that retroactive skim was paid back. When Bigfoot finally stopped ordering altogether they didn't wonder why.
While nothing that dramatic has ever happened to me, I have had the opportunity to notice when a reputable chemical purveyor (all of you have ordered from them, probably) has shorted me a few percent of actual weight over a few months' of ordering. I knew it was an honest mistake (what good is lying to your customers on an issue this small? Hanlon's razor is relevant, I hope), but I found it to be a little disturbing and irritating. (It was odd how the error was always in their favor, ya know?) Phone calls were enough to fix the problem.

What say you, beloved readers? Ever been shorted by a chemical supplier?