1. Helping chemists find jobs in a tough market. 2. Towards a quantitative understanding of the quality of the chemistry job market.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Why is Elbonia working on black phosphorus?
I made a comment the other day about the difficulty in understanding US government job postings, especially in the defense area. I talked with a knowledgeable person; here is part of our conversation:
CJ: I understand what the Defense Intelligence Agency does (I think) -- why do they need scientists? What is the chance that a Ph.D. chemist might get one of these positions?
Having some familiarity with DIA, I’m going to assume that one of the 15 slots in this posting is to cover the chemical “threat”. That said, I’ll make the educated guess that a Ph.D. chemist coming right out of a post-doc position would have a 1 in 10 chance of being selected relative to a BS or MS person. Why is this? DIA is a military intelligence organization and as such, it likes…no, demands, that individuals subsume their opinions for the good of the team. While DIA would hire a PhD-level senior scientist from within the DOD or Intelligence community for a senior-level slot, my educated sense is that this isn’t what DIA is after.
DIA and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies need scientists to assist in interpretation of intelligence reporting, e.g., Why is Elbonia working on black phosphorus? What are the strategic goals of Narnia’s Defense Science and Technology Agency? What is the probability that Atlantis’ program to develop non-RE alternatives to Rare Earths (RE) will be successful? Based on kilo-lab production capabilities reported two year ago, what is this likelihood that Lilliputia will develop a world-scale production process for its revolutionary new explosive, selenous boomboom?
CJ: If you search under "chemist" on USAJOBS.gov, you'll get a lot of posting for "chemist (acquisition)" for the Department of the Navy. What are these postings about?
The answer is in one of those Navy postings: "The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) FY 2009 provides that the Secretary of Defense can designate acquisition positions within the Department of Defense as shortage positions and recruit and appoint highly qualified persons to those positions."
What this means is the following: The US Government is increasingly having difficulty in finding and retaining experienced personnel to manage acquisitions. Government acquisition regulations and processes are insanely complex and the pay that formal acquisition people get isn’t all that great. The huge number of experienced acquisition people retiring hasn’t been matched by new hires…therefore…what Duncan Hunter says is that the Department of Defense (maybe other agencies too) can hire you as a scientist and assign you to do acquisition grunt work. The downside is that PhD training in chemistry isn’t going to be remotely relevant to whatever it is that you’re responsible for with your acquisition duties; the upside is that if you’re in need of a job, acquisition is a place that you can look forward to immense job security.
CJ here again. An interesting bit of information, especially for those of us who might be contemplating working for the federal government. Best wishes to all the federal job seekers and many thanks to our knowledgeable insider.