Friday, June 24, 2011

JOBLESS CHEMISTS STRIKING OUT

Josh Bloom, a former Wyeth chemist, gets his say in the New York Post editorial section on #chemjobs and whether we need more scientists, and boy, does he bring the heat:
To trim expenses, companies began to outsource research to India and China. It started as a trickle, but soon became a tsunami, leaving many thousands of highly intelligent and well-trained professionals with nothing to do -- a shameful waste of talent.
My colleagues and I at Wyeth watched helplessly as one company after another shed employees in huge numbers -- 300,000 since 2000. When Pfizer -- facing the looming expiration of its Lipitor patent and a poor research pipeline -- bought Wyeth for its portfolio of products in 2009, it cut about 25,000 jobs, with more to come. Most of the combined company's research sites have either closed or are in the process of doing so. Before long, the world's largest pharmaceutical company will be conducting very little research in the US.
So, what do thousands of unemployed chemists do? Good question. The employment section of the latest (June 13) issue of our trade magazine, Chemical and Engineering News, is hardly promising. It lists a total of one industrial position and two college tenure-track faculty openings in the US. (Of course, there are online sites with more jobs, but the situation there is still bleak).
And good luck finding a high-school teaching job. Last year, one of my old colleagues decided he wanted to teach science in New Jersey -- but found out that not a single position was available in the entire state. Previous industry casualties had probably filled the few openings.
It wasn't always this way. The mid-1990s saw a shortage of chemists, with drug companies hiring like crazy. Bristol-Meyers Squibb, for one, offered cars as signing bonuses. But the company has fired over 10,000 employees since 2000; one wonders if any of them are now living in those cars.
I think I could argue with the tone* and quibble with the facts. That being said, I think it's a bleak but fair picture of what we're facing (and I gotta love the CJ-esque look at C&EN.) It's too bad that it's come to this.

Best wishes to all of us.

*The bit about working at the Gap (earlier in the article) is a little much. 

7 comments:

  1. This letter nicely counters Lilly CEO John Lechleiter's argument that there are not enough skilled scientists to keep being innovative. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-23/lilly-ceo-blames-immigration-and-tax-laws-for-slower-innovation.html) While the green card system is clearly a mess, lack of skill workers clearly is not Pharma's main problem and there wouldn't be jobs for the new workers anyway.

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  2. My wife works at the Gap. She, along with all her co-workers each have multiple college degrees. Mostly humanities people though, not many science types. I would think a chemistry degree would translate better to a bartender position.

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  3. I feel like your blog needs to be advertised to undergraduate chemists more. I read it, as well as all the resources it connected to and I was able to realize that lab-bench chemistry is not the way to go, and instead I'm working at an urban affairs office, doing a lot of technical work, utilizing some of my degree, and teaching everyone how to efficiently access/store/manage scientific articles from databases. Most of all, I'm getting paid more than crappy summer research grants would pay AND I'm actually contributing to something that will become publishable.

    So, I think the thing that is bleak is that traditional chemistry jobs are going down the drain and that retraining is a big inconvenience (or a financial impossibility)... but faced with the prospect of NO job, and if people don't mind not working at a lab bench, there are lots of opportunities out there (other than working as a bartender). We have amazing skills that people are dying to access! At least, that is my experience...

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  4. Getting really tempted to just paste Bloom's rant into the Chemistry Rant Hall of Flaming Chemists:

    http://chemistry.about.com/u/ua/educationemployment/chemists.htm

    Might have to be a two part post tho.

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  5. Wow CJ, this corresponding thread on "In the Pipeline" has turned a bit nasty. It's sad that economic hardship can bring out ugliness from even trained scientists. :(

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  6. I worked down the hall from Josh at Wyeth, and I'm glad he's letting the general public know about what's going on in science. Although I left pharma a few years back, I'm still in touch with a lot of the chemists I worked with, and although I don't know any working at the Gap, most of them have ended up in jobs that don't use their chemistry skills. It's such a waste of potential - many of these chemists had years of experience in synthesis and med chem and now it's not being used. We say as a society that we want and need new drugs, but the people who have the knowledge and skills to create those drugs are becoming managers at Home Depot or selling medical records software, to use examples from people I know personally. Worthy jobs, but not jobs that use their scientific training and experience.

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  7. At the rate this country is going, I do not see how Josh's comment about the 35 year olds living at parents working at the Gap is that far off... If people who have already graduated cannot find work, how bad will it be for the people just starting college in this has-been field?

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