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.