Friday, July 15, 2011

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play

You can keep going to the ballpark lab and keep gettin'
paid to do it. Beats the hell outta working at Sears.
Photo credit: MGM/ESPN
Yesterday's discussion about Brevard, NC (population: 6,643 -- SA-LUTE!) started an interesting discussion in the comments about small towns and smaller-than-Big-Pharma companies. Anon1041a puts it this way:
Attitudes amongst organic chemists who seek industrial positions really need to change...they shouldn't expect to land a dream job in a dream location immediately out of school. Which would you rather do: start building a professional track record at less-than-ideal job or continue indentured academic servitude while waiting for a dream job that everyone else is clamoring for?
I think the answer is this: is there a career ladder that leads to the top or not? If smaller companies are like the minor leagues in baseball (where future talent is grown and developed over time) and assuming that there is a more-than-likely chance (unlike the minor leagues) that your experience will translate into a better-paying job in the future, then it's worth it.

If taking a job at a smaller startup or a CRO is more like joining an independent league American football team (where the chances of joining the NFL are vanishingly small), then no, it's not worth it and we're just keeping our jobs because we want to keep doing chemistry.*

*And much as I love chemistry, I love my family more.


  1. If taking a job at a smaller startup or a CRO is more like joining an independent league American football team (where the chances of joining the NFL are vanishingly small), then no, it's not worth it and we're just keeping our jobs because we want to keep doing chemistry.

    It depends, right? If its a job that pays the bills, it might be enough in this economy. Not everyone wants or needs to climb the ladder to greatness. For many, it's simply a job.

  2. @You'rePfizered: [slow clap]...and weekends!

  3. Minor/independent league analogy seems lacking as do not see as steps on the same ladder. Perhaps attitudes have changed in last couple decades but believe formerly was very little movement from small Biotech to big Pharma, partly because underlying snobbishness that devalued small company experience. Maybe was not as much the case with BS and MS candidates however with PhDs this was too common and further tracked with hiring only from "Big name groups" that predominated practices at most Pharma's.

    Working at a small start-up or CRO often comes with expectation of doing more roles and many places tend to lean to requirements for longer hours (including weekends) than large companies that can be more 9 to 5 type. Although many places, big and small, promoted idea of doing "independent research" not many people I know could perform their regular job, much less have an outside life, and continue to act as if were an academician.

  4. It is a pity that the answer to making it in chemistry seems to be to lower your expectations.

    I agree there is little transition from biotech to the big boys, though it does happen. The opposite transition seems more favored. A few years as a director or group leader at a big pharm makes it easier to slide into a VP role at a small biotech with, I assume, a jump in salary (at least while the company is around). I'm assuming non-executive salaries in big pharms tap out near $200K for group leaders, maybe a bit more for directors(but really don't know)?

  5. @bbooooooya: Although "lowering expectations" may be a bitter pill to swallow, I think it is a necessary evil if we're going to regaim any lost ground for US manufacturing, which for all intents and purposes includes chemistry. Despite the serious yet *downplayed* operational problems that Big Pharma is having in its Asian operations, sellouts-in-training like Lechleiter and Frazier STILL advocate outsourcing and importation of foreign labor. There are more than enough American scientists and engineers, of all ages and ethnicities, to fulfill productive roles in science-based industries. Instead of clutching to ideals of fair wages and benefits, we must go head-to-head with the outsourcing facilitators/human traffickers and engage in dirty underpricing. Call me crazy, but I would rather have a crappy job than no job at all. Crappy jobs give us an impetus to improve ourselves and teach us to be grateful for any good fortune in our lives.

  6. CJ: "And much as I love chemistry, I love my family more."

    How did you decide that it was the right time to start a family or, more fundamentally, get serious with a relationship?

  7. That's a good question, A12:27p. I'll try to answer it this week.

  8. 1) Lowering expectations is a problem when nothing else has those same lowered expectations - housing costs have dropped (although if you have a house, that may not be a win), but most others appear to be rising. School costs have increased at greater than inflationary rates, which means the debt that most graduates have will continue to increase (although at least grad school may not cost much other than opportunity costs in science). People might be willing to sacrifice if they believed that their sacrifices would make the country stronger and improve its stability, but since that does not appear to be the case, I don't think that will hold water. Making yourself poor to make other people rich on debts you and your children will have to pay off is not going an offer that will attract many volunteers. Since people have already not been flocking to science before this (one of the reasons why so many graduate students are foreign-born), I'm not really seeing lowered expectations working out well either for scientists or for generating a domestic R+D base.

    2) Minor league systems have a lower barrier to entry (high school baseball performance or maybe college), a lower probability of reaching the top of the ladder (1% or less), lower pay along the ladder (most require jobs to support a player while in the minors up to AAA, I think), and a much greater difference in income between the top and bottom of the ladder (probably at least ten-fold and for the larger stars, closer to 1000-fold). Making the majors is like hitting the lottery, and it sustains the hopes of those lower on the ladder. Pharma people make better money for shorter hours but probably not enough to sustain the hopes of four or five times their population working at CRO's. Considering who's been laid off from pharma, I don't know that there is the expectation that the CRO/pharma ladder will filter based on skill or competence that there probably is for baseball.

    Overall, the tiering system in chemistry works out better on average for chemists than baseball players, but the barrier to entry (9+ post-HS) and the lack of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow probably make the diminished uncertainty not attractive enough to drive people into chemistry. Maybe a chemist as protagonist in "For The Love of The Lab" (in 3-D) coming to a theater near you?

  9. I'm so glad I did my undergrad back in the old country while it was still cheap. This debt thing is a bit worrying and I would have never, ever done it (knowing me and how I hate being in debt), if somebody told me I'd have to pay off more than 10 grand in the end.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20