Monday, August 15, 2011

Extend your network to younger chemists

Also in today's Chemical and Engineering News is Lisa Balbes' article on networking. In her comment, she advocates for mid-career chemists to extend their network to younger chemists. To wit:
The 2009 ACS Starting Salary Survey showed an unemployment rate of 11.4% across all degree levels for new chemistry graduates; that number excludes the 3.1% not looking for work. In comparison, the unemployment rate in 2009 was 3.9% for ACS members as a group and 9.3% for the general U.S. population. 
Although a direct comparison of new graduates and experienced chemists is unfair, the difference in their ability to gain employment is real. One of the biggest factors is the difference in their ability to network. The average ACS member is 47 years old, has been in the workplace for more than 20 years, and has many more professional connections than a new graduate. Seasoned professionals have had more time to practice their networking skills—not that they all do. 
Most younger chemists these days know that they need to network, but they’re not sure how to do it. Contacting a fellow professional to explore career options, inquire about growing or changing companies, identify in-demand skills and knowledge, and learn about job openings is a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially for recent graduates. 
If you’re a midcareer professional, you can help your younger colleagues by giving them honest feedback on their job search strategies and résumé and curriculum vitae portfolios. Show new graduates the basics of networking, and remind them that they probably have a more extensive network than they think. Encourage them to contact former graduates from their research group, other alumni, and professors and other professionals whom they have met along the way. ACS local, regional, and national meetings are great places to network, but many new graduates are hesitant to approach more-senior colleagues. Serve as an ambassador to the younger generation by simply saying hello to a group of younger chemists huddled in a corner by themselves, and introduce yourself to expand their network as well as your own. 
More senior chemical professionals often have extensive professional networks and know how to tap into them. If you do, use your connections to introduce unemployed members to key individuals, including hiring managers. Volunteer to host networking events in your local section and share tips and success stories from your own career. Younger professionals, who may not have any contacts in a particular field, would benefit tremendously from an introduction or recommendation from a more-senior colleague.
I definitely think that there are mentoring roles to be played by mid-career professionals to their younger counterparts. Certainly, many of our commenters have done so through this blog -- for that, my undying gratitude for reading and sharing their wisdom.


  1. CJ, a British postdoc friend just sent these to me:

    Despite the heavy-hitter signatories, I doubt that the British government can be dissuaded from being draconian with chemistry research funding.

  2. Why would anyone do that? Seriously? The number of young chemists who _can_ network is more than sufficient to fill all available positions. Besides, obviously the best strategy obviously is to join the ACS, I mean 3.9% - that's like everyone has a job!

  3. I wonder how the ACS calculates their unemployed members number? Is it the people that apply for a dues waiver due to being unemployed? How about all the disillusioned members that simply gave up wasting money on the ACS after being unemployed for an extended period of time? My membership renewed a month before my postdoc grant funding ran out. I asked them if I could qualify as unemployed and they told me no. So according to them, I'll be employed for the next 12 months. Why should they care? They already got my money. If I get some adjunct teaching job making $180 a week next time it comes up for renewal, I'd again miss being counted in their unemployment number. How about the pile of undergrads, grad students, postdocs, and tenured professors that are members? Likely not an insignificant percentage of the 160k members the ACS has. One might expect them to displace a little of the unemployment as well. I'd guess the unemployment rate for tenured professors is right around 0.0%.

    Even at 3.9%, that's 6379 unemployed members? I don't think paying it forward (which right now consists of someone suggesting we try -- thanks, I would have never thought of that!) is going to put even a small dent in that.

  4. A11:25a: The ACS calculates its unemployment numbers from the annual salary survey and the people who respond to the survey as being "unemployed" during the survey time period. The survey is sent out to ACS members only.

    While the methodology is routinely viewed skeptically (response rate is below ideal, # of academics in ACS, etc.), it is worth pointing out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers track ACS numbers in general pretty well.

  5. It's unfortunate that a profession that fosters solitary behavior and attracts natural introverts requires people to act exactly the opposite in order to get a job.

  6. I think if I was mentored when I first came on the bench, it would of helped me a lot. What skills should I be developing, what career option I have in the futures etc.

  7. It's unfortunate that a profession that fosters solitary behavior and attracts natural introverts requires people to act exactly the opposite in order to get a job.

    ...or to keep one.

  8. @Bender: I couldn't agree more! Although I usually tend toward the "extrovert" personality, I'm fairly alone where I work, and most people tend to want to focus on their own projects and data.

    You'd think that, before employment, they'd administer a Myers-Briggs (like so many other places do now) and hire anyone who comes in with decent pubs and a INTP / ISTJ score.

    CJ, have you ever done a Myers-Briggs post?

    (Sadly, I'd be out of the running...)

  9. Oh, yes:

  10. @bender:
    But that's the whole point. To get (or keep) a job, you need to stand out from others. If everyone else has no social skills, your networking will make you stand out from the crowd.

  11. Sorry, not to beat a dead horse even dead-er, but.... another major issue to consider about the ACS survey is reporting bias- if all segments of a population don't respond to a survey in equal proportion, then it is not a problem. However, the massive, massive problem with the ACS employment survey is the the exact population you most want to sample (the unemployed) is even more likely to a) not be a member of the ACS and b) not respond to a salary and employment survey. This means the poor response rate is even more serious.

    ACS MEMBERS! FILL OUT THE SURVEY! It's the only way to get some semi-realistic handle on things and maybe force the ACS TO PAY ATTENTION! (not that I really expect things to change, but....)

  12. ACS numbers on employment are a complete freakin joke. There is no way they are anywhere near what reality is. Not every chemist is an ACS member, heck not even all ACS members even fill out the surveys, the ones filling out surveys are probably the ones that have jobs. I wouldn't be surprised if the true unemployment rate for chemists was above 25%. ACS also probably counts individuals employed in terrible low paying post-doc positions or in temp jobs with no health care benefits as being "employed".

  13. A9:43p: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics number for chemist unemployment for 2010 was 3.1%.

    Can you account for the discrepancy between your number (>25%) and the BLS number?

    ACS counts temp jobs as employed, as does BLS. ACS breaks out postdocs as their own category.

  14. 2009 survey lists 89.4% of its members as employed full time. To me the other 10.6% are for all practical purposes unemployed.

  15. The ACS survey is a joke. It lumps tenured professors in with industrial chemists. When was the last time you met an unemployed professor? I would always claim I was unemployed on that Tomfoolery because I felt that the survey goal was to put a smiley face on chemistry employment. The ACS never counts chemists who leave the profession for lack of employment. It self selects for those who return the survey. It never sorts employment by age or specific industry or chemistry speciality or people in post docs because they can not find real jobs.

    As for the USBLS, well it is anyone’s guess how they come up with their mystery numbers. I suspect that they just make them up as I know no one who was ever surveyed by the USBLS. Maybe they get their numbers from the ACS accounting for their alignment. Certainly the USBLS does not provide any insight on their counting methodology or the raw data used to make up their numbers.

    The ACS will only pay attention to members when all industrial members drop their ACS membership, stop paying their dues and stop buying their sh*tty publications. Be proactive: write DC and demand that the ACS nontax status be nullified and support open source publication of all government sponsored chemistry research. The ACS needs shock therapy to get well.

  16. Networking has not helped me one bit. I've been an officer at the ACS Local Section level, at the ACS Divisional level, at the University level, and I'm still a postdoc 7 years after getting my PhD. I know plenty of other chemists, but none of them work anywhere that has hired more than 1 or 2 chemists over the past 7 years.

  17. If networking can create jobs and positions for people, then the strategy will work. It might be that chemistry, being a "solitary profession" as so many seem to opine, is making hiring more difficult. Do chemists working on a yadda-yadda research actually want to hire more chemists, or do they not care much and just want to have more resources to themselves and get their work done. I have this feeling it's the second, which is why networking won't solve anything on a macro scale. It's just walking faster in a game of musical chairs.

  18. A11:17p:

    It never sorts employment by age or specific industry or chemistry speciality or people in post docs because they can not find real jobs.

    By the way, USBLS gets their numbers from the Current Population Survey. (

  19. Networking absolutely helps you get a job, even if you are a chemist. I think these days your network has to be really, really big since there just aren't a lot available. But knowing someone who knows a job opening helps A LOT.

  20. Anon4:50, you're right, there's no arguing that. It doesn't make the situation less unfortunate (except for those chemists that are outgoing).

    Scientists tend to be driven by rational thinking and logic, expecting empirical results and data to trump everything. A dedicated chemist with several high impact papers naturally tends to believe they will shine over an applicant who has a bunch of 3rd authorships in low tier journals who is a smooth talker. You expect other scientists to evaluate you in a purely empirical way, not an emotional one. Unfortunately, that is not often how things work.


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