Monday, August 15, 2011

QA/QC -- a destination for organic chemists?

From today's Chemical and Engineering News, Susan Ainsworth's article on job opportunities in the QA/QC field. This article contains a lot of interesting advice about ways of entering the field for organic/medicinal chemists and new graduates alike:
When hiring into quality roles, Portola, too, prefers to hire candidates with chemistry backgrounds, Pandey says. “Chemists are already trained in attention to detail, critical thinking, and problem solving—attributes that are important in QC. In addition, chemists are trained in doing analysis through high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance, which helps in the characterization of a drug product.” Medicinal and organic chemists, many of whom are still unemployed after the last wave of industry cutbacks, could transition into QC and QA roles, Pandey says. They may have an edge in identifying and characterizing process impurities and degradants and understanding how they were formed or generated during the manufacturing process. 
Whether they come from a medicinal or organic chemistry background, scientists don’t need to have a Ph.D. to work in the quality arena at Portola, Pandey says. Scientists from a variety of backgrounds and all degree levels currently work in QC and QA at most pharma and biotech firms. At Genentech, for example, “many in our group have Ph.D. degrees, but several have bachelor’s degrees with industry experience,” Smith says. Those in the QPS role come from a broad range of backgrounds in QC testing, analytical development and validation, QA, or process development, he adds. 
Lilly is among those companies that hire freshly minted B.S. chemists into their quality management ranks. In fact, Vargas encourages new pharma-oriented chemists to start their careers working in a QC lab, “which allows them to get hands-on experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation and develop a good understanding of the GMP world.” However, landing that first job on a quality team can be difficult for some new B.S. graduates. To gain an edge, Ash Stevens’ Munk advises young chemists to gain some experience doing undergraduate research either in an internship or within an academic laboratory. “Nothing does more to excite me about a young candidate than knowing that they have already conducted some kind of chemistry research, especially in organic synthesis,” he says. “If you are synthesizing molecules, you have to use instrumentation to look at purity, which helps you to develop techniques that are important to a QC bench chemist,” he says. To help fledgling chemists gain this kind of experience, Ash Stevens hires a couple of interns each summer, he says.
It's interesting to note that companies would like you to have educated yourself on GMP issues ("It’s now possible to do online searches and take courses to learn about FDA guidelines for characterizing a drug substance at different stages of clinical development, for example,” she says.") Other desirable traits include having taken business or engineering classes, having worked in multi-disciplinary teams and demonstrating the ability to work quickly and in a relatively high-pressure environment.

One of the last statements in the article is heartening:
“I like that I get to test products to be sure that they are free of impurities, have the right amount of active ingredients, and will dissolve in the time that we say that they will,” she says. “I like that as a QC pharmaceutical chemist, I am helping people get the medicine they need to feel better. I feel I am making a difference in the world.”
Nice to see. 

16 comments:

  1. "scientists don’t need to have a Ph.D. to work in the quality arena at Portola, Pandey says" meaning get ready to earn 30-50% of what you used to?

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  2. A10:09a:

    I doubt it's that low. I'm guessing a 20% haircut might be in order compared to R&D salaries.

    Portola seems to pay alright, though:

    http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Portola-Pharmaceutical-Salaries-E268030.htm

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  3. @anon10:09

    A PhD in chemistry might exclude you from an entry level position in QA/QC. These are typically BA/BS level positions, hence the lower starting salary point. I know many folks in the QA area at my pharma company, and none of them have PhDs save the VP. There are some universities that offer certification as well as masters degrees in QA, especially with an emphasis on the pharmaceutical side of things.

    I think that many folks sometimes forget that the ACS covers employment for a broad base of degree holders, not just those with PhDs.

    Regulatory Affairs is field that former pharma scientists seem to be moving into now that MBA/JD type stuff is crowded. Program Management is also another area that folks I know have moved towards. These positions seem to be more amenable for folks with PhDs and work experience, at least from what I'm seeing.

    The next certification/degree that's going to be saturated will be the PMP, if it isn't already.

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  4. There are a few cases I am aware of where syn chemists switched to QA roles from process and more limited number to analytical/QC. The functions do somewhat play against stereotypes so not necessarily a straightforward transition for most, particularly with a PhD. You're Pfizered is correct that most often PhD are "over qualified" (read salary) that inhibits that flow likewise. I would go further that majority of med chemists stay too isolated and stuck in "R" so such experience may be a negative to go to QA/QC. Not that working in process development can't have similar loads but QC/QA seems to have greater extent of mind-numbing routines, punctuated by periods of extreme high anxiety.

    Several Pharma related organizations (DIA, PDA, AAPS etc.) do offer GMP courses that can either help beginners or round out certain areas yet these can be pricey even if a member. I think most companies actually prefer mostly "in-house" GMP training as usually focused on relevant aspects and their selected interpretations for a position/group. Switching companies may be hard as have to relearn GMP nuance implementations. Cores may start out the same then needs for APIs is different from Drug Products with QC frequently dealing with both and possibly GLP.
    CMCguy

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  5. @CJ: PMP = Project Management Professional...some of my colleagues are getting paid to get the certification.

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  6. Maybe someone can comment on this; but this seems like one of those irreversible switches. Once you leave synthesis and get into QC/QA, wouldn't it be hard to get hired back into synthesis positions?

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  7. YP:

    Yeah, I can think of one PFE R6+ that went into project management...

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  8. Allow me to share my tale.

    I was a phd synthetic organic chemist that transitioned just as described in the post. I noticed the mounting layoffs for synthetic chemists and proactively changed my career. The future was bright with the job change and then the wheels fell off the bus. I lost my analytical/QC job during the recession after four years on the job.

    The job market only wanted bsc's and having the phd and over ten years of work experience meant that i was overqualified for 99.99966% of the jobs available. My network was dry as a proverbial bone and I spent more than a year trying to find another job in analytical (and synthesis)arena.

    My advice to you if you are considering this path: just step off the chemistry bus while you still can and don't get back on. Sooner or later you will get kicked off the bus.

    Also, don't look back because you'll likely get squirted in the now safety glass-less eyes with conc HCl as a goodbye gift.

    Fast forward to today, suffice it to say that i am on a different, and much happier, career path now.

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  9. Sometimes it's hard for a rat to see whether the place he is fleeing to is a solid ground or just another sinking ship.

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  10. Good god how could anyone recommend a career doing QA/QC work? There's a reason why there are some many postings for quality control work...it's because the work is horribly repetitive and terrible. People quit all the time after they can't take it anymore and companies have to rehire for the QC position. Many QC positions are not only pay terrible wages and are horrible jobs, they are also many times just permatemp gigs that offer little or no health care benefits.

    My advice to students these days--leave science all together. You will find a never ending onslaught of layoffs or terrible low paying temp jobs that offer no benefits. Leave while you are still young and have time to retrain. Science is a complete waste of your life, time, and money spent on an education.

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  11. Anon 9:34 is correct about the horrible repetitiveness, QA/QC was a common complaint among the posters here:

    http://chemistry.about.com/u/ua/educationemployment/chemists.htm?from=lb#ua_form

    But it's a job.

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  12. Chemistry is a terrible career. Spent so much time/money training and get nothing in the end. Switch while you can, I can see QC/QA being outsourced to china. Dont kid yourself, Chemistry is a dead career.

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  13. The only people making money off the PMP certification are the used car salesmen at PMI. And yes, I'm envious. I figure there are two really great get-rich-quick schemes: (1) Invent a certification that everyone thinks they should have, or (2) invent a character for a children's TV show or movie that can be licensed through multiple product lines.

    Regarding QA/QC, my PhD advisor used to talk derisively about "pumping orange juice through a GC" like it was a fate worse than death. Given the choice, I still think I'd choose that over academia.

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  14. I'm always late to the good threads! If only I was unemployed sooner! Anyway, I recently spoke with a recruiter about a temp qc position that wanted a bs or ms with 1-2 years experience with hplc, gc and ms but would consider a phd. I have a phd and at least 5 years experience with hplc, gc and ms as well as an array of other techniques and after a day or two the recruiter got back to me and said that the hiring manager was not interested because my background was not relevant to the position. I'm considering applying for accounting jobs. I may have a better shot.

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  15. Hi, I was wondering whether anybody have any information on the European job market (academic and industrial) in the area of synthetic organic chemistry. I am not a chemist, but I am asking on behalf of one of my friends. How is the job situation in Europe? A detailed answer would be greatly appreciated! Thanks very much in advance.

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