Monday, January 23, 2012

Destination Europe?

From this weeks' C&EN, an article by Linda Wang on stories of American chemists in Europe:
Rather than cutting workers, chemical companies in Germany have turned to less aggressive cost cutting methods, Koch says. BASF in Ludwigshafen, for example, avoided layoffs by cutting back on overtime and transferring personnel to other locations, says Sarah Ulmschneider-Renner, head of talent resourcing at BASF. The company has begun expanding its workforce again, she says, with a focus on attracting applicants from around the world. “We are increasing our efforts in [human resources] marketing and worldwide job-posting strategies,” she says. “As a result, we are already seeing a significant increase in applications for our R&D positions from abroad, including the U.S.” 
Polymer chemist Jordan Kopping is among those who moved from the U.S. to Germany to work for BASF. He began working as a research scientist in Ludwigshafen a year ago. Before crossing the Atlantic, Kopping earned a Ph.D. in polymer and organic chemistry from the University of California, Davis, in 2006 and completed a postdoc at UCLA in 2007. In 2010, after teaching at a community college and working at a biopharmaceutical company, both in California, he started applying for positions in Germany. “I had nothing at the time tying me to the U.S., and I’ve always had the idea to try something international,” Kopping says. He chose Germany because of its strong economy and because of his interest in the language and culture. 
While job searching, Kopping enrolled in an intensive eight-month course to learn German. “One of the things I highlighted on my résumé was that I was committed to learning the language,” he says. That dedication demonstrated, he says, that he “would fit well into the culture and also into the way of life.” Language skills are not everything, of course. BASF is looking for Ph.D. scientists who have done research in state-of-the-art chemistry, says Ulmschneider-Renner. In addition, she says, chemists should include extracurricular activities in their curriculum vitae. “This information is often neglected, but we consider it extremely useful in forming an initial impression.” 
Koch invites American Chemical Society members who are looking for positions in Germany to get in touch with GDCh’s career services office. “We will try to help,” he says. But he also warns that applicants should be top-notch in their field. “If you’re not good enough to find a job in the U.S., you won’t find one here in Germany, either.”
I don't really think of working in Europe as a solution to American chemists' unemployment problems -- that said, it is a viable adventure for those willing to invest in the needed language skills.


  1. Qualified work in Europe beats unemployment, I was considering it myself, and my medchem friend ended up going back to Prague after almost 2 years of unemployment in US, he left his family and house here. At least his wife still has a stable job.

    Two problems (apart from language and work permit bureaucracy): The paycheck taxes are higher and the salary level is much lower, offers that are 50-65% of what you would earn in US is not too unusual (thats because the employers pay additional steep hidden taxes, for employing you.) Also buying and driving a car is noticeably more expensive in Europe than in US and it gets some adjustment to comute and move around without a car... Finally, the US government may stil want to tax you - and though you can avoid double taxation in most cases you will probably need to submit quite a bit of paperwork for the IRS...

  2. ---But he also warns that applicants should be top-notch in their field. “If you’re not good enough to find a job in the U.S., you won’t find one here in Germany, either.”---

    Yes, because all chemical companies only hire the top 5% of chemists. Including BASF, which employs 10% of the chemists in Germany. (I just made up those numbers to illustrate a point). Don't worry. You don't have to be top notch. You can be some average guy with a PhD and still get a job in Germany.

    Speaking of which, I'm very impressed with their chemical industry and the level of respect for the common research worker which seems to be disappearing from the States. But on the other hand it makes me a bit apprehensive. What if I'm forced to someday write applications to Germany due to bad job prospects everywhere else, and I'll end up in that cold, impersonal and depressing place during the nine months of the year that it is winter? They'll probably think I care about their culture and will integrate well just because I speak their language fluently and read their newspapers. And I won't have the guts to tell them otherwise too, because I'll be desperate for a job... That place is even worse than Boston if you're looking for human interaction.

    Nooooooo!!!!!! Many German nightmares tonight I bet....

    1. Hmm...I just finished reading the cited article in C&EN. At the risk of sounding presumptive, Herr Kopping appears to be doing quite well (judging by his Burberry scarf) living in malerisch Heidelberg.

      I'm particularly put off by the disdain conveyed by the statement, “If you’re not good enough to find a job in the U.S., you won’t find one here in Germany, either.” Shouldn't snobby protectionism work both ways? Considering the difficulties faced by, dare I say, well trained and highly experienced American (all races, religions, and creeds included) scientists looking for domestic jobs, is it prudent for US-based operations to hire droves of Eurotrash?

  3. Learning German is a big advantage because any lab assistant you may be assigned will not understand much english. AND if you are in development the pilot plant people will certainly not. So go for it.
    It also makes life easier for you.

  4. I already know fluent German and read newspapers and books in German. It wasn't a hypothetical thing.

    If my lab assistant doesn't understand English too well and tries to talk to me in German, or the pilot plant people are talking to me in German, then it must mean that I'm living in Germany. And my nightmare has come true. Though if I'm married by then and have kids it could be ok... Don't get me wrong, it's a good place to go for vacations and getting speeding tickets in your Merkedes or Porske, but it just one big Toronto to me. Could be worse though. You could be stuck in Switzerland.


  5. I am stuck in Switzerland!

  6. Hang in there Quintus. Keep dreaming of the Mediterranean and its unfortunately bankrupt bordering countries with their beaches and approachable people in neighborhood bars.

    People always ask me, "uncle sam, why is it that you never fall in love in Zuerich?" Well... Zuerich is a great place to raise a family. Or a plant. But it's no place to fall in love."

    I got that quote from here:

  7. "and the salary level is much lower" in Europe than the US, and salaries are lower in Asia (ex Japan?).

    I don't see how this ends well for US chemists.

  8. Hey uncle Sam,
    We're off to the south of France for retirement in a couple of years or so. Can't wait. With a bit of luck I will be able to go in the latest round of job cuts, that is if the +ç*%'s get it right.

  9. Learn your German well, so you'll understand when they say Auf Wiedersehen after two years