Monday, March 26, 2012

ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri: Chemist unemployment is at a 40-year high

Yesterday, ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri was at a press conference at #ACSSanDiego. Through the power of the internet, I was able to watch and ask him a question:
"What is the unemployment rate for all ACS members and what should future ACS presidents do about this issue?"
I was surprised and pleased to see that the question was put to President Shakhashiri ("from Chemjobber", no less), who actually answered the question. He said that chemist unemployment was at a 40-year high; I was pleased to hear that he was up-to-date on the issue. He was concerned about professors' ability to keep the implied promise that achieving a graduate degree would help students find a job. He lamented the loss of major research institutions like Bell Labs and the like. He stated that the ACS Strategic Plan was directed towards this issue and that ACS cares a great deal about chemical scientists and their employment opportunities.

For the most part, I dislike it when people ask these questions of politicians (e.g. "What is the price of a gallon of milk?") At the same time, the unemployment rate of members (especially at a 40-year high) is a reality that deserves to be the number 1 issue for ACS presidents for the foreseeable future.

Here's hoping that it's not the last time this question is asked. 


  1. President of ACS, the guy who will serve as a figurehead for a year, collect his money and slip into oblivion.

  2. Chemistry will see weak employment for the next 5-10years. There is nothing practical that the pres. of ACS can do to help the situation. Instead, ACS should make this issue more visible to undergrad students so they dont commit 4-10years of their lives obtaining degrees in a decimated market with no potential for jobs/career.

  3. "He was concerned about professors' ability to keep the implied promise that achieving a graduate degree would help students find a job."

    But he's probably not so concerned about the unsustainable Ph.D. replication machine that higher education and funding agencies have built over the decades.

  4. On a side note, how does everyone here feel about the current outlook for a M.S. in Chemistry? I decided half a year to opt out of the PhD program due to a number of reasons (the final nail in the coffin was reading that C&EN news article about the sheer excess of PhD's, and the fact that I'm not from a top 10 university). I specialized in O. Chem, primarily small molecule synthesis, and methodology.

    Does anyone have any insight about my career outlook, and perhaps some insight as to where to look for jobs? Unfortunately, my PI has 0 industry connections, and I have 0 interest in staying in academia.

    As far as relocating goes, that's not a problem. On a side note, what sort of salary range can I be looking at for entry level positions? The ACS states $50-60k starting, but I wonder how full of S**t that number is...though I know government starts at $50k for my experience, the difficulty in getting a job there is pretty much nonexistant.

    1. I can assure you it's easier to get a job with a MS. I've read that you're also first in line to the chopping block when layoffs come too. Overall though, considering that these days a lot of pharmas will lay off hundreds if not thousands in a day, I doubt a PhD would save you from that (and based on the number and quality of PhD candidates I've seen recently, I think you made a good choice).

      One thing people seem to bring up a lot is that work/life balance with a MS is a lot better (as in, you get to have an outside life, as opposed to a PhD). You'll probably be expected to work 40 hour weeks and no more, but that can be company/job dependent.

      Don't get married to a specific number because they change radically. $50K in California dollars is not the same as $50K in Texas dollars, so that's why you can't rely on that. Most job openings will have some listed salary range. If not, people will ask you if they decide to interview you. Something I did to successfully dodge this question was to mention that I wanted a fair wage for the cost of living, and then asked if there was a range for the position. In every case I was answered.

      Are you on LinkedIn? If not, get on it and get your profile built. If you are, you should join a group called Science Jobs, and more specifically, their subgroup Organic Chemist Jobs. Lots of opportunity to get your foot in the door there. Be proactive and private message/e-mail people who post jobs, don't just ask them to look at your profile and e-mail you back, I guarantee they won't.

    2. Zoidberg speaks the truth. Thanks for doing so, Z.

      Anon12:55a: E-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. I'm happy to try to help.

    3. Dr. Zoidberg,

      Thank you very much for your help and suggestions! That was one of the most important reasons I decided against getting a PhD...the work/life balance. I have too many hobbies that I've had to put aside for weeks, months, or over a year because of the 6 day work week and long hours. I haven't really had the opportunity to experiment with my cooking lately (I love cooking/baking!).

      I am on LinkedIn, and have applied for a couple of jobs through there (without luck so far, anyways...). One of my greatest regrets is that in Graduate school doesn't assist you or train you about the "in's and out's" of networking. I don't know how to network, how to utilize my contacts without seeming pushy, as I realize it's supposed to be of mutual benefit, not one person continuously asking for help, references, etc. without giving at all. I'll definitely take a look at Science Jobs, though I think I'm actually already a member of that. I'm not so sure about the subgroup, but I think I might be.

      If you have any more suggestions or ideas, I'm interested in hearing them.

      Thank you!

    4. Don't be shy to reach out to people, most are more than willing to help (I can attest to this being on the other side of the grad school fence).

      Science Jobs isn't terribly useful in my opinion, but Organic Chemist Jobs is, simply because it's focused exactly on that specialty. I also recently discovered groups for New York, San Diego, and San Francisco biotech/pharma. Don't know how good they are. Look into regional ACS webpages. I know the Santa Clara (in the SF area), San Diego, and New England chapters post job opportunities periodically. Santa Clara and New England are particularly good. North Carolina is unfortunately closed off to people who aren't regional members.

      If you have friends you can stay with in a hotspot, local candidates are always a plus.