Monday, March 19, 2012

What's the job market for chemical biologists?

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, Sophie Rovner covers the job market for chemical biologists. Two academic chemical biologists weigh on on the academic and industrial job markets:
Whatever route they follow, these chemists have to face the realities of an economy still recovering from recession. “In general, the job market is very tough for scientists,” points out Ronen Marmorstein, a professor and leader of the Gene Expression & Regulation Program at Wistar Institute, a private cancer research institute located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. But “being in chemical biology increases your chances, because it’s a new and upcoming and exciting field,” says Marmorstein, who also holds a joint appointment as an adjunct professor of chemistry, biochemistry, and biophysics at Penn. “A lot of departments are trying to hire more chemical biologists to build up that strength, and a lot of [companies are] also interested in chemical biologists.” 
Vanderbilt’s Marnett [CJ's note: director of their Institute of Chemical Biology] , in contrast, thinks that job prospects for chemical biologists are about the same as those for other chemists. But he believes several faculty positions will open up over the next 20 years as the stock market improves and professors who are currently in their 50s to 70s retire.
Several faculty positions? Over the next twenty years? That's not optimistic for anybody. It doesn't help my concept of the job prospects for chemical biologists (a field that I find fascinating) that Ms. Rovner's interviewees don't actually include a chemical biologist working in industry. Rather, there's two people who got their training in chemical biology; one works as a salesperson and the other, as an oncology project manager for Novartis (a well-paid and well-earned position, I don't doubt.) I'm going to guess that this is more representative of who Ms. Rovner chose to write about, as opposed to an indication of the chemical biology industrial job market (I hope.)

There's also a conversation with a Genentech recruiter, Shawn Tang, which is illuminating:
Genentech hired quite a few biofocused chemists in recent years because of good growth in its small-molecule division, Tang says. Unfortunately that means the company has fewer openings available this year. No matter where they apply for work, Tang recommends that job candidates invest some time in polishing their curricula vitae. “Make sure it’s clean, it’s precise, it’s concise,” she says. Rather than cramming every activity into the document, it’s best to highlight the most significant information. For instance, full journal articles should be listed separately from presentations at conferences, which carry less weight. 
[snip] Job seekers should also take advantage of social media including LinkedIn and Facebook, Tang says. Genentech posts frequent updates on its Facebook page. Both Genentech and Novartis utilize LinkedIn pages, and their recruiters also comb these sites for profiles of potential candidates. Recruiters at both companies have profiles on LinkedIn, and scientists are welcome to reach out to the recruiters for advice and networking, even if they aren’t currently on the job market.
I confess that I don't follow the Genentech Facebook page -- can anyone tell me if there are job openings posted on the page?

1 comment:

  1. Several years ago, there was heated discussion about the merit of a chemical biology degree on a chemistry blog (can't remember if it was the original Chembark or Tenderbutton). If I remember correctly, the general consensus was that it was a bad split between disciplines, knowing a little bit of both, but not enough to be expert in either. And when looking for jobs, people often want that expert level skill/knowledge.

    I can attest from my personal experience that chemists from chemical biology programs are not as knowledgeable as pure synthetic organic chemists, but this is something that could also be university dependent.