Friday, April 13, 2012

BLS historical estimates of job growth in chemistry


So this is the last ten years or so of Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for job growth for chemist jobs (or #chemjobs, for the Twitter folks) drawn from these tables. Here's a Google documents version of the above table.

What conclusions can I draw?
  • The data is quite clear -- chemistry has not been a "higher than average" job growth field since 2001. 
  • For the foreseeable future, there are about 3000 job openings a year for all chemists (not chemistry professors or alternative careers or whatever), but chemists as defined by the Occupational Outlook Handbook. (I assume these are mostly bench-level positions.) 
  • By contrast, in 2008, there were estimated to be 10,500 bachelor's graduates in chemistry. As you can see from the chart, not all of them end up working as (or working towards being) chemists. (see page 10)
  • If you were an entering graduate student in 2001 and you left graduate school in 2006 (or took a postdoc) and left in 2008, your projected future was a lot different than when you started. 
This is an interesting set of data to ponder. The BLS folks have a difficult job, attempting to guesstimate what job growth in a field might look like, ten years ahead. I don't think they anticipated the Great Recession, for example, in their data set. 

Well, yet another piece of data to keep in mind for the blog. 

14 comments:

  1. I have a question. In the estimated # of chemists, what are the units on that column? Because you go along fine till the bottom row. There's a bit of difference between 84.3 and 82,200.

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    1. A bounty point for BethE! Fixed!

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    2. Whoo-hoo! Now, to figure out the chemblog equivalent of 'hookers and blackjack.'

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  2. Does "The data is quite clear" count as a typo?

    I assume you meant to to write "The data are quite clear"

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  3. Mmm. I dunno -- I'm not a grammarian.

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  4. Wasn't 2001 to 2003 a bubble time in biotech? If it was, I would not make my life plans based on that happening again anytime soon, or ever again.

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  5. Grammar-checker: Did you mean to use a colon for the list (What conclusions can I draw), or a question mark? Some might claim this was an "interrogative"

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  6. And now, to the actual post: speaking as one of those chemists you mention in point four - who saw two quite-different economies between undergrad and postdoc - I can tell you that the whole field has really turned on its head. Almost no one I know left grad school directly for Pharm, and I know lots more patent examiners and science writers than medicinal chemists.

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  7. So, there has been 0% job growth in chemistry during the good times and a 15% reduction in chemist numbers from 1999, meanwhile the economy and stock market volume grew along with the population. Terrible. Even when they were projecting high growth, the numbers for the first few years never budged and sometimes went back. Now that they are projecting low growth, does that mean that they got better at projecting, or that it's the apocalypse?

    This is the one piece of data that might have kept me from going into chemistry during my undergrad. For sure I would have done something else if that was what I got out of that chart back when I started despite the fact that I loved the subject. You definitely do not need to go promoting the discipline if you're just training replacements and sometimes not even that.

    Maybe the British were right to gut their chemistry departments. Then only those who love the subject will study it and salaries and working conditions will be better.

    In other words... DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!

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  8. Replies
    1. GLOOOOOOOOOOOOM.......

      Time to get the shampagna and popcorn out for the big DOOOOM and GLOOOOOM chemistry research career prospects party. Along with the excellent previous post on companies unloading basic, and also non-basic, research on universities, this made me go out and buy more of the DOOOOOOM popcorn. I've already had one glass of the shampagna as well, hic!

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  9. @See Arr Oh and uncle sam: Y'all are just way too swanky for me! Shampagna and popcorn? It's all about the Franzia, Natty Light, Funions, and pork rinds at my DOOM-GLOOM party!

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    1. Naaah, for a party you need to break out the good stuff. Not regular grad school fare. Back in grad school I actually drank mostly that black box wine from California because it tasted decent and was a good deal. I also at one point decided to have PBR as our regular beer, but my girlfriend vetoed that after a few packs and we settled on Yuengling and Flying Dog on special occasions. Regular food was those rice or pasta packs of different flavors that you could make in the microwave and that cost $1.50 at Safeway.

      When I graduated, a special occasion, we actually bought a couple of bottles of shampagna! The boss was too cheap to buy it, and since I don't know much about all that fancy stuff, I bought a bottle called 'Andre' and it gave me a bad headache the day after. Damn you French! Can't even be bothered to make a bottle of shampagna that doesn't give you a headache. A good DOOOOOM-GLOOOOOM party celebrating the death of chemical research deserves a good Italian shampagna, like that 'the Don' stuff. 'Don Perognono' or something or other. That thing is really expensive and guaranteed to be better than 'Andre'. I hope...

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