In the same issue, we ran a letter to the editor from Barbara Flohr who was responding to a story on encouraging young women to enter the sciences. “I am one of those parents who fell for the advice to encourage my daughter in math and science,” Flohr writes. “She is a 2011 summa cum laude chemistry graduate without a job. She has lowered her expectations considerably and now wonders every day if she made a stupid decision to study chemistry. So do I.”
Flohr’s letter struck a nerve. We have already received a number of letters from readers about it, and we will run a selection of them in an upcoming issue. Two of C&EN’s Advisory Board members also sent me e-mails about Flohr’s letter. Kendrew H. Colton, a chemist and intellectual property lawyer in Washington, D.C., writes: “It’s a sad state of affairs when an aspiring scientist has her aspirations nipped in the bud. In the past, specialty synthesis companies were known to be looking for rock-solid chemists, and certainly the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office is actively looking for top talent at all ranks. The former is ‘wet chemistry’ and the latter is ‘paper chemistry,’ but they can overlap. A couple of my former colleagues—both excellent patent counsel—were bench chemists in labs. I don’t know if you respond to folks like Ms. Flohr, but if you do, tell her daughter to aim high and don’t give up.”I wonder if Mr. Colton's note has a sentence edited out of it, such as 'it's too bad that current economic times are hitting specialty synthetic companies particularly hard' or something like that. Certainly USPTO's one open chemistry position (at the moment) looks to require a fairly intense industrial background. There are a number of internship programs, which I'm sure he was referring to.
It would be easy to start an intergenerational flame war, but that wouldn't be wise nor constructive. So I simply suggest to Mr. Colton that he recognize the current state of the chemistry job market (especially for young people), its historically bad nature and ponder whether to factor that into his future advice.