Monday, April 9, 2012

Young chemists face their #chemjobs future



Via this week's issue of C&EN, this video of young chemists confronting the difficult job market is pretty interesting. I want to be kind (and I want you to be kind too, commenters!), but I cringe a little when I see students deciding that graduate school is the best means of avoiding a difficult economy. 

18 comments:

  1. Are unemployment rates evenly distributed across all sub-disciplines, or are some sectors faring much worse than others? For example, do we expect unemployment among organic chemists to be higher than inorganic chemists based on a larger population of organic PhDs and the struggling pharma industry?

    I also wonder if some of us tend to be somewhat inflexible in our career goals. I did my PhD in inorganic/materials chemistry, and assumed I would land a job in the same field without any problems (lol). Eventually, I ended up getting a job in a performance materials shop (i.e. speciality plastics, coatings, resins, etc). I was a bit disappointed that I would be leaving my area of expertise, but once I started learning about the business, I realized that it could actually be quite fun and challenging. I worry that too many of us miss out on potentially fulfilling opportunities because we have such narrowly defined career goals.

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  2. Subdiscipline unemployment rates are not included (I don't believe) in the ACS Salary Survey or the ChemCensus.

    Medicinal chemist unemployment data from the Salary Survey has (for whatever reason) been released: http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/2010/12/tough-times-for-medicinal-chemists.html

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  3. My completly unofficial understanding is that we don't get enough responses to make sub-discipline numbers statistically valid.

    Thinking that chemists can only work for chemistry companies is much too narrow - our critical thinking skills are of value to a wide variety of industries and job types. Obviously I agree with being flexible in your career goals, and exploring as much as possible. There are many more careers out there that you've never heard of than that you have heard of, and one of them may be just what you're looking for.

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    1. There are plenty of people from back in grad school who are doing alternative careers now. A lot of them didn't stand out as critical thinkers to me, more like people who hated grad school research a lot.

      I think I learned most of my critical thinking from reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevskiy, Bulgakov and Shakespearean tragedies. What do you need to do in order not to get killed or lose all of your money and thus be a tragic hero/plaything for the devil? The answer is not to be greedy and to take care of the details. Take a look at your actions from the outside and decide accordingly with regards to how you assume others would view those actions. Also, don't be an ass.

      That's premium critical thinking skills from Shakes and Bulgie and all without the need of schooling, especially chemistry grad school, and will allow you to be a better thinker than most chemistry PhDs. That's one I can actually guarantee! (More than an ACS can guarantee you a career after you graduate.)

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    2. "Alternative careers" is a paper towel to mop up the liters currently overflowing the talent pool.

      Certainly, they help, but the solution to the problem lies elsewhere.

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  4. I think grad school is a fine place to avoid a bad economy: a reliable (albeit it modest) stipend, usually interesting work, and a labful of like-minded people. It may not be financially the best choice, but given the option of grad school versus the soul-crushing dullness of patent law I'd take grad school any day.

    To paraphrase Matt Groening, grad school is "the snooze button on the alarm clock of life".

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    1. Hate to say it, but you're completely right. And if you're smart and minimally disciplinned, you can breeze through grad school at most places as well with the right advisor. Which is what a lot of people actually do.

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  5. My heart breaks for all those young people looking to wait out the jobless times in grad school. They are going to finish up even less employable, with even less jobs available. Call it quits while you can.

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  6. "Thinking that chemists can only work for chemistry companies is much too narrow - our critical thinking skills are of value to a wide variety of industries and job types."

    The ACS needs to stop selling this drek. "Critical thinking skills" are everywhere! MBA's take whole damn courses. Quantitative research skills, software coding skills, and the like are not the same as "critical thinking" skills.

    Older chemists need to go back and get re-trained in something that adds demonstrable skills to your CV. It sucks, and will be easier with a chemistry background, but it still sucks.

    Younger chemists take heed- this is most assuredly NOT the smaller cyclical downturns observed in the past 50+ years. What we are seeing are fundamental changes to the chemical research landscape, and the result is highly unlikely to be in your favour!

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  7. And still the drumbeat of STEM 'shortage' BS goes on:

    http://news.yahoo.com/crisis-us-science-looming-physicists-warn-135405711.html

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  8. Although this message is nowhere near new, I think it's good that the ACS is starting to acknowledge this situation too.

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  9. Good job, CJ. You saved at least one. MD is more employable than a PhD anyday.

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    1. Oh, goodness -- I didn't have anything to do with it. It doesn't take much for young people to think seriously about medical school.

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  10. I was told that chemistry was a dead end 10 years ago, now I'm trying to finish a PhD, lol. Youthful optimism can be a huge liability. If only I had listened, I would already be in a residency, getting my MBA paid for by my employer or pursuing some other exciting opportunity with all the energy I put into this field already, like many of my friends with the same drive and smarts.

    It is strange to tell my friends and family, I don't know when I'm graduating, I have no job offers, barely any interviews and cannot explain how spending years isolated in a lab for six days a week has not been as productive as the hectic schedule of the biz majors, doctors and entrepreneurs I know. It is completely bizarre, makes me feel like a fraud or sucker, I absolutely hate when people ask me anything related to my future anymore. Sometimes I think it is a bad dream.

    Yet, for some reason, I keep going. I don't know how I kept publishing or kept getting funding with such a crappy outlook. All I can hope for is that someone does not see me as some narrow minded scientist and hires me. But maybe things only get worse, it definitely seems like that has been the pattern.

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  11. It's interesting how so many students are just finding out about the situation. Just take a look here.
    http://www.reddit.com/r/chemistry/comments/s1780/the_chemistry_job_market_is_brutal_just_ask_these/

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    1. The more head-slapping phenomenon is that even though that thread has grown largely full of negative comments, there are still people asking "What should I do to get into grad school?"

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  12. Ever realize you have been training for a nonexistent career for the past 10 years (Ph.D./Postdoc)? Over 100 resumes sent to jobs I am qualified for, only one phone call in response to a job that the company later decided they were going to remove. Utterly depressing.

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  13. I sent out 100 applications and got a handful of interviews from jobs in and out of my field. Getting my BSc in Chem was one of the highlights of my youth and i'm not going to think that I am not on an enlightened path because society is still in the dark ages.

    Rome wasn't built in a day, so figure your chem career won't take off in a year or two.


    There is no great genius without a touch of madness.

    -seneca

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