Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How are your peers doing?

A reader asked a terribly interesting question -- what has the career track of your graduate school peer group been? They give the following information ("people who started chemistry program (Top 50) between the years of 2004-2006 and have received a PhD/MS (48 people)"). Here's how it looks, tabulated (note that these are the numbers for an entire department):

Here's the table for my academic group. (Small-to-midsize academic group, top 50 department, graduated between 2000-2008 with MS/PhD, used percentages for anonymity.)

I think it's the last set of number that's the most stunning. Readers, what does it look like for your academic peers?


  1. Interesting data, certainly much higher quality than we ever get from the ACS.

    Perhaps another great set of data to try and get from your readers is the current employment status of all the chemists who worked at any one of the major shuttered R&D sites - Wyeth, Syntex, Lederle, Upjohn, Park-Davis, Sterling, Welcome, Roche, etc. The closure of these sites spans about 15 years so seeing what has happened to all these terminated chemists as each site closed would be a great service to new chemistry grads in planning for their futures as terminated employees.

  2. Thought through mine a bit. Lots of long postdocs and "visiting professorships." Alarming number of folks (~40%) actually in "alt" careers in gov't, grants, software, or policy.

  3. So the unemployment rate for chemists is around 1%?

    1. You know, it would be interesting to see how the ACS survey would have measured some of these layoffs.

      I don't remember if their question is "are you unemployed right now?" or "have you been unemployed in the last calendar year?"

      I believe it's "are you unemployed right now?"

    2. Does the ACS survey make any accommodation for members deactivating upon getting laid off?

  4. One question that I think can't easily be answered is how many people with education in any field go on to nontraditional careers for that field. The post and comments seem to be alarmed that some percentage of chemists are employed to do unrelated work, but how does the percentage of chemists doing so compare to say, other sciences, engineers, education majors, other liberal arts majors, and so on. Is that 40% number See Arr Oh suggests representative of America as a whole, or the sign of a deeper problem in chemistry than other fields?

    1. Some questions:
      (1) Are "nontraditional careers" necessarily "unrelated work"? I gather you're talking traditional as academia and industrial chemistry jobs. This leaves out government lab jobs (including, among others, national labs and military labs) as well as other chemistry related non-lab jobs (patent or policy related).
      (2) Why is this 40% number a sign of a problem?

    2. Of my grad school classmates now in nontraditional careers, I can only think of one case where it wasn't due to the lousy scientist job market - a friend landed a tenure-track professor job, ended up hating it, and left the field. In every other case I can think of, it wasn't voluntary - someone finished their postdoc and failed to find a professor or industrial scientist job, or was laid off from the latter. The 40% figure sounds a little high for my circle of friends, but I also know a lot of underemployed people who are still in the field, like community college professors who are qualified to lead a research group. Nothing wrong with doing that if it's voluntary, but it usually isn't.

    3. "but I also know a lot of underemployed people who are still in the field, like community college professors who are qualified to lead a research group."


    4. Absolutely - I meant something more along the lines of a group leader in industry or research professor at a second-tier big university, not a tenure-track job at Berkeley or something like that.

    5. Technically furloughedJuly 13, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      "but I also know a lot of underemployed people who are still in the field, like community college professors who are qualified to lead a research group."

      I can see this. I almost could have put myself in this category. I am qualified to lead a research group and when facing unemployment recently I considered a teaching job at a CC. I turned the offer down because it was only for a one month appointment. In the end I was able to procure a short contract extension the week I was scheduled to be terminated, so I didn't become unemployed after all.

  5. For my PhD cohort we've got a few in postdocs (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc), one is leaving his postdoc to pursue clinical certification, a few are in small pharma, a couple are high school teachers, and the rest work for the state or federal government.

    I'm graduating in December so I'm mulling my options at the moment and applying to every job I can find.

  6. Well, this is from earlier then your years and from an analytical group not organic. Mid sized group, 1998-2003, dept right around 75 rank.

    R1 TT <10%
    R1 staff 12%
    Teaching college, tenured 18%
    Pharma <10%
    Private sector scientist, non-pharma 30%
    Private sector, non-science <10%
    Fed/state govt scientist 24%
    Consultant <10%

    I don't know anyone who did more than a 2 year postdoc along the way and no one has had a lay off but a number of people have jumped around.

  7. Are these cohort numbers for the department as a whole or for specific subdisciplines?