Thursday, July 19, 2012

Interview: HV, bioanalytical chemist (was organometallic chemist)

When I recently made skeptical comments about job growth in the biosciences sector, HV suggested that things may be a little bit better. He's transitioned from synthetic organometallic chemistry to more bioanalytical-oriented work. I think his story may be interesting to Chemjobber readers, so I thought I would interview him.

This e-mail interview has been lightly edited by Chemjobber, and checked for accuracy by HV.

CJ: Can you talk about your background and how you found your current position?

HV: I have a PhD from [large Midwestern state university] in inorganic and organometallic chemistry. I graduated in Sept 2007. I did a 3 year post doc at [another Midwestern state university]. My wife is also a PhD and Post doc biochemist and she found a job in St Louis. I moved with her hoping to find a position in St Louis. Boy, was I in trouble.

Around the same time I moved to St Louis, Pfizer was closing their St Louis site and the market here was flooded with chemists with 10 to 20 years of experience. I could not find a teaching position either. I met a scientific director of a biosciences company at a social event and he offered to help. He knew another company's scientific director who was looking for chemists who were interested in jumping to CRO work in biology. He made a couple of calls and I had an on site interview for a position.

CJ: Was it painful to you to transition out of chemistry?

HV: I dont think it was painful at all. Chemistry is a basic science. If you have the interest and the passion to adapt to something new and pursue it, a PhD enables you to make the transition and apply the critical thinking needed.

What would you recommend to people who want to follow in your path?

I highly recommend synthetic organic/organometallic chemists to start looking towards CRO jobs or at least make an attempt towards mass spectrometry or analytical positions. Start attending webinars in biology in basic glycoprotein analysis and get accustomed to GMP and GLP practices.

CJ: Can you talk about some of the personal struggles that you overcame during your job hunt?

HV: Personal struggles... seeing other chemists get jobs while you are struggling to get one, especially the ones I trained in graduate school. I battled depression, got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and it was a constant struggle to get by everyday. Luckily, I had a very supportive wife. I joined the local American Diabetes Association chapter and I live a very active lifestyle. I run 3 miles a day now!

CJ: What do you think is the current situation in the biotechnology world -- are things looking up or looking down?

HV: Biotechnology is looking up. Think about this: Abbott's Humira is the # 1 selling drug in terms of sales. A TNF blocker... who would have thought that 15 years ago? The traditional way of making drugs using exclusively chemistry has almost disappeared and there is more emphasis on biology-based drugs. Plus, there are a number of biosimilars hitting the market pretty soon.

Chemists need to adapt and it is not very difficult. We already know the basic instruments/analysis. We need to keep an open mind. Comfortable jobs in Big Pharma doing synthetic chemistry in an R&D lab is almost a pipe dream -- unless your advisor really knows someone.

This might be a cliche, but networking really helps. Get involved socially -- I was hesitant and hated to say that I was looking for employment every time someone asked me. This is one of toughest recessions to hit the USA and chemists are just at the wrong place and the wrong time to graduate.

Hope everyone out there gets a job soon!

CJ here again -- thanks to HV for a great interview and thought-provoking comments.

4 comments:

  1. Anyone have a suggestion for finding out about these social networking opportunities? I spend much time stuck in a lab. Outside the lab I generally hang out with people who, for the most part, are in the same boat as myself. I can't afford to go to the swanky parties hosted by the nice restaurants in town and I certainly can't afford a country club membership. So how does one get into a position to socialize with someone that make a difference in hiring and such?

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  2. My experience - local professional development events geared at helping introduce young workers to the industry are often times a semi-useful talk, followed by an overpriced glass of wine as you and dozens of other young workers in the same boat stare longingly at the few employed folks in the room, too awkward and overrepresented to get meaningful face time with the movers and shakers...

    The social networking opportunities I've benefited from (ie. current job) came about from former co-workers. I made it quietly known that I was looking to move from the last place, and contacted everyone I had ever encountered about possible links. Linkedin, facebook, blogs, I was on all of them poking around for leads. I'm not from the area originally, but have dedicated a fair bit of time and energy in getting introductions from bosses / senior team members (and worked my tail off at my jobs so that higher-ups would be willing to reach out on my behalf), and then periodically sending out messages to keep me known.

    For folks in grad school, it's tougher because generally the people in your lab aren't coming from somewhere else in industry, so don't have a large network either. However, if your group has any quality at all, there are likely a few old members who have gone out into the world that you can call up. When I started in grad school, my group had graduated 1 PhD and 3 MSc's, so not a huge network out there, but I tried to talk to all of them, and have kept in touch with many of the people I was there with. Just from that group, I've got contacts in 4 of the largest pharma companies going.

    People in chemistry are close-knit and supportive, and so long as you're not a total jerk, your acquaintances will offer to pass on your name or resume if they know of anything, or ask around to find out if any of their network does. If you're a total jerk, then you better be up for a Nobel, because otherwise you're in for a tough time.

    I've been in-and-out writing this, so hopefully it's not too disjointed...

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  3. Having looking at similar positions I know that employers are pretty adamant about candidates having GxP/QSR experience. In fact they don't even care about degree so much, but they absolutely demand GMP. It is this threshold that seems the hardest to cross.

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  4. Totally agreed Anon2:01! I think it's the "catch-twentytwoiest" part of getting into industry. Must have GxP experience to get job, must have job to gain GxP experience. I was fortunate to get a job out of grad school that is not a GLP/GMP lab environment.

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