Monday, July 23, 2012

Ms. Madeleine Jacobs: sympathetic but powerless?

Also from this week's C&EN, a jaw-dropping editorial by Ms. Madeleine Jacobs, the executive director and CEO of the American Chemical Society. You should go over there and read the whole thing, and then come back here. Ready? Go over there, and then come on back when you're done.

Where to start?

"only?": I don't think there's very much hay to be made about Ms. Jacobs' use of the word "only" in the sentence "Although unemployment for ACS members is only 4.2% compared with the national average of 8.2%, that rate is among the highest in 40 years (see page 6)." At the same time, when both Rudy Baum and Madeleine Jacobs are continuing to use the National Unemployment Rate as a comparison tool, I think it's important to emphasize a couple of things:
  • Less than 30% of the United States has a college degree. The ACS membership in 2010 consists of 64% Ph.D.s, 18% M.S. holders and 18% bachelors' degree holders. (See table labeled "ACS Members in the Workforce.") Comparing one average to the other is a pretty meaningless comparison, unless you mean to say that "Hey, we could be doing worse!"
  • Even if you compare ACS members in March 2011 to all college graduates, chemists come out worse:

I understand that it is difficult to compare apples to oranges apples at all times, but when you start sneaking in words like "only" and "well below", it invites a closer look. 

I don't think you want to go there: I was surprised to see Ms. Jacobs comment on the decision of one scientist and mother to dissuade her daughter from going into science. Here's the original comment: 
She plans to “get out of Jersey and get out of science” when her daughter graduates from high school in two years. “She’s very good at everything, very smart,” Haas said of her daughter. “She loves chemistry, loves math. I tell her, ‘Don’t go into science.’ I’ve made that very clear to her.”
Um, that was me who gave that quote. I don't mean to discourage my daughter from learning science. But I don't think it would be a good idea for her to practice it as a career.
Here's how Ms. Jacobs responded:
This misguided advice so stunned me that I began crafting a response, but Daniel Jordan, a biology major, beat me to the punch with a superb letter to the Washington Post. He wrote: “Anyone who would discourage a child who loves math and chemistry from pursuing a career in science because it might be difficult to find employment might not be a scientist for the right reasons. Energetic men and women must be encouraged to enter the sciences despite these obstacles. In fact, those individuals who are passionate enough about their work to stick with it during times of hardship and who hunger to expand their, and our, knowledge of the world are the very ones we most want. … This prognosis of doom and gloom should be seen as a catalyst to redouble our efforts to foster creativity, ingenuity and admiration for the sciences.” 
Right on, Daniel! The U.S. must support and produce the most-talented, best-trained scientists in the world to drive U.S. innovation. In the 1960s, in the aftermath of Sputnik, being a scientist was a noble calling. Many people became scientists to fulfill what they saw as their patriotic duty. 
Well, Ms. Jacobs, why aren't you fulfilling your patriotic duty?!? I'm a scientist -- why can't you give up your position at ACS to go back to the bench and increase our knowledge of science? I am increasingly irritated by the Let-Them-Eat-Persistence crowd, a group of people who seem to encourage young people to go into science, but mostly have left bench science themselves. 

[Also, isn't it poor form to take to the pages of a national magazine to chastise a mother's advice to her daughter?]

Madeleine Jacobs' poor power: Here is what I do not understand about Ms. Jacobs' editorial: she reports on the awful statistics on chemist unemployment and on the woes of manufacturing in the United States. She also acts as if she had no power to help the situation. There's nothing in her essay about using the power of her office to help her members or even bring light to the situation. 

It is almost as if she forgot that she was the Executive Director of the world's largest scientific society. It is almost as if she forgot that she is a person with much more influence than the average ACS member. 

I don't expect much from the Executive Director -- she can't help me find a job, or improve my skill set. But to act as more-or-less a sympathetic bystander in this car wreck of a jobs crisis is very disappointing. 

*Or someone claiming to be, anyway.

62 comments:

  1. "Misguided Advice": behold the first accurate essay title from Madeleine Jacobs or Rudy Baum i've ever seen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It certainly does smack of "Let them eat cake."

    I wonder how Ms. Jacobs would react to unemployed and underemployed chemists sending cakes to the ACS headquarters? Mine might say, "4th year postdoc."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you could be in a worse position and not be able to get a postdoc.

      Delete
  3. Jacobs is powerless by choice. If she does anything, then we have to ask, Why now? Why not five years ago when it would have mattered?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am torn between criticizing Ms.Jacobs' editorial and being at least partially sympathetic to it. It is true that most people won't willfully push their kids into science when the job market stinks. But it's also true that there needs to be a critical mass of scientists who are brave enough to go into science in spite of the gloomy job outlook; it's worth remembering that science was never traditionally viewed as a financially lucrative enterprise, and that most scientific progress has come from people who chose to do science in spite of its lack of monetary rewards. The question for me then is, is there a critical mass of people who are still doing science? If the answer is yes (and it well could be) then Ms. Jacobs's editorial is superfluous and misguided, if not then there's at least some shred of truth in it. In any case, I am also sympathetic to the indignation that the piece will undoubtedly arouse.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I deeply apologize, for my editorial has been cut short. The last sentence was supposed to end with: "...they will create a brighter future for all of us, here at the ACS Corporate Office".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should point out here, for the overly literal, that the above is unlikely to be the actual Madeleine Jacobs.

      Delete
  6. Madeline Jacobs, there are always jobs. They require hectic commutes, constant relocations (mostly at personal expense) with lot's of solitude and the left over expenses in paying back loans for that valuable "total college experience." If "jobs" were simply the only figure of merit, then maybe ACS should be proud. Anecdotally, most of my peers are still employed and usually in the sciences and moderately removed from what they went to school for. However, I do know a great many that are just broken human beings from making one personal sacrifice after the next and being rewarded, with ... more solitude, longer hours, and more distance from their loved ones. At some point, for even the most passionate scientist, it adds up and makes you question your overall passion for your job, where it is going, how long you can maintain it, and to what sort of life do you want to live. Scientists in their 30's who are still trying to reach for those moving goal posts are just abysmal to the morale of those that are still early in their career and the ill attitude just snowballs. In the pursuit of a career, we have become to dismissive of those things we pursue a career for. Maybe some of us would like to participate in the world we want to improve.

    ReplyDelete
  7. it's worth remembering that science was never traditionally viewed as a financially lucrative enterprise, and that most scientific progress has come from people who chose to do science in spite of its lack of monetary rewards.

    You could argue this point for a myriad of career choices, not just science.

    There's also a difference between getting wealthy doing science and not being able to pay the bills because there aren't any jobs available.

    Most of us went into science with the knowledge that we weren't going make as much money as a doctor, lawyer or investment banker. No-one I know talked about getting rich being a chemist, but we did feel that there were jobs with a salary that was high enough for us to build a career, settle down and start a family without having to go on food stamps.

    I think this is what most people in the US are looking for, and increasingly not finding it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. From 2004-2008, Ms. Jacobs' salary increased by 25%: http://www.idontcare.com/acs/

    In case you're curious, her current salary is equivalent to 27 postdoctoral fellows. If she persists in calling science a noble struggle, let's dissolve her position and staff some more labs with active scientists.

    ReplyDelete
  9. She visited here not long ago and said something along these lines: "you have to be ready to go whenever science takes you, be it Singapore, Bangalore, or Shanghai." I kid you not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mrs Jacob didnt even do her graduate, doctorate studies, nor experienced the hardship of postdoc. I dont think she knows the frustration and pressure that the postdoctoral fellows go through. Very bias point of view.

      Delete
    2. Not really bias, she's grossly uninformed. She only has a BS, no research background, no papers, no patents, she simply doesn't represent or understand chemistry or research or employment for that matter.

      Delete
    3. with someone so grossly under qualified, how she got her current job and pulling in $0.9M a year is beyond me.

      Delete
  10. Does anyone else find it odd that Ms. Jacobs refers to a letter from a biology undergraduate to help make her case? It's almost like she couldn't find an employed chemical professional to side with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Take a look at Chem Reddit. Full of undergrad morons who believe they'll beat the odds and not suffer unemployment woes once they finish grad school. Or if they do, at least they'll have the satisfaction of having a PhD. And of course, they take jabs at people bitching about the market, saying they're subpar scientists or got their PhD for the wrong reasons.

      Delete
  11. Unstable IsotopeJuly 23, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    "Anyone who would discourage a child who loves math and chemistry from pursuing a career in science because it might be difficult to find employment might not be a scientist for the right reasons."

    Right - so we should spend most of our 20s in school because of the love of science. Loving science will keep you fed and provide a home. Wait, what?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Unstable IsotopeJuly 23, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    CJ,

    Thanks for doing the apples to apples comparison of chemistry Ph.D.s to other Ph.D.s It is sobering to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It's not quite apples-to-apples, in that it's ACS numbers versus BLS numbers. But they're the best numbers we can get at the moment. Aigh.

      Delete
  13. "so we should spend most of our 20s in school because of the love of science."

    Having spent all of my 20s in school I don't disagree with this clear frustration.

    I would be interested to know what field scientists would suggest their kids pursue? Medicine? fine profession, actually creates value (though insurance makes it seem pretty wretched to me. Not that many slots in Med school, maybe need a backup? Law? Aside from being the butt of jokes, really wretched way to spend one's life. CPA? Don't really generate any economic value, boring as all get out, also an "up or out field". MBA? Great, got one myself, completely useless degree, generates no real value, and something a housecat could obtain. I assume poetry/philosophy/history don't create that much actual value.

    Not sure what right answer is, unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unstable IsotopeJuly 23, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      Well, not pharmacy either since I'm reading that pharmacy schools have doubled in the last decade and lots of grads are having trouble finding jobs. I don't know...I'd probably still say medicine since the baby boomers are going to need a lot of it and there will be newly insured people entering the system as well.

      Delete
    2. I suspect that labor gluts will always kill any wage premium that might go with any specific job, even in healthcare; I suspect that nursing will be next (10-15 years from now?) to experience a bust cycle (asserting that it's in a boom phase right now.)

      Medicine will always keep its wage premium because of the scale-up difficulty in increasing supply; there ain't no new medical schools being built nowadays, that's for sure.

      Also, where will cost savings in health care come from? While I'd like to think it'll all come out of unnecessary back surgeries and CEO salaries, that's unlikely to be the case. Wages in the medical field will be under extreme pressure sooner rather than later, I believe.

      Delete
    3. CJ, re: "there ain't no new medical schools being built nowadays"

      Not exactly: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/15/education/15medschools.html

      Delete
    4. I stand corrected! That said, it will be interesting to see if the number of relevant residencies is also increased.

      (I presume that the wage premium of doctors will also be eroded away by more and more of their duties being sliced off into other fields, nursing, PAs, etc.)

      Delete
    5. Being a shafted (no longer corporate) PhD myself. Here is my advice to my 10- and 6-yr old.

      What your passionate about, is of no importance. That can be your hobby. Make sure to bring in sufficient money and a steady-income stream. Along that line, do not choose a profession that requires 10+ years of education past HS. Do not pursue a PhD (science, arts, etc. under any circumstances!). Instead pursue a career there the entry hurdle is high very early on: like ATC, MD, corporate training programs. Never invest 10 yrs of your own life (to further the parasitic education env), just to find out that the doors had closed.

      Fair enough?

      Delete
    6. Speaking as a current applicant to med schools, it's really frustrating to hear medicine pitched as a good career because of presumed stable and high wages. I think of it as a good career because I could do a lot of good in it.

      Speaking as a starry-eyed, naive idealist, it's a bit sad to hear that poetry and history "don't create that much actual value." They don't create huge numbers of high-paying jobs, sure. But somewhere, somehow, there is some kind of value in the existence of "Ozymandias" or "Do not go gentle into that good night".

      Delete
  14. bboooooya: Wall Street still beckons, especially after the current administration failed to flush out the culprits. If you don't mind selling your soul that is.

    ReplyDelete
  15. "Wall Street still beckons"

    I would have lumped that in with MBAs. Wall Street doesn't in itself generate any economic value, we just trade electrons (not even pieces of paper anymore) amongst ourselves. Fun to be sure, but I don't think even the biggest knobs I've met in finance dreamt of trading after they graduated from the swingset.

    "If you don't mind selling your soul that is."

    M'eh, I got a pretty good price for mine and, maybe ironically, I go to more scientific conferences now than I did when I was a "real" chemist (but I get to stay at better hotels).

    ReplyDelete
  16. Forget this science crap if you want to survive. I've been recently watching old youtube videos. Mostly Connections with James Burke. It's all about the plow. Learn how to use the plow and love the plow and it will make sure that you will survive. How many of you chemistry losers know how to build and properly use a plow?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgOp-nz3lHg&feature=related

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do! More importantly, I'm pretty good with a bow...

      Delete
  17. Thank you for this. I'm continually frustrated by the romantic notion that science is merely a noble calling for the benefit of humankind. Noble and romantic don't pay the bills. I can't focus so well on benchwork when I'm terrified of the prospect of losing my health insurance, home, etc. I'm willing to accept I'll never be a millionaire, but the prospect of going bankrupt from student loans because I can't find a job isn't exactly comforting. I want a stable job. Why is that considered too much for a scientist to ask?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should really watch the youtube video I linked to earlier.

      "This is the first great man-made trigger of change: the plow. Because with it, you know how much harvest you're going to get next year, and because of that, you know you're going to be here next year and because of that you can plan for the future. And after a while you produce surplus food, and that's when things really start to move in the tiny settlements..."

      I think we're today pretty much still like ancient people. This whole thing with competition and moving from place to place and getting used to the competitive economy does not work. Like the ancient agrarians, the chemist wants certainty in their life and all the good things of civilization, and all the breakthroughs in research, cannot happen if you don't know if you're going to be there next year.

      Delete
    2. uncle sam - That is one of my favorite Connections episodes. I have to agree that the plow is up there in top inventions, because it is the reason why we don't spend every moment of every day looking for food. And that surplus allows for other avenues, be it arts, crafted goods, even philosophy - through which we attempt to better understand the world around us, leading to math, science, technology, and all the wonderful things those endeavors have produced.

      Still, people should just watch the video. I can't compete with Burke when it comes to making those points.

      Delete
  18. Madeline jacobs paints a roy picture. She never addressed the continuous abuse endured by grad students, postdoctoral fellows by professors . Long hours..no pay...verbal abuse. Yeah I love science but treatment of humans in a decent manner also counts.

    ReplyDelete
  19. the best part... a biology undergrad and a non PhD, non post doc executive commenting on hardships faced by grad students. What a joke!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I talked to ~20 PhD's post docs who are in industry spread throughout my company about the washPo article. We are all in our 30's and 40's working in the Pharma industry. Some of us were laid off multiple times..but that is not we talked about. We all agreed the hardships that we endured at the hands of so called PhD advisors and post-doc advisors. A number of them underwent divorce, failing health, depression..all for a PhD and post-doc. One common theme we all loved science and still do. My advice for future generation..stay away from a PhD. We need to pay bills, mortgages...ACS and Madeline Jacobs does not pay them. I received zero help in finding a job from professors. When I got a job..they were pissed I was leaving their lab!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I do find it more than a little bit galling that a person with virtually no practical experience in science, a millionaire, who chose corporate governance as a career, tells me to sacrifice the future of my children "for common good".

    ReplyDelete
  22. Jacob's and Co. did not feel impotent when lobbying for more chemistry funding, arguing for ever more chemistry manpower and imported talent to address shortages or when fighting like a tiger to maintain their publishing monopoly, CAS.

    Face it, the ACS is a nonprofit publishing empire that only cares about its lucrative monopolies. Jacobs and others at the ACS are paid big bucks like the captains of industry that they are running a business with hundreds of millions of revenue. We members are merely ornaments to justify their nonprofit anticompetitive publishing privileges. The ACS should be forced to choose between its members and its publishing enterprise. It can join the ranks of Wiley and Elsevier and pay taxes like they do. Splitting the organization would allow those concerned with chemists' issues to focus on us and our needs. The ACS is a throw back to a long bygone era. It is out of touch and of absolutely no value to industrial chemists.

    I have been a chemist for 60 years, and it was a great life. However, today I explain to any young person who asks about careers in chemistry or science in general that it is like being an actor, artist, ballplayer or musician. If you can find someone to pay you great, although the best scientists will never command what a hot actor or ballplayer will command in remuneration for their services or inventions. I tell them that science will lead to a wasted life if after 20 plus years of training the only jobs available are jobs that are hyper unstable, low paying and short-lived. If it does not work out, the only other jobs they will be qualified for will be jobs waiting tables, just ask any actor about that alternative career option. I strongly recommend to the young to get training in the crafts or try building a business with friends. I have two gen-Y nephews who are mechanics and in high demand. Finding good paying work is not an issue for them. A third nephew is a carpenter. However because of the building slump he is struggling, so no guarantees in the crafts either. None of these boys had any student debt from an overpriced worthless education to pay off, either. The next generation needs to be training in the face to face service industries not manufacturing/research sciences. The future is small service businesses and small shops.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree. ACS would be a lot more useful if Mrs Jacob has 1/10 of your insight.

      Delete
  23. "She visited here not long ago and said something along these lines: "you have to be ready to go whenever science takes you, be it Singapore, Bangalore, or Shanghai." I kid you not."

    Well, what exactly is wrong with Jacobs' advice? If Asians, Europeans, Africans, Australians, and South and Central Americans can move to the US for work, why can't Americans move elsewhere on the globe to get jobs? Don't give me the pity-cry "But my family will so far away!" Next time you run into an Indian, Australian or Chinese scientist, ask them how many times they get to see their families back home. I won't be surprised if s/he says "once every one or two years". And that time with family is likely to be only for 10-15 days because that's all the time that person can take off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually yes. They do get a lot of pity from me, and if they did grad school in any other country, they would at least have more time to see their family. I worked in an Asian lab for a while, and it was amazing to watch the Chinese pull the "I have a visa issue" and take a month and a half off vacation. They have their own coping mechanisms too.

      Delete
    2. Uhm, have you lived abroad? Not in Berlin or Amsterdam or Paris for a semester but in some bona fide third world country? With a two-bit hereditary president in his umpteenth term, security apparatus bigger than the US Army, rampant corruption and 19th century level services? I have, so forgive me if I am not particularly eager to relive that experience.

      Delete
    3. Anon: I don't know about other countries but in case of China I believe it's not a multiple entry visa and they have to renew it every time they visit home, so at least some of the delays might be genuine and not contrived.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, many of them were contrived. The adviser didn't have a lot of respect from his grad students. I don't think he'll ever be able to hire an American again.

      Delete
    5. Bah, useless excuses to get out of working the lab. My girlfriend in grad school couldn't get a multiple entry visa and because of the really rigorous background check when she did get in she was afraid to go back and she never saw her family for seven years until she finished her postdoc and had to renew a visa by going outside the country! I don't know what these fools are complaining about! Waaaahhh.... can't see my loved ones. Yeah, tell me another one. Start calling them 'family' and not 'loved ones' first of all, then it'll be easier to deal.

      Delete
    6. I've seen my family less than once every 2-3 years and far less than 10-15 days at a time--and we live in the same country. Who gets that kind of vacation as a postdoc/grad student? Not to mention the $600 plane ticket. Food for two months, or a 5 hour flight? I'd rather eat.

      Delete
  24. There were 3700 comments to the Wash Post article on the paper's website. Jacobs couldn't find one from a working chemist to quote? This is how out of touch she and the rest of her cohort at ACS are - she chooses the drivel from an undergraduate biology major, who has likely never participated in our labor market on a fulltime basis, to offer up glad tidings.

    Anon 5:28 pm beat me to the punch - ACS exists to stuff its journals full of academic research articles. To keep the stuffing going, she and her cohort have to lobby Congress to keep the academic research dollars flowing. Ad infinitum.

    She didn't feel powerless this past March 14, when she hosted a 'media event' on Capitol Hill in Washington, yet again pushing for more STEM careers and STEM dollars:
    http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_029511&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=e8e5cf76-2a05-4f4c-8e7e-57587b7b05cf

    ReplyDelete
  25. Yes, yes, yes. This is the quintessential "Let them eat cake" attitude. I cannot believe that this woman who herself makes close to a million dollars has the self-righteous audacity to tell people to do science for the "honor" for it, no matter how bad the job market is. Echoing some of the comments above, if Ms. Jacobs really believes in this, I challenge her to give up her cushy position, take a pay cut, and go back to the bench to do science for the honor of it. But I know she is never going to do this; she and her cronies have perpetuated an institutional culture that has made the entire structure rotten to the core. With due respect madam, you don't have the slightest right to lecture us to do science unless you walk the talk. Disgusting.

    ReplyDelete
  26. One interesting feature of this thread is how many of these strong words are from anonymous commenters. Looks like people are immensely dissatisfied, yet vulnerable because they're looking for work.

    ReplyDelete
  27. It is a parent's duty to see to it that their child grows up productive and able to feed him/herself. Far too many women and children, and men as well, have been sacrificed for all sorts of "honor." I will not sacrifice my family's future for Ms Jacob's strange idea of honor. If our society doesn't value science, then there is something wrong with our society in general, and something wrong with our American Chemical Society in specific. One can try to swim against the tide, but it is rather personally unproductive. It requires a large, well funded organization to turn the tide - so...What the hell have you been doing Ms Jacob's to turn this tide?!?!?!

    Ms Jacob's performance is Below Average, and she should be laid off.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I used to be an overseas member of the ACS, but let it lapse after a year.

    If I were an American ACS member who had just read this complete sack of garbage I would be returning my membership card, never to rejoin. The only thing (highly) paid bureaucrats like Ms Jacobs will respond to is diminishing member numbers, nothing else.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Does anyone know how the real Board of Directors for the ACS is chosen? I am not talking about the fake guys ACS members vote on, no I am talking about the corporate BoD that sets salaries for Jacobs and Co. and runs the corporation. Normally it is shareholders who vote on these guys, but the ACS has no shareholders.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe that the board that members get to vote on is indeed the board that sets salaries, etc.:

      From the public minutes in March 2012:

      http://portal.acs.org/portal/PublicWebSite/about/governance/board/CNBP_030254

      "William F. Carroll, Jr., Chair, opened the meeting with a summary of the key Board actions and
      discussion points from its executive session, March 23-24. He reported that the Board agreed to:
      • approve several actions relative to executive compensation for the Society’s executive staff;"

      Delete
    2. man, if i made millions like Mrs. Jacobs there. I would be spouting corporate propaganda too

      Delete
  30. When did we ever get to vote on Carrol as a BoD member?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/acs/8636elections.html#7

      Delete
  31. I was an ACS member since I was an undergraduate 45 years ago. After my third layoff, I also let it lapse. Fortunately (I guess) I was able to find work in a field auxiliary to chemistry. It pays the bills (I make twice what I ever made as a chemist) and when the Pfizer debacle occurred, I was able to get an identical job months before my layoff date. This is not a job I choose for myself nor particularly wanted. All things considered I would be far better of if I had gone to school in my new field rather than to graduate school. I would be making five times what I made in research

    ReplyDelete
  32. Well I guess if members want to change the ACS they should start with an intensive letter campaign to the ACS BoD about the very poor pay for performance of the current administration. Then they need to replace BoD members one by one with chemists who actually care about the economic plight of chemists in America. Otherwise, we should just hang it us and move on.

    ReplyDelete
  33. If you google "Madeleine Jacobs editorial" and limit your results to last week there's a result on a first page that ostensibly has nothing to do with her. That result is Titanic.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hi good day ! nice post you have . It's very nice your article fanttastic. thanks in informahie.thank you from Housekeeping services in bangalore

    Facility Management in bangalore

    ReplyDelete