Monday, September 10, 2012

C&EN: Postdocs, undergrads finding work in industry

In this week's "Back to School" issue, the employment section of Chemical and Engineering News looks at industrial postdocs and entry-level B.S. positions. From Susan Ainsworth, a look at postdoctoral positions in the pharmaceutical industry, including a new, large program at Merck:
That’s been a major motivation behind a new postdoctoral research fellowship program that Merck & Co. is now preparing to launch, according to Christopher J. Welch, a senior principal scientist at the company. As postdocs come into the program, “they won’t be just turning the crank, doing routine work at a low price,” he says. Instead, they will be involved in “cutting-edge science with the goal of rapid publication of their findings in high-profile journals."... 
[snip] The new Merck program will add 15 to 20 scientists per year over the next three years, building to a “steady state” of about 50 fellows by 2014, according to Welch, who is cochair of the program. The postdocs will come from scientific disciplines from genomics to biology to statistics to all branches of chemistry and biochemistry, and will be spread across the company’s U.S. sites in one-year appointments that are renewable for up to three years, he says. 
To kick off the program, Merck is inviting its scientists to submit proposals for research projects in which they could mentor a postdoc. The top projects and mentors will be chosen by a committee chaired by Welch and Robert A. Kastelein, scientific associate vice president and cochair of the program. Beginning later this month, Merck will recruit postdocs through its website to fill the newly created positions. 
While Merck scientists remain focused on proprietary research aimed at areas such as developing the next blockbuster drug, postdocs will be working in a precompetitive space, developing enabling tools and techniques that will be critical to the pharmaceutical industry in the next few years, Welch says. In addition to training a small number of scientists who may eventually be hired as permanent employees, he adds, the program will “enable us to seed the outside world with folks who will be valuable future collaborators for Merck as they go to work in academia or at another pharma company or a supplier or vendor firm.”
From Emily Bones, a look at what undergraduates can do to get positions in industry:
Timothy Boman, for one, took advantage of opportunities offered by his alma mater. During three summers of his undergraduate career at Hope College, in Michigan, he conducted research. Each summer he did something a little different. In fact, halfway through his program he added chemistry classes to complement his mathematics degree. He ultimately stayed at Hope a fifth year to complete a B.S. in chemistry and a B.A. in math in 2010. 
Boman credits his research in organic chemistry, under Jeffrey B. Johnson, as a major factor in successfully finding a job after graduation. Boman is now a process development chemist involved in cancer drug discovery research at Ash Stevens, a contract research organization in Riverview, Mich. 
“During my interview, I was able to give a presentation about the project I worked on with Dr. Johnson,” Boman explains. To get ready for the job interview, he did a mock presentation for people who were working in his adviser’s lab group.
One thing that I found interesting about the article on undergraduate interns (and ultimately) employment in pharma was the note that one of the students had ended up working at AMRI - Indianapolis. I think that's worth noting; it will be interesting to see how that program goes.

13 comments:

  1. "they won’t be just turning the crank, doing routine work at a low price".

    So they'll be doing cutting edge research, presumably at a low price?

    How is this possibly anything but a means for companies to push wages down? I guess at least the temp positions will be in the USA.

    "goal of rapid publication of their findings in high-profile journals".

    Sure, I believe that. It makes sense that MRK (or whichever pharm) would want to publish propriety work quickly: that's why pharms are in business, to further the state of knowledge. I'm now going to go check my mailbox. The nice man who sold me a bridge off the south end of Manhattan said the first rent checks are in the mail.

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    1. I think it's fairly innocuous; I have a difficult time imagining throwing a bunch of postdocs into the labs to do high-urgency work.

      I do think that it's taking advantage of high postdoc supply. I can't imagine that it will result in replacing entry-level employees or lowering their wages, in that it's clear that Merck isn't looking to hire many of them in.

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  2. I have always felt that industrial chemistry post docs are exploitive at best and career damaging at worst. What are these chemists going to do that cannot be done more efficiently in a university setting under the direction of a big name professor and in a dynamic group of fellow post docs and grad students? Industrial research environment is certainly not an academic research enviromnemt. Besides how much fun is it to work in Rahway NJ vs. Palo Alto, Westwood, Ann Arbor or NYC ? Who is going to endorse your work? What recruiters visit the Rahway “campus” each year?

    I am sure the Merck overhead is at least $300,000 per post doc and for what - a lame paper or two? Did not Roche already run this failed experiment, you remember the RIMB? As a Merck shareholder, I view this as a total waste of money as nothing these post docs do will help fill Merck’s thin pipeline. However, if they really want to fund post docs to generate great science, then give the money to the major professors in the field and let them generate the basic science as that is what they do best. I really doubt the Merck guys have a lot of cutting edge science on their minds. After all their job should be to invent drugs not science.

    No large company I worked at would ever consider hiring an industrial post doc as such post docs were viewed as people not good enough to work for Stork, Woodward or Corey and thus not worth considering. Plus if they were really any good, the company would circumvent their own policies to keep them on staff.

    I really wanted to post doc for Syntex, but they would not offer me a post doc. In later years and much wiser, I got down on my knees and thanked the Almighty for the Syntex guy who nixed my application. IMO any chemist worth their salt should be very circumspect of signing on for this POS. Buyer beware!

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    1. Anon: You offer a compelling view or rather a screed about industrial post-docs being "exploitive" or "career damaging at worst,' but nothing substantive regarding their potential. You only come off as sour grapes. Which is fine, but I want to why. Why should I avoid this gambit for the academic one.

      Dan M.

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  3. A postdoctoral fellowship “is arguably the most important part of your scientific training, which has been long and hard. And it’s most certainly a springboard to your career,” he says. “That experience may ultimately determine whether you will be asking, ‘Do you want ketchup with those fries?’ or whether you will be positioning yourself to eventually run an organization.”

    What a great way to end the article. So motivating for anyone considering doing a postdoc.

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    1. Yeah, I found that to be a strange comment.

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    2. Since my postdoctoral position ended due to funding, I had been wondering what I would do next. Thank you Dr. Dixit for the advice to walk over to the local Wendy's. Insensitive to say the least.

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  4. While, yes, doing internships and such during your undergrad years is wonderful experience, not everyone is afforded that opportunity. Many, many students simply can't afford to work in the lab either for free or for a few hours here and there over Summers. And, unless it's a requirement for graduation, many can't afford to pay the extra credit hours to do an internship.

    It would be nice if universities and colleges could integrate some real world experience into regular semester classes so that every student in the program could get the same opportunities. Why not have a GMP/GLP centered class involving some sort of process manufacturing? Why not have a senior-level class doing a short-term independent project under the guidance of a TA, postdoc or faculty member?

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  5. I wonder if I qualify as a Post-Doc?

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  6. I actually spoke to Christopher J. Welch at a conference a few months ago. The spin he put on it is they see a lot of collaboration in the future and training post docs is a way to generate contacts throughout the industry who they know and who know how things work at Merck. Take from that what you will.

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  7. Did he mention the Asia contractors? If the goal is to train foreign chemists in the ways of Merck, so Merck will get better off-shore help, I guess this program makes a lot of sense.

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  8. Postdoc, intern, temp, contractor, hell - slave - I don't care what they call it, I'll take it.

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