Monday, November 5, 2012

Human stories abound in C&EN's employment outlook issue

Credit: C&EN
From Linda Wang's excellent, yet excruciating story on unemployment among pharma chemists, some terribly sad stories:
“I’m listed as employed,” says “Eric,” 46, who was laid off in 2007 from his position as a senior chemist at Johnson & Johnson and is now an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities. “I got reemployed, but is this what employment should be like for someone at my level?” [snip] 
...He teaches as an adjunct professor on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, splitting his time among three colleges and universities that are 50 to 70 miles apart. He leaves around 10 AM and doesn’t get home until after 11 PM, leaving little time to spend with his twin daughters, who are nine years old. 
Because of the length of his commute and the high cost of gas, Eric sold his car and bought a used Suzuki with better gas mileage. “The previous car was costing me about $1,000 a month in gas, and that was not sustainable,” he says. He has roughly $400 left in his 401(k). “Four hundred bucks is no 401(k); it won’t buy you a plane ticket anywhere,” he says. But he’s not one to dwell on his difficulties. “It’s tight financially, but the fact is we’re still surviving. It’s just a little harder, that’s all.”
I found this comment on ACS' Salary Survey data kind of amusing:
“The data that ACS has is for the most part self-reported, and that’s always going to underreport the truth,” says Lee H. Latimer, a consultant and longtime ACS volunteer, who was laid off from Elan in 2011. “Many may have a job, which keeps them from collecting unemployment, but they’re not working either in their field or in a position that comes anywhere close to matching their previous income”—meaning, he says, that they’re effectively underemployed.
And how about the PMP, that certificate of awesomeness from a couple of years ago?:
“Michael,” a Ph.D. organic chemist in his 50s, living in California, knows just how unsettling this roller-coaster ride can be. Since he was laid off from a biotech company in 2008, he has applied for more than 10,000 jobs, some 7,000 related to the chemical sciences and 3,000 outside of science. 
Meanwhile, Michael has earned certifications in clinical trial design and management, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and control, and project management. But “by the time that I finished, not only did the number of these jobs decrease, employers weren’t going to take anybody who doesn’t have experience. The training is not enough for them,” he says. “I went and retrained myself, but I still cannot get a job. 
I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the people in these articles are in what is supposed to be the prime of their careers (late 30s to 50s). That it has become brutal for mid-career chemists (the people who are probably going to be most productive and have the most ability to innovate) is fundamentally clear. It is beginning to be clear that not a single organization (not ACS, not the pharma companies, no one in government) has any idea what to do about it. What a shame.

6 comments:

  1. At the end of the article:

    Despite the lack of jobs, ACS's Jacobs maintains that chemists and chemistry are critical to the U.S.'s advancement. "I don't want to discourage the best and brightest students from entering the chemical sciences, because there is no way to solve these great global challenges—providing clean water, providing sustainable energy, providing enough food, curing disease, protecting the homeland, and protecting the environment—without chemists and chemical engineers."

    I've met some crazy people in my life, and this lady ranks the top of the list. Madeline deserves a Nobel prize in denial. She can fund some more useless chemistry education with the prize money.

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    1. I was going to write this same thing. First she uses the pages of C&EN to criticize a mother who told her daughter that a career in science was very unreliable. At the beginning of this article she says this whole situation is a national tragedy. Then at the end she goes back to "But kids should still study science!"

      Eject her from her cushy high-paid position and let's see how she fares out there. I'd like to know what she has to say about her glorious science education after a few years in the trenches with everybody else.

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    2. I agree. I remain stunned by Madeleine Jacobs's sheer gall. Seriously, Jacobs who makes close to a million bucks a year needs to trade positions with one of the chemists quoted in that article. Let's see if she is singing the same tune five years down the line and whether she is still encouraging kids to study chemistry. The ACS should be embarrassed of having her on their payroll.

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  2. I’ll bet that in 2100 when Ed Gibbon publishes his e-book “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire”, that one cause will be the decline in the number of scientists and engineers due to dismal job prospects, which resulted to technological leadership passing to Europe and Asia. The area in which jobs remained available the longest was education, primarily for the training of pre-meds, allied health, and foreign students. After a time, as the chemistry faculties retired, graduate education came to an end. The requirement for chemistry lecturers became completion of one year each of general and organic chemistry, which was all that was required for teaching pre-med and allied health students and supplying the technical personnel needs of the homeopathic pharmaceutical industry.

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  3. I'm a PhD student nearing the end of my degree. I've known about some of these difficulties for a while, but when I saw some of the figures in that article (especially the unemployment for new graduates vs. "ACS members") I damn near cried. Of course, later I happened to leaf through somebody's recent copy of Lab Manager magazine, which had an entire article in it that basically boiled down to "if you are in charge of a lab, here is how to undercompensate some desperate but talented mid-career scientists and dodge having to pick up any new graduates". While I'm glad that maybe this means *somebody* will be getting a job from the article's target audience, it sure as hell doesn't look like it'll be me.

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  4. I feel for Eric and Michael. To do so much travelling is a sad statement of our profession today. This is made more tragic my Michael's case, 10,000 jobs. Hell if I was an employer I would give hime a job for sheer tenacity.

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