Monday, December 3, 2012

C&EN: Opportunities in materials science

From this week's C&EN, a look at career opportunities in materials science by Shawna Williams:
The numbers bear this out: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the materials science field will grow by just over 10%—around 900 jobs—between 2010 and 2020, compared with 4% growth in chemistry jobs. But delving deeper into the BLS numbers, it’s clear there’s a significant shift under way in the field, with consulting, research and development, and academic positions on the rise, while most jobs in manufacturing are expected to decline. 
Despite these changes, and the weak economy, heads of materials science departments around the country report that their graduates have, by and large, continued to find employment in recent years....  
[snip] Today, some of the hottest areas are gallium nitride and its role in solid-state lighting; oxide semiconductors, which hold promise for electronics; hybrid structures of organic and inorganic components, which are ultralightweight or have unusual mechanical, thermal, or energetic properties; additive manufacturing, in which products are made in layers by a printerlike machine; and energy-related materials such as organic photovoltaics and thermoelectrics, according to UCSB’s Pollock. 
Dow Corning is looking to fill positions in specialties such as ceramics, solid-state chemistry, and metallurgy, according to Michele Stafford, a recruiter with the firm. In addition, she says, “we have a large need for materials scientists who have a focus on doing device development. Not only would they synthesize the materials, but they would look at how those materials fit into electronic devices.”  
The competition among companies for scientists with the right backgrounds—whether they’re old hands or newly minted Ph.D.s—is quite stiff, says Dow Corning’s recruiting manager for North America, Jason Saavedra. In response, many firms partner with universities and offer internships to cultivate relationships with students doing research in desired areas, he says.
Not to be particularly repetitive on this point, but I find it amusing and irritating that department heads cannot simply tell Ms. Williams what the employment rate of their graduates is.

(I wonder who Dow Corning is working with?)

8 comments:

  1. To be fair, in recent years, it's become tricky. Do students going to graduate school count as employed? Traditionally, yes, but what if they didn't actually want to go to grad school? What about students who are working, but in jobs they could have gotten without the degree? When I graduated, I would say at least half of the people going to grad school did so because no one was hiring. Several ended up in jobs that only required an Associates degree, or even working retail.

    My undergrad department does a very good job of keeping track of its alumni. When I entered, the chair could easily give you a number for employment rate. Now, he has to be more nuanced in his response. They used to have a map on the website of where alumni were working, though that seems to have gotten eliminated in the most recent website renovations.

    Of course, 30-45 students a year are rather easier to track than the ChemEng program...

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  2. Nine hundred jobs over 10 years? It is truly sad when 90 jobs a year--spread over dozens of subfields and industries--is considered newsworthy.

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  3. Competition is "quite stiff?" And that's why they never even acknowledged my multiple job applications, right?

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    1. Wow, I thought it was only academic departments that don't have the courtesy to email you a rejection so that you know where you stand. It always seemed like industry would be more on top of things, what with they human resources departments and all.

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    2. After *onsite interviews* with six or so Fortune 500 companies in the past few years, I've never received an acknowledgement. It's the new norm, apparently.

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    3. I hear dating is like that too nowadays.

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  4. Anyways, what is materials science these days. Is it Latin for funding, like nano was five years ago? Do Metal Organic Frameworks count as materials science, or polymer chemistry for that matter?

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    1. "Materials science" came from the merging of metallurgy and ceramics engineering departments with polymer science in the '60s, so it has always been a mishmash. And physicists, chemists, and engineers have always freely jumped in and out of the pool. In recent years, however, I've noticed that it's becoming even more vaguely defined and interdisciplinary. Heck, Subra Suresh, the director of NSF and MIT's dean of engineering, is a materials scientist who studied the mechanical properties of cells infected by malaria.

      What is materials science and what isn't? Even with a Ph.D. in materials science, I don't know. However, I do know that it isn't the funding magnet that nano was. (Gawd, putting "nano-" prefixes in your proposal's title used to be mandatory!)

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