Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ivory Filter Flask: 7/31/12 edition

Between July 24 and July 30, there were 7 academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 7
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty:  4
- Temporary faculty:
- Lecturer positions:
- Staff positions:  1
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 4  /  3

College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University is searching for a tenure-track professor in analytical chemistry (broadly defined.) Assistant professor applicants desired, but senior candidates will be considered.

Evanston, IL: "Northwestern University’s High Throughput Analysis Laboratory (HTAL) and Center for Molecular Innovation & Drug Discovery (CMIDD) invite applications for a Screening Research Scientist, at the research faculty level." 3-5 years of industrial or academic (?) experience with high-throughput screening technology desired.

Santa Cruz, CA: UC-Santa Cruz wishes to hire a tenure-track assistant professor of chemistry, specializing in experimental physical and materials chemistry.

Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada: The University of Manitoba wishes to hire an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry. I have no idea what Manitoba is like, having never visited central Canada (is that an accurate regional description?)

Monday, July 30, 2012

How many SOPs will be required by the new LADA/UC agreement?

The full SOP section of the Agreement (page 13):

UCLA and Regents shall ensure that all laboratory facilities comply with Title 8’s requirements for Standard Operating Procedures (“SOPs”).  Additionally, for any chemical listed in the Chemical Classification List (attached hereto as “Exhibit 1”), the following shall apply:
  • SOPs shall be written by laboratory personnel having the most experience and knowledge and who are routinely involved in the experimental process. 
  • The Principal Investigator and all personnel responsible for performing the procedures detailed by the SOP shall sign the SOP, acknowledging the contents, requirements and responsibilities outlined in the SOP.  
  • The SOP shall be reviewed.  The review shall be conducted by qualified personnel. 
  • The SOP shall be amended and subject to additional review and approval by the Principal Investigator where changes or variations in conditions, methodologies, equipment, or use of the chemical occurs, or when it is reasonably apparent that exposure to injury or illness may be increased or adversely effected by any anticipated or  an unanticipated condition arises when an approved SOP is utilized, or where the scale of any reaction or application has increased beyond the capacity of the equipment or apparatus outlined or described in the original SOP, or the increased scale of any reaction or application had not been evaluated and approved within the scope of the original SOP.  
  • Authors of SOPs shall consider in developing, revising, and reviewing and approving SOPs, the usage and handling recommendations provided by the manufacturer.   
  • A copy of all SOPs relevant to that particular laboratory’s operations shall be maintained in each UCLA and Regents’ laboratory in the Laboratory Safety Manual, or separately designated manual.
  • SOPs shall be in a visible location within each laboratory and readily accessible to all laboratory personnel. Electronically available copies of the SOPs are acceptable to meet this provision,  provided such SOPs are readily accessible to all laboratory personnel.  The UCLA Laboratory Safety Manual and its appendices and UCLA policies 811, 905, and 907 (or Regents’ campus equivalents) shall control the specific procedures to be undertaken in the development, approval and use of SOPs to the extent the Laboratory Safety Manual and policies are not inconsistent with this section.  To the extent that California Code of Regulations, Title 8 requires more stringent procedures, Title 8 shall control.    
Want to know the different sections of Exhibit 1? Courtesy of ACS' Division of Chemical Health and Safety, here they are:
Pyrophoric Chemicals, Water Reactive Chemicals, Potentially Explosive Compound Classes, Explosive Salts, Potentially Explosive Chemicals, Acutely Toxic Chemicals, Acutely Toxic Gases, Peroxide Forming Chemicals, Strong Bases, Strong Oxidizing Agents, Strong Reducing Agents, Regulated Carcinogens. 
Question: Go through Exhibit 1 (page 19 of the Agreement). How many chemicals does the traditional organic chemistry lab contain? I count 30 plus. Readers?

UC Regents's agreement with the Los Angeles County DA

What does the UC Regents' agreement with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office on the Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji say? It's difficult to translate a 38-page agreement into a blog post, but I'm going to try to do my best:

Congrats, Chancellor Block, it worked: Starting on page 4 of the Agreement, in the "Statement of Facts" section:
In response to the events that caused the death of Ms. Sheharbano Sangji, the Regents have implemented a comprehensive training and safety compliance program at UCLA. Among these corrective and remedial measures taken, UCLA’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety (“EH&S”) has produced a safety video setting forth the safe and compliant workplace practices in the handling and transfer of pyrophorics, including tert-Butyllithium.  Standard Operating Procedures have been established and implemented for researchers working with hazardous chemical agents; personal protective equipment including fire resistant lab coats is mandatory for researchers working with pyrophorics.  The Regents have made a substantial, comprehensive, and good faith effort to bring their laboratory safety practices and procedures into compliance with Title 8 and the California Code of Regulations for employee safety.
I don't really have the ability to judge whether or not this is actually an accurate set of statements, not working at UCLA. That said, this has to count as a win for UCLA.

Less than convincing: I am skeptical about this next section in the Agreement:
In consideration of the LADA’s dismissal of the criminal action against defendant 1, the Regents knowingly, voluntarily, and with the advice of counsel agree to the following terms:  
1. Acceptance of Responsibility for the Statement of Facts.  For purposes of this agreement only, the Regents acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated on December 29, 2008 as set forth above.  
2. Agreement that neither it nor any of its counsel, representatives, or executive employees who have authority to speak publicly on their behalf, will make any public statement denying responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated on December 29, 2008.   
Does this jibe with any of Gene Block's or Thomas O'Brien's (Prof. Harran's lawyer) public statements on the #SheriSangji case? Let's try a few on for size:
From UCLA: "Acknowledging UCLA’s dedication to further enhancing lab safety on its campus and beyond, the Los Angeles County District Attorney today dismissed all charges against the University of California Board of Regents – which oversees the 10-campus system – in connection with a December 2008 campus lab accident that took the life of a staff research associate, Sheri Sangji. At the same time, the district attorney is proceeding with unprecedented charges against UCLA organic chemistry Professor Patrick Harran. 
While expressing appreciation to the D.A. for recognizing UCLA’s commitment to enhancing lab safety programs, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was also sharply critical of the decision to proceed with charges against Harran."
How about Harran's lawyer? 
"What happened in that laboratory was an accident, not a crime," O'Brien said. "While we all wish this terrible tragedy had not occurred, there is simply no reasonable explanation for this criminal prosecution — and it's been flawed from the start."
The phrasing of UCLA's statement sounds like the LA district attorney is acquiescing to them, not the other way around. In my opinion, the only place where UCLA has acknowledged anything is in this Agreement, and that's it. 

[There's a comment about our overlawyered society, and how it does not seem to allow true contrition to be shown by the leadership of an organization lest it be sued for its admissions. If Gene Block had said, "The conditions of the laboratory were our responsibility, and we share blame for Ms. Sangji's death," that would be a much more satisfying statement. It would also be Exhibit A in a lawsuit -- therefore, we will never get it. It's always about money, isn't it?] 

[I'm no safety professional, but I swear, if I were the judge, I'd fine the lawyers $1,000 every time they used the word "accident" to describe what happened to Sheri Sangji. IMO, it's a classic attempt to influence a jury pool. Accidents happen in toddler's pants, incidents happen in laboratories.] 

A scholarship?: 
3. The Regents agree to establish a “Sheharbano Sangji Scholarship” at the University of California, Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall) for the study of Environmental Law.  The scholarship shall be endowed in the amount of $500,000.00.  
I'm less than impressed by this, but I assume that this was done with the agreement of the Sangji family. There will have to be an attempt to memorialize Ms. Sangji at Boalt Hall; otherwise, her story will be forgotten there. A scholarship or memorial in the lobby of the UCLA chemistry department would be seem to be more appropriate (perhaps there is one that I don't know about?) 

The EH&S section: "Appendix A" is HUGE, and for good reason -- it's an attempt by a prosecutor's office to regulate an entire system of academic research laboratories. In my opinion, it's exhaustive, and demonstrates both the best and the worst about the American legal system:
  • The LADA and Cal/OSHA Bureau of Investigations will receive a list of "all laboratory facilities currently in operation"; final list at UCLA within 180 days of the agreement. The rest of the UC campuses have one year to come up with this list. 
  • Each campus will have its own Chemical Hygiene Plan and Laboratory Safety Manual (LSM) (should have already?) Each lab should have the LSM in a visible spot. 
  • Within 60 days, every UCLA PI (and every UC PI? (but not within the same deadline?) will have to complete a Laboratory Safety Training program. Training taken after 1/1/2010 counts for this section. 
  • All PIs (UCLA and UC system) cannot start laboratory operatins unless they've completed the Laboratory Safety Training program. 
  • All "existing laboratory personnel" (UCLA/UC system) will have to complete Laboratory Safety Training within 60 days of the agreement. 
  • "SOPs" are coming to the UC system: "UCLA and Regents shall ensure that all laboratory facilities comply with Title 8’s requirements for Standard Operating Procedures (“SOPs”).  Additionally, for any chemical listed in the Chemical Classification List (attached hereto as “Exhibit 1”), the following shall apply: SOPs shall be written by laboratory personnel having the most experience and knowledge and who are routinely involved in the experimental  process...." See the following post on the blog. 
  • Pyrophorics: "Researchers (including Principal Investigators) or other laboratory personnel shall not work alone when handling pyrophoric liquid reagents." There's going to have to be a Lab Buddy sticker on every bottle of tBuLi from now on, I'm guessing. 
  • A monster PPE section: UCLA only. 
    • PIs are required to do independent lab assessments of PPE requirements, including "Full-length pants, or equivalent, and close-toed shoes must be worn at all times by all individuals that who are occupying the laboratory area.  The area of skin between the shoe and ankle should not be exposed.", 
    • Appropriate protective gloves, flame-resistant laboratory coats, appropriate segregation of lab coats and keeping them inside labs. 
    • Laundry services (!) for the lab coats, and bar from lab personnel taking lab coats home to be washed. (!) 
    • ANSI-approved eyewear. 
    • "Employees shall not bear the cost of any required PPE. Written records shall be maintained by each laboratory verifying the date of issuance and type of PPE issued, or re-issued, to each laboratory personnel." 
  • No PPE? Get out of the lab (UCLA only):
No person shall be permitted to work in or occupy any laboratory area without first being provided the required Personal Protective Equipment.  The Principal Investigator or EH&S personnel, shall remove any person found by the Principal Investigator or EH&S personnel, working in or occupying any laboratory area without the required PPE, until the required PPE is obtained and utilized.  The Principal Investigator or EH&S personnel shall complete a written record on a standardized form of any such removal, including the name of the subject removed, the time, date and location of the event, the person(s) making the removal, the specific circumstances surrounding the removal and the remedial action taken.  The records shall be maintained by the EH&S Department.   
This section is huge, in my opinion. The SOP requirement alone is going to take every UC system PI two weeks of the next year to get this done. It's going to take a major, major culture change for PIs to kick students out of lab (and record it!) every time a student is in there without the appropriate PPE. UC EH&S has an enormous task ahead of it.

I'm not sure that I can summarize this agreement, other than to say that, in some parts, it's less than satisfying. In others, the scale-up problems are huge, almost to the point of impracticality. The UC system and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has come to this Agreement -- now it will be interesting to see them enforce it. 

Highlights of this week's C&EN

A little abbreviated, because of the Sangji news:
  • C&EN's Global Top 50 chemical firms -- did you know that Formosa Plastics is the 6th largest chemical company in the world, by sales? I didn't. 
  • I found this article on Professor Alan Kozikowski's skepticism on CNS drugs and psychiatry to be very interesting. As a starting point, I've not met a single CNS med chemist would would voluntarily take a CNS drug unless it were absolutely necessary. 
  • Lisa Jarvis' article on Martin Mackay's moves at AZ was interesting, too. There's a lot of bold predictions of success there by Mackay. 
  • OK, that's worth it: C&EN covers ACS' push into entrepreneurship with the Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) and the Entrepreneurial Resources Center (ERC). " Twenty chemical start-up companies have been granted admission into ERC. Members involved in both of these programs have full access to all ACS journals and to Chemical Abstract Service’s SciFinder at no cost. Members in ERC may also access experienced chemical entrepreneurs as mentors, business advisers, and potential investors." Free access to SciFinder and ACS journals?!? Wow. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

BREAKING in #SheriSangji case: UC charges dropped, Harran case separated

From Michael Torrice's in-courtroom reporting, 3 tweets by Jyllian Kemsley:
First tweet: #sherisangji court update from @mmtorrice: UC and Harran case separated (1/3) 
Second: UC charges dropped in exchange for acknowledging responsibility, improved safety measures, memorial scholarship (2/3 #sherisangji) 
Third: Harran case cont to 9/5 to consider defense motion per LA Times* http://t.co/xBQYoKcW ; full story coming at cen.acs.org (3/3 #sherisangji)
*re: the Baudendistel gambit

On that second tweet, it looks to me like UCLA Chancellor Gene Block's moves (the increased laboratory safety emphasis, founding the UC Center for Laboratory Safety) has paid off. It will be fascinating to see what the "acknowledging responsibility" means.

2:49p Eastern: From Kim Christensen at the Los Angeles Times:
Felony charges against the University of California Regents stemming from the 2009 death of UCLA research assistant Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji were dropped Friday in return for a pledge of comprehensive safety measures and the endowment of a $500,000 scholarship in her name. 
“The Regents acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory operated on December 29, 2008,” the agreement read in part, referring to the date that Sangji, 23, suffered fatal burns. 
[snip] Friday’s agreement, announced at a hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court, does not affect Harran’s charges. University of California officials said Friday they stood by him and would continue to pay his legal expenses.  
[snip] Harran was to be arraigned Friday, but that was postponed until Sept. 5 to allow the judge to weigh defense motions, including one this week that alleges the state’s chief investigator on the case, Brian Baudendistel, committed murder as a teenager.
...The motion contends that the Cal-OSHA investigator is the same Brian A. Baudendistel who, in January 1985 with two accomplices, lured Michael Myer from a bar in the Northern California town of El Dorado to a remote area to rob him of $3,000 worth of methamphetamine. As he rolled up on his motorcycle, Myer, 26, was killed by a shotgun blast. Another teenager admitted to being the shooter, but said Baudendistel had supplied the weapon.
UPDATE: C&EN's story by Michael Torrice and Jyllian Kemsley is up and it's a good one. Links to the agreement between the LA District Attorney's office here. A link to "Defendant Patrick Harran's Notice of Motion and Motion for Franks Hearing, To Quash Arrest Warrant, and Demurrer to Felony Complaint" is here. (It's really good reading.)

News from the Center for Public Integrity's #SheriSangji report

From the Center for Public Integrity's investigation of the Sheri Sangji case (reported by Jim Morris & Adithya Sambamurthy), some new details brought to light from the article and accompanying video:

The extent of Ms. Sangji's injuries (warning: graphic): While I think that we all knew that she was badly burned, Dr. Naveen Sangji (a physician) talks about the depth of her sister's injuries:
Naveen Sangji: When I arrived at the hospital, almost 50 percent of her body was severely burned. Her hands were burned down all the way to tendon. Her abdominal wall had been burned off. She had third-degree burns to her neck.
....Her parents, who lived in Toronto, flew in from the United Arab Emirates.  
“When my dad arrived, he put his hand on hers lightly through the sheet, and she screamed because it was so painful,” she said. “And we couldn’t touch her anywhere except her face.”  
Wa-wa-what? Gene Block puts his foot into it: Chancellor Block's role in the Sangji case is relatively limited, but apparently he e-mailed Naveen Sangji. Unwise move, dude (emphasis mine):
In the months afterward, Naveen Sangji pressed UCLA officials for details on the accident. She found the responses wanting. The university, she believed, was trying to make it appear that her sister had been an experienced chemist and that the fire had been her fault.  
In an email to Naveen Sangji on June 17, 2009, Block recalled the “elegant and successful way” Sheri had performed the tert-Butyllithium experiment eight months earlier. Block noted that Cal/OSHA had “found no willful violations of regulations or laws by UCLA personnel” and that “many corrective measures ordered by our inspectors were taken before the tragic accident, though they were not properly documented.”
Assuming that this e-mail is in context, I think it's amusing that a molecular biologist would be willing to comment on a vinyl lithium addition to a ketone in this manner. "Elegant and successful"? In what way?

Unsurprisingly, the UC system is getting religion: From the video:
Nino Maida (chief steward for UPTE Lab Workers Union at UC San Francisco): Before this case, it took us months, and sometimes over a year, to get any safety grievance fixed. Now it’s, “Don’t bother filing a grievance, Nino, just give me a call.” Of course, we want to do everything possible to ensure safety here at UCSF.
That's nice to hear for lab workers in the UC system, I would think.

More to come: Professor Harran is expected in court today, more from the Center for Public Integrity's team later today as well. Also, don't miss the weird gambit from the Harran defense team below. 

#SheriSangji updates: more coverage, Harran defense springs an odd tactic

  • The Los Angeles Times reports the Harran defense has come up with a fascinating tactic: digging up the past of the lead Cal/OSHA investigator in the case, Brian Baudendistel:
Criminal proceedings against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran took a bizarre turn Thursday when the defense alleged in court papers that the state's chief investigator in the accidental death of a lab worker committed murder as a teenager in 1985. 
The investigator, Brian Baudendistel, denied it. 
"It's not true," he told The Times earlier this week. "Look, it's not me." 
Baudendistel, a senior special investigator for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, was instrumental in building the criminal case against Harran and UCLA with a 95-page report that blamed both in the death of 23-year-old Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji. She suffered fatal burns when a experiment burst into flames in December 2008.
Read the Los Angeles Times article to note how the defense is trying to use this to invalidate Professor Harran's arrest warrant. Also, it's completely baffling to me whether or not Mr. Baudendistel was actually involved. (Does it matter? From a moral/ethical perspective, I can't imagine that it does. From a legal perspective, I have no idea.)

What does it say about Professor Harran's defense team that they're playing this card at this relatively late time? I speculate that plea negotiations may be going poorly and this is a long shot, but I dunno. 

The best chemistry blog paragraph I've read all week

Sorry for the lack of posting today; life and work intervened.

I really enjoyed this post on troubles in academia by Th'Gaussling -- this paragraph was great:
Which brings me to my final point. Scientific knowledge as national treasure.  I am in the Chemical Abstracts Service data bases searching for something nearly every day. This resource of ours, scholarly and pragmatic knowledge, is one of the crown jewels of human civilization. It is the collective contribution of of people and institutions going into the distant past and across the miles of our world.  We should cherish it for what it is- an archive of achievement, a repository of knowledge for application to future challenges, and a representation of the best of what we are capable of.
Go over there and read the whole thing.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

1 inch by 1 inch aluminum foil squares

A list of small, useful things (links):
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

...while the truth puts on its shoes.

From an astute reader comes a very disappointing passage in a Bloomberg View column by A. Gary Shilling on coming changes in the ways that universities fund themselves:
Most thought that a bachelor’s degree was the ticket to a well-paid job, and that the heavy student loans were worth it and manageable. And many thought that majors such as social science, education, criminal justice or humanities would still get them jobs. They didn’t realize that the jobs that could be obtained with such credentials were the nice-to-have but nonessential positions of the boom years that would disappear when times got tough and businesses slashed costs. 
Some of those recent graduates probably didn’t want to do, or were intellectually incapable of doing, the hard work required to major in science and engineering. After all, afternoon labs cut into athletic pursuits and social time. Yet that’s where the jobs are now. Many U.S.-based companies are moving their research-and-development operations offshore because of the lack of scientists and engineers in this country, either native or foreign-born. (emphasis CJ's)
Apparently, Mr. Shilling is an economist of some moderate repute, which makes that sentence even more galling.

It's a remarkable shame that the "scientist shortage" meme has spread so thoroughly through our elites. If only a scientific society, say, the largest one in the world, had the bully pulpit to attempt to refute such fairy tales. Alas. 

Process Wednesday: Solvent swaps

In searching for an azeotrope database yesterday, I found an old Kilomentor post that resonates with me:
The need for solvent exchanges in the sense of displacing one solvent by another without passing through a liquid free state practically does not exist outside of process chemistry. At laboratory scale, when one solvent needs to be replaced with another, the solution contents are placed in a r.b. flask, set spinning on the vacuum rotary evaporator with appropriate heating and strong condensing efficiency. When the first solvent has been completely evaporated then the required new solvent is added and the solutes brought back into solution by swirling and scraping. 
On scale, evaporation to dryness is not possible without caking and possibly charring. Even if it were possible to avoid degradation, the layer of non-volatile residue would become so thick on the reactor's wall that heat transfer to complete the evaporation would be made impractically. Combined with this difficulty, at low volumes in a normal reactor stirring becomes ineffective. Thus solvent replacements must be done without completely removing the liquid phase at any point.
Kilomentor goes on to describe the various less well-known azeotropes within typical solvent swaps -- bet you didn't know that "An azeotrope exists between IPA and EtOAc with bp 74.8 C and composition 77% ethyl acetate and 23% IPA."

The amount of time required to perform a solvent swap on scale can be frustrating to a plant manager or owner -- think about the amount of time you spent in graduate school, rotavapping, rotavapping, rotavapping. Crystallization out of the reaction solvent is a better technique to hope for -- but sometimes, vacuum distillation of 1500 gallons of methanol is going to happen, whether you like it or not. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Daily Pump Trap: 7/24/12 edition

Good morning! Between July 19 and July 23, there were 70 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 7 (10%) were academically connected and 57 (81%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Okay, what ARE they about?: Nektar Therapeutics in Huntsville, Alabama is once again looking for people: this time, 4 positions. They're a stalwart of ACS Careers -- what are they up to? Why have they been hiring for about 5 years now?

Fairfield, NJ: SGS North America is searching for a B.S./M.S/Ph.D. QC analyst.

Denver, CO: Forensic Laboratories is searching for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. method development chemist, with at least 2 years of experience.

Tucson, AZ: BASF is hiring a project manager for its mining division (it has a mining division -- this is a darn big company):
QUALIFICATIONS: PhD degree in chemistry or other related discipline required. Experience in bringing products to market. Proven experience in project development... 
[snip] DESIRED: 3 years of hydrometallurgical industry/product knowledge
Hydrometallurgiwhat? There has got to be a more efficient way of finding the person they want.

Who is BMS looking for? A search of Bristol Myers Squibb's website reveals 3 open chemistry positions: a B.S. quality control position (Job Number: 1201490)  a B.S./M.S. associate analytical chemist (LC/MS experience desired, Job Number: 1202237) and a B.S./M.S. process chemist (3-5 years experience desired, Job Number: 1202000).

Little Lost Lamb: The Center for Naval Analyses is a government-contracted operations research firm; they work for the Navy (obviously.) The Kelly McGillis character in "Top Gun" is based on one of their analysts (who ended up later as the president of CNA). Anyway, they're in ACS Careers, looking for cyberwarfare operations analysts:
Required Qualifications: •M.S. in computer science, electrical engineering, physics or related field with 0-3 years experience •GPA must be within the 3.0 – 4.0 range •Experience in computers and communications networks, including network architectures and network defense 
Wrong place, guys, try the lab down the hall. 

Milwaukee, WI: DEA compliance manager, analytical chemist

From the e-mail inbox, 2 positions from Cedarburg-Hauser Pharmaceuticals in Milwaukee, WI. (The DEA compliance manager position is offered with a relocation package):
DEA Compliance Manager 
Seeking candidates who have experience working with DEA regulations.  Successful candidate will have background in all State and Federal controlled substance regulations, will be able to develop and maintain program (policies, procedures); have ability to evaluate all related procedures to ensure security requirements are being met; ability to train all personnel; submit and track reports required by the DEA and State Agencies.   Will complete and file ARCOS reporting, submit and track Forms 222, 161 and 236, procure and maintain all registrations and authorizations. Oversee and maintain physical inventories of controlled substances.
Education Required is:  BS/BS and minimum of 5 years of DEA compliance experience.    
Analytical Chemist I  
Successful candidate will be a key contact for development and validation of analytical methods in support of in-process control, release of APIs, and stability studies, have deep understanding of separation science, general chemistry, GMP, ICH guidelines and Compendial testing procedures is required. The Analytical Chemist will plan and organize work with minimal supervision, coordinate analytical activities to meet project time lines, analyze data, interpret results, and write technical reports. The preferred candidate would be proficient in HPLC, GC, IC, IR, KF, etc. Experience in LC-MS, GC-MS, NMR, and prep-LC operations for impurities isolation and identification is a plus. Education required is as follows: B.S. degree with 5 years’ experience, M.S. with 3 years’ experience, Ph.D. with 1 year experience.
Apply to llebrasseur -at- cedarburgpharma.com.  Submit resume and cover letter with salary history.  EOE.
Good luck! 

Ivory Filter Flask: 7/24/12 edition

Good morning! Between July 10 and July 23, there have been 17 academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 17
- Postdocs: 5
- Tenure-track faculty:  6
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions:  3
- Staff positions:  2
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 16 / 1

Kingston, RI: The University of Rhode Island seeks an assistant professor of organic chemistry, starting in the Fall 2013 semester.

An Ocean State day: Brown University is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry in nanoscience/chemistry; the position is associated with Brown’s Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation. This position starts in the Fall 2013 season.

Vienna, Austria: Want a post-doc in Austria? Who wouldn't? How long is it planned for? Well...:
A 6-year post-doctoral position (‘Universitaetsassistent’, salary scheme B1), is available at the surface science group at the Vienna University of Technology in Vienna, Austria. The successful applicant is expected to build an independent research portfolio in the area of electrochemical Scanning Tunneling Microscopy.
Well, at least you have time enough to get settled!

Hurry up! We want to hire you!: Inaugurating a new feature of the IFF -- checking out departments that are frantically hiring for the upcoming academic semester. CSU-Bakersfield is hiring a lecturer for 2012-2013. The University of Washington is hiring a full-time lecturer in organic chemistry and one in general chemistry, both to start in mid-September 2012.  Ohio University (Athens, OH) is looking for 3 visiting assistant professors -- check this out:
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Ohio University invites applications for 3 full-time Visiting Assistant Professors, beginning August 27, 2012. These are non-tenure track, one year renewable positions. Teaching responsibilities may include lecture and/or laboratory courses in general, biochemistry, organic, physical, analytical chemistry and toxicology... Review of applicant materials will begin immediately and continue until successful candidates are identified. For full consideration apply by August 5, 2012.
Cutting it kind of close, aren't you?

[Assignment desk: there should be a blog/webcomic about The Lecturer with No Name, a dude(tte) who wanders the middle part of the US, taking visiting assistant professor positions, righting wrongs and correcting Texas carbons.]

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.

Reports on ACS business at the 2012 ACS San Diego convention

From this week's C&EN, 2 short reports on #chemjobs issues in ACS business at the spring 2012 ACS convention in San Diego:
...The Professional Advancement Subcommittee provided a presentation on employment trends in the domestic chemical workforce, including the latest ACS data on unemployment, salaries, and trends in certain positions and sectors. A study to better understand job loss in chemistry is currently being scoped. The committee also received updates from the Leadership Advisory Board on leadership courses and the Leadership Institute and on the status of the ACS Entrepreneurship Initiative... -- Peter K. Dorhout, Chair
The unemployment rate for ACS chemists continues to rise, even as the U.S. unemployment rate has started to decline. 
As you may have read in the March 26, 2012, edition of C&EN, the unemployment rate for ACS chemists as of March 1, 2011, was 4.6%. This is by far the highest rate since ACS started tracking unemployment in 1972. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an even higher value of 6.1% for the overall 2011 average unemployment rate for U.S. chemists and materials scientists. The Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs (CEPA) is understandably distressed, as I am sure all of you are. 
Historically, employment recovery in the chemical sciences lags recovery in overall employment by one or more years, so it is not unexpected to see our unemployment rate continue to climb when the U.S. rate starts to decline. However, CEPA continues to hear about experienced chemists settling for lower paying positions to make ends meet; new graduates having trouble finding their first position; and postdoctoral positions disappearing. (emphasis CJ's)
In response to this news, CEPA included questions about underemployment in the 2012 Comprehensive Salary Survey, which is currently in the field. Preliminary results will be reported at the fall ACS national meeting in Philadelphia. 
-- Lisa M. Balbes, Chair
I will be interested to see what numbers about underemployment come from the 2012 Salary Survey.

Friday, July 20, 2012

ACS unemployment rate 2nd highest of last twenty years

The ACS Department of Research and Member Insights is out with the initial 2012 ACS Salary Survey data. In a C&EN story written by Rudy Baum, the results were reported yesterday:
The unemployment rate for American Chemical Society members in March 2012 fell to 4.2% from the record high of 4.6% recorded in March 2011, according to the society’s Membership & Scientific Advancement Division (M&SA). The March 2011 unemployment rate was the highest level recorded since the society began tracking employment in 1972. 
Although still high by historical standards, the 4.2% unemployment rate for ACS members is well below the 8.2% national unemployment rate in March reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate was down from 8.9% in March 2011. 
According to Elizabeth McGaha, manager of the Department of Research & Member Insights in M&SA, this year’s salary and employment survey showed that 90% of ACS members were employed full-time as of March 1, 2012; 3.2% were part-time, and 2.6% were in postdoc positions. More than 7,000 ACS members completed the survey, which was conducted with domestic regular members younger than 70. No students, emeritus, retired, or international members were included.
It ain't that great, I think: Among the different qualitative comments in Mr. Baum's article, here are some of the modifiers: "improve slightly", "still high" but "well below" the national unemployment rate, "less bleak". But there's this one from the mouseover text from the line graph accompanying the article:

That's right, folks. We're only at the 2nd highest reported unemployment rate of the last twenty years (remember, 3.9% in 2010 was "the highest percentage of chemists out of work in at least the past 20 years"), so we must be doing "significantly better."

Wrong comparison?: While we tend to compare the ACS unemployment rate against the national unemployment rate, shouldn't we be comparing the March 2012 ACS member unemployment rate against the national unemployment rate for college graduates? In March 2012, that number was 4.2%, which is the same as the ACS member unemployment rate. Food for thought.

There's one more factor to consider: BLS estimates of chemist unemployment have been mostly higher than the ACS number (BLS: 6.1% for 2011, as opposed to ACS' 4.6% for March 2011).

BLS reports that doctoral degree recipients had an unemployment rate of 2.5% in 2011. That all ACS numbers and BLS numbers have been higher than that indicates the difficulties that chemists face.

U6-like at 10.4%: I've long called the ACS Salary Survey's aggregation of members that aren't full-time employees the "U6-like" number, in reference to the broadest U6 measure of unemployment that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses. For March 2012, that number is 10.4%, which appears to be the 2nd highest of the last ten years (11.9% in March 2010). It's nice to see that number trending down. 

Salaries a mixed bag: Ph.D. and M.S. salaries are down (1.9% and 1.1%, respectively), while B.S. salaries are up 2.3%.

A renewed focus: It's important to commend Ms. McGaha and her team for turning this data around so quickly in less than 4 (3?) months. Previous reports of the ACS Salary Survey data have taken much longer to surface (more than a year?). While we all have our issues with the ACS Salary Survey (see the Eka-Silicon caveat below), it's really great to see them become more responsive over time.

It's also nice to see Rudy Baum once again take the lead in writing the C&EN news stories on these issues. Call me naive, but having the C&EN editor-in-chief write these stories shows the growing importance of #chemjobs issues.

It's time for the Eka-Silicon caveat! The ACS Salary Survey and the ChemCensus have both had relatively low response rates from members, which limits the extrapolatability of the data. This year's response rate for the ACS Salary Survey is unknown. A discussion of this can be found in the comments here. At the same time, ACS unemployment numbers for their members more-or-less track the BLS survey data for chemists.

Reader question: how do you do a job talk on proprietary material?

A reader writes in with the following question [details redacted for anonymity]:
A colleague recently left because [their spouse] (also a scientist) got a job in a new city and they are relocating.  Inevitably, [they'll] need to give the usual 45-minute job talk to get a new one, but [they] spent most of [their] work on internal projects that [they] can't present outside the company.  What [do they] do for [their] job talk?  Go back and present [their] postdoc work? (This was [their] first industry job.)  What can industry workers do to make sure they have something to talk about when it's time to find the next job (voluntarily or not)? (emphasis CJ's) 
I'm at a [industry conference] this week and polled the few industry folks there (GSK, AZ, Lilly) and none had a good suggestion other than try to get on projects that you're allowed to talk about to the outside world.  
Derek Lowe talked about his solution to these problems a while back:
[...after talking about work that's in published journal articles or patents, or work in published patent applications, not disclosing full structures, but still giving enough detail to show off your work]  
The worst case is "none of the above." No published work worth talking about, no patent applications, no nothing. I actually did go out and give an interview seminar under those conditions once, and it was an unpleasant experience. I had to talk about ancient stuff from my post-doc, and it was a real challenge convincing people that I knew what was going on in a drug company. I don't recommend trying it.
But I don't recommend spilling the beans in that situation, either. I've seen a job interview talk where it became clear that the speaker was telling us more than he really should have, and we all thought the same thing: he'll do the same thing to us if he gets a job here. No offer. 
Derek also talks about mentioning biological data verbally, but not on the slides -- presumably, sharing enough general data to give you credibility, but not so much that you're revealing more than your employer would like.

I'll take a slightly different tack and say that I've mentioned techniques or general approaches that I've used, when I can't give lots of details. In process chemistry, there's the option of saying that "We were asked to fix a filtration problem, etc., etc." or "I had a troublesome alkylation, and I found that..." While it's not exactly a detailed, reproducible procedure, I think chemists are aware enough of when a job talk speaker is circumlocuting around an IP problem.

Readers, how would you solve this issue?

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.

Daily Pump Trap: 7/19/12 edition

Good morning! Between June 12 and June 18, there have been 95 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 11 (12%) are academically connected and 36 (38%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources. 

Chicago, IL: Not too long ago, I made a couple of comments about Polyera and their romance novel approach to hiring. They're upping the ante with this latest one, though:
What do we do? We make possible products like this(If for some reason this URL doesn't show up, Google "Samsung OLED hammer") 
Have your attention yet?
We’re Polyera. 
Located in Chicago, IL, we are a mid-sized start-up company (~40 people) that is a leading-edge supplier of novel materials that enable printed and flexible electronics (imagine a big-screen TV you can roll up like a newspaper or inexpensive solar panels that could be used in 3rd-world countries). Founded in August of 2005, we now have relationships with nearly every major consumer electronics company in the world and plan to launch our first products by late 2013 – products like a flexible eReader like the Kindle.
So if you work here, what do you get?
  • Money. It is a job, after all.
  • A ton of experience working on cutting-edge R&D issues with a team that’s been recognized as one of the leading R&D teams in our industry. And they’re actually nice.
  • Benefits: Health, Dental, Vision, 401k, Life Insurance, Disability – the works.
  • Being part of a company that’s at the start of the next big paradigm shift in electronics. Seriously – save this post and take it out in 5 years: see if we’re lying.
Interested? Good.  The next thing to know is who we hire:
  • You need a B.S. or M.S. in chemistry, inorganic chemistry, materials science, or related field, and have significant experience doing hands-on lab work.
  • You need to be smart. At least in the top 25% of your class (or higher).
  • You need to love learning new things.
  • You need to be someone who gets along with others. Seriously.
  • You need to be willing to work your butt off.
  • You need to want to not just to have a job, but to start a career. 
  • You don’t just like going through the motions – you want to create something.
Sound like you? Great! Keep reading below....
This is a really conversational approach to the ad, which keeps going and going. I'll be interested to hear who wrote these ads (an actual chemist, I suspect) and whether or not they're going to be as world-beating as they hope.

What's going on in Rolla?: Brewer Science is a supplier of speciality coatings to the microelectronics industry; they're located in Rolla, MO. They're a long time stalwart of ACS Careers and they've posted 12 positions, split between engineering and chemistry. (These positions are connected with the ACS Career Fair in Philadelphia.)

New York, New York: Kenyon and Kenyon is a law firm; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience in medicinal or organic chemistry to be a technical proofreader. Didn't know such a position existed.

Orange, TX (and elsewhere): Invista is hiring for 5 positions. Positions in Newark, DE, Wilmington, NC and 3 position in Texas. All laboratory-related.

Zeroes!: PPG Industries is looking to hire Ph.D. chemists (0-2 years experience) for positions in coatings, glass and chemicals:
Coatings Opportunities: Research and Development activities exist in, but are not limited to, the following areas:  Nanoparticle synthesis, unique color technologies for coatings, renewable resource use in coatings formulation, novel polymer synthesis. Coatings formulations for alternative energy technologies, automotive markets and industrial coatings applications 
Glass Opportunities: Anticipated assignments during the first 12 months may include the following: Discovery - work with sensors, devices and functional materials, thin films & optical coatings (PVD & CVD), solar energy materials (photovoltaics and solar thermal), mechanical properties of amorphous materials, chemical properties of amorphous surfaces, process modeling and process control 
Chemicals Opportunities: Research and Development assignments are needed in the following areas: Organic synthesis of fused heterocyclic dye material, photochemistry, polymer synthesis and formulation of sol gel coatings, development of adhesives for polymer films and coatings
I think it's interesting that PPG is basically hiring a class of new Ph.D.s, something that it seemed like pharma used to do.

Sacramento, CA: Ampac is looking to hire a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. process chemist with 3 to 5 years of experience. They're hiring in dribs and drabs for about a year and a half now. Huh.

Hey, they do it too: Daiichi Sankyo is hiring chemists... in Gurgaon, India. Huh. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A reader's open letter to senators on the SMART Jobs Act

From a reader, an interesting open letter to Congress:
Dear Chemjobber,
I am writing to share with you a letter that I’ve sent off to several US senators, in regards to the SMART Jobs Act recently introduced by Sen. Chris Coons (D) of Delaware and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee. In light of the recent Washington Post article by Brian Vastag, I thought it would be good to share this letter with others (with my personal info removed, though details are in the original).  Hopefully enough senators will have read the article, so it would be good if they heard from individual scientists about our situations, and about how this legislation could have a serious impact on our careers. 
Too many times we chemists think that our voices won’t be heard, or we wait in vain for ACS, or NSF, or the NIH, or some university, or some professor to speak up for us.  I believe that we ought to speak for ourselves.  The more of us that contact the relevant senators about this Act, the more we balance out all the punditry out there that says “We Need More Scientists!!!”
Below are links to contact the main senators on the Judiciary subcommittee that would hold hearings on this Act, along with Sens. Coons and Alexander.  I also encourage people to write to their own US senators.

Senator Chris Coons (D): http://www.coons.senate.gov/contact
Senator Lamar Alexander (R): http://www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Email
Senator Charles Schumer (D): https://www.schumer.senate.gov/Contact/contact_chuck.cfm
Sen. John Cornyn (R): http://www.cornyn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=ContactForm
Senator Patrick Leahy (D): http://www.leahy.senate.gov/contact
Senator Chuck Grassley (R): http://www.grassley.senate.gov/contact.cfm
Senator Orrin Hatch (R): http://hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-orrin
Senator Al Franken (D): http://www.franken.senate.gov/?p=email_al
Dear Senator: 
I am a science professional with a Ph.D. in chemistry and 10+ years of experience in my field.  I am writing to you about the recent introduction of the SMART Jobs Act (S.3192), which would change the law by giving green cards to all international graduate students in STEM fields upon completion of their degrees, once they find employment in this country. 
If you value science as well as scientists already in this country, you should vote for removing the ‘Science’ portion from the ‘STEM’ designation in this proposed legislation.  Speaking of my own profession, our country does not have enough jobs for chemists already here.  Over the past 10 years, there have been thousands of chemists laid off from American chemical and pharmaceutical companies, while these same companies have permanently downsized labs and/or sent research jobs overseas.  This somber situation has recently been profiled in the front page Washington Post article “U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there”, by Brian Vastag, published July 7th, 2012. 
In my own case, the laboratory where I worked at “XYZ Company” closed 2 years ago and was moved to another state; one third of the research staff was laid off, fired, demoted or forced to retire early.  I have been fortunate enough to find another job - at 60% of my former pay.  And I’ve been luckier than many of my colleagues. 
It is because of the above scenario, repeated over and over again, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted only 3.8% job growth for chemists over the next decade, far below the projected 14% growth for all occupations.For us chemists, the automatic green card effort would make the above poor job growth projections even worse.  
The main premise of the SMART Jobs Act is that future scientists from other countries would start new companies and create jobs if allowed to remain here in the US.  It is possible that a few exceptional individuals might indeed do so at some future time.  But the great majority of these new scientists will not be starting companies. They will be competing with those already here for the decreased number of research jobs still available here in this country, making viable science careers in American industry even less attainable than they already are. 
As you discuss this Act with your colleagues and hold hearings, consider the current situation of us chemists, and how many of us are without jobs, or without the decent salaries that we once had.  We need persons such as yourself to make certain that our employment situations do not degrade any further.  And so, I ask that you work to change this proposed legislation to remove the ‘Science’ portion from the ‘STEM’ designation. 
James Doe, Ph.D.
Anytown, USA

UPDATE: I forgot the upper portion of the letter, where Dr. Doe explains the reasoning behind the letter. Ack. My fault. Apologies to Dr. Doe. 

Process Wednesday: Trevor Laird writes a poem

From Trevor Laird, the distinguished editor of Organic Process Research and Development, a poem on what chemistry the editors of OPR&D would like to see. Quoting from the middle of the poem:
...But sometimes my enthusiasm stops
At work ups with bunches of ops,
Or by poor separations,
Numerous crystallisations
(I prefer to see direct drops). 
So writers of manuscripts note,
Our referees may ponder and vote
To reject your paper
If you don’t taper
Operations that will “get my goat”. 
Product isolation is
As important as synthesis.
A large number of streams
Of effuents means
Your process is most likely a miss...
I think this poem reminds the novice process chemist that the nature of the waste streams coming from processes is just as important (and related to!) the inputs into the process. While you tend to think (from a development POV) about the reagents that go into the process, the cost of disposing of waste streams can sometimes be a deal breaker.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tracking graduates: an idea whose time has come?

From the draft report on the NIH workforce (co-chaired by Professor Tilghman of Princeton and Dr. Rockey of NIH) comes this interesting recommendation after a page of text decrying the relative lack of data on the fates of graduate students and postdocs in the biomedical field (page 43):
Institutions that receive NIH funding should collect information on the career outcomes of both their graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and provide this information to prospective students/ postdoctoral researchers and the NIH.   Such information should include completion rates, time to degree, career outcomes for PhD trainees, as well as time in training and career outcomes from postdoctoral researchers over a 15-year period.  Outcome data should be displayed prominently on the institution’s web site.  This will require institutions to track the career paths of their students and postdoctoral researchers over the long-term. One way to do that would be to assign graduate students and incoming postdoctoral researchers an identifier that can be used to track them throughout their careers.  This could be part of a unique researcher ID system that would allow tracking of all researchers throughout their career.  The ID would need to relate to any NIH ID assigned to the individual.
In the live chat hosted by ScienceCareers a couple of weeks back, I got to ask Professor Tilghman about this issue. Her response (and a followup by Beryl Benderly) were interesting:
Comment From Chemjobber: I support the push for universities to devote resources to tracking the career outcomes of their graduates and publishing that information. How committed are the universities to make this happen? 
Shirley Tilghman: Chemjobber: Universities will be committed if the NIH requires such tracking as a condition of receiving federal funds.
Comment From Beryl Benderly: For how long a period would universities be required to track graduates' careers?
Shirley Tilghman: Beryl, the committee was proposing tracking for period of 10-20 years. We settled on 15 as a compromise. By that time individuals have usually settled into their career.
Gotta say, I like the cut of Professor Tilghman's jib. We'll see if any of the draft report's recommendations get implemented by NIH. Also, an revealing comment from Joseph LaManna, president of FASEB:
Comment From Chemjobber: Is there a sense from the political side (i.e. senior NIH or Congressional officials) of the sacrifices (monetary and otherwise) that people make to go into biomedical science? 
Joseph LaManna: We have found that there is a tremendous amount of bipartisan respect for the research community in Congress. We have also found that the leadership at NIH is very eager to discuss issues and potential solutions with working scientists. The problem is simply (?) too little available resources in a poor economic climate.
I think Professor LaManna's final comment is dead on. At the moment, many of the problems of academic science (and perhaps even #chemjobs) could be fixed with a better economic climate. Would that it were so easy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Post-wedding comments

Went to a wedding on Saturday -- a lovely time.* Nice ceremony, fun reception.

I was seated at a table full of chemists, all under 40. Lots of shop talk, lots of talk of job loss, of the difficulty in finding work in our field. The best line of the evening?
"I've survived [3 < x < 7] rounds of layoffs -- I don't want to survive another one."
There has got to be literature on what happens to an industry when the median entry-to-mid-level worker is quite jaded about the future of the field. Yikes.

At the same time, most people I talked to were pretty clear about their personal situation as compared to those worse off. "I've got a job -- I can't complain" seemed to be the final refrain of the night.

Best wishes to all of us.

*Thanks to See Arr Oh for watching over the blog while I was out. 

Wow, that's some interesting prose

I assume when professors are asked to comment on another professor's work, they have to walk a fine line of saying something complimentary, without sounding gushing or damning with faint praise. In this week's C&EN (article by Stu Borman), Professor Erick Carreira doesn't shy away from strong language when praising Professor Paul Wender's recent work on bryostatin analogues that can cure dormant HIV:
“The tour de force complex synthesis of bryologs is a brilliant realization of the goals of function-oriented synthesis,” says synthetic chemist Erick M. Carreira of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. “This strategy brings the viral terrorists out of hiding, where they can be targeted for destruction.
I'm surprised that there wasn't some reference to synthetic Predator drone strikes or something.  

Tough times for biotech

In this week's C&EN, an article noting 6 companies having difficulties by Ann Thayer:
...A new board at Canada’s QLT hopes to fix a “precarious financial position.” In 2011, the firm lost $30 million, despite revenues of $42 million. To align spending and headcount, the board has cut 146 jobs.  
...Another Canadian firm, Cardiome Pharma, is cutting 85% of its workforce after Merck & Co. stopped work on an oral form of Cardiome’s heart drug vernakalant. The cutbacks will eliminate internal research. 
...Chelsea Therapeutics is facing a delay in the approval of its hypotension drug Northera. The North Carolina company will keep only as many of its 49 employees as it needs to complete the regulatory process. 
...To cut costs, Savient Pharmaceuticals will reduce its workforce by 35%, or about 60 employees.  
...In light of market pressures, Switzerland’s Actelion is cutting 135 positions, or about 5% of its workforce, and emphasizing R&D in specialty areas. 
...Meanwhile, Biolex Therapeutics has shut down entirely. 
“It is a challenging financing environment, and within that the fates of individual companies and technologies move in all sorts of directions,” says Glen Giovannetti, global life sciences leader at Ernst & Young. “Long term, I think we are in a period of contraction.”

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What Happens to a (Vacation) Dream Deferred?*

Clark Griswold: Chemist / Vacation Pro
Happy summer, everyone! This is See Arr Oh, reporting for active duty. While CJ's away, I've been put in charge of curating comments, dusting off all the old posts, and mowing the lawn. 

Since we're talking about summer trips, let me ask you: in today's economy, does anyone still take long holidays? Do you, like a certain Hollywood food chemist, pack up the whole family for a few weeks of adventure?

For me, it's tempting to slide back into the old refrain of "one more experiment." After all, for bench chemists, that's how we've always done it. During summers in undergrad, we're encouraged to join a lab, or perhaps travel for an REU. When grad school starts, advisors and senior grads casually mention that truly devoted grads work straight through the season (not to mention that the NMR gets less traffic in July).

When you hit the job market, the time crunch of your first few projects may cause you to rethink that tropical getaway; I once heard a manager say "Everyone gets vacation, but no one really takes it." 

Readers, what are your summer vacation plans? Do you feel secure enough to drop 'under the radar' for a few weeks? Or will you be manning your post, dreaming of far-off time off?

(*With apologies to Langston Hughes) 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wedding announcement: Lisa Brown and Phil Smith

(CJ Press) Elizabeth Jennifer Brown, a graduate student of Professor F.M. Jones of Fancy Pants, Massachusetts was married Wednesday to Philip Andrew Smith, the postdoctoral fellow of Professor M.T. Allen of Universityville, Georgia. Samuel Tilghman, George and Gracie Burns Professor of Chemistry at Football School State School in Los Angeles, CA, performed the ceremony in the NMR facility between group meeting and the evening departmental seminar.  

The bride, 28, and bridegroom, 30, met at FSSU from which they graduated, both with unlikely hopes of being professors at Ph.D.-granting institutions.

Ms. Brown, who is known as Lisa, is a senior graduate student (H-index of 20) in the Jones Group at Fancy Pants University and is known for exceptionally clean baselines in her NMRs. Her pump oil changing skills are unsurpassed.

The bride's advisor is the most skilled raconteur in the Department of Chemistry at Fancy Pants University. From 1994 to 2004, he was the chairman and president of the department's glee club and social committee.

Dr. Smith is a postdoctoral fellow in the Allen Group at Southern University of Georgia; he has published 10 publications and given 4 presentations. He is known for excellent slide transitions during his group meeting talks, as well as being able to recondition dead HPLC columns.

The bridegroom's advisor is the chairwoman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Southern University of Georgia, where she has won 3 R01 grants from the NIH in the last 6 years.

The bride and groom intend to live together in the same city for approximately three years while they attempt to secure employment, postdoctoral positions and solve the two-body problem unsuccessfully.

*I'm actually attending a wedding, so I will be traveling today. (You'll be in good hands, though.)