Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

Have a great weekend, folks. For those of you in the US, happy Labor Day. See you late Monday/Tuesday, when I'll be taking aim at a certain Slate article. (sigh)

Alternative savings vehicles?

Credit: Forbes
For some reason, I was reminded of a favorite passage from Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: 
Many of the Spanish-speaking members of the crew took part in an unusual "banking" scheme where each week all the members of a large group would sign over all their paychecks to one guy. The recipient was selected on a rotating basis, and the way it worked, I gathered, was that for about two months or so everybody squeaked by, doing their best to make do without a check, spending little... until the day it was their turn, at whcih point they came into thousands of dollars and could spend like drunken sailors.  
This practice made no sense to me. It also required an extraordinary amount of trust in one's fellow cooks. I did not share my comrades' confidence that Luis, for instance, wouldn't skip town on a drunk after getting his big payday and leave the others in the lurch. I held on to my meager paycheck. I had no time to spend it anyway. 
I know that's it's difficult for grad students and postdocs to save money, but this sort of pooling would seem like a great way for an emergency fund of some kind. Granted, you run into the same problem -- how much do you trust your labmates with your money? Who is the treasurer? Which 5-gallon can of solvent do you drop on their feet when they skim off the top -- the acetone or the dichloromethane?

Readers, what's the best way for graduate students and postdocs to have some meager savings? 

"A buyer's market"

From Susan Ainsworth's recent article about #chemjobs on the East Coast at small companies, an interesting admission from the founder of SiGNa Chemistry:
New York City-based SiGNa Chemistry, which has developed and patented a green method for stabilizing reactive alkali metals in nanostructured porous oxide powders, is also expanding into new industries, such as oil and gas, batteries, and alternative energy. As a result, “we are hiring rapidly,” says its president and founder, Michael Lefenfeld (see page 43). SiGNa has been recruiting inorganic and materials chemists, as well as chemical engineers, material engineers, and ceramic engineers to add to its current staff of 65. 
Like many early-stage and midsized companies right now, SiGNa is able to step up hiring not only because of mounting demand from a growing customer base, “but also because we can bring in top talent at a price that is lower than it might have been a few years ago,” Lefenfeld says. “I don’t want to pick the bones of a bad economy, but hiring in a ‘buyer’s market’ is a huge growth opportunity for a small to medium-sized organization.” 
Although new hires “may be offered less cash—which is always held more tightly in smaller firms—they may also receive stock options, which could potentially increase their total compensation,” Lefenfeld notes. “Working for a small company offers some risks, but it can also offer some rewards or windfalls, if the company grows, goes public, or is acquired.”
I think reporters do a great job when they get employers to say these things on record -- we all know that it's an employer's market right now, but it's great when employers are confident enough to say it.

[I think we're all old enough to realize that stock options are not the wonderment that employers make them out to be. Do they think that we weren't around for the dotcom bust?]

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Daily Pump Trap: 8/30/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 28 and August 29, there were 16 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 6 (38%) are academically connected.

Columbia, MD: Shimadzu is looking for a B.S. chemist to be an elemental spectroscopist.

Toledo, OH: Betco (a cleaning formulations company) wants to hire a B.S. chemist to be a product development chemist.

Iselin, NJ: Know TEM/SEM? Got a B.S. in chemistry? BASF would like to hire you.

Champaign, IL: Eastman Chemical Company is looking for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist (GC, GC/MS, LC). Looks to be fermentation-related?

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 229, 824, 2,730 and 16 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Who could resist?

Process Wednesday: deserved praise for caution

Credit: Zhu and Cook, 10.1021/ja3061479
My eye was drawn to a recent synthesis of the anti-malarial compound artemisinin, published by Zhu and Cook in JACS recently. I'm not much of an expert on the molecule or the variety of routes to it, but it is novel and pretty convergent. (The main scheme from the communication is to the right.) The Cook group appears to be able to offer gram quantities of artemisinin via a relatively quick route; that's pretty impressive.

Here's Professor Cook in the Chemical and Engineering News account:
The synthesis can be conducted in a five-pot sequence that is more efficient than any previous total synthesis. “All of the building blocks needed for this synthesis are exceptionally cheap and available on a metric-ton scale,” Cook says. “Is this chemistry ready for supplying the world with artemisinin? No. But with some further reaction engineering, it very well could be.”
Speaking as a rank novice process chemist, I feel like we need to quit asking academics about the scalability of routes; it's not their role to perform process development to manufacturing scale. But reporters want to know if total syntheses are practical (and rightly so!) and it offers professors lots of opportunity to speculate. Professor Cook made a wise choice with his "very well could be" quote; there's a lot of work to be done between the lab and the plant.

[1] Zhu, C.; Cook, S.P. "A Concise Synthesis of (+)-Artemisinin." J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2012, 134, 13577-13579.

[Technical notes: If I were to work on the scaling of this route, I would have to attack the cryogenic steps and improve the yield on the final oxidation. Chromatography? Yikes. I would be concerned about the cost of the ammonium molybdate, the safety of using dimethylzinc (toluene solution?) and finding a different solvent for the Diels-Alder. Is a TIPS-protecting group necessary? Can the final deprotection speed be improved?] 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Podcast: Chemjobber and Prof. Janet Stemwedel talk #SheriSangji

Janet Stemwedel is not unfamiliar to readers of the blog; her comments on the Sheri Sangji case are well-known here. Early in August (right after the Baudendistel gambit was revealed), I recorded a conversation with her. The results are below, for your listening pleasure. Click if you'd like to hear a lengthy (but interesting!) conversation on academic chemical safety and the Sangji case. A brief guide is below.

Note: the podcast has been edited for clarity, with some "ums" removed. Please forgive the sound quality and general lack of prettiness. Perhaps soon, I'll get theme music, etc. 

0:00 - 20:00: Introduction, general conversation about the Sangji case and academic chemical safety. 
12:30: The Langerman/Benderly proposal to tie chemical safety to grants and tenure.
19:29: How industrial chemists have reacted to the Sangji case, as opposed to academic chemists. 
30:00: "What is a just punishment for Prof. Harran?" Janet convincingly suggests that a just punishment is not particularly important (in the grand scheme of things), as opposed to the overall response of the academic chemistry community. 
37:50: CJ asks, "Is part of the problem that academic chemical safety is not considered the PI's territory?"
52:30: Janet calls on the academic chemical community to change its chemical safety culture, long before legal action from the Harran case concludes. Janet suggests that younger chemists might consider safety culture in choosing graduate schools. 
56:25: Discussion of the Baudendistel gambit. 
1:04:10: Janet and CJ HULKSMASH on the "Sheri Sangji was an experienced chemist" myth. 
1:09:00: We loop back to the response of the academic chemistry community to the Sheri Sangji case. 

Please give us feedback on the podcast! I'd (we'd!) love to do more, and those of you who know what you want and like, please let us know what worked and what didn't! 

Don't hate the player...

...hate the faculty search? From the inbox, a frustrated reader:
Back story: I'm currently a postdoc in [Western Europe]. I'm currently applying for faculty positions... 
So, when applying for faculty positions, they always ask for 1) CV, 2) cover letter, 3) research proposal, 4) statement of teaching philosophy.  Now, all this is fine and to be expected.  What bothers me is when they ask for 3 letters of reference - right off the bat.  During my first wave of applications, I played along and asked/prodded/poked my references - all of them busy fellows - and got them to send out letters of recommendation.  Out of ~15 applications, I had one interview (didn't get it), and the rest... dead silence.  Ok, so why did I hassle my references if I most likely didn't make it past the first round?   
On my 2nd, current, wave of applications, I'm not going to send out references along with my other documents.  They can read my stuff, and If they are interested and want to advance me to a second look, they can contact me (or my references directly - they are on my CV) and I would be more than happy to get letters sent out.  Am I putting myself at a disadvantage here?  Is this unreasonable? If it is unreasonable on my part, then how do I deal with this without trying the patience of the kind folks who are good enough to be in my corner.  And who is responsible for this nonsense - HR?  
On an unrelated topic - as I mentioned, I'm a [North American] doing a postdoc in [Western Europe].  I'm applying for positions in North America.  Do you think that my geographical location places me at a disadvantage - all other things being equal?
I do think that you're putting yourself at a disadvantage by not having your letters with your package. Faculty search committees are probably overwhelmed by applications and would like nothing better than to discard an application because it's "incomplete." I don't think it's unreasonable to ask of your recommenders -- likely, they knew what they were getting into when they agreed to write letters in support of you. They're in your corner, so they'll be willing to cut-and-paste in your favor. [As for who's responsible, it's probably the faculty themselves; I have a difficult time believing that university HR ever gets involved in faculty hiring decisions (at least until the final choice has been made.)]

As for your location in Western Europe, I suspect that it does not particularly matter; it might make interviews a little bit difficult or expensive. As long as you've been publishing in well-recognized journals and the like, you're probably okay.

But the closest I'm ever going to come to the faculty club is cutting the lawn in front of it. Readers, you're a lot more knowledgeable than me. Your thoughts, please.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/28/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 23 and August 27, there were 93 new positions. Of these, 35 (38%) were academically connected and 49 (53%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Bozeman, MT: SensoPath Technologies is looking for 2 Ph.D. organic chemists, salary 42-48k:
Two research and development positions available with an early-stage company in Bozeman, Montana, a town of 35,000 in an area of amazing beauty. Positions would focus on (a) biosensor linker design and synthesis and (b) synthesis of porphyrin therapeutics for PDT cancer treatment. Anticipated start date for (b) October 2012 for a 2 year period with 6 month reviews. Salary for (b) is pre-set by funding.
Sounds interesting; Bozeman is a lovely town.

Iselin, NJ: BASF is hiring an experienced B.S./M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist; expertise with optical spectroscopy techniques desired.

San Carlos, CA: Novartis is looking for an experienced M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to perform method development and stability-related work towards inhalation-based drug delivery.

Who does Lilly want?: Eli Lilly and Company has 6 positions for the search term "chemist", including a "director of bioproduct analytical development" position. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/28/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 21 and August 27, there have been 39 academic positions posted for the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 39
- Postdocs: 1
- Tenure-track faculty:  36
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  1
- Ratio of US/international positions: 37 / 2

Faculty search going strong: Boy, there are a lot of positions.

Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University is searching for an assistant professor position in biochemistry: "We particularly encourage applications in the area of mechanistic biochemistry, including but not limited to single-molecule, chemical biology, and structural methodologies."

West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University desires two assistant professors in synthetic medicinal chemistry. The pay ain't bad, especially for (relatively) rural Indiana.

Boston, MA: Emmanuel College wishes to hire an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry; you may be teaching general and/or organic chemistry.

Raleigh, NC: NCSU is hiring a director for its X-ray crystallography facility.

Salt Lake City, UT: The University of Utah wishes to hire an assistant professor of physical or inorganic chemistry aimed at catalysis or materials.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Poor UCLA...

...they got their feelings hurt. From this week's C&EN:
In Fairness to UCLA 
In their 2,500-word article “California Deal Tightens Lab Safety,” Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice fail to give even passing mention to UCLA’s substantial efforts to improve lab safety—which have become a model for other institutions—since the tragic December 2008 accident and long before the Los Angeles County district attorney ever filed charges (C&EN, Aug. 13, page 34). 
This leaves your readers with the wholly false impression that if not for the DA’s actions, the University of California, Los Angeles, never would have done anything to improve lab safety. Furthermore, in an article with 27 hyperlinks, not one links to UCLA’s widely circulated statement on the matter. In the end, UCLA is afforded nothing more than a single throwaway line in the last paragraph. The same goes for a July 27 C&EN Online Latest News post, “University of California Reaches Agreement in Connection with Charges in Lab Researcher’s Death.” That’s especially disappointing since UCLA has worked hard to give Kemsley open access to our actions and accomplishments over the course of her extensive reporting on this issue. She knows full well how hard we’ve worked, but she chooses to completely ignore it. 
As a former journalist, I’m not naive enough to expect advocacy for our side from any news organization, but I do expect fairness. 
By Steve Ritea
Associate Director
UCLA Communications
Los Angeles
I have a few responses to this rather silly note, which I suspect is a perfunctory protest on the part of UCLA. (Only UCLA cares about UCLA's image; I suspect, from the chemistry community's point of view, that UCLA is a side player in all of this, and it's Professor Harran and his fate that the most of us are really interested in.)
  • First, please quit calling yourselves "a model for other institutions." It would be a lot more effective to try to quote other people calling you that. It has happened, I think, and it would offer you a little more credibility than repeated self-praise. 
  • Regarding UCLA's actions between the death of Ms. Sangji and the DA's actions, I think it's nonsense to think that any of your actions are purely self-motivated by sorrow. You were caught with crummy lab safety conditions beforehand, you knew some kind of legal action was probable and you decide to try to clean up your act. Yay! As for your actions, this is what the settlement with the Los Angeles District Attorney says:
"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. (emphasis mine)"
CJ here: Let me be the first to congratulate you all for following the law more closely now! Let me also congratulate you for not robbing any banks this weekend!
  • I'm also less than impressed with your open access for Ms. Kemsley; after all, you guys are a state institution and you're covered under the California Public Records Act. Once again, you're congratulating yourselves for following the law. Good job. 
  • You complain about Ms. Kemsley not linking to your press release. But let me point out what is missing from both your press release and Chancellor Block' e-mail -- that your institution has admitted responsibility for the condition of the Harran laboratory at the time of Ms. Sangji's death:
"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.
Mr. Ritea, until UCLA acknowledges their responsibility for the conditions that led to Ms. Sangji's death somewhere other than a legal agreement with people with coercive power, I'm going to put a low value on your press releases. They're just an exercise in self-congratulation, and not much more than that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Love Song of J. Alfred Phase-Transfer Catalyst

with apologies to T.S. Eliot:

...No! I am not Grubbs' catalyst, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant molecule, one that will do
To fill a scheme, make a bond or two,
Accompany an ion; no doubt, an easy tool
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Crystalline, cautious, and alkyl-filled;
Full of non-polarity, but a bit basic;
At times, indeed, almost a ligand --
Certainly, at times, a Salt.

Shall I part my chains behind? Shall I put them in my reach?
I shall wear my charges proudly, and walk upon the beach.
I have seen the products bonding, each to each.

I do not think that they will bond to me.

Two fantastic articles on #chemjobs from Susan Ainsworth

I have been terribly remiss in not covering the last two excellent articles on the chemistry job market by Susan Ainsworth. The first talks about chemists transitioning to working in the medical diagnostics field; I really liked this section about a Ph.D. organic chemist:
Patrick M. Donovan says he “stumbled into the diagnostics field” after losing his job at now-defunct Epix Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Mass., in 2008. In the midst of a job search, he noticed an online posting for a senior biochemist position in Walpole, Mass., at Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, an industry giant. 
Despite the fact that he is not a biochemist, but rather has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Boston College, Donovan applied for the position because his skills closely matched the job description. The company was actually looking for a synthetic chemist to make chemiluminescent labels to enhance its diagnostic detection technology, but it used the biochemist title to cover positions in many research areas including chemistry and microbiology. He was hired for the position at the end of 2008. 
Donovan says he’s not sure what gave him the edge in landing the job, but notes that the compounds he now works with are similar to the kinds of molecules he focused on in graduate school. Another plus, he says, may have been his postdoc experience at contract research organization Organix, as well as his work as an analytical quality control chemist for Armstrong Pharmaceuticals before graduate school. 
Donovan is happy in his new field. One satisfying aspect of his job, he says, is that his group works on molecules that can be used in a variety of assays for many tests in many areas. That contrasts with chemistry R&D done in pharma companies, which sometimes is more specialized, such as targeting a particular drug for a specific disease, he explains. “Our research can help a broad patient base of people all over the world, which is very rewarding.”
Why does it seem like Dr. Donovan is moving in the right direction, working for a medical diagnostics company, as opposed to a smaller pharma company? Is medical diagnostics "up the value chain" from pharma? (I don't really think so, but it seems that way sometimes.) Perhaps it is that medical diagnostics does not seem to be as astronomically difficult as pharma -- now I'm really talking ex recto. Readers?

Also from Ms. Ainsworth, an article in this last week's issue regarding the jobs at small companies on the East Coast. There was also an accompanying short article talking about how best to position yourself:
To fill a single position for a medicinal chemist, “we might sift through about 100 résumés to find 10 candidates who are very well qualified,” says William C. Shakespeare, vice president of drug discovery at Ariad Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass. “We then face the challenge of making the final cut,” he says. “In short, we are looking for people who are not ordinary. We are looking for the cherry on top.” 
In particular, Ariad looks for outstanding medicinal chemists who can also contribute to its overall drug discovery efforts in other ways. Often that means that they have some background in structure-based drug design or protein biochemistry or experience in other areas such as absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) studies, Shakespeare says. 
Candidates who have “helped provide a unique solution to an extraordinary problem—such as identifying a drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics property associated with a molecule—are more likely to stand out,” he says. “Those are the kinds of things that we look for.”
It's great to get numbers on what small companies are looking for. In this case, it is quite clear that Ariad is looking for fairly experienced medicinal chemists and certainly not new graduates.

More on both of these articles later, but I wanted to bring them to your attention.

Global economy slowing?

So what does the overall global economy look like, these days? According to the Wall Street Journal, not so great:
Grim data on the economies of China and Europe on Thursday gave a warning signal for global growth, and suggested governments and central banks around the world may be forced to pump in more stimulus to kick-start activity.  
An index of manufacturing in China, the world's second-largest economy, showed the biggest drop in activity in nine months. Factories were hit by a steepening fall in demand for exports, in part a reflection of the euro-zone debt crisis that has clamped down hard on demand for Chinese goods in the European economies. Data on Thursday suggested the euro zone is falling into recession.  
The preliminary HSBC China manufacturing purchasing managers index fell to 47.8 in August, compared with a final reading of 49.3 in July, HSBC Holdings and data company Markit Economics said. That is the 10th consecutive month that the index has been below the key 50 level, indicating a month-to-month fall in activity. [snip] 
...China's manufacturing sector was hit in August by a steep drop in export orders, the PMI showed—a reflection in part of slowing demand in Europe. 
Markit said Thursday that euro-zone business activity continued to shrink markedly in August, pulled down by the weakest performance in more than three years in European powerhouse Germany. The figures point to the euro zone falling into its second recession in three years, a development that could heighten tensions in the 17-nation currency zone as its leaders fight to contain the sovereign-debt crisis while economic output withers and unemployment rises.
I don't really know what to say about Europe, so I'll stay out of that stuff. I found this NYT story about growing Chinese inventories of unsold goods to be rather disturbing (and kinda funny), though:
After three decades of torrid growth, China is encountering an unfamiliar problem with its newly struggling economy: a huge buildup of unsold goods that is cluttering shop floors, clogging car dealerships and filling factory warehouses. The glut of everything from steel and household appliances to cars and apartments is hampering China’s efforts to emerge from a sharp economic slowdown. It has also produced a series of price wars and has led manufacturers to redouble efforts to export what they cannot sell at home. 
The severity of China’s inventory overhang has been carefully masked by the blocking or adjusting of economic data by the Chinese government — all part of an effort to prop up confidence in the economy among business managers and investors. 
But the main nongovernment survey of manufacturers in China showed on Thursday that inventories of finished goods rose much faster in August than in any month since the survey began in April 2004. The previous record for rising inventories, according to the HSBC/Markit survey, had been set in June. May and July also showed increases. 
If you've been to pick up an inexpensive Haier air conditioner, I suspect now is the time.  I wonder if we'll start seeing Chinese commodity chemical prices start falling like a rock. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Well, whaddya know? "A cost to the individual and society"

From an astute reader, a conversation with the authors of "Is American Science in Decline?" (by sociologists Xu Xie of the University of Michigan and Alexandra A. Killewald of Harvard). This interview was published by
Let me start with the obvious question: Is American science in decline? 
No I don’t think so. I think the evidence that we put together is pretty convincing that, by most measures, American science continues to be very strong and in some spheres even  improving. We do find some areas of  concerns in terms of the wages of scientists. And when we turn to the international perspective, that’s a little bit of a different story. Other countries are gaining on the U.S. but compared to the position that science has held in the past in this country, it’s still quite strong from a historical perspective... 
[snip] Some analysts see the problem differently. They talk about a surfeit of scientists? 
The growth of post-doctoral appointments has been a concern for many people, that these appointments are becoming a kind of holding tank where you’re delaying your first real job longer and longer and folks who aim to become academics are unable to find permanent employment. On the other hand, it’s not clear that it’s bad to have people with PhDs in non-academic positions So I think it certainly can be a concern as relates to an individual’s choices. If someone makes an investment that retrospectively they wouldn’t have made, that certainly is a cost to the individual and society. But I think the fact that individuals who get PhDs end up in other places is not by itself a bad thing. (emphasis mine)
I will continue to argue (perhaps too stridently and perhaps ignoring other data) that ignoring of opportunity cost is something that young scientists-in-training do at their peril, especially in a relatively low job growth economy.

Official ACS Career Fair numbers

Reported to the ACS Council:

ACS Career Fair (Philadelphia):

Registered Job Seekers: 999
Employers: 45
Number of Jobs: 148
Recruiters Row: 12

Virtual Career Fair (Online):

Registered Job Seekers: 1,499
Registered Employers: 13
Number of Jobs: 41

Daily Pump Trap: 8/23/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 21 and August 22, there were 21 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 5 (24%) were academically connected and 8 (38%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Iselin, New Jersey: BASF is looking for an entry-level analytical chemist to do NMR spectroscopy on materials (looks like) and also a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to support its battery research efforts.

"Southern California": Shimadzu is looking for 2 field technicians with 3+ years experience in fixing instruments.

Birmingham, AL: The Southern Research Institute is searching for a postdoctoral fellow with a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry. (Click through to see the cute "oops" of leaving in "Boilerplate Paragraph.")

San Diego, CA: Takeda San Diego has two openings for staff scientist-level medicinal chemists. Can't tell if this is a Ph.D.-level position or not.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder  Indeed and show (respectively) 247, 782, 2,738 and 21 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For undergraduate gen chem TAs and assistant profs...

...Here are some choice tidbits from "The Mindset List" by Beloit College, representing the world as understood by entering college freshmen:
The Mindset List for the Class of 2016 
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.
  • They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
  • They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  • The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
  • Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty.”
  • If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube. 
  • Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.
  • Since they've been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.
  • They have always been able to see Starz on Direct TV.
  • Ice skating competitions have always been jumping matches.
  • Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.
  • Astronauts have always spent well over a year in a single space flight.
  • Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.
There are a lot more at the link; enjoy. 

[I think these are rather gross generalizations, but it is easy for me to believe that I live in a cloistered world.] 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/21/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 17 and August 20, there were 86 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 19 (22%) were academically connected and 53 (62%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Pittsburgh, PA: Valspar is a global coatings company; they're looking for a LC/MS expert. 5+ years experience desired, but not necessary. Other analytical expertise (AFM, SEM, GC/MS, pyrolysis GC/MS, DSC, FTIR, rheometry, GPC, and TGA) appreciated.

Foster City, CA: Gilead is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist; looks to be involved in process development. 3+ years industry experience desired.

Douglas, Georgia: A "confidential" company in Douglas, Georgia is looking for a M.S. chemist:
The candidate should have at least a Masters degree in Organic/Organometallic chemistry with a minimum of 4-6 years of laboratory (bench and kilo lab) experience in synthesis, charcterization, and use of organolithiums and other alkali, grignards, boronic acids/esters, organophosphorus compounds, as well as such methodologies as cross-coupling, Friedal-Crafts, Wwittig, Mitsunobu, and standard oxidations and reductions.
Douglas, Georgia is a town of 12,000 people. Why remain confidential when a Google search will reveal who you are, almost immediately (5th or 6th hit)?

(There is, of course, the distinct possibility that it is an error. There seem to be many companies and/or universities that mistakenly put their identities on ACS Careers as "confidential", which I find odd.)

San Diego, CA: Chemical Abstracts Service is looking for a Western US salesperson; B.S. in chemistry and 3+ years experience in sales desired. Oh, and industrial bench chemistry experience desired as well. (Huh.)

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/21/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 13 and August 20, there were 34 academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 34
- Postdocs: 3
- Tenure-track faculty:  28
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  2
- Ratio of US/international positions: 34 / 0

New York, New York: Columbia University is looking for an associate research scientist with a Ph.D. in chemical physics.
The Center is seeking an experimental Chemical Physicist to conduct basic research within the EFRC to undertake characterization of surfaces, interfaces, and bulk materials using state of the art characterization equipment at external national laboratory facilities and to work with EFRC faculty members to understand and interpret the results. 
Sounds interesting -- is it really in New York, though?

Hempstead, NY: Hofstra University is looking for a part-time stockroom manager. Was a nationally-oriented search really needed for this position?

Fall faculty search: Centre College (Danville, KY) is looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry for August 2013. Two or more tenure-track positions are available at the University of Washington in Seattle. Brandeis University (Waltham, MA) is also looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry for fall 2013.

Philadelphia, PA: Thomas Jefferson University is searching for a post-doctoral fellow for a program in cancer/diabetes medicinal chemistry.

Monday, August 20, 2012

ACS Career Fair board: 144 positions, 829 job seekers

Credit: @sciencegeist
Fresh stats from the ACS Philadelphia Career Fair, thanks to @sciencegeist:

Employers: 44
Positions: 144
Job seekers: 829

That's a ratio of job seekers to positions of 5.75 to 1, which is a lot better than the 8.76:1 ratio at ACS San Diego. More positions than San Diego, as well.

Fewer positions than last year's fall conference in Denver, unfortunately.

The official numbers off the ACS Careers database shows 121 positions for the Career Fair and 40 positions for the Virtual Career Fair. Aigh. 

Dear Dave Sommers: You Are Wrong

For those of you who have had some basic medchem (as I have had, and no more), I thought you would enjoy this little tidbit. It's kinda funny when people get things exactly backwards.

(Incidentally, here's a wonderful refutation of this graphic by SkepticRD, a registered dietitian.) 

Friday, August 17, 2012

8 other things to do at #ACSPhilly

I was at the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia in 2008 and really enjoyed myself. I had a hotel not too far from downtown -- it was pretty great, I must admit. Here's some things you can do when you're not deeply involved in the chemistry:
  1. Go walk by WHYY and see if Terri Gross is in.  
  2. South Street was interesting; I didn't go into the purveyor of prophylactics, though. 
  3. Try some scrapple at the diner at the Reading Terminal Market. 
  4. Run up the steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum. (Not as steep as it looks in the movies.) 
  5. Are the Phillies in town? Why, yes. 
  6. See the Liberty Bell. 
  7. Rittenhouse Square was lovely. 
  8. Cheesesteak is big there, I hear. (And I hear that the lines look long, but actually move pretty quick.) 
I would not recommend walking across the bridge to Camden, New Jersey, which I did in my quest to visit all 50 states. (41 down, 9 to go!) I took the train/subway back, which was also interesting. Commuter trains aren't something I deal with on a regular basis.

Readers, any suggestions -- I'm sure I've missed something? Good places to eat, etc.? What's your ACS meeting routine?

UPDATE: Unstable Isotope strongly recommends the Mütter Museum; certainly sounds interesting. (I'm such an East Coast newbie.) 

Gosh, this is so true.

Credit: Twistedlilkitty
On a day like today, when a key experiment went awry on step 1.5 of 4 while I wasn't watching it in the middle of the night, this cartoon by @TwistedlilKitty is so, so true.

What is the cost of actual API in developing drugs?

Derek Lowe has been taking a chainsaw (or an axe) to Lexchin and Light's arguments that the actual cost of drug development is 43 million dollars instead of the Tufts $1 billion dollar number. I don't want to recapitulate the argument, so I'll send you to these posts:
To a manufacturing guy like me, some of the comments are quite interesting. From clinicaltrialist, the cost of (some) biologics:
I should add, for biologics trials, cost of goods can be material part of the cost. API for antibodies cost about $300/g or more, and typically, you would dose about 1 mg/kg once or week (roughly). That's 100 mg per week, or 5 g per year per patient. Once you add in the fill/finish, labeling and QA costs, it's about $500/g X 5 g = couple of thousand dollars per patient.
$300/gram!!? That's pricer than XPhos! (but not Josiphos!)

Here's a comment about the cost of small molecule API:
API cost can be an issue. The last campaign I ran cost ~$2M. For two batches. That doesn't cover all of Phase II - only part. Plus all the upfront cost of working out the synthesis strategy, impurity profile, polymorph stuff, GMP stuff...etc. This is not as expensive as clinical, but its not insignificant.
The comments on that particular post have really taught me about all the moving parts of a clinical trial. Basically, it seems like you're hiring doctors, patients, hospitals and people to watch over the process. That sounds expensive.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Stack ranking": a good way to encourage backstabbing

While the bell curve is indeed found in nature, it's probably not
found in corporate America. Credit: Wikipedia
Last month, Vanity Fair published a pretty remarkable story on Microsoft and how poorly its management has been adapting to the new challenges of the internet, including Google and Apple. But I noted this rather remarkable section about their employee review system:
At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor. 
“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.” 
Supposing Microsoft had managed to hire technology’s top players into a single unit before they made their names elsewhere—Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon—regardless of performance, under one of the iterations of stack ranking, two of them would have to be rated as below average, with one deemed disastrous. 
For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door. 
Outcomes from the process were never predictable. Employees in certain divisions were given what were known as M.B.O.’s—management business objectives—which were essentially the expectations for what they would accomplish in a particular year. But even achieving every M.B.O. was no guarantee of receiving a high ranking, since some other employee could exceed the assigned performance. As a result, Microsoft employees not only tried to do a good job but also worked hard to make sure their colleagues did not.
“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.”
I am no expert when it comes to employee reviews. It makes sense to me that employees need to be evaluated, both as a team and as individuals. (I've always suggested to my friends that perhaps the Pro Football Hall of Fame should not allow entry by individuals, but by unit, e.g. quarterback + offensive line + wide receivers, etc.) How to do it well and fairly, of course, is the real problem.

But stack ranking or its other monikers cannot possibly be a good way to get intelligent people to work together well. It is probably an excellent way of distributing gains unevenly, though. Thanks, business world.

Readers, I understand that stack ranking has been used in the pharmaceutical research world -- how's it worked out for you all?

How's the Philadelphia ACS Career Fair going?

I understand that there are employers that have yet to post their positions, but I thought it might be interesting to see where next week's ACS Career Fair is stacking up.

Fall 2010, Boston, (8/23/10, Monday of meeting): 206 positions posted.
Fall 2011, Denver, (8/25/11, Thursday before meeting): 189 positions posted.
Spring 2012, San Diego, (3/22/12, Thursday before meeting): 49 positions posted.
Fall 2012, Philadelphia (today, Thursday before meeting): 116 positions posted.

So, we're not doing too badly. Hopefully lots more to come. Best of luck to all! 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/16/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 15 and August 16, there were 58 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 12 (21%) were academically connected and 9 (16%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

ACS Career Fair watch: 116 positions posted for the ACS Philadelphia Career Fair, 40 posted for the Virtual Career Fair.

Greenville, SC: IRIX is looking for an analytical chemist with experience in a GMP environment; HPLC, GC desired.

Cambridge, MA: Vertex is also looking for a chromatographer, one that has experience with small molecule purification. M.S./Ph.D. desired, with 5+ years experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

Wayne, NJ PA: Johnson-Matthey has posted 11 positions, mostly process-oriented. Looks pretty interesting, and really, everyone loves a catalyst.

Cuyahoga Falls, OH: Americhem ("one of the largest custom color concentrates manufacturers in the world") is looking for a B.S. chemist to be a research scientist. Kind of a vague description attached (formulations, raw material, blah, blah.) 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

1/2 inch vacuum hoses

A small list of useful things (links):
Readers, did I miss anything? 

Kudos to you!

An observant reader reminded me of why I highlighted that GSK Esprit program:
Are you a PhD-qualified chemist eager to become an outstanding scientific leader? An inquisitive mind who would thrive on a diverse, intellectually demanding global leadership programme? Do you want to translate your scientific expertise into disease-beating medicines? And help people across the world to do more, feel better and live longer? 
We are a science-led, global healthcare company that puts patients first. Our business is focused on developing medicines that improve the quality of human life. To meet the future strategic challenges this entails, we need to fast-track the finest scientific talent into senior leadership roles within our business. 
Esprit R&D is a three-year, accelerated, multi-disciplinary and individually tailored programme. It is heavily backed by our senior management team, and it will give you incredible kudos as a chemist among your peers. 
Over the three years, you’ll undertake high-profile, global rotations that will give you in-depth chemistry knowledge and expertise. You’ll apply this knowledge across a range of drug development disciplines from discovery research to commercialisation and business development. And as well as learning from thought leaders in your field, you’ll benefit from unrivalled formal training, mentoring, coaching and development to enhance your leadership capabilities.
Incredible kudos! Incredible!

(I'm so cynical.)

Process Wednesday: the 20,001st time

While fairly rare, I occasionally hear a risk analysis that can be summarized as "we've done it before, and not had any problems with it." Whenever I hear that, I'm immediately reminded of the early, early days of industrial-scale chemistry and the Oppau explosion. From Wikipedia [emphases mine]:
The Oppau explosion occurred on September 21, 1921 when a tower silo storing 4,500 tonnes of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded at a BASF plant in Oppau, now part of Ludwigshafen, Germany, killing 500–600 people and injuring about 2,000 more. The plant began producing ammonium sulfate in 1911, but during World War I when Germany was unable to obtain the necessary sulfur, it began to produce ammonium nitrate as well... 
Compared to ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate is strongly hygroscopic, so the mixture of ammonium sulfate and nitrate clogged together under the pressure of its own weight, turning it into a plaster-like substance in the 20 m high silo. The workers needed to use pickaxes to get it out, a problematic situation because they could not enter the silo and risk being buried in collapsing fertilizer. 
To ease their work, small charges of dynamite were used to loosen the mixture. The procedure was tried experimentally and was considered safe; it was not known at the time that ammonium nitrate was explosive. Nothing extraordinary happened during an estimated 20,000 firings, until the fateful explosion on September 21. As all involved died in the explosion, the causes are not clear. A theory is that the mixture changed and a higher concentration of ammonium nitrate was present.

In my searching, I found a rather amusing early news report from Nature on the explosion, which includes this gem: substantiation of its innocuous character they adduce the fact that in factories producing it no accident has occurred for a number of years, when explosives have been applied to it for the purpose of breaking up blocks of the mixed salts which have set hard. 
I'm fairly new to this field, but it seems to me that part of process chemistry is showing "the box" in which a process can be run. A process chemist can only hope to guarantee desired results (yield, purity/quality, safety) in within the reaction parameters (heat, concentration, volume, what have you) that have already been defined. One wonders what happened at Oppau; obviously, someone stepped outside the box.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

C&EN wants to hear from industrial postdocs

Susan Ainsworth of C&EN wishes to hear from chemists who are current or former industrial postdocs. She'd like to hear about how long it took people to find their positions, what gave them an edge, and what advice they could offer to others seeking industrial postdocs.

Please e-mail her at s_ainsworth -at- acs(dot)org by Thursday morning of this week (August 16.) Thanks! 

Physical abuse in medical education? Wow.

Pauline Chen is a surgeon and author (and a professor of surgery at UCLA?); she wrote an interesting post on the New York Times' health blog about bullying in medical school and UCLA's surveys of its students:
The school has just published the sobering results of the surveys over the last 13 years. While there appears to have been a slight drop in the numbers of students who report experiencing mistreatment, more than half of all medical students still said that they had been intimidated or physically or verbally harassed.
...U.C.L.A.’s experience is not isolated. In fact, national medical education surveys that include questions about mistreatment indicate that the environment at that school is about average. And the striking similarity of experiences across a generation of students suggests problems not just with one institution, but with the culture of medical training itself. “This is a national problem,” Ms. Fried said. “Our faculty and doctors-in-training come from all over, including schools where some of them might have been mistreated.”
I'm not going to pretend that this sort of behavior doesn't happen in chemistry. People act inappropriately and unprofessionally everywhere, unfortunately. Humans love status competition, and some people will play the game as awfully as they can get away with. What I was really surprised at was the level of physical intimidation that was happening, as mentioned in the original published study:
A cardiology fellow slapped my hand when I was unable to answer an EKG question and said: “If teaching doesn’t help you learn, then pain will.” 
I was walking (slowly apparently) in front of my intern. She was frustrated and pushed me forward with both of her hands on my shoulders, saying: “walk faster!”
Wow. That's completely out of line. I've never seen that (physical intimidation) in my time in chemistry; I'm sure the comments will produce some awful stories. (I hope not, but...)

Verbal abuse, of course, is a different story. Every intern, graduate student, postdoc, entry-level chemist, etc. has at least one stinging put down stored away in their memories. Our minds are very good at torturing ourselves with even the mildest of negative comments, however accurate or inaccurate (one reason why I think that physical intimidation is so over-the-top inappropriate.) While I've never had anyone yell at me that "You're the worst chemist I've never met!" or "I'm going to kill you" or whatever, I have my share of stories on that front. (None recently, thank God.)

Note, especially to relatively junior people: It is possible that you may encounter this sort of behavior. It is wrong! It is not your fault. Unfortunately, it may not even have anything to do with you, as a person, as opposed to your status in whatever hierarchy that you're in. An organization that puts up with that kind of behavior, especially the more severe kind, is not an organization that you want to be a part of.

It's my sincere hope that, as time goes on, that this sort of behavior (verbal abuse, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, racial comments) happens less and less in workplaces. I don't believe that verbal abuse produces better physicians and it certainly doesn't produce better chemists.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/14/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 8 and August 9, there were 132 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these 22 (17%) were academically connected and 54 (41%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Hanover, PA: AquaPhoenix Scientific is looking for a B.S. chemist to be a production chemist; 5+ years experience desired, must be able to lift 50 pounds.

Shanghai, China: QR Pharmaceuticals is hiring, well, everyone. 9 open positions, from medicinal chemistry to quality assurance.

Parkersburg, WV: DuPont is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to work on fluoromonomer and fluoropolymer measurement. 1-5 years manufacturing lab experience desired.

Wilmington, DE: DuPont is also searching for a Ph.D. synthetic organic chemist for a coatings project; it appears to be an entry-level position. Including both of the above, DuPont has 6 open positions, including the mellifluously-named "On-Line Process Analyzer Consultant" position.

Huh.: GSK is hiring for their "Esprit R&D" programme for Ph.D. scientists; you need 12-month global mobility, which is a little suspicious...

Neenah, WI: Kimberly-Clark is searching for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience in colloid science.

Looking, looking, looking: Vertex is advertising for 27 positions, Tate and Lyle, 6 positions.

I'm so immature: Applechem ("Northern New Jersey") is searching for a product development chemist: "Product Development Chemists will be responsible for developing new ingredients and their applications for the cosmetic and toiletry industry, via organic chemistry synthesis, or through compounding and blending chemicals." The toiletry industry? Snerk.

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/14/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 7 and August 13, there were 22 new academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 22
- Postdocs: 3
- Tenure-track faculty:  18
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  0
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 17 / 5

It's fall recruiting season!: Lots of positions, and more coming.

Auburn, AL: Auburn University is searching for an assistant professor of organic or organometallic chemistry for fall of 2013.

Rockville, MD: Montgomery College is a two-year college; they're looking for full-time faculty for general chemistry; M.S./Ph.D. desired.

The City So Nice: New York University is hiring for a faculty position in its Biomedical Chemistry Institute; applications for junior and senior positions accepted. Columbia University is searching for a junior or senior faculty position, no specialty specified.

Santa Barbara, CA: UC-Santa Barbara is hiring for a lecturer position, starting at 64.9k. Gee, that pretty much sounds ideal, doesn't it?

Spokane, WA: Whitworth University is hiring an assistant professor of analytical chemistry to start Fall 2013. Psst: What's a "high through-put HPLC system with autosampler"?

Cultural Learnings of Chemistry for Make Benefit...: Nazabayev University (in Astana, Kazakhstan) is looking for an assistant or associate professor of inorganic chemistry. Housing provided! Vacation allowance! And:
Incoming faculty can expect western style and traditional cultural living experience similar to any midsize North American or European cosmopolitan city including a rich and vibrant atmosphere which includes excellent clubs and restaurants, theater, music , opera, dancing, art museums, modern or traditional bazaar shopping, professional and amateur sports, recreation, and much more.
Well, sign me up!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chemjobber's newest #chemjobs hero: Nelson Marans

From this week's C&EN, someone else notices the irony of elected officials calling for more scientists and engineers:
As a retired chemist who is fortunately no longer subject to the vagaries of the employment market, I was still appalled by both the high unemployment figures for chemists and the low starting salaries (C&EN, June 4, page 36). 
Chemistry graduates face one of the most daunting curricula at a college or university, one that requires intellectual and practical skills. They now encounter a high unemployment rate, as well as a low starting salary. While “only” 17% are unemployed and 14% actively looking for employment, these figures are warped by the high percentage of those who, whether by choice or necessity, have chosen to go to graduate school, leaving only 23% permanently employed. At the Ph.D. level, the numbers are not much more encouraging. 
The irony is that there is a demand from Congress and the executive branch to graduate a larger number of technically trained students. The question to ask is, for what purpose? Is it to increase the already excess numbers of such students? Are we becoming a nation of overeducated and underemployed people? 
I hope not, but signs indicate that this is what is occurring. 
By Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, Md.
Best wishes to Mr. (Dr.?) Marans, who seems to be enjoying his retirement writing letters to the editor.

The good old days

In this week's C&EN, editor-in-chief Rudy Baum is rearranging his files, and came across an old issue bemoaning the relatively poor job market for chemists in 2003:
The Nov. 24, 2003, issue included C&EN’s annual “Employment Outlook” feature. The first story in the package of stories was titled “Slump Continues for Chemists: Unemployment is at a record high, but opportunities exist for the well prepared.” Sound familiar? 
In her editorial in that issue, entitled “The More Things Change …,” then-editor-in-chief Madeleine Jacobs wrote: “The job market is as soft today as it was in the early 1970s,” when she began her career at C&EN. “Next year promises to be only marginally better than the past two years for graduating chemists.”
Rudy links to an article summarizing the March 2003 Salary Survey data:
These are difficult times for the U.S. economy, and chemical scientists have not been spared the fallout. Unemployment for chemists--as measured by unemployment of American Chemical Society members--is at a record high. C&EN Editor-at-Large Michael Heylin reports that the jobless rate of 3.5% that the most recent ACS Salary Survey reveals as of March 1 this year is up from 3.3% a year earlier. It also exceeds the earlier all-time high of 3.2% set in 1972, the first year of this annual survey. 
Industrial chemists have been hit particularly hard. For those in manufacturing, unemployment is at 4.9%. For those with nonmanufacturing firms, it is 4.8%. However, among academic chemists, unemployment remains negligible at 1.1%, and government-employed chemists are essentially fully employed with an unemployment level of 1.0%.
I hadn't really noticed that the previous all-time high was hit in 2003, which is a bit revealing. I seem to recall a bit of a slowdown back then. But what I think is most revealing is that it's apparent that the breakdowns between industry and academia used to be released:

I wonder why those breakdowns aren't released anymore. I need to check this out. 

Second quarter earnings fall for both chemical and pharmaceutical industries

From this week's C&EN, the first paragraphs of the 2nd quarter of 2012 results for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. First up, Melody Bomgardner's article on the chemical industry's earnings:

U.S. chemical firms are running out of dependable strategies for maintaining earnings in a global economy that shows few signs of growth. In the second quarter, the 23 firms tracked by C&EN reported an average decline in earnings of 6.1% compared with the year-ago quarter. And in the first quarter, earnings fell by 8.4%.  
Also in the second quarter—and for the first time since the Great Recession ended in 2009—more than half of the surveyed companies reported a decrease in top-line revenues. On average, the companies saw sales retreat by 1.1%. Chemical executives blame the drop on lower sales volumes because of customer destocking, depressed prices, and currency exchange losses due to a relatively strong dollar.
Next, Lisa Jarvis' article on pharma industry earnings:
Second-quarter sales plummeted at many big pharmaceutical companies as the full impact of patent expirations on top-selling products kicked in. Companies hit the hardest by generics competition are trying everything from acquisitions to geographic diversification to shore up their businesses. 
For a second consecutive quarter, overall sales and earnings for the big pharma­ceutical companies tracked by C&EN declined. For the 10 companies reporting second-quarter results, sales were down 4.5% compared with the same period in 2011. Earnings fell 2.6%. 
Well, let's hope this is a temporary thing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Jyllian Kemsley's analysis of Prof. Harran's defense motion

I was working on a long-ish post on my point of view on the #SheriSangji case, but Jyllian Kemsley has really outdone herself with a point-by-point analysis of the chemical safety-related portion (4 pages, really) of Professor Harran's defense motion.

(For those who haven't read the defense motion, it basically says:
  • Baudendistel's report is bogus, and didn't have a factual basis for his charges that Professor Harran willfully violated health and safety standards
  • Oh, by the way, did you know he was "an admitted killer"? (not kidding, that phrase is in the motion)
  • Since the arrest warrant is based on the Baudendistel report, 
    • and since Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor Baudendistel was convicted of murder 27 years ago, and therefore he's not credible
    • and since the statute of limitations has run out, 
    • the arrest warrant should be invalidated and Professor Harran should be released.
Any mistakes in the above summary are not Dr. Kemsley's, but mine alone.) 

I can't really do it justice, so you should definitely go over there and just read the whole thing.

Interesting points for discussion from her post:
From the defense motion: "Investigator Baudendistel specifically affirmatively declares that he does not understand chemical scientific literature." (O’Leary interview, page 14) 
[Kemsley] The motion references discussion between Baudendistel and Sangji’s undergraduate research adviser, Pomona College chemistry professor Daniel O’Leary, about Sangji’s two papers published in Organic Letters and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Safety Zone readers, what say you? Do you think it is necessary for a Cal/OSHA investigator to understand that type of literature to understand the incident that injured Sangji?
So first of all, let's look at what Investigator Baudendistel actually says in his conversation with Professor O'Leary (Page 14)
B: Well, you know, you guys are a lot smarter than most of us.
O: [Laughter] No.
B: Trust me, I've read some of the literature. I don't understand it.
O: Let me see here. So you want the 2005 one? The 2005 one is "Direct Assignment of the Relative Configuration in Acyclic 1,3-diols." 
Heaven forfend that a senior Cal/OSHA investigator does not understand NMR structure elucidation papers! First of all, I think it's rather ridiculous that the Harran defense team uses this particular statement of humility (a characteristic that endears Mr. Baudendistel to myself, I confess) to indict his expertise. I would find it more convincing if the defense team noted that Mr. Baudendistel did not have a degree in chemistry or significant time at the bench (e.g. more than 5 years) or that he did not possess certification as a Chemical Hygiene Officer.

I am rather more confident that he's willing to openly admit when he's out of his zone of expertise, i.e. proper procedures when handling pyrophorics. I also note that he's consulting experts; it speaks well to the Baudendistel report that one of the people that he consulted was Mark Potyen, an Aldrich R&D chemist with 19 years experience at the bench and someone who uses tBuLi on a regular basis.

She also notes one of the most remarkable things to come out of Baudendistel's interviews with UCLA EH&S personnel, the interview of the chemical safety officer that interacted with Prof. Harran the most:
B: Do you know if there was any direct policy by UCLA that lab coats were worn while personnel are in the lab?
W [the safety officer]: No.
B: At that time, anyway.
W: No. Other than what it says in the lab safety manual, how it suggests wearing a lab coat in the lab.
B: So is it accurate to say that there was no, there was no rule that a lab coat be worn in side the lab?
W: Yeah, I don’t there there’s any rule, like major policy by the university.
Baudendistal: Was it your understanding that it was a discretionary matter?
W: Yeah.
B: And discretionary between who?
W: Discretionary between whoever’s working in the lab. It could be the PI, who makes it discretionary for the whole lab group, or the workers themselves.
B: But it was not, there was no rule that lab coats were required to be worn while in the lab.
Wheatley: No.
I think it's a pretty remarkable indictment of UCLA lab safety policy pre-Sangji that the relevant chemical safety officer would be forced to admit this, especially in front of UCLA lawyers. I'm surprised one of the lawyers didn't fake a heart attack right there to stop the questioning.

If I were to attempt to charitably summarize the Harran defense argument that's based on chemical safety, it would be this:
  • Brian Baudendistel is not a chemical safety expert. 
  • There were lab coats available to Sheri Sangji, and it's not Patrick Harran's fault that she didn't wear them. 
  • There are disputes between scientists as to what is the best means of transferring alkyllithium reagents at varying scales, whether glass or plastic syringe, or cannulation. 
  • You can't indict chemists for using "oral transfer of knowledge" when they all do it. 
  • She got some training in lab safety, when the report says she might have gotten none. 
I think that's pretty weak sauce, and not enough to put a hole in the Baudendistel report. Not that they're going to ask me, of course. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An overly personal rant: I Don't Want to Buy A House Right Now

I'm going to rant a bit about something that's only vaguely related to this blog (the perils of buying a home), so if you're not interested in that, don't click on the jump. I'll understand. (This isn't going to be a regular thing at all, it's just been something on my mind.)

Daily Pump Trap: 8/9/12 edition

Good morning! Between August 7 and August 8, there were 16 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 3 (19%) are academically connected.

New Castle, DE: Croda is looking for a B.S. synthetic organic chemist for a position performing organic/polymer chemistry. 3-7 years experience preferred.

Rockville, MD: The United States Pharmacopeia is hiring a bunch of chemists, mostly analytical, mostly experienced.

Does General Electric want chemists?: Well, sort of. For the search term "chemist", there are two positions available for experienced Ph.D. analytical chemists/material scientists, both in Niskayuna, NY.

ACS Career Fair watch: 20 positions available for the Virtual Career Fair, 58 positions open for the Philadelphia Career Fair later this month.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder and Indeed show (respectively) 247, 731 and 2,984 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#SheriSangji: C&EN on the UC agreement, the Baudendistel gambit

Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice have published a quite comprehensive look in Chemical and Engineering News at the results of the agreement between the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the UC regents. In addition to an overview of the settlement (in return for dropped charges against the UC reagents), Drs. Kemsley and  Torrice talk to a number of legal experts regarding what I've termed "the Baudendistel gambit", i.e. that Professor Harran's legal team have discovered that Cal/OSHA senior investigator Brian Baudendistel was involved in a murder case as a teenager, and (according to the defense) was convicted of first-degree murder.

The facts of the settlement are mostly known to the readers of this blog, but there are a number of segments that are worth highlighting again:
On July 27, in exchange for the district attorney dropping the charges, the UC regents accepted responsibility for the conditions under which Harran’s laboratory was operated at the time of the incident. They also agreed to establish an environmental law scholarship in Sangji’s name at UC Berkeley. The scholarship will have a $500,000 endowment, to be funded within one year. 
UC also agreed to comply with the terms of a specified lab safety program for the chemistry and/or biochemistry departments at all campuses. In large part, the program requires the university system to follow the labor code laws it was cited with breaking: For example, the campuses must maintain laboratory safety manuals and chemical hygiene plans, “in full compliance” with California labor code. 
Other components of the program state that UC campuses must require principal investigators (PIs) and all other laboratory personnel to complete training on laboratory safety and their safety responsibilities, prohibit new PIs from operating their labs until after completing lab safety training, ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs) are written and reviewed for a specified list of chemicals, and report occupational injury or illness immediately to Cal/OSHA. The training components must begin within 60 days of July 27. 
UCLA is further obligated to conduct safety inspections and require PIs to assess whether personal protective equipment (PPE) is adequate for the procedures done in their laboratories. The agreement outlines a minimum laboratory PPE standard, starting with full-length pants and closed-toed shoes to be worn at all times. It also dictates that anyone found working in a laboratory without required PPE must be removed from the lab and the incident documented.
What I find interesting and surprising is the seeming lack of information from the UC system as to how they might plan to implement the Agreement:
UC does not have an estimate for the cost of implementing this program across its 10 campuses. It did add a new position for a laboratory safety manager to be part of the president’s office. That person “will assist campuses in implementing system-wide laboratory safety initiatives developed during the past two years and serve as project manager to ensure timely completion of those initiatives and processes specified in the settlement agreement,” Young says. 
How the agreement will be implemented on campuses remains to be seen. UC Davis’ Chemical & Lab Safety Committee “has been evaluating our practices extensively over the past year and has developed recommendations for a more robust, strengthened lab safety program,” says spokeswoman Claudia Morain, adding that the recommendations align with the terms of the agreement. The committee’s proposal is currently being reviewed by the provost. Representatives of several other UC campuses did not respond to interview requests or declined to comment.
I am terribly skeptical of most top-down programs; this one is no different.

Drs. Kemsley and Torrice also spend a significant amount of time covering the Baudendistel portion of the case; I quote liberally here:
As campuses in California and elsewhere try to learn from the tragedy and settlement agreement, Harran’s defense against the criminal charges continues. After the July 27 court hearing, Harran’s attorney, Thomas P. O’Brien, described the prosecution’s case as “flawed from the start” and “based entirely on a report by a known killer and a known liar.” 
In the July defense motion, O’Brien and colleagues requested a hearing into the credibility of Cal/OSHA investigator Baudendistel and a dismissal of the charges against Harran. The motion asserts that Baudendistel was convicted of first degree murder for a crime committed in 1985, when Baudendistel was 16. According to newspaper accounts of the crime, three men shot and killed a 26-year-old man during a methamphetamine deal. One of the perpetrators was a Brian Baudendistel who the defense team determined had the same birthday as the Cal/OSHA investigator. [snip] 
...Maureen Pacheco, assistant director of the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says Harran’s defense team is creative, because the requested hearing is typically used to question the validity of search warrants, not arrest warrants. “It’s a novel issue,” she says. “I haven’t seen it before.” 
Pacheco and other experts in juvenile law say that, if Cal/OSHA investigator Baudendistel is the one who was involved in the 1985 murder, then he probably didn’t have to report the crime on his applications. The person connected to the 1985 murder was a minor at the time of the crime, and a 1990 U.S. Court of Appeals decision describes him as a ward of the California Youth Authority, the state’s juvenile prison system. That means he was tried through the juvenile court system, not the criminal one.
In California, state law allows juvenile defendants to petition a judge to seal their juvenile criminal records. The person who pled no contest to first degree murder could have asked for his records to be sealed after completing the terms of his probation and providing sufficient evidence of his rehabilitation, Pacheco says. (In 2000, California voters passed a ballot initiative that made murder one of several crimes that juvenile offenders can’t have sealed. So a petition to seal would have had to be filed before the initiative went into effect.)
According to California law, a sealed juvenile record essentially means the case never happened, Pacheco says. Therefore, the person convicted of the murder could have truthfully answered “no” on any application asking if he had prior criminal convictions. “Because according to the law, there hasn’t been one,” she says. 
The reason for wiping the slate clean for juveniles, Pacheco says, is rehabilitation. “The whole goal of juvenile court is that people can put those things behind them,” she says. “And that wouldn’t be possible if others could always go back and access those records.” 
Even if the convicted person hadn’t sealed his juvenile records, they still would remain confidential, and it’s unlikely he would have been compelled to disclose his past on a Cal/OSHA job application, says Stephanie Sauter, the founder of the Law Project of Los Angeles, which provides legal assistance for people with past criminal convictions. 
But, if investigator Baudendistel is the person who was convicted, he could have hurt his credibility in his responses to the district attorney’s questions about the 1985 crime, Pacheco says. The only way to know for sure, she says, is to look at the specific questions the district attorney asked and the details of the 1985 case. For example, if the attorneys asked him if he had been a ward of the California Youth Authority, to be fully honest, he’d have to respond, “yes.” But if the attorneys asked if he had killed a man in 1985, he could have said, “no” and still been forthright, because he was not the man who fired the shots, according to newspaper accounts of the crime. 
Sauter sees the issue of Baudendistel’s communication with the district attorney as a gray area. But if Baudendistel had committed the murder and had sealed his juvenile records, she says, he could make the argument that under the law the case never happened, relieving him of the obligation to reveal his involvement in the crime. Considering all the possible situations involving what Baudendistel wrote on his applications or said to the district attorney’s office, Sauter thinks it’s unlikely his credibility is open for attack. 
The defense motion also claims that a murder conviction can be used to discredit investigator Baudendistel’s report and any future testimony. But, Pacheco thinks that murder is less relevant for this case than a conviction of fraud or perjury would be. Sauter goes further, suggesting that if the case went to trial, a judge probably wouldn’t allow the defense to tell a jury about the alleged murder, because it isn’t relevant to the case and could unfairly prejudice the jury. 
The legal issues raised by the defense motion could get resolved on Sept. 5, when Harran will appear again in court for arraignment.
I am not a lawyer, so I can't really comment intelligently on any of it. More thoughts later (tomorrow or Friday), but I wanted people to know that this excellent summary and analysis is out there.