Friday, May 10, 2013

A sad, puzzling #altchemjobs anecdote

From Sam Stein of The Huffington Post, an interesting anecdote in a story about young scientists and their issues with the current federal funding climate:
One particularly jarring example of this brain drain, recounted by two independent sources, took place in the summer and fall of 2012. A young researcher in the Midwest with a Ph.D. in chemistry from a prominent state school had been left unemployed after the project on which she had worked didn't get a follow-up grant. Three months of attempting to find research or academic work produced no results. With no other options, she rewrote her resume, stripping it of any mention of her Ph.D., and began applying elsewhere. Within a week, she had secured a job as a secretary at an auto parts company. 
The Huffington Post tracked down the researcher, "Rebecca," who asked that her real name not be used out of concern that it could jeopardize her current employment. Rebecca confirmed her story. Now an executive at the auto parts company, she recalled the abrupt end to her previous career as a "depressing" moment, filled with uncertainty. 
"It is possible that I could have gone to another college and gotten another post doc, but that's a temporary position," Rebecca said. "When I started way back in the day, this was the field to go into ... it is a much different field today."  
Despite 11 years of education (five as an undergrad, six for her Ph.D.) and aspirations of being a chemist, Rebecca said she has left science for good. She is happy with life outside the lab. Her company takes good care of her. 
"They are already scared I'm not there to stay because they know I'm bright," she said. "They just don't how bright."
I wonder what pushed her to make this decision? It very clearly sounds like Rebecca wants out of science, which is understandable. Well, here's hoping that she is happy with her current position.

[One notes that the current funding climate wasn't so great in summer/fall 2012, but the sequester didn't start until 2013.]

Best wishes to her, and to all of us. 

10 comments:

  1. Hey this is a good news story! The ACS would tells us that this is just what we chemists need to think about as an alternative career option. See bright, well train PhD chemists are suited to become admins after 11 years of learning critical thinking skills. MJ should use this story as an inspiring store to justify an expansion of the chemistry trainee pool. The country definitely needs more highly trained PhD chemists as secretaries.

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    1. I sure as hell hope there is a shortage of Ph.D. chemists who have become secretaries.

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  2. The Aqueous LayerMay 10, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    Many applications ask you for your 'highest attained degree'. Not putting your degree on an application is pretty much lying, and could end up causing you to lose your job in the future if it becomes known.

    Slippery slope.

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    1. You have to fight to win these days.

      Automated HR systems like Taleo and Brassring filter out candidates based on keywords, so people started putting all these keywords in the footer at 5pt size and formatting it white so they could just get through the system to a real pair of eyes.

      Many interviews these days are granted only via recommendations from current employees. Welcome LinkedIn to help people to network with those on the inside.

      Want to get hired into a GOV job? You had better respond on the self assessment that you're an expert on every topic in question. Otherwise you're never even going to get your application forward to the selecting official. Not that HR rep can tell if you're telling the truth or not, especially in scientific disciplines. This also applies if you're experience is related, but not exactly as what is being asked. Are you an expert at ICP-MS, but they're asking about ICP-AES? Answer incorrectly, and you'll find out how quickly you're flushed into that grand circular filing cabinet.

      Getting a job isn't about what you can do anymore. Its about how well you can navigate an unseen set of obstacles set forth by a group of HR robots and administrators.

      Do you really think any savvy businessman/woman is going to fire someone that omitted on a resume their highest level of education to get a job as a secretary? The woman kept her mouth shut, did such an amazing job she was promoted to do executive level work, and likely adds an amazing amount of value to the company. Show me a business that terminates this kind of employee, and I'll bet you a 6-pack of beer of your choice that company won't be around in 10 years.

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    2. I take highest degree questions to mean your highest RELEVANT degree. General coursework (high school education, liberal arts college degree) is broadly applicable and always relevant. Specialized coursework (your degree in Swedish massage therapy, scuba diving instructing certification, NMR maintenance) shouldn't be mentioned if it isn't related to the position at hand. You normally don't include other extraneous information- if they ask if you are bilingual and you happen to know Kligon you won't list it because they presumably mean a language that their business operations can use- Spanish, Chinese etc. If they ask if you are capable of lifting 40 lbs and being on your feet for 4 hours, you still probably don't volunteer if you are an Olympic weightlifter and can therefore lift more than they require. If you have an employee with some secret undisclosed talent that is not relevant to the job (they are a concert pianist, a PhD mathematician, an Iron Chef) it seems foolish to try to initially screen out these candidates on the basis of these talents and more foolish to fire them after discovery.

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  3. CoulombicExplosionMay 10, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    Anyone else find it a little hard to believe that "Rebecca" went from (presumably entry-level) secretary to "executive" in 1 year (or less?). And related to TAL's point - that she was offered a job within a week of replacing her PhD with a 6-year gap on her resume?

    If this is indeed true, more power to her. But to me, some of these details sound unrealistic.

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    1. I suspect she went from secretary to store manager at a retail store - I doubt a big auto part manufacturer would have made her a VP in less than a year regardless of competence.

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    2. I'm wondering if that was a typo and they meant to say executive *assistant*.

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  4. Who says she left a gap and didn't change 'researcher' to something along the lines of 'assistant' or 'technician'? Maybe she used the 'stay-at-home mom' loop hole.

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    1. The article didn't get specific about her situation, but I'm guessing she's a single mom based on the fact that she only gave a PhD-level scientific job hunt 3 months. Probably needed something with health benefits ASAP.

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