Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ask CJ: should I take this QC position?

On a busy morning, a good question from a reader we'll call RY:
I am a recent grad with a BS in Chemistry. I have roughly 1.5yrs relevant work experience thanks to my university's co-op program.  I am currently a [redacted] intern (paid) at a company I have co-op'd with before.  I have expressed interest in staying on with them full time, but there are no openings in my department ([x number] Chem MS's were hired prior to my arrival).  However, the other day, the quality department head asked if I would be interested in applying for several open positions in quality. My concern is that I do not want to be stuck in quality, which seems to be what happened to everyone that currently works there.   
Will taking a QC position as a first full time job dictate or impede future endeavors? For that matter how much does your first relevant job dictate your future employment?
Personally, I think taking an entry-level analytical job early doesn't really hurt anything; it's a line on your CV, and suggests that (assuming that you can keep the job) you're hire-able. That said, many chemists do not enjoy QC work, because it is repetitive.

I think that it starts affecting your career choices at the 2 year mark. One imagines that the longer you stay in any position, the longer it begins to affect your future career choices (imagine someone who has been in 1 position in 1 field for 20 years -- they're basically defined by their career in that field.) So, my guess is, unless you have better options, take the job and keep looking.

Readers, should RY take the job? Seems to me that it couldn't be the end of the world, especially consider the other options (penury, living with your parents, etc.) 


  1. Well, there are a lot of other things to take into account.

    First, do you have student debt you need to start paying? If so, you should consider it seriously. Also, maybe you are getting married, wanting to buy a house, etc, other life things besides your career. People tend to just skip over those things?!

    Secondly, I went through a similar situation and I just came out and asked the director of that division if taking a job there would be more of a dead end or a spring board. He was honest and said that it was a dead end, he couldn't remember the last person to leave that division and move "up" in that particular company. Plenty of people left to go other places, but never left for other internal positions. Most people will be honest with you if you ask them.

    Also, its sad but true, but in the current climate passing over any job is certainly a calculated risk.

    To the point of QC positions, I know plenty of chemists who have been in QC positions for years and love the work, so don't necessarily assume you will hate it. Its certainly different than other positions, but its not without its rewards and positives. I would also think since you have co-oped with them in another department there might be some potential for you to still be active in whatever dept that is, even if its in a much lesser role, hence opening you up to come back over there should a position come open. Especially if you go and do well in the QC position.

  2. I took a QC job at a generic drug company after a 10-month period of unemployment after I mastered out of a PhD program. Looking back, it was the right decision because I landed a position with a big chemical company about 8 months later, and they probably wouldn't have hired me if I'd been sitting around for close to 2 years. The only problem is that I had a rotten attitude because the work was so far beneath my abilities. Transitioning to a GMP environment was a tough thing to do after being accustomed to independent research (the rules felt like idiot-proofing, and I was convinced a robot could have done my job). I'm glad I found a more suitable position when I did; if I'd stayed in that job for too long, I think I would have developed a really bad attitude and hurt myself in the long-term. The experience I gained did benefit me later in my career, as I now work in a plant lab and sometimes assist our QC technician with his job. I also learned a lot about old-school wet-chemical techniques, which got dropped from the modern curriculum to make room for all the instrumental stuff.

    I had another experience later in my career that went differently. After yet another long period of unemployment, I accepted a temp job where the company was really looking for a technician-level person, but my boss treated me like a fellow scientist and permanent employee rather than a pair of hands. I ended up moving on after the temp job ended, but I left on very good terms with the boss and company. The experience I gained led to my next job, which was substantially different from my old one.

  3. Im sorry to say this, but, IMO, unless you went to a top 10 school for undergrad and grad, you should put all personal ambition aside if you want to have a career in Chemistry/Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. I have found there are just too many variables outside of your control that will affect your career. Whether you take this job and stay 1 or several years may have less an affect on your fate then things you cannot imagine right now, like how much the higher-ups in the company like you.

    So why not take the job?

  4. Definitely look into taking the job. A job in QC may be repetitive and difficult in the short term, but there are some serious long-term advantages to doing it this way.

    IMO someone who has worked in a GMP lab before and knows the GMP rules would be more helpful on the research side, because they know the rules that would need to be followed for production, and can ultimately design a product/process that is compliant.

    Besides - Let's say that you get stuck as a Quality person. Most people (at least at my company) would agree that Quality typically has more upward mobility. And transferable skills that are very desireable. EG maybe have a career plan of QC -> QA -> RA. And then you can make a TON of money.

    Either way, it's a good deal for you no matter what.

    Take the job.

  5. I agree with all of the above. Experience in a QC/GMP environment will be very valuable to you in the future. Apply for the job(s) and see what happens. Best of luck!

  6. Knowing how to run and do some troubleshooting for HPLC, GC, KF, disso, and UV/Vis/IR are all marketable skills, and are things you'd pick up working in a QC lab. Not only can you advance in the QC / raw materials field, as previous commenters have mentioned there's QA/RA jobs, or switch over to analytical development, which can be a stepping stone into formulation / materials characterization / program management, etc...

    In terms of future prospects, remember that someone only has to invent the molecule once, and figure out a manufacturing process once, but every batch ever made needs to be tested. QC jobs aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and that's why there are so many of them out there.

    1. Well... They're going to China and India.

      But let's not go there.

    2. Partially disagree - my company's actively bringing programs back from overseas and going with US or EU vendors explicitly because there's such a high bar set for QC work, and we're not getting it in "cheaper" locations. We may be an exception to the norm, but if I were running the show I wouldn't have it any other way. Paying for quality now is cheaper than paying fines and product destruction fees and outside auditors and revalidation costs and ....... later.

  7. Worrying about getting stuck in a dead-end job is soooooooo last decade. Now all the cool kids worry about getting any kind of job that moves them out of their parents' basement. If you want to shake things up and not get stuck anywhere, you can always work for Kelly Scientific… [Don't do that. That was a joke] If you want to see how special and transferable your analytical chemistry skills are, go to and search for resumes with something like HPLC or similar. If you really want to cry, search for Quality Assurance.
    My advice would be to take the job if you think you can stand it. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a lot of people are starving chasing after birds in the bush these days. Many have to settle for a lot less than what they were expecting in college. For what it's worth, I had a QC job and left it to go to grad school. After graduating, I applied for the same job I had before I left and didn't even get a call back. Good luck to us all.

  8. Quality Assurance and Quality Control programs and management are real-live-no-crap BFD in industry. If you don't have experience in these areas - at least enough to talk about it cogently - you are behind the power curve. Take it for awhile and learn.

  9. My first job as a professional chemist in 1984 was QC chemist at a small company. It was a stepping stone to bigger things, like Technical Support Chemist and Research Chemist in that company. Although QC work was not the most challenging, it allowed me to learn about the company's product line and the types of customers that we served. Learning those things was crucial for those future promotions.

  10. I disagree with the pessimistic statements in this thread. There is nothing wrong with STARTING your career in Quality Control but do not STAY in Quality Control--at least at the same level--for more than a year. Approached the right way, your QC job can springboard you into a variety of positions and not necessarily just analytical gigs.

    Make no mistake: QC positions are repetitive, mind-numbing, and frustrating for someone with even a B.S. in Chemistry. The learning curve is short and professional growth is limited. The real experience you will gain is NOT in the experimental techniques, instrument operation, or instrument maintenance. Those do count but if you focus too much on them, you'll pigeon-hole yourself as an Analytical Technician and not as a Chemist (i.e., someone who understands the bigger picture, not just how to make a test method work).

    Nevertheless, learn all of those things and be the most precise, efficient, and reliable guy in the lab. That's how to make a name for yourself early on. Next, start talking to the guys submitting samples to you. Learn about their manufacturing processes or R&D goals--the reaction schemes, separation schemes, rinsing steps, drying steps, waste treatment, etc. Understand the chemistry involved. This will give you context for your work and help you understand the implications of your tests results. This mindset will also enable you to discuss it cogently in future interviews. More than that, it will help you to become a partner to the different teams/manufacturing lines you support and not just a "QC black box:" throw samples in, numbers come out.

    Pay attention to the systems that are in place: all the idiot-proofing that exists in GLP, GMP, and ISO9000 environments. Understand how methods are developed and validated. If you pursue a career as an analytical chemist in R&D or Tech Services, knowing how to build and transfer a method to the plants is a critical skill.

    Indeed, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But a rolling stone gathers no moss: keep your eye on your next move and try to sustain momentum early on in your career.

    (B.S. Chemistry + 2.5 years in industry as an analytical chemist doing routine QC, methods development, technical services, R&D support, competitive analysis, and other stuff for 3 different companies.)

    1. Anon 7/25 12:30 here again - this is exactly why I got out after 8 months. I had lots of questions about pharma in general, as I had zero experience with it (or even the life-sciences side of chemistry) in school. It quickly became apparent that only a few high-level people at the company really understood what was going on, and everyone else was only given the minimum amount of training necessary to do their jobs. I realized that if I were to stay in the job for a few years and try to use it as a springboard into Merck or another big pharma, I would probably look like a complete idiot in the interview. Luckily, I ended up at a chemical company, so my near-total ignorance of pharmaceuticals despite working at a drug company never came up.

  11. Take the job, bird in hand. Everyone gets a two-year bye for their first job choice. Its your second job choice that really matters.

  12. I hv completed my BE in chemical engineering and now i was joined as a chemist (QC development). Is it worth for me in future reference for my qualification. ?... Please gv me ur suggestions, am in confusion

  13. Tks very much for your post.

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