Monday, November 4, 2013

Employment Outlook: Looking a little bit better

The annual Employment Outlook issue for C&EN is up, and it's got lots of good stuff: 
The power of open forums: Linda Wang's look at LinkedIn includes someone who got their job by writing on one of the discussion groups:
...Rather, Wasas was on LinkedIn to help others solve technical problems. 
But as luck would have it, Wasas was growing tired of living in New Jersey, where he was working for a research and development company on natural gas purification. His house had been severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the idea of moving with his wife and children to Southern California was appealing. Wasas responded to the job posting, and after several conversations and an in-person interview with the company’s president and cofounder, Philip P. Dodge, Wasas was offered the job. He started work in January 2013. 
Dodge says Wasas’s activity in the various discussion groups caught his eye. “By following the chat boards that Jim was involved in, I was able to see how other chemists were reacting to his suggestions and explanations. Based upon the apparent credibility of his comments in these chat boards, I was able to ascertain that he was worth spending some time with and talking to,” he says, adding that Wasas had built and managed several precious-metal refineries in South America and the U.S., making him an ideal candidate for the position.
Considering that most LinkedIn chemistry-related groups seem to consist of people asking other people to do their work for them, I'm pretty excited to see that people can manage to garner credibility from helping out. Good news, I think.

Truth: A chemist writes about getting a job in Texas:
In my opinion, I got the job for three reasons: My group was looking for inexperienced chemists to train in the area of agrochemical surfactant research; I had a good publication record and good speaking skills; and I am originally from the area where the job is located, so that made me a minimal flight risk.
That bit about "minimal flight risk" is very true, in my opinion. (Considering that I think I was not given an offer  for a position because I was considered a flight risk, I think it'd be interesting to come up with a list of "don't apply here unless you've got MFR status." One suspects the Midwest and Deep South have those categorizations.)

We shall see, Pfizer: Sophie Rovner talked to a lot of hiring managers, including Pfizer's Tony Wood (senior VP of medicinal chemistry.) I'm interested to see my readership's opinion of his comments:
Pfizer’s medicinal chemistry program, for example, has been “hiring pretty steadily this year,” says Tony Wood, senior vice president of medicinal chemistry. He anticipates a modest increase in hiring next year, with most of the new hires filling slots at the company’s Groton, Conn., and La Jolla, Calif., sites. Many will be freshly minted Ph.D. and postdoc synthetic organic chemists, who are valued because they’ll possess the latest knowledge about developments in synthetic methodology, such as C–H bond activation, Wood explains. 
Wood is looking for chemists who have demonstrated creativity, productivity, and an aptitude for team-based problem solving. Successful candidates tend to think deeply about their science and are able to “express a solid understanding, not just of what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it,” he says. They’re also aware of how their project fits in the context of work on the same problem by other researchers. 
Pfizer is looking to enhance its in-house synthetic organic chemical capabilities while depending less on outsourced talent than it has in the past decade, Wood says. The goal is to “do most of our innovative synthetic problem solving internally.” That’s particularly true for more challenging molecules, he notes.
The bit about C-H activation is interesting; also, that "team-based problem solving" is frustrating to me. How do you go about showing off your credentials for that?

"It's not over yet": In the overview for the Employment Outlook series, there's an interesting set of comments that I think belie incorrect thinking:
...“People are worried,” Harwell adds. “They don’t know if the economy is going to tank, or if they’re going to lose all their investments, or if they’re going to have a job tomorrow.” 
Some chemists won’t. Although unemployment rates for chemists are lower than those for the U.S. workforce as a whole, downsizing in big pharma continues in the wake of patent expirations on blockbuster drugs. For example, Merck & Co. recently announced a round of layoffs that will slash an additional 8,500 positions from its workforce by the end of 2015, with about half coming out of the R&D staff (C&EN, Oct. 7, page 9). Earlier in the year, AstraZeneca said it would eliminate about 1,600 research jobs (C&EN, March 25, page 9). 
“One can’t ignore the fact that there is still quite a lot of pain out there,” says Paul Hodges, chairman of International eChem, a London-based chemical industry think tank. “But there is a new dimension coming forward, which hopefully, over the next two or three years, will start to balance that out.” 
That’s because low-cost fuel and feedstocks derived from previously untapped North American shale deposits have improved the competitiveness of the U.S. chemical industry, leading both domestic and foreign firms to announce plans to pour billions of dollars into new plants in the U.S.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I have a very difficult time seeing the basic research folks (medicinal chemists, etc.) that are affected by pharma layoffs being able to retool themselves for the chemical/polymer-based manufacturing-oriented positions that the chemical industry is likely to be looking for in 2014 and 2015. For those people, I suspect that "it's not over yet", and it won't be for a while. I imagine that they're much better off hoping that pharma turns around. 


  1. I think the news from Pfizer is good, especially for folks doing a post-doc or still in graduate school, just not for the thousands of folks they've let go over the last decade or so. I'm sure there's a bunch of people saying 'no shit, Sherlock' when they read the line about keeping the tougher chemistry in-house rather than outsourcing it.

    Sounds as if they are beefing up their 'synthesizers' section, which may be a natural event if they slide some of those folks over to the 'designer' side of things once they've got a couple of years under their belt.

    The team-based problem solving is actually an amusing reversal of philosophy. For years I heard criticisms about seminar speakers from huge research groups working on long-term projects as 'yeah, but what part did they do, and what part is from the rest of the group...'. Now, just use 'we' instead of 'I' and you're in!

  2. FYI.

    Surviving the post-employment economy

    "What must be made clear is that this is not a crisis of individual choices. It is a systemic failure - within higher education and beyond. It is a crisis of managed expectations - expectations of what kind of job is "normal", what kind of treatment is to be tolerated, and what level of sacrifice is reasonable.

    When survival is touted as an aspiration, sacrifice becomes a virtue. But a hero is not a person who suffers. A suffering person is a person who suffers.If you suffer in the proper way - silently, or with proclaimed fealty to institutions - then you are a hard worker "paying your dues". If you suffer in a way that shows your pain, that breaks your silence, then you are a complainer - and you are said to deserve your fate."