Monday, January 6, 2014

Tom Barton is making sense

From this week's C&EN, a lovely little section from ACS President Tom Barton on #chemjobs: 
Availability Of Jobs For Chemists 
In 2011, unemployment among ACS members reached 4.7%, the highest point recorded since ACS began compiling data in 1972 on the employment status of its members. In the most recent survey, done in 2013, the picture had improved slightly, with unemployment among members falling to 3.5%. 
Despite this modestly encouraging news, job seekers at ACS Career Fairs, held at each national meeting, still find the number of available positions to be minuscule compared with the number of applicants. For example, at last year’s ACS national meeting in New Orleans, 131 job listings were posted, but there were 807 candidates for those openings—slightly more than a 6:1 ratio. Of those 807 people looking for work, 590 (73%) hold advanced degrees. 
The response to this invariably seems to be that we need to generate more jobs for chemists in the U.S., and of course this is a logical and laudable goal. However, another view that should be equally obvious is the possibility that we are training too many advanced-degree chemists, especially at the Ph.D. level. That’s an elephant-in-the-room viewpoint that needs to be addressed. (emphasis CJ's)
Because the overwhelming majority of chemists are employed in industry, I believe it behooves ACS to expend considerable effort to learn what it is that industrial chemists need from us. I have a concern that chemists in industry may view the society as more of an academic endeavor. (emphasis CJ's) That actually is not the case, and we must put in some serious effort to make sure that it is not reasonably perceived to be the case. Any thoughts on how to achieve this would be much appreciated.
I do not recall ever reading such a section from the presidential addresses of recent years past. I'll have to do a little double checking. 

22 comments:

  1. "I have a concern that chemists in industry may view the society as more of an academic endeavor."

    AMEN

    Yes, it is academia that gains with more students, at least in the current model.

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    1. Are there specific things which you would wish to see done by ACS to bring about a better balance of service to industry, relative to academe? I would be very interested in seeing discussion on this.

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    2. How about starting with getting the academics and national lab representation in the I&EC leadership down, and increase the industrial representation in those posts

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    3. 1. Get industry leaders to agree on where the "skills gap" actually lies...with modifying ACS accreditation being the goal. It's probably an exercise in herding cats, but it may get industry to start thinking seriously about their actual problems. That would be a major development.

      2. Academics have skewed everything toward big research universities. Why couldn't ACS get involved with smaller colleges--community colleges even--to address the skills gap? Classes in areas identified in #1 above might help many unemployed chemists get back in the game.

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    4. I think 1) is good, if only because it might indicate that they are spewing powerful fertilizer as verbiage. It would have be the functional equivalent to the professor's question to four students who missed his exam due to a flat tire on the way home (so they said) for 90% of the test credit: "Which tire?"

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    5. Thanks for the responses. Quite helpful with regard to an initiative I'm developing with President-elect Diane Schmidt at this time. I'll get back to this blog soon for some advice and suggestions.

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  2. What's the point in cutting back american-born PhD's? Academia will bring in PhD's from China and India to fill positions, and most likely they will want to stay.

    Whether you cut back PhD production or not in the US, an american chemist has little chance to get a decent job.

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    1. I'm assuming the proposal is to cut the number of Ph.D.s of any national origin produced at US universities. Having excess Ph.D.s will eventually hurt even tenured profs at highly ranked research universities - professors are gradually being replaced by adjuncts.

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    2. Like Bring the Movies is saying, they can still bring in cheap postdoc labor. Also, why would profs at highly ranked research universities care? Sure retiring profs are being replaced by adjuncts, but the current profs are secure in tenure. Besides, the dream of every research prof is to have a 50 person research group, so we need less research profs, right?


      Anyway, I don't see this problem as unique to our profession. Aren't they also training too many veterinarians, and lawyers? (The only profession that seems to intelligently protect itself by limiting trainees are MDs.) We need to look at the broader question, which is why the economy can't or won't grow in a manner where all available intelligent people can become highly trained and then reliably, gainfully employed.


      On a lighter note, for some good news:
      http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-04-28/
      http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-04-29/
      http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-04-30/

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    3. Maybe they should rise the bar of entering graduate school. That will weed out a lot people.

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    4. Great idea BUT profs would whine about not having enough hands in lab

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  3. I would love to be creative enough to come with an idea that would allow me to build some kind of business that could employ people. But then again, does this world need more "junk" that gets sold with a lot of hype but does not even marginally improve people's lives?

    It seems like the areas that Chemists can make a huge difference (like Energy) are just too high risk.

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  4. That's a pretty amazing statement coming from the ACS president. It sounds like he had a bunch of eggnog left over from the holidays that he didn't want to go to waste. Afterwards, instead of being respectable like the rest of us and drunk dialing an ex, he went and drunk dialed the entire ACS membership.

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    1. I'm not sure which statement it is that you refer, but I did call the ex first.

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  5. I can't wait for the inevitable showdown with Andrew Liveris.

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  6. The ACS is and has pretty much always been a publishing enterprise with a membership beard for tax exempt purposes. In the late 60s and most of the 70s, it ignored the economic plight of its membership during a deep economic downturn to tend to its source of free copyrighted content, academia. It also was keenly aware that its bread was buttered by industry that wanted cheap labor and supplied the ACS with advertising, funding and grant monies. During this era we got lectures for ACS Presidents on how it was our fault we were screwed. One tenured professor ACS president indignantly declared in a C&E News editorial, we had no divine right to a job upon graduation, and it was our fault if we were unemployed or our pay was rapidly eroding.

    The ACS was able to sit on its hands and let its members twist in the breeze, because good times would return about a decade later in the 1980s. Of course it also helped that the annual number of new PhD chemists graduating shrank by 29% during that time. This time it will be different and the ACS is finally waking up to that fact.

    The 70s was your typical economic slowdown with technical workers like aerospace engineers, as well as other technical talent taking a big hit for the first time in the postwar era. The ACS response was to wait it out and do nothing to annoy your benefactors. It worked. This time though the global economy has arrived with its vast pools of low-cost STEM talent especially from countries previously in the communist bloc. Also because the rapid industrialization and technical advancement many low-cost manufacturing countries became viable sources of high-tech products making the West less important for high tech R&D. M&A activities and product obsolescence in old-line manufacturers significant reduced the number of traditional employers of chemists over the past three decades. This can be seen in the number of chemistry employers to whom I applied for work in the 70s. These included Kodak, Polaroid, Stauffer, Shell agchem, Chevron agchem, American Cyanamid, Park-Davis, American Home Products (Wyeth), Union Carbide, Robbins, Boroughs-Welcome, Sohio, Amoco, Mobil, Gulf Oil, Texaco, Union Oil, Atlantic Richfield, UpJohn, Schering Plough, Berlex, Sterling Drug and many, many more. These now-closed pharmaceutical research sites were all still open in 1980 and each had a large contingent of chemists: Syntex, Searle, Sterling, UpJohn, Park-Davis, Bayer, Berlex, Alza, Dupont pharma, P&G, Robins, Knoll (BASF), 3M, Ciba Summit, Burroughs-Welcome, Rorer, Merrill-Dow, Rhone-Poulenc, Hoechst, Wyeth, Lederle, Pfizer – New London, AstraZeneca – Delaware, Schering Plough – Union site, Merck- West Point, Roche – Nutley.

    The ACS blithely continued to extract outrageous tolls on taxpayer-generated research results while this seismic shift in the economic prospects for chemists occurred because publishing revenue is sole reason for the existence of the ACS. They chose to play the same waiting game on members’ deteriorating economic situation that they did in the 1970s only the outcome is quite different now. The best thing we chemists can do for the chemistry community is lobby to forbid copyright restrictions on taxpayer generated research results, so that we do not have to pay a toll to publishers like the ACS to access our research results. I really hate having to pay the ACS to view chemistry research results my taxes paid to generate. After several decades on membership, I quit the ACS because I refuse to belong to an organization that actively works against the interests of its industrial members. I advise others to abandon the ACS whenever the topic arises. If anyone were paying attention to this organization they would pull their nonprofit tax status as well.

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    1. Excellent post. I wish I had written it first.

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  7. That is a refreshingly honest section.

    Where do the profits from the ACS' publishing arm go? Aside form large executive salaries and bonuses, who benefits? Does ACS have shareholders?

    "we need to generate more jobs for chemists in the U.S., and of course this is a logical and laudable goal." Indeed a worthy goal, but not one I think any organization can do any better than it could increase the number of daylight hours in a day (short of redefining the length of an hour).

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    1. You are quite correct in that there is very little that the ACS can do to generate jobs. "We need to generate more jobs for chemists in the U.S." is a general comment that I've heard many times from many places.

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  8. " But niether life nor happiness can be achieve by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to suvive in any random manner, but will perish unless he lives as his nature requires, so he is free to seek his happiness in any mindless fraud, but the torture of frustration is all he will find, unless he seeks happiness proper to man. The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.
    Sweep aside those parasites of subsidized classrooms, who live on the profits of the mind of others and proclaim that man needs no morality, no values, no code of behavior. They, who pose as scientists and claim that man is only an animal, do not grant him inclusion in the existence of the law of existence that they have granted to the lowest of insects. They recognize that every living species has a way of survival demanded by its nature, they do not claim that fish can live out of water or that a dog can live without its sense of smell--but man, they claim, the most complex of beings, man can survive in any way whatever, man has no identity, no nature, and there's no practical reason why he cannot live with his means of survival destroyed, with his mind throttled and placed at the disposal of any orders they might care to issue." John Galt of "Atlas Shrugged"

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  9. As a high school educator, I am often encouraged by others to act as some kind of recruiter for the industry, by extolling the virtues of careers in chemistry. Indeed, many educators see this as a fundamental part of their job, but I do not and never have.

    I am happy to act as a cheerleader for chemistry, and to encourage people to increase their knowledge of the subject by (ultimately) studying for advanced degrees, but I see no reason that should *necessarily* mean that they should be able to find employment in the field. I LIKE academia for the sake of academia since it promotes civilization, maybe it would be better for us to push for more pure, academic positions (for pure academics), and for those pursuing advanced degrees to realize that might be the best fit for their skill sets and interests despite the fact that it might come with less $$$.

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