Monday, February 17, 2014

What is Scott Lockledge trying to say?

Scott Lockledge is a CEO of a AFM tip manufacturing company -- he's just published an editorial in this week's C&EN about the advances in biomedicine and where chemists can play a role. He believes that chemists can aid in the understanding of aging, cancer, neuroscience and genomics. I don't doubt that he is right and that chemists can take the lead in some of these fields.

Readers, could you take a moment to read his editorial? Then feel free to come on back.

There are three things that I really don't understand about this piece:
  1. Of the 4 fields he described, they are nearly all molecular biology-related fields. What role can chemists play in these, other than their traditional ones (i.e. detecting/measuring molecules, synthesizing molecules for use as therapeutics or tool compounds?) In what sense do chemists have something special to add? 
  2. In what sense to chemical engineers have something to add to these fields? I am not saying that chemical engineers cannot do molecular biology -- I am asking, what tool in their unique skill set is relevant here? (i.e. their understanding of thermodynamics, mass transport and the like) 
  3. How in the name of all that is holy can Dr. Lockledge claim that "At no time has it ever been better to be a chemist or a chemical engineer than today. Never." even as he stipulates "record high unemployment, the limited job opportunities for recent graduates, or the salaries lagging behind those of other professions"? 
I am willing to buy into "chemistry will have a bright future if (blah blah)", but this insistence that it's The Best Time of All Time to be a chemist is skepticism inducing. 

6 comments:

  1. Good point. I would add in another question; even if one's training is in biochemistry or molecular biology, considering the number of people entering those fields, are the job prospects really all that great? Expanding demand won't help job prospects if the supply of qualified applicants is increasing at at least as fast a rate.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's kind of strange. AFM has a lot of uses in material science and chemistry but he chooses to focus on the biochemical end. Either business for them is really bad or what?
    Anyway, anyone preaching this is the best of times isn't talking to new graduates.

    ReplyDelete
  3. He says: "At no time has it ever been better to be a chemist or a chemical engineer than today. Never"

    Maybe in terms of lifespan. But not in terms of a sustainable career in science, from all of the blogs I read and anecdotes I hear.

    I think a lot of these well-paid types really have their heads in the sand and dont understand what the average science type goes through.

    Or maybe he just wants his name to appear one more time on Pub-med (if you author an editorial on C and E news, you get a pubmed entry). Makes your publication record look better for when you return to academia after your company.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "At no time has it ever been better to be a chemist or a chemical engineer than today. Never." even as he stipulates "record high unemployment, the limited job opportunities for recent graduates, or the salaries lagging behind those of other professions"?

    I translated this to mean: "It's freaking great to be Scott Lockledge"

    ReplyDelete
  5. The cynic in me says 'Maybe tiptek has a new range of AFM tips that it's marketing at the life sciences sector...'

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think he's saying that there's still lots of interesting things that chemistry can do, which is true. However, if no one will hire, train, or pay anyone to do them, then they aren't likely to be done, because the number of people willing and able to do it themselves - to generate a technology, design and start a company, and make it succeed - is pretty darn small. If the few places willing to hire people to develop those technologies want to pay people not very much to do them (while nothing else gets cheaper), and want them to be disposable, then there won't be too many people to develop those technologies (because the people who could will do something else instead), and the technologies won't be developed.

    I'm guessing he's focusing on biochem because of his interests and because people are going to need medical technologies. Since the current business models in those sectors appear to be founded on someone else (aliens, dwarves, unprofitable startups, or unselfish people in other countries) developing products for cheap or for free, and on insurance companies (or individuals) paying lots of money for very small improvements over cheaper current products, I'm not sure how that will happen.

    ReplyDelete