Monday, June 30, 2014

A snapshot of the current job market

From a worthwhile article by Linda Wang in this week's C&EN on chemical technician positions, a little side comment on how things are going for M.S. and Ph.D. chemists:
...Competition for chemical technician positions is intense. Lauren Gaskell, who has a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences, decided to become a chemical technician because she loves working in the lab. After looking for a job for more than a year, she recently found a temporary position as a chemical technician at a company in Boston. 
While job searching, she notes that she was competing not only with bachelor’s degree candidates but also with those with a Ph.D. “There are so many Ph.D.s who are willing to take pay below what they would normally get in a much better economy just to get a job,” she says. “It’s very frustrating to know that I’m losing out on jobs that I really want—and I want to make a career out of—to someone who is using it as a stepping-stone. But at the same time, we’re all really desperate for jobs, and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” 
Despite the demand, Allen says Aegis will rarely consider someone with a master’s or Ph.D. for chemical technician positions. “We do our best to follow up with candidates to help direct them to the positions that would be more suited to their education level and experience,” she says. 
Bachelor’s-level chemists often see the chemical technician position as a way to get their foot in the door. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Samantha Fisher searched for a job for eight months. Aerotek helped her find placement as a technician at a biotech company in Maryland. After six months, Fisher was hired on as a permanent employee.
I'll believe we're in a recovery when we quit hearing stories like this...  

22 comments:

  1. Concrete DovetailJune 30, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    After a second post doc I landed a management position at a relatively small company. My lab tech has graduate school experience but did not complete the program. Other lab techs have degrees in chemical engineering or no college degree. A real mix, but no Ph.D. lab techs.

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  2. "After six months, Fisher was hired on as a permanent employer"

    Permanent...until the temporary contract ends.

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    1. * "employer" should be "employee"

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  3. Wake up people - there is an education bubble. This started over well over a decade ago. This is not a new development that PhDs are getting rejected for tech jobs. This also occurred in the golden years of med chem. Degrees which appear 'free/paid' (eg PhD) are always going to be oversupplied with people lining up hoping to get rich with a high paying major while going to the fasted/easiest/cheapest grad school they can. Don't expect a big pharma job in the US if you are can barely speak English and are finishing a subpar PhD from a unknown PI in a crap grad school. When there is a highly competitive market, the jobs will always go to the best educated/experienced for the position which is open. BS jobs go to qualified BSs. MS jobs go to qualified MSs. PhD jobs go to qualified PhDs.

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    1. And somehow, jobs come to me too. I defined subpar during my undergrad studies at a mediocre enormous state university (near zero research experience, 2.2 GPA). Spent a year as a temp. learning to play politics, another year at a dodgy CRO fine-tuning my politics and bench chemistry, and now I've landed a gig with visible responsibilities and the independence to meet the challenges. My other friends can't seem to land jobs.

      Deep down, though, I wish I'd gone to grad school so that I could direct research projects rather than be a minion for the next several years. What can I say? Money isn't everything. But in lieu of grad school, I'll make as much money as I can.

      Honest advice: learn to play politics. I'd even go so far as to say, "learn to be a sociopath," if you really want to be successful.

      -DDTea

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    2. " I wish I'd gone to grad school so that I could direct research projects rather than be a minion..."

      Wishful thinking. A PhD does not equal being placed in the position to direct and lead research projects. In all likelihood, you will be working on someone else's projects, putting to test someone else's ideas and working to accomplish someone else's dreams. Unless you strike gold, you will still be a minion.

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    3. The jobs do not always go to the best candidate. I know someone who went to a lousy grad school, got kicker out of her research group during the 3rd or 4th year (for doing things like going on two week vacations without informing the PI, accepting summer internships companies without informing the PI, not working 40 hours/week, etc.). and then was allowed to work in another group for about a year to finish her doctorate (0 pubs). She landed a job at Chevron. Chevron paid for her MBA. After getting her MBA paid for she left Chevron because she didn't really like lab work and landed an internal sales position. I met her boss at Chevron once and he told me that the other candidate seemed like he wanted to rise up in the company and he didn't like that. The jobs don't always go to the people with the best record of achievement. I know another person who was kicked out of her PhD program during the first year for low grades in her classes. After a period of unemployment she landed a tenure-track position in chemistry at a community college (tenured now). Must be nice to skip grad school and then get the convenience of permanent employment and the possibility to apply for federal grants, something others cannot do despite being able to finish a PhD program and perform original research that results in publications.

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    4. @anonymous 10:18 AM

      Yes, affirmative action is rampant these days, both in academe and business. I'm actually surprised the women in your story were kicked out of grad school for underperformance. I've witnessed a few cases of those myself, and the PIs responded by coddling them even more.

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    5. The two individuals happened to be women. I wasn't trying to emphasize gender. The person from the lousy university was maybe coddled for the first couple of years, but I think taking a paid internship (in business) without giving him advance notice was the last straw (many other similar things happening). Not sure if she was intending to double-dip. She was fired before internship started, completed internship and came back in another group to finish PhD. Second person was at a top university and was kicked out by the department, not the adviser. I think the adviser did make an attempt to save the person, but the department insisted. @NMH: actually, it is possible to get research grants. Some community colleges have lab space. Not sure about the individual I mentioned, but like you said, not a bad gig. No PhD required apparently.

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    6. "She was fired before internship started, completed internship and came back in another group to finish PhD."

      In an environment where reputation and references are of prime importance, you would think the PI in the new group would have been wary of hiring such a person. But no... Bias, favoritism, affirmative action...they all play a non-trivial role in modern academia. Let's not pretend hiring practices and assessments of functioning in either academia or business are objective.

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    7. Bring the MoviesJuly 1, 2014 at 6:23 PM

      Im sure she was quite physically attractive. That is often the ticket.

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    8. affirmative action hurts many sides. Pretty good for the underqualified women to get hired. Hurts everyone else starting their career - especially qualified women who have to fight others' assumptions that they were hired by gender. Pretty good for the protected 40+ yr old white man looking to coast until retirement. Hurts everyone else who would be good at his job or level.

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  4. Well, you can get gfrants at a community college but they are teaching grants, not research grants. However, if you are tenured at a CC (which is pretty easy) you make about 50-60 K a year until you decide to retire. Sure, you have to teach general chem over and over again, but at least you have job security. Not a bad gig, Id say.

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    1. Are their really a lot of CC positions though? I would figure a lot of unemployed chemists would love a easy job teaching gen chem for 60k a year with relaxed working hours and plenty of holidays.

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    2. anyone cc with a nursing program might have at least one chemistry course

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    3. You can get research grants at a CC. I wouldn't expect a 20 million dollar grant, but still, the ability to do research, even if you don't have the most expensive toys, in a low stress environment is something many would appreciate.

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    4. The Aqueous LayerJuly 2, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      Community colleges are even worse at hiring full-time faculty than universities these days. I'd say that 75% of the faculty at most CC's are adjunct, and very low paid at that.

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    5. You bet. At the CC Im teaching at one of the Chem faculty (with an MS) just retired and the CC will not hire another full time faculty to replace her. They don't need to: in addition to me and others that teach 1-2 classes, there is one girl there with a recent PhD that is doing a full load, but at about a 1/3 of the salary as a faculty member (and no health benefits).

      I figure the CC will only hire a full time faculty in areas where there is not a large supply of teachers, for example, Nursing education. If a slot in Nursind Ed opened up you can bet the CC will pay top dollar for a full time faculty with benefits, even if it means having a raft of natural science teaching adjuncts.

      Life is very unfair. But then again, you could be a Christian in Mosul.

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  5. Perhaps the regional accreditation agencies should enact a standard in terms of a minimum percentage of full-time faculty. Maybe it would alleviate the situation in the most abusive colleges and, with any luck, push some of the bad ones out the door.

    And, no, I'm an adjunct, not a full-timer.

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    1. But at the same time, having fewer full time staff allows others on the outside to get experience.

      The problem is you are paid a fraction (say 1/3 to 1/2) of what a full timer gets for the same amount of work.

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  6. Regarding the job market situation, this past Monday, I was outraged to hear a report on WHYY, the Philadelphia NPR affiliate, claiming that there is a SHORTAGE of "STEM" workers. The actual report was prepared by a reporter named "Irina Zhorov" at the NPR station in Pittsburg who is part of an organization called "Keystone Crossroads". If you wish to get you blood boiling, then her report can be heard at:
    http://crossroads.newsworks.org/index.php/keystone-crossroads/item/69860-report-says-stem-jobs-increasingly-hard-to-fill

    Ms Zhorov's source for her report is a dubious report located at:
    http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2014/07/stem/BMPP_SrvySTEMskills_June25b.pdf
    The word "scientist" occurs once within that document, "chemist" not at all. There is a brief mention of analytical chemistry.

    I have already -so far unsuccessfully- tried to contact Ms Zhorov over the phone, in addition to the bosses of her organization, who reside with WHYY.
    I will be continuing to attempt to reach these people over the phone next week, and I would encourage as many of you as possible to do so as well. The contact details of Irina Zhorov are:
    e-mail: iZhorov@wesa.fm
    Phone: 412-315-6774

    If you're under-employed or at least under-paid for your qualifications, then you might be able to find a minute or two to give these people a piece of your mind.

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    1. There must be some sort of monetary incentive for people to spread this idea. Perhaps a useless organization in Washington that pays six figure salaries to work on the "problem" of not enough people in STEM? Reporters don't really know what's going on. They just have to get another story, similar to the professor who doesn't care if his students results are reproducible because he needs another paper.

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