Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Daily Pump Trap: 9/30/14 edition

A few of the industrial positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

North Chicago, IL: Nice to see 3 positions posted by AbbVie, as well as this little tidbit:
The Discovery Chemistry group has multiple openings for a Senior Scientist I, Chemistry.
Ponies prance.

Clark, NJ: L'Oréal is looking for a senior chemist. Experience in skincare, makeup or haircare preferred. B.S. in chemistry (8-10 years formulations) or M.S./Ph.D. w/ 2-5 years.

Brevard, NC: I see PharmAgra is looking again. It's like swallows to Capistrano or something.

Germantown, MD: Intrexon desires an M.S./Ph.D. protein LC/MS chemist. Looks to be entry- or early-mid level.

Bartlesville, OK: I see that Chevron Phillips Chemical is hiring a synthetic chemist; looks interesting, especially the comments about organosulfur chemistry.

$$$$: Interesting scientific director position in Las Vegas (all degree levels desired):
MM Lab, Inc. is in the process of designing and building a 2,500 sq. ft. state of the art laboratory to perform all State of Nevada mandated Medical Marijuana testing for usable marijuana, marijuana-infused products, extracts of marijuana and edible marijuana products. The Company’s objective is to deliver a premier model of laboratory services by providing analytical support and professional consulting to marijuana cultivation facilities and the marijuana product industry to insure the safety and efficacy of medicinal marijuana products. 
The Scientific Director ensures that the laboratory achieves and maintains quality standards of practice and also supervises all staff of the laboratory....
Salary: 90,000.00 - 130,000.00, with "Generous bonus program available." Huh.

Job posting: University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy associate dean

From the inbox, an associate dean position:
Applicants or nominees should have a terminal degree in a Pharmaceutical Science or related field and qualify for appointment at the rank of associate professor or professor, with a distinguished career in education, academic research and scholarship. The ideal candidate should have at least three years of administrative experience and at least five years of research and teaching experience at the graduate level. Candidates should have experience in securing extramural funding. Candidates should have demonstrated evidence of creative, innovative and effective teaching, research, leadership, and management. Candidates should have excellent skills in communication, personnel management and evaluation. The ideal candidate should be familiar and have worked with an Office of Research, Graduate School and other related university bodies. Candidates should be knowledgeable of challenges facing educators and research in the pharmaceutical sciences or related fields. Candidates must value ethics and cultural diversity.
Best wishes to those interested! 

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/30/14 edition

A few of the academic positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

Stanford, CA: Stanford University is looking for an assistant professor in chemistry.

Columbia, SC: Columbia College desires an assistant professor of physical chemistry; this professor will also be asked to teach physics (that's a little different.) 

Tampa, FL: The University of Tampa is searching for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Santa Cruz, CA: UC-Santa Cruz is looking for an assistant professor of theoretical/computational chemistry:
We are interested in candidates with research goals in all aspects of materials design, characterization and applications in fields such as energy, biomedicine and photonics with special emphasis on the development and utilization of electronic structure computational methods. 
That sounds.... specific.

El Paso, TX: The University of Texas - El Paso is looking for an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry; I am amused to note its description of the US-Mexico border. (Actually, I'll bet El Paso is economically and anthropologically fascinating.) 

Monday, September 29, 2014

CMOs and chemistry

Finally, from this week's C&EN, an interesting set of quotes from Rick Mullin's interviews with a number of CMO leaders. Here's the CEO of Hovione, a Portugal-based API manufacturer on what he thinks companies need: 
The contract manufacturing business is moving into a new phase, according to Villax, one that has little to do with the hardware. “Now, you simply can’t just buy the differentiator,” he says. “Success is the result of experience and accumulated knowledge and databases.” 
Data are no small part of the equation, he adds, noting that data-based quality management principles, such as quality by design, are gaining momentum in process development. Design of experiment, a statistical method of multivariable analysis in R&D and process engineering, will be a critical practice as data and statistical analysis become the common ground of chemistry and engineering, Villax says. 
“And it’s not just chemistry and engineering,” says Villax, who is in his 50s. “A lot of what I am describing involves computer simulation skills, things people my age don’t know about. It also requires that an organization have the DNA to accept change. One needs to open the doors to people who are 20 years younger.”
I sure wish I knew what Mr. Villax meant by "computer simulation" -- also, that people in their 50s don't know about computers is, in my opinion, rather an odd thing to think.

Here's Rudolf Hanko of Siegfried, dreaming big:
Rudolf Hanko, CEO of Siegfried, a Swiss CMO, wants even further development of the chemistry needed for API production. The challenge posed by complex drugs, he says, “is that organic chemistry, despite progress over the past 150 years, is still not a science that allows you to synthesize molecules in a convergent way.” Rather than extol the virtues of being able to manage a complex, multistep synthesis, Hanko says, CMOs should seek to design routes that reduce the number of steps or allow them to be taken simultaneously. 
Hanko uses an auto assembly line, that paragon of efficient manufacturing, as a model. “The API is the car in our example,” he says. “It’s impossible to convolute that molecule into eight or 10 components and then say, ‘I have a final step that brings these eight to 10 components together, and after six hours reaction time and six hours of clean-up we have our API.’ ” 
In some exceptional cases two components can be brought to a final reaction stage, he acknowledges, “but then each of these elements has 10, 15, maybe 20 linear steps behind it. That leads to a situation where each step requires two or three days, and the entire pathway might require four weeks, or eight weeks, or for some molecules, four months.” 
The result, Hanko explains, is molecules that cost $60,000 to $100,000 per kg. 
“Yes, organic chemistry has made enormous advances over the past 20 years, but it is still far, far away from where it would ideally be,” Hanko says. “That is why we need the best people, the most talented chemists, and why we need good contact with academia.”
I am kind of confused by which molecules Hanko is talking about (e.g. 15 to 20 linear steps), but nevertheless, the point about truly convergent syntheses is well-taken. 

Anyone want to explain the chemistry of diapers?

This week's C&EN also brings us a rebuttal to a recent Newscripts column on diapers:
...Newscripts recently waxed enthusiastic about Charlie’s Soap, “a laundry detergent brand that is popular among folks concerned about laundry residues” (C&EN, July 7, page 40). Charlie’s Soap is good, we are told, because it contains fewer ingredients than other detergents. It seems to contain only soap and soda ash. 
Charlie’s Soap might actually work—if you are washing in distilled water. That would include approximately none of us. Any hardness in the water at all will precipitate the soda ash as calcium and magnesium carbonate. Even worse, the soap will precipitate as scum. 
Those diapers you were trying to wash to a residue-free condition will be loaded with sharp-edged crystals of calcium carbonate, which will abrade the fibers of the diaper, shortening its life. Additionally, that residue will be alkaline in nature, and hence irritating to the poor child of the ignorant parent. The diapers will also be loaded with soap scum that, in the short term, will make them appear gray and dingy. In the long run, the accumulated scum will make the diaper harsh to the feel and no longer absorbent. 
Formulating any kind of product to the fewest number of ingredients is a truly bizarre, and wholly irrational, goal. Ask anyone who has ever said it for the reason why. I have yet to hear an answer to that question. Mother Nature doesn’t hold herself to such an unrealistic goal. In a recent issue of Inform (published by the American Oil Chemists’ Society), the ingredient list of a common chicken egg was published. The list, almost certainly not exhaustive, contained about 100 different ingredients. 
Unfortunately, the statement about the fewest ingredients goal is never challenged. It’s the kind of thing you would expect to see from Consumer Reports or Greenpeace. But it’s not the way to get things clean. It’s disappointing that C&EN reported it unchallenged. 
I could go on and on about this one little story. Dryer sheets add so little hydrophobic wax to fabrics that they have virtually no effect on absorbency. (Rinse-cycle fabric softeners are a different story.) The ammonia stink from diapers is not due to microbes not removed during washing. The diapers do not come out of the dryer sterile, of course, but they are sanitary. The microbial load comes from what the baby deposits in the diaper. 
The next time you need to know how to get something clean, contact Walt or me. Don’t depend on someone who is trying to make a buck by pandering to the public’s fear of chemicals. 
Dave McCall
I don't really know if calcium carbonate deposits happen in diapers that have been washed with Charlie's Soap -- anyone up for doing some wet chemistry with diaper residues? I didn't think so.

As someone who has been through the cloth diaper wars with 2 kids, the problem really seems to arise from two places:

Diaper rash: Diaper rash shows up mysteriously with your kid, so you start by changing one parameter (the laundry soap). It either goes away or it doesn't, and then you start changing multiple parameters, including having the kid run around naked. Finally, you settle on something that seems to work for you.

Diaper wear: Cloth diapers are a rather high capital cost, so you're tempted to keep re-using them. As the diapers get older, they seem to absorb less and less (as the kid seems to produce more and more waste). So, you start changing the washing routines (detergents, hot/cold washes) to start removing whatever seems to be building up in the fabric... or you buy new ones.

There's probably a lot of science out there about this that I don't know about -- readers?

One final note: I thought it was interesting for Dr. McCall to address the root cause of these concerns to be chemophobia on the part of parents. I tend to agree with him; however, I suspect he misses the emotional appeal of having fewer chemicals touching the nether regions of one's children. Sure, simplicity in diapers is probably a fallacy, but the temptation is understandable. 

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting stories this week:
(now with correct link - thanks, Philip!)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Help CJ with his Act of Whimsy/Pain for #GeekGirlCon

For my Geek Girl Con Act of Whimsy, I need the number of inaccurate or misleading statements in the following Food Babe videos. If you can help, please listen to just 1 of the 5 following videos and count how many false or misleading things she says. Err on the generous side, if possible.

Chemicals in beer!

The Silly Putty video

The one on cellulose

Subway azodicarbonimide video

The Mac and Cheese video

Thanks! (And if you want to donate, click here!

Friday, September 26, 2014

This Bloomberg article badly needs some context

Bloomberg Businessweek has an article on ZMapp where they're alleging that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency badly mismanaged the development of ZMapp. I suspect that few people havethe cultural expertise (i.e. knowledge of government/DoD operations) and pharma experience to know who was in the wrong or the right: 
Meade’s time as the business chief at DTRA also coincided with a culture clash within the agency, one confirmed by three other people familiar with the agency who declined to speak on the record. DTRA had hired several people with experience at private pharmaceutical companies who were used to killing programs that were going nowhere and spending money on promising ones. 
The new arrivals wanted to drive products through early trials and to always be shipping. Older employees wanted to focus on publishing research and securing academic prestige. “When you work with a group of scientists who believe that the best thing that they can do is have a published paper, you’re not going to get a lot of productivity when it comes to pharmaceuticals,” says Meade. “Published papers are important in that line of work, but that seemed to be more important to them than anything else.” 
The people with pharma experience, she says, in turn failed to show the patience necessary to work in any government agency. “Frequently, what [government contracting officers] were requesting was ridiculous,” she says, “but you know what, you just do it.” One trick to federal contracting, she explains, is to know when not to fight.
I dunno, I'm relatively skeptical.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

South Korea needs chemists?

Via Linda Wang on Twitter, I see that the South Korean government measures its job opening demand; they're low on finance jobs and high on chemistry ones: 
Employment Information Service (KEIS) announced the results of analyzing the number of jobs per job seeker – the index to gauge the supply and demand of manpower – by calculating it with statistics, as of July of 2014, about finding jobs and people from WORKNET, a state-run Internet site for job hunting. 
If the number is smaller than 1, it indicates that getting a job is challenging due to a shortage of job. In contrast, if the number is greater than 1, it means that securing a job is not so challenging since jobs outnumber job seekers. 
 According to the results, the fields of textile, clothing, electricity, electronics, security, construction, public health, etc. show the index point 0.4~06, which implies that the number of jobs falls short of that of job seekers. 
Unlike those areas, the index point in jobs relating to chemistry (2.33), materials (1.94) – metal, glass, and cement – machinery (1.15), and processed food (0.96) is either over 1 or close to 1, which tells job seekers are highly likely to find a job, although it may be possible for a company to find it not easy to hire a person that it is in favor of. 
Anyone know if this is believable or not? I don't know much about the South Korean #chemjobs market.

Job posting: assistant professors, University of Denver, Denver, CO

The Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Denver is expanding our Molecular Life Sciences Initiative through cluster hires.  The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry invites applications for two tenure-track faculty positions at the Assistant Professor level to begin September 1, 2015.  We seek candidates with research interests in biophysical chemistry/biochemistry that include, but are not limited to the study of protein structure and function and protein-protein interactions.  The successful candidate will have a Ph.D. in chemistry or biochemistry, postdoctoral experience, and a demonstrated potential for leadership in their field, including a record of high-impact research accomplishments.  Expectations include the teaching of undergraduate courses and of graduate courses in areas of expertise and the development of a strong, extramurally funded research program.  Candidates must apply online at www.du.edu/hr/employment/  
The online application should include a cover letter, a curriculum vitae, a one-page statement of teaching philosophy, a five-page summary of research interests, and the names and email addresses of three references.  Review will begin November 3, 2014 and continue until the positions are filled.   Questions should be addressed to Prof. Martin Margittai, Faculty Search Committee Chair at biochemsearch@du.edu.  The University of Denver is committed to enhancing the diversity of its faculty and staff and encourages applications from women, minorities, members of the LBGT community, people with disabilities and veterans.  The University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.
Best wishes to those applying!

(Am I wrong in remembering that denizens of this instituion call it "DU"?) 

Two very #chemjobs-oriented personal statements in the DOC election ballot

Members of the Division of Organic Chemistry get to vote on two industrial folks for Chair-Elect, both of whom seem to be oriented towards issues of chemistry employment and unemployment*: 
Paul L. Feldman joined Glaxo Pharmaceuticals, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina in 1987 following receiving his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley....
Personal Statement: The Division of Organic Chemistry (DOC) of the American Chemical Society has a rich, venerable tradition in serving its membership. Some examples include organizing and sponsoring venues to communicate our research advances, awarding members to honor distinguished research and service to our community, and providing materials and services to support our discipline. Coupled with these important traditions is our rapidly-changing economic, social, and technological environment which requires the DOC to adapt and capitalize on these changes. If elected as chair of the DOC my key objective will be to explore how the DOC can best serve our Division’s evolving demographics in our rapidly changing economic and social environment while maintaining the bedrock traditions and services of the DOC. As examples, how do we best serve our young organic chemists who use different technologies to socialize and communicate and face a more difficult economic environment for job prospects? Furthermore, how do we best serve our retiring members who will become a larger segment of our Division? With advances on this agenda I believe the DOC will be better positioned in the future to serve and add value to its diverse, changing membership. 
Paige E. Mahaney: Born 1969, Parkersburg, WV; B. S. Chemistry 1991, Guilford College, Greensboro, NC; Ph.D. Organic Chemistry 1996, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA... 
Personal statement: My nearly 20 years' experience in the pharmaceutical industry has given me a valuable perspective to address the challenges faced by individual organic chemists and the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry, as a whole. Working with the DOC, I am very interested in selecting scientific themes for DOC-sponsored symposia that are highly relevant to current research topics in Organic Chemistry, both for academic and industrial scientists. In addition, I am passionate about career development for organic chemists, not only for scientists who are emerging from academic and post-doctoral programs but also for mid- and late-career organic chemists. Since my research interests span multiple chemistry disciplines, I would also like to foster interactions between the different disciplines in Organic Chemistry, improving interfaces with other ACS divisions and sponsoring partnered initiatives and scientific symposia. Finally, I believe that science, above all, is fun, and I would like to promote a fun and productive environment in the DOC.
I look forward to seeing how either one of these candidates decided to move the DOC towards better serving its members' employment needs.

*Biographies were truncated to the first sentence only.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Warning Letter of the Week: essential oils don't cure Ebola

Dear Mr. Young:

...Based on our review, FDA has determined that many of your Young Living Essential Oil products, such as, but not limited to, “Thieves,” “Cinnamon Bark,” “Oregano,” “ImmuPower,” “Rosemary,” “Myrtle,” “Sandalwood,” “Eucalyptus Blue,” “Peppermint,” “Ylang Ylang,” “Frankincense,” and “Orange,” are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs under section 201(g)(1)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1)(B)], because they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.  The intended use of a product may be determined by, among other things, its labeling, advertising, and the circumstances surrounding its distribution, 21 C.F.R. § 201.128. As described below, the marketing and distribution of your Young Living Essential Oil products without FDA-approved applications is in violation of the Act. 
...On the website, www.theoildropper.com, under the heading, “Young Living Versus Ebola Virus”:
Under the subheading, “Be Prepared”:
  • “Since I have become an avid Young Living essential oil user I have learned all about the anti-microbial properties of so many oils, including ANTI-VIRAL constituents in many of our essential oils.”
  • “Viruses (including Ebola) are no match for Young Living Essential Oils”...
...On the website, www.theoilessentials.com, under the heading, “Are you panicked about the Ebola Virus after watching the news this week?”:
“[T]he Ebola virus cannot survive in the presence of a therapeutic grade Cinnamon Bark and Oregano essential oil.” 
I suspect that FDA basically plays a giant game of Whack-A-Mole regarding quack websites like this, but hey, could be worse.


Imagine my dismay to open up the front page of the ACS to see that headline. An example of Betteridge's law in action, for sure. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

EdX class in medicinal chemistry

Just like last February, Professor Erland Stevens of Davidson College is teaching a class on medicinal chemistry on EdX. Here's a brief syllabus:
The edX course (Medicinal Chemistry) starts October 13th and runs eight weeks. 
Cost: free with both free and for-pay certification options
Prerequisites: general chemistry (binding energies, intermolecular forces), some organic chemistry (line-angle structures and functional groups), knowledge of cell parts and functions, comfort with logarithmic and exponential equations
Time required: 1 hour of video per week, completing all assignments will require approx. 1 hour per day 
Topics (approx. 1 wk each)
(1) drug approval process (early drugs, clinical trials, IP factors)
(2) enzymes and receptors (inhibition, Ki, types of ligands, Kd)
(3) pharmacokinetics (Vd, CL, compartment models)
(4) metabolism (phase I and II, genetic factors, prodrugs)
(5) molecular diversity (drug space, combi chem, libraries)
(6) lead discovery (screening, filtering hits)
(7) lead optimization (FG replacements, isosteres, peptidomimetics)
(8) important drug classes (selected examples) 
Target audience: anyone with an interest in the structural basis of how drugs are designed.
 Sounds like an interesting class! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Interesting letter on EMF and cell phones

Also from this week's issue, a chemist writes in about a Rudy Baum editorial: 
Rudy Baum hit a sore spot with his editorial “Menacing Cell Phone Towers” on whether cell phone towers and the microwaves they emit are hazardous (C&EN, July 14, page 3). He presents his opinion as editor-in-chief, but the editorial then has an ACS disclaimer. That’s been one of my disappointments with ACS over 60 years: It’s gutless. If ACS isn’t an “authority” on chemical risks for the public, then who is? 
Along the same line, New Jersey is now passing legislation to ban smoking in public parks, beaches, and so on. As a Ph.D. chemist who spent a good part of my career working on detection and control of hazardous materials, I’ve tried to point out that the hazard from such incidental exposure is nil. And I’ve tried to point out that there usually is no correlation between odor threshold and hazard threshold, but, again, no one wants to listen. Years ago, a science teacher cursed me out on the phone because of such a position of logic and science. 
There are many similar issues. An individual taking an opposing viewpoint is vilified, while lousy science is embraced. Years from now, when no improvements result from such restrictions, others may finally see the light. In my opinion, ACS has a moral responsibility to stand up and speak out for truth and science, rather than sitting on the sideline because of fear of its commercial advertisers. 
Herb Skovronek
Morris Plains, N.J.
(ACS has commercial advertisers? I guess it does.)

I suspect that this has been a major fight over the years within ACS -- should ACS stand up for specific classes of chemicals? How can it speak the scientific truth without bending to its members (some of whom work for major chemical manufacturers?) Surely, with cell phone towers, the large preponderance of the data is that electromagnetic radiation from them is mostly harmless.

I wish I knew the history of ACS and whether or not it's taken stands on specific chemical issues over the years: PCBs, Agent Orange, etc. My guess is 'no', but I dunno. Readers? 

This week's C&EN

A variety of interesting tidbits:

Friday, September 19, 2014

ScienceCareers: Ph.Ds, don't apply for BS/MS positions

This piece in ScienceCareers is rather hard to read. It's about Ph.D. scientists who apply for B.S/M.S.-level positions, written by a scientific recruiter:
The discovery that you’re overqualified for many advertised jobs often comes as a rude shock. You’ve seen the ads, as Jonathan did, seeking skills in your area of expertise—but the employer hasn’t specified a Ph.D. Instead, the employer is seeking someone with a Bachelor of Science or a Master of Science degree. That’s not ideal, but you have those degrees, too, so why not apply? 
“Each of our labs has openings for B.S. or M.S.-level scientists who play a key role in our research effort. But those labs also have positions for Ph.D.s, and the two are completely separate roles,” says a client of mine, a human resources (HR) manager for a multinational R&D institution. 
I told the client a story that Jonathan shared with me: Jonathan called a networking contact and found himself speaking to the hiring manager for a position he had applied to previously. He asked why his application hadn’t succeeded, and the hiring manager gave him an answer: He was overqualified for the position. 
My client gasped audibly when I relayed that story. This was, apparently, a violation of standard protocol: Managers should “know better than to provide a lot of color,” my client says. Apparently, they’re not supposed to reveal that much about why they didn’t hire you. That’s why you rarely get a direct answer to questions like that. My HR contact, though, shared more information with me about being overqualified, so now I can share it with you.  
Read the whole thing, if only so you can share in my irritation.

I can't help but agree with Mr. Jensen that applying for and accepting a B.S./M.S.-level position is rather unwise, in that it is a dramatically different role than Ph.D.s. What I am surprised at his choice to not talk about why they might be applying for these roles, i.e. they can't find work as Ph.D.-level research scientists.

Finally, it's sad that, in our lawyer/lawsuit-phobic* culture,  we apparently can't tell applicants what we think about them. It's good for companies, sure, but it sure leaves the applicant confused. We need to be giving people feedback, even it's unpleasant. I am not really one to suggest changes to federal law, but it seems to me that passing a law to offer employers limited immunity to lawsuits in exchange for telling applicants (especially on-site interviewees) their weaknesses would be a good idea.

UPDATE: Anon0919140334P rather effectively repudiates Mr. Jensen:
Wow... I'm sure glad I didn't follow this guy's advice 8 years ago when I applied to my current company. I am a PhD chemist, and had been working as a postdoc in a national lab. I applied for a BS/MS posting because it was exactly in line with what I wanted to do and looked like a nearly perfect match for my skill sets. The only drawback was that they were looking for someone at a lower degree level. When I interviewed, I learned that the position was a replacement for a technician who had left the company. The group was looking to increase its skill level, and thought a BS/MS was the right slot for the job. 
I convinced them I'd be a better choice, and though there were some growing pains initially (group didn't function properly at first when I changed the role from technician to scientist), I was eventually promoted to lead the group. I've been doing that for the past four years. I also make significantly above the ACS salary median for PhDs, so it's not like I locked myself into a low-paying role by applying for an MS position. 
I've been on several recent hiring committees, and in many cases we consider candidates with different degree levels. I actually interviewed someone today. In his company, the only people who advance up the science ladder are PhDs, and he's looking to get out of there specifically because of that culture (has a BS + 15 years of technical & managerial experience). He stated that one of the reasons he applied for this position is because he's heard that it's still possible to advance in our company without a doctorate. This is definitely true, and is supported by the fact that two of our current top scientists have MS degrees.  
I therefore take a stance that's opposite from Jensen's: If you have a PhD and there's an MS level position that looks attractive, you should absolutely apply for it. If the company has the right culture, you might just get the job and find yourself in a place you can spend the rest of your career.
I think the trick is, most large enough companies have HR/hiring cultures that are more like Jensen's client and less like Anon's. More's the pity. 

NSF finds chemist "involuntary out-of-field" rate is 2.0% for 2013

Via H1-b skeptic Norm Matloff's blog*, I see that NSF has reported the rate of all chemistry Ph.D.s that are involuntarily working outside of their field at 2.0% for 2013. This is defined as "Involuntarily-out-of-field rate is the percentage of employed individuals who reported, for their principal job, working in an area not related to the first doctoral degree at least partially because a job in their doctoral degree field was not available."

As far as I'm concerned, this is incredibly low, to the point where I'm rather skeptical. I'd be much more inclined to believe a higher number, but perhaps I'm wrong.

(Also, perhaps it is that Ph.D.s who work outside of their field in chemistry consider themselves 'voluntarily out of field'?)

*I label this not pejoratively, just for those who do not recognize Prof. Matloff. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Two interesting tidbits from a Vanity Fair article on Ebola

This long article in Vanity Fair about the Ebola outbreak that started in Guinea was quite good. I noticed two interesting factlets that I did not know: 
M.S.F. also needed to get blood samples to a lab capable of testing for Ebola and other exotic pathogens. To that end, a charter plane was dispatched from Conakry to an airstrip outside Guéckédou. Blood samples with suspected Ebola virus are categorized for transport by a special code, UN 2814, indicating “infectious substances, affecting humans,” and M.S.F. hired a specialty logistics operator to send the samples, which were packed according to a strict protocol, with three layers of protective and absorbent material. Then—because it was simply the fastest way—the samples from Guéckédou were loaded onto the daily Air France red-eye from Conakry to Paris.
UN 2814 -- that's a good one to look out for while you're driving down the highway. Also, advertisements for disinfectants:
On April 4, passengers on the Air France flight from Conakry were quarantined when the plane landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, in Paris, and not allowed to leave until each was checked for fever, all because someone had gotten sick in the lavatory. Emirates airline had stopped flying to Guinea. Mining companies had pulled out their foreign staff. In the capital, radio stations were broadcasting ads for the best brands of chlorine, to protect yourself from Ebola, and Batchyli saw an article about “rebels dressed in yellow who attacked Guinea and then disappeared”—the interpretation of a local journalist trying to make sense of all the people in big yellow protective suits who had suddenly descended on the country.
I'm going to guess that chlorine is chlorine and that Ebola is pretty non-resistant to all brands, but tell that to someone who's living in the middle of that. Yikes.  

Your NSFW typo of the day

Thanks to @fxcoudert, who notes that there is more than one way to spell Hartree-Fock.

Warning Letter of the Week: bare hands!

I have a sense that FDA is stepping up its monitoring of pharmacies after the Massachusetts debacle. Here's a recent warning letter that's a bit disturbing: 
In addition, the investigators observed serious deficiencies in your practices for producing sterile drug products, which put patients at risk.  For example, our inspection found your facility was not physically designed and environmentally controlled to minimize airborne contamination, and the ISO 5 hood was located in an unclassified area. 
This area had no HEPA filters, no air pressure differentials, and the “sterile product compounding room” and the “ante room” were separated by plastic strips that provided no actual “room” separation. Your firm did not adequately monitor and control the microbial and particulate quality of the environment and personnel. Additionally, the flow and handling of materials that were placed in the ISO 5 hood posed an unacceptable contamination hazard. Operators loaded the materials on a tray in the ante-room with bare unsanitized hands and then they carried the tray to an unclassified room.  The outer surfaces of these materials were not disinfected prior to entry into the ISO 5 hood.  Furthermore, there was no hand washing prior to donning gloves or gowning, and the operators touched non-sterile surfaces and proceeded with aseptic manipulations without sanitizing their gloves.  A Form FDA 483 was issued to your firm on March 21, 2014.
You have to wash your hands before donning gloves? Who knew? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Oooops: NPR's non-research jobs link is dead

What I got when I clicked on NPR's link for Ph.D. work
in "other fields."
NPR's Richard Harris is doing a pretty great series on the difficulties of biomedical researchers. (The second link features an assistant professor-turned-grocer - yikes!) In today's segment, he goes over the travails of biomedical postdoctoral fellows, talking to 3 postdocs, all of which are trying to find tenure-track positions unsuccessfully. And then there's this little paragraph:
There actually are jobs – in industry, consulting, government and other fields. Biomedical postdocs rarely end up unemployed. But many can't pursue their academic dreams, and they are often in their late 30s or even older before they realize that.
The fact that the link that the "other fields" sends you to is dead is a rather delicious irony.

Richard Harris elides a couple of issues in this short paragraph (which is fine -- reporters are pressed for space and they can't cover all aspects of an issue):
  • For biomedical researchers, the number of industrial and governmental research positions is relatively limited and there aren't enough open slots to absorb all the postdocs there are. 
  • While biomedical postdocs rarely end up unemployed, there is no measurement for underemployment, which is a real problem. 
  • Harris alludes to, but does not cover, 1) the massive time to degree issue of biomedical Ph.D.s (7+ years) and then the time period of a couple of postdocs. Let's face it, you can't take over a decade to train for a career, not get that career and not suffer a massive amount of opportunity cost. 
As I have said before (and still believe), the massive quantity of postdoctoral fellows and all the people who leave biomedical research is the negative externality of the current way that we get biomedical science done in this country. Sure wish we could come up with a different system. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

This week's C&EN

Lots going on in this week's issue:

What's wrong with this picture?

Courtesy of Bubba at In The Pipeline, a truly amusing set of bad chemistry structures behind this fake chemistry teacher.

(Surely correcting bad chemistry in Hollywood could be a paying job for someone, right?)

Also, a very perceptive comment from him:

"If you don't watch TV between 6 and 7pm, then you are entirely missing the public face of pharma."

Oh, dear, I'm afraid that's true. 

Morning tidbit: 538 on why STEM is TE

Ben Casselman, an economics writer for 538, Nate Silver's data website, has written "an economic guide to picking a college major". Here's a rather lovely paragraph:
All STEM fields aren’t the same 
Politicians love to tout the importance of science, technology, engineering and math majors. But when it comes to earnings, the “S” majors don’t really belong with the “TEM” ones. Engineering majors are nearly all high-paying. So are most computer and math majors, and math-heavy sciences like astrophysics.3 But many sciences, particularly the life sciences, pay below the overall median for recent college graduates. Students who major in neuroscience, meteorology, biology and ecology all stand to make $35,000 or less — and that’s if they can get a full-time job, which many can’t. Zoology ranks as one of the lowest-paying majors of any category, with a median full-time wage of $26,000 a year. 
3. There are a few exceptions to this. A few technology-related majors, such as “communications technologies” and “computer networking and telecommunications” are relatively low-paying. But these are mostly lower-level, technically oriented majors. 
His data set comes from the New York Federal Reserve. Here's what they had to say about chemistry:

Interesting data, more later. Read the whole thing. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Naturejobs falls for the "PhDs have lower unemployment!" fallacy

Via Twitter, yet another alternative careers essay, this one from Annalise Smith, a graduate student at the University of Miami on the Naturejobs website:
...A Nature article published in 2011 contends that the academic positions for science PhD holders are decreasing and sectors outside of academia are unable to compensate. Yet the unemployment rate for PhD graduates in the life sciences remains at a low of 1.5%, much lower than the national unemployment rate in the United States. So are there too many PhDs? 
There are only too many PhDs if every PhD candidate envisions a career in academia....
A couple of things here:
  • First, it's clear that the purpose of the essay isn't to engage with the "Are there too many PhDs" question. That's fine, but then, why bring up the statistics as if they're refutation of the Ph.D. glut theory. 
  • The writer claims above that this is the unemployment rate for Ph.D. graduates in life sciences -- so far as I could tell, this is not actually true. The number "1.5%" and "life sciences" are not tied together anywhere in the report. Maybe I'm wrong. 
    • Interestingly, many of the unemployment stats for recent life scientist grads are still quite low -- the most relevant number I saw in the linked 2012 NSF report (which I have no reason to doubt) is 2.1% for recent life scientist (page 3-35)
    • However, my main critique of these numbers is that they're from 2008, which means that they were measuring pre-Great Recession graduates. You can see that the similar number in the newer 2014 report for 2010 recent life scientist graduates was 2.8%. (page 3-35)
  • My main issue is this portion of the sentence "much lower than the national unemployment rate in the United States." It is ridiculous to compare the unemployment rate of recent Ph.D. graduates in the sciences (any sciences) to the national unemployment rate. ~30% of the US population has a B.S. degree; college graduates make up around 47% of the workforce. We should not be comparing a group of 100% Ph.D.s to a national workforce where less than 5% of the workers have a Ph.D. It is a meaningless comparison. 
  • The better number to compare against is the overall unemployment rate for Ph.D.s, which was 2.2% for 2013. Of course, the problem with this is, we're now measuring all Ph.D. holders, including your tenured faculty adviser. 
Also, the writer does not consider wages or opportunity costs of getting a Ph.D. in the sciences (time-to-degree for life scientists? In 2012, 6.9 years, according to the 2014 NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates.) If you're spending two presidential terms in school, you should seriously think about whether it's worth your time, from a dollars and cents perspective. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. But those calculations weren't apparently covered in this essay.

Finally, I have a one-word answer for the writer as for why the unemployment rate of life scientists is so low: postdocs. Actually, I have another word: underemployment. If you have a Ph.D. biologist working as a QC temp at VWR, they're considered employed. 

For longtime readers of the blog, this is old hat. But for the editors at Naturejobs, apparently, this is news -- how disappointing. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Job posting: experienced Ph.D. medicinal chemist, Alkermes, Waltham, MA

From the inbox, a position at Alkermes:
Alkermes R&D is searching for an experienced medicinal chemist to play a key role in advancing the drug discovery pipeline. The incumbent will propose synthetic targets, design synthetic routes, interface with outsourced medicinal chemistry resources, and develop structure-activity relationships (SAR) to drive the iterative optimization of leads. Additional responsibilities include participation in experimental planning, data analysis, and presentations at team meetings and company meetings.  The individual will support multiple programs through participation on internal cross functional working teams including in vitro and in vivo pharmacology, ADME, toxicology, pharmaceutical development, analytical development, and legal departments. A strong background in synthetic organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry, combined with high creativity and strong leadership and communications skills are essential.

Minimum Education & Experience Requirements: Ph.D. with emphasis in organic and/or medicinal chemistry or related discipline and at least 5 years of post graduate drug discovery experience.
Link here. Best wishes to those applying. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A huge sign that Accenture does not understand the chemicals industry

Courtesy of my morning ACC Smartbrief, I see that Accenture has put out a report about the shale gas revolution and how the chemicals industry needs to prepare for future economic conditions once the boom is over.

All fine, but the report (PDF here) is marred by horrifyingly amateurish graphics of colored water in flasks, soap bubbles and dry ice in water. If they had put "IGNORE ME, I KNOW NOTHING OF YOUR WORK" in 72-point font across the bottom, the effect could not have been worse.

(Why do people (business majors, really) think about chemistry and chemicals this way? Do they understand a whit of what we do? Why not pointing-hard-hat guy/gal?)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In practice, though, we might not.

I'd love to know what translation error led to this little booboo. I presume it's "as a principle". 

Professors, retirement and marriages

In this week's C&EN, a worthwhile article by Linda Wang on emeritus professors and their transitions, specifically Ed Vedejs, Al Padwa and Nancy Mills. It contained a very interesting (and unintentional, I suspect) contrast of marriages of the professors:
Nancy S. Mills, who will retire next year from Trinity University, a predominantly undergraduate institution in San Antonio, says she’s so busy finishing up her research projects that she hasn’t had time to think about shutting down her lab.... [snip] 
...Mills made a promise to her husband years ago that she would retire at age 65 so that they could spend more time traveling and hiking together. They plan to move to Oregon after the current school year. “I’m grateful to my husband for forcing us into this idea because the one thing I want to do is leave before the department wants me to leave,” she says. 
Being retired doesn’t mean disengaging from chemistry, however. In fact, in her emeritus status, Mills will be joining a research group at the University of Oregon that is doing computational chemistry in an area related to her current research. But she will be doing research at her own pace, and she will have the freedom to take extended trips with her husband. 
...In addition, Padwa continues to travel, climb mountains, build mobiles—and he’s dating again. After he retired, he and his wife realized that they had grown apart, and so they divorced. “What happens is that sometimes you go through a long period of time with someone you’re married to but you’re never really connected because you’re involved in your science,” he says. “This is what happens, I think, with very dedicated professionals.”
Professor Padwa's comments about very dedicated professionals is a bit frightening to me, considering that some version of that (although I'll never reach his stature!) is a goal of mine. The health of my marriage is more important to me than my career, but I am sure that a younger Al Padwa would have agreed with my statement, too.

To be sure, "growing apart" is something that happens to many marriages, dedicated professionals or not. I presume that there's a spike in divorces at retirement, too, but it's not something I have data on yet. (It'd be interesting to know what rate of divorce chemistry professors have, especially compared to other highly educated fields.)

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting articles in this week's C&EN, too: 

Last week's C&EN

Lots of interesting things in last week's C&EN, which I missed because its release was still (as far as I was concerned) in the middle of my Labor Day weekend:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Who gave Bill Gates his C+ in organic chemistry?

The long policy article of the weekend was probably the New York Times Magazine article on Bill Gates' desire for an integrated history course. I think it is pretty awesome that he admits to a C+ plus in organic chemistry.

So who taught Gates organic chemistry? It would probably have been between 1973 and 1975 or so... Was it the Fiesers?

(Substantively, I don't think the article addresses what I want to know, which is "What has been the history of teaching world history? How does Gates' course fit into that, and are there prominent examples of this sort of curriculum either succeeding or dramatically failing?" 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Your morning longread: a court judgment on the Deepwater Horizon disaster

I know that you've always wanted to understand the physics, chemistry, engineering and operations of deepwater oil drilling and U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier is here to help. Here's a 153-page judgment of where exactly the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf oil spill began to go really wrong, including technical diagrams, internal e-mails and even an apportioning of blame. It's obviously too large to summarize well, but here's a couple relevant portions: 
  • On page 53, an interesting chemistry-related discussion of Halliburton defoamer and the decision to pump "foamed cement" into the well. 
  • Beginning around page 70, a very detailed analysis of the decision not to order another "negative pressure test" on the well by the senior B.P. representative on the Horizon, Don Vidrine. (Interestingly, we learn from Judge Barbier that Mr. Vidrine's position on the drilling rig is titled "Company Man.") 
  • Around page 94, the analysis of the failure of the blowout preventer, which included the facts that
    • There was insufficient voltage in a 27 volt battery that operated the blind shear rams, due to not following the manufacturer's recommendation to change out the battery yearly
    • One of the control devices was improperly wired and no tests were performed that would have detected the faulty wiring. 
  • A hilarious bit of e-mail about a spurious explanation/rationalization for an anomalous pressure reading during the negative pressure test (which, if ordered again, could have prevented the disaster): 
289. Five days after the blowout, Well Site Leader Bob Kaluza sent an e-mail to BP personnel that provided a detailed explanation as to how the “bladder effect” could have created the anomalous pressure reading. Patrick O’Byran, BP’s Vice President of Drilling and Completions for the Gulf of Mexico at the time (and who, coincidentally, was on the HORIZON when the explosions occurred), responded to this explanation by typing: 
???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? . . . 
followed by roughly another 500 question marks. During trial Mr. O’Byran explained, “[A]s I sit here today, I don’t understand what Mr. Kaluza was trying to define, and this [the question-mark-only response] is what we have in front of us today.”
Towards the end, there's an interesting discussion of "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct", followed by the judge's apportionment of blame, which was summarized thusly:
BP’s conduct was reckless. Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent. Fault is apportioned as follows: 
BP: 67%
Transocean: 30%
Halliburton: 3%
The document is really, really, really technical, but pretty well written and explained. Enjoy? 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why STEM is TE: inflation-adjusted wages edition

Many of you have read Michael Teitelbaum's article about the lack of a STEM shortage. I've actually purchased and mostly read his book, "Falling Behind?" Naturally, I enjoyed it, but I found it a bit weak in spots. Here's a link to a YouTube video of an Economic Policy Institute colloquy between Dr. Teitelbaum and number of prominent scholars about the book and science/technology workforces issues in general, including a very interesting critique of the book by Jonathan Rothwell, a research associate at Brookings.

My impression of Dr. Rothwell is not particularly positive; I found him irritating in the debate between himself, Salzman, Atkinson and Hira that I've posted on before. But I enjoyed listening to his portion of the colloquy, especially once I turned off the ARRRRGH part of my brain and just considered his data. Most of his data comes from US government datasets. I don't agree with many of his conclusions, but it is important to engage with the best of your opponent's data. 

Anyway, I found this graph by Dr. Rothwell particularly demonstrative of the difference in real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) wages over the years between people working in certain sectors of the computer industry (in this case "computer software developers") and chemists and biological scientists. It's apparent (to me, anyway) that when people say that STEM workers make good salaries with strong wage growth, they just mean TE. 

Methanol "tornado" experiment goes awry

Courtesy of my local TV news habit, I heard about a science experiment that sent a few kids to the hospital in Reno, NV. Here's the report from the Reno Gazette-Journal:
A science experiment went awry at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum, creating a chemical flash that injured up to 13 Wednesday in Reno, officials said. 
Of those 13, eight children and an adult were transported to Renown Regional Medical Center, the city said in a statement. 
Primary injuries include minor burns and minor smoke inhalation, the statement said.
Four people were treated at the scene and released, Reno police officer Tim Broadway said earlier. 
Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said it was a routine experiment involving the simulation of a tornado that is conducted daily at the museum, 490 S. Center St. 
The officials said a methyl alcohol and boric acid mixture caught fire during a routine exhibition that is conducted each day to create a whirling tornado effect. 
City of Reno spokesman Matthew Brown said that a preliminary investigation indicates it was not an explosion but a chemical flash, which is "similar to if someone threw gasoline on a fire."
Here's a video showing the experiment by a demonstrator in Britain (using copper instead of boric acid):

When you look at the video that the parents were taking (it's about 30 seconds into the report), as well as the pictures from the parents, I think I have a theory as to what happened:

The demonstration requires you to use a mesh garbage can and a spinning turntable. I suspect that the garbage can tipped over while spinning and it lit the jug (or its fumes) on fire. Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that's what happened. Nope, see below.

The Reno fire chief has an opinion on the matter, based on his conversations with museum staff:
Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum staff reacted quickly after an accident that injured up to 13 late Wednesday afternoon, Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said.
"According to our surveillance video within seconds they already had extinguishers out," Hernandez said. "They were well-trained and assisted our first responders."
About a dozen children were seated 6 feet to 10 feet away from an experiment done routinely at the museum to simulate a dust devil or tornado, Hernandez said. The experiment uses methyl alcohol and boric acid and the order got switched and it caused a flash that lasted two to four seconds. 
"It's sort of a one, two, three process and they went one, three, two," Hernandez said. He described it as being like being too close to a campfire. 
"There was very minimal damage within the immediate area of where the flash occurred," Hernandez said. "There was an easel immediate adjacent to the demonstration and it did not even get knocked over." 
Given the smaller quantity of chemicals they used in the demonstration, there wasn't much of a chance of a more serious flash, the chief said. Nothing that would have blown out windows, for instance. 
One child suffered second-degree burns and was going to be kept overnight at Renown Regional Medical Center for observation, Hernandez said. He visited all the children taken to the hospital Wednesday night and most seemed shaken by the incident.
The fire department will recommend the museum review its procedures. 
"I think at the end of the of the day it's going to come down to a simple accident in procedure," Hernandez said. "As the fire chief, I'm not going to call them and say, 'Please stop doing this procedure.' The fact is, they've been doing this for quite some time. This is probably an isolated event." 
Museum spokeswoman Meagan Noin said they had no new comment this morning.
"We are still investigating what happened so we don't have any new information at this time," Noin said.
I'd like to know what the different order of operation was -- was the methanol added after the flame was already lit? Odd. I'm sort of weirded out by the fire chief's initial judgment, but hey, maybe he knows something I don't.

I am tempted to say: it's time for people to stop setting fire to methanol around kids for demonstrations. Matter of fact, I did say that on Twitter last night. After a night's sleep, I think that the right answer might be that people need to take many, many, many, many, many more precautions than were taken in Reno. What could have been done better?:
  • Assuming that I'm correct that the methanol jug was part of the problem (and seeing as how it continues to be a problem with the rainbow flame demonstration), you can't have a larger source of methanol in the same vicinity as the lit demonstration. 
  • Assuming I'm right about the tipping of the flame, the turntable needed secondary containment. Nope, see below.
  • The kids needed to be much further away from the experiment. 
Obviously, we don't have all the facts yet and my interpretations of the photos/video could be entirely incorrect. That said, I think the need extreme caution with experiments involving burning methanol has been demonstrated one more time.

UPDATE: This other video from ABC News shows the exact moment that the flash occurred, which seems to suggest that the instructor was adding methanol while another flame was lit?

Watch more news videos | Latest world news

Well, that would explain it. Yeesh.

Daily Pump Trap: 9/4/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs in the last week:

Skokie, IL: It isn't often that you see corporate lab manager positions, but this appears to be one from LanzaTech. They want a B.S. in chemistry (advanced degree preferred) and 10+ years experience in the laboratory. I think this could be a great position for the right person.

Cambridge, MA: I think this is the first time that I've seen the term "Data Scientist" show up for a pharmaceutical company - Novartis, in this case:
Seeking experienced Data Scientist with a PhD in life/health sciences, computational biology, or closely related field, and at least five years of experience performing computational research in a pharmaceutical setting. The candidate will be expected to apply state of the art computational approaches to elucidate the biological profile of small molecules regarding their targets, off-targets, and phenotypic outcome.
Best wishes!

Pleasanton, CA: Here's a director-level position at Roche; they're looking for a leader for their nucleic acid group.

Geismar, LA: This analytical team lead position at BASF is very interesting:
This is an opportunity for you to further develop your managerial and technical skills in a highly visible position. This position ensures a safe, efficient, and high paced work environment while developing the talent within the lab. You will be a team member within the Analytical Services Department, which is responsible for all analytical testing completed with the Geismar Site. The laboratory operates 24/7.
Check out the education requirements:
BS degree preferably in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering and minimum 2+ years of chemical manufacturing/laboratory experience OR High School Diploma/GED and minimum 8+ years if experience in a chemical manufacturing/laboratory environment is required. Experience with direct supervision of a group or department is a plus. 
Personally, I think it's great that they're willing to consider someone that's trained "on the job" for this position, but it's certainly unusual to see.

Ste. Genevieve, MO: It's the diversity of the chemical job marketplace on display today with this Senior Applications Technologist position with a lime company. Who knew? (B.S. required, M.S./Ph.D. desired.)

Cincinnati, OH: LyondellBasell looking for an experienced Ph.D. analytical chemist; looks to be polymer chemistry-oriented.

Chicago, IL: Here's an entry-level B.S. chemist position for Carus. (Does anyone have any idea what the "“Edison” stage gate guidelines." might be referring to?)

Menlo Park, CA: Pacific Biosciences is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. surface chemist with 5+ years experience. Is the desire for experience with "JMP, MatLab, MySQL, Visual Studio" typical? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chemical Education Foundation wishes to highlight working chemists

From the inbox, a chance to get famous!: 
The Chemical Educational Foundation (CEF) (www.chemed.org) is looking for chemists to use in You Be The Chemist Challenge marketing pieces and events for this year’s “careers in chemistry” theme. (The Challenge is an academic competition for grade 5-8 students that focuses on chemistry and its real-world applications.) For example, we might feature a few chemists on a periodic table poster to distribute to schools. We are looking for employed chemists between the ages of 20-35 (i.e., people middle school students could see themselves becoming in 15 years) who can provide us with: 1) a high-quality headshot and 2) a few sentences about what they do, focusing on aspects of their job in chemistry that might be of particular interest to grade 5-8 students. 
If interested, please send a headshot and a few sentences about what you do to Elena Lien at elien -at- chemed/dot/org by September 19.

A good article that makes me irritated

From the inbox, an interesting article from Nature's news section by Ewan Callaway about a Ph.D. organic chemist from the Schreiber lab who has gone onto finance: 
[Soroosh] Shambayati was born in Iran, attended school in Sweden, and then won a scholarship to study chemistry and mathematics at a university in Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, he was drawn to science for its pursuit of objective truth and the opportunity for discovery. A PhD was the obvious next step, and he found a perfect fit in Schreiber's lab in the late 1980s....[snip]
...The realities of doing science, however, soon butted heads with Shambayati's idyllic view of it. He found that chemical synthesis was slow and full of setbacks — “a bit like banging your head against the wall for long periods of time”, he says — and he was put off by the political aspects of science, exemplified at the time by bickering over who discovered HIV. Still, he did not hesitate to apply for faculty jobs at several top universities while finishing his PhD, and he received more than one offer. 
While in New York for a job interview at Columbia University, Shambayati met up with a friend in banking, who was shocked to learn how little an assistant professor earned. He encouraged Shambayati to move into the financial world instead. “I said 'you're nuts',” Shambayati remembers. “I know nothing about banks or banking. Why would anybody want to interview me?” 
But a good salary was tempting to Shambayati, who felt a deep obligation to support his family; his parents had fled Iran after the 1979 revolution, leaving their house and savings behind. Shambayati set up an interview with his friend's bosses at Banker's Trust, which was later bought by Deutsche Bank. The investment bank was a leader in derivatives trading and was looking for quantitative, analytical thinkers such as Shambayati. He accepted a job earning many multiples of an academic salary, figuring that he could always go back to do a postdoc if things did not work out. 
They did. Finance was an eye-opener for Shambayati, who worked on chaotic emerging markets, losing and making back tens of millions of dollars in a day. He found the trading floor, surrounded by his colleagues, not unlike his chemistry lab, but with “even less privacy”, he says. His career progressed quickly and he moved on to jobs at Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and then Lehman Brothers. (He was there in 2008 when the firm abruptly went into bankruptcy, catalysing the global economic crisis — an experience he compares to “being in a plane crash”.)
In one sense, this is a great article because it highlights people who have been successful at science, but have chosen to work outside of science. It is nice in that it highlights professors (Schreiber, for example) who do not take personal offense at the fact that their successful students do not become tenure-track professors. I really like hearing about Dr. Shambayati's personal background as well as a glimpse of what must have been an extremely traumatic experience at Goldman.

In another sense, I am so tired of these articles. Highlighting yet another physical scientist (or physicist, or mathematician, or wildlife biologist) who decided to go into finance isn't exactly new. Comments about approving or disappointed PIs aren't new either.

What frustrates me the most about articles like this is the implied suggestion that paths like these are still easily open to scientists who wish to follow them. I'm going to guess that now, Goldman gets approximately a bajillion résumés a week from scientists who wish to earn Wall Street cash as opposed to the late 1980s. Web entrepreneurship (the subject of the second set of vignettes in the piece) is a thoroughly crowded field now. Doesn't mean that scientists shouldn't consider it as a potential source of employment (they should), but I just don't feel that these particular stories are relevant. Rant over. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/2/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the academically-related positions posted on C&EN:

Cambridge, MA: MIT is searching for a professor of chemistry, preferably at the assistant professor level. Focus for the position: "...the areas of inorganic, organic or physical chemistry, broadly defined."

Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University is looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry:
Applicants with experimental or theoretical/computational research interests are encouraged to apply, as are candidates with interdisciplinary interests.
Experiment or theoretical? That about covers it, yes?

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University is searching for an assistant professor of chemistry, preferably in the areas of  inorganic, materials, organic, and theoretical chemistry.

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University desires an assistant professor in organic chemistry or "organic systems chemistry", which is a term I've never heard of before.

Rehovot, Israel: The Weizmann Institute of Science is looking for assistant professors in chemistry.

West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University is looking for a tenured or tenure-track professor of chemical education. Narrow number of those, I'm guessing.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

This year, I dedicate this song to adjunct professors of chemistry. Your contributions are appreciated by me.

To my American readers, a very happy Labor Day to you and your family. To people in the rest of the world, happy Monday! 

The full 2014 ACS Salary Survey is out

A brief note on the last day of a holiday weekend, courtesy of Sophie Rovner and this week's C&EN:
Unemployment is easing in the U.S. economy as a whole, and that trend is reflected in the chemical sector, according to the latest figures compiled by the American Chemical Society. “The unemployment rate of our domestic chemistry workforce is once again under 3.0%, as it was prior to the economic downturn of 2008–09,” notes Elizabeth C. McGaha, assistant director of ACS’s Research & Brand Strategy (RBS) department, which collects the data. 
“It’s good news that the drop in unemployment isn’t solely related to people taking part-time or postdoctoral work,” says Steven Meyers, assistant director of ACS’s Career & Professional Advancement department. Instead, the decrease in the fraction of ACS member chemists who are actively seeking work is “attributable to growth in full-time employment, which suggests that positions with at least 35 hours of work per week are absorbing those individuals transitioning into the workforce.” 
Unfortunately, the improving jobs situation hasn’t bolstered wages: “Salaries have still not begun to rebound to prerecession levels,” McGaha says. Even worse, “salaries for ACS member chemists in the U.S. have not kept up with inflation and therefore continue to lose ground in terms of buying power. While this is not unique to the chemical labor market, it is still a concern.”
A brief summary of the article's contents (which should be read in full):

Response rate: 23% (this has dropped significantly, with 35% for 2012 and 28% for 2013)
Full-time employed: 91.9% (highest percentage of full-time workers since 2008)
Postdoctoral percentage: 2.3% for 2014
Unemployment: 2.9%, lowest since 2008

An important caveat in the article about long-term unemployment of chemists:
...“it is certainly possible that small numbers of very long-term unemployed chemical scientists and engineers have given up on the job search or moved into non-chemistry-related fields” and therefore don’t show up in the numbers, Meyers says. “Those who have been out of work for a while and have few resources to receive further education or training will eventually take a nonideal position that at least keeps a paycheck coming in, even if it means being underemployed. Once that happens, it becomes more difficult to reenter the chemistry market. We know that some individuals are unfortunately in this regrettable situation; we just don’t have a way to measure how large their numbers are.”
If I were King of the ACS (and it is a good thing I am not), I would make measuring/finding this number a top priority.

The blue monster is winning: One of the interesting aspects of the ACS Salary Survey in recent years is its focus on how chemist wages losing ground against inflation. This year is no different.
Despite the discrepancy in the extent of unemployment, Ph.D.s are sharing the same fate as their colleagues in terms of wage increases. For all three degree levels, median wages this March were essentially the same as last year. The median salary for chemists with a doctorate was $102,000, for those with a master’s degree was $85,000, and for those with a bachelor’s degree was $72,000 (see salary trends table on page 71). 
But the story gets worse: These findings are stated in so-called current dollars, and therefore don’t account for changes in the cost of living. Calculating salaries in constant dollars—a practice that eliminates the effects of inflation—shows that chemists at all degree levels continue to lose ground with respect to the rising cost of living. 
Between 2013 and 2014, salaries adjusted for inflation fell 1.5% for each of the three degree levels. Looking at the data in the longer term highlights stark trends in chemists’ purchasing power. Compared with a decade ago, median salaries have shrunk 11.7% for Ph.D.s, 6.8% for chemists with M.S. degrees, and 7.9% for those with bachelor’s degrees, in terms of constant dollars.
This is a big problem, I would think. I would love to know which professions' median wages consistently beat inflation.