Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An open letter to recruiters

Dear recruiters:

You know, you folks have an important role in our economy. I love you so much, because it is through you folks that shy chemists get the wherewithal to move companies and increase their wages. Labor mobility is your thing - it's awesome.

But please, for the love of all that is holy and good, stop calling me at work. It makes me feel kinda weird. I have an e-mail address and a public profile on LinkedIn - connect with me there!

Love, Chemjobber

52 comments:

  1. Open letter to recruiters: Where were you, you little fuckers, in 2009-2010 when I needed you? Please, go to hell and take those 6-month contract temp jobs at a CRO with you, deep into a smoldering pit of selenium.

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    1. Yea, my experience with recruiters has been flakiness and has never amounted to any real job leads.

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    2. Ditto. CJ, please pass on my contact details to those pesky recruiters. You know them already.
      Thanks
      GC

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  2. I've had multiple contacts through LinkedIn that had I pursued, could have led to a new job. Never got to the salary discussion stage with any of them. I have gotten a few phone calls as well, and agree that they are super awkward.

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    1. There is lots of scammers and spammers (and unscrupulous salesmen) active on LinkedIn, so be very cautious about unsolicited approaches from strangers. If you get a whiff the thing is a scheme, that the assistant who acts like she is trying to recruit you has phony credentials, just back out of it and insist they contact you first in a more formal manner, in writing or by e-mail, before you talk to them over the phone.

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  3. Amen. In the pre-LinkedIn days, they'd cold call me at my office number and ask questions requiring more than a yes/no answer. Of course, I shared an office with a coworker who was very tight with the boss, and there was an "open-office" rule in effect as well.
    And then there was a start-up who was trying to schedule a phone interview with me, but would not agree to do it outside of 9-5 or to either give me a number I could call at a specific time, a general timeframe to expect their call, or even a quickie coffee interview (I was local). Nope. I took that as a sign that it was a crappy place to work and they didn't interview many already-employed people, and did not pursue it.

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  4. An open letter to search firms - quit hiring recent grads who majored in liberal arts and have no idea what any of the technical terms in the job description mean, and are just blindly matching keywords. Anyone without chemical industry experience isn't qualified to be a recruiter, except for filling those crappy $9 an hour temp jobs washing beakers for Aerotek or Yoh.

    If I'm ever in a position to hire, I'll wade through the damn resumes myself; some 22-year-old who majored in Communications isn't going to decide who I interview.

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    1. you need to understand that in large corporations, the HR are generally powerful people in charge of promulgating and enforcing all kinds of policies, and keeping files on everyone to make sure the company won't get sued. They want to control every aspect of the job advertising and hiring. But then they are not all that motivated really to do it themselves, sorting through hundreds of applications, because it is lot of work, so they gladly farm it out to a head-hunting agency. If there is a problem with the applicant selection, it is not their fault. The head-hunting company will do most of the bitchwork, however poorly, but in most cases no one finds out about how randomly crazy the pre-selection criteria were. (Because the headhunters are unaware that there is more than one kind of chemist). And the job applicants who make it through all these hoops are already softened and seem desperate enough, so they will likely take crappier offer than some unwashed strangers who apply for chemistry positions directly, and god forbid the chemistry director reads their CV and remembers their name.

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  5. I don't know that I have ever found a recruiter to be of even a little value. I recall that they were useless as a job seeker. In my experience trying to fill positions they would send countless emails with the same CVs we got from posted ads: who would pay (up to 6+ months salary) for that?

    I think recruiters are as important to the economy as unicycles are to penguins.

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  6. My previous and current job were due to recruitment agencies - direct applications don't get a chance nowadays even though it saves the company thousands of pounds.

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    1. This reminds me a joke about East German sitting next to a wreck of a East German Wartburg car and sobbing unconsolably "Fifteen years of saving, and now its all gone." And a Western tourist that saw the crash asks him: "But why are you buying yourself such an expensive car?"

      To me, an agency applicant means he is willing to accept more abuse, for lower pay. "Just don't think you are special, there are twenty other applicants for this position" kind of Amazon crap. With the current job recovery, we don't have to take it.

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    2. Wartburg? Maybe. But I still remember the abandoned Trabis by the roadsides. There is an analogy there, for those of us who are so lucky to be able to dump one job for a better one.

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    3. "With the current job recovery, we don't have to take it"

      Sorry to say, but with the shrinking biopharma in the past few years chemists will have to keep taking it, and with a smile.

      "Thank you sir, may I have another"

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  7. Last month, I received a call from the best recruiter I've ever spoken to. He clearly had solid knowledge of the position he was recruiting for, the company he was trying to place someone with, the relevant science, and the market value of someone that would be suited for the position. The position was in a major US city and would have represented a $10K pay cut for me, plus a major cost of living change, so it didn't make sense to take it, but if this guy ever calls me again, I'll definitely be listening. In contrast, I also get monthly emails from a flaky recruiter who sends tens of jobs at a time and doesn't tailor them to her audience. Lots of variability in quality out there.

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    1. There are some good ones out there - perhaps we've worked with the same person. I've worked with one who recruits for a specific niche area, and makes a point to keep in touch with people even when he's not trying to recruit them for a specific job. He recruited me for a job that I ultimately turned down for personal reasons, and also recruited a friend to a really good position after I gave him the friend's name as someone who was looking.

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  8. Recruiters are like chemists; some are good, some aren't. Like everybody else here I've had some really bad ones. But I've had generally positive experience with them and have gotten multiple good jobs through their services.

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  9. Dear recruiter,

    I have a PhD in chemistry and a tenure track faculty position. No, I do not think your 12/hr 3 month contract QC job would be a good fit for me. I realize you probably have a contact quota, but come the F on.

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    1. I look forward to the day when tenured faculty positions are just as unpleasant as non-tenured academic positions or the standard industry position. Then maybe it will allow the academic system will collapse and a better one can be built in its place.

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    2. Why do you think the new system will be better? The people likely to be building it are the administrators currently running universities. That wouldn't give me a whole lot of optimism that whatever they build to replace tenured academia will be better for anyone but them.

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    3. "I look forward to the day when tenured faculty positions are just as unpleasant as non-tenured academic positions or the standard industry position. "

      That's a very unfortunate view. I agree that the concept of tenure, as a means to protect against unpopular opinion in academe may not be needed in chemistry, but why be happy about really good jobs going away?

      Not that I want to encourage a long-winded off-topic rant, but what specifically would make for a better academic system? Do you have a concrete idea of this or just a simplistic assumption that anything has to be an improvement (which seems to me silly).


      CJ, apologies for topic drift---feel free to delete,

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    4. Huh. Wow. As the OP of this comment train I certainly didn't mean to spur all these off topic comments. I just mean, you know, I don't want a job that I did over a decade ago when I was a new BS chemist. A job I hated enough that I took my chances with academia.

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    5. Anon10:46AM: Your comments (the original one, etc.) are appreciated by me - I know what you meant. And folks like to wander.

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    6. Some wander, others have an agenda.

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  10. Hi biotechtoreador,

    Actually, I have already sent a list of recommendations to improve the academic system to one of the ACS presidential candidates. They are, however at best figureheads and the overpaid, non-elected ACS officers are the ones who make the decisions.

    Hence, unless the rank-and-file chemists actually want to get a spine, then the only change that will occur to the tenure system etc. will be from administrators, either from universities or from ACS "recommendations".

    Please, CJ if you don't like this comment, then go ahead and erase it.

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    1. I don't think that the ACS has ever claimed to have any jurisdiction over how universities deal with tenure, and can't think of any reason that it would.

      I don't think there's anything wrong with the tenure system, and would be happy to have a $200K job---at a pastoral campus surrounded by young energetic people whose spirit has not been ground into dust by the workaday world---that I couldn't get fired from. Unlikely to happen for me at this point, but that doesn't mean I think there's a problem with the system.

      I'd actually say that the US tenure system for chemistry works pretty well. Looking at total Nobel prizes in chemistry since 2000, 50% have gone to American academicians. Not sure that's a success worth messing with.

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    2. It is worth messing with if it is judged by informed people to be an unethical, exploitative system, where the happiness of a few (tenured faculty) is at the cost of the future unhappiness of people that regret having gone through the system. If the cost of the later is less that the benefit of the former, then let the faculty have their cushy jobs.

      Otherwise, it needs to be changed if we are a progressive society. I'm not saying that tenured faculty need to whipped by ISIS clowns, just modify the system somehow.

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    3. "It is worth messing with if it is judged by informed people to be an unethical, exploitative system, where the happiness of a few (tenured faculty) is at the cost of the future unhappiness of people that regret having gone through the system."

      Note, I'm also big fan of capitalism....

      I think " just modify the system somehow" is how this turns into tilting at windmills.



      "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."

      John Kenneth Galbraith

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    4. I'd be happier with nuking it if I had an idea of a better sustainable system that can do that, but I don't. Most of the changes that have happened lately have made it worse and have gone in the direction of making labor cheaper and more contingent without improving it for students (either in quality or expense) and while partitioning more of the benefits into management. Crashing the system is likely (it costs too much), but I don't have the hope or the imagination to see its replacement turning out better (people want lots of job-creating research and don't want to pay more for it, large bureaucracies depend on the cash coming in from students and grants, and unless there is a significant counterweight, the future teachers are going to get scrod).

      Has any employment system improved the lot of workers in the past forty years or so?

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    5. Citing Nobel awards as a measure of success seems odd.

      It is similar to Hollywood in that a small number of people get near-infinite rewards (including prizes). And while those go-getters would probably be successful in any field, the current system has a risk-reward structure that front-loads everything in an unhealthy manner, then cost of post-failure so low that it can be a drain on the system.

      Now that most jobs are not lifetime appointments tenure, much like civil service of old, looks attractive to people seeking stability. There must be a better way of spreading it around, though, than amongst a self-selecting clique of Ivy League a-holes.

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    6. "Has any employment system improved the lot of workers in the past forty years or so?"

      How about the US economy, my friend?

      Yes, yes, maybe an unpopular view but I think it's true. Real household income in the US has increased from $48K in 1984 to $52 k in 2013 (https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MEHOINUSA672N, that was broadest range I could quickly find while avoiding doing the actual work I get paid for) and the # of households has increased from 85 million to 125 million (http://www.statista.com/statistics/183635/number-of-households-in-the-us/): that's a lot more people making, well, not a ton more money but at least some more. Also, life expectancy is up from 72 in 1974 to 79 in 2015. So, yea, I think the US is doing pretty well. There's a reason tens of millions of people want to immigrate here...

      I don't know that life today is really any better than it was 40 years ago (maybe it isn't), but we have much better stuff, fewer hostile nations that want to kill us (though that # is creeping up), and some diseases that were fatal are now chronic or curable (HIV, HCV).

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    7. Household income cannot support your hypothesis, in light of the fact that in 2013 more of the income is from two workers instead of one, compared to 1984, so I'd say its a slight gain for middle class family income at the expense of a lot more stress (do women really want to work as their raising children, or do they HAVE to work?). Everybody knows in this country that the top 1/5th in income have done far better in terms of income increase in the past 30 years compared to everybody else. In fact the lower 1/5th are worse off.

      This wealth disparity reflects what is seen in academic institutions where tenured faculty rack of high salaries and continuous employment while everybody else doing the experiments is paid garbage. At my school, the former president propose a 5% increase in salary for faculty compared to 2.5% for staff. Academia is a perfect reflection of what is going on elsewhere, the rich get richer by having greater pay and benefits then the staff. And usually the work less to boot.

      My boss makes 5-6 x what I make. Does he work 5-6 x harder? No. Is he 5 -6x smarter? No. He certainly is smarter than me, but is the edge he has on me here really worth that he, and the academic plutocrats, being paid absurdly more income, even in the name of "training" the lower paid contingent ("training" is a laughable concept, because you really teach yourself how to do experiments because your advisor is too busy)?

      I think not.

      Well, maybe

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    8. Forget the "well maybe". I was going to make some comment about being flogged by ISIS clowns but decided not to.

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    9. " in 2013 more of the income is from two workers instead of one, compared to 1984"

      A fair point. Female participation in the labor force in 1984 was 54%, which increased to 57% in 2013: taking that into account, real household incomes have risen by more than female participation, though not by a huge amount. I don't know what trends in # of wage earners/household have been.

      "My boss makes 5-6 x what I make". That's nothing. Compare what a mid/lower level functionary at a bank makes compared to the executives....you're at least within a few orders of magnitude. The workaday world ain't a meritocracy: never has been, never will be.

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  11. Comments that stay civil, relevant to the topic of the post (tenure, academic reform proposals, etc) and avoid name-calling of other commenters are very unlikely to be deleted.

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    1. The problem is mostly with lousy employers, who use staffing agencies, but lousy staffing agencies add to the problem, i.e. by spamming job boards with multiple postings, with postings to irrelevant jobs and with postings to jobs that were already filled month ago. Everyone looking for a job in the 2009-13 period was already pretty squeezed, without having to deal with the agency-related crap, so it is hard to have charitable feelings about companies like Kelly or Yoh Services. There must be few decent recruiters somewhere, but even if they exist there is a problem of them not quite understanding biotech research specialities to which they are hiring people, and the general nature of biotech (I remember a long discussion with one agent, about one particular startup that no longer exists, she was pitching me a job with this company and I tried to explain to her why I thought it was not a good company to work for, because the founders were demonstrably sci-fi loving crackpots).

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  12. At the risk of compromising my real identity (and perhaps chances of regaining employment as an organic chemist), here is the list of recommendations which I made to one of the two current ACS presidential candidates. I had offered to send the same list to the other candidate, but s/he did not respond:

    (a) All B.Sc.-granting departments which receive ACS accreditation should have a minimum percentage of full-time faculty who are teaching their core courses - and not adjuncts. Suggestion: 90%.

    (b) All B.Sc.-granting departments which receive ACS accreditation should publish comprehensive annual statistics on the employment of their graduates: how many have long-term (> 1 year) employment, short-term employment (< 1 year) chemistry-relevant employment, unemployment, and progression to graduate studies for the prior year. This data should be READILY AVAILABLE on the website of the department, and not on some obscure ACS web page or booklet.

    (c) All PhD-granting departments should likewise receive a form of ACS accreditation in which the employment statistics of their PhD graduates is stated. These statistics should include how many have long-term (> 1 year) employment, short-term employment (< 1 year) chemistry-relevant employment, unemployment, and post-doctoral studies for the prior year.

    (d) All PhD-granting departments should likewise receive a form of ACS accreditation in the form of recognition for training in industry-relevant research topics. Of course, the criteria listed under (b) and (c) should prominently appear on the departmental website, as well.

    (e) The ACS should undertake a personal and targeted response to those organizations (commercial, public, media and political) which are lumping us scientists together with technologists, engineers and mathematicians. This response should include conversations with the perpetrators of the “STEM-worker shortage myth”, in addition to interviews with the media and statements on the Internet.

    (f) a “tax” should be instituted on departments for hiring of foreign teaching assistants, research assistants and post-docs. This tax would be paid by the university in question to benefit an unemployment fund for US chemists in dire need (managed by the ACS).

    (g) Introduce a Numerus Clausus limitation on total number of PhD candidates admitted to a department, determined according to the long-term employment outcomes of their PhD graduates. This is the policy implemented by other western countries to control the number of medical doctors which end up on their respective job markets.

    (h) In addition to the situation of "early career" chemists, I would point out that things are not looking good for many colleagues who should already be well-established in their career paths. Perhaps they do not attract as much attention in the statistics, because some are forced to leave chemistry?

    My hypothesis is that after US-Americans realize that the ACS is looking out after their interests, and after their profession regains real societal and economic respect, that Chemistry will once again become a popular domestic career choice.

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    1. Some interesting and potentially useful ideas. I'm not sure how any of them have any bearing on tenure, though.

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    2. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS PresidentSeptember 2, 2015 at 6:55 PM

      Believe me, I am carefully considering all of your suggestions whether through this blog or via email or phone calls, and it is my intention to lead the ACS to taking long-term action in this area. A number of trends have been building over the years - demographic, economic, employment, cultural, global - and the present dire employment situation is the result. I do not intend to point fingers and assign blame, but rather to get the data, fully understand the situation, and start taking some action. I do not view the position of ACS President as merely a figurehead, but rather as the leading individual who works on behalf of all of our members. Anything less is unacceptable for a membership society.

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    3. I'm glad to read that you are taking the task seriously. Speaking as a scientist, gathering data is always a good place to start.

      Through the grapevine, my information is that while Professor Nelson is having some sort of private discussion about the plight of unemployed B.Sc. chemists, she has not (yet?) touched the situation for PhD chemists.

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    4. "A number of trends have been building over the years - demographic, economic, employment, cultural, global - and the present dire employment situation is the result."

      I get that employment trends have caused a dire employment situation but, specifically, how have cultural trends been responsible for chemistry employment?

      I'm glad to hear that you "do not view the position of ACS President as merely a figurehead". Without using the terms/concepts 'engage', 'seek input from', or 'build a consensus among' would you please provide three concrete steps you would take as ACS president that you think could improve employment among chemists?

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. Hi biotechtoreador,

      Your point is well taken about Dr. Balazs needing to offer concrete steps. But in order to do so, he/we will need a basis upon which to make such recommendations. In other words, they should be well-informed decisions, backed up by data.

      In that context, the first step would be to get quantitative data on what happens to BSc, MSc and PhD chemists after they graduate. That data should be according to each individual, degree-granting domestic chemistry program. The fact that departmental websites will not infrequently brag when one of their graduates has a prestigious career outcome demonstrates that they are, in principle technically capable of quantitatively keeping track of career outcomes. It may be necessary to shout a little in order to get the ACS to commit the (minor) resources required to tabulate that data.

      Having such data would consequently allow logical decisions to be made. Maybe along the lines which I have already illustrated.

      When that point arises, then it will be interesting to see how the ...senior ACS employees... will react. Several scenarios come to mind, for example:
      a. they concede to the will of the elected representative of the ACS members (hopefully),
      b. they pretend that the entire matter is out of their control and outside of the remit of the ACS (cynically congruent with previous examples of their unwillingness to step up to the plate) or
      c. they propose their own "advisory committee", likely composed of one-sided stake-holders, i.e. faculty members (i.e. a smokescreen).

      In the meanwhile, it is encouraging that at least one candidate has responded here. That is more than Professor Nelson appears willing to do.

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    7. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS PresidentSeptember 3, 2015 at 12:31 PM

      Generic Chemist is correct when he says that one of the first steps is to gather quantitative data. One of the issues is that very complex employment trends are often expressed through simplified (and thus often meaningless) sound bites. How many times have we heard, "There are not enough STEM graduates! No, wait, I mean, there are too many STEM graduates!!" The reality is that some areas of STEM are hiring, while other areas are stagnant or even decreasing. We (the ACS) need to quantify exactly what is happening for chemists at all degree levels, at all stages of their careers, and in all employment sectors (pharma vs academe vs energy vs government, etc.).

      Biotechreader asked a very valid question, namely for 3 concrete things that I would do. Here is where I would start:

      1. Quantify much more clearly exactly what the employment statistics are for chemists, as I alluded to above. We absolutely must base the conclusions on representative data from all sectors and for all chemists (not just ACS members, and not just satisfied ACS members who obligingly fill out a survey).

      2. Get to the bottom of the issue of why some employers tell us they can't find qualified candidates, when talented individuals spend months or years looking for a chemistry job with some ultimately giving up in desperation. As a side note to this, we also need to find out what is missing in the background of applicants who are not offered a job and determine if this is something that the ACS can help with.

      3. Undertake a comprehensive review of where the chemistry employment opportunities are now, and where they are projected to be in 5 years and in 10 years. This review would encompass all degree levels and across all possible sectors that hire chemists.

      Biotechreader also asked what I meant by "cultural", and the answer is that I used this term to capture a number of issues: the public perception of science, the rapid dissemination of online "stuff" (not necessarily knowledge let alone understanding and let's not even discuss wisdom), our nation's ability to clearly understand the value of science to our well being, the increasing cost of higher education, etc.

      I am not going to promise you that there is one quick, easy solution. If there were, we would have implemented it by now. The issues are complex, but we must understand them and start to address them. I welcome your thoughts, and let's work on this together.

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    8. I imagine Yogi Berra might say: "There are plenty of easy solutions but they are difficult to do".

      For example, as GC pointed out: 1.) force schools to limit PhD production, and 2.) penalize schools who bring in foreign PhD's as post-docs, and I would add penalize schools who train immigrants in PhD programs.

      Of course no school in their right mind would willing agree to that as that would limit their supply of cheap labor, and if there was ever a hint that there could be laws to enforce this, watch academia hire lobbyists to the prevent laws.

      I strongly suspect that the ACS would support whatever the board of ACS publications wants, as that is where the money is. So if it hurts ACS pubs for schools to limit grad school training (fewer papers in their journals) then the ACS won't favor it. In the words of deep throat, "follow the money".

      A credible candidate for ACS president, IMO, would stand up for the working chemists versus the schools and ACS pubs, which now appear to be at odds with each other.

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    9. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS PresidentSeptember 3, 2015 at 1:46 PM

      I don't intend to take sides, because I don't view this as an "Us versus Them" problem. My intention is to understand the issues and work towards a solution. If that approach isn't what the electorate wants, so be it, but I have to be true to myself.

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    10. I'm not sure "I'm going to study the issue" is a (or three....) concrete step(s). I'm also unclear how improving the public's perception of science improves the job market for chemists, but that's probably just me.

      "would stand up for the working chemists versus the schools and ACS pubs, which now appear to be at odds with each other." ACS pubs are against working chemists? That seems implausible. I assume you think schools are against working chemists by continuing to do what they're supposed to do, i.e. train more chemists in an already tight job market? Academe's mission is to educate students and advance knowledge, not to ensure a well functioning job market.



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    11. Some comments on psychology and semantics:

      NMH wrote "the ACS would support whatever the board of ACS publications wants". My question is therefore: WHO is the "ACS"? Is "the ACS" the ACS employees or is it the ACS members? I mean this as a real question, not a rhetorical one. Obviously, I believe that the organization should first represent the interests of its members, and the interests and opinions of the employees should be subordinate to those of the members. After that has been settled, we can quibble about how much "chemistry" should be promoted by the organization. The current employment crisis is relevant in that context, although of course the other factors which Dr. Balazs refers to (economic and policial factors) are also significant.

      On the subject of which data to collect, it is already no secret that specific geographical areas have greater density of employment opportunities than do others. That is why it is necessary to collect employment outcome data on the basis of individual departments. Not all research programs and topics are necessarily training students for the current job market. Faculty members could, conceivable argue that basic science would thereby be receiving a disservice. To that I would say (a) you are at an educational institution and (b) if you want to do basic science outside of that remit, then please burn the midnight oil and do it yourself (as I was forced to do so, on account of a highly unfavorable location from which to attract graduate students).

      Of course, the situation is not as simple as "us-versus-them", e.g., there are faculty who are concerned about what happens to their former graduates. However it's a matter of what their relative priorities are. Like it or not, at some point along the food chain, those interests and priorities will diverge. (I could write more, but it might diverge into a rant).

      GC

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    12. I don't believe there is an implicit or stated policy of ACS pubs, or schools, that will directly hurt current working chemists. However, because schools train far more chemists that are needed, that increases competition for jobs and makes current chemists less likely to stay in the field until retirement age, so functionally the policies of the schools training too many chemists and bringing in foreign chemists (who usually want to stay in the US) hurt the current US chemistry worker. My guess ACS pubs will support graduate education and so functionally, through this policy, they are at odds with the Chem worker as well.

      We need an organiztion president who will look out for the interests of the current chem worker, and can not be possibly influenced by the best interests of the schools or ACS pubs.

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    13. Hi NMH, well, yes I think we are both expressing the same goal. One question which is implied is whether an ACS president can do so, or if the rules of the game need to be changed. For example, if all else fails, then an on-line petition might be needed.

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  13. Tenure is a complicated issue, for which serious, well-thought comments are needed (as opposed to anonymous, off-the-cuff ones via a blog).

    As many of us will recognize, a guarantee of continuation of employment is necessary in order to manage grants and research groups. On the other hand what to do about the dead weight, who has given up applying for grants? What to do about the insiderism, which shields academic 5th wheels from being replaced by those who are more ambitious?

    Of course, this is not my blog :-) but reading some self-consistent policy ideas on this topic would be very welcome.

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    1. If you start your own blog i for one will certainly check it out! You're a lot more outspoken than most of the other bloggers out there.

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    2. Thanks but if I were employed, then I would have better things to do :-)

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