Monday, October 26, 2015

A good set of thoughts from ACS President Donna Nelson

Also from this week's C&EN, a comment from ACS president-elect Donna Nelson on her presidential symposium on employment in chemistry at ACS San Diego this spring, including this interesting statement:
...We advise our students to study chemistry because it is interesting and rewarding, but this is only true if steady jobs await. While nothing in life is certain, they should have a realistic expectation that their years of study will be rewarded by a career in chemistry upon graduation. If this is not the forecast, then they should be told so they can make their own well-informed decisions....
I am sure I can find things to disagree with in this statement, but I like its boldness and straightforwardness most of all. More like this from all ACS senior members, please. 

23 comments:

  1. Can we get some after-drinks responses from the academics in the crowd? I am sure those are some deliciously hateful masterpieces.
    I am very happy to see Prof. Nelson has said this publicly. I hope she stands by it and does not back down from these words later.

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  2. I welcome her frankness. This is a good place to start.

    As faculty member, a lack of students lead me to do my own work in the lab. That means that I was burning the late-night oil on multi-step synthetic experiments, as opposed to silly student demos.

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    1. Demo's are not silly, you silly man. I find when you blow things up is the only time they pay attention. Perfect learning opportunity.

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    2. NMH, dude, I have NO problem getting my undergrads to pay attention during Org. I lecture.

      On the other hand, while my former employer in western Europe would have a twice-annual "Sprengfest", complete with a beer kiosk, I would be very surprised if you can get away with blowing up anything any more in North America.

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  3. A follow-up: the entire statement by Donna Nelson was nice. However, the magic word "PhD" was not explicitly present therein.

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    1. I guess you can always find something to criticize.

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    2. No, you have a particular gift in that area.

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    3. Anon, that's a prima facie violation of the "you" rule. Please move along.

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    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    5. Are you really gonna go with "he did it first", fella? You're better than that.

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  4. @ Cong trang dinh: I agree with you, whatever!

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  5. I think at a bare minimum we have to be honest with people, and I agree with Dr. Nelson. While I would never try to dissuade someone from pursuing chemistry if that's where their passions lie, we should give people the facts and let them make their own decisions. It doesn't help our profession in the long run to keep pounding the table and shouting for more chemists, when so many individuals at all degree levels and career stages end up discouraged and disillusioned once they experience the job market.

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    1. It is hard to predict what will happen in x amount of years when the future groups of students graduate, but I don't think that most of the lost big pharma jobs will be coming back to the US. I wouldn't have chosen a career in chemistry if I could have seen the future. I am a MS in chemistry, and have recently lost my big pharma job. My former employer has a ton of job postings now even though they are forcing employee turnover. I am hoping that someone will give me a chance in another field. You either move up the food chain into management (generally assuming you have a PhD), or move onto something else when the layoff comes.

      I haven't been an ACS member for years since I really haven't gotten anything out of it. They should be helping those of us who are now older and have to move on to another field. Instead, they were too busy with their pro-outsourcing agenda for years now while denying the oversupply of chemists. At least they are starting to see the reality of the situation and hopefully will give prospective students a balanced view of their future career prospects as a chemist.

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    2. Anon1:13, happy to help you search. chemjobber@gmail.com

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    3. Anon1:13 - Thanks for your help!

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  6. Good point which BB raises.

    Along those lines, I am curious about how to approach those same organizations which promote misinformation. Just now, and quite accidentally, I came across one such website, at http://www.air.org/project/broadening-participation-stem . Quoting from that website:
    "Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree production in the U.S. is not keeping pace with the demand for STEM talent." That quote is from 2014.

    How to deal with the excess-scientist deniers?

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    1. GC, I wish I could answer your question, but it's hard to argue with the numbers: Millennials have become the largest age demographic group, the number of people pursuing post-secondary education is at an all-time high, record numbers of international students in the U.S. (see: http://www.iie.org/Services/Project-Atlas/United-States/International-Students-In-US), increasing costs of higher ed driving more part-time and adjunct faculty, a trend towards companies hiring you for a specific project rather than for a career, and oh-by-the-way, a manufacturing base that has been declining in the U.S. for decades.

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    2. Hi BB,

      Your analysis of our educational system cranking out degrees, based on increasing numbers of both domestic and international students, vs. the outsourcing of commensurate employment opportunities is of course undeniable. I also agree with your desire to collect data on this, in order to quantify the situation. What sort of data do you have in mind?

      On the other hand, a few months back, a tenured faculty member even admitted to me that "the system is broken". There are a number of consequent analogies, e.g.
      a. Denial (e.g., the academic departments which engage in what could be termed as deceptive advertising).
      b. Ignoring the system (e.g. attitude of the excess-scientist deniers - some of these are very obstinate, specific examples available).
      c. Patching the system (in that context, I'm concerned about the outcome of Donna Nelson's conference).

      I supposed what I'm getting at is that the current system by which scientists are trained no longer appropriate to our socio-economic system. That system is a Wild-West-style, out of control, everyone-does-their-own-thing situation. It can't just be patched. Something else has to fundamentally change, and that will be something which will make some people uncomfortable.

      That being said, here are some concrete suggestions. Some will undoubtedly induce squeaking from the blogees, but no one said that the medicine must taste sweet:
      a. REQUIRE a significant industrial placement, e.g. of + 1 year, during the doctorate, for obvious reasons.
      b. See more faculty actually doing their own research (as I have had to do, in the past).
      c. Formally tie the privilege of having a PhD student to the demonstrated ability for past students' ability to find long-term employment using transferable skills acquired during their doctoral training. Back this up with numbers.

      Best

      GC

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    3. Hi GC,
      If I could have one piece of data, it would be, "What is the annual number of chemists in the U.S., across all degree levels and all career stages, who want to pursue a career in chemistry but instead go into another area because they can't find employment relevant to their expertise and abilities?" If anyone can shed some light on this, they would have my deepest gratitude.

      Best, BB

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  7. Hi BB,

    Do you mean your response to have a hypothetical tone? I is a legitimate question, and one which our greater society has asked for other commercial products which compete for our money. My best example is the Consumers' Report magazine and organization, which compares different brands on the basis of specific, relevant criteria. What about us? We are supposed to be scientists, after all. Can’t we analyze the quality of our own product?

    Of course, the obvious source of the data which is needed to calculate your data is the numbers at individual Chemistry degree programs.

    Several mechanisms come to mind as to how the ACS could collect this data. I’m guessing that you and others can think of yet other ways. Would there be a willingness within the ACS to do so?

    best

    GC

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    1. Of course, I meant to write "It is a legitimate question", instead of "I is a legitimate question" :-) !!

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