Thursday, May 12, 2016

"[T]here is absolutely no routine here"

Here is our second story of a chemist working (and changing jobs) after 50, from Larry F.:
I worked at a large research center for a large chemical/oil company for 12 years (130 employees) right out of my post-doc. One of the advantages for working at a large company  was that I was exposed to a lot of different areas of the business, from the commodity side (we had groups that went down to Houston and Louisiana to troubleshoot our production facilities) to basic research developing a line of specialty chemicals, so I developed a lot of process/scale-up expertise.

In 2001 or so, headquarters decided to get out of the specialty chemical business (despite spending $250MM in the previous 5 years, but that is another story), laid off the entire research staff and closed the building. Three of the senior employees bought the building and all the equipment for a song and started a small custom manufacturing business with about 15-20 former employees.

Flash forward to today: we have about 50 employees and I am still in the lab most days (I am 57 years old). With a small company, there are no real titles, everyone pitches in as needed (including the owners). Being a contract lab, what comes through our door on a regular basis spans all of chemical research. Despite my formal training in organic chemistry, I have tackled projects for our customers spanning inorganic, organometallic and polymer chemistry as well as the occasional organic target compound. I have made quantum dots, metal oxide nano crystals, catalysts, and the like.

Our company works with a range of clients: small startups that don't have facilities to generate larger quantities of material, up to some of the largest chemical companies in the world that for some reason do not want to do kilo lab or pilot work on the materials they develop! I also help with any production problems that may come up in our scale up facility. My tenure (and trust of the owners) has afforded me the ability to work more or less independent; that is, when a customer calls in a request to do something, I talk to them, generate a price quote, do the lab work and be the key contact person during the lifetime of the project.

I think I was pretty lucky, in that the owners liked me from my time dealing with them at the larger company and thus bought me on when we went private. I am also lucky in that the variability of the work coming in keeps me interested in what I do, there is absolutely no routine here. I joke that I plan to work until I'm 90, but I see a 10 year horizon for at least being in the lab.
Thanks to Larry F. for his contribution.

Readers, have a story of staying a chemist after 50 to contribute? Write in to; confidentiality and final publication decision is yours. 


  1. This is what I wish would happen more often in shutdown/layoff situations.

  2. I'm glad there were no more jobs, love chemistry but working with a bunch of Chinese "chemists" enduring their ridiculous overblown opinions of themselves, watching management coo about their mediocre achievements, was hell on earth. These companies brag about doing world class research yet they staff with garbage. I make materials that I am able to sell for a decent buck. It may not be as stimulating as the research I used to do, but I'm in a much more stable situation. The "pipelines" are empty alright, but not for the reason the business types would have you think. I hope investors realize this. Just take a look on linkedin as to how a company staffs. There are so many grads from top labs in the US needing jobs but all you see is bullshit in these companies.

  3. My problem with CROs is that you work on very tight schedule, with customers that sometimes have unrealistic expectation and give you irreproducible procedures but are unwilling to invest into process development. Then you have management that tries to compete with CROs in East Asia. And you don't get to publish almost anything.

    1. If those projects were reproducible, needed a single associate for an afternoon, and immediately publishable they would not be outsourced, right?

    2. Research management problems can be easily solved - by making them someone else's problems. You can have teleconferences with your CRO counterparts every week, and make insightful comments about the need (for that one underpaid CRO chemist stuck with your crap procedure) to make a rapid progress to catch up with your Gant charts. It really makes you look good with the top management - like you are vigorously advancing the project despite of screwups of those incompetent CRO nitwits...

  4. Inspiring story from Larry ...