Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Job posting: senior scientist, BioCellection Inc., San Jose, CA

From the inbox, an interesting position at a Bay Area startup:
Senior Scientist, Chemistry 
For the chemical R&D stream, we are looking for an expert knows how to use chemistry to turn plastic polymers into depolymerized form. This chemical process is crucial for the downstream biological component to be fully effective. You will develop a process viable for the benchtop and interact with BioCellection biologists to ensure that your resulting depolymerization product is a viable carbon feedstock for the degradation microbes. It is important to keep in mind the sustainability and costs associated with different components of this method so you can upscale the prototype to industrial operations. 
It is required that you possess the following:
  • Ph.D. in organic chemistry (synthesis or catalysis) or organometallic chemistry
  • Experience working with polymers
  • Excellence in critical thinking, experimental design, and troubleshooting
  • Experience in upscaling chemical processes
  • Ability to understand the implications of proposed chemical work on the downstream biological processes
Full posting here. Best wishes to those interested. 

10 comments:

  1. this sounds like a truly crappy job assignment.

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    1. Depends on the polymer, but I'm guessing a start-up is not going to focus on polyesters.

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    2. quite a lot of things can go very wrong in this kind of project, because you are working with rich mixtures containing macromolecular material - so you will have hard time following what it going on with your mix by instrumental methods. Then, you have microbes that are supposed to grow on the substrate - and they will do whatever they like, for reasons you may not appreciate or figure out - you will just have trial and error. It will be difficult to figure out all variable factors influencing the outcome, and as a chemist responsible for developing the kind of a black-box process in what is basically a biology-based company, you will likely be blamed for everything.

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  2. This is a cause that I think is important and I genuinely wish Biocellection the best and hope to see them succeed.

    That being said, I would be VERY cautious in taking this job. The founders are a pair of young women who just graduated from college. They have no experience in biotech/pharma at all, let alone being in any type of managerial role in industry. I feel like the website reflects their age as it is heavy on promoting their TED talk and presence on social media more than the technology/process itself. I don't see any venture capital firms on their site, which leads me to believe the funding is entirely grant based/soft. I also don't see any type of scientific advisory board or similarly experienced scientists that would help guide the founders through their first foray into the land of biotech. According to the website, their patents are provisional, which doesn't offer a lot of power to the value of their IP. I agree with Milkshake, this appears to be a situation where the chemist would be expected to work out a messy process that seems poorly defined. And I'm guessing that it will get messy when a pair of BS level scientists with no practical experience begin to ask questions about a process that a PhD chemist can't work out quickly.

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    1. I can't stress enough how important is to have a solid funding in a biotech startup, to buy you time. It always takes longer and costs a lot more than projected, to develop anything useful. And then there is a problem with hype: You need to promote your company to attract the investors but repeated exaggeration often leads to wishful thinking, corrosive to technology development

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    2. Hype, etc. and not much else concrete or tangible. Plus, just to be clear: there is no such thing as a "provisional patent". It's a provisional application used to establish a filing date, used for up to one year before filing a regular application.

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    3. Provisional Applications are not examined. One can write anything one wants in them. The USPTO happily accepts anything and assigns it a number if you pay the filling fee.

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    4. Plus, the filing fee for a provisional application is peanuts. Assuming that BioCellection qualifies for micro entity status - which they most certainly do - they only had to pay $65 per filing. Their website claims three filings (I think they call them provisional patents on the website), so the have a whopping $195 invested with the USPTO at this point. That's pretty cheap hype.

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    5. The job description should be "you will design solutions to the things the two cofounders promised investors; they have no chemistry background and are prone to exaggeration. In the unlikely event you succeed, the two cofounders will get all the credit. If not, you will get the blame until we run out of cash."

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  3. Looks like this could be another Theranos in the making. The millennial hoodie wearing set think they can going to solve all the worlds problems with a TED talk and a crowdfunded app :)

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