Thursday, November 17, 2016

Well, this is cheery

Back in late 2014, when the company outlined plans to lay off 900 staffers in its WARN letter to the state, GSK had a sizable 2,500 R&D workforce in RTP. Today, a spokesperson tells me that’s dwindled down to about 400 as the company followed through on its cost-reduction plan. 
Hundreds of the workers were transferred to GSK’s CRO, Parexel, which promptly turned around and laid many of the same workers off in its own downsizing effort — outsourcing the layoffs, so to speak. 
“Today there is a very much reduced scale of R&D activity in RTP,” says the spokesperson for GSK. “What remains in RTP is some infectious disease research (including ViiV folks), late-stage research groups, regulatory and medical functions.” A “handful” of those people may still be in transition, she adds. 
GSK, though, is still investing heavily in R&D, as its $250 million lab project underscores. The company spends about $4.4 billion per year on R&D. 
Makeovers like this have become the rule rather than the exception in Big Pharma. Novartis’ latest rejigger happened weeks ago, as Merck was overhauling its ops with an eye to creating a new hub in the Bay Area. AstraZeneca is building a South San Francisco research hub as well. Pfizer long ago relocated much of its research staff into Boston/Cambridge, warning at the time that there would always be a focus on refining and changing in the face of new R&D priorities. Shire has been relocating staffers into its Boston-area HQ. And so on.
So what happened to those 2,100 people? How many of those people left science? I suppose we'll never know.

The inability of the media (including myself, I guess) to accurately measure headcount in pharma R&D is a continuing problem in being able to accurately quantify the quality of the chemistry job market; this is a disappointment. 


  1. OT: You know, pretending that cutting off pension contributions is for the benefit of your infinitely mobile employees doesn't exactly explain why you're cutting off retiree health benefits as well, unless bankruptcy is now a convenience for your employees. (

    On the other hand, being dishonest about their R+D "rejiggering" has worked so far. Why stop now?

    1. I should have noted that this was from Chemjobber's Twitter feed and not found independently.


  2. Three weeks back, in a moment of frustration, I wrote to the office of my congresswoman and tried to explain to her the number of unemployed scientists in this country. I pointed out that the US was very concerned about finding commensurate jobs for unemployed physicists, and hence should be worried about chemists. The example was that we could be supplying new illegal drugs, explosives poisons etc. An automatic response resulted.

    Last week, a spammy e-mail arrived from her. Basically, she was looking for photo opportunities to associate herself with high-tech start-ups. Another public person with a mouth but no ears...

  3. When I read things like this, I really wonder why I even went into a Ph.D. in the first place. Now as a fifth year student almost ready to graduate, I see there are hardly any job opportunities available for someone with synthetic organic chemistry experience with a solid publication record at a top-tier school. If I'm having trouble, I can't imagine what people are going through at "lower" ranked schools.

    1. Anon, I have to say that you are probably going to be fine. I, however, was not at a top tier school and realized the job situation was terrible late into my PhD (actually "older" than some other recent PhD graduates) program and left with a masters. I don't regret it one bit, although I'm sure the pay is better, the opportunities for someone from a turd of a school with a masters is borderline endless. Alternatively, a lot of my friends had struggled getting phone calls, let alone interviews, and one guy who I thought was very smart and worked incredibly hard now has a bachelors chem job with a good publication record (I think 7 in grad school) and a very very good post-doc.

    2. @anon 3:21PM

      Just recognize that you have other marketable skills beyond bench research. If you're halfway decent at writing and communicating, there is a large world out there where you can still use your skills. It may not always be hard science, but it's still useful and pays well.

    3. Hi @anon 3:21PM,
      Do you have any recommendations of either the type of companies -or even their specific names- which are appropriate for PhD chemists staying alive? Right now I pull in a little bit of money as a "language polishing editor" but that field is becoming crowded and it's infrequent. Over the next few months, I've become scared of landing on the street, so every bit counts.

      On another subject, I've read from several sources that jobs advertised by the federal labs, i.e. Sandia, LLNL, LBNL, PNNL, Oak Ridge, etc. are already decided before the advertisements appear. Several federal employees have also reported this. The tell-tale symptoms include the jobs only being advertised in obscure locations. It isn't even illegal for an advertisement to state "a strong internal candidate has already been identified". But the HR people will not admit this. Does anyone know about the job now advertised with LBNL?


    4. Hi Anonymous 11:08PM:

      Besides your standard chemical companies, pharma, and biotech, there are lots of opportunities to keep doing science-based work. There are a lot of other places you can look: science communication companies, consulting groups, scientific editor positions, non-profit research organizations, IP, and government (to name a few areas). For the last category, you just have to keep trying - perhaps looking on an agency's website for openings will help separate the real openings from the fake ones.

      Don't just think about the bench work you can do. You effectively have a degree in problem solving - you can absorb new information, frame ambiguous problems, find creative solutions, and communicate them clearly. There are definitely positions available if you want to stay as a typical scientist, but there is also a lot else out there that can still make for a solid career.

    5. National labs advertise positions that are not really open, just like any other employer. This is commonly done by govt groups and public universities that have to follow HR policies by the letter. Clues include unusually specific job descriptions and short posting times (e.g., advertised for 3 days).

    6. In my experience, the national labs do hire from ads. I've done it myself, twice (postdoc and mid-career) and got 2 interviews, 1 offer. Two 2015 grads from my current university got postdocs by answering ads.
      Is everyone they hire from an ad - probably not. Are some of the ads merely a formality - probably. But don't assume that all ads you see aren't real.