Friday, April 21, 2017

Derek Lowe on the geography of medicinal chemistry jobs

Via his Reddit AMA, a relevant question answered by Derek Lowe:
u/organiker: Any tips on landing a med chem job these days for someone with a PhD + postdoc experience? 
Also, what's the typical career progression for someone ending up in a chief science officer/division head/head of chemistry type role? 
Derek Lowe: It's not easy out there, but it can be done. Your odds are probably better with smaller companies, and there are two ways to play that. One is to head to where the smaller companies (and many of the bigger ones) are, that is, Boston/Cambridge or the SF Bay area. That's not a bad idea, but another strategy might be to try outfits that aren't in such a rich labor environment and would be happier to get you. The downside of that is, when the small company wipes out, as many do, you're left without as many options. That factor alone is a big reason for the popularity of the big clusters. 
I don't know if there's a typical progression, as to the second question. A lot of larger companies have two tracks (managerial and scientific), so if you want one of those jobs, you'll want to be on the first one. I never inclined that way, so I may not be a good person to ask!
It will be really interesting to see when (if ever) Peak SSF or Peak Kendall Square will come, if ever. I suspect it will take some sort of bizarre event to change this trend, but maybe I'm wrong. 


  1. Peak Kendall Square will probably come, because that small area only has so much space. But nothing is stopping companies popping up in outer Boston suburbs.

  2. The density isn the Kendal Square area is insane. From 1995 to the early-mid 2000's I worked in Cambridge and I was grateful I did not work in Kendal Square with all the parking issues...

    I worked in Central Square (University Park at MIT)... Back then the density there was not totally unreasonable... I happen to be back in Central Square a couple of years ago, and what were parking lots are now huge buildings... It's getting as bad a Kendal Square!

  3. Of course we're going to have Peak SF and Peak Boston, and it's going to be soon. The growth in pharma in these areas is being driven by moves from other parts of the country, not because Pfizer and Merck suddenly realized the error of their ways and decided to step up their R&D efforts.

    1. This is very interesting - when do you think Peak Cambridge or Peak Boston will happen? How would you measure such a thing?

      (I wonder what the best measurement of what employment in biopharma in Boston (or science in Boston) is?)

    2. Simple - whenever Philly, NJ, and the RTP finish emptying out!

    3. I know you don't like to discuss politics but the two major centers being both high tax, high regulation and favorable to animal rights "activists" makes me wonder if they won't find there are more problems with biomed research there than we've seen so far. Obviously problems with worker cost-of-living, quality-of-life, commuting etc are not counted.

      Of course, it's been that way for a long time without noticeable effect...

    4. I agree - I would have expected a pharma site in San Francisco to be under constant attack by animal-rights/anti-corporate nutjobs (as in vandalism, bomb threats, etc, not just sign-carrying protesters).

      I'm an industrial chemist, not involved in pharma, and almost all of my business travel is either to the Rust Belt or the Southeast/Texas. The big shift in pharma the last few years was surprising to me because almost every new chemical plant is built in the Southeast, taking advantage of light state-level regulation and cheap nonunion labor. Companies that need a lot of white-collar workers (such as pharma companies) could easily set up shop in Atlanta, Raleigh, etc instead of the rural South.

    5. Except the same factors that lead to the minimal regulation and taxes also tend to lead to infrastructure and education problems. You pay through the nose to live SF or Boston, but they have a lot of the infrastructure and education that people want, while Houston and Atlanta are less likely to have them (or rather, have them for not many people). In some cases, the ancillary things that often colocate with masses educated people those areas have in no uncertain terms said they don't want.

      In addition, you still have the "get another job" problem - the things that make employers happy are supplies of cheap people they can get rid of easily and don't have to spend much on, and those conditions mean that if you take one of those jobs, you need to have a plan on how to get another one. People in businesses whose jobs are that are transient are unlikely to desire being in a place without many alternatives.

      I imagine that the importance of colleges and startups to SF and Boston means that the cities are willing to take care not to allow behavior that makes them less likely to stay. I also imagine that schools with lots of overhead and endowment money can afford some security.

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