Thursday, August 27, 2009

~25% of Harvard PhD chemists go to Wall Street?

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post has a post on a Harvard economist's article about how the top-end salaries of the financial sector were pulling the brightest students towards Wall Street. Klein writes about the smart young folks who become financial wizzes:

If the financial sector is somehow shut down, or radically shrunk, they'll just go to the next most profitable industry. Doctors get paid a lot, but there are sharp constraints on supply, so you'd just have more competitive medical schools, as opposed to more doctors. We'll have a lot more lawyers. Many more management consultants. Potentially more engineers and researchers, though those gigs require specialized graduate education -- frequently in the hard sciences -- and I'd imagine there's not too much overlap between college kids interested in organic chemistry and college kids who end up in finance at 23. (emphasis CJ's)
And in the comments, a Harvard chemist (Ph.D.?) (post-doc?) sez:

As a former organic chemistry graduate student, I can say that finance/ consulting are hugely popular alternatives to academia/pharmaceutical research. I think about 25% of PhD students went in to consulting from the Harvard chemistry department during the years that I was there (2005-2008) (emphasis CJ's), and McKinsey had a very strong recruiting presence, which made it seem that consulting was the main alternative to a lab based research career.
Twenty-five percent? One in four? This can't be right, can it? Those who've been around Harvard folks or in the department itself -- is this true?

Frankly, I don't really have a problem with this, but it does seem a waste of NIH funding (where the taxpayer gets the public domain science and the trained scientist, too.) Readers, what say you -- true or just a bit of blog comment hyperbole?

UPDATE: I e-mailed a knowledgable insider who replied as such (answer slightly redacted for privacy):

I don’t know the numbers for the department, but I can tell you from my lab, the number of graduate students who have graduated in the past four years who went into business consulting was [above 25%.] I know of plenty of other students from the department who have taken the consulting route (including the author of the original comment, I think), so if 25% is an overestimate, I don’t think it’s far off.

I’ll leave the interpretation of these data to you. From an inside perspective, these people were very different from each other, and I can’t identify a common reason for their leaving research. Interestingly, I don’t know of a single postdoc from our lab (or others, for that matter) who has gone into consulting.
Wow -- that's remarkable. I'm guessing that this is something that's H-bomb related; I can't imagine greater than 10% of a PhD graduating class of most other top flight programs going to business consulting.

Chemjobber C&EN Index: 8/17/09

Industrial positions (non-academic, non-governmental):
Total number of ads: 0
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 0
- Ratio of US/non-US: 0/0
Area: 0
Week to week trend: Down, big.

Governmental positions (US, international):
Total number of ads: 0
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 0
- Ratio of US/non-US: 0/0
Area: 0
Week to week trend: Down.

Academic positions:
Total number of ads: 18
- Postdocs: 3+
- Tenure-track faculty: 14
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions: 0
- Staff positions: 2
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 19/0
- Area (square cm): 455
Week to week trend: Up, slightly.

Tough week, huh?: No industrial positions this week. No governmental ones, either. Sorry, folks. Great week for academic positions, though, with a few small-college positions available. Over to you, Adam!

This'll be good: The next "Employment Outlook" issue will be November 2nd. Any chances for a huge week of recruiting then? Please?

Small college of the week: Hope College (Holland, MI, student population: 3,200 - SA-LUTE!) is looking for a tenure-track assistant professor in inorganic chemistry. A lovely town, Holland, Michigan, but if you're allergic to tulips or those funny wooden shoes, I'd suggest you apply elsewhere...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chemistry in the desert: life at China Lake

Photo credit to B.L.

I posted a bit on one of the recent DPTs about working at China Lake, which is one of the US Navy's weapons-related scientific research labs. A poster wrote in and said that they worked there; we'll call this person B.L. Below are a few questions with B.L. about life doing a postdoc for the US Navy; B.L.'s answers were lightly edited for clarity and checked for accuracy.

CJ: What was your background? What did you do, scientifically, out there at China Lake?

My background was actually organometallics for my Ph.D. followed by a first postdoc in organic methodology. China Lake was my second postdoc. What I did there was actually to work on "n-doping" conducting organic polymers which would be used as the anode in a polymer-based supercapacitor (lightweight battery replacement!). The chemistry involved lots and lots of pyrazine cheimstry - which I had never done before - so I didn't have a whole lot of success. The real pity is that the project was my own idea...I of course worked on synthesizing other heterocyclic systems when the pyrazines didn't work out.

What is it like to work at a government lab? How is it different than an academic one (or an industrial one?)
Hmm. Now that I've been in all three types, I can say the major areas of difference are in safety and in instrumentation. As we're all painfully aware, safety in academia is pretty much up to you - nobody tells you to do much of anything. In industry, believe me, if I so much as appear without a lab coat on I hear about it. To say nothing of the public mea culpas and detailed analysis of anything defined as an "incident" that I have to go through if, god forbid, I have an actual incident in the lab. And an "incident" may be as simple as blowing my reaction through my condenser (whoops) or cutting myself on glass.

At China Lake, at least, it's a little bit in between for safety. No one made me wear a lab coat, but they didn't want you to even think about working alone. No after hours reactions unless you could find someone else on the wing and tell them what you were doing. If you blew your reaction through your condenser, nobody really noticed, but on the other hand, if you had even a minor detonation, it was a very serious thing, involving a very similiar process to the public mea culpas, detailed analysis, etc., etc. that I deal with in industry.

One thing at China Lake that was very cool was the emergency system. If you felt threatened for any reason you could run to the hallway and hit an emergency button that simultaneously put all the hoods on overdrive, sounded an alarm, and set emergency lights flashing. From a chemical point of view this might only be useful to keep contamination from spreading from the one affected hood, but really it was there to let everyone know that someone was in trouble. This was used several times during my one year there, and let me tell you, it was effective. So yeah, at the one government lab I've been at safety was maybe not quite as rigorous as at the industrial lab I'm in now, but I think you'll be safe nonetheless.

From the instrumentation point of view, in academia anything you will reasonably need or want is there, but you have to learn to use it yourself at great expense in time. In industry, at least where I am now, we have everything I could want and there's a dedicated staff of skilled technicians who carry out all analyses for me (this is ideal). At China Lake, they have everything you could reasonably want but you'll have to learn most of it yourself again - although for some instruments there are staff members who will do it for you. Also, for certain projects they have extraordinarily awesome and expensive instruments - probably not for your project though (tough).

Who was your supervisor (i.e. a naval officer or a civilian scientist?)

My supervisor was a civilian scientist, and that's pretty much how it goes at China Lake! Your boss may have a deep security clearance, but he or she will not have a rank, serial number, and a buzz cut. The R&D employees there are pretty much 100% civilian.

Did you feel that it was a true "post-doc", in that there was a scientific project that you were responsible for driving forward?
Absolutely. In order to get the postdoc positions advertised, you'll have to be awarded a fellowship and you'll have to go through the usual fellowship application process (as you'll find out when you send in an application. They are typically funded through a DC based outfit call the American Society for Engineering Education). When I was writing my fellowship application, my future boss gave me the project background and a few suggestions and then I had to hash out the rest myself. I had an original idea, a well-thought out method of getting to my target compounds (I thought), and that was the project I was responsible for pushing forward. Well, changing fields almost 100% may look OK on paper, and it didn't really work out in the lab, but my original proposal was what I was sinking or swimming with.

What was it like to interact with the military folks?
The only interaction I had with military personnel was showing my badge at the entrance gates! I never saw anyone in uniform wander down our wing (unless it was by accident). For the most part, military higher ups didn't get involved until field testing stages, which I never had anything to do with.

If it was synthetic chemistry, what is it like to do synthetic organic chemistry on explosives?
Ah, no explosives here. However, I shared a lab with Robert Chapman (who will be some lucky applicant's supervisor on the explosives research project). Bob did things in the lab on a very, very small scale. In fact, he typically used unstabilized methylene chloride as solvent - because the stabilizer would mess up his NMRs after he was done with his syntheses! So, minimal danger level there. When he was scaling up he would use a totally different building - I saw him once walking around with the really thick overhead stirrer shafts, so I can only imagine about the safeguards involved in that facility.

Where are you now? How did your naval postdoc help or hinder you?
I am out in the big wide world of industry now, and I have been for the last four years. I'm obviously not in pharma given my pedigree. I have to say that I think the naval postdoc helped, if only a little bit. Remember, you need to win a fellowship to go there, and that only looks good on the resume. Now, if you were interested in working on esoteric military-based materials problems, you should definitely go. Go now. (Emphasis CJ's.) When I met the division director at China Lake, the first thing he told me is that it was possible to become staff from being a postdoc there. One of my postdoc friends from China Lake is currently (unbelievably well remunerated) staff at Edwards AFB. People have jumped between China Lake and Los Alamos. So if you are interested in military stuff it is a foot in the door.

A few more things: The research projects at China Lake are entirely devoted to the needs of the Navy. This means that really big important projects there will be all about stuff that you probably never thought of....This also means that everything you work on may end up on either a warship, a fighter plane, or a missile (China Lake is home of the Sidewinder missile, and also all of the US Navy's missile testing program, as you will quickly find out if you end up going there). For an example, one of the things reaching the field testing stage when I was about to leave was an organic polymer intended to replace chromium-based anticorrosion primer paints. This project was a big, big deal. Also just as I was leaving a call went out for proposals for a lead-free solder. These were both environmental-based issues, but even my early stage project for lightweight battery replacements was intended to lighten...missiles. Missiles need batteries too, and the engineers decided that lighter batteries would increase performance by a non-trivial amount.

Another thing to remember is that they actually want to publish as much as possible at China Lake. The defense granting agencies treat applicants a lot like the more academic institutions in using publications as a sort of judgement mechanism. So if at all possible, your research will not disappear down a black hole. There was also a really cool division of patent royalties, in the unlikely event that you work on a real hit, you may one day see some real money.

About living in Ridgecrest: Well, the location is not good. It's in the middle of the Mojave desert. The view from my living room was nothing but red rocks, dirt, and creosote bushes right up to the horizon. I didn't like it, one little bit. However, management there knows it sucks, and they try hard to make it better. We all had "flex-time" whereby everyone worked an extra hour for nine work days, and then every other Friday was off. But, no one really cared if you worked that extra hour every, 26 extra days off per year. The $50,000 stipend will cover nearly anything you could want out there. My 2-bedroom apartment went for the princely sum of $450 per month. Really, just don't buy a new Corvette and money will be no problem.

And yeah, you're at least three hours of frantic freeway driving from anywhere...but even so, at times the basic weirdness of it all is really entertaining. I remember cradling a length of threaded pipe capped at both ends bearing a label of "Sarin" in one of the stockrooms (CJ: !!!)....I'll never do that, yes, if you want something different you might consider it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ACS Careers gets punk'd

Checking the ACS Careers jobs feed, I noted a new job posting for "jokina", which is apparently a "top job search engine." When you click on the posting, the job description says "Employment, USA Jobs, Job Search, Jobs Part Time & Student Summer Jobs."

This last leads to a website that is clearly some sort of spam site about working 4-5 hours a day for 5k a month.

You know, I'm beginning to think that there's someone asleep at the switch over there at ACS Careers (or actually, they need to change their filtering software.) I'm going to e-mail folks at ACS and see if I can get a response.

Interview: what's it like to handle lots of nBuLi?

Commenter extraordinaire CMC guy recently commented on his experience performing larger-scale reactions with nBuLi. I asked CMC guy to answer a few questions about these reactions and he kindly agreed; his answers to my questions were lightly edited for clarity.

CMC guy's disclaimer: Observations from (former?) Process Chemist who’s been away for the bench for several years yet still directly oversees API R&D and Manufacturing (so on occasion I can pretend I still am a Chemist). The usage of BuLi mentioned was at least 15 years ago so certain details are lost to memory, or perhaps would be confidential even if I did fully recall, yet I can speak to some elements and trust will answer/illustrate features of larger scale chemistry (in context mainly of Pilot Plant).

CJ: What did you do different than a typical run in a lab?

Scale was 50-100x of largest lab runs so were many both direct and subtle differences typical of such efforts. Everything was “planned” in detail from lab experiments, available reagents (10N nBuLi) and multiple pre-campaign meetings to discuss and refine, particularly how to execute most safely. Procedure was codified and captured stepwise in Batch records, not recorded after the fact. Because usually reactors have only a sight glass port did not always have visual clues normally used in lab but had alternative monitoring (internal temp, pressure, sample testing) to reaction. We also had at least 2-4 people involved during operations, mostly lost PhDs and Chemical Operators who knew their stuff, particularly during hazardous portions. Weight of materials was used to measure quantities rather than doing by volume.

CJ: How'd you get the BuLi into the reaction?

Method analogous of “cannulation” commonly used in lab with the BuLi coming in canisters with valve ports, like heavy duty propane tanks, and used N2 pressure to push transfer (10N nBuLi a viscous solution whose behavior reminded me of tBuLi/Et2O which is more intense flammability than 1-2.5 N BuLi most people familiar with). The connections/plumbing not too different from gas cylinders with Teflon lined stainless steel flex transfer tubing (<1/2> 5L run went directly into reaction in stop/go pulses based on maintaining temperature control (keep between -40 to -20°C). The 20L amounts was placed in a drop tank, thinned with solvent (THF or DME) then added “dropwise” for smoother operation (and worked better since less manipulation of BuLi. N2 Purges were enhanced to assure continuous inert atmosphere. Post reaction we did breakdown and clean externally with CO2 saturated solvent (IPA?) wipes and tubing was sealed in bags then treated in same fashion in a lab hood.

CJ: What kind of PPE is needed for that scale?

Pilot Plant normally has many established Engineering controls for safety with alarms, suppression systems and hand extinguishers readily available. Clothing worn was not drastically different with lab coats or uniforms except hardhats/safety glasses were all mandated (and was strictly enforced well beyond lab). Gloves (nitrile-type mainly) and maybe rubber aprons, then face shields were used when connecting or adjusting values and the BuLi cylinders were placed behind a blast shield (lab type). One person always stood at distant watching and holding a fire extinguisher when handling the BuLi directly..

CMC guy's concluding comments:

A general remark, although it would seem obvious, in that Process Development/Scale-up pretty much always has inherent dangers because of the larger amounts involved and when utilize particularly hazardous agents this increases dramatically, therefore if some thing were to go wrong the potential damage would be much greater (however seen many new PhDs who have to be educated in this aspect because of bad habits picked up in grad school.)

Note that Costs correlates this same way as mistakes during scale-up can be extremely expensive so reinforces the overall awareness necessary. One hopes because of this risk factor process chemists become highly safety conscious in everything that they do but as it typically pertains to Pilot Plant Operations requirements create a very different environment from Labs. The basics distinctions between Lab vs. Scale-up arenas I would summarize as fall into Planning, Equipment, Personnel and Enforcement (of Policies).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Daily Pump Trap: 8/21/09 edition

Mornin', folks. Since August 11, there have been 170 new jobs posted.

Workin' for the complex: SAIC (a major, major defense contractor) is looking for a Senior Scientist to do work in NCI's Developmental Therapeutics program in fungal natural products. Awesome.

Is there an electrochemist in the house?: DOE is looking for a senior electrochemist to lead their electric battery team. For the good of the country, I hope they get someone good.

Really workin' for the complex: The Navy's looking for a couple of postdocs to do inorganic/organic synthesis, with an eye towards explosives. If you take these positions, hope you like it dry.

Kelly time!: Are you a chemist? Do you want to do chemistry, maybe in a lab? Kelly Scientific Resources and the American Chemical Society want to know if you're interested in being a master's level molecular biologist, having a RN's license, looking after animals or working in a chicken vivarium!

ACS powers-that-be: I'm not going to quit on this.

Chemjobber C&EN Index: 8/11/09

Industrial positions (non-academic, non-governmental):
Total number of ads: 2
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 6+
- Ratio of US/non-US: 3+/3+
Area: 515
Week to week trend: Up.

Governmental positions (US, international):
Total number of ads: 1
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 1+
- Ratio of US/non-US: 1+/0
Area: 157
Week to week trend: Up.

Academic positions:
Total number of ads: 11
- Postdocs: 3
- Tenure-track faculty: 10+
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions: 1+
- Staff positions: 0
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 11+/0
- Area (square cm): 449
Week to week trend: Up.

Hi, there, GSK: So GSK put out a full-pager, looking for help in their API and formulating folks. Physical chemists, material scientists, crystallographers and chemical engineers. Good jobs, all. Let's keep it coming and best of luck to GSK, who seems to be prepping for marketable products.

Bold predictions, failed: I coulda sworn the August 10th issue was the big career issue. Maybe it's next week. If it was this week, no good for us.

Eli calls: Big-time group postdocs, Yale is looking for assistant professors to start on July 1, 2010. Good luck, folks. This is one that you want.

Uh, what? And where?: The good folks of the South Dakota State University Biological Control and Analysis by Applied Photonics (BCAAP) are looking for positions in "synthetic and physical organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry and drug delivery for cancer therapeutics; and fluorescence microscopy techniques for analysis of [blah, blah, biology, blah.]" Okay, so get the educational requirements: "earned Ph.D. in biochemistry, biological chemistry, biophysical chemistry or closely related discipline." Hmmm. Hmmm.

How about a degree in um, organic chemistry? Maybe? Kind of like the union electricians' motto, organic synthesis is not a hobby.

Small college of the week: Albright College (Reading, PA, student population: 1,650 - SA-LUTE!) is looking for a inorganic chemistry faculty position. Sounds like a good time -- looks like you'll just a 7 professor department, in the 5th (count 'em, 5th!) largest city in Pennsylvania.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sympathy for the adviser?: Patrick Harran, two fire marshals and tape recorder 403

Among the many valuable documents that Jyllian Kemsley was able to obtain and publish on the Sheri Sangji / UCLA case, the most valuable is the transcript of the one hour interview between Professor Patrick Harran and two fire marshals. Those who are interested in this case should read the document -- it's so rare that organic chemistry and the legal system meet (collide?) in such a manner, even though there aren't any CSI moments, by any means.

Holiday? Humbug!: I found it funny to watch a professor squirm when the UCLA fire marshals questioned why they were there during the winter break:
Aplin: Can you tell me why she was on campus during shutdown? UCLA has a shutdown period of time towards the end of the year -- turn of the year -- and all personnel are supposed to be off campus unless you are critical or central, and we are wondering why she was on campus during shutdown?

Harran: Oh, in research I think our vacation schedules may be a little different. I didn't realize there was some sort of mandatory - I treated Chari [sic] like a student. You know, she was classified as a full-time employee, but she was part of the group just like a graduate student and we work year-round pretty much. I was there then and two of my postdoctoral fellows were here. We were treating it like a - it was after the Christmas holiday - it was the week after that.

Aplin: Did anybody from the Chemistry Department or any of your colleagues say "hey, listen, it's shutdown period, we need to be off campus"?

Harran: No. And I hope they don't institute that as a - that would be bad.
I find this section really kinda hilarious, because it memorializes the must-work-all-the-time attitude of the academic world. Yes, yes, I've been in the lab on Christmas night and New Year's Eve, too -- but it's pretty darn funny to read it in print from a reasonably prominent professor (and after such a gruesome incident, as well.)

Sheri Sangji's statement: Los Angeles Fire Department investigators spoke to Sheri Sangji at the hospital; because they were "sworn peace officers", they are "allowed to take third-party hearsay testimony and admit it as evidence in a court." Her statement to the investigators is key in that she says three important things: 1) she was using a 60-mL syringe, 2) she said that she pulled the plunger out too far and 3) she said a container of hexane[s] spilled on her and exacerbated the fire.

With respect to the hexanes container, the fire marshals proceed to thoroughly interrogate Harran as to whether there was a container of hexanes. Ms. Sangji's statement is that there was -- Professor Harran says there was not. I suspect that the D.A.'s decision to prosecute in this case may hinge on this missing(?) beaker.

Questions of scale (sigh): In three separate places, I find I disagree with Professor Harran's assessments of the scale of the reaction Ms. Sangji was attempting to perform. To wit:
"And we do, we use both methods [CJ:i.e. syringe and cannulation.] I believe - yeah, [co-worker's name] had certanily done the cannulation technique. I don't know if she had done the cannulation technique previously, so she may have been repeating the procedure that she had done simply on a larger scale. (page 10, transcript numbering)

She was replicating an experiment. She had done this exact procedure with the same substrates several times. She was making more of something that she had made previously. (page 10)

...She was still on the pretty small end... It was a few grams of potential product... I would call it moderate scale. (page 32)"
I fundamentally disagree. While scale is all relative (there's always that annoying pilot plant gal who insists that your 200 liter reaction is penny-ante and she's drank more THF than you've ever seen), that's a pretty big amount of tBuLi. The facts speak for themselves on this point, but I'm sure that there have been many others who've handled more, safer.

Heartbreakers: Among the heartbreaking things in this transcript is the statement by Prof. Harran about PPE:
Jurado: Okay. Another element here that we have to address is personal protective equipment. It's my - we don't know whether or not she was using eye protection. We do have statements that she was wearing nitrile gloves. And we also know that she was not wearing a lab coat. (page 18)

Harran: Which is, which is, in my opinion, that's the real tragedy. I mean, I think just a simple cotton lab coat - I encourage everyone to wear eyeglasses and a lab coat. And I encourage it repeatedly. But yeah - I've done this, these are young people. They got lots of energy, they don't think anything's gonna happen to them, right? They don't, right? And, um, if I don't go in every single day-
No comment.

Another heartbreaking moment: Professor Harran was asked by the fire department officials to complete Ms. Sangji's experiment. I can't imagine what that must have been like -- I'd be interested to know if he actually completed the reaction or just quenched it.

Professors, you do not want this to be you: During this 1 hour interview, it's pretty clear that Professor Harran is uncomfortable with his position. He's got these two fire marshals asking him very pointed questions about his lab's operations. He has to answer questions about his employee's experiments, they want to know about this missing bottle of hexanes, he has to face up to the fact that he had his postdocs* and him clean up the lab (against the wishes of a UCLA fire marshal) and then he has to answer more questions about how the lab appeared to have been tampered with (during the night.)

Professors, you don't want this to be you -- pound PPE into your underling's heads, pound common sense about the dangers of the lab (and the dangers of scale-up) into their heads and you will probably avoid all of this.

*Anyone think that this part of the story would have been different if the two postdocs were US nationals? Yeah, I think so, too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Interview: a job hunt story with a nice ending

A while back, I received a comment from Mr. Edward Fritzen, mulling over a potential high school teaching position. I wandered over to his blog and CV, which shows him to be a rather experienced medicinal chemist who's currently looking for a position. Seeing as how Chemjobber is (partially) about how chemists look for and find new positions, I asked Mr. Fritzen if he'd be willing to answer a few questions and he graciously agreed. What follows is the Q&A by e-mail -- Mr. Fritzen has looked this post over for approval.

1. Do you still see yourself as a bench chemist or do you see yourself more as a medicinal chemist?

Good question. I guess I've always thought of myself as a medicinal chemist. I really don't like it when people try to differentiate between medicinal chemistry and either synthetic organic chemistry and/or bench chemistry. Medicinal chemists use synthetic organic chemistry to make molecules having biological activity against a target, while optimizing the physical properties to give that molecule the best chance to hit that target in an living organism. Medicinal chemists have more knowledge about pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, etc, but they're essentially synthetic chemists at heart. I have always worked at the bench, to make these molecules, some of which I designed, other being designed by others. Just because I worked at the bench, does that exclude me from being a medicinal chemist? I don't think so, although I do know of some medicinal chemists who haven't seen the inside of a hood for years. From my first days in industry , this is how I was trained. I always made molecules to learn something about SAR or other physical properties and was encouraged to always think about the SAR to design better molecules. After 24 years of working in drug discovery research and having survived various mergers and acquisitions my then current employer told me, "you need to learn more medicinal chemistry". I thought that was what I was doing for 24 years! Apparently, since I was doing bench work, I couldn't possibly be medicinal chemist. So maybe one can only be a bench chemist/synthetic chemist or a medicinal chemist, but not both. I don't agree with that. I believe I'm a medicinal chemist, who actually does work at the bench doing synthetic organic chemistry.

2. How has it changed to be a medicinal chemist over the time that you've been in the industry?

I think one of the biggest changes I've seen is the development of high throughput screens, not only against a biological target, but also to screen for other properties such as solubility, permeability, ADME and toxicology. All of this additional information is available to the medicinal chemist much earlier in the drug discovery process and often early hits/leads are dropped based on this information. The sheer amount of knowledge available on early hits is much greater now than it was when I started. I can remember optimizing for biological activity as a first step before we even looked at other physical properties. Now the medicinal chemist is trying to optimize all these properties at once.

3. Chemists seem to like to grouse about their bosses -- has that always been the case? How has management changed over the time that you've been around? Were scientific decisions as "business/economics"-driven as they seem to be now?

I believe that today's management is very driven by business and economics, much more so than it was when I started my career. Early in my career, I felt management was interested in doing good science and would allow the scientists the time to do the right experiments or make the right compounds, even if it took more time and might only result in doing a small number of good experiments or good compounds. Today's management looks at metrics, and tries to apply business models much more appropriate for managing a factory or other manufacturing facility and don't really work well for managing research.

4. How has the job hunt been? What are you hearing from interviewers/recruiters about how many people are out there?

I was laid off on May 15, so it's only been about two months. I have applied for a number of positions for which I'm qualified, and it has resulted in two interviews . I have heard that I won't be getting an offer as a result of my first interview, however I did receive an offer from my second interview.

Thanks to Mr. Fritzen for his answers (and patience!) Always nice to see a happy ending -- best wishes for his new position.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Daily Pump Trap: 8/11/09 edition

Good morning! Including jobs posted Aug 10 from July 31, there have been 199 jobs posted. Sorry for the break, folks, but the Pump Trap had to go take care of real world business. Let's see what we got.

Big Pharma on its way back?: GSK (UK, US), Amgen and other Big Pharma-ish jobs have been spotted. With all this "green shoots" talk, it'll be interesting to see when jobs start turning around.

Zagat for the environmentalist?: is looking for a Chief Scientist to help them rate the social and environmental aspects of businesses; looking for a Ph.D. with quantitative medical research experience. Interesting -- I guess you'll have to quit using that dry cleaner that uses perchloroethylene...

Gov't postdoc?: The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins is looking for a synthetic postdoc with 31P NMR experience; ability to get government clearance needed. Good luck, Dr. Agent 007.

The job of the next generation: Pepsi is looking for a Ph.D. food scientist (1+ yr. experience) for ingredient research. Let me guess -- on the interview, don't ask for a Diet Coke. Also looking for an M.S./Ph.D. with 3-15 years experience for help with "sweetness solutions." Fun term.

Kelly Time!: Got a degree in chemistry? Kelly Scientific Research wants to know if you've be interested in conducting sleep research, being a biologist technician or a greenhouse lab technician. No? How about a pet care technician or a food microbiologist?

Note to ACS powers-that-be -- I'm going to keep slagging KSR until they change their ways. Frankly, this lack of care in posting jobs is the tiniest bit insulting. (hat tip f.h.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chemjobber C&EN Index: 8/3/09

Industrial positions (non-academic, non-governmental):
Total number of ads: 0
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 0
- Ratio of US/non-US: 0/0
Area: 0
Week to week trend: Down, badly.

Governmental positions (US, international):
Total number of ads: 1
- Postdocs: 1
- Permanent positions: 0
- Ratio of US/non-US: 0/0
Area: 51
Week to week trend: Down, slightly.

Academic positions:
Total number of ads: 4
- Postdocs: 1
- Tenure-track faculty: 4
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions: 0
- Staff positions:
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 5/0
- Area (square cm): 136
Week to week trend: Down, slightly.

Well, that didn't last.: Last week's lovely showing from 3 pharma companies didn't happen this week. Maybe they're saving for next week?

Speaking of next week...: Next week's C&EN is the jobs issue. I predict 4-5 ads from different Fortune 500 type companies, with a total CJ index of about 1200 square cm. Let's hope I'm right.

Small college of the week: Ohio Northern University (Ada, OH, student population: 3,290 - SA-LUTE!) is looking for a couple of tenure track professors in inorganic chemistry and analytical chemistry. I suspect that Ada, OH is in a impossibly beautiful, remote part of Ohio. Readers, what say you?

Chemjobber C&EN Index: 7/27/09

Industrial positions (non-academic, non-governmental):
Total number of ads: 6
- Postdocs: 1
- Permanent positions: 13++
- Ratio of US/non-US: 11++/3
Area: 953
Week to week trend: Up, signficantly.

Governmental positions (US, international):
Total number of ads: 1
- Postdocs: 0
- Permanent positions: 1
- Ratio of US/non-US: 1/0
Area: 113
Week to week trend: Up, slightly.

Academic positions:
Total number of ads: 2
- Postdocs: 3+
- Tenure-track faculty: 0
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions: 0
- Staff positions: 1+
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 4++/0
- Area (square cm): 58
Week to week trend: Down, slightly.

Thanks, industry: Impressive week, this week. Big doings from Genentech (lots of multiple position ads) and Millenium (even though most folks online believe that Millenium's just fishing). And Novartis got crazy with a full-pager for a single position in their Switzerland chemical genetics lab. The Swiss, they have money.

Honda? Now that's a company!: Did you know that Honda has a research institute in Columbus, OH? Neither did I -- they're looking for a photoelectrocatalysis postdoc. Hmph -- tempting.

Chemspec -- super casual?: Chemspec's China division is looking for (I am not kidding!) "We are recruiting a couple of Process R&D Project Managers..." A couple, huh? Well, we're just looking for a few good jobs!

Small college of the week: The University of North Carolina Wilmington (Wilmington, NC, student population: 13,402 - SA-LUTE!) is looking for Ph.D.s who have biotechnology-related degrees to do research and study for an MBA. I don't know how I feel about this, but if someone else is paying... (of course, you're paying the time...)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The details are out: C&EN publishes its findings on the Sheri Sangji/UCLA case

(Photo of Sheri Sangji's Dec. 29, 2008 reaction from UCLA, credit to C&E News.)

Jyllian Kemsley of Chemical and Engineering News has published a
remarkably detailed account of the incident that claimed the life of Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji, who was working in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran, who is the Donald J. Cram chair of organic chemistry at UCLA. She has collected a great deal of governmental electronic documents from the investigation -- I cannot praise this decision of Ms. Kemsley and C&E News enough, as it is provides the "raw data" that chemists can use to make safer decisions from now on. This is the power of the Internet and open inquiry, folks.

For those of you who have been following my commentary on the case, I strongly recommend that you go and read the whole article. Almost as valuable as Ms. Kemsley's article is the transcript of the interview between Prof. Harran and two UCLA fire marshals.

Questions that are answered: In my first post about the case, I asked a series of questions about the incident. I believe these can now be answered:

How much, if at all, did 1) the holiday, 2) lack of safety training or 3) language or communications issues on the part of her coworkers contribute to her injuries?

It does not appear that the holiday contributed to a delay in emergency response. It does appear that the EMS response was delayed because they stopped before entering the building, because they considered the accident to be a HazMat-type scenario. (page 23 of the interview (numbers on the pages, not the PDF.) It does appear that there was a lack of formal safety training (Ms. Sangji had not taken the quarterly EH&S class). Language or communications issues with the two Chinese postdocs did not contribute to her injuries, but it is clear that communications issues did interfere with the investigation, as their interviews were performed through a Mandarin translator. (last page)

Did her work fall under "critical research needs", as laid out by UCLA department policy?

No. It is clear from the interview that Harran was unaware of this UCLA policy. (page 2 of interview)

UPDATE: See here for Jyllian Kemsley's comments on this point; she notes that the UCLA administration was aware that research labs are open and working during the winter break.

Are we to include death as a potential consequence of mishandling t-butyllithium?

Yes. It's clear (to me, anyway) that a combination of remarkably large scales of tBuLi, relative inexperience with needle/syringe transfers and a lack of proper PPE can result in serious burns, which can result in death. Chemist, beware.

What was the scale of the fatal reaction? What kind of setup was she using?

As can be seen from the picture above (and the scanned copies of Ms. Sangji's notebook), the fatal reaction was intended to be performed on 150 mL scale of (1.69M tBuLi in pentane.) Prof. Harran considered it be a "moderate" scaleup. Ms. Sangji appears to have been using a nitrogen bubbler setup, which is pretty typical in organic chemistry labs.

New details: According to the article, Ms. Sangji was using a 1.5 inch needle on a 60 mL syringe. CJ's speculation: If she was using a 100 mL bottle of tBuLi, she probably actually tipped the bottle upside down. It does not sound like she had clamped the bottle, which is considered proper procedure (and would subsequently require use of a longer needle.)

(Note to chemists: Look, we've all been there before. All the long needles have been crapped up by your stupid coworkers and so, you reach for the little one. This case is exactly why you should keep your needles clean (away from your stupid slob coworkers?) and use the right ones for the right procedure.)

More UCLA flacks become chemistry background experts: We've already seen UCLA Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Kevin Reed insist that Sheri Sangji was an "experienced and skilled chemist." Ms. Kemsley noted (possibly with a trace of irony?) that "UCLA has no evidence that Sangji used tBuLi more than once before the day of the incident..." Head PR flack Senior Executive Director of the UCLA office of media relations Carol Stogsdill intimates that "[Ms. Sangji's] resumé and work history show that she was familiar with pyrophorics - and importantly, the techniques we use to handle t-butyllithium are common to those employed when handling a wide-range of air-and/or moisture-sensitive chemicals."

Uh, what? You've got to be kidding me -- you can tell from a person's resumé and work history that they've used or are familiar with pyrophorics? Really?

More to come: This article (and the accompanying documents) are really, really remarkable in their depth and breadth. I'll be looking at these further as the week goes on.

UPDATE: Jyllian Kemsley comments on the winter break aspect of the case here.