Friday, September 24, 2010

Want to be an organic chemistry professor?

Every fall, C&EN has a 'back to school' issue that has a bolus of ads from universities seeking professors. This year is no different, with 88 different ads for schools. I'm planning a much more detailed, graphical look at these ads, but first, I wanted to make a note of how many positions were available to graduate students and postdocs in organic chemistry. I picked out the ads that mentioned "organic chemistry" in the text; I also picked positions that were aimed at "assistant professors" or "all levels", as opposed to the positions aimed at senior faculty. Positions for "any area of chemistry" were not counted.

Here are the listings for the 2010 'back to school' C&EN issue:

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY
Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Washington University, St. Louis, MO
Benedictine University, Lisle, IL
Roanoke College, Salem, VA
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
York College of Pennsylvania, York, PA
Southern Methodist University, University Park, TX
George Washington University, Washington, DC
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Bryn Mawr College, Byrn Mawr, PA
Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
California State University - Bakersfield, Bakersfield, CA
Smith College, Northhampton, MA

There you have it -- 21 potential positions for organic chemists. Good luck, folks.


  1. I want to know who really even wants to be a prof, and why. Those are numbers that are probably going to be completely lost.

  2. During my brief period of unemployment, I applied to lecturer postions at a variety of institutions (R1 to community college). Although every posting stated that the primary job duties would be to teach, all schools who bothered to formally reject me stated that applicants with postdoctoral experience as well as a record of securing external funding were preferred. I guess my 8 semesters of teaching experience as well as teaching awards didn't count for jack.

  3. Hi Anon9:56 - I can answer your question in the affirmative, and explain why: I like to do my own research, mentor others, publish their work on our cool molecules, and also do some teaching. Achieving funding is also something to be proud of.

    The list of universities or colleges that CJ has presented have widely varying aspirations. Obviously, some are highly selective. Others really aren't interested in producing publishable research.

    It is a shame that so many universities in the US are unable to respect both teaching and research from the same individual.

    Ops now all I need is a job offer :-)

  4. Fenton, I don't disagree with the idealized feelings of merit and mentor ship. I just ... feel leery about sending people off to more years of dues isolation. There is this constant pressure to create more Ph. D.s! There are too many bleeping Ph. D.s!

    For loving research and mentor-ship great! I mean, I remember that feeling when on my Third move in two years and I found my essay I submitted to grad school. I remember saying, how I felt inspired by my professors and how I wouldn't mind have THEIR jobs one of these days. It was really good to reminisce about those feelings.

    Now I just see being a professor as just a life eater, a marriage breaker, and an other cog in the machine that created a whole NEW class of working poor. And the more young men and women you break, the more likely you can get tenure... Maybe when it feels less like a Ponzi scheme where human lives are at stake, I would consider it ... but until then ... just ... ugh.

  5. Speaking as a member of the working poor class, I actually agree with you. Furthermore, you're spot on regarding the analogy to Ponzi schemes. Whereas I still apply for faculty openings, for those reasons I don't want to crank out an endless number of PhDs. Or MScs for that matter.

  6. "Now I just see being a professor as just a life eater, a marriage breaker, and an other cog in the machine that created a whole NEW class of working poor"

    If you let it. Many jobs can result in the above.

    On the + side, if you get tenure there's no worrying about whether you'll have a job next year (even the big pharma is no longer a safe place to be). If you're 50 competing with 35 year olds for a job, well, good luck to you. Also, being able to pursue your own ideas, subject to the limitations of granting agencies, can also be rewarding. Salary for Profs isn't great, but it's not bad and,in some areas, quite livable. Don't forget the value of a pension! Folks relying on the 401ks are in for a surprise when they see their investments have lost them 30% since 1997 (note, this assumes an avg mkt portfolio).

    There's also a lot to be said about being around young eager students (both UGs and grad students) who haven't yet had their spirits crushed by the realities of the working world. I'm appalled at how many late 30 to 40s folks are either dead inside or slowly dying. Nothing wrong with encouraging people to do graduate work: if they're smart enough to get in, they should be smart enough to ask "where will this lead". To be fair, I think I spent less time deciding to do a PhD than I usually take deciding what to have for dinner. In the end, it was an OK choice, and I still don't believe I would change it. I have the advantage of not working in chemistry anymore, though....

  7. "Hey Sweetie, I just got a tenure track offer in Western Hick State University!"
    "What was that? You are not coming with?"
    "You are going to keep your money job at Major Metropolitan Financial Incorporated?"
    "But ... but we are going to be 2000 miles apart."
    "No, no wait, you are coming with now? But you are going to look at me with seething bitterness while I work a zillion hours and try to get tenure, while you fend for yourself among the townies."

    No thanks. Anyways, I was more concerned with the grad students' marriages. It's not something I was familiar with, I grew up in a more metro area where it is more common to wait to settle. If you do find a job in a small town State University, you are going to watch as the work demands, of getting tenure, funding, and literature relevance start to choke out the personal lives of your grad students, who are still young, and perhaps didn't know better. We have a few more years before science becomes either more "family friendly" or the market properly corrects itself from the enthusiasm of the good ole '90s.

    Of course considering how hyper competitive professorships are these days, I guess I don't have to live in mortal of dread of trying to get a tenure track position.

    I don't really want to be a prof. at least not until I see some more socially responsible out of the chemistry community. I also don't shop at Walmart either. But if I had no choice, but to shop at Walmart while at my tenure track position, in Western Hick State University then, let the good times roll!

  8. @Anonymous 3:20 PM: From your thinly-veiled arrogance, I presume you're a researcher at an R1-level institution. However, the colloquialism "coming with" betrays your prolitarian heritage. The vast majority of the schools listed above are not "Western Hick State Universities". As with others in your ilk, aspiring faculty members will spam-apply to a variety of schools, including those where they have minimal intention of accepting a position. The next time you decide to bash WHSU, remember that Corey, Trost, Jacobsen, Boger, and Roush all did some of their best work in the midst of corn fields and that Houk spent some time in the bayou.

    P.S.-I'm not a fan of El Walmart either, but I've no shame in admitting my partiality to Le Tar-gét.

  9. Anonymous @5:05 PM. I've worked for and met many people who are the result of that SAME conversation. Sadly, I didn't get it through my thick skull that is a very very VERY common conversation for most professors and apparently most people in our career. Had I know this I would have probably not gotten my Ph. D.

    I don't really want to bash WHSU because it's WHSU, I just don't think it's right for everyone. I just think it's pathetic that it's "unprofessional" to ask this question of yourself and your significant others if not outright selfish.

    Sometimes I think the lack of empathy I see for the human condition of many professors come from the disgustingly painful personal sacrifices they made along the road. I don't think it makes them better people, but I also pity them. Like, why? What was the point?

    There is a cultural difference from state to state, and that was something I learned the hard the way. People place different priorities for many different things across the country. For some people in smaller towns, they want families. For the young enthusiastic idealistic researcher, he might not find himself in the right lab or the right career to that is commensurate with his personal values. He is also not aware or told to ask the right questions from the right people. If I was a prof, that is the LAST guy I want in my lab, yet as a starting faculty, that might be what I get.

    And touche on the locale of most of these listings. That actually surprised me. I still don't believe that those are the Universities that are offering organic chemistry professorships! Especially since Smith College strikes me the most like WHSU!

  10. @Anonymous 5:36 PM: Yes, I realize that pursuing the Chemistry PhD can be an arduous & relationship-destroying venture. I too have witnessed marriages disintegrate during grad school; although the demanding nature of the graduate program may have contributed to those breakups, there were also underlying & pre-existing problems.

    Like you, I have a thick skull, however I don't begrudge "the system" for my shortcomings. Despite the failed reactions, funding problems, & thankless work, I learned a lot in grad school & thus far have been fortunate to earn a comfortable living as a professional chemist. While you may have entered grad school with a well-planned agenda, I & most other first-years fit the description of "the LAST guy" you would want in your lab. Fortunately, most of us had a passion for chemistry and WILLINGLY entered the PhD track. Besides, the ability of a professor to turn a rag-tag bunch of college misfits into an effective research group is a testament to his/her skills as a PI.

    If you were so miserable in grad school or concerned about your future employability as a PhD chemist, then why didn't you leave with your Masters? Don't give me that bullsh*t about making it too far that it would've been a waste to quit. Over half of my cohort departed without PhDs, some even without the Masters. Unlike the seventh-years & perpetual postdocs, at least they had the cajones to admit early on that they would be happier & therefore more effective in alternate careers. Even if I were unemployed, I couldn't blame anyone else but myself for my educational decisions.

    Here's some final friendly advice: Get your facts straight. Without consulting Wikipedia, I can assure you that Smith is NOT similar to WHSU. Before the Ivy League became fully coeducational, many of the brightest and most affluent women in the US attended the Seven Sisters Colleges, including Smith & Bryn Mawr. I wouldn't go around bashing Smith in public; many of their alumnae (e.g., Gloria Steinem & Julia Child) are/were proud, aggressive, &, um, "beefy". Also, Massachusetts ain't that large or politically conservative, so you've committed yet another fallacy by comparing the environs of Smith to those of the enormous quadrilateral states comprising "Flyover Country".

  11. I grew up in the northeast ... I was trying to be funny about the nature of Northampton. Eastern Massachusetts is kind of farm country, and quite dissimilar to the west. I know Smith is a great college. My step mother went there. I also know many people who moved to Northampton to experience "the alternative lifestyle". I'm sorry for getting all too serious before, but when I said "most like WHSU" I was trying to make light of the town itself, not the college or reputation. It's still kind of in the boonies.

  12. sorry .... western mass is not like the east ... I moved back to other side of the country a few months, ago, and I still get the direction of the coast off.

  13. I mean why would I pick a town in a known liberal state like Massachusetts and compare it to a boonies middle America University if I knew nothing about it? I didn't pick anything in PA or NY or WV. Or even Stanford. I just snickered to myself the thought of letting my significant other mingle with the townies of Northampton.

  14. @Anonymous Trio: No worries...had to check the syringe pump & make sure the addition needle didn't get clogged...gotta love those –78 °C slow-ass additions! Yeah, every state has its urbanized & rural areas. I must admit there were times during grad school when I wondered about my educational choices. Most of my college buddies who pursued law, finance, engineering, & especially medicine are also stressed out. Being an MD kinda sucks now: massive student loan debt, 3 years of general residency, plus another 3 to 6 for surgical residency, only to become jaded to patient suffering & turn away Medicare clients. My happiest friends are those who went into dentistry & government work...blech!!! Unless there were no other job option, I wouldn't be a bureaucrat or look at yuck-mouth.

    My older colleagues occasionally lament on how the quality of life for the average American has gotten worse over the past 30 years. With so many things beyond our control, why should any of us choose to be unhappy? Anyhow, I don't imagine that dealing with the townies of Northampton would be any worse than mingling with the husbands, wives, boy-/girlfriends, wubbies, life-partners, or whatever at Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Bowdoin, etc.

  15. Many people, particularly ones that have spent too much time in college already, seem to like life in a college town.

    I think there was a generational shift in the last X years. Professors up to the 1960s or so met their wives as undergrads. They were rarely chemistry PhDs themselves, and were either housewives or had relatively flexible careers (K-12 teaching, eg). Also the PhDs only spent 3 or so years in grad school.

    A generation later many grad students meet significant others IN grad school. Schools have more gender parity (even in chem), students spend long hours and long years getting their degrees and often pair up with people with very similar interests.

    When the couple then looks for a job and they have to take 2 (almost identical) careers into account you have departments having to hire or make some employment arrangements for the trailing spouse. Unfortunately if the trailer is not as motivated to be a PI you have departments stuffed with nonproductive faculty.

  16. The whole system is a mess and needs a reform but who would notice if every chemist went on strike? No-one for 5 years is my opinion AND there would be eager chemists willing to take there place because any payday is better than no payday. Any ideas on what to do?

  17. Well organicoverdose ... the postdocs do go on strike every once in a while. We now have graduated pay increases every year as an NIH funded postdoc, until you either run out of funding or the PI can't afford you. As a fifth year postdoc, hardly any lab can really afford you anymore ...

    And then???????

    I don't know about you, but get me some of that Wall Street Money. I want to know how I can involved in some insider trading.

    Or maybe the chemists will all start taking notes from our favorite sitcoms and see what we can contribute to the underground economy.

    Or really, I want a job as a university exec, and basically just get sauced, schmooze the donors and make speeches about making painful budget cuts, for everyone else but me.

  18. I wonder what is the rate of unemployement for organic chemists after PhD/postdocs...
    I wonder what percentage of organic chemists found a job in their area of skills and how many of them had to completely change their career path because they need to eat.

    I would say : unemployement rate 95 %


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20