Friday, October 29, 2010

Could Big Pharma fill its openings with only elite groups' students?

A couple of recent comments (mostly in jest) got me thinking about the numbers of students and postdocs in so-called "elite" organic chemistry groups, i.e. groups with prominent professors in the field. Specifically, A1015107:51A said:
"Blessed are those who are the sons of KCN, DLB, PSB, WRR, BMT, PAW, DAE, ENJ, EJC, LEO, ABSIII, SVL, DWCM and other select fathers, for theirs is the Kingdom of Big Pharma."
Is that comment true, from a supply perspective?

Using those two comments' named groups as a guide, I tallied as many groups as I could. (I was not able to get to the KCN or the Grubbs group website.) There were 135 graduate students and 171 postdoctoral fellows in residence.*

How many people are immediately eligible for Ph.D. senior scientist positions in industry? Well, of course all the postdocs. Probably no more 20% of the graduate students (how many are 5th years? Hard to tell.) Okay, that's about 198 people. How many of those people are going to go to academia? Probably no more than 20%. That cuts the pool down to about 160 postdocs and new Ph.Ds who are out there, vying for entry-level positions in the pharmaceutical industry.

With that very crude number in mind and the relative paucity of openings in medicinal and process chemistry in Big Pharma, my conclusion is this: Big Pharma's chemistry openings could easily be filled with only the workers from the most elite groups in organic chemistry.

*Feel free to check my math -- I did it pretty rushed, and I'll revisit and double check tonight.


  1. Back around 2000-2001, when pharma companies in Montreal (and elsewhere) were hiring like crazy, an emeritus professor in our department said to me, "This is the 5th time in my career that there has suddenly been a shortage of organic chemists".

    He passed away last year without seeing a 6th.

  2. @Chemjobber: Your computer was probably overwhelmed by the graphics-intensive Nicolaou website. Currently, 16 grad students and 13 postdocs are listed.

    A few Caltech alumni have told me that Grubbs is "anti-website". I've heard the same thing about Du Bois, something about avoiding spam-applications from foreign postdocs...if that makes any sense.

    With the disclaimer that I've also had limited exposure, here's my assessment of the demographics of Big Pharma researchers: The younger ranks of American Medchem are packed with alumni from the prestige "coastal" groups, although a fair number of the older group leaders/division heads hail from once-dominant synthetic groups in the Big Ten. Process seems to have more diversity in academic pedigrees and training, i.e., organometallics, analytical, inorganic, etc. I guess Process prefers quantitative skills and doesn't require a vast organic reactions repertoire. Still, at least half my interviewers during my visit to a process site were from easily recognizable US and UK groups.

  3. is James referring to George Just?

  4. Wow, I guess the lack of responses to this post suggests either of two possibilities:

    1. Low traffic on this blog.

    2. A silent agreement to the thesis of this post. Then again, it does make sense that most who are foolish enough to pursue a career as a Pharma chemist nowadays would aspire to join elite groups rather than those at No-Name U.

  5. A1:28p: I suspect that it's more the latter than the former, but I should note that the post hasn't been clicked on very much.

    In favor of theory #2, if the thesis was entirely wrong, someone would have said so.

  6. Those SWAG numbers are hard to argue with. If you include the equally adept but less self-promotion hungry tier (Hoveyda, Williams, Denmark, MacMillan etc) you are probably 350+. How many real job openings have been filled in the past 18 months?

  7. @Eka-silicon: You think Hoveyda & MacMillan are not shameless self-promoters? Ha! Why do we know of the Grubbs-Hoveyda catalyst when Blechert's research predated Hoveyda's? Also, haven't you seen a D-Mac presentation? While he's not as bombastic as Nicolaou, I'm surprised that he doesn't claim that his organocatalysts can cure baldness and deliver world peace!

  8. @Eka: FWIW, MacMillan's group is included in the numbers.

  9. Ah well, so maybe a poor choice of specific groups, but all the same, *that* tier. :)

  10. [sigh] I used to think that my degree would be worth something because I went to a top-15 school for organic synth....turns out I should have held out for top-5...or at least an ego-hungry despot[frown]

  11. You don't need American scientists at all.
    Just import foreigners on the L-1 visa!


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