Thursday, October 28, 2010

A crazy idea: mid-career scientists for federally-granted chemical safety officer positions

It's time for another crazy idea from CJ -- one that combines issues of chemistry unemployment with academic chemical safety.

Among of the many issues with academic chemical safety is that 1) there are typically not very many chemical safety/hygiene officers within departments, so the workload is pretty heavy (especially if you have a large department) and 2) many chemical safety officers (not all, mind you) are relatively inexperienced in terms of chemistry. (Again, a generalization.)

You could imagine a NIH/NSF-run program that:
- hired interested unemployed mid-career scientists (out of school/PD for 10+ years)
- trained them in chemical safety and hygiene issues
- granted them to universities with lots of student/postdoctoral researchers

What's the current ratio of chemical hygiene officers to researchers at R1 universities? 1 to 100? 1 to 200? 1 to 500? (Doubtful.) Raising that ratio to 1 to 50, say, would probably do a least a little good. In addition, their industrial experience would probably give their words a little more weight. Finally, the federal funding would alleviate the universities' concerns about money.

I'm guessing this program could easily absorb about 250 unemployed mid-career scientists. I'm not sure it would be a great job for a mid-career scientist, but it'd be a job.


  1. Once a bench chemist, always a bench chemist is what I always say. I might take it to earn a few bucks and then look for something else. I am with you, it doesn't sound appealing.

  2. Not a horrible idea. At least you would have actual scientists doing it, rather than egomaniacal midlevel bureaucratic pukes that make up idiotic safety rules to justify their continued employment. But yeah, I think most of them would jump ship as soon as a real job came along.

  3. "When it's better for enthusiastic and ambitious professionals to go to work for a country's government than it is for them to go to work, the country is in trouble." -P.J. O'Rourke, "Parliament of Whores"

  4. chemjobber are you following the discussion at

    just checking.

  5. I'm a postdoc in academia, no industry experience whatsoever. But from the academic institutional viewpoint, it seems like a pretty good idea. I've noticed that the most safety-conscious scientists I've worked with have spent some time in industry.

  6. I really do resent this comment: "...rather than egomaniacal midlevel bureaucratic pukes that make up idiotic safety rules..." As my colleague Dr. Jim Kaufman (of the Lab Safety Institute) likes to say: Safety laws and regulations are tombstones erected to the dead and the maimed. Did "idiotic safety rules" save Shari Sangji's life? Even the most basic safety requirements (wearing a lab coat and safety eyewear, and knowing what to do in an emergency) were completely absent from her workplace. Are those "idiotic safety rules?"