Monday, October 25, 2010

Has the competition for Big Pharma Ph.D. positions gotten stiffer?

Curve modified from
 R1 tenure track assistant professor positions in  the chemical sciences are typically taken by the most productive workers, i.e. highly prolific post-doctoral fellows. (Whether this is a good idea or an accurate generalization is a subject for another post, but for this post, let's assume it's the case.)

It's my assumption that the competition for academic jobs has always been fierce; it is also my assumption that the fight for the highest-paying (i.e. Big Pharma) industrial positions has been slightly less fierce.

Here's my question: if an incoming assistant professor's past research productivity was set at point A on the above bell curve, where would you put the average incoming senior scientist in Big Pharma? Here's my guess: in the last 5 to 10 years (as it has become more difficult to land a pharma position), the average incoming senior scientist's C.V. has moved from point C to point B.

Readers, what do you think? Am I crazy?


  1. Maybe you are crazy, but I think we are all there with you. This is a totally anecdotal observation. I think the FEELING is that we are all pretty much agreeing with you, but how would one compile the data for all of the rejected scientists out there? Oh, anonymous polling?


  2. Turns out it doesn't matter. Soon all the pharma jobs will be outside the US and the only positions for "Scientists" will be as liasons to outsourced labs.

  3. @A 11:19

    I wonder if IP alone will be enough to keep these 'virtual' pharmaceutical companies relevant. Because I can certainly see a time when these contract organizations start to realize that they can develop their own drug candidates without having to parter with a western company and hand over all the patents as a result.

  4. It depends on field. You have to look at the supply of postdocs and compare academic vs industry demand. But it definitely takes much more to get an big pharma scientist position now than in the past.

  5. Firstly, there are just less positions to be had in general since the late 1990's/early 2000's.

    Secondly, big pharma only hires PhD's (organic chemistry) from absolute top-tier total synthesis labs. If you do a PhD/PD in such a lab, you'll be in the applicant pool. If you don't do a PhD/PD in such a lab, you almost certainly won't be in the applicant pool. I am not one of these folks, so I am not tooting my own horn here.

    If you don't come from an absolute top-tier lab, you're better suited with a BS/MS, because it is much much *much* easier to find a job in big pharma with those credentials.

    Of course, there are some good smaller and mid-sized companies out there that are not as picky about the pedigree of their PhD workforce. There is life outside of big pharma.

  6. @5:02PM
    I think you mean fewer positions, no?

    Other than that, what you say is bang on in my experience.

  7. I still remember being a summer intern back in the early 2000's...before Pharm imploded. Even back then, I could turn 360 around my bench, and name people by PD advisors: here a Corey, there a Smith, over there a Bergman, down the hall an Evans and a Denmark...

    Some things never change.

  8. Yeah, that's basically been my (very limited) experience as well. Love to see a graph of the changes in the "fashionable" groups over time, e.g. I'm guessing that the Stork group produced quite a few industrial chemists in its day.

  9. @CJ - Heh, yeah...honestly, I wonder if one even encounters many Coreyites and Kishiers since they're both getting older and taking fewer PDs. I haven't been back to Pharm since 2004, but if I had to guess - someone please correct me here - I would say it's probably starting to move to younger groups, say, Stoltz, Myers, Grubbs, Buchwald.....let us not forget Baran....

  10. I've noticed a pretty sizeable contingent of Overman, Trost, and Boger people at industry conferences. Funny, all California groups. Anyway, Baran hasn't mentored THAT many...yet.