Thursday, October 7, 2010

Should BS/MS chemists look oddly at the word "technical"?

While reviewing the biographies for the candidates for positions in the Division of Organic Chemistry elections*, I noted that there weren't any candidates that had a M.S. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about the DOC's award category for non-Ph.D. chemists called "Technical Achievements in Organic Chemistry." My friend (not a Ph.D.) found the title of the awards somewhat less than complimentary.

Just so we're clear, below is the "Charge of the Program" and some of the requirements to be nominated:
The purpose of the Technical Achievements in Organic Chemistry (TAOC) award program is to recognize outstanding contributions to the field of organic chemistry from accomplished Junior-level chemists (i.e., those who do not have a Ph.D. degree or equivalent) pursuing careers in chemical industry at research institutes.

...(A) a letter (not e-mail), containing the address of the nominator and information written on company stationary, of nomination that presents evidence that illustrates the accomplishments, creativity and independence of the nominee (B) a copy of the nominee's CV (including work address and e-mail) that includes a description of their educational background and experience, and publication and patent record and (C) any other information that documents the special achievements and/or contributions made by the nominee.
I've actually met and seen a number of awardees during their award seminars and elsewhere, and they're just as impressive as you might imagine. So there's no arguing that 1) the awards are deserved and 2) I'm glad that they're getting recognition.

I do think there's something odd about the word "technical", especially when (of the presentations that I saw), there was hardly anything tactical or small-bore about them. They were more-or-less indistinguishable from the typical program-based talks that you'd see Ph.D. chemists give at an ACS conference. The text of the nominating documents ("accomplishments, creativity, independence") does not really lend itself to the word "technical" either.

Problem is, what do you call a B.S./M.S. only category? I can't come up with a good name. Readers, is my friend right? Do you have a better name? 

*I didn't vote for any of them. Can't figure out what the positions are for.

16 comments:

  1. I chafe at the following comment:

    " ... Junior-level chemists (i.e., those who do not have a Ph.D. degree or equivalent)... "

    My highest degree is a MS, but I wouldn't classify myself as a junior-level chemist. My level of expertise in my field is hardly "junior" after working in it for 24 years and earning 25 patents.

    Rather than trying to find a new term to define professional chemists who don't have a PhD, why not simply recognize a person's accomplishments, and not worry about his degree?

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  2. "Award for Chemists who Already Have Homes, Cars, and Families, and Not a Ton of Student Debt, and are Likely Still Under 40"

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  3. You know, George, that's something else that doesn't quite ring true. Of the people that I have seen receive this award, none of these would be termed as "junior".

    As for why the category, here is the DOC's reasoning, from their news section:

    "The Organic Division of the American Chemical Society is seeking to increase the involvement of Bachelor's and Master's-level chemists in Divisional activities. Although these chemists make important contributions in the workplace, they often receive only limited recognition for their efforts from the scientific community. In order to address this situation, the Organic Division has instituted an annual symposium at the Fall ACS meeting to recognize the achievements of non- Ph.D. chemists."

    http://www.organicdivision.org/?nd=news_detail

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  4. We have post-doctorates and doctorates, so now we need "pre-doctorates" - pre-docs for short.

    The term is suggestive and hopeful - someone who hasn't yet accomplished the task, but may/will someday.

    And this is still separate from doctoral candidate - someone in school actively pursuing their degree.

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  5. Chemjobber, you've been quite busy with the writing this week, lots of interesting stuff happening, heh?

    "Award for Chemists who Already Have Homes, Cars, and Families, and Not a Ton of Student Debt, and are Likely Still Under 40"

    I lol'd

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  6. Dude, J, I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel sometimes to find something to write about. I'm just turning the crank as fast as I can (not a great admission for a blogger, methinks.)

    Ideas?

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  7. Chemjobber, I don't know if you've written on this before or if you take requests, but would you consider blogging about the alarming trend in protracted PhDs in the US? Well, at least I think it's alarming. I finished in 5 years, but a lot of my friends in the years below me are entering their 6th, 7th, even 8th year! They're not even MD-PhDs, just standard chem grad students. Some are using grad school as an economic shelter. Plus, I find it strange how chemistry PhDs in the 50s and 60s, when many groundbreaking studies were done, typically took only 3 years. Considering all the technological advances since then, why is it taking longer to get the same degree?

    October 5, 2010 7:46 AM

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  8. "Award for Chemists who Already Have Homes, Cars, and Families, and Not a Ton of Student Debt, and are Likely Still Under 40"

    Home? YES (25% equity)
    Car? YES (just finished paying off)
    Family? NO (workin' on it though)
    Student debt? NONE (woo hoo!)
    Under 40? YES (not getting any younger though)

    AND I'm a PhD chemist. I guess I played my cards well.

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  9. To Anonymous @7:46: Maybe there is a reason those people are taking longer to finish their Ph.D.'s - they're not that good?

    To Anonymous @ 5:27 AM:
    "Award for Chemists who Already Have Homes, Cars, and Families, and Not a Ton of Student Debt, and are Likely Still Under 40"

    Why would any Ph.D. have a "Ton of Student Debt"? Maybe from their undergraduate days, but any BS/MS would have that. People get a stipend to cover expenses during their Ph.D. - it would be a rather low percentage of individuals that would take out student loans for their Ph.D. In fact, I know of nobody that has done this (M.D.'s, yes, Ph.D.'s no).

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  10. @Anon 10:23A: You're being kinda harsh and presumptious. I knew several productive (in terms of publications) PhDs who exceeded the 5-year mark because of a variety of reasons (arcane projects, delayed postdoc start dates, family commitments, exploitative advisers). Factors beyond a grad student's control also dictate his/her time to degree completion.

    I didn't graduate with debt, but I lived like a miserly hermit. Several of my friends took out cost-of-living loans because we went to school in an expensive city; their debt loads upon graduation ranged from $6,000 to $80,000. Needless to say, some were living extravagantly and their spending contributed to the recent recession.

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  11. Sorry CJ, if I had good topics for discussion I'd have my own high traffic blog. Since I don't I resort to snarky comments (although snarky posts can work in your favor, ala TheChemBlog).

    Just off the top of my head, maybe some of these might spark your interest:

    1) New ACS publishing agreement (interesting note: the new C&EN blogger David Kroll apparently is a strong proponent of open access)

    2) Susan Ainsworth's article on C&EN about alternative careers (IMO, fairly well-balanced and not cheerleading for the chemical enterprise as they're oft accused of)

    3) I've been getting e-mails from both Biospace and ACS for their career fairs (ACS one is electronic, don't know how that works). Maybe evaluate the utility of these (reviews I've seen of career fairs are mixed, but lean towards them being worthless)

    4) Considering the plight of some very good scientists (Heck, Prasher, other Nobel Laureates who couldn't secure funding), discuss how people with truly new ideas can secure funding without resorting to "incremental research"

    5) What the Raiders can do to improve their run defense.

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  12. @John
    predoc is not a good term for the people who win these awards. These BS/MS chemists have gotten to a point in their careers that they are much more advanced than any entry level PhD. Therefore, why would they hope to go back to school? They have much more important things to do with their time.

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  13. "Award for Chemists who Already Have Homes, Cars, and Families, and Not a Ton of Student Debt, and are Likely Still Under 40"

    Hmm... Just think of what you could accomplish if you were a non-PhD chemist in pharma! The world outside academia isn't that fair either. At least there is some stability for 6-7 years when you are getting your PhD.

    Hypothetical non-PhD chemist in pharma:
    Home? Yes but don't live in it. Moved from neg. equity home due to site closure causing housing to become essentially worthless your old area.
    Car? Yes, with many miles on it from lots of moves from seeking jobs in different locations. Moves are necessary due to layoffs from constant mergers and reorganizations.
    Family? No, long work hours get in the way
    Student debt? Yep, and you have to start paying that interest if you leave grad school whether you are employed or not!
    Under 40? no--but getting there fast

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  14. I don't know about run defense, but either

    1) Emmitt Smith reincarnated or

    2) Al Davis buys the Chargers and dumps the Raiders. "AJ Smith, you have a call on line one. Your employment attorney is on line two."

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  15. Another favorite San Diego memory is the people who would refer to the Chargers' owners as the "Spanos Crime Family." Aaaaaah, Double X, I miss you.

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