Monday, November 15, 2010

Unemployed Ph.D. chemists: Bethany Halford of C&EN wants to hear from you

Crack C&EN reporter Bethany Halford wants to hear from you about Ph.D. chemist oversupply:

I’m working on a story that addresses the question: Are we training more Ph.D. chemists than we can employ? I’d like to get a “view from the trenches,” so to speak, from folks who are struggling to find work with their advanced degree. Please contact me at b_halford (at) acs (dot) org if you’d like to talk to me about this subject. You can remain anonymous, if you prefer.

Go at it, folks.


  1. Yes there are many more PhDs handed out in chemistry than there are chemistry jobs in the US/Europe. If you are willing to move to Asia or Africa after graduation, you may have better luck finding a job.

    Additionally, the over supply of PhDs seriously degrades the earning potential (or job prospects) of strong MS/BS chemists. Don't think if you quit grad school your problems will be over. You can be a very strong MS/BS chemist (stronger than some PhD chemists) and earn very little because there are always hungry droves of PhDs willing to work for practically nothing. It is a constant cycle. I think some PhDs think if they have just one more postdoc or one more low-paying contract position then that perfect challenging high-paying job will come along. In reality if you didn't work in the right places early on, that job will never come.

    In the past few years in California I've seen ads for BS/MS chemists with 10years synthetic experience for $10-12/hr. Pretty small wages when you consider the CA minimum wage is $8/hr. When you think of the cost of living in CA this adds insult to injury. Might as well skip college all together at this rate. At least then you don't have student debt to repay.

    It's not a pretty picture, but that's the view from the trenches. Nice to see C&EN is looking into this issue. It seems that this is a really sore spot for some unemployed chemists. I strongly believe if the issue is confronted directly in C&EN, ACS membership will probably increase dramatically. :-)

  2. A7:06p:

    "n the past few years in California I've seen ads for BS/MS chemists with 10years synthetic experience for $10-12/hr."

    What is the context for such a piddling request? I'd think it was a waste of an ad...

  3. craig's list, 2009

  4. Anonymous @ 7:06 how many Ph. D. chemists are minted in the U.S per year, actual numbers, vs. anywhere else for that matter. I've been trying to find these numbers.

  5. Nope, it was for bench chemists in SD. Can't remember if they were wanting to make small molecules or peptides. There were other jobs for $10-14/hr requesting the same level of experience (also craigslist). It was upsetting to be greeted by that after a layoff. Wish I had copied the posts...

  6. @7:38
    No idea how many PhD/MS/BS are minted. Wasn't there stats a couple of months back? Can't remember, was that in C&EN or a link from this site? I know my school produced more chemists. I wonder where they will go?

    Only thing I do know is that I know way too many unemployed/underemployed/otherwise former medicinal chemists. Lots of experience not getting used, and not for lack of passion of the field.

    Perhaps the more probing question is how many chemists with some years of experience have been traded in (via layoffs) for fresh graduates just happy to be employed at any rate? What is the unwritten "expiration date" on a chemist?

  7. C'mon Chemjobber, does Big Pharma really need to pay big bucks for PhD-level chemists when it hopes to find the next blockbuster in purified fish oil? See video @ Pharmalot link.

  8. I must also concur with A7:06. A friend of mine left grad school with an MS (OChem) and had to go for a job that only required a BS in chemistry (analytical work). Even with that job posting, he said 150 ex-pharma PhD chemists still applied, all 5-10yr experience. This was only $30-35K wages, still higher than the $10/hr. Even when employers are not looking for PhD level candidates, they are still getting apps from them, all requesting the same level of pay they had before! The days of Med Chem are seriously over. There is no recovery, no magical year when things start going right, it just isn't happening. There will be more layoffs till 2012 from what I have been told but the industry will look about the same for at least a decade from there.

    C&EN had an article that showed the list of potential positions being interviewed for by each year. They tried to put a positive spin on it, saying things were slightly up. That is still bad when we look at the numbers! Not only are thousands of new grads hitting the market each year, there is nearly a decade of layoffs that has occurred! Yet the rate of hiring has remained nearly constant or dipped at many other times. If we were to take the ACS numbers alone, we'd never hire even close to most of the chemists out there.

    What has happened to some of the freshly minted PhDs from my place? That's a whole other story, and it ain't pretty.

  9. This is all dismal, honest, and most likely still just anecdotal. Without actual numbers, this is just fear mongering. I would like to know if I'm just better off selling used cars.

    I have a hunch, that science is just undervalued these days REGARDLESS of the number of Ph. D.s in the field. If we were firing scientists at the NIH with opposing political views, I can only imagine what attitudes the private sector has.

    My theory, I think the shoot the messenger mentality has undermined the value of scientists in general. Why pay someone a lot of money to work at a snails pace and tell you stuff that you don't really want to hear? I think our experiences would be the same if we graduated 20,000 or 200 Ph. D.s a year. I also think Ph. D.s have evolved to compete, almost globally. I think they are more cultured to take the most painful and bitter job relocations, whereas B.S/M.S. chemists are more or less expected to stay put. My theory is that the perception of the number of unemployed and under employed Ph. D.'s out there is higher when you have the same group of people resume bombing virtually everything in the U.S. Whereas your B.S/M.S. chemist are still going to hunt predominantly local.

  10. @4:06
    I am a MS/BS chemist, and have relocated for my love of chemistry many more times than PhDs my age. We have to relocate to find work too, for the same reason about the PhDs relocating. There is a massive oversupply and disregard by corporate America for chemistry. And still if you relocate as a BS/MS chemist you are likely to be laid-off again or underemployed. If you work yourself through the BS/MS glass ceiling, you probably will never find work in your field again after a lay-off.

  11. If you can involve the major employers for chemists, you can find the numbers. However, since it is in the best interest for the employers to keep chemist supply cheap, the numbers may be heavily manipulated. Pharma is an especially interesting fish to follow now.

    Look at the number of layoffs versus the number of hires. Are the hires full time? Contract? Interns? Are hires temporary from a 'partner' (oursourcing) company? If the hire is from a partner company, is it in the US or elsewhere? Where are those laid-off going to find work?

  12. Here are some Ph. D. numbers for you:

    1925 - 257
    1960 - 958
    1970 - 1928
    1981 - 1215
    2008 - 2247

  13. Re: tutoring

    Going rate around here is $25-27/h

  14. Is is it me? Or does that number still seem well, low? If we can't find reasonable jobs for most of the graduating Ph. D. chemists, that is just pathetic.

  15. I think the problem might not necessarily be the overproduction of young chemists, it is that the workforce dynamics has been disrupted. Two recruiters from huge companies told me this year that old people just don't retire anymore. One claimed that 40% of their R&D personnel is within 5 years of retirement age, and that's a company that's solidly in the upper portion of Fortune 500. According to another they have it even worse.

  16. Last week, I spoke with Ms Halford for one hour on the subject of the over-production of PhD s relative to the number of jobs available.

    Among the questions that I asked back at her, I wanted to know if anyone has been telling her if that the opposite is true, i.e. whether there was a shortage of PhDs, instead of jobs. The first words out of her mouth were "university professors" and "departmental chairs".

  17. Thanks to everyone who responded to my request.

  18. The oversupply is inevitable with the way things are going. Look at the new trends in pharma (there was a cover story in CeN a few issues back). Increase academic connections for faster, more cost efficient innovation. Pharma gets more innovation for the buck, and academic labs get funding. So on paper it looks like a win-win situation. But those hurting are the students doing this work for pharma whom will someday graduate. Where will these scientists work when they graduate, if the majority of the research is done by students? And as they graduate, a call is made for fresh students to fill this 'apalling undersupply of scientists'. Ethically, companies should encourage development on at all levels of scientific careers not depend on student research and consultant projects. However CEOs tend to concentrate on the short term wins, so who cares if the scientific community is a Ponzi scheme poised for collapse?

  19. I may be bit late to this thread but anyway, I'm a Ph.D Chemist and I've been out of work for five months now. I apply to roughly five positions a week. Almost every position that I've applied to request someone with years of experience in a number of narrow fields. Apparently, gone are entry level type positions (if they ever existed in this field). Also many of these jobs are through temp agencies. I've found that in most cases different temp agencies are representing the same position. So this speaks volumes about the job market for PhD chemists. Employers can get exactly what they want because of the tremendous supply of job seekers and temp agencies are often competing to fill the same position simply because there are not enough position to go around even for the temp agencies.

  20. A08:54a:

    Please feel free to e-mail me w/your CV so that I can (try to) help w/your job search.

  21. Really 10 to 12 dollars and hour huh... I made 15 dollars as an intern doing organic chemistry before I even graduated with a BS in chemistry.

    Now I am in grad school

    Some recent PhD graduates from my lab in synthetic organic chemistry include
    Dow chemical 95,000.00
    an oil company in Texas 82,000.00 a year,
    and a job at a big pharma company after a post doc

    Some people still get good jobs but they had to look for a while before they got a job

  22. Really 15 dollars as an intern doing organic chemistry? I made 0 as an intern at an undergraduate lab.


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