Monday, January 31, 2011

Too many PhDs? C&EN's Beth Halford tackles the question

Remind you of your committee?
Photo credit: AtixVector
Bethany Halford's long-awaited article on the "PhD glut" came out last night; it's a doozy, so you should just go over there and read it right now. I'll wait here.

Read it? Great -- here are my thoughts:

The Good: 
  • The statistics are basically inarguable and finally collected all in one place. Supply is going up, demand as measured by starting Ph.D. salaries has gone down by 1% between 1998 and 2009. Basically static demand, while the supply has continued to go up. 
  • The quotes from Prof. Michael Doyle ("Synthetic organic chemistry, process development chemistry, and medicinal chemistry have been severely affected by the downturn in the economy and the lack of jobs in the pharmaceutical industry.") and Prof. Amir Hoveyda ("Some people in organic chemistry have been very strongly gearing what they do in their programs toward what pharma needs,"). I sincerely hope that this will cause some amount of rethinking on the part of the academic community.
The Bad:
  • The quote from the biotech CSO at the end of the article: “We really aren’t training too many Ph.D.s for the jobs available. I think people just need to look outside the realm of chemistry research and start thinking about things that still involve chemistry and use the tools that you learned in graduate school but that aren’t necessarily bench-type jobs." O RLY? So what you're saying is that we're training too many Ph.D. chemists just as long as they want to be chemists. Oh, okay. 
  • The number of PhD-granting graduate school is 196 in the US. Does anyone think we'll be okay if we cut that number down to, say, 170? Or 150? Or 96?
  • The quote from the biomedical prof (Juliano) is telling, too. Ph.D. scientists going into regulatory affairs? Hey, you don't need a Ph.D. to do that...
The Ugly:
  • There's a physical chemistry Ph.D. who applied for a bunch of nanotech positions only to get turned down. That's not good for anyone; they're supposed to be the next thing after pharma. Uh-oh....
  • The quote from Professor Platz ("For 30 years, I’ve been telling young people that the only reason they should go to graduate school in chemistry or any field of science is because they have a calling to learn that field of science—the way someone has a calling for art, music, or the priesthood... You should only do it for that sense of love and personal fulfillment. It’s very hard to predict a job market five years hence.”) If this is true, there are a whole lot of people in graduate school who are there for the wrong reason. If this is true, the government should not be paying for many of these positions. If this is true, we're all doomed (a little.)
If you're a skeptic on the Ph.D. glut, you have to be able to refute the statistics at the beginning of the article or you have to be hoping for a big turnaround sometime soon. Finally, it's my contention that every single 1st year graduate student in chemistry should be required to read this article. Huge kudos to C&EN's Beth Halford for a really thorough and excellent article.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

20 ways to say "I don't know."

As opposed to the pleasure felt by telling someone that "they're wrong", there's always a little sting in answering a question about your project or your science by saying "I don't know." Here's a few ways of saying those 3 unpleasant words:

1. [single shoulder shrug]
2. Let me check on that.
3. That's a really good question.
4. So this is really preliminary data, but we felt that it was important that we get this out there first...
5. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.................
6. Look at the time! Gotta go!
7. [hands outstretched, palms up]
8. Here's the NMR, Professor Sames!
9. [Eyes narrowed] Did (insert hated rival's name) put you up to this?
10. I think that's in my lab notebook.
11. I haven't looked at that yet.
12. The literature doesn't really speak to that.
13. But, it's obviously the thermodynamic product!
14. [double shoulder shrug]
15. You know, that's something we're going to look at in our next round of experiments.
16. [silence] Any other questions?
17. IDK my BFF Jill?
18. Huh.
19. You know, there are some questions that we haven't been able to answer.
20. I don't know.*

*(Only to be used in dire circumstances or if you have a sudden attack of extreme honesty.)

Where to go from here?

Hey, Bessie, you're looking tasty...
Photo credit:
The news of layoffs at Abbott is certainly hard to take; even though we should all be inured to the constant drumbeat of news about job cutting at big pharma companies, (to me) it is still really hard to take. Each job lost is an affected human being, a family put under stress and coworkers with (potentially) survivor's guilt and sadness in their hearts.

Over at "In the Pipeline", entropyGain makes an interesting set of suggestions for moving forward and a prediction about pharma job growth:
Clearly, it is more difficult than ever to succeed as a drug-hunter in larger companies, and if we do, we usually remain a dairy cow -- fed enough to make some milk but slaughtered when the investors need a little earnings meat. Startups may not be any easier - undercapitalized, underresourced-- hunting with bow's and arrows again, starving often but eating what we kill.
So what can we as scientists do to help our industry? Maybe a little more public service and consideration for our peers. Accept that request to review a journal article or sit on a study section - don't let that crap get in the journals or get funded. Cut some slack to the startup pitching your BD [CJ's note: business development] group when you sit on the diligence team. Look hard at the data they have and try not to let your company spend hundreds of millions on red wine extract, but if that little startup doesn't have chronic data from your favorite 4 animal models, and yet the molecule is good, maybe you can help BD find a way to structure a deal to get the data and collaborate. When a restructuring does happen and there's ton's of unused "junk" lying around -- find a way to get it to the local startup community. We live on that "junk" a lot of the time.
One thing is for sure, domestic job growth for scientists will only come from small companies for the foreseeable future.
It is difficult for me (as a relative novice) to know if eG's ideas are good or not; certainly, the attitude of a typical BD group is "show us what you got" and not "sure, we can help you" and rightly so. That being said, I don't really see job growth coming from the big companies anytime soon. Let's hope he's right that there is some to be had, somewhere.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quote of the week: why micromanagement is bad

Once again, from Lt. Gen. Gus Pagonis and his book:
I never tell a subordinate how to carry out a specific goal. Dictating terms to a subordinate undermines innovation, decreases the subordinate’s willingness to take responsibility for his or her actions, increases the potential for suboptimization of resources, and increases the chances that the command will be dysfunctional if circumstances change dramatically. Our first month in the theater only underscored my sense that our team would have to be incredibly elastic. [emphasis CJ's]
The last time I talked about my issues with micromanagement, I got a little pushback* from the academic side, where people are younger and less experienced (and safety issues may exist). So I'll say up front, this applies less to school than to the working world; this also applies less to the relationship between a supervisor and a novice versus the relationship of two similarly experienced people.

But it's that second clause that I find most telling -- when you tell someone what to do, they're much less to look into the details of what they're doing ('I just did what you told me to.') Far better to allow people the room to make their own decisions and allow them the freedom to innovate and grow.

*perfectly reasonable, I might add.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/27/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 25 and January 26, there are 11 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 5 (45%) are academically connected.

Food: Silgan White Cap (Downers Grove, IL) desires a M.S. polymer chemist to "[d]evelop new raw materials for food closures - gaskets, resins, coatings. Work with manufacturing facilities to run manufacturing trials and solve closure manufacturing issues related to raw materials." Takes all kinds...

Multi-level chemistry?: Herbalife International (Torrance, CA) is looking for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist with experience with method development and compliance with cGMP requirements.

Plastics: Henkel (Rocky Hill, CT) is looking for a Ph.D. chemical engineer for a scale-up position from lab to pilot plant. It's titled as a "chemist" position, but they're also saying things about "unit operations" -- that's ChemE talk.

Well, that's interesting: The Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts is a residential high school in Natchitoches, Louisiana; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist, biochemist or engineer to teach and direct high school research. Looks like industrial experience might be a plus -- huh.

So's this: Sapling Learning is an online teaching company; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist for a chemistry/physics specialist. As much as I think the recent push for online learning and non-traditional universities are being run by charlatans (I'm looking at you, Kaplan University), this is undoubtedly real and a wave of the future.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

PTFE O-rings

Not much time to blog this morning, but some small useful things (links):

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interview: Lab Monkey, analyst of the UK chemistry jobs market

Imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail from Lab Monkey, suggesting that I look at LM's new blog, LabMonkey4Hire. It is an analysis of the chemistry job market in the UK. (Personally, I really like the occasional focus on a job category -- it's something I might copy!) Below is an e-mail Q&A with Lab Monkey; the answers were briefly edited by CJ and checked for accuracy by LM.

CJ: Can you tell me a little about your background?

LM: I graduated as a chemist around 10 years ago, worked in a couple of relatively small companies - earning not much money but having a great time - before the lure of untold wealth and benefits attracted me to the world of pharmaceuticals. I'm still chasing the rainbow to find the pot of gold :-)

CJ: What has the last few years been like for chemists in the UK and in Europe?

LM: Traditional bench chemistry feels like a career in decline in the UK - the boom years of the 90's have well and truly passed. In the early 2000's, medium and large sized chemical companies still had annual recruitment drives for graduates - the jobs section in New Scientist was packed - but now you have to do a lot more digging. While most larger companies have had recruitment freezes for a few years now (and in some industries made massive cuts), the smaller CROs appear to be surviving with their lower cost structure (and salaries) - as they pick up outsourcing from the larger ones. I think Europe has been seeing similar trends as the non-EU parent companies shift their manufacturing and R&D elsewhere. Interesting anecdote though - we've had a large French chemist population in the UK for a long time due to the even worse prospects there, but a lot of them seem to have been heading back to France recently...

CJ: What is the state of pharma in the UK?

LM: Pharma has had a difficult 3-4 years in the UK - with widespread site closures and bouts of redundancies. Of the top 10 pharma companies in the UK - all common names - most if not all have been affected.

CJ: How is finding a job different in the UK than in the US?

LM: I guess we have the same basic process - regularly checking sites like NewScientistJobs and Monster, sending off CVs, wondering whether the agency will ever get back to you. I wonder though whether networking is easier in the UK, and "they" say that's the future of recruitment. As we're a small country and industry tends to be concentrated in a few key locations, you fairly quickly build up a network throughout industry from university, various jobs, conferences, vendors, service engineers, etc. LinkedIn is making this even easier - it keeps people on your radar - but I don't think it's reached its potential yet. The other advantage of being a small nation is it's fairly easy to move, and family/friends are usually no more than a few hours drive away.

CJ: Do you see things getting better or worse in the next year?

LM: I think we may have a bit of a breather in 2011. The recent cuts need a bit of time to work themselves out, which will hopefully buy us 12-18 months stability in R&D. With advances in new technologies and green energy, I'd really love to see an explosion of start-ups to take on entrepreneurial chemists looking for high risk/high reward jobs.

CJ: Anything else you'd like to say to the CJ readership?

LM: Only that if you'd like more info on the UK jobs market, please join me at It's been heavily inspired by Chemjobber's format of regular highlights from the jobs boards; and hopefully will evolve with related news in the near future.

[CJ here again]. Just like he says, if you're interested in the job market for chemists in the UK, head over there! Thanks to LM for the great Q&A!

Jobs at the Central Intelligence Agency

A knowledgeable person writes with some comments about openings at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center Central Intelligence Agency:

Science, Technology, and Weapons Analyst: "This is listed in the “Special Opportunities” group – very suggestive of a priority. My educated guess is that this posting is for multiple hires. This type of position is where you’d be answering the Elbonia black phosphorus type questions in the recent post. Specifically, this would be in CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence."

Technical/Targeting Analyst: "This position is very much a step in the direction of what you see on television, i.e., real “spook” work. There is a definite S&T component to this position category. Probably multiple positions."

Research Scientist: "Almost certainly for positions with CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology. The chances of you actually doing any lab work are about 1 in a 1000. This job category will have fewer hires than the [other] positions."

Many thanks to our helpful insider and best wishes for our job seekers.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/25/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 20 and January 24, there were 35 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 15 (43%) are academically connected and 1 (3%) are from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

Butte, MT: Resodyn Corporation is a stalwart of the ACS Careers board; they've been advertising positions for chemists since 2008, it seems. Anyway, they're looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist / materials scientist with 5+ years in the coating industry.

Trenton, NJ: Redpoint Bio is looking for two M.S./Ph.D. medicinal chemists to perform research towards curing diabetes.

Houston, TX: Total Petrochemicals (the French oil giant) has two positions, a plant support position (Ph.D. chemist) and a catalyst group Ph.D.

Lexington, MA: You know, sometimes a job posting is smarter than I am. Here's the description for RainDance Technologies: "The core RainStorm™ technology empowers customers to conduct de novo science in an ultra high throughput, simple, flexible, and low cost manner. RainDance’s commercial products include instruments and high-value consumables and reagents for sequence enrichment for next-generation sequencing, ultra-deep sequencing, and methylation analysis." Oh, okay. They're looking for a Ph.D. synthetic/polymer chemist who can work on fluorinated block copolymers for their core technology. Actually, sounds pretty interesting.

Good on ya: Kelly's one position is quite relevant. I like it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The plural of paltry is not "far from stagnant"

From the January 24 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, a sidebar from an article on liberal arts teaching positions:
Chemists Wanted
The job market for liberal arts faculty positions is far from stagnant. For example, Simmons College is in the midst of a faculty search for a physical or biophysical chemist with strengths in instrumentation. Claremont McKenna College is currently seeking a biochemist, a molecular biologist, and a climate scientist. An organic chemist is retiring from Haverford College, which will most likely mean a job opening in the coming year. The chemistry department at Bowdoin College is seeking approval to hire two new physical organic chemists in 2011. And the chemistry department at Drew University recently advertised a two-year position for a visiting professor in organic chemistry.
I find this paragraph a little irritating, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I think it's the context-less statement that the job market for liberal arts faculty positions is "far from stagnant" -- what does that even mean? In that there's a fair number of positions, sure, that might be a reasonable position. In the practical sense that the average chemist could potentially attain one of these positions, that's most certainly not the case. The competition for teaching jobs is too fierce for words. I can't quite tell what the writer is trying to say, but I'm pretty sure that I disagree with them.

The comment on the Haverford College retirement is (in my arrogant opinion) naive at best; there's no telling what the faculty and administration will do. The Bowdoin College position hasn't appeared yet -- no ads. (Right? Wait, let me check... nope! It's not on their faculty hiring page.) The position at Drew is on the Wheel of Pain -- I'm not sure we want to count that.

Nice try, folks. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sometimes it feels this way

Photo credit/source:
Apologies to Tina Turner, thanks to Anon011920110455p.

San Diego Job Market Update, Feb. 2010 to current

As some may remember, I have an occasional series where I look at the San Diego job market for chemists by looking at the number of job ads in the San Diego regional ACS newsletter. While not perfectly diagnostic, it is one means of measuring whether or not the job market is improving. From the most recent data (November 2010 through February 2011), things don't look great.

That being said, I have my typical caveats about this measurement: 1) the deep of winter doesn't seem to be a prime time for employers to look for employees, 2) while the ACS Newsletter has (in the past) been a traditional place for San Diego biotechs to look for chemists, they could be going elsewhere and 3) this sort of decline could be cyclical or secular, and we just don't know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Standing up: the secret to a good meeting?

You can't do this very long.
Photo credit:
Derek Lowe's post yesterday about the tradition of useless dog-and-pony-show meetings drew a number of interesting comments. Apart from comments about the banning of Powerpoint (potentially contributed to by me) and the people who just don't go, there were a number of comments about removing the chairs, quoted below:
Anon: Perhaps if we removed the chairs from the room and turned off the Heat/AC it mights shorten the show.
Robert Bruce Thompson: Best way I know is to get rid of the conference room table and chairs.
And something slightly more meaty, from Fraxas:
Software development, as a discipline, has had the 'Agile' buzzword sweep through in an attempt to reduce (among other things) this kind of administrative overhead. Specifically, the idea of a *daily* in-team stand-up meeting where everyone says (1) what they're doing (2) what they're having problems with. Every team holds a stand-up, and every few days the leads of those teams hold their own metastandup. Slides and so on are not allowed; any sub-discussion that's not interesting to the whole team or that's taking more than 2-3 minutes is tabled for a different, one-off meeting.
I found this comment interesting, because it reminded me of a passage from "Moving Mountains", by Lt. Gen. "Gus" Pagonis, USA (Ret.); in this book, he describes the logistical thinking behind the 1991 Gulf War.* In his "Building Blocks of Leadership" chapter, Pagonis suggests exactly the same meeting that Fraxas describes. To summarze Pagonis's style, I've laid out his strategy below:
  • It is held every morning
  • Anyone (regardless of rank) is welcome to attend
    • Used to reinforce "free-and-open exchange of information within the command"
    • One representative of "each specialized function" (usually commanding officer) required
  • Everyone is required to stand 
    • Only Pagonis and his note-taker sit
    • Starts precisely on time, ends no later than 30 minutes
  • No agenda
    • Originally for quick status reports and clarifying questions
    • Depending on the week and the most relevant challenges, different groups' concerns would be dominant
Pagonis describes why the stand-up is effective:
Early on, I discovered that making people stand up keeps the ball moving at a quicker pace. People speak their piece and then quickly yield the floor to the next person. On the rare occasion that someone starts to get long winded or wax philosophic, an unmistakable kind of body language begins to sweep through the crowd. People shift from foot to foot, fidget, look at their watches -- and pretty quickly, the conversation comes back into focus. It's an interesting phenomenon. I can't recall the last time I had to crack the whip. The peer group has great power.
Communications flowed in every direction, including some unexpected ones... once it became apparent that certain people could always be found at the stand-up, other people began attending the meeting to catch up with those individuals.
I don't think Pagonis' stand-up model would be particularly effective in a long-term month-to-month progress report manner; also, I think this model wouldn't work well in an environment where medium to long-term research concerns were most important. However, for a small day-to-day research/production atmosphere, I suspect that the stand-up meeting would probably keep everyone well-informed.

*I told you I was going to buy it!

Daily Pump Trap: 1/20/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 18 and January 19, there are 13 new positions posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 3 (23%) are academically connected.

The miracles of science: DuPont (Fayetteville, NC) is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist, with a breadth of instrumental experience (GC/FID, FTIR, Karl Fischer, XRF, UV/Vis, Instron) to serve as a Principal Investigator. You'll be working on Glass Laminating Solutions; strong project management skills and a Six Sigma (I assume) green belt are desired.

Another Carolina day: GTI Chemical Solutions in Greenville, South Carolina desires a Ph.D. organic/polymer chemist to serve as a Head Chemist. This company is in the polymer business, with positions in the paint and coatings, adhesives, energy and textile markets.

And there's a new title: Agrium is a retail supplier of agrochemicals. They're looking for a B.S. chemist for a position as a "product stewardship manager." 8-10 years business experience, minimum of 5 years as a manager in the fertilizer industry or chemical manufacturing.

Rolla, MO: Brewer Science is a supplier of specialty coatings to the microelectronics industry; they are seeking a M.S./Ph.D. organic chemist to perform research and potentially lead a team.

DFW: Chemguard is looking for a B.S. chemist to perform regulatory compliance duties. You will be "Responsible for all regulatory compliance for the Fire Suppression and Specialty Chemical Divisions. Duties include new product registration, preparation and maintenance of product safety documentation, regulatory agency review and approvals for new products, site-wide federal, state and local regulatory compliance."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

15 ways to say "You're wrong."

Let's be honest, folks -- sometimes, there's nothing more satisfying than telling a colleague or (better yet) a superior that they might be incorrect. Here are a few ways of passing along that, well, they're wrong:

1. "Hey, uh, did you check that with the literature?"
2. "Horsepucky!"
3. "Do you mind if I see that NMR?"
4. "Huh."
5. "Right!" [walks quickly away]
6. "That's an interesting interpretation -- do you mind walking me through your logic?"
7. "Really?" [arched eyebrow]
8. "The hell it is."
9. "Is there precedent for that?"
10. "%$%$%$$%!"
11. "Whatever you say, Bengu."
12. "You're so full of it, your eyes are turning brown."
13. "Perhaps you need to reinterpret your data."
14. [silence]
15. "I think you're wrong."

Process Wednesday: Stirring during scale-up conditions

Once again, from our friend Neal Anderson:
The motion of the vessel contents is influenced by the agitator and any baffles. The agitator, or impeller, provides the power to move the vessel contents. There are two types of impellers: radial-flow impellers, which move the liquids along the radius of the impeller, and axial-flow impellers, which move the liquids parallel to the axis of the agitator shaft. Without baffles, low-viscosity fluids tend to create vortices and swirl with poor mixing; baffles disrupt vortices and promote flow patters that lead to good mixing. With baffles in place either radial-flow or axial-flow agitators can provide good mixing for most chemical operations used in the chemical processing industry.1

[later] Rapid distribution of reaction components does not take place on scale in conventional stirred reactors. For instance, based on pH measurement it may take 3-5 minutes for a reagent added at the top of a 500-gallon vessel to be evenly distributed throughout the solution. Mixing can be described as macromolecular mixing, which relates to the average composition of the vessel contents, and as micromolecular mixing, which considers the contacts of molecules on a molecular basis and any gradients that may result.2 Suitable micromolecular mixing can be difficult to perform on scale.
I confess that I didn't really know what a baffle was until this morning, when I saw the Wikipedia diagram. On the mixing front (pun?), this is something that I've seen, but not on the scale that Anderson refers to. Unsurpringly, agitation is something that is difficult, even on a scale as small as a 22-liter flask.

1. Oldshue, J.Y. Fluid Mixing Technology; McGraw-Hill: New York; 1983, 12-18.
2. Genck, W.J., "Crystallization's Forgotten Facet." Chem. Eng. 1997, 104(10), 94.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chemophobia and you

I'm reading a lot of the washup posts from ScienceOnline 2011 (gotta get tickets/registered for #scio12; it's like trying to get tickets for The Police reunion concert or something) and I saw this post on uh, the 'baloney' filter that people need:
Be skeptical of skeptics, Reuters Health Executive Editor Ivan Oransky urged a standing-room-only crowd at what was called a "keepers of the bulls**t filter" session.
His tips apply to all consumers and producers of science, health and medical information: keep a biostatistician in your pocket (that is, call on experts to assess the stats you read in research reports); understand the limits of the review procedures used to decide what is published in a journal; avoid disease mongering, the expansion of disease definitions in order to promote unnecessary treatments.
I agree wholeheartedly with Oransky about the need for a clear-eyed scientific outlook when you're considering new medical information, especially when it comes from popular media sources. [So is Reuters Health basically responsible for all the stories on the news at 10:13 (or 11:13) pm that say things like "Is pizza responsible for your impotence? Find out next, after this break."]

My personal hobbyhorse is chemophobia, i.e. the blaming of bad "molecules of the moment" for whatever bugaboo disease is around. For a wonderful example, check out this comment (from Oransky's blog!) about what causes autism:
"Without being a conspiracy theorist, I have wondered if the vaccine scare was funded by firms that have a vested interest in preventing epidemiological or clinical evidence from emerging about their products, like pesticide makers. Cigarette companies certainly spent decades funding groups to try to push the blame elsewhere, and continue to use money to sell story that cigarettes aren’t a significant contributor to cancer and lung disease.

The realist in me says, though, that the millions of synthetic chemicals to which we are exposed constantly in food, water, and air in unexpected and untested combinations likely are part of the root of all kinds of health issues."
$#$#$#^%%$#%$#! Now we're just fishing: pesticides, cigarettes, synthetics. While I'm as big a fan of the precautionary principle as the next guy, I think these statement are just about as scientific as blaming yesterday's bad reaction on demons. Why, the temperature probe read 66.6°C!

If I were to offer some things to keep in mind, here they are:
  1. Dose makes the poison
  2. S--t happens; you're going to die of something.
  3. I don't know what caused your cancer and neither do you (except your cigarettes, maybe.)
  4. Your liver is really, really good at removing things that don't belong in your body. (Yes, sometimes the metabolites can be the issue themselves.)
  5. If you hear the terms "millions of synthetic chemicals", "toxins" or "body burden" or any of the other weasel words, the person is punting.
  6. Listing acute MSDS symptoms is a scare tactic. I'm looking at you, Environmental Working Group.
  7. A molecular mechanism is the start of good science on the effects of chemicals on the body; an epidemiological study is the start of a media scare.
  8. Dose makes the poison.
Readers, doubtless I'm getting carried away here. Tell me I'm wrong in the comments. (Or list your chemophobia warning signs.)

Halcyon Molecular, a Bay Area biotech, seeks chemists

I've been contacted by a representative of Halcyon Molecular, the company that I posted about earlier. They're looking for some synthetic chemists and an analytical chemist as well. While they will be looking for Bay Area chemists first, they're willing to consider chemists out of the area (relocation package is possible.) "High competence" and "thoroughness" is among the top things they're looking for.

If you have specific questions, leave them in the comments or e-mail me -- I'll be forwarding them to my contact.

Research Scientist — Synthetic Chemistry, Research & Development, Redwood City, CA, United States

Halcyon Molecular is a growing team of 40 scientists and engineers working to transform biology into an information science. Current gene sequencing methods are too slow, too expensive, and too incomplete to make "personalized medicine" more than a buzzword.
We are currently looking to hire synthetic chemists with one to ten years of post-graduate experience. Candidates with prior experience preparing metal clusters, small nanoparticles, and organotransition metal complexes may be especially well suited.

The successful candidate will:
  • have a M.S. or Ph.D. in Chemistry or a related field
  • be proficient with laboratory scale preparative chromatography and all the usual spectroscopic techniques
  • have 1-10 years of post-graduate lab experience
  • be collegial, cooperative, and have a proactive work ethic
Research Scientist — Analytical Chemistry, Research & Development, Redwood City, CA, United States

An experienced analytical chemist with a broad knowledge and significant hands-on experience using various analytical chemistry tools, especially HPLC and CE. Primary responsibilities include: analytical method development; characterization of assay products; measuring reaction kinetics; determining reaction selectivity and specificity; optimization of running conditions for novel compounds; and communication across functional areas.

The successful candidate will:
  • develop quantitative methods for the detection of chemical modifications of DNA utilizing capillary electrophoresis
  • demonstrate broad expertise in various analytical methods including CE and HPLC, mass spectrometry is also desirable
  • exhibit resourcefulness and proactive problem-solving
  • have earned a MS or PhD in chemistry, biochemistry, or a related discipline with an emphasis in analytical chemistry

Daily Pump Trap: 1/18/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 13 and January 17, there were 37 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 21 (57%) are academically connected.

Multiples!: Always like a multiple post. Vertex weighs in with more temp positions, Biogen Idec and Cambridge Major do as well. Good news.

Chew on this: The Wrigley Company is looking for an experienced Ph.D. organic/polymer chemist; you'll be working " primarily in the area of new matrix material development and will be an important subject matter expert for existing matrix systems." So new gum?

The desert: Jacobs Technology is a contractor for Dugway Proving Ground, a military test facility in Utah. They're looking for two analytical chemists. Enjoy!

The miracle?: HEC Pharma is a new drug discovery company based "in the miracle city of Shenzhen in China" is looking for pharma scientists of all kinds. I've never been to Shenzhen, but I'm guessing that miracle is not one of the words a typical Westerner would use. Remarkable, certainly. Miracle? Hmmmmmm.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why is Elbonia working on black phosphorus?

I made a comment the other day about the difficulty in understanding US government job postings, especially in the defense area. I talked with a knowledgeable person; here is part of our conversation:

CJ: I understand what the Defense Intelligence Agency does (I think) -- why do they need scientists? What is the chance that a Ph.D. chemist might get one of these positions?

Having some familiarity with DIA, I’m going to assume that one of the 15 slots in this posting is to cover the chemical “threat”.  That said, I’ll make the educated guess that a Ph.D. chemist coming right out of a post-doc position would have a 1 in 10 chance of being selected relative to a BS or MS person. Why is this?  DIA is a military intelligence organization and as such, it likes…no, demands, that individuals subsume their opinions for the good of the team. While DIA would hire a PhD-level senior scientist from within the DOD or Intelligence community for a senior-level slot, my educated sense is that this isn’t what DIA is after.

DIA and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies need scientists to assist in interpretation of intelligence reporting, e.g.,  Why is Elbonia working on black phosphorus?  What are the strategic goals of Narnia’s Defense Science and Technology Agency?  What is the probability that Atlantis’ program to develop non-RE alternatives to Rare Earths (RE) will be successful? Based on kilo-lab production capabilities reported two year ago, what is this likelihood that Lilliputia will develop a world-scale production process for its revolutionary new explosive, selenous boomboom?

CJ: If you search under "chemist" on, you'll get a lot of posting for "chemist (acquisition)" for the Department of the Navy. What are these postings about?

The answer is in one of those Navy postings: "The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) FY 2009 provides that the Secretary of Defense can designate acquisition positions within the Department of Defense as shortage positions and recruit and appoint highly qualified persons to those positions."

What this means is the following:  The US Government is increasingly having difficulty in finding and retaining experienced personnel to manage acquisitions. Government acquisition regulations and processes are insanely complex and the pay that formal acquisition people get isn’t all that great. The huge number of experienced acquisition people retiring hasn’t been matched by new hires…therefore…what Duncan Hunter says is that the Department of Defense (maybe other agencies too) can hire you as a scientist and assign you to do acquisition grunt work. The downside is that PhD training in chemistry isn’t going to be remotely relevant to whatever it is that you’re responsible for with your acquisition duties; the upside is that if you’re in need of a job, acquisition is a place that you can look forward to immense job security.

CJ here again. An interesting bit of information, especially for those of us who might be contemplating working for the federal government. Best wishes to all the federal job seekers and many thanks to our knowledgeable insider.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

RIP Sheri Sangji

Two years ago today, Sherharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of her injuries sustained while running a reaction with tert-butyl lithium in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran at UCLA. Two years later, the Los Angeles district attorney has still apparently not decided upon the fate of her case.

There's a lot that has been said already about the general state of academic lab safety (poor) and the specifics of her case (tragic, sad, frustrating); I can't really think of anything new.

My thoughts are with her friends and family.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Teflon stopcocks

Small things (links) that are useful:

- Here's the safety letter on the recent oxidation injury/incident at Northwestern.
- A discussion at Chembark on the wisdom of organizing a lab inventory cleanup.
- Paul's list of the Greatest Chemists of All Time (see my comments about the need for Hall of Fame)
- Matt's preparation of caramel sauce
- Sharon's discussion of potential spokespeople for chemistry
- I learn about snowplowing here.

Chart of the day: BLS data on chemist unemployment

From Wall Street Journal infographic (click to get better view)
Blue line represents national U3 unemployment rate, tan line and bars are chemists

Thanks to Anon011320110519p for the link to the above Wall Street Journal infographic (click the image to get a better view). This shows the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' analysis of unemployment by occupation. The chart on the above left shows the unemployment rate for chemists and materials scientists. Interestingly, BLS indicates a drop from 4.5% for 2009 to 3.1% for 2010. I'm surprised to read that, really. If you had told me that BLS was going to tell me that the unemployment rate for chemists and materials scientists (heretofore referred to as Ch&MSc) was 3.1% for 2010, I'd have a difficult time believing that. The only thing I can figure is that some of the alternative energy push is bringing in new MatSci folks, perhaps.

The much more believeable number is the drop in total employed Ch&MSc dropped by 15k from 2007 to 2010; that doesn't surprise me a bit. Certainly, some of that is 'workforce participation' as older chemists move out of the lab (remember, BLS has a pretty strict definition of who is a chemist). Also, the ever-increasing number of materials scientists is hidden by combining their (much smaller) ranks with chemists.

Interesting find. Thanks again to Anon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Careerism in management

Is this what it takes?
Photo credit: Not Worth Mentioning
"One Bullet Away" is a book by Capt. Nathaniel Fick, USMC (ret.) that describes his experiences in the Marine Corps during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was struck by a comment that he made about commanders other than his own in his first unit, the 1st Battalion of the 1st Marine Division:
They shunned boldness for fear of making an attention-grabbing mistake. The prevailing culture of 1/1, at least among the officers and senior NCOs, was careerist: laugh at the colonel's jokes, don't get anyone hurt, and stay under the radar.
Later, he describes what made his own company commander different:
The question on all our minds was "Why Bravo? [Fick's company]" Captain Whitmer was too self-effacing to say it, but I knew the answer. Among the battalion's company commanders, he was the iconoclast, the outcast stepchild who trained his Marines to be good instead of look good. He pushed us hard, questioned authority, and couldn't even feign obsequiousness. But when the first real mission called, the battalion turned to him.
As in the past, I hesitate to compare the chemistry world to the military. However, when I think about how to evaluate a leader or a manager from below, I often think about the same criteria: 1) Does this person care more about his or her career than those of the people under him or her? Are they going along to get along? and 2) are they doing their best to advance the training and the careers of the people they are in charge of and/or responsible for?

From a grunt's perspective (that's me), it must be so hard for a line supervisor to know when to push back against The Powers That Be. Too hard, and you're going to get tuned out. Too soft, and you'll ultimately be the person on the right up there. At the same time that you're pushing back, you have to make sure that you're good at your primary job, that you're not opening yourself up to reminders to stay in your own lane and worry about the problems in front of you.

I dunno -- just the early morning musings of a youngish chemist.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/13/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 11 and January 12, there were 14 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (29%) are academically connected.

That's nice: Scynexis has two postings -- the latter for multiple positions for medicinal chemists. That's something!

Habla usted espanol?: Now here's something rare-ish? USP needs a M.S./Ph.D. chemist that's fluent in Spanish and regulatory affairs. Huh.

Great Falls, NC: NEPTCO is looking for a B.S. chemist with polymer/adhesives experience for an R&D materials position.

Flavors!: Takasago International wishes a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist (with respective descending years of experience, down to 0) for an analytical position. Takasago is a flavor manufacturer; you will be responsible for analytical issues and distillations, looks like.

Huh: The Army Public Health Command is looking for a chemist to supervise a team of 15 bench-level chemists. It's a nice salary; 100k or so.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chart of the week: Holy cow, manufacturing!

Photo credit: NPR/Planet Money
Hey, manufacturing -- that's chemistry, isn't it? Uh-oh.

(I believe that pharmaceutical manufacturing is where pharma jobs get classified; I don't believe we get put under the health care category.)

Looks like folks working retail are slightly better off. Huh.

Process Wednesday: the Cornforth quote

I've personally begun looking at routes and asking: does it pass the one-armed man test?:
It does, for example, no good to offer an elegant, difficult and expensive process to an industrial manufacturing chemist, whose ideal is something to be carried out in a disused bathtub by a one-armed man who cannot read, the product being collected continuously through the drain hole in 100% purity and yield. - Sir John Cornforth, Chemistry in Britain, 1975, 432.
Hardly anything does, but it's an ideal to keep in mind. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chemjobber, other places

I'm moderating an ACS webinar on finding jobs at small companies; Dr. John Borchardt is the speaker. Come on over!

Is this post literally true?

Th'Gaussling had a wonderful post on the internal workings of a chemical company and ended with this gem of a paragraph:
Chemists love details and, like a pig in sh-t*, we love to roll around in the data. And for some, no detail is too small to bring the show to a complete halt while they wrestle with details. I’ve seen this many times. This makes it difficult for some chemists to make the transition to other job descriptions. It is a simple fact that we sometimes have to move forward with an incomplete picture.
It got me to wondering -- why is that? Why do we stop everything to deal with one tiny detail? Certainly, there's the joy of proving someone wrong, of showing off, but there's also the desire to Get Everything Right. It reminds me of this wonderful passage from (sorry, excimer) Neal Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon; it's a conversation between two characters, Randy and Amy:
RW: "My point is that precision, and getting things right, in the mathematical sense, is the one thing we have going for us. Everyone has to have a way of getting ahead, right? Otherwise you end up working at McDonald’s your whole life, or worse. Some are born rich. Some are born into a big family like yours. We make our way in the world by knowing that two plus two equals four, and sticking to our guns in a way that is kind of nerdy and that maybe hurts people’s feelings sometimes. I’m sorry."
AS: "Hurts whose feelings? People who think that two plus two equals five?"

RW: "People who put a higher priority on social graces than on having every statement uttered in a conversation be literally true."
And I think that this is something to be striven for, in a conversation about new chemistry in a chemistry laboratory -- that as many statements as possible be literally true. It's important to know what has been demonstrated to be true, what is thought to be true and what is not known to be true. Otherwise, people get the idea that things that haven't been worked out have been worked out (and in the worst case, can be ignored until it's too late); in the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are things that you know that you know and there are things that you know that you don't know.

In the end, though, Gaussling is right. Almost always, there are some details that cannot stop the show (and won't); it's just that you have to know which ones you can safely ignore.

*Bowdlerization CJ's.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/11/11 edition

Good morning! (Whoa, look at that date!) Between January 7 and January 10, there were 21 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of them, 13 (62%) are academically connected.

Sticky: Avery Dennison is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemist with 2 years experience; looks to be a catch-all internal analytical/instrumental position.

What a name for a place!: "The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine invites applications for a position in the Enteric Diseases Department of the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, MD..." They're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. biochemist with experience in carbohydrate assay development -- sounds like fun.

SLC: The Thatcher Company is "a privately held manufacturer of industrial chemicals and medical supplies" in Utah; they're looking for a M.S. chemist with experience in surfactant chemistry and plant operations to be their technical director.

IFF: International Flavors and Fragrances is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with 5-10 years of experience to become their regulatory compliance specialist, especially regarding EU REACH. Who says government can't create jobs in the private sector?

Huh: Did you know there's an American University of Nigeria? I didn't. They're looking for teaching faculty.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The saddest letter you will read today

From the January 10, 2011 edition of Chemical and Engineering News:

When I was a kid, my family moved many times. At each new school, I would go out to the kickball field during recess and wait to be picked. Because the team captains didn't know me, I would endure a week or two disappointed that I wasn't picked. Finally, there would be a shortage of kids, and a team captain would reluctantly add me to their team. At that point, I was elated and tended to play well. Eventually, I would become a team captain, and I would be picking my own team. Then my family would move again, and the process would be repeated.

Now I am an adult and a professional chemist and in a very similar situation. I'm unemployed and waiting to be picked. The team captains don't know me, and so I have been turned away many times, dejected. I'm mature enough to know that there may never be a "shortage of kids" and waiting for one would be foolish. I know that there are things I can do to grab a team captain's attention, and I practice them almost daily. But as in my younger days, I know that I must be patient.

One day I will be picked, and I'll be elated, and I'll kick a home run, and then all the other kids will like me. Maybe one day I'll be a team captain again.

Frederick J. Lakner
San Diego, CA

Should chemistry graduate school rankings be based on employment?

Over the weekend, there was a rather wonderful article in the New York Times about the perils of trying to become a lawyer. While the main story was the difficulties of keeping up with student debt (and the associated consumption issues), the article also covered the problems with tracking whether graduate law school students were unemployed. To wit:
Even students with open eyes, though, will have a hard time sleuthing through the U.S. News rankings. They are based entirely on unaudited surveys conducted by each law school, using questions devised by the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement. Given the stakes and given that the figures are not double-checked by an impartial body, each school faces exactly the sort of potential conflict of interest lawyers are trained to howl about.
The surveys themselves have a built-in bias. As many deans acknowledge, the results are skewed because graduates with high-paying jobs are more likely to respond than people earning $9 an hour at Radio Shack. (Those who don’t respond are basically invisible, aside from reducing the overall response rate of the survey.)
Certain definitions in the surveys seem open to abuse. A person is employed after nine months, for instance, if he or she is working on Feb. 15. This is the most competitive category — it counts for about one-seventh of the U.S. News ranking — and in the upper echelons, it’s not unusual to see claims of 99 percent and, in a handful of cases, 100 percent employment rates at nine months.
A number of law schools hire their own graduates, some in hourly temp jobs that, as it turns out, coincide with the magical date. Last year, for instance, Georgetown Law sent an e-mail to alums who were “still seeking employment.” It announced three newly created jobs in admissions, paying $20 an hour. The jobs just happened to start on Feb. 1 and lasted six weeks.
A spokeswoman for the school said that none of these grads were counted as “employed” as a result of these hourly jobs. [snip]
As absurd as the rankings might sound, deans ignore them at their peril, and those who guide their schools higher up the U.S. News chart are rewarded with greater alumni donations, better students and jobs at higher-profile schools.
It's been years since I've seen the US News ranking for chemistry departments; as I recall, they lined up with the conventional wisdom quite well (H-bomb on top, etc., etc.)* I don't think they relied particularly strongly on post-graduation employment. (Law school rankings, I believe, are far more reliant on those numbers.)

I suspect that if the question was "At year 3 after receiving your doctorate, how many of your graduates are employed by private employers?", the numbers would begin to look a lot worse. Certainly postdoctoral fellowships should not count as 'employment'; it's unknown if BLS counts them as "employed", but I know that ACS does not. (It doesn't count them as being 'unemployed' either, but breaks them out into their own separate category.)

At some point in the future (especially if things don't recover with the overall economy), these questions will have to be answered by graduate schools in chemistry.

*Anon011020110850a challenges me to update the rankings. For overall chemistry graduate schools, they are: tied for 1st: Berkeley, CalTech, MIT, 4th: Harvard, Stanford, 6th: UIUC, 7th: TSRI, Northwestern, UW-Madison, 10th: Columbia and Cornell.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Good news? Unemployment down to 9.4%

I'm falling down on the job -- I completely forgot it was the first Friday of the month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that December's unemployment rate is 9.4%, down from November's 9.8%. The broader U6 unemployment rate is 16.7%, down from November's 17.0%.

It's a long road ahead, but hopefully this is a single step in the right direction.

Goodbye, Organic Syntheses books.

Goodbye, old friends.
Photo credit: me.
Just the same as many of you, I got an e-mail late last year saying that they were going to discontinue sending the paper copies of Organic Syntheses to Division of Organic Chemistry members. The decision makes some sense, I suppose -- costs are up, and they're opening up a new DOC fellowship with the savings (scroll down). Fair enough.

In memory of these awesome little brown books, a list of my ten favorite things about Organic Syntheses books:

1. You can learn about fields and molecular classes that you didn't know about.
2. You can read awesome mini-biographies about older chemists (the Buchi biography is one of my favorites.)
3. Fits on the back of a toilet.
4. A pile of them can be used to hold up a child at a dinner table or perhaps a car in need of a tire change.
5. Good size to take on a bus or plane ride.
6. To the uninitiated, they make you look like you really care about chemistry on your bookshelves.
7. Fits nicely on a bedstand.
8. You typically can learn about a methodology that you didn't really know or care about; but it's checked -- so hey, why not run this reaction?
9. Makes a great beer coaster.
10. Checked procedures -- how awesome is that?

LA area startup seeks scientists to work on battery technology

Good morning! I've been contacted by a recruiter looking for that elusive electrochemist; actually, 2 of them -- a fresh Ph.D. and one with industry experience.

(Senior) Research Scientist

Pre-IPO technology firm seeking a Research Scientist and a Senior Research Scientist. We are a green battery company located in a northern suburb of Los Angeles, California. Product is in pilot stage and we anticipate launch in approximately one year.

A successful candidate will be coordinating development efforts with the engineering, manufacturing, quality and business teams. Because we are a battery firm, our lab closely resembles an engineering lab – an interesting mix of chemistry, mechanical engineering, test fixtures, all coupled with understanding the battery's function in an electronic device.

The ideal candidate will have:

- Industrial R&D/Product development lab OR Postdoctoral Research work
- A PhD or Engineering Degree: Chemistry/Chemical Engineering
- Expertise in Chemistry (Physical/Inorganic/Polymer/Material Science)
- Expertise in Multiphysics Simulation would be greatly welcomed
- Experience working with engineering teams
- Production engineering knowledge
- A solid background in Design of Experiment
- Guided projects/experiments to completion
- A gift for respecting the talents of the lab team and ability to lead by example.
- The ability to communicate at all levels in the organization
- The ability to choose product development paths that ultimately will lead to product success.

If you or a gifted colleague are searching for a new challenge, please submit your resume/CV to:
[CJ here again] Good luck, folks!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chart of the Day: capacity utilization in global chemistry

Capacity utilization is basically the percentage of potential production capacity that is actually being used to (in this case) produce chemicals. Paul Hodges of the ICIS Chemicals and the Economy blog uses this graph to indicate that there are shifts ahead in the chemical industry. His new white paper lays out his case that the New Normal consists of a few happy notes: 1) the US housing market is not demanding chemicals like before (and won't), 2) China has been responsible for the recovery in the chemicals market and 3) the Chinese housing market is being tamped down by the PRC government because of rampant speculation.

Good news all around, I see.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/6/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 4 and January 6, there were 12 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (33%) are academically connected.

Sun: Dow Corning in Midland, MI is looking for a Ph.D. chemist for solar product development.

Ice (hockey): Transzyme Pharma in Quebec, Canada desires a Ph.D. computational chemist with 5+ years experience with modeling, docking and conformational analysis.

Heat: Dow Corning in Midland, MI is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. materials scientist to perform thermal or rheological characterization. Also desired: "A strong, fundamental background theory and hands-on thermal and rheological characterization Knowledge of the study of structures and chemical and physical properties of various materials (e.g., metals, alloys, ceramics, semiconductors and polymers) and ability to provide insights into composition-structure-property relationships."

Sand: Sandia National Laboratories is looking for a Ph.D. chemist for a postdoc in nanoscale electrochemistry; electrochemical experience strongly desired. Salary? 83,400 George Washingtons -- holy cow!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If People Magazine were run by grad students...

Photo credit: grad guy, parka gal and Phil Baran.

Q: When is a lawyer nicer than a chemist?

A: When it comes to talking about the cost/benefit analysis of law school versus graduate school.

From a CNBC article (via
"The American Bar Association has officially issued a warning on its website.

The ABA is now making the case to persuade college students not to go to law school. According to the association, over the past 25 years law school tuition has consistently risen two times faster than inflation. The average private law student borrows about $92,500 for law school, while law students who attend public schools take out loans for $71,400. These numbers do not include any debt law students may still have from their time as undergraduates.

Before the recession, the ABA cites statistics that show an average starting salary for an associate of a large law firm of about $160,000 a year. But by 2009, about 42 percent of graduates began with an annual salary of less than $65,000.
And those are just the newbies."
The full paper is here; it is titled "The Value Proposition of Attending Law School". It analyzes the cost of law school, employment trends for lawyers (including salaries), student loan concerns for new lawyers and ends with an admonition to potential lawyers to tread carefully before signing up for law school.* I am unaware of any similar paper being written or hosted by the American Chemical Society.

You can argue this is a matter of older lawyers protecting themselves from younger lawyers. I think it's worth keeping in mind that the writers and current members of ABA benefit (in some small fashion) from raising the barrier to entry to lawyering.

Whether we should discourage the education of future chemists is, in my opinion, an open question. However, I find it at least a little disturbing that a profession that's famous for coldbloodedness seems to have somewhat more regard for its future members than, say, the American Chemical Society.

*It should be noted that this report is from 2009.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Recommended reading list (for others and CJ)?

During the chemistry jobs roundtable, Carmen Drahl and Lisa Jarvis asked a great question: if you were to recommend a reading list on chemistry employment to undergraduates and/or graduate students, what would you choose?

In my opinion, a good reading list will provide a source of inspiration, while rubbing the readers' face in reality.

I would recommend a few things:

- My favorite post of Derek Lowe's about the perseverance of being a pharma researcher.
- Any one of the postdoc or assistant professor blogs out there.
- Derek Lowe's series on how to get a pharma job.
- My post on the ten year mark of an industrial chemist.
- Any of Philip Greenspun's writings on the cost/benefit of getting a degree in science.

Readers, doubtless you can do a better job than me. What would you recommend?

Also, I have a $50 gift card from a major book retailer; if you would recommend a book to purchase, what would it be? I'm willing to purchase chemistry related texts, but would entertain suggestions for other items.

(N.B. Some of that money is reserved for the autobiography of Gus Pagonis, the logistic wizard behind the first Gulf War. I'm weird like that.)

UPDATE: Lisa Balbes of the ACS Careers blog and Career Development for Scientists has a list of her own; it's quite comprehensive.

Kinex Pharma seeks Ph.D. medicinal chemist

What a joy! I've been contacted by a representative of Kinex Pharmaceuticals; they're asking me to advertise a senior research scientist position at their company in Buffalo, NY. The posting is as follows:

Kinex Pharmaceuticals LLC in Buffalo NY is seeking a highly motivated Ph.D. level medicinal chemist with a strong background in synthetic organic chemistry to participate in the design and synthesis of small molecule drug candidates, interpret SAR, and select compounds for further development. The ideal candidate will be able to prosper in a closely communicating group of open-minded chemists and biologists to efficiently pursue small molecule therapeutics as well as develop innovative platform technologies to support drug discovery pursuits. We are seeking a scientist that is inquisitive, ambitious, and energetic, with an entrepreneurial spirit, a positive attitude, and willingness to take on tasks that may lie outside of one’s previous experience. An independent critical thinker capable of developing and executing innovative solutions is highly desired.

Desired experience:
  • PhD in medicinal/synthetic organic chemistry with 2-5 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • A strong synthetic organic chemistry background required.
  • Experience with lead optimization using SAR from cellular assays is a plus. Understanding of the principles ADMET and DMPK.
  • Experience in oncology or immunology drug discovery is a plus.
  • Basic understanding of other disciplines (Mass spectrometry, analytical chemistry, cellular biology, pharmacology and the process for bringing compounds into clinical trials).
  • Strong written and oral communication skills are required for effective drug discovery team participation.
  • Excellent organizational and computer skills along with the ability to accurately and efficiently multi-task are also necessary.
Contact information: For timely and more efficient consideration please provide a research summary when submitting your CV. Forward research summary and CV to Refer to for more information about our company.

[CJ here again]. Thanks to Kinex Pharmaceuticals for being CJ's first [unpaid!] advertiser (?) of a job posting. Best of luck to all candidates.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/4/10 edition

Good morning! Between December 30, 2010 and January 3, 2011, there were 27 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of those, 21 (78%) are academically connected.

Well, good luck!: Halcyon Molecular "has developed a nanorobotic DNA manipulation technology that will enable 100% complete DNA sequencing to bypass the current standard by orders of magnitude on speed, cost, and quality." Uh, wow. To help with that, they're looking for 3 synthetic chemists at all levels; "Candidates with prior experience preparing metal clusters, small nanoparticles, and organotransition metal complexes may be especially well suited."

Sticky business: Multek "is a leading global developer and manufacturer of advanced laminates and high-performance flexible circuit materials"; they are looking for a B.S. chemist with "[f]ive to ten years of successful hands-on adhesive based product development in a materials, adhesives and/or PCB manufacturing environment." You will be doing product development in their electronic materials division.

Upstate: Corning is looking for a Ph.D. chemist with AFM experience for a postdoctoral position; "must have significant hands-on experience in the laboratory, e.g. modification of AFM probes, sample fabrication, and AFM system maintenance. The ideal candidate should also be comfortable with programming and writing independent data analysis routines." Sounds interesting -- good luck.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Where do skilled bachelor's-level chemists go?

The Gaussling over at Lamentations on Chemistry makes some observations about his efforts to hire a B.S.-level chemist:
So here is what I have observed in the past 6 or 7 years interviewing BS chemists. Precious few of them had any demonstrable interest in organic chemistry or synthesis. It is not because they were lacking ability- they had not had the opportunity to practice the art. They might have been involved in some kind of research in their senior year, but very often it is involved in some highly specialized work with a very narrow scope. OK. That is the nature of research. It’s specialized.  I believe the college chemistry curriculum and the shifting interests of faculty to ultra specialized research are failing students.

[snip] This graduate that I interviewed had experience in some kind of nanoscience, but couldn’t say much at all about basic synthesis. When asked about Grignard reagents, he could not recall having heard of it. What the hell good did the professor do for this kid?? The kid burned up his senior year doing deep-niche chemistry with skills of questionable transferability. He should have been doing distillations and crystallizations until he could coax pure subtsances out of a mixture that he/she made. That is what an undergrad should be doing. An undergrad should be refining basic manipulation skills and accumulation experience in running diverse reactions. Experience is proportional to the number of experiments run.

I have no reason to believe other than undergraduate chemistry education is failing to prepare bachelors students for the practice of the synthetic arts. It has been my experience- perhaps yours is different- that students with an interest in synthesis go to grad school. The problem with that is that it immediately doubles the cost of doing synthetic chemistry per unit chemist in society at large.
Well, let's think about this from a practical perspective: how much time could an enthusiastic undergraduate devote to the study of chemical synthesis? Let's say that our undergraduate decides that she wants to do an REU right away, after taking sophomore organic. So that's one summer, maybe two during her college career; it's safe to say that's about 16 weeks of hard-core research. Let's say that she wants to do research during the school year, too. That's probably a reaction or two per week (average) for 2 academic years; maybe 80 weeks overall, probably 100+ reactions. Total, 96 weeks of research, ~150 reactions.

That would produce a pretty darn good B.S. organic chemist. It'd also produce someone who would be primed to totally kick butt in graduate school, which is probably where most of the people who have that enthusiasm would end up.

I've just described the right end of the bell curve for organic-oriented undergraduates; at the same time, the left end exists as well. When I did a campus interview for a B.S. position, they asked me to describe my research and I drew them my little organic molecule that I was working on. They looked at it, they looked at me and they said, "You're the first student we've met today that could describe the research that they've been working on." Sigh.

I think undergraduates can do the cost/benefit math as well as anyone. If you wish to get a bench-level job, it's probably a lot better for you to get a M.S. degree. It won't cost you any money, just a little time (2 years, right? right?) and the salary bump is fairly significant. (63k for an associate scientist at PFE versus 70k for a senior associate scientist.)

Readers, what do you think? (And welcome back, I hope! There's a new poll over there on your left.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy 2011!

Happy New Year, everyone. Let's hope that 2011 will find us all happily employed, doing the chemistry we love. Best wishes to all CJ readers; you made 2010 a great year for me and mine.

See you on Monday.