Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview: moving from the bench to IP work

I'm pleased to bring you an interview with someone we'll call TL, who has transitioned out of the lab into the intellectual property field. This might be another potential career path for those looking to leave the bench.

This Q&A has been lightly formatted and edited by CJ and checked for accuracy by TL.

Chemjobber: Can you describe your background a little?

TL: I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist, but it took me a few semesters of college for me to figure out what I wanted to major in. I hated chemistry in high school so I shyed away from chem as an undergrad, but I ended up taking organic chemistry, and I fell in love. As much as I enjoyed it, and my undergraduate lab experience, I knew I didn't want to work in a lab for my entire career. I went to grad school with that in mind - I thought that having a PhD would provide more career opportunities for me.

However, I wasn't sure that grad school was the place for me, so I took some time off to take a job at a biotech company and then a big pharma company, and I never looked back. I had a great career as an associate medicinal chemist. But it's hard to move ahead without a PhD, and I also saw that the industry was hurting, so I realized it was finally time for me to start exploring options outside the lab.

CJ: Your new position involves intellectual property -- how do you like it?

TL: I am now a patent examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, although as someone pointed out, I'm not actually a patent examiner, I'm a patent application examiner. I am given several patent applications to read. Once I understand the invention in the application, I write a response to the applicant's attorney with an analysis of their invention, how it fits into the prior art, and whether or not it is patentable. The goal is to help the applicant claim what is rightfully theirs without infringing upon others.

My role as a patent examiner has been a great way for me to use my scientific background in a new way. I like seeing what people are working on across a variety of disciplines, and every day I get to read about something new. Some days I read about medicinal chemistry related art, but some days I read about different diseases or cosmetic treatments or food additives. I enjoy the challenge of understanding art that I am not familiar with, and understanding the problems and how people are trying to improve upon the current technology.

There are a lot of benefits to the job, but the best part of the job is the amount of training and mentoring they provide. They want their employees to succeed. Of course they have their own reasons for helping you - it's a business, even if it's a government agency - but I can't remember the last time my employer made such efforts to not only develop the skills I need to complete my job, but to outline potential career paths at USPTO or with the federal government. The training program is extensive and we are given quite a bit of time to ramp up to full production.

CJ: Do you find your chemistry skills being used substantially on a day-to-day basis in your new position?

TL: There certainly isn't any wet lab work involved in patent examining. But writing an office action is similar to writing a journal article - there's a lot of formal language, you need to concisely and coherently make your argument, and there are revisions and input from your supervisor and replies from the applicant's attorney. Applications are also judged based on the state of the art at the time of the invention, so you need to have an idea of what would be known to a chemist at the time that the patent was written. We use the phrase "one having ordinary skill in the art" all the time. (CJ: a.k.a. PHOSITA)

CJ: Anything you miss about not being in the lab? Anything you don't miss?

TL: I miss crystallization - it's just so beautiful. But many of the things that I enjoyed about working in the lab - the process of creation, and the scientific process itself - I appreciate in everyday life. Many of my hobbies are hands-on and of the create-something variety. Who doesn't do a bit of experimentation and trial-and-error in the kitchen?

CJ: What would you suggest to someone interested in following your path?

TL: USPTO has a very diverse workforce - there are people of all ages and backgrounds, so there's no one right way to go about becoming an examiner. I believe 40-50% of the examiners in the chemistry and biology technology center have a PhD, and most of the rest have a master's degree. Some are right out of academia and some have industry experience. The most important thing is that you have to enjoy reading and writing about a wide variety of topics, since you aren't always going to be examining kinase inhibitors or cancer treatments or whatever your specialty may be.

Set up an automatic search on for a patent examiner position (I bet most of your readers already have one for the keyword "chemistry") and just keep your eyes open. Job postings tend to come and go, so it's just a matter of timing.

CJ here again. Thanks so much to TL for the thoughtful and interesting conversation!

Friday, February 25, 2011

12 things I love about chemistry

Photo credit:
This employment/unemployment stuff is rough.

1. As always, fluffy white crystals.
2. The very occasional pleasant surprise in your data.
3. The plethora of really smart folks.
4. Big complex equipment that makes your life easier.
5. Seeing that peak at the right retention time
6. That water can have so many uses: solvent, scapegoat, reagent, to cool, to warm...
7. A rousing discussion of reaction mechanisms.
8. A well-written supplemental information section.
9. When older chemists talk about life in the "good old days": smoking at the bench, ether in the sink, etc.
10. Hearing good hiring news from friends,  as in: "I got a job!"
11. (ever-so-rare) Projects that go well from beginning to end
12. The sound of samples going in and out of an NMR.

I'm tagging a few folks here: biochembelle, Leigh, ScienceGeist, ChemBark, Icanhasscience, Lab Monkey, The Haystack and Transition States. What are your favorite things? Even if I didn't name you, join in! Y'all come, so to speak.

Factlets from yesterday's ACS Webinar -- March 2010 ACS unemployment: 3.8%, new grads getting hammered

Yesterday's ACS Webinar on chemistry employment and unemployment featured ACS's own Gareth Edwards (who directs the ACS Salary Survey) and 2 economists from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Roger Moncarz and Brian Roberts. You can see all the slides here.

This blogpost will mostly focus on the data from the 2010 ACS Salary Survey, as the BLS outlook is something that we've covered on this blog (that there's really slow job growth projected for this industry, in comparison to materials science.)

Overall unemployment: as of March 2010, the unemployment rate is 3.8% for ACS members, which is slightly lower from the 2009 number of 3.9%. As Mr. Edwards points out, these are the two highest numbers that ACS has recorded since the beginnings of the survey in 1972.

Human capital destruction: The mean jobless period for ACS members is 11 months, with the median at 9 months. As the unemployed are keenly aware, it is commonly believed that skill set erosion starts in at 3 to 6 months. Mr. Edwards suggests that the relative fall in unemployment is probably due to a combination of people leaving the workforce, combined with chemists taking jobs that are below their skill set ("underemployment").

Experience is winning: One of the key messages of the webinar was that contrary to conventional wisdom, it is younger and less-educated cohorts, not older ones, that are experiencing the most difficulty in finding positions in chemistry. The respective unemployment rates for B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. chemists is 5.1%, 4.8 and 3.2%.

Wow: The final, staggering statistic from the webinar was the unemployment rates for new B.S. chemistry graduates: 9.4% in 2008, 15.9% in 2009. By comparison, the New York Times reported that the BLS unemployment rate for college graduates under 25 was 8% in April 2010.

Even more good news: The final quote from the seminar: "The loss of jobs may be a permanent adjustment without the typical recovery of other recessions."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chart of the week: The housing market and the labor mobility of chemists

It's not talked about a lot, but I'll bet there were a lot of pharma/biotech chemists affected by the housing market. Here's the latest Case-Shiller measurement of various housing markets across the country, courtesy of the Calculated Risk blog:

Chart credit: Calculated Risk.
You'll note, of course, that 3 of the 5 (?) major pharma/biotech hubs (SF, SD and Boston) have sustained fairly drastic hits to their prices: 38%, 37% and 15% drops (respectively.)

It seems obvious to me that there are a significant (but unmeasured!) number of scientists who are underwater on their homes and cannot participate in the national labor market. Granted, they might not want to move, but unless their new company in Boston can help them out, a Bay Area chemist might just choose to stay a Bay Area chemist.

It also seems obvious to me that this is bad: labor mobility is one of the great attributes of the American economy. If the government wanted to do something useful, aiding people who want to get out from under their home and move somewhere else for a job would seem like a good start.*

*Look, I know this is going to help out some people who were stupid with their money, but that's the price of getting things going again. 

The ChemWiki project needs you!

Got time? Want to work on something useful? Professor Delmar Larsen of UC Davis' ChemWiki project is looking for a few good editors. For details, see below:
The aim of the ChemWiki is to develop and disseminate a virtual customizable textbook that will substitute for paper textbooks in multiple chemistry courses at multiple post-secondary institutions across the nation. Textbook costs are a major factor in pursuing higher education and efforts to control/minimize such costs for a majority of students are important at essentially every institution in the country. The ChemWiki project will reduce out of pocket costs for education for undergraduate students, which is a common concern across the higher education spectrum, especially for low-income students.
I'm quite fond of (because I contributed to) the ChemWiki's techniques section, when Kyle Finchsigmate's lab ChemWiki was all the rage.

Go to it, folks!

Daily Pump Trap: 2/24/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 22 and 23, there were 62 new positions posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 5 (8%) are academically connected.

Merrrrrrrrrrck!: Of these 62 positions, 45 (73%) of them are from Merck and Co. Care to guess how many are vaguely science-related? Probably about half. Sure, they might want you to be a Ph.D. analytical chemist, but they're just as likely to ask you to be a global exhibit manager or an audit manager.

CMC: Aveo Pharmaceuticals is looking for a Ph.D. chemist with 8+ years in the pharmaceutical industry to be their CMC drug manager; scale-up experience with small molecules and biomolecules is desired.

Tecan? Tecan!: Cubist is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist to be their compound management specialist.

Secret: The Aerospace Corporation has posted two positions in polymer chemistry (one B.S., one Ph.D.) for the southern California area.

HomeSec: Oak Ridge Associated Universities are looking for postdocs for their Transportation Security Laboratory to work on explosive detection research. DSC and TGA experience desired. The salary is awwwfully nice at 70k. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The dumbest thing I ever did in the lab, #642

Gather around and listen to a little story about Uncle CJ and his days in grad school:
Picture this, Sicily! 1932! So there we were in the lab and there was this summer student. Super smart, not super experienced and she's trying to get a reaction to work. It used to work, it works with the grad student she works with and now, of course, it's not working. She's close to tears, sad that she's going to disappoint her out-of-town grad student mentor (who's really nice and wouldn't be too disappointed, let's be clear) and is generally frustrated at her sudden Sidam touch.

So my buddy and I were listening to her sadness and one of us hit on a way of putting a smile on this undergrad's face. One of us squirts a healthy bit of acetone on the lab floor, the other lights it on fire with a spark striker. We then squirt circles of flaming acetone with the squirt bottle and sing "Ring of Fire". Instant happy summer student, no tears. 
Look, kids, DO NOT GO AND DO THIS. IT WAS DUMB. It could have ended in tragedy, with the squirt bottle holder seriously injured.

Lesson: a grad student will do anything, anything to avoid tears from their subordinates.

Process Wednesday: a little process history

From Anderson et al.'s recent review* in Organic Process Research and Development, a brief mention of the beginnings of process chemistry:
...Later, validation was required for processes to prepare APIs and intermediates, by recording compliance of batch operating parameters within specified limits and by subjecting the batch outputs to various pass/fail analyses by Quality Control departments operating independently of their manufacturing counterparts.

Before the 1970s most pharmaceutical companies paid relatively little attention to efficient process development. Scaleups from the laboratory were often based on lore, with experiences sometimes communicated only verbally. Through reactions on a larger scale, often kilograms, the different mass transfer and heat transfer rates exposed limits underlying seemingly straightforward operations.
Wow, really? Some of this is easily imaginable, especially the first part. So far as I understand, the old-school assembly line model is at work here: you make a bunch of widgets, test them all and throw out the bad ones. It's not surprising to imagine that manufacturing chemistry worked the same way and that data on what's working (and what's not) was probably not being passed back to the plant. (I wonder, were Deming and his friends ever involved in process/manufacturing chemistry?)

The second portion of the quote is harder to imagine today -- imagine not requiring some sort of written procedure or protocol for scaleup! The thought of allowing verbal lore to guide quite detailed and expensive scale-ups is amusing in hindsight. I'll bet there were a lot of messy cleanups to be had back then.

*Anderson, N.G.; Burdick, D.C.; Reeve, M.M. "Current Practices of Process Validation for Drug Substances and Intermediates." Org. Process. Res. Dev. 2011, 15, 162-172.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Big Picture: ...and the hits just keep on comin'

Over at Chemicals and the Economy, Paul Hodges lays it down not-so-gently, suggesting that high oil prices ($3.15 for gasoline where I am) are affecting Americans right in the pocketbook (and chemists in the chemical industry):
Graph credit: Paul Hodges, Chemicals and the Economy

"Consumers have no real choice about their spend on gasoline and energy bills. And its only after these have been paid, that they decide whether they can afford the discretionary spending that drives chemical and polymer sales.

Of course, sentiment indicators, even well-established ones like this from the University of Michigan can be wrong. But it just adds to the blog's sense of uncertainty about what is really happening to end-user demand, and to inventories down the value chain."
And at Calculated Risk, some economists (Justin Weidner and John Williams) from the San Francisco Federal Reserve talk about the "new normal" in unemployment rates:
A second explanation is that the degree of mismatch between job seekers and potential employers has increased. The construction, finance, and real estate sectors have shrunk after the bursting of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis. The skills of workers who used to be employed in those sectors may not be easily transferable to growing sectors such as education and health care (see Rissman 2009 and Barnichon et al. 2010). Similarly, the housing bust has left millions of homeowners underwater on their mortgages, which locks them into their homes and may make it more difficult for them to move to higher growth areas. These sectoral and geographic mismatches between workers and job openings may be making it harder for employers to fill vacancies. [snip]

Mounting evidence suggests that structural factors may have increased the “normal” rate of unemployment to about 6.7%. Much of this increase is likely to be temporary. In particular, the extension of unemployment benefits probably accounts for about half of the increase. But, even with a 6.7% natural rate, current and forecasted levels of unemployment imply that significant labor market slack will persist for several years. It is important to stress that each of the methods used to estimate the natural rate is subject to considerable error, especially given the limited experience of very high unemployment in the post-World War II U.S. economy.
[CJ here again.] It's a weird couple of things to link together, but here goes my thoughts:
  • Hodges' notes on the high price of oil and gasoline do not bode well for chemists in the consumer products world. If consumers are spending on heat and gas, they're not buying as much toothpaste and shampoo. For that matter, high oil and gas prices do not bode well for the health care dollar, either.
  • At the same time, I am curious about the employment prospects for oil and gas chemists; I suspect that they are close to a local maxima.
  • Weidner and Williams suggest a few sectors that are doing poorly, employment-wise: construction, finance and real estate. No surprise there. They suggest 2 sectors doing well: education and health care. In my opinion, both of these 2 sectors are primed for a bubble.
  • That said, I suspect that chemists looking to move are better positioned (re: skill set) than folks in those 3 hurting sectors.
  • It will still be a few years until the "new normal" arrives. And when it does, it is unclear what it will look like.

Chemical engineers needed in Jacksonville, Florida

I have been contacted by a recruiter for some B.S./M.S. chemical engineering positions in Jacksonville, Florida. If interested, contact Lisa Crawford at lcrawford -at- appleone/dot/com.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/22/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 17 and February 21, there were 26 new positions posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 6 (23%) are academically connected.

Opportunities in Cambridge: E-Ink leads the way this week with a posting of 5 positions, including one for a B.S. chemist with 0-5 years experience in hydrocarbon-based ink formulations. In my opinion, this sort of thing is becoming bigger and bigger in our world; great opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

Hard hat: Arkema is searching for a plant manager; degree in engineering and a MBA are desired. "Experience in fabrication or plastic extrusion or an analogous business is required." Well, that knocks me out. Sigh.

Now here's something: The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry and ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters are looking for a managing editor; a Ph.D. in chemistry/biology is desired. Experience in technical publishing is desired, but does not appear to be necessary. "The Managing Editor of the publication is responsible for the day-to-day management of Journal of Medicinal Chemistry and ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters and ensures that the publications are produced on time, on budget, and with appropriate levels of quality."

In my opinion, this is a plum position for the right mid-career pharma professional. Good luck.

And here's another one!: The Michael J. Fox Foundation is looking for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist to be an associate director: "The AD, Research Programs – Medicinal Chemist will specifically focus on managing aspects the MJFF preclinical research portfolio with an emphasis on the development of therapeutically viable molecules." Further, they desire "[d]irect experience in central nervous system drug development with an understanding of critical lead molecule selection criteria and ability to understand biological aspects of drug testing."

I really think this is another great position.

Green chile stew!: Got a B.S. in chemistry? Want to be a research technologist in Albuquerque, working on aerosol analytical chemistry? GLP experience would be great.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More on lab relationships

Scully, did you leave the HPLC on?
Photo credit:
By popular demand (and the week after Valentine's Day), let's talk about lab relationships. I've always found it a little funny that sometimes, the boss or the administrative rules (or both) will insist that relationships between coworkers not be allowed.

But it just can't be helped, I think. When you get younger people together and heap a bunch of pressure for productivity on top of them, a certain percentage will turn to each other for comfort and understanding. Who better to talk to about your problems than someone who's going through them at the same time, with the same people? Add a smidgen of mutual attraction to that mix and you've got yourself a serious lab romance.

[I should note here that I've never been involved in a lab romance, but I've seen a good number of them. I should also note that most of them are pretty healthy and not too openly demonstrative. We're chemists, after all, not the hot young doctors of Seattle Grace.]

They can have many different outcomes, of course. Some last and grow into long-term relationships with marriage, kids and the whole bit (assuming they solve the two-body problem.) Some end quietly, with no comment given to their friends and awkward silences all around. Some self-destruct spectacularly, with results as entropic as throwing a rotten tomato at a whirring ceiling fan. But get youngish people in an intense, stressful working environment and love (or lust?) will always find a way.

UPDATE: Anon5:13a makes an excellent point. A key catalyst/solvent in these reactions -- ethanol/water mixes. Very, very key.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Do you have a lab spouse?

Do you have a lab spouse? From a CNN article on "work spouses":
Certified career coach Hallie Crawford says you may have a work spouse if:
  • You and a co-worker share information you would only tell a spouse, like personal details about yourself that you don't share with other colleagues. 
  • You confide in them more than anyone else at your office about work issues.
  • You spend a lot of time with them, almost as much time as you do with your spouse.
Gotta say, some of this sounds vaguely familiar. I certainly had a couple lab spouses in my day -- it's a nice way to blow off steam and have a chuckle. It's the explanation by this professor that I find well, obvious:
Work spouses are often labeled as close work friends of the opposite sex, however one researcher finds this is not always the case. 
"We've researched instances where heterosexual individuals have work spouses who are of the same sex - and many examples of work spouses where one is heterosexual and the other is gay, lesbian or bisexual," noted Chad McBride, an associate professor who studies these relationships at Creighton University.
Really? Close friends of the same sex? You're kidding me. (And for my next paper, the moisture content of water!) Work spouses (and lab spouses, too) aren't really about gender; they're about trust and acceptance.

(It's worth pointing out that lab spouses can be a friction point inside a lab environment, especially when they start teaming up against other lab members. Don't do that.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Help ACS' Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs

I've had the pleasure of communicating with Lisa Balbes, the 2011 head of ACS' Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs. The CEPA page on the ACS site reads as follows:
The Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA) identifies and monitors the needs of the chemical workforce and develops, coordinates, and oversees the implementation of programs and activities to enhance the economic and professional status of chemical professionals.
A question that our e-mail conversations has brought up is this: how can ACS career development programs become better known? Do readers here have experiences with any of the programs (resume review, career counseling, leadership development courses or short courses) they'd like to share? If your experience was positive, did you tell your friends or colleagues?

A broader question that I'll bring up: what would you like to see in the ACS's career programs? Ideally, what would they look like?

Daily Pump Trap: 2/17/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 15 and 16, there were 110 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 6 (5%) of these positions are academically related. 1 (0.9%) position is from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Merck. Merck. MERRRRRRCK!: 73 of the posted positions were from the folks at Merck and Company. While I think everyone would love to work at Merck as an B.S. analytical chemist or a B.S. biochemist (seriously, folks, these are plum positions), few members of the American Chemical Society wish to work as a senior trade compliance analyst or an accounting supervisor. What is this about?

On the other hand...: Lilly wishes to hire a Ph.D. computational chemist with 2 years experience, minimum. There, wasn't that easy?

See, just like that: Kelly Scientific is hiring for a senior analytical chemist position in Bend, Oregon. Polymer experience is a plus. (For those not in the know, Bend is a hidden gem.)

Interesting: The Catalyst Group is a consulting firm to chemical catalysis companies. They're looking for a  program manager (w/a B.S.+) for 2 programs, the "Catalytic Advances Program" and the "Carbon Dioxide Capture and Conversion (CO2CC) Program." Sounds business and communication oriented. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spools of copper wire

A list of some small, useful things (links):
  • Lab Monkey has written a great series of posts about what UK chemists do, post-graduation.
  • Sharon has more on the chemblogosphere's favorite hair treatment, Brazilian Blowout. Be sure to check out the contributions of Perry Romanowski of Chemist's Corner (cosmetic chemistry blog.) It's great when experts weigh in on a subject.
  • Fred Lakner wrote an letter that I posted; turns out that he makes naturally-extracted perfumes in his spare time. (via Newscripts)
  • John writes convincingly on "Not Invented Here" and "Invented Here" syndrome. I hate to admit it, but I've seen both in action.
  • Paul Bracher writes about using bystanders usefully in an emergency situation in a lab; in my experience, one person (hopefully smart and level-headed) needs to quarterback the process.
  • Paul Hodges writes about China's potential for a housing bubble; ugh.
  • Lastly, Derek Lowe's post about Professor Pepys and his now-infamous comment has an update where a colleague of the professor says that the comment was tongue-in-cheek. For the professor's sake, I sure hope so.

Process Wednesday: operational qualification

Validation is an aspect of working in a manufacturing facility that's a little foreign to a novice industrial chemist. Our Process Wednesday mentor-by-literature, Neal Anderson, writes in the 1st issue of Organic Process Research and Development of 2011* about how to validate a process (defined by Anderson et al. as "the cumulative efforts to demonstrate reliable process and product quality.)

In part of that article, Anderson covers the steps necessary to ensure that the equipment works. He calls these steps "design qualification", "installation qualification" and "operation qualification." It's the last that I wish to focus on for today's post, because it's so simple and yet so important. Operational qualification, Anderson writes, is "confirming that the equipment installed operates correctly. OQ can include checking that required temperature ranges and stirrer speeds can be achieved, that nitrogen and air are supplied suitably, or that materials can be transferred from one part of a system to another without leaks. Often water or solvent is used as a surrogate for process streams to demonstrate that the equipment can perform as required."

He then goes on to describe a few situations in which OQ was key:
With virgin manufacturing facilities OQ is critical. For example, prior to a manufacturing startup, unsuccessful attempts to transfer water from one reactor to another identified a plugged transfer line. The transfer pipe in question had been blanked off for effective welding during construction, and the blank had not been removed. [snip]

Similarly, to prevent condensers, including glass lab equipment, from plugging during reflux it is important to select coolant temperatures above the freezing points of solvents such as t-BuOH (mp 25°C) and dioxane (mp 12°C). The transfer of acetic acid (mp 16°C) from a tanker into a process facility building was stopped when the ambient temperature became unusually cool; the transfer line was lagged with heat tape to melt the plug of AcOH and complete the transfer. Often physicochemical characteristics have been overlooked.
It never ceases to amaze me how Mr. Murphy will hide away in a reactor or a pipe somewhere in your facility. It's the job of the process chemist to find him and chase him somewhere else.

Finally, I wish to thank all the people who contributed to make last week's cGMP post such a wonderful read. I am so grateful to everyone who commented, especially those who took the time to explain such an arcane subject to a willing audience.

*Anderson, N.G.; Burdick, D.C.; Reeve, M.M. "Current Practices of Process Validation for Drug Substances and Intermediates." Org. Process. Res. Dev. 2011, 15, 162-172.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Everything's ooooookay

From the latest issue of C&EN. an update on ACS dues and member benefits:
Dues. [snip] These recommendations included monthly or quarterly (as opposed to annual) dues payment options; discounts for certain groups of members, such as high school teachers, perhaps based on wages or the economy of the home country; discounts during the first few years of membership, when the risk of nonrenewal is particularly high; institutional memberships; and bundling of dues with meeting registration.
Survey data and input from society members indicate that the top three member benefits are scientific information, networking, and professional advancement.
The task force reviewed member feedback on the full range of ACS services and determined that satisfaction with ACS is quite high among members. However, the task force also learned that while journals, Chemical & Engineering News, Chemical Abstracts Service, and national meetings consistently rank as the most popular and important ACS services, most members are unaware of the full range of ACS benefits. The task force recommended that more input should be solicited from members about the benefits they would like to have rather than simply asking members to rate the benefits presently offered. The recommendation was also made that benefits should be better publicized.
I think it's about time to extend the unemployment dues waiver to 3 years, but that's just me. It'd be interesting to know what the "certain groups of members" was.

I would love to see (and I could probably get) a report on the satisfaction of ACS members with the Society. I assume that the satisfaction levels look like a bell curve, with the median member being 1) employed and 2) reasonably satisfied with getting their copy of C&EN in the mail. But I also imagine that at the left end of the bell curve, there are those who are extremely dissatisfied with some of the policy directions of ACS as well.

I'd also like to know what kind of professional advancement the ACS offers; that's something that I'm not quite fluent on. But time (and e-mails) will probably solve that one.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/15/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 10 and February 14, there were 28 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 15 (54%) are academically connected.

Catalysts!: Rennovia is a catalyst startup company; they're looking for (it appears) 2 Ph.D. chemists with experience in catalysts, one very senior (5+ years experience) and one a little less senior (3+).

Fizzy!: Pepsi is looking for a senior scientist to work on "creating data based insight and foundation knowledge of the volatile chemical composition of PepsiCo beverages, foods, ingredients and packaging. The individual will be responsible for conducting volatile analyses, instrument maintenance, and collaborating with product, process, ingredient, quality, and packaging scientists." Sounds like they're looking for an analytical chemist.

Sheep!: Industrial Research Limited is "one of New Zealand’s leading scientific research organisations." They're looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist with experience in carbohydrate chemistry for a 2-year contract. (International candidates considered.)

Golly gee!: USEPA is looking for, well, a senior manager, I think. Why don't you decide for yourself: "EPA ORD is seeking a senior science manager to fill a Branch Chief position in the National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) in Cincinnati, Ohio. This position will serve as the Branch Chief for the Systems Analysis Branch within the Sustainable Technologies Division of NRMRL." What does that even mean?

Well, they're happy to tell you: "The Branch Chief reports to the Division Director and exercises supervisory management responsibilities over staff members; develops, implements and conducts research programs in the field of life cycle assessment including methodology and impact assessment developments, and development of sustainable supply chains for biofuels; assists and advises the Division Director in the formulation of research goals and objectives; promotes effective use of all administrative resources." Yeah, that. Um, good luck!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

A great place to have a sandwich
Photo credit:, H.M. Vanderbeek
Happy Valentine's Day to all of you out there, and especially to my wife. She's the best mate and companion a man could ask for. I am incredibly blessed.

Want to work in China?

As Anon021420110159a notes, today's issue of Chemical and Engineering News has an interesting article by Jean-Francois Tremblay on the potential of US pharma chemists working in China. A few things from the article I didn't know:

They'll help you out: "Wang notes that ChemPartner provides any recruits who don’t speak Chinese with the support of an administrative assistant who can take care of odds and ends such as opening a bank account, house hunting, and so on. The company also arranges lessons for new hires who want to learn Chinese." Now there's a service that I wouldn't immediately expect (re: the administrative assistant), but I suppose that it makes sense. Wonder if it's true?

Oh, dear: This comments about Chinese Ph.D. students is interesting and more than a little frightening:
“We are also interested in fresh Ph.D.s from the U.S. because they tend to be more productive and better at solving problems than Chinese ones,” says Peng Cho Tang, HEC’s chief scientific officer. Tang spent most of his career in companies performing innovative drug research in the U.S. but has managed research labs in China for the past six years. He has observed that most Chinese doctoral students in China spend most of their time in the lab not conducting research, but instead producing start-up materials not easily procured in China.
I'm going to guess that this problem with precursor synthesis isn't widespread. If so, the Chinese graduate education system is going to have some real issues -- gee, isn't that what summer students are for? (Kidding, kidding!)

Oh, no, that's not how you do things: "BrightGene’s core business is the manufacture of difficult-to-synthesize generic active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), and it uses the cash generated by this business to run several research programs for innovative pharmaceuticals." No, that's not right. The modern way is that the profits generated by your manufacturing business should be used for executive perks and bonuses -- that's more like it.

Do US chemists want to work in China? The article summarizes some of the positives and negatives of working there (relatively easy employment, low pay, new language and culture). I can't say I have not contemplated it, but (as every PRC national in the US knows) it's no fun leaving home and (extended?) family to go try to make a buck and gain some experience. For those thinking about it, this article is worth reading.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Interview: C&EN's Bethany Halford, on the "Too Many Ph.D.s" problem

I hope that all of you have read Bethany Halford's article "Doctoral Dilemma" in the January 31, 2011 issue of C&EN. I am terribly pleased that Dr. Halford (and her bosses at C&EN) were willing to participate in an e-mail Q&A about the article. The answers below have been formatted for posting and checked by her for accuracy.

Also, Dr. Halford will be visiting the comments section a few times today, so feel free to post questions to her in the comments.

Chemjobber: About how many people did you ultimately interview?

Bethany Halford: I spoke to or emailed with about 30 different people for this story.

CJ: Among the range of responses, what percentage would you estimate to be kinda-sorta optimistic about their chances of finding a position? What percentage were looking at leaving chemistry altogether?

BH: The job seekers I spoke with all found the search process to be very frustrating, but they were all still plugging away, although I’d have a hard time saying they were optimistic. None, however, seemed to want to leave chemistry altogether. There were a number of people—although not necessarily among the unemployed—who felt that the employment problems facing chemists are the same employment problems facing the entire country at the moment. Many were optimistic that things would turn around in time.

CJ: How hard did you have to look to find someone that was willing to provide an optimistic quote?

BH: Not hard at all. There are plenty of people out there who don’t think there’s an oversupply of Ph.D.s. In fact, I’d say most of the people in my first round of interviews didn’t think this was a newsworthy topic.

CJ: What was the range of emotion? Did you hear from people that were genuinely angry?

BH: Some people are genuinely angry, but I’d say for most people frustrated is a more accurate adjective. Getting a Ph.D. can be a long, hard slog. Long hours with little reward. It’s not good to find out that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

As chemists, we all can’t help but see how central chemistry is to our everyday lives. And so there are many of us, myself included, who entered graduate school thinking that with a Ph.D. in chemistry we could do something we enjoyed, make some sort of contribution to society, and still make a decent, steady living. To find that’s not necessarily the case is really disheartening.

CJ: Professor Hoveyda seems to be suggesting that US graduates might try looking elsewhere in the world -- is this a correct reading of his statement?

BH: I think that is the correct reading of his statement. And I think that strikes Americans as an odd proposition. But he has a point--it’s really not so foreign a concept to most people in the world.

I should add, however, that he also suggested reorganizing the way academic research is done in the U.S.—as one of your commenters suggested—so that there were more research associates (fulltime, reasonably paid positions).

CJ: Did you hear from employers who were bucking the trend, i.e. saying we can't get enough of __?___ kind of scientist?

BH: Anecdotally, some people said that there was a need for more analytical chemists, but it’s not really something I focused on. I didn’t want to end up rewriting Susan Ainsworth’s excellent story on the demand for chemists, “Cautiously Optimistic”.

CJ: For me, anyway, your article has kind of settled the argument for me, as much as I didn't want to believe it. What are the next questions that we need to be asking?

BH: It’s interesting that you say that, because I’m not sure the argument is settled for me. Supply is indeed going up but I’m not sure about demand. One thing that got cut from the piece—according to the most recent ACS salary and employment survey (2009), unemployment is higher for bachelor’s and master’s chemists than it is for Ph.D.s. The same holds true for new graduates at all levels, according to preliminary data in ACS’s 2009 survey of starting salaries for chemists and chemical engineers. Still, there’s no doubt about it; it’s harder for chemists to find work now than it’s been in quite some time. If there’s one thing I think we should really be thinking about, it’s how can we make a chemistry Ph.D. a more versatile degree?

CJ: I know you're not a soothsayer, but what signs would say to you that the negative trends might be reversing themselves?

BH: I’m not sure. Fewer people trying to jump ship and become science writers? Fewer people reading the Chemjobber blog?

CJ: Anything you'd like to say to the CJ readership, now that you're not limited by space?

BH: I like to say thanks to everyone who took the time to read my story. I appreciate that you’re busy and your time is valuable. I’d also like folks to know that we pay close attention to your feedback at C&EN. If there’s something you like or don’t like in the magazine, please don’t hesitate to write us. Also, my colleagues and I do read this blog and the comments herein. We are doing our best to listen to what you have to say.

CJ here again. Huge thanks to Beth for her time and being willing to answer questions -- and thanks again for writing a pretty great article about the situation. Best wishes to all of us. Don't forget, if you have questions for Beth, leave them in the comments!

By request

N.B. I've never played MtG*, so I don't know if I've done some awful faux pas here.

Card is parody of the "Raging Pessimist" card designed by David Tidd and Mark Tidd.

*Or any other role-playing game, for that matter.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Q&A with Bethany Halford Friday

Tomorrow, I'm posting an e-mail interview with Bethany Halford, author of the "Doctoral Dilemma" article in C&EN about the "too many Ph.D.s problem." I'm excited that Dr. Halford has agreed to make an occasional appearance to respond to comments as well, so that will be great. See you there tomorrow.

Chart of the week: taking yourself out of the labor force

Credit: Mike Konczal, Rortybomb.
Above is one of the more frightening graphs of the recession from Mike Konczal of the progressive Rortybomb econoblog. How are people leaving the ranks of the unemployed? Well, a higher percentage of the unemployed are simply leaving the workforce, as opposed to actually finding a new position.

Consider a hypothetical process chemist in her late-50's. Assuming that the family finances are in relatively good shape, will she go out and attempt to find a new position or simply retire a little earlier? A lot more people are choosing the latter option.

Best wishes to all of us.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/10/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 8 and February 9, there were 55 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (7%) were academically connected; 1 (2%) position is from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Merck (cont.): I don't know who's asleep at the switch, but someone is. 41 (75%) of the newly posted positions were with Merck. While there were some actual chemistry or science-related positions (such as a senior DMPK scientist), there were more positions for utility engineers, administrative associates and copy editors.

Oh, by the way, hepatitis is spelled with an "a" as opposed to an 'i', and commercialization has 2 'a's.

More jobs from the Company: CIA is searching for B.S./M.S. chemists (at minimum) for their Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC). "WINPAC seeks engineers and scientists to analyze challenging national security issues such as foreign weapons development, weapons proliferation, and information warfare and emerging technologies." Good luck figuring out what's going on in Elbonia.

San Jose: Cheil Industries is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist that must have experience in dye chemical/chromophore synthesis. Good luck!

A broader look:, and show (respectively) 282, 682 and 4,749 positions for the search term "chemist."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How difficult is it to become a small college professor?

Dr. Jones, how hard was it
to get your position?
Photo credit:
A reader writes in to ask:
[Someone I know] says that the paltry job market doesn't apply to chemistry professor positions at D3 schools* (where you'd only have to teach, no research).  I have a hard time finding this to be true.  What do you think?
*I assume this is referring to NCAA Division III, i.e. smallish institutions.
I think that person is wrong, but I have no data. Certainly, the recent article in C&EN remarks on the tough competition to get one of those tenure-track professor positions at a liberal arts college. I believe that if you're in a field where there's a lot of people (e.g. organic chemistry), getting a TT position at a small school is pretty much equally competitive as a larger school.

I suspect that as you get into the smaller and smaller schools and community colleges, competition and the quality of CV starts to drift downwards, but these are presumably less desirable positions (from a status perspective.) The pay starts to get a lot lower, too.

There are also demographic trends to be considered -- are there enough 18 year olds coming in future generations to cover the expansion in colleges and universities we've seen in the last 20 years? I doubt it, but again, I have no data.

Readers, what say you? Is my reader's acquaintance incorrect? Anyone been out there on the small college faculty job search? What are you seeing?

55mm Whatman filter paper

Some small useful things (links) that I like:

Process Wednesday: current Good Manufacturing Practice

Something that I keep hearing about in the manufacture of pharmaceutical products is "cGMP", which stands for "current Good Manufacturing Practice". I'll be completely honest and say that I don't really quite understand what it really encompasses and what is different about a cGMP facility and a non-GMP facility (other than a lot less paperwork, I suppose.) It's worth considering the FDA's comments on GMP: "The regulations in this part [CJ: this is from the CFR] contain the minimum current good manufacturing practice for preparation of drug products for administration to humans or animals."

Wikipedia tells me that cGMP are "guidelines that outline the aspects of production and testing that can impact the quality of a product." It is my understanding that cGMP typically tells an drug manufacturer "what" must be done, as opposed to "how" it should be done. In the GMP Wikipedia article, there is also a list of the different components of a GMP program:
  • Manufacturing processes are clearly defined and controlled. All critical processes are validated to ensure consistency and compliance with specifications.
  • Manufacturing processes are controlled, and any changes to the process are evaluated. Changes that have an impact on the quality of the drug are validated as necessary.
  • Instructions and procedures are written in clear and unambiguous language.
  • Operators are trained to carry out and document procedures.
  • Records are made, manually or by instruments, during manufacture that demonstrate that all the steps required by the defined procedures and instructions were in fact taken and that the quantity and quality of the drug was as expected. Deviations are investigated and documented.
  • Records of manufacture (including distribution) that enable the complete history of a batch to be traced are retained in a comprehensible and accessible form.
  • The distribution of the drugs minimizes any risk to their quality.
  • A system is available for recalling any batch of drug from sale or supply.
  • Complaints about marketed drugs are examined, the causes of quality defects are investigated, and appropriate measures are taken with respect to the defective drugs and to prevent recurrence.
When I read this (mind-boggling) list of criteria, I begin to see the core of cGMP, which is that pharmaceutical manufacturing needs to be consistent and documented. When I think about how it might be applied to a single synthetic step, I think it means that chemistry needs to be well-documented, very, very robust and the product/impurity profile should not change over time.* Hard to imagine that it would be otherwise, but I suppose that there's a whole backstory of awful mistakes that led the industry and the government to this point.

Readers, what am I missing? If you were to explain cGMP to a 1st year graduate student, how would you do it?

*Dude, it's so clear I don't know what I'm talking about here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The uses of chemical jargon

We're going to hook this thing up to your NMR -- do you mind?
Photo credit:
Excimer's posting of a "turboencabulator" video by Chrysler was pretty priceless. For a taste, see below:
The line-up consisted simply of six hydrocoptic marzul vanes so fitted to the ambaphascient lunar wain shaft that side fumbling was effectively prevented. The main winding was of the normal lotus-odeltoid type placed in panendurmic semi-bulloid slots of the stator. Every seventh conductor being connected by a non-reversible tremmy pipe to the differential girdle spring on the up-end of the grammeters. (script from Wikipedia)
It's always interesting to me how jargon gets used. I've found that it's used as a credential; if I meet someone and they talk like a chemist (e.g. they use "diastereotopic" or "phthalate" correctly and without fumbling the pronunciation), I'm more likely to believe what they say. Jargon cannot take the place of an education, but it can be used as a signaling device.

Sometimes, it's used to obfuscate. If you tell your sales guy that "we're experiencing a variety of polymorphs in our recrystallization experiments", it sounds a lot better than "our purification isn't working." While I think a smart customer and an intelligent salesperson will know what you're doing, the first statement provides a level of specificity that suggests "hey, these people know what's going wrong and therefore, they're more likely to fix the problem." All of this, of course, assumes that you actually have multiple polymorphs in your recrystallization -- if you actually don't and you say that, well, you're lying.

I think the right way to use jargon as a tool for exactness; it can shorten conversations ("NMR" and "TLC" are really helpful abbreviations) and can help you say exactly what you want to say, when you want to say it. Like any tool, there's a time and a place for each use, even when it's connected by a non-reversible tremmy pipe.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/8/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 3 and February 7, there were 83 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 21 (25%) are academically connected.

Hmmmm: Merck, why do you do this to us? Of the posted positions, 45 of them are from Merck. Of these, relatively few of them are actual chemistry position. Sure, they're looking for a senior research chemist (materials characterization) and a senior analytical chemist, but they're also looking for a customer solutions intern, an administrative assistant and a payroll analyst. This is a little bit frustrating.

On the other hand: Clorox is looking for 2 scientists: a senior product developer at the Clorox company and an associate research fellow at Brita (an expert on water sciences is desired there.) Both are Ph.D. preferred positions. Hey, Merck, that's how you use ACS Careers as a resource.

Interesting...: The Population Council is looking for a Ph.D. scientist to develop pre-clinical formulations for contraceptives. Formulation experience desired.

No recalls here: Finally, the Toyota Institute is looking for 3 contract battery research scientists; M.S. and above is the desired educational level, as well as "[r]esearch experience related to at least one of following technical fields; electrochemistry, solid state chemistry, inorganic synthesis, or analytical chemistry."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nice economy you've got there -- 'twould be a shame if something were to happen to it...

Now here's a tactic unemployed chemists should adopt -- a mild threat disguised as an appeal for funding. Regarding the impending shutdown of the Tevatron* that employs over 1,000 physicists (hat tip Planet Money):
To the Editor: 
Re “The Tevatron” (editorial, Jan. 22): 
It is not only sad that such a productive atom smasher as the Tevatron in Illinois will be shut down but it may also not be wise. When, in 1993, Congress shut off funds for the superconducting supercollider being built underground in Texas, many of the newly unemployed physicists found jobs on Wall Street. Wouldn’t you rather have the nation’s physicists smashing protons than designing and smashing collateralized debt obligations? 
Jay M. Pasachoff
Naomi Pasachoff
Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 22, 2011 
The writers are, respectively, a visiting scientist at Caltech and a research associate at Williams College.
I can only imagine the letter to the editor now. "It is not only sad that the Pfizer Sandwich site in the UK may be shut down, but it may also not be wise. Many foreign regimes would pay healthy sums to unemployed industrial chemists to develop processes for certain dual-use industrial chemicals. Wouldn't you rather have the nation's chemists synthesizing pharmaceutical compounds than designing and deploying weapons of mass destruction?"**

* Why doesn't DOE build massive chemistry experiments for the employment of chemists? I'm sure origin-of-life chemistry could use a little boost, to name a random field.
**A note to any US/UK intelligence assets reading this blog: this is satire. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

BREAKING: Unemployment down to 9.0%, U6 at 16.1%

Fresh electrons from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the national unemployment rate for January is 9.0% (down from December's 9.4%), while the broader U6 measurement of unemployment is 16.1% (down from December's 16.7%). We've got a long way to go, but this is moving in the right direction for now.

UPDATE: So the general consensus seems to be that this is bad news. Sigh.

Heaven and Hell

In Heaven's chemistry lab...

1. The solvent bottles refill themselves.
2. Your coworkers clean up after themselves and offer to clean your things, too.
3. The HPLCs are always working, and the lines are clog free.
4. There are no bump bulbs on the rotovaps, because there is no bumping.
5. Everyone has their own stool, and no one's ever stealing yours.
6. Columns packing doesn't require tapping or waiting and elute cleanly.
7. You can't overshoot a titration.
8. There's always plenty of buffer solution, and you never have to make more.
9. Glassware puts itself back in the drawer.
10. The stopcocks on separatory funnels are easy to turn and don't ever fill up with salts.
11. There is no queue for the NMR.

In Hell's chemistry lab:

1. There is no solvent, anywhere, not even in your labmate's bench. You fill your flask straight from the drum.
2. Running a reaction always requires reaching into the base bath for glassware.
3. There's one HPLC and the line goes around the block.
4. You have to keep your thumb on the rotovap stopcock to hold vacuum.
5. You stand and you stand and you stand.
6. Columns? What columns? It's prep TLC, all day, all night. Scrape, scrape, scrape
7. There is no endpoint for titrations.
8. All your labmates have bad breath and like to stand really, really close to you. Danger close, even.
9. Every single round bottom has a nervous-making star crack.
10. All you have is a 25 mL sep funnel with a 29/42 neck. Good luck finding a stopper.

Thanks to Leigh for the inspiration.

C&EN needs a new JAEP

As you may have seen, C&EN is looking for a new Electron Pusher. See Rachel Pepling's post below:
I’m looking for someone (perhaps a student or a poor unemployed soul or a poor employed discontented soul with a boss who doesn’t read blogs) who isn’t quite convinced that the traditional academic or industry route is the one for her or him to take and who has an entertaining writing voice. Profiles of the nontraditional careers that pop up as part of your search will be a big part of JAEP, but so are the more reflective, personal ones (think Leigh’s rejection post).

In exchange, I can offer a monthly pittance and access to some great mentors.

If you’re interested in the gig or in guestposting during this interim period, leave a comment or email me at r_pepling at acs dot org.
So if you're interested in writing, e-mail Rachel and give it a shot. This stuff (chemistry blogging) is pretty fun.

Spooky learning at a distance

The other day, I was wandering around the internet, and I came across the University of Florida's pharmaceutical chemistry online master's program. From the associated literature:
Enroll in a Master's of Science Degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Florida, College of Pharmacy! Join a growing number of scientists who are receiving their graduate science degrees from the University of Florida's prestigious online programs.

Pharmaceutical Chemistry - Educated Inspiration

• Master a challenging field of science
• Prepare for or enhance a career in pharmaceutical innovation and regulation
• Contribute to life saving remedies and enhance the speed of delivery of new medications
• Translate your personal experiences to benefit others
What to say about this? I am sure that someday, the University of Florida will have an online master's program that's really worthy of spending serious money on. But for now, a master's degree in chemistry at most United States universities is free. They pay you, you don't pay them. While there are all sorts of things to be said about the hooks in the system, the chance to walk away from school free of student loans is valuable.

Also, they're really overselling the employability of this degree. Would any hiring manager look at this degree as being equivalent to one having been done in the traditional fashion at Florida State or UGA or any equivalent public university? I doubt it.

Readers, I think I'm right, but maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oh, THIS is a good idea

Yeah, I'll get right on that. (Click)
Photo credit:
In the comments to Derek Lowe's two threads on the further adventures of the HR Angel of Death at Pfizer, there was this little gem:
At Cambridge North we were told today that there wont be any "wet chemistry" going forward. The only chemists at the site will be what are known around here as "designers" for Inflammation/Immunology, CVMED and Neuroscience. The later two will be moved from Groton to Cambridge. Get rid of the hoods (and of course the chemists) and move in the cubicles! This will most definitely increase productivity and save the company.
Further explanation from another commenter:
Pfizer recently went to a model that separated out the medicinal chemists into two "bins" - designers and synthetic chemists. These are not computational chemists or modelers (by and large) they are the traditional medicinal chemists. The "designers" are now just charged with designing compounds for their projects (just like a traditional medicinal chemist would be expected to do) - but they do not then go make the compounds. They hand the "designs" off to the synthetic chemists to make. One SVP from Pfizer "tried" to explain this model and how it made sense because not everyone wants to design and some just want to be synthetic chemists and work at the hood (Ph.D. level). I think everyone in the room during this explanation could see the writing on the wall that the synthetic chemists had a very short shelf life and would be out-sourced very quickly. There was also talk about reward systems for both, yada, yada, yada.
In a nutshell, new hires (if there were any) would come in at the synthetic chemist level and would then have to work up to the designer level (if they so chose). This clearly was a model based upon outsourcing the synthetic portion of the equation - although based on yesterday's news it may not matter at all if you work for Pfizer.
Has anyone at Pfizer ever played telephone? Physically separating the 'designers' and the 'chemists' by 108 miles is lunacy; sometimes it's occasionally difficult to communicate between two chemists separated by 30 feet (distance from office to lab.) Assuming this is actually happening, this is proof that Pfizer senior management has completely lost their marbles and are just rearranging deck chairs.

Once again, I am reminded of the many, many comments that people have made about what makes a successful drug discovery team (not that I've ever truly been part of one): lots of communication and collaboration (and downtime out-of-meeting talks) between the relevant scientists, both chemists and biologists. I am curious when larger pharma companies will relearn these truths.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/3/11 edition

Good morning! Between February 1st and February 2nd, there were ~450 (not a typo) new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, not very many were academic positions (????%).

Wha happened??: Merck decided that ACS Careers was a great place to look for chemists. There are a couple of chemistry positions buried in here; Merck also decided that ACS Careers was a great place to look for maintenance mechanics, manufacturing supervisors, a Russian national field force manager and a payroll supervisor. I am not kidding. It appears to me that Merck posted close to 443 positions, approximately 50% of which have to do with science and about 10 of which have to do with chemistry.

There are so many positions that they're not even coded into the rest of the search engine yet, which is really annoying. If you ask it to search for "Merck and Co" positions, it will tell you that there aren't any. Awesome.

I was under the impression that I could chew through these this morning (it pegged the heck out of my RSS reader, too, which is impressive), but it'll have to wait for tonight. Sorry, folks.

UPDATE: Not much help, but this is something I learned last night. There are (again, not kidding) 110 ophthamology sales positions all across the country (100 sales reps, 10 or so team leaders.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My snow day story that involves fire

So I can't think of anything really truly funny to post, so here's my snow day story (that doesn't involve any snow):

So we're in San Diego, it's fall of 2007. The Santa Ana winds are kicking up and they're bringing one terrible awful firestorm down on San Diego County. Sunday night of that week, the hotels on Hotel Circle are filling up with people from Poway and points east. Sometime on Sunday night or Monday morning, they evacuate darn near everyone in the northern part of San Diego County.

So I roll into work (I'm a postdoc) on Monday morning and there's no one there. It's dead silent. The dry ice guy (who I almost never talk to, because he's all iPodded up) and I chat, and he's sayin' "Dude, I'm outta here and heading home after this delivery." After a while, I decide, you know what? Nobody's here, it smells like smoke in the lab, I'm heading home. Later that day, I call the main line at work, and they tell me that everything's closed for the day. The day after, they announce that because of the lack of emergency resources (all the fire guys are in east county), there will be NO bench chemistry and work is closed for the week.

Here's my thinking: "Man, I'm going to miss a whole week of bench time. You know what? I'll bet those boys and girls down at TSRI are still workin' in the lab." I drive to work that Tuesday, pick up my books, head home and start reading.

Later, I have a chance to interact with a postdoc from TSRI. "Hey, did you guys work during the fires?", I ask. The postdoc nods. 

Process Wednesday: tossing aqueous layers STILL a bad idea

From our friend Neal Anderson and his book:
Understand the partitioning of the desired product in each phase during every stage of the extraction process. Collect each "spent" phase, label the container, and store until it is clear that the extract can be discarded without losing yield or valuable process history that could be collected by analyzing the extract. 
You know, this is pretty good advice, especially during that first large-scale extraction. At the same time, it can start to clutter up the lab if there's a bunch of work going on. Nonetheless, good advice. (P.S. That "label the container" part is really important, too.)  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How important is networking? How do you get good at it?

A recent post by Daniel Levy brings up the topic of networking, especially regarding job-hunting:
While the preceding paragraphs emphasized the value of a strong education, they did not focus on skills important to finding and maintaining employment. Among the most important is networking. Sure, while social groups such as Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter can provide some resources, the greatest networking activities involve face-to-face introductions/conversations. These must also be accompanied by diligent follow-up...

[snip] In closing, most of one's success will always depend upon a strong knowledge and skill base.  However, There is always a component that directly relates to who one knows and what opportunities are available at any given time.  The value of networking will not always be immediately recognized - but when it pays off, the dividends are usually significant.
This reminded me of a couple of posts by Lisa Balbes over at the ACS Careers blog, which lay out what that "diligent follow-up" might look like. To wit:
One way to test this is by looking at your list of connections, and asking yourself “Would this person take my phone call?” An even better question – “If I lost my job and called this person, would they merely sympathize, or would they go out of their way to look for leads and opportunities that matched my background and professional goals?

To turn it around, how many of the people in your professional network have you talked to lately? How many have you done a favor for, or passed along a tidbit that you thought might help them out? How many do make contact with on a regular basis? Or do you look your list of connections and try to remember where you met them, and why you wanted to connect in the first place? [snip]

For people you haven’t talked to in awhile, make contact. Send an email, write a card, or pick up the phone.
As I am relatively early in my career, I'm not quite sure what "good networking" looks like. At the same time, it seems to look like being a friendly, helpful person who remembers people and cares about them. I think the internet makes that sort of thing relatively simple; e-mails and LinkedIn notes aren't too fraught with nervousness, even if you're the world's most awkward, introverted person on the phone or face-to-face. As Levy notes, I'm hesitant to say that it's the cure-all for a tough time looking for work, but it can help.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/1/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 27 and January 31, there have been 48 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of those, 18 (38%) are academically connected and 3 (6%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Well, that sounds interesting: BASF is looking for a Ph.D. in engineering or chemistry (1-3 years experience) that has experience with a "Temporal Analysis of Products (TAP) reactor"; you'll be using it in conjunction with heterogenous catalysts.

Resins: TenCate Advanced Composites USA is looking for a B.S. chemist (advanced degree desired) with 3+ years experience with thermosetting resins.

QC: Genentech's campus in South San Francisco is searching for a Ph.D. analytical chemist with 5-7 years experience with biotechnology quality control; looks like you'll be part of their corporate-wide QC team.

Hello, biotech!: Intrexon is a company that uses "modular DNA control systems to enhance capabilities, improve safety and lower cost in human therapeutics, protein production, industrial enzymes and agbio." They're looking for a 3 synthetic chemistry positions, one at each level of education. Looks like at least one of them is in the production of combinatorial arrays (someone still does that?!?)

The party people!: Chemical Abstracts Services is searching for a B.S. chemist with Japanese language expertise for their editorial/database creation team. Sounds interesting, especially if you like Big Ten college football.