Tuesday, March 22, 2011

East Coast versus West Coast?

Dude, I don't care about your CV.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
 Commenter 032120110219p asks:
CJ, would you consider the chemical industry on the West Coast as pedigree-obsessed as on the East Coast? Can work experience and tangible abilities trump a novice with a Big Name on his/her CV?
Here's my comment in reply:
No, I don't really believe so. At the same time, I don't really know. The West Coast is primarily known for the small companies, i.e. the biotech scenes of the Bay Area and SD. Those tend to be a lot more fluid about pedigree; nevertheless, they have their favorite schools/profs, too.
I have to say that I've never really found anyone super-pedigree obsessed in my travels in the pharma world. At the same time, I've never worked in the Boston or Philadelphia pharma/biotech worlds. I assume that when employers think about this sort of thing, it's a "no one ever got fired for purchasing IBM" mentality that keeps people going back to the Ivies of the world. At the same time, of course, it's not entirely a mistake that people keep going back to the big schools and the big groups -- that's where a lot of the good people are.

In my short time in the San Diego area, I didn't find that people cared a lot about pedigree, but maybe that's just the employers that I happened to meet. At the same, (just like everywhere else) it seemed like the same two or three institutions (TSRI, UCSD, etc.) kept popping up in people's pasts.

Readers, what's your experience with pedigree obsession? Got any good stories?


  1. Well, AstraZeneca in the UK seems to be stuffed full of Cambridge types (mostly Paterson alumni), with the odd smattering of Pattenden grads (Nottingham). Naturally there will soon be fewer as a result of site closures.

    Best to not remind them of AZ's woeful (even by Big Pharma standards) track record of NCE discovery over the past 10 years......what? $50bn down the hole? Good job fellas!

  2. I wonder how much of it is just..., well,... incestuous inbreeding. That sounds horrible doesn't it? Let me explain.

    The boss went to school X, so he is more inclined to take people from school X, rather than from archrival Y where they are all drunken moronic imbeciles who eat grill little puppies at their tailgating parties. And then it is autocatalytic from there. The more people there are from school X, the more the trend will continue since the company is doing oh so well because of all the X'ers.

    Just a midwest perspective.

  3. I grew up in the Northeast where the Ivy Leagues seemed to have taken over and kind of made a brutal sort of science. I heard a few rumors that at Bayer in West Haven, there were Ph. D. scientists that walked off the job daily. After meeting a few psychos at Yale and hearing rumors of grad student locking their hoods at night in Boston College (lest their co-workers sabotage their work). I thought it best to move West. I never really thought being a great chemist excused you from your humanity. Not to say that all of these people were outright nasty, but there were certainly enough to make a strong impression.

    I moved to the West Coast for grad school because I found the research to be more collaborative and less competitive, and just less tense to be around. Unfortunately, I started looking for jobs at the beginning of the "chemistry is hell" stage, and I've been relegated to postdocs, so I have no clue how the job market is personally. I didn't go to power school, but most students prior to my year seemed to find jobs just fine, in great places. Overall, they seem to have a better quality of life.

  4. According to my friends in SanFran, smaller companies over there hire primarily based on work experience, whereas larger companies are more focused on pedigree (at least for entry-level scientists). I guess these behaviors aren't too surprising. Anyway, is the following analogy accurate?


  5. hearing rumors of grad student locking their hoods at night in Boston College (lest their co-workers sabotage their work)

    How do you do that?

  6. Anon 5:50, I've heard similar stories from big name institutions. The fact that these stories float around at all is pretty pathetic. When did science become a real life version of Mean Girls?

    I had lunch once with a guest speaker who formerly worked for a big pharma in the Northeast. He said the manager of his dept didn't bother looking at resumes that didn't come from his Ivy. Suffice to say, I don't bother looking at jobs in the New England area.

  7. Never thought I see a Tupac reference on a chemistry site; usually it's just me explaining black culture to random graduate students.

    I expect to some Lil John' in here next.

  8. CJ, squirting a little water into an overnight reaction will do wonders at wreaking havoc.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. A:6:16a: Yeah, sure, but how do you lock a hood shut?

    nmc, not much of a hip-hip guy. But what else do you think about when someone asks you about East Coast v. West Coast?

  11. Chemjobber, I just assumed a few screws, some hinges, and a padlock would lock your sash down quite nicely.

    And at anon 6:10, it's quite demoralizing to think that science kind of turned into "mean girls", especially because in hindsight, it seems that graduate studies/postdocs really amounts to little more than a jobs program.

  12. Now that I think about it, wouldn't locking your hood, be ... oh dangerous?

    Cut me some slack, I was an undergrad when I heard these rumors and it was almost a decade ago. Who knows what really happened.

  13. ...Merck is obsessed with Ivy league and they have their favorite profs. and university. In my long experience Merck has shown preference to hire third rate PhD student from Ivy league rather than first rate PhD from other places. We see what this has done as the bleeding still continues..

  14. Riddle me this...

    Big Pharma has been, and still is fairly pedigree-centric, and yet have no qualms about handing over more and more of their science to CROs where they have no idea about the background of the folks working on their projects?

    Isn't it ironic, don't ya think? ;)

  15. @notmedchem

    I've seen this problem myself. Companies need to start figuring out ways to get the best people. They've coasted for too long by just trying to get as many "ivy leaguers" as they can. My uncle, who works for big pharma, told me that they only look to hire people from about 3 unis/5 groups. That's no way to ensure that you get the best people working for you. And it's no way to cultivate diversity. And it's no way to minimize your potential for stagnation.

  16. A lot of it is regional networking. Almost everyone I know in industry in San Diego is from Scripps. And a lot of Bay Area scientists are UCSF/Stanford. If you don't have a connection to these institutions (if you're not from there, or at least know a lot of people/collaborate there), you're out of the network loop and competitively disadvantaged.

  17. When I interviewed with Midwest Pharma, I saw that people were from everywhere. More were from less well known schools than at big companies I know on the West or East coasts.

  18. Agreed about the Midwest thing, although when I was a infant Med Chemist, there were still certain groups that tended to be harvested more than others, namely from an adviser formerly at a school in Indiana and one in Texas.

    Now we just don't hire anyone. Problem solved!

  19. I spoke with a few recruiters at an ACS job fair who handed me a sheet of paper of where they were scheduling their recruiting trips for the upcoming hiring season. *Hint: most were one- or two-syllable University names with a certain type of plant growing up the walls...

    ...all the rest were in CA.

  20. I think your premise that correlation between East/West with trend of large/small is sound although have encountered exceptions where Prof is on SAB/consultant with make-up of majority of staff a consequence. Elitism is largely about connections and access so certain nepotism tends to occur and likewise Recruiters suggest they simply go where quality candidates are more concentrated, which is somewhat believable, and then propose "equal" chance ID other high quality prospects come through networks or ad/cold contact however do not to recognize the fallacy in the approach where f2f interactions have powerful influence. I have seen managers/HR get caught up with over emphasis on pedigree, partly it seems from ego enhancement or PR so can claim "hire from the best schools", and overlook legitimate candidates that lacked Big Name on CV.

    There is a self perpetuating myth in place that BNS/BNG always offer the best and brightest which is Steer Pies after a couple years in industry when evident pedigree includes Gaussian distribution with a very limited number on the upper end and that such individuals can be found elsewhere and not carry the associated entitlement baggage.

    You're Pfizer makes an interesting and ironic point yet it do those in charge care about science anymore?


  21. I said this in an earlier thread, but I've worked at multiple CA institutions and none were terribly pedigree obsessed. I actually can't remember meeting anyone from Stanford or Berkeley, but that could be because I was at mid-size biotech/pharmas, not the megas. Whether in Northern or Southern California, I did notice a preponderance of UCSD grads.

  22. Is this primarily an issue for PhD level positions? At my company, BS/MS folks tend to come from all over the place. I will say some of the most talented and hard working associates I know come from relatively unknown schools.

  23. @Anon533AM: How about the following analogies?

    Trost:Snoop Dogg::Evans:Jay-Z

    Nicolaou:Dr. Dre::Jacobsen:50 Cent

  24. @CJ: Probably the most obnoxious example of industry-sanctioned academic nepotism that I've observed happened during a Pharma company's presentation at an on-campus recruiting event. After talking about his company's research areas and employee benefits, the representative showed photos of his current colleagues. Seriously, there were six or seven people (including himself) from the same research group. The rest, even the freaking BS and MS associates, were from R1-Universities...yeah, the presenter made it a point to mention the pedigrees of the photographed folks! I'm surprised he didn't tell the rest us "unanointed rabble" to pack it up. At least the company provided free breakfast, although I REALLY had to refrain from tossing my bagel at the presenter.

  25. @notmedchem: "Padwa alumni in the house...YEAHHH!!!"

  26. Surprised Amgen's recruiting process hasn't been mentioned... although I suspect their methodology was learned from Merck.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20