Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cardboard boxes

So I've been traveling a bit recently, which explains the spotty posting and odd posting times. Apologies -- hopefully things will settle down by next Monday or so. A list of small useful things (links) to tide you over:
  • Dr. John Borchardt (a longtime ACS career counselor) has been writing a long and methodical approach to job applications over at the ACS Careers Blog. If you're looking for a job, you should really go over there and read them. 
  • The Journal of Failed Chemistry Results? Sign me up for a volume. 
  • Th'Gaussling writes a memo to Aldrich; personally, I'd like to write a few memos to all the chemical suppliers...
  • Matt does a beautiful post in honor of Harry Gray. 
  • I can't watch CSB videos without getting a queasy feeling. 
  • I'm not a big fan of Sour Patch Kids (or any sweet candy, for that matter), but Sharon is. They're full of protons, don't you know.  
See you late tomorrow, I hope. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

12 lies told in chemistry

1. That reaction is incredibly clean.
2. Our budget just doesn't have any more room for capital equipment.
3. We just maintained that instrument last month!
4. We have a well-trained staff of emergency responders -- I think we'll be fine.
5. No, we think this department is just the right size. No major changes coming.
6. I really think this molecule is going to be the one.
7. You just need to put a little more effort into that project.
8. Shenzhen ABC Chemical Corporation offers only the finest in materials and reagents.
9. You know, that instrument is really easy to learn to use.
10. You just need to run a few more experiments and then we can publish!
11. This vacuum distillation delivers beautiful material cleanly and quickly.
12. Please tell us what you think -- we're all friends here.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/26/11 edition, SAO version

A guest post from the kind and funny See Arr Oh (thanks, SAO! -- CJ):

Good morning!  From April 21-25, there were 41 new jobs posted on ACS Careers.  Of these 9 (22%) are academically connected, 1 (2%) from Kelly Scientific, and a whopping 20 (49%) from our friends at 
MEEEEEEEERCK!   Any chemists in the audience want to be a Machine Operator in Miami?  Perhaps a Customer Representative in Texas, or a Finance Analyst II in New Jersey?

Speaking of Jersey…Plenty of options for the Greater NY / NJ area this week: BASF is hiring an Analytical Ph.D. in Tarrytown; Anichem, a CRO in New Brunswick, offers a synthetic BS / MS position; and CUNY-Brooklyn wants a computer scientist with possible interests in nanotechnology.

Nothing Could be Finer: Tons of opportunities south of the Mason-Dixon: Imerys (GA), Xavier U. and DuPont (LA), U of Kentucky (KY), Unimin and Novan (NC), and Coastal Carolina University (SC) are all hiring.

Further Afield:  The IISC in Bangalore, India is looking for a physical chemist to study soft matter, energy, and polymers.  Are you a “visionary thinker/innovator” who is fluent in Mandarin and English?  Consider applying to be a scientific director at ScinoPharm Taiwan, Ltd.  If synthetic organic is your passion, maybe try being a postdoc in Warsaw, Poland or Liverpool, England.

Or Maybe Politics is Your Thing?  The American Chemistry Council,  a 139-year-old lobbying group based in Washington, D.C., is searching for a Senior Economist / Director, whose responsibilities might include “developing specific information and materials to support the social, technological and economic benefits of the products of chemistry.”  Time to dust off that MBA…

See Arr Oh is a Ph.D. organic chemist in industry.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A modest proposal: Judgement Day (not a week or a month or years)

"Today, I settled all family business, so..."
Photo credit:

Rumors of layoffs seem to always overhang the pharmaceutical business -- it seems like, at some companies, there's a slow painful drip of impending cuts. Worse, the pace of cuts seem to be accelerating from once every couple of years to once every few months. These cuts seem to take place in a few awful steps:
  1. Cuts are rumored to take place at some near-future date; often, this date gets delayed. 
  2. Productive higher-level thinking often grinds to a halt as the 'true' date gets closer and everyone waits until the ax has fallen. 
  3. The ax falls: shock, dismay and horror. Survivors' guilt reigns amongst the survivors. The laid-off leave and their absence is felt profoundly. 
  4. Employees say, "Wow, they're now cutting bone, not fat. They can't possibly cut anymore."
  5. After being asked and asked and asked, management says, "We don't plan to make any cuts again for a long, long time..."
  6. Cuts are rumored to take place...
Here's the Chemjobber plan for creating some level of morale in the meantime. It will never get implemented, but what's the harm?:
  1. Management decides that they're going to revisit cuts at some future date, 2 or 3 or (dare I suggest) 4 years in the future. 
  2. Day 1: Management lays waste to their R&D departments, cutting all the people they think they're going to cut in the next 4 years. 
  3. Day 2: Management announces to their workers: "We've cut all the people we're going to cut until October 1, 20XX. Congratulations, you're the new team. You have (whatever) years until we make another decision on layoffs. Breathe easy until then."
  4. After 2 months of survivor's guilt and freaking out, everyone settles down and gets to work, ignoring that future date until it's soon enough to worry. 
This, of course, is a plan that completely ignores the reality that business expectations (shareholders, etc.) in our modern times seem to hold. It will never happen. But I think it would create some space for being able to engender some level of trust and calm among the employees.*

*I suspect that this plan would have all sorts of weird effects on hiring, etc. The pharma world would start to look a lot more like professional sports in its hiring patterns, which I'm not quite sure is a good thing. 

Daily Pump Trap: temporarily on hiatus

The DPT will return soon, when I have a much better internet connection. Sincere apologies. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Are on-campus interviews a good idea?

Graphic credit: stopsmilingonline
A thread on the Chemistry Reddit talks about how people got their first chemistry job out of college. There was a minor smattering of people filling out applications and folks having phone interviews, etc.

As you can see from my response, I got my first job out of college starting with an on-campus interview. "XYZ Corporation will be visiting on March 1 to interview potential candidates. Interested students can drop off their resumes with the department secretary, etc., etc." I hesitate to say that I aced the interview, just that I didn't throw up on my shoes. One on-site interview later, I had my first chemistry job out of college. It was pretty great, I thought.

It must be terribly difficult for companies to come up with an initial screening process to find candidates for on-site interviews. On-campus interviews rely on the thought that surely, there must be a student here that 1) meets our criteria and 2) has free time to come and visit us. Presumably, phone interviews are somewhat less picky; the thought process is 1) here are people who have expressed the desire to work for us and 2) most people are available by phone.

I think there's something about face-to-face interviewing that people really like, because it's so time consuming and expensive relative to phone interviews. The average on-campus interview lasts 20 or 30 minutes and the interviewer has already spent quite a bit of money to get to the campus itself (plane ticket + hotel room?) Phone interviews might take as long, but the cost can be quite a bit lower. I suspect that the wealth of non-verbal information that you can derive from face-to-face interviewing is worth the extra cost.*

*Of course, the way to test this is to see if on-campus interviewing is more successful at bringing in on-site interview candidates and future employees than phone interviews. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

A handy project management flow chart

I was always a big fan of this flowchart growing up -- now that I'm a little older and I work in chemistry, here's my version. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chart of the week: where did the jobs go? Not in the US, that's for sure.

Chart credit: David Wessel, Wall Street Journal

From an astute reader, the chart of the week: since 2000 until 2009, major United States-based multinational corporations eliminated 2.9 million jobs in the United States. During that same time, they've added 2.4 million jobs overseas.

I doubt that pharmaceutical and chemical companies are responsible for that much of the gap between the two categories. That being said, I can't imagine that they have not contributed at all.

Gee, I hope this works out well for all of us. 

Daily Pump Trap: 4/21/11 edition

Good evening/morning! Between April 19 and April 20, there have been 21 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 5 (24%) are academically connected and 3 (14%) are from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

But what does that mean?: Lilly is looking for a cheminformatics scientist with at least two years experience; among the minimum requirements, "A proven track record in developing novel computational chemistry / cheminformatics methods with a demonstrated impact on drug discovery research." Wow. I think I know what that means, but I'm not positive. I think it's something more than lots of neat looking Spotfire plots, but I could be wrong.

QC Heaven (or is it Hell?): Novan, Inc. is looking for a B.S. chemist to be an analyst. Duties include being "responsible for conducting performance testing on raw materials, drug substance intermediates, active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), and finished dosage forms (FDF)." Sounds like a party.

More for the analysts: Exova's Gary, Indiana lab is looking for a B.S. chemist with some experience with "gas analyzers, a remelting machine and an ARL 3460 spectrometer". You know, if I were a chemist in Gary, Indiana... (amusingly, local candidates are preferred.)

Moooo, Merck: 6 (29%) positions from our friends at Rahway, including a position to become the Senior Territory Representative for Beef Cattle Products in Utah. You know, I'm crazy enough that I think I would enjoy this position. That being said, you don't need a degree in chemistry to do this job -- so why is it being advertised on ACS Careers? (h/t to devoted commenter See Arr Oh.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How many people are leaving the pharmaceutical industry (and why?)

What would a similar chart from the pharma world look like?
Image credit: Falk & Rogers, Harvard/Kennedy School of Government
A recent report from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government looks at the various reasons that relatively young junior officers are leaving the military. Surprisingly (or not), neither operational tempo nor better pay in the civilian world were strong reasons for them to decide to get their DD-214.

It would be really interesting (to me, anyway) to know how many people are voluntarily leaving the pharmaceutical and/or biotech worlds. Where are they going (and why), I wonder? I remember a very promising young bench chemist from my Big Pharma days who decided (months after they were given an internal research award) to start over and head off to the intellectual property world. I sincerely hope that gave the senior management something to think about.

What would be my top 4? Job stability, ability to 'make a difference', company bureaucracy, the outlook for the industry easily come off the top of my head. Readers?

While I don't doubt that the most of the reasons are fairly obvious or well-picked over, it would be a good idea for someone in this industry (or ACS, as if they didn't have enough to do) to find out the numbers, track these folks down and interview them. Scientific data (or pseudo-scientific data) would be enough, I'd think, to end a lot of old arguments and start a lot of new ones. 

Daily Pump Trap: 4/19/11 edition

Good evening! Between April 14 and April 18, there were 105 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 9 (9%) are academically connected.

Taxpayer dollars at work: NIH is hiring a (very experienced) Ph.D.-level medicinal chemist to support NCI's Developmental Therapeutics Program. This is a plum for someone, that's for sure. Nice salary, too.

Da, tovarisch!: 80 (76%) of positions posted were from the latest dump by Merck. It's fairly frustrating to sort through this mess of positions. I'm especially amused by the position that's a sales analytics position in Moscow, Russia. Be sure to pack your funny fur hat.

Inks: ITW Trident is a maker of ink jet printer ink; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist who has 10+ years experience in ink formulation. I gotta interview one of these people sometime; readers, know any likely subjects?

You could try a Polish Boy!: Ben Venue Laboratories in Bedford, OH is looking for a B.S. chemist with 5+ years experience in the analytical field. Lots of paperwork, protocol writing and some supervision, looks like.

Huh: Watson Pharmaceuticals is looking for a B.S. chemist with 5-8 years of analytical experience to be a Chemist III on the 2nd shift. That's not something you see every day, shift work for chemists...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Daily Pump Trap: Well, not really

Ignore the orange bars; it's the blue bars that are key. Note the drop for the first part of April, with the spike for the recent Merck dump. A real DPT later today, hopefully. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

A reader question: how should a young chemist use their time wisely?

A reader (we'll call them IW) writes in with a question:
I plan to accept a job in a new start up as a chemist. The start up is on a solid platform (well backed by a [important biotech geographical area] VC), so there is no issue about stability for a few years. My question is: how should I use this opportunity to stabilize myself professionally in the drug discovery chemistry field. I am hoping some of your readers might have started their careers in a similar fashion and have some advice for the rough future.
My advice to IW (even though I am not too far from their position is this): attempt to achieve some depth first (really get to know your project and your project's chemistry), and then start to see what kind of breadth you want as well. 

Recent interviews offer good advice: MQ talks about the "building depth" as such:
Keep learning. Take the time to learn as much as you can about the biology going on within your project, especially your primary assays. Talk to the biologists; ask them how they are run, and how to best interpret the data. Talk with the pK folks as well, and anyone else your project interacts with for data. Try to attend as many higher level meetings as you can to get a feel for how the decision making process is handled in your company. Make it a point to go to general informational seminars in other therapeutic areas. Keep learning new things because you just may find yourself transplanted on very short notice.
Kay talks about the importance of keeping up your communication skills (always a difficult thing for somewhat introverted chemists):
Make sure you keep up your writing and presentation skills. When you're busy in the lab, it's easy to brush off writing reports or presenting your work at meetings. But those skills are important in the long term. You can be a terrific bench chemist but if you can't communicate, you will have a hard time getting jobs and advancing in your career. You have to sell your work and you also have to sell yourself. Those skills are also crucial if you ever decide to leave the bench or move into another career.
It's all very difficult and confusing for a young chemist starting out in the industry -- I seem to recall a premed advisor in college (don't ask) saying something like "You know, to get into medical school, it helps to walk on water." But it seems to me that between the learning in the lab, and the learning by talking to people, there will be more than enough opportunity to really start a career on the right track. 

Readers, what do you think? Am I crazy? 

Consulting and volunteering: a tactic for unemployed mid-career chemists?

Today's issue of Chemical and Engineering News has an article by Linda Wang that features the stories of 6 chemists and engineers who found themselves out of work and what they did with their time. (Our friend Daniel Levy is among them.) The common thread? Consulting or otherwise using that time to perform (unpaid) work towards their future employment goals. To wit:
When Ph.D. chemist Steven A. Weissman was laid off from Merck & Co. in 2008, he knew that it would take a while before he found a new job. “I was mentally prepared for a long-term search,” he says. “I had no illusions that it was going to be a one- or two-month thing.” 
"Employers “can have a bias against people whom they perceive to be stale." After allowing himself two weeks to regroup, Weissman immediately got to work. He completed the Mini-MBA program at Rutgers, attended scientific meetings, read scientific publications, served as a coinventor on two patents with former colleagues from Merck, and bolstered his online presence. “You definitely have to answer the question, ‘What have you done with your time in transition? What have you accomplished?’ ” In late 2009, Weissman was offered a job with Concert Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Mass., where he is now associate director of process chemistry. [snip]
While Ph.D. chemist Paul Young was unemployed after being laid off from Nalco in 2001, he served as an adjunct professor at several colleges in the Chicago area. “My teenage son was making more from his part-time job as a grocery cashier than I did from my part-time job teaching college chemistry,” he recalls. But the experience helped him improve his presentation and public speaking skills. He also kept his mind sharp. “There’s a lot of creativity in teaching when you’re trying to figure out the answer to a good question,” he says. 
During this period, Young also consulted for St. Michael, Minn.-based U.S. Water Services, which provides water treatment services, and it was this work that eventually led to his current full-time position with the company. 
Well, I suppose that's something to remember for unemployed chemists -- on top of searching for a job, you need to try to stay current in your field. Best wishes to all of us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Goodbye, old girl.

I'll miss you, chariot.
You're not supposed to have a nice car during graduate school, but when I bought this Hyundai in 2003, I thought I had purchased a lovely, lovely vehicle. I took great roadtrips in this little roller skate, wandering all throughout the Midwest in it. I drove it across the plains of Texas and Oklahoma and we took it up into Canada. I wooed my wife-to-be in the front seats and brought my first child home in the back seat.

While cars are mostly a tin box on wheels, they really do become a part of your life, especially when they're one of the few constants in the itinerant life of an young chemist.

Readers, what was your car of graduate school (or was it a bike?)

Chart of the week: a decade's worth of layoffs in Big Pharma

Yesterday, Derek Lowe linked to Matthew Herper's posting of Challenger, Gray and Christmas' listings of ten years of pharmaceutical industry layoffs. I've done the tabulation here.

The chart speaks for itself; Derek notes that he was part of the numbers in 2006. I'll note that for each of the above years after and including 2006, I believe I can name someone I know who was laid off. (Big surprise, really.) A historical (and unfair and possibly inappropriate) comparison: the Battle of Antietam had 23,000 casualties. Operation Overlord is listed with 14,000 to 19,000 casualties (for both sides).

Unfortunately, the numbers don't do a breakdown between R&D and sales forces, etc. But I suspect that it was in 2007 that the site-wide closures (here's looking at you, Ann Arbor) that started really hammering chemistry employment. Of course, there is also churn where people are laid off and immediately rehired elsewhere; this series of comments by Rick puts together a nice summary of that activity.

Best wishes to all of us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New poll: post-UCLA academic chemical safety

Quick poll: has academic chemical safety improved since the UCLA/Sangji incident? You can comment if you wish; people (other than me) will be reading.

Which has more job stability: process or medicinal chemistry?

It's a cliché -- sorry. (Photo credit: greatermindz
 A devoted reader asks if process chemistry is more stable than medicinal chemistry. To be frank, I really don't know.

Let's not pretend that medicinal chemistry is not slowly being pushed overseas. While some "high-value" medchem might be kept here, it doesn't really appear as if there are plans for large pharmaceutical companies to keep armies (as opposed to regiments or battalions) of senior scientists and associates busy cranking out compounds and submitting them for testing in the United States. I am (as yet) unaware of any Big Pharma CEOs saying, "Oh, yes, we're done outsourcing and it's time for us to make big pushes in drug discovery." So the baseline comparison is looking pretty dire.

At the same time, process chemistry is manufacturing-related and thus much closer to the global trends of offshoring manufacturing. It seems that (for whatever reason) much pharmaceutical manufacturing is done overseas already -- will the process development be far behind? I don't know, but there is one sobering thought: what organization doesn't wish that the medicinal chemists talk earlier and more often with the process R&D folks? Which is easier: coordinating teleconferences across time zones or setting up process R&D in international locations?

The turbulence of the last ~8 years doesn't seem to be ending any time soon in the pharmaceutical industry and it seems that there isn't any "safe" place. Best wishes to all of us.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/14/11 edition

Good morning! Between April 12 and April 13, there were 12 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, there are no academically connected positions.

I'm guessing business is good: ATL International is hiring an experienced analytical chemist to run its nuclear forensics lab. Why don't the CSIs of Las Vegas PD have one of those? They seem to have everything else. You'll get to interact with DOE, DHS and FBI -- that'll be fun. (Pays pretty good, looks like.)

Another nickel for my collection: Sigma-Aldrich is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic polymer chemist; it appears that they'd like someone who's worked in the industry, but they'd take a new graduate that had knowledge and/or academic experience in the field.

Working for the man: UES works on "structure/processing/properties relationships in nanostructured materials, polymers, and metamaterials. [They] also investigate materials, processes, and architectures for devices such as sensors, flexible electronics, batteries, capacitors, and solar cells." They're looking for Ph.D. chemists to be postdocs in materials science; experience with SEM, TEM, XRD and XPS desired.

Nano-working for the man: Sandia National Labs is looking for a technical director for its division that looks at "Materials - Nano-materials for energy and national security applications with specific attention given to the Nuclear Weapons SMU." Their "current emphasis includes Nano-structured materials and materials with unique Nano-Enabled Properties." Huh. Experience in the nano-world desired. Good luck with that.

Outsourcing corner: Asian Paints (India) is looking for senior scientists -- they're paying well (I hope) and their benefits are "best in the industry." GSK is looking for an experienced chemist to be a medical chemistry team leader in Shanghai -- I'll bet that's good money these days. Ni hao!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

RIP David Y. Gin

David Gin: 1967-2011
Photo credit: UIUC
The news that David Gin of MSKCC passed away is awfully tough to take. (Here's a comment from a reader and here's a memorial page from the funeral home -- the list of scholars signing is fairly long and distinguished.)

I only interacted with him once, when I was checking out grad schools and visited Illinois. Sitting in his chair, you could tell that he was incredibly energetic and a pretty cool guy. [There was also a wonderful moment when someone called (apparently writing up some sort of grant application or a short bio or something) and he answered (I'm paraphrasing from memory ten years ago) "Yes, Beckman and Sloan. No, not Cope."]

The Chinese have an expression for young people passing away before their time: they call it "white hair following black." (in reference to a funeral procession.) It is among the most terrible of familial tragedies.

My sympathies to his wife, his children and his group.

Long or short? Research summaries and resumes/CVs?

Do you need this level of detail?
Photo credit: Flickr user zeusnhera
 What's better for a research summary? A long one or a short one? What's better for a resume for an industrial position? A long one or a short one?

I have always held that short is better than long when dealing with resumes -- that the document needs to be "impactful", whatever that means. I think chemists know when there's "more than meets the eye" and when there is not.

As for research summaries, are these supposed to be short as well? What's a good length? Are you supposed to write down everything you've done? What's a good order (chronological or reverse-chronological?)

Readers, what say you? If you have experience on the other side of the table (i.e. as a hiring manager), please speak up and make note of your experiences and preferences.

Process Wednesday: water-free plant equipment

Want to do a water-free reaction in the lab? Throw your glassware in the oven, assemble it quickly under nitrogen and you're good to go. Want to do that in the plant? Well, our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson says you can't:
But large-scale equipment cannot readily be dismantled, dried in hot ovens, and reassembled quickly. Therefore, it is essential that water be flushed from all portions of equipment. On scale, cleaning equipment takes thought and time. Since not all internal surfaces can be reached with a cleaning brush, residues are usually dissolved with an appropriate solvent.
Anderson recommends:
  • Refluxing solvent through the system and making sure all surfaces of the "equipment train" are contacted
  • Making sure that dead legs (areas that have liquid that's difficult to displace) are washed out
  • Or, use water then a water-miscible solvent
  • Rinsing the equipment with the solvent for the next reaction
  • Testing that rinsate via Karl Fischer titration for residual water
The best way to learn this sort of thing, of course, is shooting compound to the top of your 20 L rotovap condenser. Don't want to clean that sucker out with a brush? You learn to trust the power of refluxing solvent really fast.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This is a joke, right? Organix and its (ancient) postdocs

Organix is a medium-sized CRO in the Boston area; I've known about them for quite some time. They traditionally hire industrial postdocs. If you look at their publication list, it appears to be fairly extensive and is indicative of something of a learning experience. (Something to look for in an industrial postdoc.)

But the above posting is more than a little ridiculous -- they want an industrial postdoc that has 5+ years experience being a postdoc? What's that about? You don't want a "postdoc", you want a temporary senior scientist on a one-year renewable contract. Can't you ask the folks down the road at Vertex how to hire a temp position?

Also, maybe I'm painting with a very broad brush here, but 5+ years being a postdoc? Really? That's two-plus postdocs -- too many! Chemists aren't biologists!

Readers, what gives? Have you heard anything about Organix?

Daily Pump Trap: 4/12/11 edition

Good morning! Between April 7 and April 11, 19 new positions were posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 6 (32%) were academically connected.

Hmmm: Slowing down? This is the lowest Thursday-to-Monday total since late December.

Baaa baaaa baaaaaaa: Vertex weighs in again with a position for a senior spectroscopist (BS/MS/Ph.D.) with 8+ years experience with process analytical technology. Also, a little lost lamb: anyone hear want to be an accounting manager? Bueller? Bueller?

Missives from Experimental Station: DuPont is looking for a senior analytical chemist to be a part of their new analytical CoE; Ph.D. in chemistry with expertise in separations and LC/MS is desired.

Well, it's next to the airport...: Numerate (San Bruno, CA) is looking for a senior medicinal chemist with 10+ years experience in the field. Responsible for "ideation of large, diverse, patentable and synthetically accessible compound solution spaces for each project." What would Freud have to say about that?

Staying in the Bay Area: Amyris is looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist with 4+ years experience to perform research and product development for polymers from their synthetic biology efforts.

Rockville, MD: The United States Pharmacopeia is looking for a senior gas chromatographer; a minimum of a B.S. degree with 9 years experience is desired (M.S. w/7 years, Ph.D. w/5 years.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Too many chemists -- the letters

The reader response to Beth Halford's article on whether or not we've been overproducing Ph.D.s is in at Chemical and Engineering News. While most of the letters rehash many of the arguments that we've all had (Yes, too many chemists! No, not enough chemists!), there were a couple that presented some interesting viewpoints:

Entrepreneurship? Stephen Greer of Lansing, Michigan writes the following as part of his letter:
Nowhere in the article did I see a mention of young Ph.D.s striking out on their own and commercializing their own ideas. It’s called entrepreneurship. It’s been happening for years with biologists, many of whom founded those biotech companies. Ditto for those midcareer chemists who find themselves in a downsizing crisis. Entrepreneurship is now part of the culture in the U.S. Scientists have been doing this for 200 years, going back to E. I. du Pont de Nemours.
There should be plenty of jobs for chemists, especially in materials science, a specialty that is on the vanguard of a revolution. And materials science spans many different chemistry specialties: polymers, inorganics (batteries), and more. But these jobs will likely be at smaller companies. Some of those chemists should be encouraged to nurture their own ideas and commercialize them. It is a hard way to make a living, but very satisfying and with the potential for profound success. Professors should be telling their students starting in the undergrad years to be open to striking out on their own and forming their own enterprises with the ideas only chemists can conjure.
While I actually think entrepreneurship is a great idea for every young chemist, the problem is this: not every research problem can be commercialized. In addition, who's going to fund this boost in entrepreneurship? Venture capitalists are not exactly handing out free money these days, you know? More business acumen is going to be a handy solution, but it's hardly going to be a panacea for unemployed chemists.

Cui bono? Michael Baird of Kingston, Ontario writes:
Indeed, while one might well carry out research in chemistry because one enjoys it, no one should limit his or her horizons to what a supervisor does or, worse, to what a supervisor deems fashionable. What one really accomplishes in a quality graduate program is developing the abilities to reason, to solve problems, and to work effectively. With this broader purpose in mind, doctoral candidates should be mentored to understand that there can be interesting jobs, often involving research that is extraordinarily challenging, outside of their current, necessarily very narrow areas of expertise and interest.
I suspect that most chemists know this to be the case. However, I suspect that most chemists wish to stay within their field for any number of reasons (comfort, direct expertise, etc.) but one psychological one in particular: it justifies the cost of graduate school. I'll even give it a name:
CJ's fallacy of graduate school sunk costs: If you can find a job in your field of chemistry, that means that X grueling years of graduate school were worth it.
One can easily imagine the other thought process: I spent 5 years learning ABC chemistry, now I can't find a job doing that, but I did find a job doing MNO chemistry. Guess those 5 years were wasted! Of course, this is a faulty line of thinking. But I'll bet that it's common.

Finally, who benefits from this line of mentoring? Not the mentor, that's for sure.

Huh? Readers, if you can find a common thread in William Larsen of Southington, CT's letter, I'd like to hear it. Here it is, in all its glory:
Although one must admire John M. Deutch and George M. Whitesides, their collective perspective on the state of our art represents that of but one town (albeit quite a town) in an ever more multifaceted technical world.
The chemistry profession is not responsible for the financial boondoggles that are stripping government research funding bare. At General Electric (my employer, once home to a fellow named Langmuir), 39 new U.S. openings for scientists have been posted in the past 28 days ( Not so bad.

My advice to college students: If I were an aspiring young chemist (I am old), I would again major in chemistry or chemical engineering. But because of the changing times, I would now minor in geology and attend with glee any ACS symposia on the early- and late-transition metals and the lanthanides. Who else but surface scientists (that is, chemists) are going to bring the concentration of atmospheric CO2 in for a landing?
I regret to inform Dr./Mr. Larsen that there are only 3 current chemistry openings at GE.

Ultimately, I think he's right -- there are a lot of Big Problems left for chemists to solve. But those positions don't seem to be coming anytime soon for all the unemployed Ph.D. chemists that are out there. Let's hope that things will change sooner rather than later.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A happy post?

Yesterday's interview with MQ was, well, a bit depressing. So I thought I would try to focus a little on the positive by answering the questions posted by the comment poll on "working as a chemist." (If you read through the comments, they're quite negative (which is probably understandable.)) But I think that my core answers would actually sound somewhat optimistic. Thanks to Anon040720110148p for the idea.

What type of chemist are you?

I'm a synthetic organic chemist. I mostly make difficult-to-find-or-make carbon-based molecules from easily-found-or-purchased carbon-based molecules.

What do you do as a chemist?

Well, there is the above. I have an interest in process chemistry -- I try to find better ways of making kilogram (or more) quantity amounts of desired molecules in a practical and efficient manner. I also test my molecules for their purity.

What is the best/worst part of your job?

The best part of my job is the making. There's nothing quite like looking at a flask or a tray (or a bag or a bucket) of compound, and thinking "I made that."

The worst part of my job? I enjoy almost everything about my job, which is why I am still a chemist. Many tough things about being a chemist don't have to do with the chemicals, it has to do with the people that you work with. But if you're blessed (and I am), you have colleagues that you enjoy being around and a supervisor who gives you clear goals and gets out of your way with a pat on the back.

Also, some chemists like working with instrumentation and machines and trying to keep them maintained and operational. I find this pretty frustrating, actually. But if you like tinkering (I don't, really), that part of the job is for you.

What training did you need? Was it easy/difficult to find a job as a chemist?

I got a Ph.D. and I also did a two-year stint as a postdoctoral fellow; all in all, a lot of school and a lot of training. Getting your doctorate is a traditional way of getting some level of independence in your work (hopefully -- it's not always the case.)

It was incredibly easy to find my first 'real' job as a bachelor's-level chemist; I showed up for my campus interview, demonstrated that I understood what I was doing for my research project, enjoyed the heck out of my on-site interview and was offered my job and a signing bonus (CJ readers: remember those?) and worked for a year as a formulator and an analytical chemist.

It was pretty difficult to find my first 'real' job as a doctoral-level chemist; it took about 8 months of intensive daily searching, e-mailing, letter writing and phone calls. But there was also the economy, which was in pretty tough shape at the time. I actually attempted to sign up in the Air Force to be an officer and a chemist (which I don't think you can do, actually.) I took a job for pay that was a lot lower than I expected to have, even with my reality-calibrated expectations.

Are you happy being a chemist? Why?

Yes, I am happy being a chemist. I enjoy knowing things about the physical world; I like the fact that I work with 'real stuff' on a day-to-day basis and that I am more-or-less a molecular architect, carpenter or blacksmith. It can be incredibly frustrating and some of the problems that I deal with on a regular basis with make your hair curl. But in the end, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I'm proud to say, "I'm a chemist."

It's tough, of course, to try to find and keep a job as a chemist these days. It seems that the modern industrialized global economy does not value the products of chemists (and chemistry) as much as they used to -- maybe that's an illusion, maybe (most likely?) it's not. That's a very real and very difficult part of being a chemist; it's also something that can cast a pall over your everyday work.

So I'm happy being a chemist. But I also have a non-typical view of the word "happy" -- I don't value happiness perhaps as highly as other people. (Maybe that's how I made it through grad school.)

What advice would you give someone interested in chemistry?

Go to school and study hard?
My advice: take a lab course in a community college or 4-year setting. Like it? Great. Try working for a summer as an intern in a research lab. Like it? Then you might enjoy a life in chemistry. If you don't enjoy it, then you might want to think elsewhere.
But my final advice is this: have a very real and up-to-date expectation of the employment prospects and salary levels of chemists at your level of expertise (and your general rank amongst your educational peer group). If life at $44,000 a year as a bachelor's-level chemist doesn't sound good (and you'd get angry that one of your college classmates that worked a lot less hard to get his/her business degree is making 68k), then you either need to find a different field, get a better job or recalibrate your expectations. If you could not handle the seeming instability of the chemical/pharmaceutical/biotech industry for the long-term, then perhaps this isn't for you.
Pessimism isn't a perfect tool for life, but having realistic expectations (or a lot of personal steady-state contentment) helps in keeping you sane.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Interview: MQ, pharma veteran

MQ is a long-time commenter of the chemistry blogosphere; I'm terribly pleased to have to have obtained an interview with them. This e-mail Q&A was formatted by Chemjobber and checked for accuracy by MQ.

Chemjobber: Can you describe your background a little?

MQ: I have a MS degree in organic chemistry from a very reputable Midwest school, and have been in the pharmaceutical industry as a medicinal chemist for over 16 years, primarily at one research house in the Midwest. I was laid off from this company several years ago, but managed to land back here. I have experience in a variety of therapeutic areas and I am currently at an entry-level PhD equivalent position, and have been so for several years.

CJ: How has the industry changed since you've been working?

MQ: How hasn't it should be the question. It always seemed as if ‘times were tough’, as management told us in our yearly all-employee meetings. Merger rumors circulated yearly. A variety of fads have come and gone Natural Products research vanished right as I entered the business, infamously replaced by combinatorial chemistry (Bohdan Blocks and Quests, anyone?). Now instead of parallel synthesis or on-bead based mix-and-split library work, we're simply replacing those fads with the more hands-on-deck approach thanks to cheaper labor at the CRO du jour. The mega-mergers over the last 10 years have, in my opinion, destroyed this industry. The Midwest used to have a vibrant and successful pharma community until Pfizer single-handedly laid waste to it.

Also, good BS/MS scientists used to be worth their weight in gold. With the advent of more and more outsourcing, I fear that the days of associate level scientists are numbered, just like those old Quests.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/7/11 edition

Good morning! Between April 5 and 6, there were 6 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, none were academically connected.

Tap, tap, tap: That's the lowest Tuesday/Wednesday total in a very long time (late December 2010, to be exact.) Just an artifact, I hope.

Looks interesting: Intrexon is looking for an M.S./Ph.D. organic/medicinal chemist to perform scale-up syntheses of compounds ranging from 10 grams to 1 kilogram. 5-10 years experience desired. Looks interesting.

Plastics: GTI Chemical Solutions is looking for a Head Chemist for its polymer division; an M.S/Ph.D. polymer/organic chemist with 2 to 10 years of experience is desired. "Must be experienced in controlled polymerization techniques. Must be experienced in condensation polymerization. Skilled in small molecule and macromolecule synthesis a plus."

Plastics!: DuPont is looking for a summer intern to test and formulate with its Teflon Finishes technology; undergrads and graduates in chemistry and chemical engineering are welcome to apply. This is a great internship for somebody, that's for sure.

A broader look: Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed and have 353, 775, 4,217 and 70 positions available for the search term "chemist."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Duck of Sabotage: the early leader and call for more stories

Quack! Don't you want me?
 I recently initiated a contest to draw out the most egregious stories of laboratory sabotage that I could find. The rules were as follows:
  • Submissions were to be put in the comments of the post or by private e-mail to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com
  • Submission deadline: May 1
  • Winner to be judged on most awful and true story of chemistry laboratory coworker sabotage that is best documented.
    • "Friend of a friend" isn't enough. One degree of separation is allowed, but no further.
    • No Sames/Sezen.
    • Contest winner cannot be perpetrator of sabotage. Confirmation by asking detailed questions by private e-mail will happen.
  • Winner to be determined by CJ and/or popular acclamation. (i.e. to be decided)
  • Use good judgment; if it's not your story to tell, don't tell it.
The winner would be awarded this lovely ceramic duck (now complete with pink sailor hat), filled with 100 most excellent Chemjobber business cards and the finest hard candies in all the land. My goal was to show that lab sabotage is relatively rare (and to get rid of this silly duck.) I also think it's important to hear from people who this happened to; the thought of someone sabotaging lab experiments is quite disturbing.

Since the post went up on March 23, there have been a number of commenters who told stories of lab sabotage, including what I would consider two official entrants. (Thanks to Derek Lowe for linking.) Of the eight stories* that were told, 4 of them were not from chemists, but from biologists. I assume that this is a statistical anomaly, but I find it a notable artifact. Stories included:
  • ac: "After killing a half dozen flasks of cells, the group in question decided to test all their media and fresh buffer solutions mixed up the night before, solutions that now had a pH somewhere in the 3.0 range. Seems someone had been going around to all the reagent bottles and dumping in a bunch of acid, or a bunch of base."
  • Anon032320110914p: " At one point buffers and solutions were being contaminated with foul smelling solvents so quickly and ubiquitously that foul play was suspected. Eventually they caught the disgruntled postdoc with hidden cameras and building entry logs."
  • qeztal: "One morning, a bunch of mice were found dead. Someone had put dry ice into their cages, which filled the cages with CO2 and asphyxiated them."
  • Pharma Microbiologist: "Then it took just a short while of watching and making some tests to realize what was going on. (My collegue starting a "fake" PCR run and leaving the lab with just X in it, for example.) It became very obvious that X was the person resetting the PCR machine."
There were, unsurprisingly, two commenters who told stories of chemistry lab sabotage but (probably rightly so) refused to talk further about it:
  • DrBlur: "Within the past year, a few of our close mutual friends, who were all working in the same group at the time, were having issues in their lab over a few years that went from minor (misplaced reagents, temperature fluctations during reactions) to major red flags (reagents contaminated/diluted on purpose, reagent bottles emptied and filled with solvent, etc). They became suspicious and set up hidden video cameras and caught the person in the group who was doing this multiple times over a couple of weeks, even deliberately setting up "dummy" reactions as bait."
  • Been There Done That: "This isn't a joke CJ. As a victim of a saboteur, it was the worst episode during my time as a chemist. You deal with self doubt, paranoia and anger for a long time after experiencing something like this. The violation of the trust that exists in a lab is horrible. It really rocks your faith in other people."
For what it's worth, I don't think it's a joke. Proven lab saboteurs should be exposed for the cruel people they are and potentially barred from working in a laboratory ever again. While the prize is jokey, it's merely meant as a signal that I'm really interested in hearing what people have to say.

Finally, there were what I consider two official entrants, neither of whom have written in to further confirm or divulge details of their stories:

Anon032320110403p: I have better than a trifecta:
  • Stolen intermediates later published without acknowledgment
  • Oxidants added to reactions (like milkshaken described)
  • Taking over the computer that you are working on using Carbon Copy and screwing up the formatting of your manuscript.
  • Taking my group meeting presentation, going and starting his own lab, trying to scoop me with his superior manpower.
Leaving a huge HyperChem optimization to run overnight; coming in to find that [someone] had removed the dongle to 'teach me a lesson about leaving the computer unattended'. Does that count?
I'm going to say that Anon403p is the early leader over these past two weeks, but we've got at least 3 weeks to go. I'm going to post this on ChemReddit to see if I can get some more stories.

*Not counting the union/management battle one. That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Process Wednesday: activated charcoal (and its discontents)

From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson comes talk of using activated charcoal in your process (from "Practical Process Research and Development", page 215.):
Polar impurities can be removed by stirring a solution of the product with 1-2 wt% of activated carbon relative to the solute, adsorbing these impurities to the finely divided solid. Impurities are trapped in the pores of the activated carbon by van der Waals attractive forces. There are three categories of pore sizes: macroporous (1000 - 100,000 Å), mesoporous (100-1000 Å) and microporous (<100 Å)...

Some tips:
  • Adsorption of a molecule to activated carbon may change the pH of the resulting filtrate.
  • Adsorption to activated carbon is based on equilibria. Short contact times decrease the efficiency of impurity adsorption.
  • Performance of activated carbons can vary greatly.
Activated carbon treatment can cause difficulties in cleaning equipment, as the finely divided solid is moderately electrostatic and tend to adhere to almost every surface it contacts. No solvent effectively dissolves charcoal, although vessels may be cleaned by boiling out with aqueous NaOH. For this reason, activated charcoal treated on large scale is often limited to dedicated vessels. Solution may also be passed through in-line filters containing granular, spherical, or pelletized activated carbon; these filters retain the activated carbon and avoid many of the cleaning issues.
Yeah, I hate the stuff. You can't clean it off from anything, and you're always sure it's in there somewhere. Celite does well at getting most of it; I haven't used any of the in-line filters, so I can't speak to those. But when I think about it, I think to myself, "NO." (I'm probably too harsh -- it is useful stuff.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ACS Webinar on working with recruiters

I'll be moderating a presentation and a discussion with Patrick Ropella of the Ropella Group and Don Alexander of Carlyle and Conlan on working with recruiters later today (2 pm -3 pm EST.) Register here!

Chasing the dream

You want to announce your effin' presence with authority?!?
Photo credit: tgsoe
It's spring, and Opening Day has already come and gone. "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires" (by Bruce Weber) is a favorite baseball book of mine. The book starts at the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, where a group of mostly young men explain why they are there:
"Tell us why you're here," he said, and the first young man explained his presence and his goal with a simple declaration: "I'm chasing the dream." This exact locution was a cue picked up on by almost everyone in the room under the age of thirty, which is to say about 80 percent of the class, and was repeated again and again that evening. "I'm from Des Moines, Iowa," one strapping young man would say. "I've been umpiring for five years, and I'm chasing the dream."

The dream deemed so worthy of the chase is a very specific one, of course -- it's about reaching the major leagues -- and it is more or less impossible. Most of my young classmates [CJ's note: the author joins the school as a student] paid lip service to their slim chances -- fewer than one in a hundred umpire school students get to the big leagues -- but the way the phrase became a casual mantra made it clear they didn't get (or didn't really give much thought to) what a hundred to one means. Every now and then I wanted to throttle one of them for his optimistic naivete. During the day you'd pass a guy jogging between the batting cages and the practice fields and one of you would say, "How's it going?" and the other would respond automatically and nonchalantly, "Chasin' the dream."
One of the most frustrating things about the past 15 or so years of being in chemistry is watching the outfield fences be moved further out (to use the correct sports metaphor) in terms of employment. Want to be a professor of chemistry at a R1 university? Yeah, that's chasing the dream. But working as a professional chemist in industry? That's not supposed to be an out-of-reach dream. Working at a Big Pharma as a chemist? That's not supposed to be chasin' the dream, but these days, it seems like it is.

P.S. Thanks to Ms. MSMind for the partial inspiration.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/5/11 edition

Good morning! Between March 31 and April 4, there were 56 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 9 (16%) were academically connected and 3 (5%) were from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

Sorrento Valley sunshine: Helicon Therapeutics is a San Diego-based biotech; they're looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist with experience in HPLC and LC/MS.

And on the other coast...: The Lieber Institute for Brain Development is looking for an experience B.S/M.S. medicinal chemist with a strong patent and publication record. This looks good for someone...

Different: Amryis is a biofuels start-up (5 years old?); they're looking for a B.S. chemist to perform DoE analysis. An interesting opportunity, especially in that most computation openings seem to be for doctoral-level workers.

Fire! Fire! Fire!: FM Global is an insurance company that has a research division that looks at fire damage; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist with 2 years experience. Polymer experience is a plus. Sounds like fun! (Thanks to beloved commenter SAO.)

Wanted to see the Red Sea?: SABIC is hiring well, a lot of people for 12 different chemist and engineer positions at their facility in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. You know what? I'll bet it's good money and a great way to see the world.

MERCK! You get in here and clean up this mess!: 19 (34%) positions this week. Sure, a senior analytical chemist position. But also a buyer/planner and a quality operations laboratory coach, too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Interview: PQ, materials scientist

I've long held that materials science is "the wave of the future" and something that younger chemists should consider. I recently conducted an interview with a material scientist we'll call "PQ" who strongly disagrees with my relatively positive assessment of the chances for employment in the field. What follows is our interview by e-mail; it was formatted by CJ and checked for accuracy by PQ.

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

PQ: I received both my bachelor’s and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from some well-regarded research universities in the Midwest.  While an undergrad, I had the misfortune of interning at an automobile parts factory.  Spending my summer next to a carburizing furnace while surrounded by UAW-induced apathy convinced me to consider options outside B.S.-level jobs.  A second internship with an R&D-focused company was very positive and convinced me that I should go to grad school.

My graduate research involved chemical vapor deposition of electronic materials.  (It’s the sort of thing that the microelectronics and photovoltaic industries find interesting.)  Nonetheless, I got a lot of interviews but no offers upon graduating.  After some contemplation, I decided to take matters into my own hands and to write an NRC RAP proposal, which was ultimately selected.  I never wanted to postdoc, but working at a federal lab turned out to be a great experience.  I was hired there after my postdoc ended, and that’s where I am today.

CJ: What is "materials science" to you? What misconceptions do typical chemists have?

PQ: Well, with a Ph.D. in the subject, you’d think I’d have a pat answer to your first answer.  I don’t.

A functional definition is that materials science deals with the study, improvement, and invention of useful materials and their processing. Materials engineering is sort of the same thing but without the research component.  The distinction is pretty vague, and most of us have degrees in “materials science and engineering.”  The vast majority of the MSE Ph.D.s I know from grad school would be classified as engineers, so you really can’t base the demarcation on education.  Additionally, many people have degrees specifically in metallurgy, ceramics engineering, and polymer science, which are all subfields of materials science/engineering.

Of course, you don’t need to have a degree in materials science to be a materials scientist.  Lots of solid state physicists, chemists, and engineers have made their way over.  It’s a big tent with lots of room.  Civil engineers working on concrete composites.  Solid state physicists playing with graphene.  Chemists making up nanowhatevers. Chemical engineers working on thin film processes.  All one big, interdisciplinary family.

The thing chemists may not understand about materials science is that, while it covers a lot of ground – steel (yawn) to nanoparticles (sexy!) – it’s actually a pretty small field.  In 2006, American universities produced a lot of chemistry grads:  11,000 bachelors, 2,100 masters, and 2,400 Ph.D.s.  Chemical engineering produced 4,900; 1,400; and 900, respectively.  That same year yielded around 1,000 bachelors, 800 masters, and 600 Ph.D.s in materials science/engineering.  That’s probably not a great measure, but it gives you some idea.

Let’s look at membership in professional organizations.  Chemists, of course, have ACS, which has 160,000 members.  AIChE has 40,000. Materials science/engineering has a few organizations.  ASM International, which is engineering-focused and mostly metallurgy, has 36,000 members.  MRS, which is oriented toward the science end of things, has 16,000 members.  TMS, another engineering-oriented group, has 10,000 members.  You’re talking about a fraction of ACS in each case, but ASM is a fair match for AIChE.

I really think that pinning the hopes of chemistry on such a relatively small endeavor as materials science isn’t realistic.  The unemployment rate among newly-minted B.S. chemists is 15%. Based on the 2006 data above, you could eliminate every B.S. in MSE and replace him with an unemployed chemist, and you’d still have a 6% unemployment rate in your new graduates.  (I unfortunately have no idea what the unemployment rate is for MSE graduates.)

CJ: Where do materials scientists get employed? Do they end up in industrial positions like I hope?

PQ: It’s funny.  I often read about an attitude in academic chemistry that holds a career in industry is somehow inferior to one in academia.  I can honestly say that I’ve never heard that attitude expressed in materials science.  There may be a personal preference towards working in one or the other, but I think there’s generally a mutual respect.  In a lot of ways, the spirit of materials science is much closer to engineering than to science.  That’s one explanation for the industry-friendliness, anyway.  (Another is that there aren’t a lot of academic jobs out there since you need a big school with an engineering college to have a stand-alone MSE department.)

Yes, the vast majority of materials scientists and engineers are employed by industry.  Aerospace, microelectronics, energy, chemicals…just about every industry imaginable.  Most of those jobs are based more in engineering than R&D, and they aren’t necessarily called “materials engineers” or “materials scientists” by the employer.

CJ: What are the trends that you see in materials science employment? Growing, shrinking or going sideways?

PQ: Either directly or indirectly, most materials scientists/engineers are connected to manufacturing, which was declining in the U.S. even before the recession.  In general, it’s not a great time to be in materials…or engineering, for that matter.  However, the job situation depends mostly on the industry/subarea you work in.  If you’re a metallurgist, well, my condolences.  If you’re in the semiconductor industry, I hope you’re planning to get out before you turn 40.  If you’re a polymer scientist, things are pretty good from what I understand.  If you’re working on electrode materials for batteries, then you’ve won the lottery.  (If you’re working for the government like I do, then you’re just hoping not to be furloughed.)

CJ: The Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees 12% growth in MatSci positions from 2008-2018 -- are they wrong?

PQ: Well, if they’re right, it’s nothing to crow about.  According to their numbers, job growth for accountants is supposed to be 21%.  I don’t know about you, but given those numbers, I’d be strongly encouraging my nieces and nephews to become CPAs over Ph.D.s in materials science.

Nonetheless, I still think it’s an unrealistic number given the decline of manufacturing and the profession’s strong connection to it.  If the “making stuff into other stuff” business goes away, then what’s the point of being an expert on “stuff?”

CJ: What threats do you see to materials science employment?  Does international competition and/or outsourcing play a role?

PQ: Of course they do.  The thing is, it’s irrelevant at this point.  The battle was lost a long time ago, and we can’t turn back the clock.

About half our materials science Ph.D.s are foreign-born.  If we have a comparative advantage in materials-related R&D or manufacturing, it’s not apparent what it is.  (Maybe materials education is our niche, but that will eventually end, too.)  We’ll continue to lose jobs in manufacturing, and eventually we’ll have just a supplemental role in manufacturing instead of the lead we once had.  We’ll certainly have less need for materials experts than we do now.  About half of 3M’s R&D personnel are overseas.  UTC and GE are also offshoring their R&D like mad.  Startups aren’t scaling up anymore…they’re starting production in China.

It’s not a pretty picture, but I think it’s better to acknowledge reality and plan your life accordingly.

CJ here again. Thanks to PQ for a frank and very interesting response; it's good to be confronted with reality as often as you can stand it. Good luck to us all.