Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A NIH program director takes on chemical employment issues

From this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News comes an article by Britt Erickson that talks with John Schwab, a retiring program director at NIGMS that's been a champion of organic synthesis. What does he have to say to the graduate students that he's helping to fund?
Another change is the employment outlook for organic chemistry graduates. “In the past, chemistry departments could turn out as many synthetic chemists as they wanted because pharma hired people who were trained very deeply, albeit fairly narrowly, in organic synthesis,” Schwab says. “But these days pharma isn’t doing much hiring in the U.S., if any. There are relatively few jobs now for people who are trained in this way.” 
Chemistry departments must keep pace with the changing workforce and train their students broadly, Schwab stresses. “I think we need to be very much involved with our graduate students and postdocs to understand what their career goals are and to help them be realistic about preparation for the careers that will be there,” he says. Departments should support alternative career paths such as journalism, law, or policy, he points out. “I think it is going to be very important that people be flexible.” 
For students still interested in pharma careers, Schwab notes, related jobs are moving to East Asia and South Asia. With that in mind, he says, “an understanding of foreign cultures and foreign languages would be useful” when job hunting.
It could be frustrating and even galling to hear such things about your industry. That being said, I'm really glad that someone that's relatively influential understands the difficulty that synthetic organic chemistry graduates in the United States are facing. I think the question that we're faced with is how many high-profile Big Pharma synthetic jobs will still be around in the next ten years and will there be a boom time again for organic chemists in industry. Right now, the answer doesn't look good.

I suspect that Schwab is, like the rest of us, casting about for an answer to these problems. His answer, like many in our field, is that chemists now need to be trained 'broadly.' I admit that I find this answer to be unsatisfactory, probably for emotional reasons than anything else. If there is a better time (and a longer one) in a chemist's lifespan to gain expertise in chemistry than in graduate school, I would like to know when that time is. Seems to me that postdoctoral training is an excellent time to gain broader experience in law, policy or journalism.

[By the way -- seriously? Journalism, law or policy? Two of these three fields are suffering terribly right now, and I don't think the world needs more Ph.D.-bearing policy analysts. Call me crazy.]

Perhaps it's stupid optimism (and self-interested, too!), but I suspect that some level of chemical employment will continue in the United States, and it won't be necessary to add functional Mandarin or Hindi to your candidacy exam. (Hopefully.)

But it's important, as Schwab says, to look at things realistically. While I might quibble with his answers, I see Dr. Schwab as a kindred spirit in that he's clearly attempting to wrestle with the question of chemical employment. Thanks to him for his service, and best wishes for his retirement and good luck to all of us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day off today

Willamette National Cemetery (Photo credit: oregonlive.com)
It's Memorial Day in the United States, so it's a holiday for the blog. Back tomorrow with more commentary on chemical employment. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Salary talk: what is the salary range of a computational chemist?

If this is your attitude towards computers (like mine),
you shouldn't be a computational chemist.
Photo credit: liberaldoomsayer.blogspot.com
Thanks to yesterday's graph about salaries, I've gotten to thinking about salary levels of non-bench chemists, specifically computational chemists and the cheminformatics folks. What's their pay range in comparison to bench chemists? Are they paid higher or lower?

In the environments I've worked in, there are traditionally a lot fewer computational folks than there are traditional synthetic chemists. (With the advent of the designer/synthesizer model that Derek Lowe was posting about yesterday, of course, that might change.) If I were a manager, I might be tempted to pay a computational chemist slightly more than a bench to attract a really good experienced modeler. It's not going to cost you that much more, and their results are going to be driving your science (if you let it.) They also serve, those who stand and compute. 

On the other hand, there sure are a lot of computational chemists out there, and supply-and-demand does drive these discussions. 

In other salary talk =, how much of a salary discount should you expect for working for a start-up versus an established company? (Have you ever noticed that a lot of small companies will refer to themselves as a start-up during salary negotiations, even though they've been around for 10 years?) 

Readers, you know the answers. Please comment freely. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chart of the week: US household income distribution and some chemist salaries

Screenshot from NPR's Planet Money
I'm a big fan of thinking about the distribution of income amongst US households. The Tax Policy Center has put together a data set that divides the different percentiles; NPR's Planet Money team has graphed it.

I thought I would annotate the distribution with a few Chemjobber-esque notations. GlassDoor is pretty helpful with the Pfizer salary estimates. Also, I used the ACS starting salary study from 2009.

*There was one bold Pfizer VP that put their salary on GlassDoor, so take that data point with a fairly large grain of salt. Also, I'm guessing there are significant bonuses at that level. 

Daily Pump Trap, 5/26/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 24 and May 25, there were 15 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (27%) are academically connected.

Uhh...: Genentech/Roche has something to say to you:
Who you are: You’re someone who wants to influence your own development. You’re looking for a company where you have the opportunity to pursue your interests across functions and geographies and where a job title is not considered the final definition of who you are, but the starting point. 
Actually, 'you' in this case is a B.S./M.S. process chemist with a good bit of experience, to be hired in at the associate principal scientist level in South San Francisco. Also, 'you' may be a B.S./M.S. medicinal chemist to be hired in at the principal scientist level in Nutley, NJ.

And one more: SuperGen (try saying that without adding the mental exclamation point) is looking for a B.S. medicinal chemist with at least 5 years experience. They're located in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Coffee is for closers: BASF is looking for a B.S. chemist to become a salesperson to the pharmaceutical industry in North America. (30% travel minimum.)

Alpharetta, GA: Arch Chemicals is looking for an M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist with specialization in mass spectrometry and separations science.

Winston-Salem, NC: Targacept desires a Ph.D. analytical chemist with 5 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry, with an eye towards method development and CMC support.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can't help it

Original photo: JD Hancock
Seeing people make cracks about Vertex's success with Incivek and how it made them a tempting target for Pfizer (I doubt this is actually true) made me think of this old classic film.*

*Needless to say, Vertex is not Bambi (have ya read Billion Dollar Molecule?) and Pfizer isn't Godzilla. Right? Right?

Process Wednesday: a drum is a living thing

From my browsings of Organic Process Research and Development comes a story too freaky not to mention:
The material in question was in a poly drum that contained approximately 20 kg of the aniline as an oil. After storing the unused portion of the 4-trifluoromethylaniline for 6 months in a warehouse, the material was brought into the laboratory to be sampled for further pilot work. This particular storage facility did not have temperature control, and no information was received that this material required special storage conditions. Upon examination of the drum contents, the material had formed a solid crystalline mass. [snip -- description of warming the drum in a 50°C air drier] 
With this unexpected result it was decided to examine the contents of the drum by NMR. The entire drum was brought into the laboratory and was placed in a large, empty, stainless steel tub as an added safety precaution. With the bung loose the contents were allowed to equilibrate for 5 h at which point some liquid was removed for analysis, and the bung was tightened. Approximately 15-30 min after sealing the drum it ruptured near the bottom and a white gas exited the drum with tremendous force. This gas quickly filled the entire laboratory, and fortunately the only occupant of the laboratory at the time was able to exit from a rear fire door without being affected. When the gas evolution ceased after 15 min, an investigation of the incident was immediately initiated.
The authors went on to describe their analyses of the remaining material; they believed that the material is a trimerized form of the trifluoromethylaniline. The offgassing, they believed, was the release of HF. Needless to say, someone could have been seriously injured if they had been close enough to the drum. The article has a number of intelligent cautionary things to say about storing of trifluoromethylaniline and its potential reactivity.

Personally, I like drums. They're really useful things and they contain plenty of material (or compound or solvent) for the typical chemist. But I am always a little wary around them because they are so large; it's not like you can pick a drum up and throw it out into the parking lot (which is not recommended for any number of reasons). But something being larger than you is always something to be treated with more respect, in my novice mind.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are students willing to 'do what it takes' these days?

Do you know what love is, Kristel? It's finishing your degree,
and then working for 20k a year for a few years.
Photo credit: imdb.com
Thanks to a devoted reader, I'm treated to a CNN.com article about the difficulty in keeping STEM students in their STEM majors:
Undergraduates across the country are choosing to leave science, technology, engineering and math programs before they graduate with those degrees. Many students in those STEM fields struggle to complete their degrees in four years, or drop out, according to a 2010 University of California, Los Angeles, study. 
The study, conducted by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, found students in science, math and engineering take longer to complete their degrees than students who start out majoring in other fields. The study tracked thousands of students who entered college for the first time in 2004.
The article goes on to describe universities that have devoted some of their resources to changing their teaching style to attempt to stop some of this attrition. Good for them, I suppose.

But I'm amused to read a response in the comments (which, natural to any large website, is a treasure trove of headdesk), which I find typical of some people:
I have been a scientist in academia for almost 40 years and am at a top-ranked university.  From personal experience, most U.S. students who arrive on our doorstep wanting to major in STEM are not at the same level academically that they were 20 years ago and are not prepared to make the sacrifices it takes to succeed.  Foreign students are willing to work and sacrifice for their education, realizing that in these fields monetary success is often deferred.  Our youth in general are not trained to look at the long term but instead want 70K jobs when they graduate with a B.S.
I think it's silly to make the assertion that the kidz are not willing to defer gratification -- that's why they're in school, right? Because if it's Money Now they're after, waiting tables or selling mortgages insurance might be a better route. I think it is true that some students are looking hard at whether their time spent in school will lead them to a modicum of return; their expected return, I suppose, might be higher than some foreign students.

Ultimately, I suspect that it's true -- some people aren't willing to defer financial gratification. For them, STEM majors aren't a good idea (and they don't typically end up there to begin with.) But I suspect that many students are looking long and hard to see if their deferred gratification is actually that -- and finding out that the answer might be no.

Daily Pump Trap, 5/24/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 19 and May 23, there were 23 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 5 (22%) are academically connected and 1 (4%) is from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

RTP!: DuPont weighs in with another Ph.D. chemist position, this time for a microelectronics research investigator. Inorganic background preferred, with "experience in crystalline Si cell production processes or materials."

Can't find what you want?: ATL International has been looking for nuclear forensic chemists for a while; in this position, you will "establish and maintain a quality assurance management system for laboratory operations that supports the requirements of an interagency national technical nuclear forensics program." Mass spec and other radiochemistry technique experience is desired. They're talking about 2000 (I'm guessing) qualified candidates here -- I wonder what's the best way to reach them?

Tamaqua, PA: Silberline Manufacturing Company is looking for a research scientist to perform work on pigments. You will be working on "Organic and Inorganic synthesis of functional adducts" and "Surface Chemistry of aluminum, glass, and other substrates to modify the color and/or rheological behavior of the materials". There's a nice little blurb about what you'll be responsible for, too: "Those hired will quickly take on responsibility for projects and will evolve to initiating and carrying out projects independently. We are looking for people who enjoy hands-on laboratory experimentation, teamwork, and also possess an entrepreneurial mindset." Good luck!

Zeroes!: Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, TN is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to be a process development researcher; 0-5 years experience is desired, along with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Gee -- I wonder if there are any of those?

Workin' for the man: FDA has come out with four postdoctoral positions in analytical chemistry in St. Louis, MO. Enjoy!

Hello, again: Our friends at Halcyon Molecular are back, looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience in preparatory-scale chromatography; 5 years experience is desired. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not all Ph.D. chemists are managers, nor want to be

From this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a vaguely irritating letter:
While working toward a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, I noticed that many Ph.D.s in industry eventually moved out of the lab and into management (and perhaps picked up an M.B.A. along the way), hoping never to soil their hands with research again. Also, conversations with industry recruiters usually got around to the career ladder, with implications that after a few years one would move up and out of the lab. 
My love for the lab bench was the reason I chose a chemistry career to begin with, so this trend of moving from Ph.D. to off the lab bench was not for me. I decided to finish my studies with an M.S. degree. After five years, I still wound up managing a quality-control lab as chief chemist at an industrial plant, but I made sure to always have some bench time. 
Sure, it would have been nice to have a Dr. in front of my name when sending out Christmas cards, but if that meant not being able to train young chemical technicians in the lab and solve those chemical mysteries, then it would not be worth it. After a few downsizings, I wound up again running a small lab with one or two young chem techs, solving problems and enjoying getting my hands dirty at the lab bench. Too many Ph.D.s? Maybe, maybe not. I think one should have an idea of what they want to do with the degree that they are pursuing and not just get the degree and see what happens. 
Peter Doorley
With all due respect to Mr. Doorley, some of this thinking is quite unfair. I don't know about other Ph.D. chemists, but I completed my degree because I wanted to finish something (for once in my life) and contribute to the chemical sciences, as opposed to finishing my degree so that I could someday sit in front of a computer (which seems to be the fate of the desk-bound chemist these days.)* Mr. Doorley also does not allow for the "up-or-out" mechanism at work for many Ph.D. chemists where they are expected to slowly move into leadership positions (whether they deserve them or not.)

It is also worth noting that training young chemists and solving chemical problems is the best part of being a senior chemist (of any education level.) While I am sure that there are those chemists who enjoy their time sitting in meetings and plotting the fates of many, I believe that there are many, many Ph.D. chemists who far prefer to influence younger generations and to solve key chemistry issues.

All of this to say that Mr. Doorley paints with a broad brush, and I feel unfairly besplattered.

*I'm going to be vaguely cynical here and make note that "I made sure to always have some bench time" is classic boss-speak for spending 2 hours in the lab performing a menial task that takes 30 minutes, all the while bothering your minions asking "Where are the pipettes?" and "Who moved my Gewurtztraminer apparatus?". 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Recommendation: bring a shotgun to the interview

From ACS Careers:
Brains for chemical biology - tenure track position
Job description The Donders Institute for Brain Cognition and behavior (DI) at Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands) is pleased to offer a tenure track position in the field of Chemical Biology. Chemical Biology is one of the top research priorities in Nijmegen and the DCN. This highly collaborative environment offers exceptional research opportunities to independent, motivated and gifted scientists. 
You are encouraged to launch your own independent research programme within the DI, which should be in line with one of the research themes listed below. Furthermore you are expected to publish in high-profile journals, attract your own external funding, and contribute to the teaching programmes of the Faculty of Science.
Within the DI’s chemical biology initiative one tenure track position is vacant on the following theme: 
Probing of cellular processes is highly relevant in the field of neuroscience. Chemical biology tools need to be constructed to image these processes on a cellular, and even molecular level. Smart viral delivery systems for genes that code for ion-specific proteins will thus enable the expression of channels and pumps in neuronal cells, which can be switched on and off with a tunable laser and thereby utilized in optogenetics studies.
I mean, sure, this could be the Netherland's most prominent universities with an excellent quality of life. Or, it could be a secret hideout of zombies and their human collaborators. Anybody that's advertising for braaaaaaaaains is subject to suspicion in times like these. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

That's a lot of clams to be a salesperson

From LinkedIn, another data point in the "working for scientific equipment manufacturers" discussion in the comments of the plumber post:
My client is a highly respected, well known manufacturer of scientific instrumentation and consumables serving researchers at pharma and biotech companies, as well as scientists at academic and government research institutions. This client is looking to hire a San Francisco or San Diego based Sales Rep to cover CA, AZ, and NV. Overnight travel is estimated at around 30-50%. 
  • BS/BA degree in Chemistry (or related) is strongly preferred but applicable work experience could be substituted
  • Understanding of Organic Chemistry is preferred but not required 
  • Experience in sales or a customer facing role (Field Applications Scientist, Technical Specialist, etc)
  • Preference for capital equipment sales (equipment over 10k)
  • Excellent interpersonal, communication, and presentation skills
  • Ability and willingness to perform the required travel 
  • Ability and willingness to perform some of your own lead generation
The position offers a base salary + total comp of anywhere from 90-115k, depending on the base salary you receive and overall performance. Candidates seeking a total comp package at plan of up to 120k are encouraged to apply. The position also includes a car allowance, home office set-up, and complete benefits package. 
Uh, wow. That sounds like a lot of money*; of course, it is sales, where you're working your butt off and trying to interact with people. It is this latter item that I suspect most chemists just don't have the stomach for (I know I don't.) Best of luck to those who are interested (click through for contact info.)

*You could also argue that someone is exaggerating; that, of course, might be overly cynical.

Daily Pump Trap: 5/19/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 17 and May 18, there were 11 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 2 (18%) are academically connected and 1 (9%) is from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Safety: Arkema is looking for a senior product safety specialist; B.S. in chemistry and 5 years in product safety regulation desired.

Polymers: PPG Industries is looking for a Ph.D. chemist; polymer synthesis experience, the ability to supervise a technician (?) and the ability to pass a hair sample drug test (?!?) is desired.

Burlington!: Seventh Generation is looking for a B.S. chemist to become their research manager; 5 years in product development (hopefully in home cleaning products) is desired.

A broader look: Seems I'm doing more and more of these, as the ACS Careers feed starts drying up (and the Merck ads don't roll in.) Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com and Indeed.com show (respectively) 303, 709 and 4,268 positions for the search term "chemist." USAjobs.gov shows 88 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

9 inch pipettes

A (long?) list of small, useful things (links):

Process Wednesday: no special solvent for you!

Want to buy that super-duper ultra pure solvent for your reaction in the lab? Our mentor-by-literature, Neal Anderson, says you're out of luck, bucko (from pg. 102 of  "Practical Process Research and Development"):
For initial laboratory investigations, whenever possible use solvents from bulk supplies that have been purchased for routine processing. Avoid special grades of solvents, such as HPLC-grade solvents, as processing may changes when reactions are run in bulk solvents, due to differing impurities and impurity levels.  
Using a higher grade of solvent may not be necessary. [snip] Once a special grade of solvent has been shown to be necessary, the purchase of the more costly material is readily justified. 
Well, drat. So unless you're willing to purchase that super-duper ultra pure grade by the rail car (hopefully you'll be buying it by the rail car, anyway), you're better off with the normal stuff.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chemist versus plumber

Lots more chemists in the past; lots more plumbers overall. Thanks to Job Voyager for the comparison. 

Daily Pump Trap: 5/17/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 12 and May 16, there were 23 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (17%) are academically connected.

Slowing down a lot: I suspect that we're in the summer 'fallow' period. Things will probably pick up again in mid-July.

Oh, you again: Neurocrine Biosciences is a biotech in San Diego; as I recall, they laid off a good portion of their medicinal chemistry staff some years ago. That being said, they're looking for an experienced Ph.D. chemist to be their director of chemical development. Eight years experience in the pharmaceutical field desired. Hopefully, this is good news for them.

And you, too: Intrexon is still looking for that position for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to perform scale-ups of internal R&D compounds. Why the resubmit?

Breathe free: Assay Technologies (Boardman, OH) manufactures personal monitoring badges for chemicals. They're looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist to perform analysis; method development experience desired. "Company benefits include liberal vacation"; there's a joke in there somewhere. No relocation offered.

You gotta love this: In the middle of this paltry assortment of ads, there's an advertisement from the Singapore Economic Development Board, suggesting that chemists or chemical engineers with "passion for academic or industrial research" visit contactsingapore.sg for ads for work there. Following the links will lead you to 11 positions for working chemists, some for quite senior ones. (I've always wanted to see Singapore; I'll have to give up my love of Big League Chew, though.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chemists: Not such great geographers

A wonderful little scene unfolded on LinkedIn recently, when a consultant for a San Francisco-based biotech asked:
Can anybody recommend some good Bay Area synthetic chemistry CROs?
Of course, there were four or five people who chimed in with useful suggestions for Bay Area CROs.

At the same time, there has been a wonderful collection of people from around the world throwing their hats in the proverbial ring. So far, we have people suggesting companies located in Seattle, two from Shanghai, the UK, Winnepeg, New Jersey, Delaware, Ontario, two from Bangalore, the Netherlands, Massachusetts, Edmonton (Canada), Milan (Italy), Germany and Kolkata.

While I can't really blame people for trying, I think it speaks to 1) the rather fierce competition for synthetic chemistry business around the world and 2) people's complete inability to police themselves when it comes to making suggestions on internet forums. 'Twas ever thus. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Yeah... you don't seem very Empowered...
Photo credit: brillianceinc.com
Are you a chemist? Do you like doing chemistry? Merck, the pharmaceutical company, would like to know if you want to be a materials handler in Ireland, a command center technician, a statistics intern or a pipefitter. No?

How about an operations coach? What's that, you say? Well, I'm glad you asked. You will:
  • Coach production employees in an Empowered Culture
  • Assist the team with development of objectives and ensures alignment with site goals
  • Assess employee training and development needs, assesses the maturity of the team, and adjusts leadership style to enhance team performance
"Assess the maturity of the team" -- hmmm. If you read between the lines, I think you'll be a (assistant?) manufacturing plant manager. But why in the world couldn't they just call it that? (h/t See Arr Oh)

Daily Pump Trap: 5/12/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 10 and 11, there were 82 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (5%) are academically connected.

Hmmm: Not much here, other than tinned meat from our friends in Rahway (73 position, 89%). Except for...

Fresh! Foods!: BASF is looking for 5 positions, including a B.S. chemist with 5 to 10 years experience in agricultural chemical formulations experience. Also, two positions (one marketing and one solving technical problems) with fresh food solutions.

A broader look: Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com and Indeed.com show (respectively) 308, 728 and 4,324 positions posted for the search term "chemist." USAjobs.gov shows 91 positions for the search term chemist. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Outsourcing: The good, the bad and the ugly

I think it's the bottom one that wants to
send your job to Bangalore.
Photo credit: AJC1
Susan Ainsworth's article in today's C&EN on chemistry outsourcing managers is worth a read. She talks to a lot of knowledgeable people about the process and sheds some light on a relatively mysterious topic.

The Good: There is some small room for knowledgeable, experienced chemists to do some good:
Although the client asked the CRO to follow a synthetic route outlined in the literature, Levy explains, “the contract organization took the liberty of modifying the chemistry to increase the efficiency of the synthesis by minimizing the number of steps and, in the process, ended up reversing where substituents were attached to the structural core.” The CRO made a molecule with exactly the same molecular weight as the desired product and a similar nuclear magnetic resonance spectrum. “That’s the kind of problem that an outsourcing manager without a strong chemistry background will miss,” he warns.
The bad: Sometimes, the things they have to be aware of is just a little basic:
Crystal-clear communication is especially critical when someone “is 12 time zones away,” Kimball says. “When you are in the lab next door, you can walk in and talk to people, and you can touch and feel the process and better understand why a reaction doesn’t work, but when that work is being done remotely, it is much more difficult. Many of the assumptions that we make, having been trained in the U.S., may not be valid. The quality of reagents, laboratory conditions, and the care with which reactions are carried out may not be the same.” 
Kimball recalls an instance when a straightforward Friedel-Crafts acylation reaction following a literature procedure failed repeatedly as it was being carried out by a CRO partner. “Finally, it was determined that the high humidity in the lab and poor storage conditions of the aluminum chloride reagent were at fault. Once those were corrected, the chemistry worked as planned.”
Aaaand the ugly: I'm glad that Kerry Spear (of Sunovion Pharmaceuticals) was willing to be fairly upfront about his thoughts on synthetic chemistry. This is a set of statements that every 1st year graduate student that contemplates a career in synthetic chemistry should think about:
When orchestrating a corporate outsourcing effort, leaders must have a clear understanding of the company’s strategic outsourcing goals and how the drivers—quality, speed, and cost—impact those goals, Spear says. They also need “to recognize what chemistry is best to keep in-house and what could be outsourced,” he adds. For example, “all the things a classical medicinal chemist does we consider core, at least for now, which means we keep them in-house,” he says. “However, we consider synthetic chemistry to be very outsourceable. Frankly, we don’t do any of it in-house anymore.”
I don't really know what do say about that; I mean, sure, I don't make my own TBSCl -- I outsource it to Aldrich (Oakwood, actually, if I have anything to say about it.) But I'd be really interested to hear what Dr. Spear considers 'core' and 'not core'. I'll tell you what -- the 'core' part was probably gotten smaller over the past ten years, as opposed to getting bigger.

Good news / bad news

It is always difficult to tell which way the economy is going -- if I knew, I wouldn't be a bench chemist, that's for sure. I'm instituting a new post series that will combine a piece of undoubtedly good news with something that's potentially bad news. So, without further ado:

Good news from Biospace!: Doubtless, you got the same e-mail from them that I did 3 days ago, stating: 
BioSpace job postings hit the highest volume since December 2008 -- a sure sign of great new opportunities waiting for you. 
Considering that was near the depths of the Great Recession, that's not saying much. But there you are. Good news. How big? No one knows.

Bad news (?) from Paul Hodges: Paul Hodges of the incomparable "Chemicals and the Economy" blog launched "Downturn Alert" last week, noting that commodity chemical prices are beginning to fall, as manufacturers are purchasing less and looking for lower prices. 

Daily Pump Trap: 5/10/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 5 and May 9, there have been 31 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 13 (42%) are academically connected and 1 (3%) is from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Well, that's bracing: "DuPont is a science company. Science is our heritage and our future." In their crop protection labs in Newark, DE, they're looking for a M.S. chemist to become an associate investigator in their analytical chemistry division.

More from the Blue Hen: JAS Inc. is an Agilent subsidiary; they're looking for Ph.D. analytical chemists to work on GC and GC/MS systems. 2 positions; no relocation offered.

Movie villain names: Clontech Laboratories Inc. is looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist with experience in chemical biology. "The candidates will lead the Chemistry Group on the development of chemical compounds (chemical design, synthesis and analysis) for research tool development in life science area." Doesn't the name suggest a secret secret laboratory?

More for the analysts: Honeywell's UOP subsidiary is looking for a senior analytical organic chemist; they desire a Ph.D. chemist with experience in organic reaction mechanisms, GC/MS and LC/MS. 5+ years experience desired (?).

And another one (sort of): The Shepherd Chemical Company is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to run their research laboratories; "[d]emonstrated expertise in inorganic chemistry, solid-state chemistry, small molecule synthesis and/or organometallic chemistry is desirable." Experience with a variety of instrumentation desirable. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Voices from Wall Street

From last week's C&EN, an article on Amgen's strategies by Lisa Jarvis:
Another area where Amgen draws a line between itself and its peers is its commitment to R&D. Although many competitors have made significant cuts to their research budgets, Sharer said the company will continue to invest 18 to 20% of sales in R&D. “This is not an activity where you cost cut your way to success,” he said. 
Investors, meanwhile, had been hoping to see Amgen focus on cost efficiency in its R&D operations and potentially drop some of its less promising discovery programs. 
Prior to the meeting, Leerink Swann analyst Joshua Schimmer had conducted an in-depth analysis of Amgen’s new drug pipeline and identified compounds that he views as too similar to other drugs in development or too risky. “While we were not disappointed that high R&D spend continues, we were disappointed that there was not a clearer message that more low-value pipeline products we previously identified would be culled and replaced with higher-quality in-licensed and acquired late-stage programs,” he wrote to investors. 
Amgen, however, underscored its success in R&D compared with its competitors and said it is committed to partnering and to making tough decisions about its pipeline. To be successful, Sharer said, Amgen needs to “stop projects when they won’t work, have a risk appetite, … and go outside the company nearly as often as you go inside.”
It's all here, folks, which is kinda fun. You want business types (a MBA, even!) from Wall Street telling CEOs where to spend drug company dollars? You got it. You got CEOs saying that they're not going to cut R&D? You got that, too. Best of luck to Amgen, which does really seem to be one of the few companies that hasn't been swinging the ax recently (although maybe that's just my poor memory.)

I've always wondered: what must it be like to be a stock analyst on the pharmaceutical beat? Does Ian Read quake every time Barbara Ryan opens her mouth to speak on Pfizer stock? I would.

One final, weird note on the major pharmaceutical companies and personal finance and Wall Street: who does Dr. Schimmer and Barbara Ryan represent? Well, to a very minor extent, "future" me. I don't directly own any pharmaceutical stock, but I have a reasonable amount of retirement-oriented money in various index and mutual funds. All of their directors (and employed business analysts, etc.), I'm sure, are breathing down the necks of CEOs of companies that I (directly or indirectly) work for, pushing them to increase profits and cut costs. I am sure this is not the only time that the interests of "Present CJ" and "Future CJ" will conflict.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

The boss is always right, right?

I'm sure everyone is familiar with the 2 rules of dealing with the boss:

Rule 1: The boss is always right.
Rule 2: If the boss is wrong, check Rule 1.

I suggest a few more rules:

Rule 3: If the boss is wrong, you should check again.
Rule 4: If the boss is wrong, the instrument should be recalibrated.
Rule 5: If the boss is wrong, perhaps you can't find his cell phone number to tell him.
Rule 6: If the boss is wrong, maybe you heard wrong.
Rule 7: If the boss is wrong, perhaps the literature is wrong.
Rule 8: If the boss is wrong, we should all look at our shoes.
Rule 9: If the boss is wrong, we should admire the boss' creativity in aligning energetic paradigms!
Rule 10: (Use with great care) If the boss is wrong, we should tell the boss.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reader question: how to use LinkedIn?

An astute reader writes:
In the comments of your recent consulting post, a commenter mentioned "If you learn some of the ins and outs of LinkedIn it can be a huge help (no, you don't need to buy the gold membership either). My job search has been enormously more productive because of it." 
Any advice (or perhaps a post) on the best ways to use LinkedIn. I'm a recent graduate. I haven't played with the site much but I have my profile as current as possible. 
What else should one be doing? Joining groups? Joining discussions?
I'll be really honest and say I don't really know. I think it's helpful in a job search to have a fairly informative (but not overly detailed) profile and it is a good idea to update it regularly.

I think joining discussions where you might display relevant technical knowledge would be useful, but to be frank, I've really not seen any discussions of chemistry on LinkedIn where this might be the case.

I have found LinkedIn to be a quite useful repository of information about other people; that's helpful, but I don't really know what good it does, outside of being able to know who works at companies that you want to work at. (I think that's the idea, actually.) This parody video on LinkedIn, by the way, is mildly funny.

Outside of that, I'm pretty much out of ideas. Readers, what say you?

An unusual answer

Pfizer CEO Ian Read, in the Wall Street Journal about his moves with Pfizer research sites:
WSJ: Cutting costs is also part of your growth strategy. You're shutting down Pfizer's laboratory in Sandwich, U.K. Was it inefficient? 
Mr. Read: Sandwich was working in areas where I don't think we were competitive enough. It was in areas of allergy and respiratory and urology, and other areas where I didn't think we had the science, or the competition was ahead of us. And it was better to redirect those resources. 
WSJ: You're also moving scientists from Pfizer's long-time research and development center, in Groton, Conn., up to Cambridge, Mass. Why? 
Mr. Read: Historically, Big Pharma was driven by manufacturing, and very often they put manufacturing sites up on rivers because there was fermentation involved and they needed access [to water]. Now, I think you need to be in centers of innovation and hubs of innovation that are represented by La Jolla, Calif; Boston, Mass; and also in the U.K. in Cambridge.
Rivers? I'm really flummoxed by this answer, even though I (sort of) understand what he is getting at: Groton is where it is (historically) because of now-irrelevant geographical features. That being said, I'm afraid this sort of "we need to be there" logic isn't really historically supported. While geographical isolation isn't good, I'm unconvinced that Pfizer chemists from Groton will somehow be magically more productive or innovative in Boston. Color me unconvinced.

Daily Pump Trap: 5/5/11 edition

Good morning! Between May 3 and May 4, there have been 7 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 1 (14%) position is academically connected and 1 (14%) position is from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Ooof: Not very many positions at all. Sigh.

It's something: Total Petrochemicals is looking for a B.S. chemist to be a senior chromatographer in its La Porte, Texas facility. GC experience desired.

And something more: Kelly Scientific is looking for a B.S. chemist with 5-10 years experience in R&D to perform LC and GPC analysis.

Hey, you kids, get outta here: Bangs Laboratories (a wonderful name, if there was one) is looking for a M.S. or Ph.D. polymer or organic chemist. Desired skills: "Experience in emulsion polymerization, inverse emulsion, oil in water dispersion of polymers, and other related microparticle process technologies." Oh, and "Industry work experience beyond the university setting -- this is a must!!!"

A better bandaid: Adhesives Research, Inc. is looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist with experience in adhesives research, materials science or wound care adhesives work. How many of those are there?

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder and Indeed show 329, 719 and 4,317 positions (respectively) for the search term "chemist." USAjobs.gov show 96 results for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

14 ways to improve morale

No, really. Sometimes I feel a little bad about the blog and the pall it might cast on folks. (Seriously, I should print T-shirts that say "I stopped reading Chemjobber because it's depressing.")

Try these tips and see if you can put a smile on a coworker's face.
  • Donuts always make people happy (or me, anyway). 
  • The "Never Give Up!" picture is worth a chuckle (sometimes.)
  • A sincere word of encouragement never hurt anyone. 
  • Also, a ready supply of bad jokes helps, too. 
  • Organizing group lunches that allow people to vent is great. 
  • Take responsibility and clean some undesirably messy part of the lab. Don't ask for thanks. 
  • A Friday morning breakfast tradition can be fun. 
  • Owning up to screwing up can really break tension a lot, I think. 
  • Ask people how they are -- and listen. (Don't do this, if you're creepy.)
  • Safe and gentle and very, very rare pranks in the lab are enjoyable.  
  • The "Hang In There" kitten is useful, too. 
  • Taking about your young kids can refocus a tough conversation, sometimes. 
  • Volunteer to do someone else's dishes. That'll make 'em wonder. 
  • A candy dish on your desk helps. 
  • BEER. (Thanks A1227p.)
Now go out there and take on the day!*

*Back to your regularly-scheduled depressingness tomorrow. ;-)

Process Wednesday: drying

In the final set of questions from Kilomentor on scaling up, he asks:
Is there a drying step in the process? If so:
  • Can the drying be done by azeotropic distillation or passing through a molecular sieve plug to avoid solid drying agents? Is there an IPC to determine completion of drying?
It seems like there's ALWAYS a drying step in the process. I've seen the powers of azeotropic drying and I believe (I believe!) that there is mostly likely some way of avoiding drying agents. But what that might entail, of course, is a different matter altogether.

Having a rotary dryer of some sort (or rigging one up) seems to be a cheap solution to the problem of drying powders, but I've suspect that they're scale- or cost-limited as well. Readers, please educate me.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A taste of the good ol' days: ancient CAS Online

Goodness, it's just that easy.
Photo credit: chembase.com
I was flipping through some older literature today, and found a wonderful reminder from March's "Advanced Organic Chemistry" (2001, 5th edition) of the torture pain sheer agony effort it took to search through SciFinder before the graphical interface arrived.
  • "The procedure for building a structure can be long and complex, if the structure is large and complex, but the commands are simple. We will illustrate by building the structure for 3-ethylpiperidine, which uses the most important commands.
  • We begin with the command STRUCTURE. [snip]
  • We will then get the prompt ENTER (DIS), GRA, NOD, BON OR ?
  • GRA is used for putting in rings or chains. We enter GRA R6, DIS [snip]
  • We wish to introduct a two-atom side chain (the Et group), so we enter GRA 3 C2, DIS [snip]
  • [a bunch of clarifying text]
  • To get 3-ethylpiperidine, the atom in the 5 position must be nitrogen. A C can be changed to another element by using NOD (for node), so we now type NOD 5 N, DIS. This changes C-5 to N-5, giving all the atoms in their final positions. 
  • However, the structure is still not complete because the bonds have not been specified [snip], so we type BON ALL SE, DIS and we get our final structure in Figure A.1. 
  • At this point we type END, and get L1 STRUCTURE CREATED. 
Oh, you want to search this structure? Forget it. My fingers are cramping. 

Young ones (myself included), if you ever get tired of older chemists railing about how hard they had it back in the day, think to yourself "they didn't have a structure editor in their SciFinder" and cut 'em a break. (a little one) 

Daily Pump Trap: 5/3/11 edition

Good morning! Between April 26 and May 2, there were 39 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 14 (36%) are academically connected and 1 (3%) is from our friends at Kelly Scientific Resources.

Hmmm: A definite slowdown in the number of positions being posted, if I can go close to a week without posting a DPT and only come up with 39 new positions. (None Merck, though. Thank goodness for small blessings.)

Well, that's nice: A nice slug of US-based positions from our friends at DuPont, six in less than a week. Good news for someone.

Rock, chalk: PROSOCO (of Lawrence, Kansas) is looking for a B.S. chemist with experience or training in cleaning surface chemistry for a position as a formulator. Pays close to or better than the median household income for the county!

Heeeeeey: Ensemble Therapeutics has a position for a M.S/Ph.D. computational chemist. There has GOT to be a laid-off computational chemist with these qualifications: "Experience in supporting medicinal chemists in drug discovery programs and experience of commonly used commercial software and leading academic applications including Pipeline Pilot, Discovery Studio, CHARMM and Catalyst."

And for this one, too: SAIC is the contractor for the NCI's "NCI Experimental Therapeutics (NExT) Program." They wish for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist with "ten (10) years of post-graduate experience, including at least 7 years focusing on discovery and optimization of small molecule New Molecular Entities (NMEs) in pharmaceutical or biotechnology organizations; and minimum 5 years managing complex programs that include outsourcing activities. Extensive medicinal chemistry experience in structure-based drug discovery and iterative drug design." Good luck out there -- I suspect that this is a good one. (I mean, it's a defense contractor -- when was the last time you heard of a defense contractor losing a contract?!?!)

Hey, wait a minute: Kelly Scientific is looking for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist to work on the NCI's "NCI Experimental Therapeutics NExT Program." Hey, that sounds familiar... I think this position is the boss of the last one -- or is it the other way around? I dunno -- I don't speak governmentese. OK, I think I'm going to devote a post in the next week to figuring out all of these recent NIH/NCI positions.

You kids -- get back in line!: Polysciences wants a M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemist for bench work; "this is a must, we are not interested in candidates who only have university experience." OK, OK, I get it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

An interesting business model

I'm surprised this article by Michael McCoy from last week's Chemical and Engineering News wasn't better covered in the chemblogosphere. Okay, so it's tomorrow's edition. It's a fairly interesting take on the "building block" business for small quantities of pharmaceutical starting materials. There was this little tidbit about a small Chinese company:
Ming Qi is all too aware of this perception. As president of Accela ChemBio, a Shanghai-based building-block supplier, Qi says he struggles to distinguish his company from fly-by-night Chinese competitors. [snip] 
Accela employs more than 90 people, Qi says, 40 of whom are chemists. The company lists about 6,000 compounds, roughly 4,000 of which are in stock at any given time. Accela chemists synthesize almost all of the compounds, Qi adds. 
Although himself a newcomer to the building-block business, Qi is amazed at the stream of new players in China and elsewhere that continue to enter the business. Qi says he used to make his catalog freely available, but after seeing competitors start listing the same compounds he became more selective about posting information online. “We don’t want to make it too easy,” he says.
I've never worked in a situation with compounds that are in stock or out of stock, but it seems to me that 40 chemists to work on 2000 out-of-stock compounds is cutting it a little close. When the customer comes a callin' and it's not in stock, I'll bet it's too late.