Friday, July 29, 2011

End-of-summer report time? Relax, you've got this!

Hey, summer students! Now that you're finished annoying your grad student mentor, it's time to start thinking about that end-of-summer poster session/talk/report that you need to come up with. Here are a few tips to get you started:
  • Delay: Take a page from Congress -- why not wait until the last minute?
  • What was my project again?: Don't bother understanding what you were working on -- who cares, it's just some random chemistry stuff. 
  • Don't read anything relevant: You've definitely got time for that 1045th Angry Birds game, but there's no point in reading the review that your lab's work is based on. And those figures/graphs in there? Why not just redo them on your own time? 
  • Bench time is wasted time: Those remaining experiments and controls that would explain everything? They can be put off. 
  • Spontaneous report writing is the best: After you've thrown your report together, don't bother to read it over or to ask someone else to read it over -- I'm sure it's juuust fine.
  • Ad libbing is awesome: In the same vein, don't bother to practice that 10 minute talk you need to give. It's ten minutes -- what could possibly go wrong? 
If you follow all these helpful tips, nothing could possibly go wrong -- really. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: information science

This week's chapter in "Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry"* is about information science. The chapter covers an academic librarian, an industrial librarian/document manager and a CAS database manager among others. It's the latter who speaks below -- after getting his B.S. and six years in industry, Val decided to get his Ph.D. What happened next:
Upon receiving his doctorate, Val again responded to an advertisement from CAS, this time for a full-time position located in Columbus, Ohio. While this appeared strange to his colleagues, including his PhD advisor, Val already had experience in laboratory, industry and university positions and had concluded that he would most enjoy a desk job related to chemical information. "The bottom line is that I never felt comfortable in the laboratory or in the plant, and my disposition was basically to have a desk job. Yet, the chemistry training and practice was essential to my success in the chemical information field." 
It appears, from all the different people profiled in the chapter, that a basic chemistry background (B.S./M.S.) is very helpful; if you're going to work in an academic library, I'm guessing that a Master's of Library Science is going to be important too.

Gotta say, I do feel comfortable in the plant and in the laboratory and have always felt a little bit guilty about time spent at my desk. Nonetheless, I absolutely would love the idea of being a chemistry information specialist. Wait, I get to find and read papers all day? Where can I sign up?

*Again, my copy was generously provided by the author, Dr. Lisa Balbes. Thanks! 

Daily Pump Trap: 7/28/11 edition

Good morning! Between July 26 and July 27, there were 17 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 2 (12%) were academically connected. 

August ACS: There are 32 positions already for the August ACS conference in Denver; there are 0 slated for the Virtual Career Fair. 

Now this is different: Boeing is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a propulsion scientist; " Apply knowledge in advanced chemical analytical techniques for fuel characterization. Modify existing fuels and fuel system functional test requirements to support laboratory and factory testing." Huh -- takes all kinds. 

Spicy: Kalsec is a spice and flavoring company in Kalamazoo, MI; they are looking for 3 food chemistry-related positions. 

Zeroes!: Lubrizol is looking for 3 Ph.D. synthetic chemists for its Ohio facility; you'll be synthesizing new lubricants, looks like. Organic, organometallic, inorganic and polymer chemists welcome to apply. Looks like you need to have your degree by December 2011. 

I want what I want: Genentech desires a B.S./M.S. chemist for its Small Molecule Pharmaceutical Sciences group to work on "characterization of small molecule candidates, method development and qualification, supporting process scale-up and formulation development, release and stability testing of API and drug products." Uh, that sounds like a lot. Minimum of 8 years experience desired, but "[o]utstanding candidates with less relevant industrial or academic experience will be considered as Research Associates." Hmm.

They're also looking for a Ph.D. chemist with 3-10 years of industrial experience to work in lead development in the drug discovery side of the house. 

The Cleaners: ADCO is a company that specializes in the cleaning market, including dry cleaning and laundry. They desire a B.S. chemist to be a formulations chemist. This is somewhat ominous: "Adco is in the midst of important strategic changes and the correct applicant will have the opportunity to be part of this change."

Materials!: IMRA America is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to work on their frickin' lasers. "Extensive experiences in colloidal nanomaterial synthesis and skills in physical and chemical characterization of materials. Experiences with pulsed lasers and laser spectroscopy will be considered but not required. Profound knowledge in colloidal chemistry, materials thermodynamics, and reaction kinetics." Profound. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Process Wednesday: breaking up emulsions

From an older post by Kilomentor, a discussion of emulsions:
If one examines closely a portion of the emulsion, one can sometimes get a useful clue to the action that will work. Sometimes the more vigorous stirring in the plant setting has suspended small gas bubbles in the droplets of one phase causing them to float rather than settle. These gas droplets can also be associated with some sediment that is suspended therein as well. Application of vacuum to a gently stirred mixture of the emulsion and separated phases can cause these bubbles to break followed by a separation of the phases. This attempt is particularly easy to try in the lab on a 500 ml sample of emulsion from the plant. Just place the filled flask on the rotovap; rotate gently and apply a water aspirator vacuum. Gentle warming is also easy to try out in this configuration. A note of caution should be registered here. You may see a clearing of the emulsion and there is a temptation to take the clarified two-phase mixture and for added safety filter it under vacuum through a pad of Celite. This filtration can undo all the good you have done. Sucking the last of the solvent through the Celite can put gas right back into the phases! 
The technique of putting a slight bit of vacuum and/gentle stirring and warming on an emulsion can be really helpful. But here's something that Kilomentor mentions that's really key for the beginner -- trying it on a sample. 

I don't know what it is about a chemist, but there's a real temptation to try things on full scale first. No matter how big the emulsion is (500 mL, 2 L, 40 L), there's always a temptation to experiment on the actual situation instead of pulling a little off and proving it on a small scale first. (And it's not like I've not been there myself...)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

For the Unemployed, the Beatings Will Continue

Credit: The New York Times, screengrabs from Craigslist
Well, this is very bad news, from Catherine Rampell of the New York Times*:
The unemployed need not apply. 
That is the message being broadcast by many of the nation’s employers, making it even more difficult for 14 million jobless Americans to get back to work. A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off. [snip]
Some are for small businesses, and others for giants, including the commercial University of Phoenix (which, like some other companies, removed the ads after an inquiry by The New York Times) or the fast-food chain Pollo Tropical. They cover jobs at all skill levels, including hotel concierges, restaurant managers, teachers, I.T. specialists, business analysts, sales directors, account executives, orthopedics device salesmen, auditors and air-conditioning technicians. 
While I might be able to understand the general thought process of the employers (human capital destruction, etc.), this is just terrible news for the unemployed. What's worse, the article doesn't really offer any solutions for the problem and suggests that incentives won't work ("An experiment from the 1980s found that telling companies that the unemployed were eligible for generous wage subsidies actually made employers less likely to hire such workers.")

Chemistry employers, please don't do this. Pick the best person for the job, regardless of employment status. And for those out there looking for a position in chemistry, if you see this in the job ads, I'd really appreciate it if you let me know if you see this.

*Private to the New York Times: if you want to help an unemployed person out, don't take a picture of her with a distracting dog in the foreground. Whiskey Tango Hotel, over. 

Daily Pump Trap: 7/26/11 edition

Good morning! Between July 21 and July 25, there were 39 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 8 (21%) were academically connected. 

Hmmm: BMS is hiring Ph.D. biochemists for cell culture process development, it appears. 8 positions, all on the East Coast. 

Suit me up: Budd Larner is a law firm in Short Hills, NJ and environs. They're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a scientific advisor (most likely for a patent agent position.) No training required, looks like. 

Workin' for the man: NIH is looking a M.S./Ph.D. chemist for a drug discovery project managment position; this is part of their CNS 'virtual pharma' project. Let us hope the drugs are not virtual very long. 

Welcome back, Ian: Pfizer is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to run the NMR facility/structure elucidation group that works with the medicinal chemist. First Groton position in a very, very, very long time (1 year?) and first Pfizer position in a while, too. 

And the College World Series, too!: Sygenta in Omaha, NE is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to perform plant support roles. Sounds like a challenging position for someone. 

Taste and see: Tate and Lyle is looking for an experienced M.S./Ph.D. chemist for a flavor analysis position; "understanding of carbohydrate chemistry in food systems and familiarity with sensory methodologies" is desired. Think you get free Diet Coke? 

Des Plaines, IL: UOP (a petroleum products company) desires a Ph.D. chemist to be a Catalysis and Materials group leader; you'll be working with a "vibrant team of inorganic chemists, physical chemists, and chemical engineers." Vibrant!

Monday, July 25, 2011

So there's job opportunities for mid-career pharma scientists

...they're just in China. From today's edition of Chemical and Engineering News, an update on expat Americans by Linda Wang:
Opportunities for expats in China continue to look bright, especially in the drug industry (C&EN, Feb. 14, page 47). Paul Tempest, who moved to China in 2009 and is now executive director of integrated services for Chinese contract research organization ShangPharma, says many opportunities exist for midcareer medicinal chemists with strong leadership skills. "We've had a couple of openings here, and we've tried to hire some people, but in some situations it can be pretty difficult to convince people to come here," he says, noting that family obligations remain a common barrier. "The ideal candidate is somebody that has maybe 10 to 15 years of experience in the U.S., has a sense of adventure, and is okay living outside their comfort zone." 
Because medicinal chemistry is relatively new in China, Tempest says, few local people are experienced enough for leadership positions. "What's still missing and probably won't be here for a while is the experience and the leadership," he adds. "If you have experience leading projects and helping bench scientists get their work done, then that's something that's valuable here." 
I don't think anyone thinks that this is a viable option for most chemists, but for some, it might be a real choice I suspect that you'd have to be single and more or less fancy-free. (I doubt your new Chinese salary would pay your American mortgage...)

UPDATE: A knowledgeable insider provides a useful approximate pay scale (conversions performed on 25JUL2011 through Google):

entry level PhD: 10-15,000RMB/mo ($18,619 - $27,928/year)
5-10yr PhD w/ international industry experience: 20-30,000RMB/mo ($37,238 - $55,8570/year)
10+yr PhD w/international industry experience: 30-50,000RMB/mo ($55,857 - $93,095/year)

  • Taxes are lower in China
  • Cost of living can be much lower, if you don’t have kids.
  • International companies here pay slightly more
  • Process chemistry is in high demand here right now (experienced process and manufacturing chemists are probably bumped up on the above scale)

Friday, July 22, 2011

CHEMisperceptions: roundup and quiz answers

A note: My site started malfunctioning last night. So CJ was kind enough to post our roundup on his site. I apologize that this post isn't quite what I wanted it to be. Hopefully I'll have my site back to "normal" soon. One other note: I couldn't get all of the analysis of everyone's results for my quiz finished. But, I've given a summary of the questions and the molecules discussed.

Well ... I'd call that a success. The four of us are entirely grateful for all of your participation this week. I think that it's plainly safe to say that we really don't know what we're talking about. And, as always, we had the most fun in the comments sections.

I kicked things off on Monday with a discussion on chemical toxicity and safety. The three things that I really wanted to get across are:
  1. All chemicals have some benefit and some risk. We need to understand both aspects.
  2. Even "safe" or "common" chemicals can be dangerous. But that doesn't mean we need to be overly concerned with them or with more dangerous chemicals for that matter. We just need to... (see point 1)
  3. Chemical exposure comes with an immediate and a delayed risk. Getting back to ethanol, drinking too much in a short period of time is hazardous to our health, and continuously drinking smaller amounts over a long period of time is also hazardous.
Some ideas that came up in the comments included breaking away from my comparison of chemical exposure with exposure to ethanol to the risks involved with driving. Commenters seemed to like this conversational approach. The excellent xkcd infographic showing the relative danger of different radiation exposures was brought up as the gold-standard for risk education.

On Tuesday, CJ talked about the what, how and why of chemistry and how it's unlikely that the general public correctly perceives these questions. In the comments, he and the readers talked over a number of different solutions to addressing these misperceptions:
  • Videos: The C&EN video series was praised for being a potential means of communicating chemistry well. Paul thinks that we need a telegenic chemistry advocate (one commenter objected.) CJ thinks videos would be an excellent way of explaining difficult concepts. 
  • Not being pharma-centric: Commenters expressed different ways to explain their work rather than say "this molecule might kill cancer"; analogies to carpenters and/or artisans were suggested.
  • Being patient: Matt and David pointed out that we don't have to teach with explosions and mayhem; persistence and paying attention to what works well will be helpful.
On Wednesday, Paul moved our conversation to energy policy and specifically talked about the downside of corn-based ethanol production. In the post, Paul advocated for more solar energy and battery-based energy while talking about the useless subsidies being used to develop corny ethanol.

In the comments, discussion quickly drifted to expanding the number of energy sources used. And, in what I find to be very interesting, there was talk about local energy vs. energy at a distance and trying to figure out what sorts of infrastructure would be needed to maintain a decentralized power grid.

Leigh certainly had the find of the week yesterday with her reference to the list of chemicals allowed in the production of certified organic food. I highly recommend you read through the list. It's enlightening! As was the rest of Leigh's post on the meaning of "organic" and the history of how that word has taken on all of its meanings.

So ... back to my quiz results. What I was trying to do is show how some cherry-picked data can easily confuse people (even chemists) when trying to estimate the risk of chemical exposure. Below, I've shown the questions along with a brief explanation of the chemicals and actual exposure risks involved.

1. Would you rather eat meat that has been infused and colored pink with nitric oxide (NO) or carbon monoxide (CO)?
NO is an pollutant that is produced when fuels are burned in the presence of air. NO is known to be toxic at high enough concentrations. Carbon monoxide is an air pollutant that is produced when fuels are burned in the presence of air. CO is known to be toxic at high enough concentrations. Scientists think to seem that both of these molecules play a role in normal biological processes.
It drives me crazy when meat is packaged under CO. CO binds to the protein, myoglobin in meat, keeping it from turning brown. However, this brown color is an excellent indicator of how fresh the meat is. Nothing angers me more than bringing home seemingly fresh, pink ground beef only to find that the inner portions of the meat are brown. NO also interacts with myoglobin. NO is what gives barbecued meat its distinctive smoke ring. Although some of the molecules created while barbecuing are cancer causing (to some extent) we disregard this fact because we enjoy it so much.

2. Which would you rather dump on your dining room table? Molecule 1 or Molecule 2?
Molecule 1 is used as a strong oxidizing agent in many industrial reactions. Molecule 1 will also produce chlorine gas (very toxic) when mixed with a common household cleaning agent. Smelling molecule 2 causes strong reactions in humans. Molecule 2 has been used in the past as the starting point to make explosive compounds.
In this question, molecule 1 is bleach (NaOCl, sodium hypochlorite) and molecule 2 is ammonia (NH3). I think its safe to say that both compounds can be dangerous. I also think its safe to say that most people aren't overly concerned about having these dangerous chemicals in their house. We don't fear the things we're used to.

3. Which molecule would you rather dump on your hands? Liquid 1 or Liquid 2?
Liquid 1 is industrially produced and highly flammable. Liquid 1, at a high enough concentration, is a strong irritant of your eyes and lungs. Liquid 2 contains molecules that are known to lead to cardiovascular disease. There are many "healthier" industrially produced substitutes to Liquid 2, even though Liquid 2 is produced from animal by-products. 
Liquid 1 is acetone ... which is the main ingredient in fingernail polish remover ... which people put on their hands all the time. Liquid 2 is melted butter ... I do like me some melted butter.

4. Which molecule would you rather take a big smell of in its pure form? Diacetyl or toluene?
Diacetyl is the artificial butter flavoring that is used in microwave popcorn. Toluene is a solvent used in some types of glues. Toluene is the active chemical that creates a "buzz" when glue is sniffed. 
Diacetyl in large quantities can be pretty hazardous. Toluene is hazardous too. But we're more concerned about the toluene than the diacetyl due to the larger amounts of it that we're exposed to.

5. Which would you rather drink? Molecule 1 or Molecule 2?
Molecule 1 has an LD50 of 9000 mg/kg when administered orally to rats. [That very roughly equates to just over 1 liter (0.26 gallons) for a 91 kilogram (200 pound) person.] Molecule 2 has an LD50 of 12600 mg/kg when administered orally to rats. [That very roughly equates to just over 0.9 liters (0.24 gallons) for a 91 kilogram (200 pound) person]. For reference, water has an LD50 of 90,000 mg/kg when administered orally to rats.
Molecule 1 is ethanol. Molecule 2 is glycerol. Which would you rather drink?

6. Which would you rather take as a medication for severe inflammatory pain. Molecule 1 or Molecule 2?
Molecule 1 is derived from bee venom. Molecule 2 is extracted from a flower.
Molecule 1 is melittin, the primary component of bee venom. Even though there's no evidence that there is any medical benefit to using it, some people still do. Molecule 2 is heroin. When it was first medically approved, doctors lauded the fact that it caused no side effects and wasn't addictive. (Heh).

7. You've just seriously sprained your knee. What would you rather take to soothe your injury? Liquid 1 or molecule 2?
Liquid 1 is a tea made by steeping a liquid with a certain type of flower. Teas of this type have been used traditionally around the globe to help cure ailments of this sort. Molecule 2 is an industrially produced compound. The FDA, in 2009, reduced the maximum dosage of this compound by 35% from its previous levels.
Liquid 1 is a comfrey tea, a naturalist medication, that has been widely used. The flowers that are made to steep these teas have very dangerous alkaloids in them that can cause serious harm to those who ingest them (HT to David Kroll). Molecule 2 is acetominophen. The FDA reduced the dosage amounts of acetominophen in both 2007 and 2010.

8. An industrial application calls for a solvent to be used to assist in performing a vital reaction. Should the company use benzene or water?
Benzene is a known carcinogen. However, it can be separated from the final product that the corporation is making. Excess, impure benzene, can be burned, producing energy (and carbon dioxide) for further industrial use. Water is a "green" solvent. However after using water in an industrial application, water cannot just be released back into the environment. It must be purified. This is a very energy-intensive process that will necessitate burning lots of fossil fuels and producing a large amount of pollutants. Use of water for industrial applications drains the water resources available for other human needs.
This is something that is commonly misperceived. In a case like this, using benzene is certainly more environmentally safe than using water. But, because it's water, we automatically "think" that it's better.

9. A can containing tomatoes needs to be lined with a plastic that will protect the tomatoes from degrading or being infested with bacteria. Should the lining be made with BPA or pine oleoresin?
BPA has been in the news a lot lately due to the fact that it is ubiquitously used by industrial food suppliers as well as producers of consumer plastics. BPA has been implicated as the cause of several developmental diseases. BPA has been studied by the FDA. Pine oleoresins are naturally produced. Acidic solutions (like those found in tomato juice) will degrade pine oleoresins. And use of these compounds over BPA will increase the likelihood of bacterial infection. Pine oleoresins have not been studied in as great of detail as BPA by the FDA. 
This gets back to my point from the other day: BPA is cheap and effective and, thus, ubiquitous. It is because BPA is everywhere that it's so dangerous. If it weren't, there would be almost no reason to worry about it.

10. It's Friday ... What are you doing still reading this blog. Inconceivable! Go enjoy yourself!


He is... the Most Interesting Man in Chemistry:

"Keep stirring, my friends."
Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • At seminars he attends, the speakers ask him questions. 
  • The Office of Research Integrity borrowed his glare.
  • He once grew a protein crystal the size of a fist. 
  • If he were to reject your paper, you would thank him.
  • A drop of his tears can increase yields by 60%. 
  • If he shook your hand at a conference, you would put it on your CV.
  • His personality is so magnetic, he's quenched 4 NMRs. 
  • On plagiarism: "No."
  • Graduate students look forward to his oral exams. 
  • If he were to write you a procedure, you'd suddenly find yourself with 5 JACS papers... and an industry job. 
  • He's been known to tell jokes in Mandarin, and have Indian postdocs laugh at them. 
  • He can activate C-H bonds with a flick of his wrist. 
  • He once punched E.J. Corey. That's right, you heard me.
  • His smile is so vibrant, nearby IRs need to be recalibrated. 
  • He taught a horse to review papers for him. 
  • His beard has been known to separate enantiomers.

 "I do not do catalysis often, but when I do... I use Strem catalysts."*

*Parody, not intended as an actual endorsement of Strem catalysts (which are still awesome. Chemjobber would happily endorse Strem catalysts.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

CHEMisperceptions: "organic"

Leigh's post on the origins of the word organic is up -- be sure to check out the link to the National List of Approved Substances that Are Organic, but Might be Inorganic Or Something. 

Alternative careers in chemistry: technical writer

In the request thread, there was a fairly strong push for me to cover alternative careers in chemistry. I can't go out and do profiles like the JAEP folks, so I decided to do the next best thing and consult a book that's already out there. "Nontraditional Careers for Chemists" is authored by ACS Careers Blog's very own Lisa Balbes; Dr. Balbes graciously sent me a copy of her book.

The book is divided into chapters for each different non-bench career path, the first being communications. I'll be reading and covering the book chapter-by-chapter over the next year and seeing where this takes us. Today's snippet is from a technical writer named David, who had an interesting epiphany while working as a chemist*:
Oddly enough, my experience at the chemistry bench introduced me to technical writing. The synthetic protocols I followed as a production chemist were poorly written. They were ambiguous and unclear, and I would routinely take it upon myself to rewrite them before I used them. After a while -- and to my considerable surprise -- I realized that I actually enjoyed the task. I had always been a wordsmith of sorts, and I welcomed the challenge of expressing information so that it would be readable and precise. Serendipitously, DuPont had applied for the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 9001 accreditation, which meant it faced the massive taks of formalizing its operational documentation, including its protocols. Inasmuch as I had already been rewriting documents for several years, it was no surpose when management assigned me the task of revising the bulk of its protocols to conform to ISO guidelines. 
I think finding a position outside of bench chemistry is about finding something else that you like doing, and that people will pay you to do. You can find your inspiration to be a writer/editor in the oddest places, including synthetic protocols.

*David's career path to being a chemist was pretty remarkable, including law school, refrigeration mechanics and being a chemical technician.  

Daily Pump Trap: 7/21/11 edition

Good morning! Between July 14 and July 20, 118 new positions were posted on the ACS Career website. Of these, 6 (5%) are academically connected.

B-A-S-F! B-A-S-F!: 17 positions desired by the the people who make the products you buy better; all good looking chemistry positions, including (stunningly) a position in China. Lots of intriguing ones, including an Informational Professional, a Computational Chemist and a Product Data Specialist.

Akron, OH: Goodyear has posted 3 positions, all polymer-related. Sounds good.

Atlanta, GA: Coca-Cola is looking for a EH&S person with at least 7 years of experience. Seems awfully cushy.

Zeroes!: PPG Industries is hiring Ph.D. chemists with 0-2 years of experience; you'll be working on organic dyes and polymers as well.

Vidalia, LA: Boehringer Ingelheim is looking for a B.S. chemist (3-5 years exp.) for a process development position working on adsorbents.

Wilmington, DE: DuPont desires a B.S./M.S. organic chemist for work on organic LEDs; 2+ years of experience desired.

Merrrrrcccckkkk!: 76 positions (66%) from our friends in Rahway, including one in Quebec titled "Chef service de la paie Job." I wonder if it means "Head Chef of Quebec" -- that'd be a pretty cool job. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CHEMisperceptions: ChemBark on energy policy

Paul's post on energy policy is up -- and there are bound to be some angry corn farmers in Iowa. I hope he doesn't decide to run for president someday (or he should spend his campaign funds in New Hampshire, anyway.)

The Duck of Sabotage: still quacking in my home

Quack! I'm still here!
In March, I initiated a project to elicit stories of chemistry laboratory sabotage. In return for the best (or the worst) true story of sabotage, I promised this fine ceramic duck with 100 most excellent Chemjobber business cards and the finest hard candies of the land filling its back. The rules are in the original post; shortly afterward, I published stories from the early leaders.

I haven't had anyone e-mail me with stories for the contest or follow-up to claim the prize, even though I did have a few private stories of sabotage sent my way to assure me that 'it really does happen.' For the record, I believe that it does. [Heck, the Sezen doping is a prime example.] I still think, though, that it's a lot rarer than people might imagine.

I did want to highlight a blog comment from Heather Ames herself (the plucky grad student who caught a postdoc on video putting ethanol into her lab samples):
Can I have the duck? Ok, that might be unfair to the people who have dealt with this without getting favorable publicity. 
One point I do want to make is that, this happens, people do get caught, but generally they get fired (or warned) without other consequences. It takes a lot to make a prosecutable case, because if evidence is collected without warrants and confessions not acquired by police, you can't present them in court.
So, for now, the Duck of Sabotage still lives in my home. Again, if you have a story of chemistry laboratory sabotage to tell, the comments are open or you can e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmaildotcom.

Process Wednesday: Avoiding the 5 o'clock dump

Kilomentor, on planning ahead (and planning on planning ahead):
If a synthetic lab procedure is so long that the reaction and work-up cannot be completed in a single day, chemists can use their experience to extrapolate from similar procedures and guess at what points manipulations can be stopped and under what conditions intermediate solutions or crude solids can be stored without damage. Occasionally there are misjudgments and surprises and a product will be prepared in lower than expected yield or poorer purity. but then even in the worst situation what is lost is no more than a couple of man-days of labor and the price of the starting materials consumed. Also, in the laboratory because the capacities of refrigerators, freezers and evaporators are so much greater than the quantities of material being transformed, there are do-able fixes for the situation where a stoppage is forced at almost any stage. 
There is no room for such risk taking on-scale. For advanced intermediates that are themselves the product of a series of sequential steps, one misstep can be economically disabling. The more points in the process that have been verified as safe to stop, by actual test results, the more confidently the process team can be. Moreover, to be a safe stopping point it must be proven safe not just for the quantity and quality of the product but also for the protection of the processing equipment.
Even in graduate school (where hours are strangely flexible), there's a point at which you need to know when you can leave your reaction stirring overnight. Planning ahead for that point is smart; as Kilomentor suggests, it's a good idea to take a relatively small amount of material and see what happens if it sits for longer than planned.

It's also smart to plan ahead for the end of the day. Starting a 4-hour slow addition at 3 pm on a really crucial intermediate? Well, I hope you have dinner packed, my friend.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CHEMisperceptions: Missing the 'how' of chemistry

I know it's hard to believe, but I read blogs outside of the chemblogosphere. One of the political bloggers I follow is Matthew Yglesias, who blogs for the Center for American Progress (a progressive think tank). Known for being one of the first political bloggers (he started his blog as a sophomore philosophy major at Harvard), he has grown into being one of the more influential progressive policy bloggers. He was recently writing a post covering some neuroscience news and had this opening:
I had a friend in college who spent a lot of time dissecting frozen rat brains (or something), which I always thought was funny but she swore was part of important neurological research. 
Yglesias is poking gentle fun, of course, but I found his tossed-off comment distressing. It indicated that, even at Harvard, it was difficult to bridge the 'two cultures' divide. Two things that I found disappointing: he didn't remember the 'how' correctly, and he couldn't connect the 'how' with the 'why.'

A section of placenta. While I love chemistry, biology really
has got us beat on the picture front.
Photo credit:*
"Dissecting frozen rat brains" was probably someone using a cryostat/microtome (or a 'cold knife') to cut micron-thin pieces of frozen tissue. I had the chance to use one as a summer student and I found it a fascinating (and scary) tool to use. (Bear with me, chemists -- I do have a point.) The fresh tissue is first preserved  in media (polymer, wax, etc) and you chill the tissue in liquid nitrogen. The tissue is mounted in the cryostat and the knife block (heavy, extraordinarily sharp) is placed in its setting and extraordinarily thin pieces of tissue are sliced (keep those fingers away the blade!) and carefully lifted with a fine-tip paint brush onto a
slide, where they can melt and adhere. The slides can then be stained for morphology and presence of DNA, RNA or protein. The pictures that they can capture can be stunning. The most visually stunning 'how' technique in biology -- and he makes it sound like she's mashing frozen Hot Pockets.

What may be more disappointing is that Yglesias didn't remember (or his friend failed to press into him) the 'why' of what she was doing. Doubtless, there was an unknown region of the brain, or a key receptor or a new protein that would have shed light on some aspect of neurology. But sadly, that information is lost to him.

It got me to thinking about chemistry and people's perception of us as chemists. What do people think of us? Do they know the 'what' of chemistry or the 'how'? Do they know the 'why'?

What do people think of us? Well, according to this ACS study from 2000, honestly, they don't think of us at all. When they do, they're mostly vaguely positive. They're not so sure about the chemical industry (and these days, they're probably not keen on the pharmaceutical industry, either.)

Do they know the 'what'? To be blunt, I think the public thinks they know the 'what': we're chemists. We work with chemicals. (What are chemicals? That's someone else's post, I think.) To hear the jokes, of course, we're always making bad smells or blowing ourselves up. Thanks to AMC (and lots of other reasons), chemists and chemistry is also connected with recreational drugs. I don't think anyone blames 'Breaking Bad' for the perceptions of chemists (although some might), but it certainly doesn't help much.

Certainly, the federal government knows what we do -- that's a relief. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' description is pretty pat: "Conduct[s] qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses or experiments in laboratories for quality or process control or to develop new products or knowledge."

Do they know the 'why'? I don't know. I assume that they do. Chemists certainly do -- most chemistry papers make a least a head-fake towards the why: "We're making whateverol because we think it might have anticancer properties." "We're looking at the properties of gallium-arsenide quantum nanodots to make faster computers." "We're studying this polymer to make cheaper, greener plastics." That's the easier part, and the place where I think the public's perception of chemists is the closest to reality.

Do they know the 'how'? I think their perception of the 'how' is grossly distorted. In short, chemists look at chemicals. Check out these pictures -- there we are, chemists, staring at chemicals stored in glassware. Sometimes we look at them in the light, sometimes we look really hard at them, sometimes we raise them above our heads, sometimes we look at them with inspiration, but we look at them. Pages and pages of stock photos of chemists, and not a single photo that looks anything like a technique that I would recognize (although, it should be noted, that there is a wide diversity in what chemists look like.)
Professor Test-Tube on the right is a crowd favorite, I'm sure. 
That's obviously a tiny, tiny part of the story of chemistry. Experiments, scientific method, literature searching -- none of that is set in the public perception of chemists. And what to do about this lack of knowledge? Television? Sure, the general public may know a little about our instruments from CSI, but they're not scientific instruments at all. They're more-or-less Hollywood black boxes that require no intelligence to operate ('The GC/MS tells us the killer used tetramethyldeath -- which is only sold in one store in Manhattan!')

I have no great science communication insights to share (yeah, no kidding. -ed.), nor solutions to the clear problems with the public perception of chemists. As someone who can't stop talking about chemistry and science with his friends and family (no matter how hard he tries), all I have to offer is the following that I've gleaned over the last two weeks of thinking over this problem:

Don't go for the 'why' just yet: I think it's tempting to go for the 'why' too early. When you tell people "I work on cancer drugs", it's not likely to make people ask you more about your work. I think it may end the conversation about your work and it's a lot more likely to get people to tell you about their health problems (which you may or may not want). It's an escape hatch, and someday, you're going to meet someone who's more interested in what and how you actually do your work as a chemist. 

Can the 'how' be just as interesting as the 'why'? For day-to-day bench chemists, of course, the 'how' can be the most interesting part of being a chemist. The 'why' is taken for granted and the 'how' is our day-to-day lives. While it's difficult, I think it's possible to make the 'how' just as interesting as the 'why'. For example, Matt's kitchen chemistry posts are a great way of using cooking techniques to talk about chemical principles. While I think there are real challenges in telling a good story about a NMR or a HPLC, I think these are problems that may be surmountable. 

Does it all matter? While I am sorely tempted to say that public perception of chemists doesn't matter, the cold truth is that it does. The chemical sciences (and industrial chemistry, certainly) are deeply intertwined with the economy and with the political, legal and regulatory systems of government. Communicating chemistry with candor and clarity is one of the few means we have to make sure our voices as chemists are heard.

If you've gotten this far, dear reader, thanks and I'd love to hear your thoughts. (And many thanks to Dr. Free Ride and her post on communicating chemistry informally -- it was an eye-opener.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

CHEMisperceptions: Toxicity

Matt's post on toxicity in our 2nd blog roundtable with Matt, Paul, Leigh and I is up -- be sure to take the quiz!

Awesome article on explosives research

From today's Chemical and Engineering News, an article by Jyllian Kemsley on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories' High Explosive Applications Facility:
When working hands-on with explosives, safety is a paramount concern, and safety features are obvious in the warren of hallways of the HEAF laboratories. To start, hallway floors are painted with a white path in the middle. If an explosive detonates next to a concrete wall, it will send a shock wave through the concrete and blow off the far side, Maienschein explains. People carrying samples through the hall must stay on the white path, so that if something happens, it won’t affect an adjacent lab. 
Lab entrances are also color-coded: blue for no explosives, green for up to 100 g, orange for 1 kg, and yellow for 10 kg. Labs designed for larger amounts have thicker walls and mazelike entrance halls meant to allow a pressure wave from an explosion to dissipate before it gets out of the room. Whiteboards state how many people can enter a lab and are used to keep track of who’s there. The corridor rated for 10 kg has a system of warning lights to ensure that multiple people don’t enter at the same time and exceed the limit. [snip] 
A separate gun tank also enables researchers to do “insult” tests to see what would happen when a bullet or some other projectile hits an explosive or other material. “If you want to know what happens to the fuselage of a B-52 bomber if an AK-47 shoots at it, we can do that,” firing operations manager Cracchiola says. Also, if someone has an idea for how to disable roadside bombs by shooting at them, HEAF can test the approach.
Go over there to read the whole thing and (if that's your bag) check out the interesting synthetic challenge that they were tackling. [ACS login required.] You know, that sounds like a pretty cool place to work.

The safety details about these places is pretty fascinating; I'm always curious to know how well the rules are enforced. (I assume they're enforced quite rigidly, and folks aren't tempted to break them.)

For those who think they might be interested in explosives research, the postings from the different places that perform such work pop up in ACS Careers listings now and again. From what I understand, there are a variety of places around the country that perform research into energetic materials; once you have clearance to work in the field, it's a lot easier to move from job to job, I suspect. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blog roundtable, part II: CHEMisperceptions

Starting Monday, Matt, Paul, Leigh and I will be hosting our 2nd roundtable, on CHEMisperceptions -- things that the public thinks are true about chemistry, but aren't.

On Tuesday, I'll be talking about the things that people think chemists do, but ain't so -- and why it's important to know what chemists (and other scientists) do all day.

See you at Matt's on Monday!

Acetone bottles

A list of small useful things (links):
UPDATE: This comment from milkshake deserves its own link. 

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play

You can keep going to the ballpark lab and keep gettin'
paid to do it. Beats the hell outta working at Sears.
Photo credit: MGM/ESPN
Yesterday's discussion about Brevard, NC (population: 6,643 -- SA-LUTE!) started an interesting discussion in the comments about small towns and smaller-than-Big-Pharma companies. Anon1041a puts it this way:
Attitudes amongst organic chemists who seek industrial positions really need to change...they shouldn't expect to land a dream job in a dream location immediately out of school. Which would you rather do: start building a professional track record at less-than-ideal job or continue indentured academic servitude while waiting for a dream job that everyone else is clamoring for?
I think the answer is this: is there a career ladder that leads to the top or not? If smaller companies are like the minor leagues in baseball (where future talent is grown and developed over time) and assuming that there is a more-than-likely chance (unlike the minor leagues) that your experience will translate into a better-paying job in the future, then it's worth it.

If taking a job at a smaller startup or a CRO is more like joining an independent league American football team (where the chances of joining the NFL are vanishingly small), then no, it's not worth it and we're just keeping our jobs because we want to keep doing chemistry.*

*And much as I love chemistry, I love my family more.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Daily Pump Trap: 7/14/11 edition

Good morning! Between July 12 and 13, there were 9 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 1 (11%) is academically connected.

Brevard, NC: PharmAgra Labs is really looking for B.S./M.S./Ph.D. organic chemists. (cGMP synthesis experience desired.) Check out this one: "APPLICANT MUST BE AVAILABLE TO START WORK WITHIN 2 WEEKS OF OFFER."

Well, that's emphatic. I have a feeling there may be Chemjobber readers there, so it's gotta be an okay place, right?

UPDATE: David Kroll comments positively on Brevard, NC. "CJ, I see that you followed up on this post but let me just say here that Brevard is an absolutely gorgeous place with a great quality of life. If you're a chemist who is a fan of the outdoors (mountain biking, hiking, clean air), it's tough to beat Brevard on the East Coast. It's not quite high enough to be above the mosquitoes (only 2,231 ft above sea level) but it'll have fewer bugs than where I am in the Research Triangle. You're also only 45 min to the very hip town of Asheville and only 30 min to their airport (which has major airline service).

I'd also add that being in the state and networking with the NC chemistry community might improve one's chances of moving to a chem job with a bigger entity down the road. Moreover, nearby UNC-Asheville and Western Carolina University (in Cullowhee) have a good chemistry programs and are likely to be another source of connections for future jobs and current relationships with academia."

Cleveland, OH: The Lubrizol Corporation desires a M.S./Ph.D. mass spectrometrist; 5+ years experience desired.

Long Island, NY: Pall is a company designing ultra-filtration membranes; they're looking for a Ph.D. chemist with 4+ years experiences.

Chicago, IL: Wrigley is looking for a Ph.D. polymer/organic chemist; 1-3 years experience is necessarily, 5 is desired.

Broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 304, 652, 3,678 and 75 positions for the search term "chemist."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Who's missing? Big Pharma, that's who.

To the left, the ACS Career Fair (August 28-31!) invitation I received this morning.

I see Clorox, DuPont, Gilead, Infineum, Smithers, Vertex, PPG, BASF and USPTO.

I don't see the traditional pharma companies (are Gilead or Vertex Big Pharma? Sort of, I suppose.)

Assertion: the next generation of chemists will be much less pharma-centric than previous generations...

Process Wednesday: a synthetic challenge from th'Gaussling

Credit: Wikipedia
From th'Gaussling, an interesting research question for someone:
What has to change is the economics of manufacturing in the USA. One way to do this is automated synthesis.  A good example of a problem:  How would one automate the synthesis of an OLED chemical like 1 MT of 8-hydroxyquinoline? This is an existing item of commerce, so entry into the market means taking share from someone else. You’ll probably have to best the market price by 10 % at minimum to induce someone to switch vendors.  
The chemistry isn’t cutting edge, but the processing economics may be. This is an example of how entrepreneurialism can and should  tackle manufacturing problems and gain a competitive edge. Since labor cost is a huge driver, find a way to shave off labor. An entrepreneur’s competitive edge may be process cost savings alone. You don’t have to wait for a scientific paradigm shift.
Considering the synthetic details (that I've seen so far) include a Skraup reaction, I'm not quite sure how you might automate the process, but I'm guessing it could be done. Hmmmmmm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good news / bad news

It's time for the 2nd installment of Chemjobber's Good News / Bad News, where we try to discern where the heck the economy is headed:

The Good News: For the first time this year, a company has run a full-page color employment ad in Chemical and Engineering News. Last week, BASF ran a full-pager, looking for someone to run some obscure abbreviated division (PAP? PPA? APP?)

The Bad News: Paul Hodges points out that global chemical capacity is not exactly being used at the moment:

Paul Hodges, Chemicals and the Economy

Oh, dear. (Things don't look very good these days, do they?)

Daily Pump Trap: 7/12/11 edition

Good morning! Between July 7 and July 11, there have been 92 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of those, 3 (3%) are academically connected. and 1 is from Kelly Scientific Resources:

MERRRRRRRRCK!: 69 (83%) of the jobs posted were posted by Merck; there are a few science-related positions and more than a few not. I like the Russian sales positions, myself.

Salt Lake City, Utah: Parker is searching for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience in polyurethane research; "Previous research in anti-microbial formulations, fluorine chemistry and other polymer synthesis a plus."

Big Pharma: Abbott is looking for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist with 3-6 years experience; Hit-to-Lead experience is essential. Sounds good for somebody!

For the chemical engineers: Aspen Aerogels wishes to hire a B.S.+ chemical engineer with experience with sol-gel processing; their facility is outside Boston, MA.

Zeroes!: Promega Biosciences is looking for Ph.D. organic chemists with 0-3 years experience; knowledge of fluorescence and bioconjugation is desired.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How should you handle a 'golden child'?

This kid could activate C-H bonds on a
pyrrolidine? That's amazing! I'll travel to Tibet
for her! Photo credit: Wikipedia
With all the Bengu Sezen fuss, I'm terribly amused by the talk of a 'golden child' that can do no wrong. A couple comments from an "In the Pipeline" thread:
Anonymous: I have personally seen the golden child phenomenon in two different companies. The golden child could do no wrong and anyone who commented about the number of choice projects he got or complained about the way he treated his colleagues in public, was instantly persona non grata. I don't know how much fraud took place but plagiarism? Definitely. Golden children have a way of eliminating their competition. The guy in charge relies on them to their detriment. 
Fact-driven: I had a similar experience at Harvard. My sneaky former colleague did a "copy & paste" job to get surprising data. He told me the boss would not happy if the data is not impressive, and I could not say the truth but showed the real result. I was one of the low-evaluated post-doc by the boss. In the end the boss asked other friend to repeat the experiment and my result was proven the fact. Sames cannot be free from the fraud.
I've never really worked with a true 'golden child' (i.e. can do no wrong, cannot be criticized, etc.) I've certainly worked in groups where there was a 'favorite', but the boss didn't allow the balance to be tipped to far in their direction (and also the boss wasn't afraid to remind everyone who was in charge.) I've also worked in environments where it was difficult to take credit for other people's work (and people didn't mind sharing credit, either.)

It's a phenomenon that's common enough that I think it would be educational to know what to do in those situations. While I've been sitting here trying to come up with a good answer, I think the best advice is: don't get into a situation where there's a lab member who can 'do no wrong.' (Other tips might be: don't cross the golden child if you don't have to and do good science no matter what. Lame, I know.)

Readers, clearly Bengu was the worst sort of golden child -- what are your golden child stories?

What seemed to be the biggest worry at NOS2011? #Chemjobs

Carmen Drahl's article in this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News had quite a bit to say about everyone's favorite topic:
In a talk describing improvements in the industrial-scale route to the diabetes medication Januvia, Joseph D. Armstrong III, senior director for RNAi and discovery process chemistry at Merck Research Laboratories, echoed the call for more work in catalysis because of the accompanying potential for waste reduction. "The footprint of pharma is shrinking, but there will be opportunities in green chemistry and green technology," he said. [snip]
However, some chemists at the meeting wanted to go beyond abstract research opportunities and discuss the concrete reality of the economy. After [Pfizer worldwide head of medicinal chemistry Tony] Wood's talk, University of Delaware adjunct professor Albert S. Matlack stood to say that "many of us are disappointed" with downsizing in the industry, prompting applause from attendees. 
"There's one thing on the minds of the 16,000 chemists in the Organic Chemistry Division—where are the jobs going to be in a few years?" said University of Pennsylvania professor Marisa C. Kozlowski during her introduction of materials-focused chemists Coates and Colin Nuckolls of Columbia University. 
"Jobs are what everyone is talking about. If you listen at poster sessions, there's a lot of discussion about what folks' plans are," Kozlowski, a member of ORGN's executive committee, told C&EN. "There is so much angst among so much talent." 
Because of layoffs in the pharmaceutical industry "the landscape of employment in organic chemistry in this country has changed, and it's not clear whether that's permanent or not," Kozlowski said. The speakers at NOS can't change the economy single-handedly, but the inclusion of talks focused on materials and green chemistry makes it clear that organic chemistry is useful outside the traditional employment channels, Kozlowski said.
I could be wrong, but I don't think that there are enough jobs in green and materials chemistry to sop up all the unemployed chemists, but pushing people out of the traditional pharma pipeline (and away from total-synthesis-oriented organic chemistry and towards methodology) may be a good thing. We shall see.

Best wishes to all of us.

P.S. This article brings us the 2nd organic professor in the past 2 years to directly confront #chemjobs issues on the record: Michael Doyle at Maryland and Marisa Kozlowski at Penn. Will more professors stand up with them?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pop quiz

Here's SeeArrOh and CJ's job application for a position at Sapling Learning (online chemistry education):

1. Math Skills: The volume of a cylinder 8 meters high, with diameter 3 m, is?

a. Wait, is it a liquid or a solid?
b. Easy.  Integrate pi * (1.5)^2 over from 0-8xdx
c. I'm a chemist.  All higher math skills past algebra are gone.

2. Compound ID: Mystery compound has one signal at -49 ppm by 19F, an m/z of 2896.4, and 137 signals by 13C.  What is it?

a. Mono-Mosher's ester of palytoxin.
b. Some polymer.  I dunno.  Will this be on the test?

3. Lab: If a hot plate you are using suddenly stops working, what do you do?

a. Blame your lab partner.
b. Hit it with a wrench.
c. Turn it off, then on again.  Or buy a new one.

4. Social Interaction: You'd like to propose to that special someone, but how?

a. Flowers, chocolates, and a diamond ring.
b. Sailing out on the harbor, soft music, at sunset.
c. Ask her to wait another three years until you finish school, then a "quick" postdoc, and then save up the money.

5. Ethics: Katey is a first-year synthetic graduate student. While trying to set up an E2 elimination, Katey realizes that the group no longer has any KOtBu, and her solvent is too wet without prior distillation. Should Katey:

a. Order the reagents next day and cancel her plans tonight to set up the distillation?
b. Steal from another group's supplies?
c. Go home and think about Law School?

6. Safety: If you see a fellow student setting up an unsafe reaction, you should:

a. kindly inform them of their mistakes.
b. yell at them until they change their ways.
c. find a good seat to watch the show.

7. Stoichiometry: You're setting up the TBS protection of a secondary alcohol. How much imidazole should you add?

a. 0.9 equivalents.
b. 1.1 equivalents -- it's just to mop up the HCl generated.
c. Just keep addin'.

8. Research Integrity: You can't reproduce a key experiment. You should:

a. try the experiment again.
b. slink away, and not tell anyone.
c. publish the most optimistic result and hope for the best.

9. Mechanism: You can't explain a mechanism without catalytic amounts of water. You should:

a. Karl-Fischer your solvents.
b. Ignore the result -- nothing's really that dry, is it?
c. Assume endogenous water.

10. Safety: You're really hungry and you need a key result before group meeting. You should:

a. get that reaction set up, and then go eat.
b. eat at your desk, next to your hood.
c. Run the column with one hand while munching on your cheeseburger with the other.

Key: Of course, all c, baby.

BREAKING: Unemployment up 0.1%, U6 unemployment up 0.4%

Fresh electrons from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the unemployment rate for June was 9.2%, up 0.1% from May. The broader U6 unemployment rate is up 0.4% to 16.2%. 

We've got a long road ahead, folks. 

The real victims

From C&EN's coverage of the FOIA'd NIH ORI and Columbia report on the travails of Bengu Sezen:
Worse, the reports document the toll on other young scientists who worked with Sezen: “Members of the [redacted] expended considerable time attempting to reproduce Respondent’s results. The Committee found that the wasted time and effort, and the onus of not being able to reproduce the work, had a severe negative impact on the graduate careers of three (3) of those students, two of whom [redacted] were asked to leave the [redacted] and one of whom decided to leave after her second year.” 
In this matter, the reports echo sources from inside the Sames lab who spoke with C&EN under conditions of anonymity when the case first became public in 2006. These sources described Sezen as Sames’ “golden child,” a brilliant student favored by a mentor who believed that her intellect and laboratory acumen provoked the envy of others in his research group. They said it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Sames retaliated when other members of his group questioned the validity of Sezen’s work. 
Attempts to reach Sezen for reaction to the detailed reports have been unsuccessful. Sames also has not responded to requests for comment. 
It's my sincere hope that the graduate students who left Columbia or the Sames group have found a better life elsewhere. The offered explanatory letter from the chair of the Columbia chemistry department (in addendum to any previous letters of recommendation) just does not seem like enough.

How does Columbia make them whole?

P.S. Go over to Paul's and just keep reading.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I don't think you meant to do that

From an astute reader, something from this month's ACS Career News e-newsletter:
Screenshot of this morning's ACS Career News e-newsletter, with CJ's comment
The joke, of course, is that The Daily Pioneer is an Indian newspaper. Indeed, chemistry is probably a lucrative career option there. Here, maybe less so in the future.

Daily Pump Trap: 7/7/11 edition

Good morning! Between July 5 and July 6, there have been 14 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 5 (36%) are academically connected.

Bleach FTW: Clorox just posted 6 positions for Ph.D. chemists to become R&D scientists; they're really pushing their quality of life in the Bay Area. Interesting. 

Like a pancake? Maybe: Nanoscale Corporation is in Manhattan, Kansas; they desire a Ph.D. inorganic chemist with over ten years experience. Hmm -- wonder what the salary is?

Good luck with that one: ScinoPharm Taiwan Ltd. is looking for a compliance manager. 10+ years experience is desired; sounds like the position might be in Taiwan, with oversight functions for their Chinese facility. "Telecommuting is allowed." Really?

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 304, 598, 3,533 and 85 positions for the search term "chemist."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tenure denial, from the spouse's point of view

I've been a longtime reader of Daniel Drezner, a professor of international relations at Tufts University. He was rejected for tenure at the University of Chicago; he and his wife write an essay 5 years after his denial. It's naturally fairly bittersweet, but I am a bit surprised at the somewhat vehement comment about Chicago his wife makes:
Things turned out well for us. We were lucky—my husband found a job, with tenure, and we moved to Boston, which just happens to be my favorite city. Our kids were young enough to move without much difficulty. I know that other people have had it a lot harder. They've struggled to find work, relocated to less desirable places, and have painfully disrupted family life. This is particularly difficult for couples in which both are academics. Those of us in more "portable" careers should be grateful to have avoided the two-body problem. 
By the time we left Chicago, almost nine months after my husband's tenure decision, I was ready to leave Hyde Park behind and never look back. Whatever love I had for the place and for the university was gone. I have no nostalgia for the time we lived there. I am glad I no longer live in Chicago. I am happier here in Boston. And because of that, I look at the tenure episode as a hard time we had to endure to get to a better place. And it may be the same for any spouse or partner. Once you have unpacked, settled in, found yourself a good book group, a gym, a place to get coffee, once the kids are back in school and have made friends, once the new place feels like home, you may think, "This is better." A lot of the hurt will have subsided.
Denial of tenure in the chemistry world seems to be relatively rare -- that being said, it certainly hurts just as much (I would assume, since I've never attempted to be a professor.) I assume that it hurts the spouse as well, but for different reasons.

I imagine that spouses of laid-off pharma workers may feel the same way about Groton or Rahway or Pearl River, although I assume that the hurt of a tenure denial and the hurt of a layoff are a little bit different (in that tenure denial is typically made by people who you actually know, as is mentioned in the article.)

Best wishes to all of us.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chart of the week: chemical employment over the last ten years

Table credit: Chemical and Engineering News
From this week's issue of C&EN comes the employment facts and figures. It is worth pondering that, excepting pharmaceuticals, every single other sector of the industrial chemistry world  has lost workers over the last ten years.

It is interesting to note that with all the sturm und drang of the pharma world (mergers, layoffs and the like), the industry has seen a 0.1% increase in employment over the last 10 years. I would pay serious money to know what a similar chart for pharma research chemists would be like.

Happy Tuesday (sort of.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 7/5/11 edition

Good morning! Between June 30 and July 4, there were 12 positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 1 (8%) was academically connected.

Excipients experts wanted: The United States Pharmacopeia is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience running USP tests to work in the excipients department.

Hmmm: The Public Health Command at Aberdeen Proving Grounds is looking for a supervisory chemist. It's certainly a healthy salary for being a group leader.

Well, that's interesting: Vertex is looking for (it appears) a full-time B.S./M.S./Ph.D process chemist; interesting how it has come to this, after posting many, many temporary process chemist positions.

You again: Sapling Learning (yes, the online education people) are looking for M.S./Ph.D. chemists to generate homework and test questions for them. Looks like you'll live in Austin.

Late to the party: Lawrence Berkeley Nationals Labs is looking for Ph.D. electrochemists for work on battery electrolytes. Dude, you guys are a year late to the party -- unless you're looking for postdocs or newly minted Ph.D.s (nothing wrong with that), you're not getting anybody experienced. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

For those in the US, happy Independence Day. For those outside the US, happy Monday!

(Back tomorrow)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Q: What do you call 9,000 lawyers who graduated from New York?

Credit: Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc.
A: Moving truck renters.

Via Ezra Klein comes this interesting study by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. For each state, they compare the number of available positions, the number of bar exam passers and the number of law school graduates. They found that there weren't any states that had more job openings than bar exam passers (not a real surprise.)

I'm terribly curious as to what a similar study of Ph.D. chemists would show; I suspect that we'd see a similar trend, although I suspect that there are certain states (in the Mountain West, perhaps?) where there is a balance of openings versus graduates (1 opening a year, 2-3 graduates?) 

How should you handle a 'golden child'?

This kid could activate C-H bonds on a
pyrrolidine? That's amazing! I'll travel to Tibet
for her! Photo credit: Wikipedia
With all the Bengu Sezen fuss, I'm terribly amused by the talk of a 'golden child' that can do no wrong. A couple comments from an "In the Pipeline" thread:
Anonymous: I have personally seen the golden child phenomenon in two different companies. The golden child could do no wrong and anyone who commented about the number of choice projects he got or complained about the way he treated his colleagues in public, was instantly persona non grata. I don't know how much fraud took place but plagiarism? Definitely. Golden children have a way of eliminating their competition. The guy in charge relies on them to their detriment. 
Fact-driven: I had a similar experience at Harvard. My sneaky former colleague did a "copy & paste" job to get surprising data. He told me the boss would not happy if the data is not impressive, and I could not say the truth but showed the real result. I was one of the low-evaluated post-doc by the boss. In the end the boss asked other friend to repeat the experiment and my result was proven the fact. Sames cannot be free from the fraud.
I've never really worked with a true 'golden child' (i.e. can do no wrong, cannot be criticized, etc.) I've certainly worked in groups where there was a 'favorite', but the boss didn't allow the balance to be tipped to far in their direction (and also the boss wasn't afraid to remind everyone who was in charge.) I've also worked in environments where it was difficult to take credit for other people's work (and people didn't mind sharing credit, either.)

It's a phenomenon that's common enough that I think it would be educational to know what to do in those situations. While I've been sitting here trying to come up with a good answer, I think the best advice is: don't get into a situation where there's a lab member who can 'do no wrong.' (Other tips might be: don't cross the golden child if you don't have to and do good science no matter what. Lame, I know.)

Readers, clearly Bengu was the worst sort of golden child -- what are your golden child stories?