Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shortage of engineers? The President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness thinks so...

From Paul Otellini, a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (and the CEO of Intel):
A chronic shortage of engineering students threatens America’s role as the world’s leading innovator and continues to impede our nation’s fragile economic recovery. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of engineers graduating in the United States has stagnated, while India and China surpass us with rapid progress... 
The council’s high-tech education task force is focused on programs that will yield 10,000 more engineering graduates in the United States each year and begin to address the long-term threat of our nation’s growing skills crisis. This goal requires a commitment, starting at the top, from of all U.S. firms that employ engineers... 
Education Department data show that overall college graduation levels the past two decades have grown about 50 percent, with the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded increasing from 1.1 million in 1990 to 1.6 million in 2010. During that same period, however, the National Center for Education Statistics has found that the number of engineers U.S. colleges and universities annually send into the workforce has virtually stagnated at around 120,000. By contrast, roughly 1 million engineers a year graduate from universities in India and China. This education disparity threatens to slow our economic recovery, stunts our long-term competitiveness and leaves technology firms in a skills crisis... 
In the coming months, the task force will roll out critical elements for success — a plan for direct student engagement and university incentives, and the formation of a consortium of companies committed to making a difference. The President’s Jobs Council plans to hold a listening-and-action session in Portland, Ore., at the end of this month at which deans from America’s top engineering colleges, students pursuing degrees in math and science, and representatives from innovative U.S. companies can share perspectives and determine next steps.

I honestly don't know if there's a shortage of engineers in this country. But I am skeptical of this talk, very skeptical. 

ACS Career Fair numbers from #ACSDenver

Reported to the ACS Council on August 30:

ACS Career Fair (Denver):

Job seekers: 765
Employers: 51
Recruiters Row employers: 16
Job openings: 261

ACS Virtual Career Fair: 

Job seekers / registrants: 3,925
Employers: 14
Job openings: 362

Process Wednesday: Murphy's law

This is how I've always pictured Murphy.
Photo credit:
From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson, a comment about the pitfalls of scaleup and workups:
TIP: According to Murphy's Law, whatever can go wrong, will. Plan scale-up operations as though Murphy's Law is true. [snip] 
Close attention must be paid to heterogeneous conditions that occur during during workup and isolation. Thorough extraction of by-products from rich phase into a second phase may not occur if agitation is poor. Residues left in a kettle from a prior extraction, e.g., saturated brine drained away from a rich extract, may contaminate the product. An insufficient settling time may lead to an incomplete phase split, and impurities carried over in the emulsion may contaminate the product. An aqueous wash could be hung up in an invisible spot (e.g. a dip leg or a hose that was not flushed properly) and contaminate the rich extract. Uneven application of cake washes can lead to inhomogeneous product. Uneven heating during drying can lead to localized decomposition. 
I shudder at the possibilities of things that can go wrong during workup, isolation and drying*. It's not real reality until the HPLC comes back clean after the very, very, very last step and the FedEx van is pulling away.

*I once saw a Murphy-possessed drying oven go haywire (even though it was off) and shoot the temperature way past the m.p. of final compound. Not a good feeling at all to come back to a funny smell and brown goo.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ACS Career Fair white board at #ACSDenver: 250 positions

Photo credit: Tha' Dogg
Thanks to our intrepid correspondent, we have a picture of the ACS Career Fair white board:

Employers: 51
Positions open: 250
Job seekers: 671

Higher than ACS Anaheim on the employment side, higher on the job openings side, too. Ratio of job seekers to open is better, too. Good news?

Good luck to all of those seeking positions in Denver!

Daily Pump Trap: 8/30/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 25 and August 29, 411 new positions were posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 29 (7%) were academically connected.

Denver ACS: 226 positions for the ACS Career Fair, 26 positions for the Virtual Career Fair.

KELLY: Wow. Talk about back with a vengeance. Our old friend, Kelly Scientific Resources, back with a slew of scientific positions or ('postion', as Kelly would have it.) They posted 291 jobs (71%).

Some of these positions are legit, like a $25/hour B.S. synthetic chemist position in Indianapolis. Some of them, are not really what a society where >60% of members have a Ph.D. are looking for, like a "QC Food Technician - 2nd/3rd Shift" or a B.S. lactic acid culture scientist job or a manufacturing operator opening or a sanitation supervisor position.

In an e-mail this morning, the Virtual Career Fair team notes, "Companies such as Aerotek, Kelly Scientific Resources, and Lab Support are scientific staffing agencies, and they represent many different employers and jobs. They often have a variety of opportunities such as full-time, part-time, temporary and contracting. Kelly Scientific alone has 290 jobs and 10 staff available (staggered throughout the two days)."

BAM: BASF, with 32 positions. Nice!

CA-NA-DA: Transzyme Pharma has long advertised in ACS Careers. They're looking for Ph.D. medicinal chemists, 0-5 years experience. It's time to return home, Canucks!

Smoke 'em if you got 'em: R.J. Reynolds is looking for a M.S. organic chemist for an applied materials position. IN-teresting. Good lookin' pay.

Little lost lamb: North Dakota State is looking for a IT manager here. Huh? 

Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 Virtual Career Fair

Lots of employment related seminars/webinars at #ACSDenver Tuesday and Wednesday:

There are some interesting ones to be seen from some industry and academic leaders, including George Whitesides on innovation -- I'll try to catch the recordings tonight and see what I can hear about.

Altruism and job clubs -- ACS answering #chemjobs issues

In this morning's C&EN, there is a comment from Valerie Kuck, an ACS Director-At-Large about what ACS can do to help its members find #chemjobs:
At the American Chemical Society, we’re not just concerned about jobs, we’re doing something about them—helping our members find work, develop new job opportunities, and reinvigorate the economy.... With U.S. unemployment standing at more than 9%, more than 14 million Americans are out of work. And these figures do not include 8.6 million involuntary part-time workers (that is, individuals working part-time because their hours were cut or they were unable to find a full-time job) or 2.7 million people marginally attached to the labor force... 
Chemical workers have fared better than others, with a national unemployment rate of 3.8%. However, that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. As Lisa M. Balbes explained in her Comment (C&EN, Aug. 15, page 38), recent graduates in chemistry and chemical engineering are finding it particularly tough to land their first placements. Unfortunately, some have even given up on a career in chemistry, which is disheartening for all of us, because new talent brings new ideas and new vitality to the field. [snip] 
If you are currently unemployed, especially if you’re in a region where the job market is particularly poor, we urge you to form a job club if one is not currently up and running in your area. A job club enables you to form a strong support network. Members look out for each other, pass along leads, and offer constructive advice. Job clubs also create greater efficiency and economies of scale. Individual members can be assigned to investigate employment prospects for particular companies or job sectors and then report back to the club. By working together and pooling resources, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
Your efforts will make a difference. Bill Suits, a retired chemist and active ACS career consultant, for example, has been working with Careers in Transition, a job club sponsored by the North Jersey Section of ACS. Suits not only participates in the club’s monthly meetings, but he also provides one-on-one coaching sessions to help local ACS members build their networks, prepare targeted résumés, improve their interviewing skills, identify job opportunities, and design comprehensive career plans. According to Suits, “Over 50% of jobs are hidden.” Helping people in his local area land those hidden jobs has become his mission. Find out more about Careers in Transition at
While it's nice that #chemjobs issues have finally begun pushing their way to the forefront of ACS issues, I find a few things to comment upon:

The numbers: Ms. Kuck quotes the statistics about ACS member unemployment as faring better than the national average at 3.8%. However, she fails to mention that this statistic marks the 2nd worst unemployment rate measured by the ACS Salary Survey in the last twenty years, behind only 2009's 3.9%. I would think that would be more relevant than a comparison to the general unemployment rate.

Altruism as the ACS' helper?: While in general, I support the idea of offering a forum for people to post job leads, I find it relatively unlikely that folks will do the following:
First, please post any job leads you have at Second, get in touch with ACS local sections and ACS technical divisions to let them know about these job opportunities... Select the division that is most aligned with the open jobs that you’ve identified, contact the division chair, and share your valuable information. 
It's my guess that most people will use job leads to help their friends and work associates, former colleagues, classmates, etc in that order. Can we expect people to skip that priority list and go straight to Paying It Forward? I note that, as of the site going live for 3 weeks, not a single actual job lead has been posted. Are the division chairs prepared to help their members? What actual steps are the division chairs going to take, once they receive this information?

Job club skepticism: Outside of the Paying It Forward forum, it appears that part of ACS' response is the encouragement (or sponsorship?) of job clubs. While I have nothing against the concept, I'm relatively skeptical about the idea; that said, I was reading in "What Color Is Your Parachute?"* yesterday that job clubs have a relatively high degree of success (>75%) in helping people find positions. While that statistic is painfully unsourced in the book, it's at least one pseudo-data point in support. I don't doubt that the support system / networking opportunity is a good one, though.

Best wishes to all of us.

*I should note that I'm not an Amazon affiliate, just yet. If you purchase that book from this link, I don't get anything. :-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

In all sincerity... wishes and prayers to those who are going to ride out the hurricane.

(While I don't wish to be alarmist, enough of this blog's readership is in the affected areas that I thought it appropriate to say something. I'm sure all will be well.) 

Handwritten structures

What's wrong with that phosphorus, anyway? 
One of the most charming things about Carmen Drahl's posts on The Haystack is her photos of handwritten structures. For example, here are her structures for her article on anesthetics in this week's Chemical and Engineering news.

A chemist's structures, while adhering to the "1996 ACS" Chemdraw style (or whatever it's called) cannot help but be a signature of sorts. I've written up Carmen's structures to show the differences (hers are a lot neater and some of my bond angles are funny.)

Readers, critique my bond angles!... and have a good weekend! 

Senior Dow manager writes on #chemjobs

In this month's Nature Chemistry, there's a series of commentaries, including an article titled "The changing landscape of careers in the chemical industry", by Keith J. Watson. Dr. Watson is a senior director at Dow Chemical Company in Midland, MI. While I find his article to be at least a little grim, I think it offers some good advice to the aspiring industrial chemist. I quote extensively below, because I feel some of his advice is quite important.

The Grim: While it's not DOOOOOOMing, Watson is pretty clear about the changes to the structure of the industry:
The transition from graduate school to a large company's central research organization has traditionally been a common and straightforward way for top graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to become industrial chemists. However, because speciality chemical investments tend to create products with shorter life cycles, and traditional long-term research has focused on feedstock refining and associated processes, many large companies are either reducing their investments in central research or applying significantly more rigorous business assessment to existing projects. [snip] 
Research budgets have become more focused on near-term business activities, and it is more common to have dispersed researchers embedded within business units than in previous eras. The 'not invented here' syndrome, defined as a mistrust of technologies that haven't been developed in-house, has been replaced with active external research arms that scour universities and start-ups for technologies that have already been significantly de-risked. [snip] 
In addition, instead of Western universities attracting the best of the best from around the world by default, more top talent candidates are staying in their home countries to obtain their graduate degrees. Big chemical companies have responded in kind, opening up state-of-the-art research facilities in countries such as China, India and Brazil. As manufacturing has been transferred to where feedstocks are available, stable and comparatively cheap, in many cases so has the accompanying research. The need to have research in close proximity to manufacturing is often not fully understood. Cycle times for the development and implementation of new technologies are shorter when researchers and operational engineers work together in person.
None of this makes me happy; much of this points to instability, uncertainty and no clear increase in jobs for chemists in the US or Western Europe. That being said, there's no percentage in leaving your head in the sand about these changes.

Counter to many articles about #chemjobs, Watson has some very specific skills that any scientist that is committed to their career can attempt to learn almost immediately. The bold headers are my own:
Keep learning: "Industrial chemists can expect to work on dozens of technologies during their careers. Although a certain amount of mastery of a single discipline is needed to complete a dissertation, it is important that potential industrial chemists demonstrate that they are willing and able to learn new technologies. There are several ways to demonstrate this competency to potential employers, including learning and mastering the research of other professors within one's department. Another approach is to learn a new area of research every 6–12 months. This can be accomplished by investigating and reading the leading literature in the area, or by participating in a different, focused conference outside of one's speciality every year. Whatever the approach, the value that can be derived from diversification is significant."
P-Chem FTW: "The surest way to demonstrate the ability to become a technical generalist is to master the fundamentals. Basic thermodynamics, kinetics and engineering skills will always prove useful — much more so than specific knowledge of narrow fields that happen to be in vogue today. These foundational skills form the basis of all future learning, and can often be overlooked in the rush to specialize."
Project management skills: "Understanding the concepts of the critical path, resource management and stakeholder analysis are important in many aspects of life. In an ideal world, graduate schools would require formal project-management training for graduation. Without this, candidates would be well-advised to learn project management on their own, and treat activities like writing papers or dissertations as formal projects. As a rule, any set of activities that takes more than two–three hours of dedicated work should get at least 20 minutes of planning, including a detailed and thorough answer to the following four questions: What is success? What is needed for success? What is currently rate-limiting? What resources are already available?"
Watson also talks about the ability to understand finance and communicate to non-scientists (like senior managers, government regulators and investors.) He suggests learning other languages and being willing to travel globally for work. I'll note that Dr. Watson ends oddly with a section on paying attention to one's 'personal brand.' While I think there is real value for journalists and other more obviously individual endeavors to rely heavily on this concept*, I find the concept ill-defined and potentially ill-fitting for the more collaborative environment of industrial science.

Overall, I found Dr. Watson's article to be important and informative about the changes chemists face and the things that both potential and current industrial chemists can do to adapt to them. I'll probably be revisiting the article and mulling over some of the specific passages. I strongly encourage you to read it (and, as always, to leave your thoughts in the comments.)

*For journalists, it makes a lot of sense -- I followed William Langewiesche from The Atlantic Monthly to Vanity Fair because of the types of articles he writes, a.k.a. his personal brand. I'm not quite sure how a chemist is supposed to develop one and what it means to do so. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: business development

This week's chapter in "Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry"* is on business development. I've never been quite sure what that means, so I'm glad Lisa Balbes has provided a description:
Business development focuses on implementing a strategic business plan through equity financing; acquisition or divestiture of technologies, products and companies, and establishment of strategic partnerships where appropriate.
I enjoyed reading about Jennifer, a director of corporate development who started out as a Ph.D. computational chemist and slowly moved into the business side of the company:
Jennifer ended up approaching Amphora's management with a proposal. They wanted to extend her part-time contract, and she agreed, on the conditions that they let her volunteer time in their business-development department, thus allowing her to learn the ropes and make the lateral move. The plan got off to a slow start because the company is headquartered in Research Triangle Park, NC, and she worked in the satellite office in California  but her responsibilities grew, and she eventually joined the company full-time as the executive director of corporate development.  
Jennifer sums up her job, saying, "I facilitate the progression of partnering and licensing discussions from beginning to end, with the goal of bringing revenue into the company. My scientific skills continue to serve me well every day. For one thing, I have a good relationship with the scientists in the company and can act as a liaison between them and our business people. I'm also able to provide more technical evaluation of external opportunities that come our way." 
It strikes me, reading this chapter, that business development is probably one of the stronger careers for mid-career chemists to consider. It also strikes me that these positions require many of the 'soft skills' that are somewhat less emphasized in the science world.

The take home message for those who want to consider business development? "The most important personality trait needed is the ability to form relationships -- this is crucial. People want to work with people they like and trust, and the bigger the deal, the more important this becomes."

*As always, CJ's copy of the book helpfully provided by the author, Dr. Lisa Balbes.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/25/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 23 and 24, there were 39 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 7 (18%) were academically connected.

Denver ACS: 189 positions for the ACS Career Fair, 11 for the Virtual Career Fair.

Who do you want?: Monsanto (St. Louis, MO) is looking for 2 Ph.D. nucleic acid chemists. It's difficult to pin down exactly what they want, but I suspect that they're looking for someone who's a bit multidisciplinary. You'll be "[c]onduct[ing] basic research on the production, purification, modification, measurement and activity of nucleic acids." Experience: "Direct research experience focused on the analysis of nucleic acids from a chemical perspective."

Iselin, NJ: BASF desires a Ph.D. heterogenous catalysis chemist; "Demonstrated expertise in precious metal catalysis, inorganic oxide synthesis, and/or solid state chemistry. Experience related to combustion engines and catalyst testing is a strong plus."

Eff Dee Ay: The Food and Drug Administration has posted 4 postdoctoral fellow positions at their Silver Spring, MD facility. The pay starts at 70k, so at least you're covered there (I know that MD is a high cost of living area and that you're going to be handing that money right back, but...) The polymer chemist position looks interesting...

Columbia, MD: Mettler-Toledo (the balance company) is looking for a B.S. chemist to "detailed technical expertise for our Particle System Characterization (PSC) products, including FBRM (Focused Beam Reflectance Measurement) and PVM (Particle Vision and Measurement) technologies." Experience wanted "developing or working with precision instruments, process analytical technology, and/or related software used in the pharmaceutical or chemistry industries."

Perry, FL: Buckeye Technologies (a paper and absorbents manufacturer) is looking for a B.S. plant support/QC chemist, 0-5 years experience desired. This job sounds like a lot of fun for someone.

Lookit that: Vertex is finally posting a full-time Ph.D. process chemistry position; I sure hope that temp gets to apply! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Leak-detecting soap bubbles

A list of small, useful things (links):

Process Wednesday: trying the brute force approach

From Th'Gaussling, a reminder that the simple, direct approach can work, too:
Reaction chemistry (not including biochemical transformations!!) can be thought to occupy two broad domains- 1) low temperature, ambient pressure transformations with highly reactive species (preferably named after dead chemists), and 2) high pressure, high temperature transformations with lower reactive species. Most chemists fresh out of school know the former better than the latter. And that drives our problem solving strategies: Finding reactive intermediates that will react between -30 C and 150 C with a 5 lb nitrogen sweep in a kettle reactor. 
Sometimes, the dumber brute force approach is worth considering.  What can be done under pressure and at elevated temperature?  Or, what can be done at high temperature and short contact time?  That dusty Parr reactor sitting in the corner may be capable of a goodly bit of magic.  Behind a shield. It is good to visit the high temperature, high pressure world now and then. Of course, our engineering friends already know this. 
As far as the search for simplicity goes, consider what merits there may be in thermally driven transformations. Every once in a while it may be a viable avenue for something useful. Try thinking of heat as a kind of reagent. Chemical plants are good at producing heat.
I feel like some chemists attempt the brute force method, hoping to get lucky when they'll actually get a brown sludge. But there is real value in simplicity, especially in processes. It seems to me that the limitations of scaling up the brute force approach have to do with your equipment. If your vessels can't run reactions at high pressure or you're not willing to purchase/build a flow reactor, you can't go there.

Remember, when brute force fails, you're just not trying hard enough.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

They have a foot, they'll take a mile

...he might lower your wages.
Photo credit:
I was reading an economist the other day talking about the labor market and I saw this interesting summary of the situation by Robert Gordon, a Northwestern University economist:
When the economy begins to sink – like the Titanic after the iceberg struck – firms begin to cut costs any way they can; tossing employees overboard is the most direct way. For every worker tossed overboard in a sinking economy prior to 1986, about 1.5 are now tossed overboard. Why are firms so much more aggressive in cutting employment costs? My “disposable worker hypothesis” (Gordon, 2010) attributes this shift of behaviour to a complementary set of factors that amount to “workers are weak and management is strong.” The weakened bargaining position of workers is explained by the same set of four factors that underlie higher inequality among the bottom 90% of the American income distribution since the 1970s – weaker unions, a lower real minimum wage, competition from imports, and competition from low-skilled immigrants.
While I might quibble with some of Professor Gordon's analysis, I can't help but agree that "workers are weak and management is strong."  For the vast majority of employers, this shifting of power simply means lower wages and fewer benefits industry-wide. At the margins, however, there are a certain percentage of employers that will take advantage of their employees unfairly. Presumably, there's an even smaller percentage of even-more-marginal employers that will involve their employees in unethical activities and take advantage of their unwillingness to 'vote with their feet.'

I suspect that the only thing that workers can do is to inform themselves accordingly and be aware of the abuses that can take place when the labor market is weak. While "workers are aware" just doesn't have the same ring, it seems like the best tool at hand. 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/23/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 18 and August 22, there were 174 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 18 (10%) were academically connected and 1 (<1%) was from a temporary agency.

Good?: Even without our frenemies from Rahway, a heavy number today. Good news?

Denver ACS: 156 for the ACS Career Fair, 7 positions for the Virtual Career Fair.

MERCK: Good gravy, a ton of positions: 74 (43%) of them, including "Chef de produit — Animaux de Compagnie Job", which I sincerely hope means "Company Animal." Unfortunately, just one position for an Ph.D. organic chemist... in Ireland.

The Feds: The Food and Drug Administration desires a M.S./Ph.D. review chemist to perform the "evaluation of chemistry data submitted by industry in support of food additive and color additive petitions, generally recognized as safe (GRAS) notifications, and notifications of the intent to market new food contact substances and foods derived from genetically engineered plants." Hey, just don't take away my Yellow #5, eh? Pay looks okay.

Zeroes!: Gilead Sciences is looking for a B.S./M.S. research associate for medicinal chemistry; zero years experience okay.

Don't make 'em beg: Ebonite International (the company that makes bowling balls from polymer) is still looking for a research chemist -- c'mon, folks, this looks like a lot of fun.

Chemistry 5-0: The Queen's Medical Center (in Honolulu, HI) is looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist to perform PET research. A good niche job in a nice place.

Somerset, NJ: Apicore, LLC is looking for a QC/analytical chemist; no education requirements specified.

You again: Resodyn Corporation (Bozeman Butte, MT) has been looking for Ph.D. chemists on the ACS Careers site for many years; they're at it again, posting a position for a senior polymer coatings scientist. Ph.D with 5+ years experience in polymer coatings desired.

A new one: PCI Synthesis (Newburyport, MA) is looking for chemists -- they've posted 6 positions. Mostly analytical and synthetically-oriented. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Where to next? Dalian refuses a p-xylene plant

Nice skull, dudes! (Photo credit: Reuters)
C&EN also has a nice writeup  by Jean-Francois Tremblay of a recent successful protest of the citizenry of Dalian, China against a p-xylene plant:
Municipal authorities in Dalian, a city in northeast China, have ordered the closure of a recently built p-xylene plant after protests by local residents. The protests erupted a few days after waves from a tropical storm nearly swept through the facility, raising fears of an environmental disaster. In an Aug. 17 statement, the municipal government of Dalian said work to permanently close the p-xylene plant has already begun. The statement quotes the city’s mayor as saying that the safety of local citizens is paramount.  
The $1.5 billion plant belongs to Dalian-based Fujia Group. The company says the facility can produce up to 700,000 metric tons per year of p-xylene, a key raw material in polyester production. The plant, located about 20 miles from Dalian’s center, started operating in June 2009. Earlier this month, about 1,000 firefighters and Chinese army troops frantically worked to rebuild a dike around the plant after waves from tropical storm Muifa breached the barrier, Chinese state media reported. 
This close call with an environmental mishap prompted thousands of Dalian residents to take to the streets and demand the immediate closure of the plant. 
I find this story somewhat cheering, in the sense that the local governments in China are responding to public pressure, even in a dollars-and-cents issue like the siting of a chemical plant. p-Xylene is probably not all that toxic, but I'm not volunteering to put a plant in my backyard. People want jobs and industry, but they're not interested in the heavily polluted ones.

If they wanted to export all those R&D jobs back to the US, I'd be all for it, but I don't see that one happening. 'Twas ever thus. 

Talk to your congressman?

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a suggestion to help chemistry by talking to your congressperson, by Connie Murphy, chair of the ACS Committee On Chemistry & Public Affairs:
The first time I visited my congressman in Washington, D.C., to talk about science was an eye-opening experience. First, it was much easier to talk to him than I expected. It was a topic I cared about, and I came armed with printed data and an information package ACS had provided. I began by telling him I wanted to discuss innovation and American competitiveness. I explained the importance of science and math education in filling the pipeline of American innovators for the future, and I shared how investments in R&D today will more than pay for themselves with jobs and the taxes industry will pay on profits from new products. 
Surprisingly, my representative, who lives in Midland, Mich. (home to corporate headquarters and major research centers for both Dow Chemical and Dow Corning), said he was glad I came to talk to him because “people don’t talk to me about R&D.” I’m still amazed by that statement and was disappointed to hear a few years later from one of his legislative aides that science was still not a topic brought to their office very often.
I don't fancy that many CJ readers will be inspired to travel to Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, you may be interested in reading ACS' policy recommendations (fairly standard pro-business blah blah. Not too much about flooding the employment market with millions of Ph.D. chemists, as far as I could tell.)

I confess a little personal skepticism about the good it might do to talk to your elected representatives about one's problems. But Ms. Murphy has a point -- how often do scientists show up to lobby their representatives? Not very often, I'm guessing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Time for a silly video

It's been a long week and there's plenty of time for uh, (in the immortal words of uncle sam), general DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMing next week. (For a nasty reality check, see Paul Hodges.)

Instead, check out these kids pulling a really long TLC spotter.

This is a little silly, but seriously, it's one of the most therapeutic things to do in the world. Everything fades away in the light of that awesome heat.

See you on Monday. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: sales and marketing

This week's chapter in "Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry"* is on sales and marketing people. It's a fairly interesting set of profiles in this one, including an Aldrich technical sales representative, a managing director for a scientific equipment firm and an executive director for Accelrys. An interesting quote from the chapter on the demographics of sales types:
Many chemical manufacturing companies hire as many BS chemist for sales positions as they do for laboratory positions (about 60% of all chemical-sales people have a degree in chemistry), and for someone of them the first time they consider sales as a career is when the position is offered to them. An advanced degree is often an advantage, especially for more complex products, as it provides instant credibility with potential customers.
What might you be doing as a scientific salesperson? Try this on for size:
According to Ted, "A typical sales call goes like this: Meet the customer. Small talk. Discuss current and previous projects. Update database if any information has changes, especially new hires and changes to personnel. Ask what is the company doing. What projects are being worked on, and what problems are they having? Is there something we have that may solve their problem? Can we talk to the engineer who is designing the project and get him to specify our equipment in the plans? That means that when it come time for the contractor to actually bid the job, he has to buy our products. These days most engineers are reluctant to specify one vendor exclusively, but it is always good to make sure you are at least on the list of possibilities." 
 As a dedicated introvert, I have no interest in meeting new people and asking if they might be willing to do business. But my thoughts have always been: more power to them -- if the sales people at my company eat well, I eat well.

*As always, CJ's copy of the book helpfully provided by the author, Dr. Lisa Balbes.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/18/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 16 and 17, there were 29 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (14%) were academically connected. 5 positions (17%) were posted for Asian employers.

Milwaukee, WI: Aldrich posted an opening for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with experience in analytical chemistry or materials science at its polymer center of excellence.

Torrance, CA: Medical Chemical Corporation is looking for 2 B.S. chemists for production-oriented positions. Experience not imperative.

Gardena, CA: Spectrum Laboratory Products seeks a B.S. chemist for a QC position; 1-3 years experience desired.

Delaware: DuPont seeks entry-level Ph.D. polymer chemists. You must apply here.

Fly-by-nite?: Zyomic seeks regional sales representatives, claiming 85-200k/yr pay. Check out this ad copy:
"Outsourced sales organization, our model is different than a manufacturer representative model, we keep the product portfolio specific to the individual and the client. This allows better focus and helps strategically in the sales representative's territory. It also builds a better relationship with the principal client. Products: **** Are from a large, well-respected company, which Include Liquid Chromatography (LC), Fluorescent Spectrometers (Fl), UV-Visible Spectrometers (UV), and Surface Plasmo [sic - CJ] Resonance (SPR). Position: *** This is a straight 10% commission position, income is uncapped. *** Technical support & Training will come from the principal company. *** We pay on orders, not shipments. *** This position is for a sales representative who wants to make money. *** We are a professional sales company looking for self-starting entrepreneurs. If this fits your style, we are the place for you. Capital equipment sales a plus, as well as analytical science experience."
Yeah, I'm trusting you guys, yeah...

Broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 318, 697, 3803 and 77 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Salary quintiles from the 2005 ACS ChemCensus

Apropos of some discussion of salaries on Twitter and in the comments, I dug around until I found what I wanted, which is the salary comparison of both academic and industrial chemists by education, experience and quartiles/quintiles. This data is thanks to the 2005 ChemCensus, performed by the ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs. (I anxiously await the 2010 ChemCensus results.) The tables were taken from the individual academic and industrial reports. 

It would be terribly interesting to see what the top 1% of academic and industrial chemists make. Are there income inequality trends among chemists? I don't see why they would be immune to broader trends in the United States. 

Process Wednesday: collect everything

From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson, a comment on saving samples from your extractions:
Understand the partitioning of the desired product in each phase during every stage of the extraction process. Collect each "spent" phase, label the container, and store until it is clear that the extract can be discarded without losing yield or valuable process history that could be collected by analysing the extract. 
This is one that I suspect that most non-process organic chemists follow; even in graduate school, I was loathe to toss the layers of any extraction until I knew that I had isolated the desired product in the expected yield.  However, I suspect that it is the "valuable process history" that is most important. Going back and being able to understand why you're doing the extraction and watching impurities drop out is worthwhile. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sticky wages? Not in chemistry.

I still look at my paystub, even though I know exactly what
will be printed on it... Photo credit:
There's some discussion in the political/economics blogosphere about the concept of "sticky wages." This is the observation that wages do not tend to fall as fast as the employment market might indicate; for example, employers tend to balk at lowering wages in response to recessions for a variety of reasons (contracts, long-term morale, etc.) even though the labor market might bear the decrease. Tyler Cowen, a libertarian economics professor at George Mason has posited the question from the other side: "Why don’t the unemployed lower their wages to find a job?  The more tragic you think unemployment is, the greater the puzzle..."

While I think there is plenty of evidence elsewhere for the "sticky wages" observation, it's been my observation that there is no such issue in the field of industrial chemistry. The 2010 ACS salary survey registered a median salary drop of 3.2% in 2009.  It seems like even before the mass outsourcing of positions to East/South Asia, there were plenty of CROs popping up who were willing to lower their offered wages. (I suppose, though, that the fact that new firms were the ones to lower their wages is potential evidence for 'sticky wages.') In addition, I see no evidence that either entry-level chemists or mid-career professionals have not been willing to lower their wages to take on positions at companies that pay less than the industry average.

Readers, what do you think? Know any chemists who have been staying unemployed to hold out for a higher wage?

Daily Pump Trap: 8/16/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 11 and August 16, 41 new positions were posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 11 (27%) are academically connected.

Denver ACS: 110 positions for the Career Fair, 1 position for the Virtual Career Fair.

Boston, MA: Aspen Aerogel is looking to fill 5 positions, including a patent agent position for a B.S./M.S. chemist.

Indianapolis, IN: DowAgrosciences is looking for a Ph.D. organic chemist for pesticide/herbicide research and to drive the organic movement crazy; "[e]xperience in synthetic methodologies, synthesis problem-solving, and total synthesis is highly desired." That last one is unusual these days.

Stamford, CT: Cytec Industries desires a Ph.D. chemist to fill a postdoctoral fellowship. "[S]trong research and coursework emphasis in the synthesis and structural characterization of ligands and metal extraction testing" wanted.

Zeroes!: Promega Biosciences is looking for Ph.D. organic chemists with 0-3 years of experience. "Preference will be given to candidates with knowledge of fluorescence and bioconjugation technologies and/or proteomics."

Uh, NO: A medical device company wishes to hire a B.S. chemist with 4+ years experience in synthetic chemistry. A bit of chutzpah with the claim of a "fantastic salary of $60-65K"; are you kidding me? It's Irvine and you're wanting to get patted on the back for 60K for an experienced synthetic chemist?

Milwaukee, WI: Cambridge Major is looking to hire experienced analytical and analytical R&D chemists. They have B.S./M.S. positions open, as well as a M.S./Ph.D. position. Too bad that the ACS Careers ad is non-functional. (Check out the silent CML blog -- funny, that one.)

Eh?: An ad gone wrong here. Wha' happened?

Wall, NJ: Bel-Ray Company is looking for a senior "Reserarch and Developent Chemist" [sic]. Experience with a lubricant company and lubricant product development desired. (I'm leaving all the bad jokes aside -- mature, no?)

Las Vegas, NV: The Clark County Water Reclamation District desires an B.S. chemist for wastewater testing. Vegas, baby!

China Corner: 3M and DuPont hiring in Shanghai.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Extend your network to younger chemists

Also in today's Chemical and Engineering News is Lisa Balbes' article on networking. In her comment, she advocates for mid-career chemists to extend their network to younger chemists. To wit:
The 2009 ACS Starting Salary Survey showed an unemployment rate of 11.4% across all degree levels for new chemistry graduates; that number excludes the 3.1% not looking for work. In comparison, the unemployment rate in 2009 was 3.9% for ACS members as a group and 9.3% for the general U.S. population. 
Although a direct comparison of new graduates and experienced chemists is unfair, the difference in their ability to gain employment is real. One of the biggest factors is the difference in their ability to network. The average ACS member is 47 years old, has been in the workplace for more than 20 years, and has many more professional connections than a new graduate. Seasoned professionals have had more time to practice their networking skills—not that they all do. 
Most younger chemists these days know that they need to network, but they’re not sure how to do it. Contacting a fellow professional to explore career options, inquire about growing or changing companies, identify in-demand skills and knowledge, and learn about job openings is a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially for recent graduates. 
If you’re a midcareer professional, you can help your younger colleagues by giving them honest feedback on their job search strategies and résumé and curriculum vitae portfolios. Show new graduates the basics of networking, and remind them that they probably have a more extensive network than they think. Encourage them to contact former graduates from their research group, other alumni, and professors and other professionals whom they have met along the way. ACS local, regional, and national meetings are great places to network, but many new graduates are hesitant to approach more-senior colleagues. Serve as an ambassador to the younger generation by simply saying hello to a group of younger chemists huddled in a corner by themselves, and introduce yourself to expand their network as well as your own. 
More senior chemical professionals often have extensive professional networks and know how to tap into them. If you do, use your connections to introduce unemployed members to key individuals, including hiring managers. Volunteer to host networking events in your local section and share tips and success stories from your own career. Younger professionals, who may not have any contacts in a particular field, would benefit tremendously from an introduction or recommendation from a more-senior colleague.
I definitely think that there are mentoring roles to be played by mid-career professionals to their younger counterparts. Certainly, many of our commenters have done so through this blog -- for that, my undying gratitude for reading and sharing their wisdom.

QA/QC -- a destination for organic chemists?

From today's Chemical and Engineering News, Susan Ainsworth's article on job opportunities in the QA/QC field. This article contains a lot of interesting advice about ways of entering the field for organic/medicinal chemists and new graduates alike:
When hiring into quality roles, Portola, too, prefers to hire candidates with chemistry backgrounds, Pandey says. “Chemists are already trained in attention to detail, critical thinking, and problem solving—attributes that are important in QC. In addition, chemists are trained in doing analysis through high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance, which helps in the characterization of a drug product.” Medicinal and organic chemists, many of whom are still unemployed after the last wave of industry cutbacks, could transition into QC and QA roles, Pandey says. They may have an edge in identifying and characterizing process impurities and degradants and understanding how they were formed or generated during the manufacturing process. 
Whether they come from a medicinal or organic chemistry background, scientists don’t need to have a Ph.D. to work in the quality arena at Portola, Pandey says. Scientists from a variety of backgrounds and all degree levels currently work in QC and QA at most pharma and biotech firms. At Genentech, for example, “many in our group have Ph.D. degrees, but several have bachelor’s degrees with industry experience,” Smith says. Those in the QPS role come from a broad range of backgrounds in QC testing, analytical development and validation, QA, or process development, he adds. 
Lilly is among those companies that hire freshly minted B.S. chemists into their quality management ranks. In fact, Vargas encourages new pharma-oriented chemists to start their careers working in a QC lab, “which allows them to get hands-on experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation and develop a good understanding of the GMP world.” However, landing that first job on a quality team can be difficult for some new B.S. graduates. To gain an edge, Ash Stevens’ Munk advises young chemists to gain some experience doing undergraduate research either in an internship or within an academic laboratory. “Nothing does more to excite me about a young candidate than knowing that they have already conducted some kind of chemistry research, especially in organic synthesis,” he says. “If you are synthesizing molecules, you have to use instrumentation to look at purity, which helps you to develop techniques that are important to a QC bench chemist,” he says. To help fledgling chemists gain this kind of experience, Ash Stevens hires a couple of interns each summer, he says.
It's interesting to note that companies would like you to have educated yourself on GMP issues ("It’s now possible to do online searches and take courses to learn about FDA guidelines for characterizing a drug substance at different stages of clinical development, for example,” she says.") Other desirable traits include having taken business or engineering classes, having worked in multi-disciplinary teams and demonstrating the ability to work quickly and in a relatively high-pressure environment.

One of the last statements in the article is heartening:
“I like that I get to test products to be sure that they are free of impurities, have the right amount of active ingredients, and will dissolve in the time that we say that they will,” she says. “I like that as a QC pharmaceutical chemist, I am helping people get the medicine they need to feel better. I feel I am making a difference in the world.”
Nice to see. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Have a good weekend

A favorite song of mine (audio is not so great) -- the lyrics speak to those who have the two-body problem. So this one's out to you folks missing your sweethearts.

Have a good weekend and see you on Monday. 

Great comment, great question

Anon081120110853p writes in with a great response to "What are your weaknesses?":
Can I just say I f-----g hate that interview question? I hate being asked it, and I hate asking it. And at my workplace - a National Laboratory - it is damn near impossible to get through an interview without it. Of course we also ask their strengths, because, duh, by the latter part of the interview if that's not already apparent, we've really been wasting our time.  
One question I really enjoy asking: Think of a supervisor that you had an excellent working relationship with. What did they do that made it successful?  
(You'd be amazed at how many people also feel compelled to describe their worst boss, in excruciating detail, when asked this question).
It's so difficult to come up with good interview questions. I seem to rely on the time-honored "Tell me about a time when..." or "I'll bet that was a difficult solution to come up with -- how did you do it?"

I remember being asked by a hiring manager at a major chemical company to tell me about my earliest memories of middle school and high school. I think I looked at him as if he had three eyes.

Readers, what's your favorite interview question?

Chart of the Week: High unemployment is due to the long-term unemployed

Credit: JaredBernsteinBlog, BLS data
An interesting graph from Jared Bernstein, prominent economist, former Obama Administration official (and not such a great speller [see y-axis]). What is distressing, of course, is the red lump of previously unemployed workers; if they're not hired quickly (which most of them are not), the likelihood of them finding positions after six months of unemployment is not high. Bernstein suggests a tax credit for hiring the unemployed and also an extension in unemployment insurance; if it happens, hope it helps.

Best wishes to all of us.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: patent attorney

In this week's chapter of "Nontraditional Careers for Chemists"*, a story of a bench chemist/manager who became an in-house scientific expert for a legal matter and began to enjoy it:
A university research group started a company to commercialize technology that Alex's company thought they had contributed to through an informal collaboration. Although the lawsuit was eventually settled, Alex learned the importance of documenting ideas properly and having agreements in place. He says, "Scientists are wonderfully creative and eager to share information. However, they need people like me around to preserve their rights and keep them out of trouble. This is not altruistic, of course, because employees usually must assign their right to the companies for which they work."  
At about this time, Alex was asked if he would like to make a career change, transferring from research to the legal department. He would work for the company in the patent craft full-time during the day, and they would pay for him to attend law school and prepare for the patent bar exam at night.  
He recalls, "[snip] When Applied Biosystems offered to pay for law school and accommodate my work schedule, I jumped at it. My motivation stemmed from the challenge and excitement of doing something different while also using, and building on, my chemistry background." Other valuable skills for patent work include interpersonal skills, such as the willingness to seek people out, get them to talk, and build relationships. Being detail-oriented also helps. 
I must admit, being a patent attorney sounds awfully dry. (Of course, sitting and reviewing 500 SciFinder hits can be dry, too. But I like that.) But if you're willing to step away from the bench and if you're detail-oriented and you enjoy business and legal strategery, it just might be your thing...

*As always, CJ's copy of the book helpfully provided by the author, Dr. Lisa Balbes. 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/11/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 9 and August 10, there were 184 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 6 (3%) were academically connected.

Denver ACS: 97 positions for the career fair, 1 position for the Virtual Career Fair.

MERCK: Holy goodness, Merck and Co. 104 (56%) new positions posted, fewer than 20 of which were scientifically connected. I've always known you've wanted to be a black belt manager in Ireland or a manager of social media. (I am not kidding.)

Folks weighing in: Momentive, in heavy with 47 positions (26%). Want to be a Global Operations Black Belt? Shimadzu, looking for field reps at 15 positions (8%). Allergan with 7 positions (4%).

Cambridge, MA +: Metabolix is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemist with 7-10 years of experience; looks like pilot-scale and technology transfer will be key to this position. Nice-ish salary at 82-110k? Lots of travel, looks like.

Sacramento, CA: AMPAC Fine Chemical is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. synthetic chemist with a desire to work in a plant setting. Sounds like fun.

Emeryville, CA: Amyris is setting up an walk-up analytical facility; they're looking for a chemist to run/maintain it.

Philadelphia, PA: A radiopharmaceutical lab is looking for a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania. Doubtless, this is one of those niche fields that will have steady employment for the foreseeable future.

New York, NY: A translation medicine lab is looking for a B.S./M.S. synthetic chemist to be a lab manager. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What are your weaknesses?

Thankfully, I've only been asked "What are your weaknesses?" by a couple of human resources types, and their opinions weren't a huge part of the interview, overall. But I like what Lifehacker has to say about this (dumb? ridiculous? annoying?) interview question:
The common advice is to pick a weakness that really isn't one at all, but that doesn't necessarily come across as genuine. It can even make you look a little full of yourself. The folks over at Stepcase Lifehack have a better alternative. They suggest picking a weakness that really isn't all that relevant to the job. Here's their example: 
For example, "Well, accounting really isn't my thing. I understand the basic idea behind book keeping, but I don't really get the nitty-gritty details. Of course, that's also why I'm applying for this job in human resources. I think it leverages my strengths and steers clear of the technical skills that I haven't learned yet…like accounting." 
Using this method you get to be completely honest without really hurting your chances of getting the job. Nobody expects you to be perfect, especially with skills that you don't need to do the job, and honesty can be really refreshing.
One can imagine this applied to chemistry: "Well, computational chemistry really isn't my strong point. I can do it, but I don't particularly enjoy sitting at a desk, simulating bond angles. That's why I'm applying for this position as a synthetic chemist."

Hmmmm -- might work. Readers -- what say you?

Process Wednesday: Are you being fooled by your IPCs?

From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson, a comment on in-process controls (IPCs):
A simple hypothetical example will serve to demonstrated the value of IPC. Suppose that a reactor is charged with a hydrogenation catalyst, an unsaturated compound and solvent. Air is then replaced with H2, using a suitable evaucation protocol. Then the reactor is charged with H2 to the desired pressure, and the reactor is sealed (the pressure is "locked in"). When the starting material is reduced and H2 is consumed, the pressure is expected to decrease. For any given run, however, an anticipated drop in pressure does not guarantee that the desired reaction is complete. A leak may have occurred, enabling a loss of H2. The wise chemist notes the drop in reaction pressure, then confirms by a second assay that the reduction is complete. [CJ's emphasis] Since processing time and materials are very valuable, IPC is used to ensure that the desired processing endpoint has been reached before proceeding to the next step. Choosing the appropriate IPC and collecting dependable data are challenging, often unappreciated aspects of process development. 
There's something quite tempting about using one data point to tell you what you think you already know. It's probably a good idea to use a second, different method to confirm the first one, especially when you have many man-hours and costly material riding on the consequences. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No Pharma Need Apply

From an astute reader, an interesting ad from a recruiter clearly tired of one kind of candidate:
We are seeking PhD level Formulations Chemist.   Our client is heavily involved with the creation of new additives, fuels, oils and lubricants for Industrial applications.   These positions will be adding bench strength to the organization.   
PLEASE NOTE: Medicinal or Pharmaceutical applicants will not fit for these roles!  
Oh, dear. Best wishes to all of us. 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/9/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 4 and August 8, there were 40 new positions. Of these, 16 (20%) are academically connected.

Denver ACS: 45 positions for the career fair, 0 for the Virtual Career Fair.

Workin' for the man (Big Oil edition): Chevron is looking for 2 B,S. chemists for their El Segundo, CA facility; instrumentation experience desired.

Workin' for the man (Fed edition): ITT Corporation is looking for chemists to serve as QA/QC chemists and subject matter experts for CBRNE issues. Defense contracting -- always an option, it seems. (You might work a little overseas, looks like.)

Do you get a green glowing ring with it?: DuPont is looking for a M.S. chemist to serve as uh, well, you read it: "The work involved will include both laboratory and field analytical instrumentation. The individual will serve as the Technology Guardian of the three Manufacturing Labs as well as Technology Guardian of the process analytical instruments for the operating areas." How much willpower do you need?

I guess you're looking for German speakers?: "Trainee-Programm für Ingenieure (m/w): Idealerweise verfügen Sie über: - ein mit hervorragenden Ergebnissen abgeschlossenes Studium der  Ingenieurwissenschaften - nicht mehr als 2 Jahre Berufserfahrung - erste Auslandserfahrung und/oder relevante Berufspraktika - sehr gute Englischkenntnisse - ein hohes Maß an Eigeninitiative und ein Streben nach Qualität - eine kunden- und lösungsorientierte Arbeits- und Denkweise - Teamführungskompetenz und Einfühlungsvermögen - ausgeprägte Teamfähigkeit." Yeah, that.

Anaheim Hills, CA: Danville Materials is looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist with experience in medical devices. Pay looks alright (or not.)

Boron!: Aldrich is looking for a Ph.D. chemist with experience in synthetic organometallic and organoboron chemistry at its Sheboygan Falls, WI facility. Sounds like fun.

Lexington, MA: Cubist is looking for a B.S./M.S. medicinal chemist. Entry-level can apply, but experience preferred (isn't that always the case?)

Steelers fan?: ATRP Solutions (Pittsburgh, PA) is looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist with "expertise in polymer synthesis; experience in controlled radical polymerization is strongly preferred."

The NMR guy: CSU-Long Beach is hiring an instrument technician. Most of the time, I wouldn't remark on it, but here's what they're willing to pay: "$4,053 TO $6,080 per month." Hmmmmm. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Paying It Forward": ACS' new employment effort

From today's Chemical and Engineering News, an interesting comment by Nancy Jackson, current president of the American Chemical Society:
You probably know that the employment climate for both new chemistry graduates and experienced chemical scientists is as bad as it’s been in a long time. Even more distressing is that most experts predict it will remain so for some time. As a community, we simply must pull out all the stops and launch special efforts to help our colleagues in distress—not just for them personally, but for our profession. [snip] 
Today, thousands of chemists are out of work. You probably know some of them. In fact, you may be glad you’re not one of them. But are you willing to pass on what someone has likely done for you? You see, what I do as president is not nearly as important as what you do in your local communities. It is the collective impact of more than 163,000 people that makes a difference. So my challenge, even plea, to you is this—between now and the end of this year, do one of two things: Give your personal advice or support to a job seeker, or pass on a job lead at the new “Paying It Forward” online employment forum on the ACS Network at Members can communicate useful job leads and help displaced colleagues by facilitating local events and networking opportunities. We will track the top “payers” and recognize them in some way at year-end. 
ACS is also working closely with local sections and divisions to facilitate other easy ways to assist your colleagues with their careers. Next week’s Comment by Lisa M. Balbes, chair of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs, will focus on specific collaborative ways to grow your network and help others do likewise. The following week will feature a Comment by Connie J. Murphy, chair of the Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs. She will discuss ways that you can influence policymakers on the local and federal levels to favor initiatives for job creation and growth in the chemical enterprise. 
After that, Valerie J. Kuck, a longtime ACS career champion and adviser, will highlight regional employment trends as well as pressing needs and key ACS services in this area. You will hear how the North Jersey; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and other ACS local sections support local job clubs and networking receptions that can pay handsome dividends. The fifth and final Comment in this series will focus on chemical unemployment trends and career challenges among underrepresented groups. Allison A. Aldridge, chair of the Committee on Minority Affairs, will highlight the value of mentoring for all chemists and the added value that mentors bring to the professional development of minority scientists. 
We all know that chemistry creates solutions to global problems, but most of us do not take time to consider the smaller-scale, personal impact that we can have on the lives of others. But we should, because just a few minutes of our time could greatly affect another person’s chances for success, particularly in today’s economic climate. What you choose to contribute to this endeavor will pay it forward and shift your cosmic chemical karma in a positive direction—because someday it might be you who needs the help. Will you join me in this effort?
We're nearly 4 years into this current employment recession for chemists. ACS's own numbers suggest that this is the worst employment environment in over 20 years, with most folks believing that it's the worst ever. I can't help but find "Paying it Forward" to be a very poor (and delayed) response to a ACS-threatening existential problem. If a new section on a somewhat moribund social network is the most significant effort (financial or otherwise) that ACS can put together, consider me less than impressed.

All that aside, I can't help but hope something good comes out of this effort and I'll be tracking the efforts on "Paying it Forward" daily or weekly. Best wishes to all involved and I'll do my best to help as well.

Readers, what do you think?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chemjobber senryus

All my humor seems to be falling mostly flat these days, so time for some haikus senryus:

Hella long column 
Sigh, two spots on TLC
I'll do it again

Their compounds bind well
We can't reproduce it here
Well, someone is wrong. 

Boss: Crazy idea!
Chemist: It's a waste of time.
Boss: Get to it, son. 

Oily yellow mess
Try recrystallization
White crystals are neat!

Awful day in stocks
Retirement is looking
Like a pipe dream now. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The value of open disagreement

"Hi, my name is Chuck, and I'll be your
meeting facilitator."
Photo credit: Septic Rainbow
Paul's comments this morning on the passing of Robert Shapiro and his willingness to criticize science publicly reminds me of a favorite passage from Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down* on the different styles of Army planning sessions, contrasting between the by-the-book Rangers and the more freewheeling Delta operators : 
They [Delta] could be comically arrogant. When they'd gotten a list of potential target sites, for instance, the D-boys had divvied them up among different teams. Each was assigned to draw up an assault plan. Since his men were involved, [Captain] Steele had sat in on the meeting when the various schemes were presented. The captain's experience with such a planning session was like this: You say there are took notes and asked questions only to make sure you got things down correctly and then saluted on your way out. 
The D-boys' meeting was a free-for-all. One group would present its plan and somebody would pipe up, "Why, that's the stupidest thing I ever heard," which would provoke a sturdy "F--- you," which quickly degenerated into guys screaming at each other. It looked to Steele like they were about to assume Kung Fu stances and have it out.
Funny question: think to your last brainstorming session at work or your last group meeting. I'll bet it was more like Delta's meetings than not.

While it's terribly important in meetings (and seminars and conferences) to have civility, IMO it's far more valuable to have untrammeled critical thinking and open disagreement. Hopefully, such disagreements will allow for the nomination of testable hypotheses and plans to test them. While I don't think it's ever a good idea to tell someone "Why, that's the stupidest thing I ever heard", rigid conformity and repression of disagreement might just be deadlier to a project or a concept or an organization.

*In 1993, then-President Clinton sent a team of Army Rangers and Delta operators to capture Mohammed Farah Aidid, a warlord in Mogadishu, Somalia. Rangers are younger and less experienced, while Delta is considered the most elite special operations group in the US Army. Captain Mike Steele was the head of the Ranger company working with the Delta operators.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/4/11 edition

Good morning! Between August 2 and August 3, there were 9 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 1 (11%) was academically connected.

Denver ACS: There are 37 positions posted for the Denver ACS Career Fair. There are 0 positions posted for the Virtual Career Fair.

Minnesota?: 3M is looking for Ph.D. chemists to become research scientists; looks like a general 'product development' position. Sounds good for someone.

Process chemistry: Gilead Sciences and Ironwood Pharmaceuticals are both looking for process chemists. Gilead is looking for (it appears) a relatively new Ph.D. chemist, while Ironwood desires a M.S./Ph.D. chemist with 5+ years of experience in the specialty.

Hmmm: FDA is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to be a postdoc at their St. Louis facility; NMR spectroscopy of biologic drugs seems to be the push. A 15 month contract? You gotta be kidding me, buddy (unless it's renewable.)

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 321, 776, 4356 and 78 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chemistry: A Love Story

A small tribute to the many, many
hours she waited for me in the lab.
Photo credit:
Warning: an overly personal post about spouses and chemistry

In a recent post, I was asked the following tough question:
How did you decide that it was the right time to start a family or, more fundamentally, get serious with a relationship?
Geez, how do you write about that on a chemistry blog? I think the first question is easier answered than the second, and I don't even really know if I can answer it other than to talk about my own relationship with my wife. I think by the time that I met her, I knew what I wanted in a mate (and what I really, really did not want.)

She and I share so many core values about family, faith and practical matters; over our courtship, it was quite clear that she was the one. Over the next five years, she listened to me worry out loud about finding a postdoc, finding a job and all the silly things that neurotic scientists fret over. She joined me in the lab for countless "one last experiments" and "quick" Biotage columns. I am forever in her debt. For some amazing reason, she married me and I'm a pretty blessed guy for it.

I am not a relationship guru by any means, but I suppose that I can say this: know what you want -- and when you see someone that has it, grab 'em (assuming they want to be with you, too.) The practical reasons to get married are pretty compelling for poor graduate students and postdocs (assuming you can stick with the math): 2 people can live on the expenses of 1.6 people. But that's not the main reason to do it -- it's because you love them and they love you.

*This post was vetted by Mrs. CJ before publishing. 

Glass-backed TLC plates

A list of small, useful things (links):

Process Wednesday: teaming up with your analysts

From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson and his book "Practical Process Research and Development", a tip on using your analytical group to its fullest extent:
Often the analysis of a compound is best left to specialists. Analytical chemists may be very helpful in developing an in-process assay for the laboratory or pilot plant and in purifying an impurity. Quality control (QC) chemists may be key in recognizing a new impurity in a manufacturing batch. Spectroscopists know how to get the best performance from their instruments. Good teamwork among the analysts and other chemists is essential to the efficient development of a process.  
To best support the efforts of analysts, thoroughly explain the nature of the reaction and the expected outcome of the analyses. Definitive results are generated more quickly when the analyst is enrolled in helping with a project. 
You can't have too many friends, especially when you're a process chemist.