Wednesday, November 30, 2011

8 stupid things I've done with money

That's right, CJ. You paid money to see me,
The Big Aristotle. (credit:
Adam is blogging about higher education and he talks a little about his personal story with student loan debt. Having been there before, I thought I'd lighten the mood and list a few stupid things I've done with money around the time I was a grad student:
  1. Paid for subscriptions to J. Org. Chem. and Org. Lett. as a recently graduated B.S. chemist. Didn't read them much. (OK, this was long before online access was widespread.) 
  2. Weekend trip to Boston to see an old friend. It was cool and all, but the neatest thing I saw was Shaq's head floating above a crowd of onlookers. Did I mention I hate the Lakers? 
  3. Blasted through my cell phone minutes and paid $200+ in overage fees. Ooops. 
  4. Missed credit card payments early on -- you know, that's a really good way to get your APR raised on you. 
  5. Paid for many, many, many forgettable restaurant meals by putting them on my credit card balance. 
  6. Bought many intended-to-be-read-but-never-quite books on my credit card balance. 
  7. Not having a roommate early on in grad school. Dude, cut your rent in half? 
  8. Speeding tickets. Short-term expensive, long-term expensive. 
That said, after I graduated, a lot of things changed about life and it wasn't very hard to rebalance my/our lives to pay off the student loans that I took out to cover my dumb credit card debt. We were very fortunate in this regard -- a bad illness or accident could have made things much, much worse. 

Undergrads, grad students and postdocs, be careful with your money. 

Process Wednesday: arylboronic acids might be genotoxic?

In linking to Neal Anderson yesterday, I see that he has a new post up and it's a bit of a doozy:
Arylboronic acids, but not the corresponding deboronated arenes, recently have been found to be weakly mutagenic in microbial assays [1].  Hence arylboronic acids may be considered potentially genotoxic impurities, and controlling the levels of residual arylboronic acids in APIs could become a regulatory requirement.  The issues should be decided by toxicology studies for the specific arylboronic acids in question.
Wait, what? Arylboronic acids might be genotoxic? Uh-oh. He then launches into a long discussion of how to cause protodeboronation of boronic acids to remove them from your API: (I think if you printed out his blogpost and sent it to Boron Molecular in North Carolina, either the envelope or the building would self-destruct.)
The Snieckus group found that deboronation occurred readily when pinacol was added to 4-pyridylboronic acid [12].  Percec and co-workers found that deboronation of neopentylglycol boronates, especially an ortho-substituted arylboronic acid ester, was catalyzed by nickel species [13].  Kuivila and co-workers found that CuCl2 catalyzed the deboronation of 2,6-dimethoxybenzeneboronic acid and other arylboronic acids, with formation of the corresponding aryl chlorides [14].  Unfortunately, adding reagents to a reaction mixture increases the burdens of analysis and impurity removal, but additives such as these may accelerate deboronation in difficult cases.  Simply extending the reaction conditions, which are generally basic for efficient Suzuki coupling, or heating with some amount of aqueous hydroxide are probably the preferred treatments to decompose an arylboronic acid.  By knowing the kinetics of the decomposition of the arylboronic acid it may be possible to show by QbD that analyses for the residual arylboronic acid in an API are not necessary.
 Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seniority and bench chemistry: why the inverse relationship?

So I was perusing one of my favorite blogs (that of writer and amateur pilot James Fallows) and he posted this video, which I found pretty remarkable. But what I found even more remarkable was the linked posting about this "crab into crosswind" technique on a professional pilots website:
We must remember that the Airbus Flight Control system is based on "rate inputs". The wing will always look at the last bank angle and will try to return to that point, you may not see the input by the flight controls, but it is being provided. So, if you are rocking down on final due to gusty winds, or for that reason on the final portion of the flare. Should you apply correction in the opposite direction of where the wing is coming up, because of the gust, then you are adding more input to the Flight Controls computer's, reacting to bring the wing to the last known position with a bigger input increment (you have just Augmented that input), which will then force you to react in the opposite direction with more sidestick deflection. Hence, the feeling that you are running out of control deflections in the sidestick, you are just inducing a P-CIO (Pilot-Computer Induced Oscillations).
If you were to have a direct right crosswind of 29 knots, fly the aircraft, don't mind the gust (unless it is hurricane David), around 50 feet, start kicking your left rudder (and power as necessary), and as the left wing tries to come up (due to the Aerodynamics of the rudder inputs attempting to bring the right wing up), put the necessary right joystick (squirts) input and let go, squirt and let go, as necessary to keep the nose of the aircraft tracking down the centerline while adding rudder as necessary, then once the aircraft is tracking where you want him to, relax the bank inputs on the joystick, just work with the pitch for the flare and round out.
Touch down with the right main gear, right spoilers deflect, fly the left wing down nice and easy, while relaxing ruder input and squirting the bank inputs as needed. It is exhilarating and a great aircraft. 
Of course, these are very experienced, well-paid pilots talking to one another about technique. Senior medicinal chemists talking about fragment-based drug discovery or very experienced process chemists chatting amongst themselves presumably would sound the same.

Or would they? One doubts that very senior chemists would actually be the ones injecting the reagents, pumping the solvents or running the NMRs. Why does it seem that bench technique is mostly left to those who have less than 20 years at the bench, while passenger jet flying, in particular, is in the province of people have hair color similar to Chesley Sullenberger?

Certainly airline union seniority rules have some part to play in this. I'd argue that bench chemistry (and perhaps molecular biology techniques even more so) rely on enough fine motor dexterity that the aged might hold a disadvantage. Perhaps it is that flying (like surgery) is special; patients and the flying public are willing to pay for the best, most experienced hands to be at the helm.

Readers, have an opinion on this?

Daily Pump Trap: 11/29/11 edition

Good morning! (almost, to you on the East Coast) Between November 22 and November 28, there were 82 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 32 (38%) are academically connected. 1 (1%) is from our friends at Kelly Scientific.

Lexington, MA: Cubist is (once again) looking to hire a B.S./M.S. research associate for medicinal chemistry. Really, a plum for somebody out there.

The Arabian Peninsula: SABIC is hiring a raft of folks for work at their Riyadh center. 31 positions (38%), to be exact. Lots of engineering positions, but a number of chemistry positions as well. Unfortunately, many seem to require more than 3+ years experience, but I suspect they're more desperate than they let on. (Let me know?)

Lausanne, Switzerland: Nestle is hiring an analytical chemist and a flavor chemist (Ph.D. + postdoc) for their facility in Switzerland. Experienced desired.

Spruce Pine, NC: Unimin Corporation is a leading manufacturer of high quality quartz products; they're looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist who wishes to perform product development and process improvement. Recent grads OK, 2+ years exp. desired.

USA!?!: 4 Shimadzu field sales positions posted all over the US; boy, either they're making a push or their team got cleared out! 

This is just to say...

I have an
busy morning

and you were
expecting the
Daily Pump Trap

Forgive me
Excuses are stinky
Just like the baby poop I cleaned up

with apologies to William Carlos Williams

(DPT + blogpost in T-3 hours) 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reform in the Hope-Weeks lab?

As probably the most prominent critic of the professors involved in the Texas Tech case, I should note Jyllian Kemsley's article in this week's issue of C&EN:
An explosion in a Texas Tech University laboratory last year resulted in a chemistry graduate student losing three fingers on one hand and injuring his eyes. The incident was one of several in recent years that have put a spotlight on lab safety; it also resulted in an investigation by the federal Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (C&EN, Oct. 24, page 25). The explosion and its aftermath led the project’s principal investigators, Texas Tech chemistry professor Louisa J. Hope-Weeks and her spouse, chemical engineering professor Brandon L. Weeks, to find ways to more closely supervise and document their interactions with their lab groups.
“After the accident, what became clear to me was that oral communication with students was never enough to ensure they understood” what they were supposed to do or not do, Hope-Weeks says. Now, both Hope-Weeks and Weeks require anyone working in their labs to discuss experiments with their adviser and then write protocols for what they will do. Having a literature protocol in hand is not enough, though: Students must rewrite it in their own words. They must also write their own instrument-use protocols rather than referring to a lab document. The professors review the protocols before work can proceed in the lab.
[snip] As she reads the documents, Hope-Weeks also tries to be conscious of the line between appropriate oversight and allowing her students room to learn in the lab. If she reads a protocol that says a reaction will reflux for two hours and she thinks it will need 24, she’ll let the student proceed as long as there’s not a safety concern. “As long as it’s not unsafe, I’ll let them try it their way,” she says. “I think that’s the only way they can learn.”
[snip] And members of both labs now have to sign a contract agreeing to follow the lab rules and report any unsafe practices or unauthorized workers in the lab. The penalty for not following the rules is dismissal from the lab, a punishment that makes Weeks somewhat uncomfortable. “I don’t know that that’s the best way to deal with safety,” he says, noting that the threat of dismissal may encourage people to hide things. At the same time, Weeks doesn’t know of a better way to promote safe laboratory behavior. He’d like to see more of a dialogue in the academic community about positive ways to encourage safe conduct. 
Trying to walk the line between appropriate supervision and micromanagement of their lab members is tough, both professors say. On the one hand, the people working in the labs are all adults, and “there has to be some trust in the lab because you can’t be in there all the time,” Weeks says. He notes that trust is not just a safety issue; faculty also have to trust that students aren’t fabricating data, for example. 
On the other hand, Hope-Weeks adds, “if you think you’re providing enough vigilance and oversight, double it, because it is amazing what students will do when your back is turned.”
In one sense, I'm encouraged by their increased oversight of their students. That said, it is (was?) an energetic materials laboratory. Increased oversight, one would think, would be the norm. (The professors mention making random visits to the lab to ensure good laboratory practices.)

In another sense, I'm terribly curious to know if any of the issues I found obvious (lack of specialized training in best practices in energetic materials, lack of proper safety equipment (blast shields, etc)) have been addressed.

Finally, there's an obvious elephant in the room: Preston Brown, the student who had the accident. I note that there is no offer of any sort of direct culpability on the part of the professors for the incident or the environment that allowed it. Obviously, part of that is whatever legal machinations are taking place behind the scenes. I'd be interested in whatever they'd have to say about him, but that's not happening any time soon. Too bad.

Wow! Bimodal distribution in lawyer salaries

Adam is blogging a series on the possibility of a higher education bubble; he posts this graph of lawyer salary distributions. 

That is remarkable. I don't think a graph of industrial chemist salaries would have such a bimodal distribution, but I can't say for sure. Readers? 

Better times, better times...

A sweet letter from this week's Chemical and Engineering News:
I was 17 years old and canoeing down the Suwannee River in north Florida with my Boy Scout troop. My scoutmaster was a chief chemist at a quality-control lab in an International Minerals & Chemical’s phosphate facility in central Florida. While sitting around a campfire one night with another adult chaperone—who happened also to be a chemist working for IMC—my scoutmaster asked me the typical question an adult asks of a teenager: “So, Joe, what are you going to study in college?” I responded in a typical teenager-like way: “I don’t know. I’ll probably study biology and go to medical school like my father.” 
Both chemists sitting with me around the campfire that night simultaneously responded: “Well, you should study chemistry instead of biology if you’re thinking about going to medical school. If things don’t pan out, chemistry is a much better degree to fall back on.” I thought about it for a second. It certainly made sense. I decided then and there to study chemistry and never looked back, and I never applied to medical school. Fate is a funny thing. 
By Joseph E. Coury
I'd still say that chemistry is a better fallback choice than biology, but I'd be much more hesitant about recommending it as a career choice. Sigh.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I'm a dark meat guy, myself. (Credit: myrecipes)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone (and if you're not in the US, happy Thursday!)

As always, I'm thankful for:
  • a job and a healthy, happy family. 
  • being part of a great blogging/tweeting community
  • each and every one you readers. 
Thanks so much for reading (and being willing to challenge me!) 

Best wishes to each of you and your families. See you on Monday (unless, of course, I get bored.) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Print this off and send it to your parents now.

I can't help but rerun this old chestnut on the Wednesday before a Thanksgiving. Happy travels everyone. (Hopefully, a holiday post tomorrow.) 

Process Wednesday: R.B. Woodward on scale-up

From my wanderings online, I found a hilarious story about a grad student burning all of his material on a 200X scale-up of a successful 50 milligram reaction:
Wasserman's project concerned the synthesis of artificial penicillin, and at one juncture he needed to convert S-benzylpenicillamine, an incredibly precious compound of which Eli Lilly had given Woodward 25 g, into a 5,5 fused-ring thiazolidinelactam. Wasserman had tried the reaction on a 50 mg sample, and it worked like a charm. So Woodward suggested that Wasserman scale the reaction up over the weekend. On Saturday he confidently scaled up by a factor of 200, reacting 10 g of the S-benzylpenicillamine, almost half of the remaining supply. Instead of colorless crystals, he recovered only a deep yellow, intractable oil. 
He was devastated and conflicted. Should he wait until Woodward came to lab, or should he bite the bullet and telephone to announce that his naive blunder in using so much material had resulted in a catastrophe? No one who has known Prof. Wasserman would be surprised that he chose the proper course and decided to telephone. 
Reaching Prof. Woodward at home, Wasserman reported that he had attempted the reaction on a larger scale, but that it was an utter failure, and that precious starting material had been destroyed.
Woodward asked, "How much of the S-benzylpenicillamine did you use?" Wasserman gulped and answered, "10 grams." 
There was a pause. Then Woodward admonished, "Ten grams! Harry! Even I don't know all the things that could go wrong in that kind of reaction."
 I feel Wasserman's pain. I guess he managed to do all right by himself.

P.S. You gotta love the Woodward line "Even I."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Would you trade a Ph.D. for money?

That's a lot of Benjamins. (Credit:
Two Yale law professors suggest an innovative way of cutting down the number of law students:
Consider the innovative employment policy of the Internet shoe seller Zappos. At the end of a four-week training course, Zappos offers new employees a one-time offer of $3,000 to quit. In part, the company uses the offer as a screening device. If you’re the type who prefers a quick three grand to the opportunity to work at a great company, then Zappos isn’t the place for you. 
Law schools might analogously offer to rebate half of a student’s first-year tuition if the student opts to quit school at the end of the first year. (If the student has taken out government loans, this rebate would first go to repay this debt.)  A half-tuition rebate splits the loss of an aborted legal career between the school and the student. Each has skin in the game, so students will not go to law school lightly, and law schools will have better incentives not to admit students likely to fail.
I think this would be an excellent way of reducing the number of potential Ph.D. chemists. You can imagine saying at the end of a passed candidacy exam (or whatever examination you prefer):
Congratulations -- you're on your way to get a Ph.D.! Oh, by the way -- we are prepared to offer you a check for $20,000. If you take the money, you will leave this program with a master's degree and our thanks for reducing the supply of Ph.D. chemists. You have 1 week to consider the offer. 
What do you think you would do? I certainly would have considered it, but I probably would have turned it down. (Obviously, this would be subject to wild amounts of gaming; you'd have to practically set up roadblocks to make sure that people wouldn't be death-marching their way to candidacy to get the big payday.)

Daily Pump Trap: 11/22/11 edition

Good morning! Between November 17 and November 22, there were 42 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 25 (60%) are academically connected.

Miracles of Science!: DuPont has 3 positions posted, including a Ph.D. chemist position with 3+ years experience with industrial use of gas chromatography. 

Los Alamos, NM: Los Alamos National Laboratories is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic chemist for a postdoctoral position; experience with polymer synthesis would be helpful. Also, an inorganic Ph.D. postdoctoral position is available. 

Lincoln, NE: LNK Chemsolutions is hiring a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. biochemist for a "junior biochemist" position. 3 years experience required for a bachelors, descending to zero for the Ph.D. 

New York, NY: MSKCC is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic chemist for a "full time" position in a multidisciplinary group looking at chaperone molecules. I'm curious if this is a real position or a gussied-up postdoc. Heterocyclic synthesis experience desired. 

Birmingham, AL: Southern Research Institute is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic chemist for a postdoctoral position in a metastasis biology laboratory. 

Huh: is looking for online math and science tutors; 100 (!) openings, $10-15/hour (ugh.) 

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Layoff Project: "It was very hard to shake off the sense of anger and betrayal."

TK is a PhD chemist who worked for (and was separated from) a major CRO. Their story is below:

What should you do the first week? Should you take a break? Jump right in to finding a new job?  
It depends. I found I was too depressed/shell-shocked/angry to do any useful job-hunting the next day. I didn’t start seriously applying until a week later, by which time I had calmed down a bit, and was sufficiently positive to start looking for work again. I’ve seen some articles which advise taking up to three weeks before launching into your job search. I think most people might find that a bit long.

How can your family and friends help? 
Family and friends were, on the whole very supportive. My ex-boss-but-one (not the one who had laid me off) took me out for a meal and was very sympathetic/encouraging. My wife, who had been working part-time, was able to get full time work with her employer, and this helped enormously. On the other hand, there were a couple of ex-colleagues who I had thought I could count on for references who simply ignored my e-mails – not even a polite refusal. I found this quite hurtful, and still don’t understand it.

My advice to family and friends is to try to be sensitive. For example, a fellow foreign national told me he didn’t think I would be eligible for unemployment benefit as I wasn’t a citizen, which caused me considerable distress until I was able to find out that I was, in fact, entitled. One’s perspective on life changes drastically just after being made redundant, and unless you’ve been in the same situation yourself, you might not realize the impact of what under other circumstances would be harmless remarks.

Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?
I didn’t get any help whatever from my former employer finding new work. They didn’t even advise me of my rights regarding unemployment benefit. As a foreign national, this advice would have been useful to me. I received 6 weeks severance (I’d been with the company about 8 years so considered this a little ungenerous, but severance pay is entirely at the company’s discretion), and 18 months health insurance through COBRA, though in the event I opted for coverage through my wife’s employer.

They made me sign a form agreeing not to seek employment with them again, which I thought was quite unnecessary. My lay-off was tied in with the appraisal system, which I also thought was a particularly cruel way of doing things, as it made it needlessly personal. My previous 7 years’ evaluations had been satisfactory or better, and my first poor evaluation led to my dismissal. I felt the evaluation had been rigged in order to legitimize my termination. None of my achievements for the year were mentioned, only things I had done wrong. I was not the only employee to be treated this way.

What financial advice can you offer? What should/did you do? What should you NOT do?
Apply for unemployment benefit as soon as you can. As long as you have a green card, and meet certain minimum specifications regarding length of employment and wages earned (your state department of employment will have a website with this information), then you are entitled to unemployment benefit.
I panicked when I lost my job, and accepted a very poorly paid position with an unscrupulous employment agency 3 weeks after being laid off, thinking I would be able to quit once my severance pay ran out, and claim unemployment benefit. In the event, I found that voluntarily quitting this position had disqualified me from claiming benefit, so file this under something NOT to do. Fortunately I was able to find a temporary position to tide me over, and was able to claim benefit once this ended.

One of the very first things we did was sit down and work out our monthly outgoings, to see what could be reduced. We cut our cable bill substantially, cancelled any non-essential subscriptions, and started drinking Franzia boxed wine, thereby cutting our monthly alcohol bill by 75%. It certainly helped that we didn’t have school-age children. Life would have been much harder, financially and emotionally if we had.

When did you start looking for another position? 
One week after being laid off.

How painful was finding another position? What should someone be emotionally prepared for?
It was difficult. I ended up making 400 applications before getting another permanent (I hesitate to use that word these days) position. I had 23 phone interviews, and 9 on-site interviews. I had to relocate, but did not have to take a pay cut.

Emotionally, it was a real roller-coaster. I experienced a whole range of emotions: a mixture of shock and relief at being laid off (I had not been happy in my last 18 months with the company), guilt (could I have tried harder not to be laid off?) depression (is this the end of my career as a chemist? Will I ever work again?) anger (why did I get laid off, when there were other people who I thought deserved it more than I did?) Fortunately, when I was down, my wife was usually up-beat, and vice-versa. The worst phase was nine months after my lay-off, in the winter of 2009, still not having found work although many of my ex-colleagues had been able to do so. It really started to feel personal by this stage. I decided to visit my parents in the UK for five weeks, and this helped.

Also, it was very hard to shake off the sense of anger and betrayal. I still haven’t completely managed this. My advice to anyone else in this situation is to try to let go of the past as soon as you can (though be prepared for the fact that this may not be easy).

How did you spend your typical day? What behaviors do you think were helpful or not helpful?
During my first period claiming benefit, I did voluntary unpaid research work at the local university. On the plus side, it kept me doing organic chemistry, and got me out of the house. On the minus side, I relied on other members of the department to order basic materials (such as dry-ice) for me, as I didn’t have my own account. I was alone in the lab most of the time, and this was not good for me at that stage, as it gave me too much opportunity to dwell on my precarious economic position. During this time, I applied for jobs on a Friday and at weekends. The ACS website, monsterjobs and were probably my three main sources.

Helpful behaviours: maintain a routine. Try to keep the same hours as you did when you were working. Applying for jobs is not a full-time job, so keep yourself occupied with anything you can to maintain a positive frame of mind. I helped out more around the house with cooking and gardening. I did some reading.

Have you found new work? What was helpful there?
I have finally found work. We moved states, and have just moved into our new house. Whilst I was looking for work, I frequently heard the advice that networking was the way to find your next job (personally the term makes me cringe, but I know many people swear by it). Many of my friends found work this way, but it didn’t work for me. With me it turned out to be simply a combination of perseverance and luck.

I got the job here because I had the right combination of experience and qualifications, and I got on well with the people who interviewed me. In several of my previous interviews, I knew pretty early on that things were not going well: I didn’t “hit it off” with my interviewers. That relationship is just as important as your qualifications and experience, and is something that can’t be forced. You either get along or you don’t.

CJ here again. Thanks for TK for their story and best wishes to all of us.

The Layoff Project is an attempt to collect the oral histories of chemists who have been affected by the changes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The explanatory post is here; stories can be left in the comments or e-mailed to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Old scientific equipment never dies...

Doctor, this HP1100 is not an aged man-o-war. Credit: ugo just gets moved upstairs.

I'm reminded of a favorite quote from Master and Commander whenever I'm faced with an aged piece of equipment:
Dr. Stephen Maturin: By comparison, the Surprise is a somewhat aged man-o-war. Am I not correct? 
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Would you call me an aged man-o-war, doctor? The Surprise is not old; no one would call her old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She's a fine seabird: weatherly, stiff and fast... very fast, if she's well handled. No, she's not old; she's in her prime. 
Some equipment, years and years on, is still just fine. I trained on a Varian 300 MHz NMR all throughout undergrad and graduate school. I'm really not convinced that a typical synthetic organic chemist needs anything more, but I'm sure that's just a sign of mental age more than anything else.

I love new equipment -- who doesn't? Lord knows, most labs these days need new stuff. But old Buchi rotovaps work just as well as the new ones.

Readers, what's your favorite piece of old equipment?

Wrestling with the problem of alternative careers

Getting on or off the chemistry train? Credit: bakersfieldqdc
Anon1117110916a has a really fair point regarding alternative careers:
It drives me batty when people suggest that the true value of a scientific education is critical thinking and problem solving. If that were so, why do we waste billions of dollars and man-years on equipment and specialized training when we just need a "Ph.D. in Problem-Solving" program with work done with paper and pencil. Was it all just a mental exercise? 
Put another way...The first paragraph could apply to anyone...physicists, engineers, biologists, physicians, real-estate agents, plumbers...they all solve problems and use the scientific method to some degree. I was under the impression that the discipline of chemistry is valuable because it is specialized. Apparently, I could have saved a lot of time and money becoming a plumber. 
I appreciate that Dr. Balbes is helping folks escape a train that's coming off the tracks. But let's be honest here: Most of us like riding that train. There's a lot of inertia keeping us on...and it's a helluva ride! 
I think Anon has a good point in that if you know what you really want to do, you should go do it. Right now. Without delay. Quit doing that thing you're doing right now (chemistry?) and go do something else that you like better.

But that's not how life works. Most of the time, it takes a while to figure out what you like (and what you don't like.) It takes exposure to jobs that you like better than the one that you have now, or the prodding of the market that tells you (sadly) that your degree is now worth 5% less in annual income than it was ten years ago. Or the market tells you that your skills aren't what they need to be to be hired and/or keep a job -- that's a terrifying possibility (to me, anyway).

But I think the problem solving/critical thinking thing is signaling; it tells future non-chemistry employers that you understand a difficult subject, that you've mastered that difficult subject and actually found something new to say about it. It typically means that you're intelligent enough to communicate that difficult subject to the layperson, and you might be able to do it with other equally difficult subjects. Hopefully, a chemistry degree (or an advanced degree) is a better signaling mechanism that that of a real-estate agent or a plumber, even though I believe there's no guarantee that chemists are smarter than plumbers.

All of this to say that alternative careers aren't typically the goal that's directly in front of the chemistry train -- it's a different, equally interesting and (hopefully) equally honorable track.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: conclusion and index

In the final chapter of "Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry", Lisa Balbes sketches a road map for chemists who are thinking about different careers to consider:
As chemists, we are taught how to solve problems and how to find and critically evaluate data. We start by doing background research, identifying a problem, conducting an experiment, then analyzing the results and pplying what we learned to the next question. You can applly those same steps to the question of what career path will best suit your personal skills, knowledge, interests and values. You need to figure out not only what is available but what you want. Ask yourself questions such as:
What kinds of problems do I solve well? What do I most enjoy talking about? What do other people say I do well? What characteristics truly define me? What accomplishments am I most proud of?
Some specific steps she suggests:
  • "Like most things in life, the only way to really understand what a particular job is like is to experience it firsthand. ...Those just entering the work world should seek out positions that let them try many different types of tasks. Seek out internships, co-op programs, and summer and part-time work as valuable sources of real-world experience. Later in your career, you can take on additional responsibilities at your current company to move in a new direction."
  • "The second-best way to understand something is to talk to people who have done it. Use your network! Ask questions of people already working in jobs you find intriguing, and find out what they do on a daily basis."
  • "Find out not only what skills and knowledge are required but what personality traits are needed to be successful in that field."
  • "Investigate not only what you;d like to do but where you'd like to do it." [re: small company or large company.] 
  • "Always be on the lookout for opportunities to try something new -- seek them out, and consider them serious when they are offered, especially if the risk is low. It's never too late to try something new, and in the worst case you'll find something you don't want to do again."
She leaves off with a cautionary (but hopeful) note: 
This is not a process that can be rushed. If you admit you're discontented and start investigating your options for something better, you're already a step ahead of those who just accept where they are. Changing your career direction requires soul-searching, research, planning and courage. But in the end, getting to spend your time doing something you love is worth it. 
A final, effusive thanks to Dr. Lisa Balbes, who supplied her book for this 4 month series. The interest from chemists in alternative careers is strong and her work towards helping chemists towards their career goals should be recognized. 

I intend to return to Dr. Balbes' book on a regular basis, but I'm looking for alternate ways to discuss this topic. Readers, what do you want? 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/17/11 edition

Good morning! Between November 15 and November 16, there were 12 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 4 (33%) were academically connected.

Axis, AL: DuPont is hiring a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist for work at their Crop Protection plant in Alabama. Looks like a pretty standard methods development position.

Fort Collins, CO: TOLMAR is a pharmaceutical manufacturing concern in northern Colorado; they're looking for a B.S. QC chemist with 4+ years experience in pharmaceutical analytical testing.

Postdoc paradise: The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute is hiring a postdoc to work on biofuels development; Ph.D. in biochemistry desired for this position in Honolulu. GSK is hiring a postdoc to work at their Hamilton, Montana vaccines facility; Ph.D. in chemistry or pharmacy desired. The Bitterroot Valley is apparently "surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the world."

Santa Fe, NM: OpenEye Scientific Software is hiring for a senior scientific software developer; Ph.D. in computational chemistry and 3+ years as a software developer desired.

Denver, CO: A confidential company (located in south Denver (?)) is looking for an M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to be their director of analytical services and implement QA/QC in a plant environment. 5+ years experience desired.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 362, 790, 3231 and 33 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Now here are some real skills

That's more like it. 

Process Wednesday: cleaning our your vessels

From the archives of Organic Process Research and Development, Valvis and Champion [1] talk about cleaning out your reactors:
Handling such compounds has presented manufacturing with special challenges, including “containment”, “cleaning”, and “decontamination”. Two classes of compounds in particular, anti-cancer and anti-thrombotic agents, are of the greatest concern due to their respective toxic or pharmacological potential. Due to their low-dose therapeutic profile, these classes of compounds can present serious risk of exposure to humans in a work environment and can lead to product cross-contamination in manufacturing. For this reason, great effort has been made by companies to acquire or develop the necessary technology for the cleaning and/or deactivation of such compounds. Since supporting such efforts can require significant resource commitment, the need for better understanding of this emerging challenge is great.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Daily Pump Trap: 11/15/11 edition

Good morning! Between November 10 and November 14, there were 43 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 26 (60%) are academically connected.

San Diego, CA: Shimadzu is looking for yet another field service engineer. A.A. in electrical engineering or equivalent experience. Do you think there's a skills test? "Put on this blindfold and take apart with HPLC with a can opener."

Louisville, KY: Brown-Forman is interested in hiring a chemical engineer to be its director of process R&D. Brown-Forman happens to own, among other brands, Jack Daniels'. Huh -- sounds interesting.

Sacramento, CA: AMPAC Fine Chemicals is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. process chemist. Experience starts at 5 years for B.S. chemist candidates and descends. They're been regularly posting positions since at least late 2010. Interesting.

Bay Area: Genentech is looking for two positions, a Ph.D. chemist position in lead generation (3 - 10 years experience required) and one for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist with 6+ years experience. (N.B. I'm guessing it's Genentech, not Lawrence Livermore that's looking for a medicinal chemist.)

Toledo, OH: HA International LLC is looking for a B.S. research chemist with 4-8 years of ceramics experience. "The successful candidate will develop a full understanding of the types, uses and applications of refractory minerals, binders, suspension and defoaming agents, and other modifiers used in the formulation of refractory coatings." Come again?

Valencia, CA: Pharmavite is a vitamin manufacturer; they're looking for a B.S. QC chemist. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Layoff Project: "I was proud that I didn't cry in front of them"

RG is an analytical chemist and shares their layoff story. To protect privacy, the story has been [redacted] to remove details:

So, first job out of college, working at a large industrial plant in their QA lab as a temp worker.  I had the usual lab tech responsibilities and ended up running the lab for a month while my boss was out.  Money problems came up, and as newest in, I was first out.  The one that hit hard as it was my first time being laid off from something that I considered 'my career'.  I went out with friends, cried to my family and got back into gear a few days later.  A former colleague emailed me about an opportunity in the nearby bigger town of my college alma mater and I went for it.  Got the job.

The second job, I held for almost ten years, starting [date redacted].  I was an [instrument] spectroscopist in a small consulting firm.  The president (also technician), [a few] technicians, [and a couple others.] The environment there was hostile at times, as the president did not work well with women and had obvious favorites among [the employees].  He also later hired [a relative] to work for the company [recently], buying a new instrument specifically for [the relative] to work on.  The president did not approve of my need to take off time for [a medical reason] [recently] and was even more annoyed when the surgery had to be repeated later.  With the economy as it was starting to fall, our sample input was slowing down.

NSF: 4,219 postdocs in US in 2009

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, the annual academic R&D spending rankings are out. National Science Foundation data (at the moment) only goes to 2009, which is why that's the latest date above.

If you had asked me to describe how many more postdocs there would be in 1999 than 2009, I would have probably estimated that the number of postdocs had doubled. A ten percent increase is a lot less than I would have estimated.

Any guesses as to how many postdocs there would be in 2010 and 2011? I'm going to guess higher, but not not more than 3%. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Please, who are you and what do you want?

I've been meaning to do this for a while, so now's as good as a time as any. 

Readers, if you are willing, feel free to tell us in the comments about yourself. I'd like age range, education level, academia/industry, experience level and employment status would all be helpful. 

(Readers who do not usually comment, now is your time to make yourself known. I know you're out there, and it's such an honor to have you.) 

Also, is there anything you'd like to see covered more on the blog? Right now, my foci are The Layoff Project, job blogging, economy blogging and some chemical safety coverage. 

What do you think I am missing? What should I be covering? Thanks, and have a great weekend. 

Cheers, Chemjobber

Where are the chemists? An interesting map

I'm a big fan of county-level maps of the US, so I'm especially fond of BLS' different maps of chemist statistics across the US. This is a map of the highest concentrations of chemists. While most of the dark green areas correspond to major metropolitan areas, some of them correspond to the remarkably low population density of the rural United States (I'm looking at you, Kennewick-Pasco-Richland.)

Highest concentrations of chemists (Area, number of chemists / chemists per thousand jobs)
  1. Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, WA: 590 / 6.17
  2. Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ Metropolitan Division: 1,920 / 6.11
  3. College Station-Bryan, TX: 450 / 4.90
  4. Durham, NC: 1,010 /3.78
  5. Bethesda-Frederick-Gaithersburg, MD Metropolitan Division: 1,670 / 3.02
  6. Pine Bluff, AR: 100 / 3.02
  7. Boulder, CO: 450 / 2.94
  8. Framingham, MA NECTA Division: 390 / 2.55
  9. Columbia, MO:  200 / 2.47
  10. Newark-Union, NJ-PA Metropolitan Division: 2,300 / 2.42
Never ceases to amaze, the ability of a nearby university or government facility (looking at you, Pine Bluff) to skew statistics in interesting ways. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Will the Chinese informal credit squeeze affect Western supply chains?

That's right -- I'm here to audit your supply chain. (Yes, I know
the movie's based in Japan, not China.) Credit:
Bloomberg Businessweek has an interesting article on informal credit problems in China:
Hours after a creditor and his gang of tattooed thugs hustled Zhong Maojin into a coffee shop in Wenzhou, he says he wouldn’t yield to their demands. They wanted to take over one of the pharmacies in a chain he’d built by borrowing from private lenders. Instead, he made an offer of traditional retribution in this eastern Chinese city, known for loan sharks who have sometimes meted out violence to bad debtors. “If you like, you can cut off one of my fingers instead,” Zhong, 42, says he told them. 
Giving up the store would have made it impossible to pay back another 130 creditors, Zhong said. He’d borrowed 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) at interest rates as high as 7 percent a month to expand the business. Many of the lenders were elderly neighbors who’d mortgaged their homes. At least 90 bosses in similar situations to Zhong have fled the city since April, and two killed themselves, according to Zhou Dewen, head of a small business association in Wenzhou. One was shoemaker Shen Kuizheng, who jumped to his death from his 22nd-story home on Sept. 21, he said. 
Wenzhou’s 400,000 businesses are facing financial hardship because of rising costs, soaring black market interest rates and a sudden credit squeeze, Zhou said. Similar problems are happening across China because private enterprises in China rely on underground borrowing rather than banks to operate, he said.
Bear with me for a moment here. This article focuses on the credit problems in one particular smallish city in Zhejiang, which is a coastal province in China. They make shoes and eyeglasses in Wenzhou, among other things. Perhaps it's just a problem in Wenzhou.

However, I believe (though I could be wrong) that the chemical manufacturing industry is quite strong in Zhejiang. What's the likelihood that this informal credit squeeze and the associated suicides, bosses fleeing and plant closings (which is popping up now and again in the media) is going to affect US chemical manufacturing and their supply chains? Of course, you have the official Chinese media telling people that "Zhejiang resilient to debt crisis".

Naaaaaah, couldn't happen.

ACS Webinar: Advancing Your Career as a Woman in the Pharmaceutical/Chemical Industry

ACS Webinars is running a webinar today with speaker Dr. Anabella Villalobos, Neuroscience and Antibody Drug Conjugate Medicinal Chemistry as she shares her experience being a woman in the pharmaceutical/chemical industry.

Interested? Register here. 

BS/MS/PhD research chemist wanted in Jacksonville, FL

From my e-mail inbox, a position in Jacksonville, FL:

We are assisting our client with identifying a strong R&D Synthetic Organic Chemist who has significant experience in synthetic organic chemistry. This position will be based out of Jacksonville, FL and the Company will provide relocation services. This is an immediate fill opportunity

Senior R&D Synthetic Organic Chemist. 8 + years of experience with bench to production needed, specifically with Terpene.

I would welcome the opportunity to provide you with more details. In the interim, here are some key headlines about the position for your review and consideration:

• BS Chemistry required; MS/PhD Chemistry preferred.
• Must be either a Synthetic Organic Chemist, Pharmaceutical Chemist or a Catalyst Chemist
• Minimum of 5+ years overall experience
• Experience in transferring chemical reactions and processes from bench to production
• Good experimental skills
• Manufacturing environment background
• Terpene chemistry or flavor & fragrance (preferred)
• Knowledge of technical and quality processes
• Laboratory operations
• Safe work habits: familiar with requirements of ISO 9001-2008
• Computer literate
• High work standard
• Self-motivated
• Confident
• Can handle multiple tasks
• Analytical thinker, with good problem-solving skills

Please contact me anytime at either chris.smith -at- or 713 285 2542 for a casual conversation. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/10/11 edition

Good morning! Between November 8 and 9, there have been 27 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 7 (26%) are academically connected.

Bartlesville, OK: Chevron is looking for a Ph.D. organic/organometallic chemist; 3 to 5 years experience in the polymer industry would be a plus.

Rolla, MO: Brewer Science is (once again) hiring a M.S. chemist with experience in material characterization; experience with photochemistry, photolithography or the micro-electronics industry would be valuable.

M----: Our friends from Rahway have posted 11 positions, including a maintenance mechanic position in Wilson, NC.

China Corner: Firmenich in Shanghai is hiring a Ph.D. chemical engineer.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 380, 795, 3228 and 42 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lilly/AMRI: the final frontier?

From Derek Lowe comes interesting news on Lilly and their synthetic chemist hiring efforts:
AMRI to recruit more than 40 full-time chemists to work at Lilly’s Indianapolis headquarters 
Albany, NY (November 7, 2011)   — AMRI (NASDAQ: AMRI) announced today that, as part of a new collaboration agreement with Eli Lilly and Company, it anticipates hiring more than 40 synthetic chemists by the third quarter of 2012 to support Lilly's drug discovery programs. The chemists will work onsite at Lilly's headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, where they will support the medicinal chemistry department. This collaboration will further accelerate Lilly's drug discovery efforts by maximizing real-time exchange of scientific information. AMRI expects to recruit the majority of the synthetic chemists who will be affiliated with this collaboration from Indiana and surrounding states. 
The term of the collaboration is six years, extendable by mutual agreement of both parties.
I had heard tell of this move, but I did not know that the Tattaglias (kidding, kidding!) Albany Molecular would be involved. It's certainly better-than-bad news for synthetic chemists in the Midwest -- if you're looking for work in Indiana or Illinois, it might certainly be a half-decent career path.

I've always found Lilly to make interesting choices; it seems like their big employment moves are much less telegraphed and it seems like they've spent the 2003-present years without announcing enormous mergers or enormous layoffs. There was, of course, the Covance deal (so we shouldn't really be surprised when that business model is applied to chemistry...)

In the long run, of course, this is really bad news for synthetic chemists and it's another sign that "sticky wages" aren't a problem for us. Best wishes to us all.

Process Wednesday: the pitfalls of scaleup

An amusing story (only in hindsight!) from the annals of Organic Process Research and Development [1]:
Scale-up is a minefield! Impurities from somewhere contaminated the product. In GMP philosophy, impurities on an industrial scale must be lower than at the laboratory level. The reason is that raw materials, solvents, and reagent qualities are checked, and reactor vessels, pipelines and centrifuges are cleaned with great care prior to the GMP production. The contamination from the facilities, consequently, might be slight. However, we found unexpected impurities in the case of scale-up. They could not be completely anticipated in the laboratory....
The authors describe noting turbidity in typically clear product solutions and unknown peaks in their HPLCs. An investigation ensued:
From these results (the wet cake showed turbidity), the product did not become contaminated with turbidity compounds before the activated carbon treatment or after drying. Therefore, all of the equipment, crystallizer, feed pipe, pressure filter, pumps, clothes, gloves, and storage bags were checked. That is, those components were rinsed with MeOH, and the MeOH was analyzed by HPLC. After that, no equipment, except for the natural rubber gloves, contained the peak B material, and the polyethylene bags used in this process contained peak C and peak D material! [snip] 
They found the impurities to be BHT, dioctylphthalate and other polymer stabilizers:
...During runs 2 and 3 in Table 1, the turbidity was caused by the 200-L polyethylene bag. It was caused by natural rubber gloves during run 4 (Tables 1 and 3). To prevent the turbidity, the process has been changed as follows: the material of the gloves was returned to polyethylene. In this case, the contact time with the wet cake is very short; therefore, there is no worry about turbidity. The containers for the wet cake storage were changed from polyethylene bags to stainless steel buckets. After these modifications, no turbidity was observed on the plant scale (Table 5).
Murphy is a jerk, let me tell ya. 

1. Sano, T.; Senzaki, H.; Sugaya, T.; Kasai, M. "Contamination of Dipeptide by Polymer Stabilizers Leached from Gloves and Packaging during Scale-up." Organic Process Research & Development 2000, 4, 349−352. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Layoff Project: "Be prepared for strong highs and lows"

TN writes in with their layoff story:

I was a biologist at a big pharma company.  As part of a company-wide reorg, our entire department was closed.  We did have several weeks before having to pack up, and the severance was generous.  However, it was shocking and infuriating since my family relocated from across the country just 16 months prior (I was working for the company at a different site).  So my search was more complex in that I was looking in my old location, my new location, and potentially other locations.

What should you do the first week? Should you take a break? Jump right in to finding a new job?  
I would jump in, but I would not start applying for jobs.  Get the word out to your network that you're on the market, update your resume, and think hard about whether you're looking for work similar to your old position or want to explore other areas.  If you still have time w/your previous employer, get a job talk together, get it approved by legal for public disclosure (I believe strongly in this), and write a paper if possible.

How can your family and friends help? 
Expanding your network - making introductions to people at potential new employers - and moral support.  It's also important to avoid isolation.

Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?  
Outplacement is marginally helpful; most useful is you can network and it gives you an excuse to leave the house.

What financial advice can you offer? What should/did you do? What should you NOT do? 
File for unemployment ASAP.  Be prudent with spending.  But you should not go on complete austerity, you still need to live your life.  We still went on a family ski vacation and it was a sorely needed reprieve from the job search (and I didn't need to use vacation days!).

When did you start looking for another position? 
I started promptly since I am the primary breadwinner and a Type A personality, but I would advocate taking a short break and start with a clearer head and less panic.

How painful was finding another position? What should someone be emotionally prepared for? 
The pain lessens as you gain more distance from your previous job and more towards your next opportunity but be prepared for strong highs and lows, even from one day to the next.

How did you spend your typical day? What behaviors do you think were helpful or not helpful? 
I had a couple of guiding principles:

1) Do not check job sites more than once/week or you will drive yourself crazy.  Every Monday I would start with an aggregator (e.g. and then follow up at companies on my target list
2) Leave the house at least once every day, even if it's just to run errands.

I would spend several hours a day with the job hunt - anything from searching for positions on-line, networking and informational interviews (preferably in-person), researching companies, and preparing for interviews.

But it is not a full time job.  I spent more time with the kids, did more running, and volunteered.  My wife is a freelance writer from home and we went on several "dates."

It was also critical to negotiate how much extra housework you're willing to take on.  Yes, you have more time on your hands, but a job search takes time, and you will be resentful if you feel you have moved from valued professional scientist to housekeeper.

Have you found new work? What was helpful there? 
I have found new work without having to relocate or taking a pay cut.  I am lucky that I am loving my new job, have great colleagues, and while staying in research my focus is different so I am learning a ton.  The most important things are to keep a positive attitude, build new relationships, and learn how processes are done in your new environment (and not complain if they are different from where you were before).

CJ here again. Thanks to TN for sharing their story and best wishes to all of us.

The Layoff Project is an attempt to collect the oral histories of chemists who have been affected by the changes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The explanatory post is here; stories can be left in the comments or e-mailed to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed. 

Georgetown: Chemist unemployment rate at 5.1%

In the great battle to determine the True Unemployment Rate for Chemists, I note that the Wall Street Journal has weighed in with a data set from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce's report on college majors. (Page 162)

It finds that the unemployment rate for chemists is (drumroll) 5.1%. It's undetermined how they found this number, but I note that it's not very much higher than ACS' 3.8% or BLS' 3.1% (both for 2010.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/8/11 edition

Good morning! Between November 3 and November 7, there have been 86 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 35 (41%) are academically connected.

Andover, MA: Cambridge Isotope Laboratories is looking for a Ph.D. organic/analytical chemist to be a senior quality control chemist. 1+ years of supervisory/GMP experience desired.

[Insert glue adhesives pun here]: Adhesives Research Inc. is looking for a M.S. polymer chemist for product development. Franklin International is looking for a B.S. analytical chemist for analytical support of its adhesives product development efforts.

Bellefonte, PA: Sigma-Aldrich desires a Ph.D. analytical chemist with 5+ years experience with GC and GC/MS. "Development, evaluation and application of new and innovative separation technologies such as Supelco's exclusive and patented solid phase microextraction (SPME) technology will be an immediate focus of this position."

You again: Millenium is once again posting its "multiple positions" ad. Fishing?

Merck: Are you a chemist? Do you love chemistry? Merck would like to know if you want to be a historian of its video archives. Really, Merck HR? Are you kidding me? (39 positions this week (45%)) 

Monday, November 7, 2011

What the heck is Merck's Christopher Hill saying?

Later in Sophie Rovner's article, an interesting set of comments from Christopher Hill, the head of global chemistry for Merck (emphasis mine):
Nevertheless, the company still “needs to bring in new talent and to keep up to date with modern technologies,” says Christopher H. Hill, Merck’s head of global chemistry. Most of Merck’s chemistry positions are in North America, primarily on the East Coast. Recruitment over the past year or so has been “focused on strategic hiring into our key areas of innovation and complex problem solving,” he says. “That will continue to be the case in the future.” By contrast, he adds, work involving production of standard, simple molecules will increasingly be outsourced. 
One of the major changes resulting from the merger with Schering-Plough was the formation of a global chemistry organization, Hill says. The new structure presents accelerated development opportunities for chemists who want to enhance their skills and gain experience with different parts of the organization. Some Merck chemists who have a synthetic chemistry background may decide to stick with that focus, particularly if they’re in the process chemistry part of the company. But other synthetic chemists may transition into the medicinal chemistry sector, Hill says. “To do that, they have to develop a really thorough understanding not only of chemistry and the way molecules interact with their mechanistic targets of interest, but also of the biology, DMPK [drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics], and other aspects of the discovery process.” 
In addition, “there’s a drive within our industry to be more predictive in what we do,” so Merck will continue to recruit computational chemists, modelers, structural chemists, and chemoinformatics experts. There’s also room for people with training in more specialized areas such as NMR and crystallography. Merck has developed strong catalysis and biocatalysis groups, which are involved in drug discovery as well as finding new ways of making compounds that are in development or are already products. One example is the biocatalytic process developed to synthesize the diabetes drug sitagliptin. 
“We’ve moved into new areas of chemistry as well, such as RNAi chemistry, which we will continue to invest in,” Hill says. “So those are the types of areas where we’re looking to innovate and where we have complex problems to solve, and those are the types of chemists that we have looked to recruit” and will continue to search out. 
“Within our industry as a whole, given the challenges we’ve got and the problems we’ve got to solve, we’re always looking to bring in people with significant knowledge, expertise, and capabilities,” Hill says. “There has been a trend toward bringing in people with higher-level degrees. So over the last few years, we’ve tended to bring in people more with master’s degrees rather than bachelor’s, and to bring in Ph.D.s with postdoctoral experience as well.”
Question: what in the heck is Christopher Hill saying? Synthetic chemists who wish to do synthetic chemistry in pharma have two tracks (more-or-less): medicinal chemistry and process chemistry. And he's still offering that choice? I'm terribly confused.

It's worth pointing out that it's unsurprising that "simple, standard molecules" are being outsourced. The question is, of course, what kind of "simple molecules" are we talking about? IP or non-IP?

Finally, it's interesting to note that Merck is bringing in people with more education, which jives with the general trend of new graduates feeling the most pain these days.

C&EN/ACS: Chemist unemployment down slightly to 3.8%

This week's Chemical and Engineering News is the employment issue; first, let's talk numbers from Sophie Rovner's article (emphases mine):
Chemists have suffered right along with other U.S. workers. Surveys of American Chemical Society members show that unemployment among chemists and chemical engineers reached 3.9% in 2009—considerably higher than the 2.3–2.4% rate seen in 2007–08. “Even though it’s still a much better story than for the U.S. as a whole,” that degree of joblessness is “still quite significant to chemists,” says Elizabeth C. McGaha, manager for the society’s Department of Research & Member Insights, which carries out the surveys. 
The situation has been even worse for new graduates than for chemists and chemical engineers as a group, McGaha says. The unemployment rate for new grads, which was 7.2% in 2007, jumped to 9.5% in 2008 and 11.4% in 2009, according to the ACS Survey of New Graduates. The pressure appears to have eased slightly in 2010. Unemployment for new graduates was 10.7%, while that for ACS chemists and chemical engineers as a group was 3.8%. Nevertheless, McGaha says that “we’ll need to see the 2011 data before suggesting any stabilization.” 
Her caution stems in part from uncertainty about the reasons for the decline in unemployment. For instance, did the decline result from laid-off chemists finding new jobs as opposed to quitting the job market in favor of additional schooling or retirement? McGaha’s team hopes to tackle these questions in coming years. 
The sector that’s taken the hardest hit since the recession began is the pharmaceutical industry, which has cut thousands of positions in the U.S. as a result of the expiration of patent protection on several blockbuster drugs, outsourcing, and other pressures. 
However, job cuts in pharma may be declining. Those announced during the first three quarters of 2011 totaled 19,076, according to the outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. For the same period in 2010, 43,334 job cuts were announced, and in the first three quarters of 2009, pharma job cut announcements totaled 58,583. 
In the chemical industry, announced jobs cuts stood at 2,447 during the first three quarters of 2011. During the same period in 2010, they reached 1,716, and in the first three quarters of 2009, job cut announcements totaled 54,219.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Spam filter ARRRGGGH!

Readers, the Blogspot spam filter occasionally eats comments. Of course, it really prefers good, long comments. If you type in a 200 word masterpiece and it doesn't appear, please e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com and I'll fish it out.

For example, Hap asked for comment from ortho and ortho responded. Aaaand it went straight into the spam filter. And "Buy Lab Filters Now" always manages to post in my archives. Aaaiiigh. Sorry, folks. I'll try harder.

HPLC vials

A list of small, useful things (links):

Unemployment at 9.1%, U6 unemployment at 16.2%

Unemployment down 0.1% in October to 9.0%. The broader U6 measurement is down 0.3% to 16.2%.

Good news, I think. It'd be nice if things accelerated, but I think that's too much to hope for.

(Graphic, as always, thanks to Calculated Risk Blog.

Critique my resume!

Resumés and CVs aren't talked about on the blog very much (especially recently). I've decided to post a modified version of my actual resume (i.e. a modified version of this document has actually (mirabile dictu) gotten me job offers.)

(UPDATED: I should also note that this is the first page of a 2 page resume. Missing are my papers/presentations, references and one more job. Part two next week?)

Readers, feel free to critique this thing and offer suggestions to me and to other readers on their resumés.

(I should note here that ACS Careers has a very nice resumé review service, especially at national ACS meetings.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Layoff Project: "There is no shame in losing your job, not in this economy."

A note from a polymer chemist we'll call LM:


I've been laid off twice. The first time was hard, the second wasn't as it was old hat by that point. Here's what I learned (sorry that I'm not formally answering your questions directly).

1) The perspective that I took (not always completely successfully – some days were better than others) was that my job hunt would end at some point. If I knew the exact day, then I would sit back, enjoy life and just wait it out. So why should anything be different just because I didn't know the exact day that I would start working again?

2) Sure, you can look and apply online, but isn't that what everyone else is doing? Is that how you are going to differentiate yourself? Seriously? What if someone asks you in an interview what you are doing to find a job – is your answer just going to be "I'm looking online at Monster/Indeed/CareerBuilder…" Do you take that same approach in your job of just googling for a solution anytime you have a problem, or do more and go talk to people? This leads to my next point…

3) Network to find your job. When you are out of a job, let people know. Let everyone know. (There is no shame in losing your job, not in this economy.) Talk to your friends, and family, your neighbors, your garbageman, your minister, the dishwasher repairman, the clerk in the checkout at the grocery store, the people standing in line in front of you at the grocery store …And push them to talk to people that they know. (And now you have a better answer to that potential interview question in the previous paragraph.)

4) Never give your resume to anyone unless they are interviewing you or could interview you. If someone wants to look at your resume, they are just gawkers. If they say they know someone that could hire you, then have them make an introduction for you. Unless you are total loser, you will come across better than your sheet of paper and you can tell your story far, far better than anyone else can, so do it yourself.

CJ here again. Thanks to LM for sharing his advice and best wishes to all of us.

The Layoff Project is an attempt to collect the oral histories of chemists who have been affected by the changes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The explanatory post is here; stories can be left in the comments or e-mailed to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/3/11 edition

Good morning! Between November 1 and November 2, there have been 23 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 14 (61%) are academically connected:

Gettin' crazy: Don't look now, but Pfizer has posted 4 positions in the last 2 days. 2 crystallography positions at the La Jolla site and 2 (?) biologic process technicians.

Danville, VA: A bona fide green job! HCL Cleantech is a cellulosic-to-biofuels company; they're looking for an A.A./B.S. chemist to be a process development technician:
Prefer a 2-4 Yr. Degree in a science and/or engineering related field to include, but not limited to, chemicals, electrical and electronics, and mechanical based fields of study and/or the equivalent work experience in laboratory, chemical, or biological operations as well as related work experience based from a military service background.

Santa Clara, CA: Agilent is looking for a R&D scientist / expert for their genomics division. Hard to say what that's about. (It says "expert" in the title -- is that awesome or is that more like "bagholder"?)

A broader look:,, Indeed and show 396, 804, 3,384 and 51 positions for the search term "chemist" respectively.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Layoff Project: "You are either networking or not working."

NT writes in with their story of a recent layoff:

I was working as a project chemist at a well-known consumer products company this summer when I was laid off. I am 27 and was only there one year. I have a Bachelor's degree, and was part of a three-man internal analytical chemistry lab which supported R&D for the entire company. We tested potential new raw materials, completed reverse engineering of competitor products, and analyzed our own product returns to see if there was a chemistry-related root cause among other smaller projects. 30 people in total were laid off, including 20 in a government contract division. Additionally one person from each department had to go, and I had the least experience. From what I learned afterward, management had determined that our internal analytical laboratory would receive less work because of the loss of projects from the government contract division. They had declared bankruptcy a few years beforehand, and were known to go through layoffs, so it was not unexpected. Before working there, I was a QC chemist for a regional organic toll manufacturer for 3 years.

What should you do the first week? Should you take a break? Jump right in to finding a new job?
Immediately after it happened, back in June, I blew off the rest of the day, played frisbee golf, met a friend for lunch. I figured that would help over sitting at home watching TV. Once I got home to wait to tell my wife, that's when I started to feel like garbage. It took me a good week to get over the shock and couldn't sleep for a while. It was the beginning of summer and there wasn't much incentive to find something right away. I think it's important to take a little time for oneself, especially if you haven't had a vacation in a while. I attended some workshops within 3 weeks of getting laid off to get my resume in order.

How can your family and friends help?
Please don't tell me, "Now that you have all this free time, you should come visit!" It doesn't really work like that, if I expect to find employment again. I need to work on my resume/applications, which take a lot of time and sometimes can be harder than actually working. I visited some family within the first month but that just stalled me.