Tuesday, January 31, 2012

To be yourself, or to not be yourself?

Courtesy of Lisa Balbes: As assistant professor candidates are heading out for interviews, someone who has billed themselves as a consultant to professor candidates speaks up in the pages of Inside Higher Ed:
Because no matter where you are in your career, but most especially if you are just starting out, or (god forbid) a grad student, you are, as an academic, insecure, verbose, defensive, paranoid, beset by feelings of inadequacy,  pretentious, self-involved, communicatively challenged, and fixated on minutiae. 
Consequently, here’s how you act in interviews:  rambling, obscure, petrified, subservient, cringing, disorganized, braggy, tedious, emotionally over-amped, off-point, self-absorbed, defensive, and fixated on minutiae. 
I'm sure the comment stream will erupt with objections, but …  I’ve worked with enough interviewees — as a search committee member, Ph.D. adviser, and coach and consultant — to know whereof I speak. 
Sorry, academics. You/we suck at interviewing.
Here's what actually needs to happen.
You have to jettison "yourself." 
In its stead, you have to create a professional persona. That persona is a full-fledged adult who demonstrates a tightly organized research program, a calm confidence in a research contribution to a field or discipline, a clear and specific trajectory of publications, innovative but concise, non-emotional ideas about teaching at all levels of the curriculum, a non-defensive openness to the exchange of ideas, and most importantly, a steely-eyed grasp of the real (as opposed to fantasy) needs of actual hiring departments, which revolve ultimately, in the current market, around money.
In some sense, I actually agree with her. People are drawn to self-confident candidates and you want to be the best version of yourself. Keeping your speech disciplined is a good way of getting there.

At the same time, in the course of the day-long interview process that happens in both academia and industry, there is no way that you can keep up a facade for that long. Hiring committees and hiring managers (I'd like to think) are typically fairly perceptive people. Contacts with references and direct questions to interviewees will reveal whatever negative tendencies you might have. If the reality is far from the illusion, people on hiring committees will respond negatively.

On the other hand, I find her business model remarkable. On her website, she writes: "My clients: Get  grants. Get tenure track jobs. Get tenure." (Really? Eyebrow raise.) She charges $20 for an initial consultation. She charges $110/hour for a Skype interview consultation. Wow -- I'm guessing she gets a fair number of takers. (Shouldn't someone do this for chemistry assistant professor interviewees? Maybe, maybe not.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/31/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 26 and January 30, there were 32 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 16 (50%) were academically connected and are covered in the Ivory Filter Flask.

Experimental Station, DE: Dupont is searching for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to become a specialist in gas chromatography instruments. 3+ years industrial experience is desired.

Madison, WI: Kensey Nash is a medical device polymer company; they desire an experienced M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemist to work on "synthetic polymer hydrogels and coatings used to improve medical care." 7+ years experience desired.

Still searching: Toyota is looking for the ever-elusive advanced battery materials specialist. I wonder what these folks are commanding these days? Six-figure salaries? Your finest meats and cheeses? (Ann Arbor, MI)

Woodland Park, NJ: Cytec is looking for a Ph.D. organic/polymer chemist to become a postdoctoral fellow. No remarks as to length of stay or salary.

Monroeville, PA: PPG Industries is searching for a Ph.D. organic chemist to work on photochromic dyes.

Westlake, LA: Sasol North America desires an experienced M.S./Ph.D. chemist to perform chemical research for personal care products. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/31/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 24 and January 30, there were 23 academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Let's do the numbers:

Total number of ads: 23
- Postdocs: 6
- Tenure-track faculty: 8
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions: 1
- Staff positions: 7
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 22/1

Northfield, VT: Norwich University is looking for an assistant professor of analytical chemistry. Norwich is apparently a private military college in central Vermont -- take along a snow shovel?

Tabuk, Saudi Arabia: The University of Tabuk is a new Saudi university; they're searching for new professors for both their male and female campuses. Here's the pay and benefits:
Salary scale is for Assistant Professors 13,000-15,800 Saudi Riyal (SAR), for Associate Professors 17,000-19,400 SAR and for full-Professors 20,800-23,300 SAR per month. There is an additional up to 25,000 SAR annual tuition allowance for children’s education and one time 12,000 SAR furniture allowance. Faculty members can also earn an additional two months' of base salary for eligible funded research activities. Free round-trip air-ticket is provided annually to the employees and for up to three of their dependents from Tabuk to their point of origin. Saudi Arabia is tax-free country. Preceding salary amounts are take-home pay. Faculty members also get 2 months of paid summer vacation. 
Considering their top end for full professors is ~$72k/year, I think they're going to need to do better than that. Nevertheless, might be fun.

Baltimore, MD: On the other hand, Johns Hopkins is searching for a conservation science postdoc with a salary of $56,000 a year. Sounds like that'd go pretty far in Tabuk.

Staff galore: Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK (home of Sonic!) is searching for a chemistry stockroom manager / chemistry instructor, with the grand salary of $33.8k-$41k a year. UC San Diego is looking for a chemical safety specialist (B.S. in science + 3 years EH&S experience needed.) Georgia Southern University is looking for a chemistry instrumentation manager.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What is the level of worker safety at Chinese chemical manufacturers?

In the New York Times' series on Apple's manufacturing facilities in China, there are some sad chemical safety stories to be found:
In January 2010, workers at a Chinese factory owned by Wintek, an Apple manufacturing partner, went on strike over a variety of issues, including widespread rumors that workers were being exposed to toxins. Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis. 
Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.
I guess they can't get branched alkanes over there? I note that cyclohexane has a boiling point of 80°C, but isohexane's is 60°C.

(Note to any potential Google searchers: Mike Daisey is wrong that hexane is a "potent neurotoxin." Hexane itself is not the neurotoxin, it's the lysine adduct of the hexane metabolite, 2,5-hexanedione. (Not that it really matters to the poor kid whose hands are shaking.))

There's also a passage in the New York Times article about an explosion that killed a number of employees because of ambient aluminum dust from polishing iPad cases:
In its most recent supplier responsibility report, Apple wrote that after the explosion, the company contacted “the foremost experts in process safety” and assembled a team to investigate and make recommendations to prevent future accidents. 
In December, however, seven months after the blast that killed Mr. Lai, another iPad factory exploded, this one in Shanghai. Once again, aluminum dust was the cause, according to interviews and Apple’s most recent supplier responsibility report. That blast injured 59 workers, with 23 hospitalized. 
“It is gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected,” said Nicholas Ashford, the occupational safety expert, who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.”
That's a pretty depressing thing to hear. What is frustrating, just like Ashford says, this is an easily monitored and addressable issue.

It really makes a person wonder about the other, less well-known hazards in Chinese manufacturing. What's the safety record of Wuxi PharmaTech, anyhow? It's my assumption that many Aldrich reagents are made in China -- do they audit their suppliers' safety?

If anyone knows anything about this, please e-mail me or write in the comments. I'd love to hear about it.

AMRI: A self-assessment by CEO Thomas D'Ambra

From this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News, the annual custom chemical manufacturing article (by Ann Thayer), with a section on everyone's favorite chemistry outsourcing firm (and former mass employer of organic chemists), Albany Molecular:
More recently, AMRI made cutbacks in response to changing customer needs and the economic environment. “This means investing in areas that are doing well and refocusing areas that have experienced decreasing demand,” D’Ambra says. Among its steps, AMRI is ceasing all internal R&D programs, except for generic drugs, and trimming its U.S. contract drug discovery staff. 
“During the last couple of years, we have seen steep declines in demand for U.S. discovery offerings, with concomitant growth to AMRI’s Asian locations,” he explains. “As we are cutting back our U.S. assets, we are continuing to invest in the growth of our Singaporean and Indian facilities and capabilities.” The company also may restructure its European contract research operations, including ­possibly closing its site in Hungary. 
On the manufacturing side of its business, AMRI’s U.S. API plant had a record year in 2011. “Many projects we have been involved with during the last several years are going commercial or are approaching the filing stage,” D’Ambra says. This progress has compensated for slower movement in earlier stage projects, he adds, where customers have taken longer to make decisions, leaving the company with a record backlog of outstanding bids. 
Despite the delays, D’Ambra is optimistic about the future and foresees a strong year in 2012. Although 2011 was a year of significant disruption for big pharma customers and financially tough for many small and start-up companies, the trend could be positive for outsourcing, he explains. “The tough environment will force some companies to operate more virtually than they might have wanted to in the past.”
I'm sure that there was a section about how badly Dr. D'Ambra felt about the fact that there were "steep declines" in demand for US contract researchers -- it just didn't make the editor's cut. Sigh.

(Incidentally, do Thomas D'Ambra and John Lechleiter give the lie to the thought that "we just need to get a chemist into management instead of those mean MBAs" stereotype?)

Friday, January 27, 2012

12 questions you don't want to be asked on an interview

You're at the white board in a conference room or sitting at a nice restaurant at lunch and someone leans over the table and says:
  1. So tell me about your experience with angry bosses.
  2. Did you have experience working on the weekends in graduate school? Did you like it? 
  3. You're not one of those chemists that insists on proper PPE, are you? 
  4. You don't expect a W-2 at the end of the year, do you? 
  5. How would you feel about a part-time position in Bangalore? 
  6. Do you know how many other candidates there are for this position?
  7. Are you in chemistry for the money? I'm not. 
  8. Do you think NMR is important for structure elucidation? How good are you at using IR for functional group identification?
  9. Here's the complex natural product that my company is working on -- how would you synthesize it?
  10. Do you prefer to be paid in drachmas or lira? 
  11. You know, 70's vintage analytical equipment is quite good. Do you have any experience repairing old televisions? 
  12. We have weekly naked group meetings -- got a problem with that? 
Enjoy the weekend, folks. 

How to talk about chemical safety

What's the best way to talk to a peer about how they're performing a particular chemical operation and its safety components? What if they're doing something really unsafe? 

I dunno, but here's one mostly ineffective way:
Hey! What you're doing there is REALLY unsafe. You're going to get yourself killed! And everyone around you, too! Are you some kind of idiot?
Here's another ineffective way:
What are you doing? [walks away]
 Here's how I might approach someone doing something unsafe:
Hey, uh, have you thought about the safety concerns with this method of doing something? No? Let's go look up some best practices on how to do this.  
I know that you're under pressure and trying to get this done -- I really appreciate that. But let's go find out if you could get hurt, eh?
That might be a little too diplomatic. It depends on the person you're talking, of course, and what approach you think might work the best. Readers, what do you prefer? 

What's going on out there?

Weekly unemployment claims (Credit: Calculated Risk)
It's really difficult to reduce something as big as the US and/or global economy into a few numbers, but let's try to see what's going on:
In related news, the Federal Open Market Committee intends to keep interest rates low:
In particular, the Committee decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that economic conditions--including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run--are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014.
Yay for borrowers, boo for savers.

Overall, the US economy appears to be muddling through. Trouble spots include oil prices, the European economy (and the continuing (resolving?) debt crisis) and the slowing Chinese economy. Let's hope employment for chemists starts on a positive trend, eh?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Man, I hope this isn't how they hire chemists in pharma

Credit: Wall Street Journal
You get to peek behind the curtain of job application software in the Wall Street Journal's article "Your Résumé Versus Oblivion" -- it ain't pretty:
Many job seekers have long suspected their online employment applications disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again. Their fears may not be far off the mark, as more companies rely on technology to winnow out less-qualified candidates... Recruiters and hiring managers are overwhelmed by the volume of résumés pouring in, thanks to the weak job market and new tools that let applicants apply for a job with as little as one mouse click. ...Most recruiters report that at least 50% of job hunters don't possess the basic qualifications for the jobs they are pursuing. 
The screening systems are one way companies are seeking to cut the costs of hiring a new employee, which now averages $3,479, according to human-resources consulting firm Bersin & Associates. Big companies, many of which cut their human-resources staffs during the recession, now spend about 7% of their external recruitment budgets on applicant-tracking systems, the firm says.
I'm not especially surprised by their comments about small companies, but it is interesting to hear some unscientific numbers:
Résumé overload isn't just a big-company problem. Job seekers often are surprised when they don't hear back from small businesses. These businesses rarely hire enough people to make an applicant-tracking system cost-effective, but even a one-time posting on a well-trafficked job board like Monster.com can garner hundreds of responses. Only 19% of hiring managers at small companies look at a majority of the résumés they receive, and 47% say they review just a few, according to a recent survey by Information Strategies Inc., publisher of Your HR Digest, an online newsletter.
Having survived feeling my résumé into a large-company database in the recent past and actually receiving a phone call (that ultimately resulted in a offer!), I have to say that (like the first paragraph), it was my assumption that there was some sort of black hole involved. The request that resumes be in "Word document format" was yet more evidence that computers were involved.

I once spoke to a man who was hired by a major government contractor (and employer of physical scientists) in Utah. He told me the best way to deal with the software was to copy the job description and its keywords and paste it into the top portion of my résumé. I see this is in the article's advice:
Forget about being creative. Instead, mimic the keywords in the job description as closely as possible. If you're applying to be a sales manager, make sure your résumé includes the words "sales" and "manage" (assuming you've done both!).
Good heavens. I, for one, quail at our new screening overlords.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/26/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 24 and January 25, there were 19 new positions posted. Of them, 7 (37%) were academically connected and will be covered by Tuesday's Ivory Filter Flask. Two positions were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Zeroes!: The good folks at BASF (Iselin, NJ) are hiring an associate engineer for a position running an automotive catalytic reactor. No experience needed, salary "very competitive." Also, a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist/chemical engineer position (in the same laboratory)?. Maximum 8+ years experience needed, descending for higher degrees.

San Francisco, CA: MAP Pharmaceuticals is working in the neurology area. They're looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to work on assays and drug formulation, it appears. 2 openings available.

Birmingham, AL: Once again, Southern Research Institute is looking for a Ph.D. chemist for a "senior scientist" position where they'll perform drug discovery. With the comment that they're looking for someone who has attracted outside support in the past, why don't they just call this an "assistant professor" or a "principal investigator" position and be done with it?

Eugene, OR: Life Technologies is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist for a process chemistry position in their production department.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) 244, 699, 2,952 and 48 positions for the search term "chemist." 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A poem, by Kelly Scientific Resources

[throat clearing] From the pages of ACS Careers, a poem by Kelly Scientific Resources:

the employee is occasionally exposed to wet and/or humid conditions

fumes or airborne particles

while performing the duties of this job

Process Wednesday: retreat curve agitators

Retreat curve agitator (Credit: Southern Glass)
I don't know what you think of when you imagine the agitator in a large-scale reactor, but I think I always imagined something that looked like a boat propeller. So it's come as a surprise to me to become familiar with the graceful lines of the retreat curve impeller that comes with a glass-lined reactor.

For a little tutorial on the retreat curve impeller, I refer us to "Understand Flow Patterns in Glass-Lined Reactors", an article by Dickey et al. in the November 2004 issue of Chemical Engineering Professional:
Glass-lined reactors are essential process equipment in the pharmaceutical and speciality chemicals industries. A typical glass-lined reactor included a retreat curve impeller (RCI) near the bottom of the vessel and usually a single baffle mounted through a nozzle in the vessel head. The RCI with rounded blade corners may limit harmful turbulence effects while maintaining circulation throughout the vessel. Glass lining (the term "lining" is used to refer to the glass coating on the agitator and the inside of the tank) provides corrosion resistance, is easy to clean, and eliminates product contamination.  
The retreat curve of the RCI blades provids better radial flow than radial flow impellers with similar power characteristics. The impeller is placed near the bottom of the vessel to maximize the allowable range of liquid levels and to produce circulation from the bottom to the top of the vessel. The baffle (occasionally two baffles) is mounted from a nozzle in the top head because mounting to the side of a glass-lined vessel is difficult. The impeller and baffle always have a rounded cross-section without sharp corners because high stresses in the glass can cause the brittle coating to fail. 
There's a lot in those paragraphs that I don't really understand (radial flow? turbulence effects are harmful?), but it's interesting to me nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In other #SheriSangji news, CalOSHA's report is released

Over at The Pump Handle, they have a copy of CalOSHA's senior investigator's report on the Sheri Sangji case. It's quite a doozy, with pointed questions up and down UCLA's EH&S chain.

The investigator, Brian Baudendistel, gets to ask questions of everyone in the case, including Sheri Sangji's labmates. Here's the LA Times' story on the report. ScienceCareers also has a contribution. More on this report later. 

Readers speak on potential prison time for Professor Harran

Last week, I asked if anyone thought that Professor Patrick Harran should go to prison. As I've said before, the felony charges are likely to be an opening gambit between the prosecutor and the defense. No one expects that he will serve the maximum prison time (4.5 years), which is the harshest punishment available to the state in this case.

That said, I was curious to know if there was anyone who thought that he should go to prison, other than to teach all chemistry PIs a lesson (an option, I note, that I find unjust. Patrick Harran should not go to prison for the sins of all academic chemistry.) I did receive two responses from people who thought that he deserves prison time. The first response by VT:
Harran deserves some prison time.  
Lots of people sell pot. Only some get caught. Those who are caught get punished. I think someone in one of your comments section compared it to drunk driving. I think that this analogy is actually the best. You can drive drunk. You may or may not get caught. If you do get caught, you are going to be busted. If you get caught after having an accident which kills someone, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter. And, unless your lawyers are good/your pleas for mercy are stellar/your judge is understanding, you are doing jail-time. 
Harran was unsafe. He got caught. He got caught when there was an accident that killed a student. The question here is severity of the punishment. Harran did not kill his student (as in the DUI analogy). But he was responsible for her safety. I think he gets time. 3-6 months.  
I don't see how he gets out of jail-time for this. Especially considering that his jury of peers will most likely not include any scientists.  
It is my opinion that, if Harran serves time, he deserves to go back to his current job at UCLA. 
The second contribution is from KO (one notes that Sangji was an employee, not a student -- the concept of personal responsibility still holds, in my opinion):
I do believe that Professor Patrick Harran deserves jail time.   
This opinion is based off the structure and nature of the student/PI (principal investigator) relationship.  A graduate student is not considered a full time employee of the University.  Therefore, not subject to the oversight of OSHA or other federal regulatory offices and this is therefore a direct liability.   In the case of industry, individual employers are generally protected from personal liability due to the nature of corporate law.  Since the university cannot claim the student as a full time employee, they accept full liability for said student.  And the person in charge of the student's training and direct oversight is the PI.  It reasons that the personal liability rests on the PI shoulders and the University takes liability for the system ensuring compliance and safety.  In this case both are at fault.  However, since you cannot arrest a university, the university should be held financally responsible and the PI held personally responsible for the safety and well being of the students.   Since the PI is not running a corporation or even an LLC then the PI is not protected and hence fully liable.
After reading all the comments, I think there are 3 or 4 general strains of thought about why Professor Harran deserves prison time:
  • Harran going to prison will encourage chemistry PIs to change their ways. 
  • Professor Harran's the PI, he's the captain of the ship, someone died on his watch, he deserves punishment. 
  • He was being unsafe, he got caught, he's subject to the letter of the law. 
  • If this happened in a meatpacking plant and Harran was the supervisor, he'd be facing charges and prison time. Why is it different if it happened at a laboratory? 
Finally, I want to highlight this comment from Anon011720120457p:
I think his tenure should be revoked. As for community service, if he gets probation and no jail time: volunteer work in a rehab hospital that treats burn patients. That will bring home the seriousness of his negligence in supervising Sangji.
This to me seems to be a punishment that's probably closest to what will actually happen.

Readers, what do you think?

Daily Pump Trap: 1/24/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 19 and January 23, there were 52 new positions posted on the ACS Careers database. Of these, 13 (25%) were academically connected and 33 (63%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Argh: Do you know what's annoying? Clicking on a Kelly Scientific position and being told it's not active at this time, again and again and again.

Palo Alto, CA: Genencor is searching for 2 B.S./M.S. chemistry positions, both biochemistry/analytically-oriented. 

Daeduck, South Korea: SK Pharmaceuticals is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist for pharmaceutical process chemistry research.

Cambridge, MA: Have a degree in petroleum thermodynamics and interfacial science? Schlumberger-Doll's CO2 mitigation department has a position for you.

You again: Sapling Learning is once again searching for a M.S./Ph,D. teacher of organic chemistry to work at its Austin, TX based headquarters for teaching and test writing.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/24/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 17 and January 23, there were 19 new academically-connected positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Let's do the numbers:

Total number of ads: 19
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty: 11
- Temporary faculty: 2
- Lecturer positions: 3
- Staff positions: 1
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 17/2

Lindsborg, KS: Bethany College is a private 4 year school -- they're searching for a tenure-track professor of organic chemistry. Ph.D. desired, ABD acceptable. Very close to the geographical center of the United States!

The Yankees Win. Thhhhaaaaa Yankees Win: (Sorry, had to indulge.) Yeshiva University (NYC) is looking for a tenure-track professor of chemistry; no subfield specified.

Durham, NC: Duke University is searching for a postdoc with skills in protein-polymer conjugate synthesis.

Madison, WI: UW-Madison desires a Ph.D. chemist for an undergraduate chemistry coordinator position; this position has the biggest grab bag of descriptors ever. Caveat emptor. 5 years experience!?!?

Philadelphia, PA: Temple desires a lecturer in organic chemistry.

I got a gal: Kalamazoo College is searching for a visiting assistant professor in organic and general chemistry. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

No Foxconn City in the US? Not because we don't have enough "engineers"

(Via @NCharles -- thanks!) In the New York Times, a fascinating look at why the US doesn't have a facility making the iPhone:
Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight. 
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. 
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
But the authors, Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, begin to make mistakes when they start talking about the difficulties of hiring engineers in the US:
Another critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple’s executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States. 
In China, it took 15 days. 
Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. (emphasis CJ's) Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.
I find this a very frustrating conversation to attempt to have with the mainstream press, who apparently don't have enough experience in technical fields or with technical people to understand what's going on here.

What is an engineer? To me, an engineer is someone who's graduated with a degree in engineering from an accredited university and then, if required, takes the needed licensing examinations to gain a professional engineer's license. But, of course, being the son of an engineer, I'd say that.

What companies want (and what they can find in China in spades, I gather) are experienced engineering technicians and/or supervisors. Someone who used to work on the line, and worked their way through their organization and are willing to relocate and/or work for a new employer. Basically, they're looking for people that in the US military would be called non-commissioned officers or senior enlisted types (corporals, sergeants, etc.) We don't have enough people at that level of experience in the US who can relocate at a moment's notice (or be willing to live in dorms, or work 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, or whatever relatively harsh conditions are going on at Foxconn City.) But they're not engineers, and Bradsher and Duhigg are fooling people who are going to be making these assertions at their Georgetown cocktail parties. "Pity, Charles, the US doesn't have enough engineers. We ought to make more of them."

(Even then, there are plenty of people who are willing to work at the crazy-go-nuts pace and conditions that an Amazon warehousing/shipping facility performs at. Are they skilled mathematical technicians? No, probably not. That might be an issue.)

Needless to say, consumer electronics assembly is something that the US has lost for the near and medium term. Obviously, that's undesirable, but that's the truth of it. I hope we are wise enough not to lose any more industries overseas.

Best wishes to all of us.

Destination Europe?

From this weeks' C&EN, an article by Linda Wang on stories of American chemists in Europe:
Rather than cutting workers, chemical companies in Germany have turned to less aggressive cost cutting methods, Koch says. BASF in Ludwigshafen, for example, avoided layoffs by cutting back on overtime and transferring personnel to other locations, says Sarah Ulmschneider-Renner, head of talent resourcing at BASF. The company has begun expanding its workforce again, she says, with a focus on attracting applicants from around the world. “We are increasing our efforts in [human resources] marketing and worldwide job-posting strategies,” she says. “As a result, we are already seeing a significant increase in applications for our R&D positions from abroad, including the U.S.” 
Polymer chemist Jordan Kopping is among those who moved from the U.S. to Germany to work for BASF. He began working as a research scientist in Ludwigshafen a year ago. Before crossing the Atlantic, Kopping earned a Ph.D. in polymer and organic chemistry from the University of California, Davis, in 2006 and completed a postdoc at UCLA in 2007. In 2010, after teaching at a community college and working at a biopharmaceutical company, both in California, he started applying for positions in Germany. “I had nothing at the time tying me to the U.S., and I’ve always had the idea to try something international,” Kopping says. He chose Germany because of its strong economy and because of his interest in the language and culture. 
While job searching, Kopping enrolled in an intensive eight-month course to learn German. “One of the things I highlighted on my résumé was that I was committed to learning the language,” he says. That dedication demonstrated, he says, that he “would fit well into the culture and also into the way of life.” Language skills are not everything, of course. BASF is looking for Ph.D. scientists who have done research in state-of-the-art chemistry, says Ulmschneider-Renner. In addition, she says, chemists should include extracurricular activities in their curriculum vitae. “This information is often neglected, but we consider it extremely useful in forming an initial impression.” 
Koch invites American Chemical Society members who are looking for positions in Germany to get in touch with GDCh’s career services office. “We will try to help,” he says. But he also warns that applicants should be top-notch in their field. “If you’re not good enough to find a job in the U.S., you won’t find one here in Germany, either.”
I don't really think of working in Europe as a solution to American chemists' unemployment problems -- that said, it is a viable adventure for those willing to invest in the needed language skills.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are you a moody chemist?

I wish I could be as impassive
as Larry Bird in reacting to bad news.
Credit: ESPN
If your chemistry is going well, does your mood improve? If your research is going poorly, does it depress you? I confess to being a somewhat moody chemist in graduate school; walls were definitely punched and doors were definitely kicked.

More recently, I've really, really tried not to let success or failure in the laboratory dictate my mood. I know that the highs couldn't possibly last forever and I know (I believe? I hope?) that the lows won't either. Nevertheless, it seems every chemist has blue periods.

Readers, how do you deal with the highs and lows of research? 

Observations on the odds of becoming a tenure-track professor

The odds of surviving 'Hell Week' during the Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training? About 33%.
Classes typically lose around 70–80% of their trainees, either due to DORs (drop on request) or injuries sustained during training, but it is not always easy to predict which of the trainees will DOR during BUD/S. Winter class drop out rates are usually higher due to the cold. SEAL instructors say that in every class, approximately 10 percent of the students simply do not have the physical ability to complete the training. Another 10–15 percent will definitely make it through unless they sustain a serious physical injury. The other 75–80 percent is 'up for grabs' depending on their motivation. There has been at least one BUD/S class where no one has completed the program. Most trainees are eliminated prior to completion of Hell Week, but trainees will continue to DOR in the second phase or be forced to leave because of injuries, or failing either the diving tests or the timed runs and swims.
Pen y Fan -- looks a little harder than a candidacy exam, maybe.
Credit: Wikipedia
Odds of surviving from the Special Air Service's (the UK's most prominent special operations unit) hill phase selection? About 15-20%.
On arrival candidates first complete a Personal Fitness Test (PFT) and a Combat Fitness Test (CFT).[nb 5] They then march cross country against the clock, increasing the distances covered each day, culminating in what is known as the Fan dance: a 14 miles (23 km) march with full equipment scaling and descending Pen y Fan in four hours. (at right)[73] By the end of the hill phase candidates must be able to run 4 miles in 30 minutes and swim two miles in 90 minutes.[73] ...Typically, 15–20% of candidates make it through the hill phase selection process. 
Odds of getting a tenure track assistant professor position at a US university? From folks on Twitter (btw, these are mostly non-chemists talking:
@labroides: more news on the Irvine position, "only" 185 applicants, 5 selected for short list.
@sciencegurlz0: That is similar to the UT-Arlington jobs that I applied for. Both had approx 150 applicants. :(
@fianros:  That's better than the 600 applicants for TT chem/biochem positions past couple years.
Now I'm being tricky here, in that there's wild selection bias in special operations selection. Militaries will usually pre-announce their minimum physical standards (and pre-screen their candidates) to ensure that they're not wasting their time with the total number of applicants. Universities requesting applicants for tenure track positions, of course, seem to advertise for anyone with a pulse and a Ph.D.

It is my opinion that the classic "short list" of the 5 or 6 interviewees should be really called a "really short list", with the true "short list" being the various applicants that actually have a real shot at the professor position to begin with. It's my guess that the maximum number of people that a search committee can seriously consider hiring (i.e. applicants given more than a cursory glance) is probably in the 40 to 50 candidate range.

In some sense, applying for a tenure-track position is probably more like running for office or winning a golf tournament than passing an arduous test of physical ability and mental toughness.  In the end, there can only be one -- and that makes things much more daunting for the applicant.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interesting natural products extraction tidbit in NYT

Via a link from Bethany Halford, the fascinating story of artemsinin in China in the New York Times:
The Chinese drug artemisinin has been hailed as one of the greatest advances in fighting malaria, the scourge of the tropics, since the discovery of quinine centuries ago. ...But few people realize that in one of the paradoxes of history, the drug was discovered thanks to Mao Zedong, who was acting to help the North Vietnamese in their jungle war against the Americans. Or that it languished for 30 years thanks to China’s isolation and the indifference of Western donors, health agencies and drug companies. 
Now that story is coming out. But as happens so often in science, versions vary, and multiple contributors are fighting over the laurels. That became particularly clear in September, when one of the Lasker Awards — sometimes called the “American Nobels” — went to a single one of the hundreds of Chinese scientists once engaged in the development of the drug.
It's worth reading the whole thing, but here's an interesting tidbit from the awarded natural products scientist:
In September, the $250,000 Lasker Award for clinical medical research was given to Dr. Tu Youyou, former chief of the Institute of Chinese Materia Medica in Beijing. The Lasker committee named her “the discoverer of artemisinin.” ...In an interview before the ceremony, Dr. Tu, 81, argued that she deserved it because her team had been the first to isolate qinghao’s active ingredient while other teams worked on the wrong plants. 
Also, after rereading a manuscript by Ge Hong, a fourth-century healer, prescribing qinghao steeped in cold water for fever, she realized that boiling, the typical extraction method, was destroying the active ingredient. She switched to ether (emphasis CJ's) and qinghao became the first plant extract 100 percent effective at killing malaria in mice.
One would love to know who actually suggested organic extraction of the plant matter. The boss always gets the credit -- sigh. 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/19/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 17 and January 18, there were 15 new positions posted on the ACS Careers blog. Of these, 6 (40%) are academically connected and will be covered on Tuesday's Ivory Filter Flask.

Round Rock, TX: Mocon is a company working on the analytical chemistry of odors; they're looking for a B.S. chemist with 2+ years of lab experience. Aroma detection experience desired. (Yeah, right, dude.)

Baltimore, MD: The Lieber Insitute for Brain Development is hiring for 2 positions: a B.S./M.S. experienced medicinal chemist and a 5+ years experienced analytical chemist for a drug metabolism position.

Arden Hills, MN: Land O' Lakes (yes, the butter people) wish to hire a M.S. chemist to be an analytical lab supervisor. Food products analysis is desired.

Martinez, CA: Tesoro Refining wishes to hire an analytical chemist for a petroleum analysis laboratory; 5+ years experience desired, as well as specialization in LIMS.

Philadelphia, PA: Avid Radiopharmaceuticals is looking for 2 positions: a B.S./M.S. synthetic chemist (5+/3+ years experience, respectively) and a Ph.D. synthetic chemist position, for which they're asking for 2+ years experience with radiopharmaceuticals. PET postdocs -- here's your chance! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Don't steal your company's IP!

With the SOPA/PIPA blackout at Wikipedia today, it's appropriate that we're covering yet another dumb IP theft case by an organic chemist. From Ed Silverman at Pharmalot:
Yuan Li began was hired as a medicinal chemist for Sanofi nearly six years ago. During that time, she worked on countless compounds and signed all the usual paperwork in which she acknowledged there were no conflicts of interest and that the intellectual property belonged to the drugmaker. But last year, Sanofi learned otherwise. 
In May 2011, a little-known company called Abby Pharmatech began advertising chemical compounds on its web site and by the following month, Sanofi had identified more than 6,000 propriety chemical structures on an online database called SciFinder that were registered to Abby Pharmatech.
MICE wins again! She pled guilty to trade secret theft -- she's facing $250,000 in fines and possibly 10 years in prison.

You have to love what her attorney had to say about the matter, (via the Star-Ledger):
Her attorney, Paul Brickfield, said the compounds his client had listed for sale on the Abby website were not actually bought by anyone. He did note that since Li had posted the chemical structure of the Sanofi compounds, the information could have been used by others to develop competing compounds or eventually drugs. "She’s a young lady and she made a terrible error," he added.
There's an obvious lesson here: don't steal your company's IP. Even if you think they're not going to use it, even if you think you're not going to get caught, it's wrong -- and they will come down on you eventually. At best, you'll lose your job. At worst, you'll be caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck driven by merciless federal prosecutors.

Process Wednesday: non-green solvents

Credit: Laird, T. Org. Process Res. Dev.,
Dunn, P.J. Pharmaceutical Process Development
In a recent editorial, Trevor Laird reiterated Organic Process Research and Development's stance on "undesirable solvents":
...From 2012 the policy on use of organic solvents has been changed to discourage scientists from using  particular solvents and to encourage them to seek alternatives wherever possible; papers containing strongly undesirable solvents (e.g., benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, HMPA, carbon disulfide, etc.) will only be considered if accompanied by an analysis of alternatives or if a convincing justification for such use is presented.
The editors encourage all authors to consider these issues before submitting their papers to OPRD, and we warn that authors risk having papers rejected unless environmental impact and green chemistry principles are considered. (emphasis Laird's)
He also provides a helpful table. Finally, he throws darts (legitimately!) at ethyl acetate:
The only quibble I have is that I prefer isopropyl acetate to ethyl acetate as an extraction solvent since the relatively high solubility of EtOAc in water (and water in EtOAc) means that the aqueous waste is contaminated with more organic material, thus making it harder to dispose of and also product could be lost in the aqueous layer!
 I'm vaguely surprised to see DMF and NMP on the list -- what's non-green about them?

UPDATE: Chemblogosphere pioneer milkshake has some recommended alternative solvents. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does anyone think Professor Harran should go to jail?

Many people mistake Rudy Baum for the "voice of chemistry" -- picture the anger of readers in Chemical and Engineering News' mailbox whenever he inveighs on the perils of climate change. However, he does have a prominent position in chemistry as the editor-in-chief of C&EN. I certainly pay attention when he has this to say about the #SheriSangji case:
Many of the comments on the blogs and other news stories have shown no such restraint. Among the worst are those that suggest that, at 23 and with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Sangji was an experienced chemist who should have known better; that her death was, in fact, her own fault; and that UC and Harran are guilty of nothing at all. “Sheri was a big girl, an educated adult responsible for her own actions who did not need to be babysat in the chemistry lab,” one commenter wrote. Others maintain, essentially, that making an example of UC and Harran by throwing the book at them is the only way that the lax attitude toward safety in too many academic labs will be corrected. 
Neither of these extreme positions seems appropriate to me. That UC and Harran should face no sanctions given the facts that are known is unacceptable. As Kemsley said to me in a conversation about the case, the only people who think of a 23-year-old as experienced are 21- and 22-year-olds. Sangji was clearly unprepared to conduct the experiment that killed her. Other people in Harran’s lab who were there at the time of the accident were just as ignorant of basic safety procedures. 
That said, sending Harran to prison for what are all-too-common safety lapses in academic labs would be overly harsh and almost certainly counterproductive. We need to change the safety culture in academic labs, not shut them down. If Harran is found guilty of the charges against him, a hefty dose of community service—maybe teaching lab courses and lab safety in Los Angeles high schools—would be a much more appropriate penalty to impose on him.
Here's my question: does anyone think that Professor Patrick Harran deserves to go to prison? Rudy doesn't. Paul doesn't. (I know that's the gamut of opinion in the chemblogosphere from A to G.) I haven't found anyone who think that Harran actually deserves to go to prison; those commenters that do advocate for it seem to do so pour encourager les autres, i.e. chemistry PIs. That's not just, nor is it going to happen.

I think Harran going to prison is wildly unlikely and probably counterproductive. If Patrick Harran deserves to go to prison for the conditions in his laboratory, there are a lot of PIs in this country that are going to spend time in the slammer. That said, I'm willing to entertain reasons as to why he might deserve the harshest sanction possible.*

I'm inviting readers and commenters to make a rational case as to why Professor Harran deserves prison time. If you don't want to wrestle with the comment box, you can always e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Commenters that are selected by me and/or by popular acclaim will be given a prominent spot on the blog -- probably next Tuesday's headliner for the day. (And if there are no cases for the prosecution (actually the sentencing phase), I'll do it myself.)

*I'm also willing to confess that all of this might be my possible prejudice that "professors who make serious and irresponsible mistakes are too nice and of the wrong socio-economic status to go to prison." But I have fairly serious policy (Kleiman-esque, if anyone cares) views on prisons, especially California ones.

Daily Pump Trap: 1/17/11 edition

Good morning! Between January 12 and January 16, 20 new positions have been posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 11 are academically connected and are covered in today's Ivory Filter Flask.

Zeroes!: MPR Services is in the water treatment and refinery business. They're looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist with 0 to 15 years of experience. Given the salary range (76-90k), they're probably looking for the lower range of experience. Starts in Dickinson, TX and there will be a relocation to Phoenix.

Packaging!: Printpack (a company specializing in rigid packaging) is looking for a M.S. chemist with experience in polymers for an analytical chemist position. Experience in instrumentation and analytical method development helpful.

Carbon!: MeadWestVaco is searching for a Ph.D. chemical engineer to work on their activated carbon filtration products.

Allison Park, PA: A confidential employer is searching for a B.S. chemist for a position as an environmental analyst. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/1/7/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 10 and January 16, 15 academic positions were posted on the ACS Careers website. Let's do the numbers:

Total number of ads: 15
- Postdocs: 6+
- Tenure-track faculty: 8+
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions: 1
- Staff positions: 0
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 11/4+

Niiice!: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is advertising the Springborn Postdoctoral Fellowship, which comes with a $45,000 salary for 2 years. Let me tell you -- that is enough to live like proverbial royalty in Urbana, IL. Just think -- if you had one, and you married one, you'd crack the top 20% of US household income (for 2 years, that is.)

That sounds fancy: The Florida Solar Energy Center (Cocoa, FL) is hiring a postdoc with specialization in materials characterization (as applied to hydrogen storage materials). Hydride synthesis experience, polymer chemistry experience desired. Sounds like you'll spend some time in Oxford, UK.

Statesboro, GA: Georgia Southern University is searching for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University desires a laboratory coordinator and instructor.

Vancouver, BC, Canada: TRIUMF is a Canadian national laboratory in nuclear and particle physics. They're searching for a Ph.D. pseudo-tenure-track nuclear/radiochemist. Sounds like they're upgrading their facilities on the campus of UBC; I sure hope they're upgrading their name, which I mentally pronounce TRY-UMPHHHH.

Monday, January 16, 2012

RIP Sheri Sangji

Three years ago today, Sherharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of her injuries sustained while running a reaction with tert-butyl lithium in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran at UCLA.

My thoughts are with her friends and her family. 

Christening drugs: there's a process for that

Also from this week's C&EN, a terribly interesting article by Carmen Drahl on the process of giving a generic name for a compound:
A list of naming rules, some of them quirky, has evolved as well. The letters h, j, k, and w are off-limits because they lead to pronunciation problems in other languages. Drugmakers can suggest names to the USAN Council, but any name with an implication that a drug is better, newer, or more effective than the competition heads straight for the reject pile, Shubat says. When a prospective name reaches the WHO stage, international connotations come into play. A name that sounds perfectly fine in English might have bad or even obscene connotations elsewhere. No one wants to sell the Chevy Nova of the drug world. 
The crux of the generic-naming system is a collection of short name fragments called stems. Each stem has a meaning connected to a particular drug class or mode of action. The official list of USAN and INN stems and substems has grown and changed over time as companies come up with new classes of drugs, Shubat explains.  
Understanding drug names through stems is a lot like learning English vocabulary by studying Greek and Latin roots. Learn what the stems mean, and you’re most of the way to figuring out what a drug does. Take top-selling drug Nexium, which has a generic name of esomeprazole. The stem in that name is -prazole, which means the drug is a benzimidazole antiulcer agent. The drug’s es- prefix describes the nature of the drug’s chirality—esomeprazole is dextrorotatory and contains a chiral center in the S configuration.
There's also a blogpost from Carmen at The Haystack about how dasatinib got its name from BMS research fellow Jagabandhu Das, even though he didn't invent the molecule:
So how’d Das make a difference? About one and a half years into the search for a kinase inhibitor that might be able to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia, “we were hitting a wall,” Barrish, today vice-president of medicinal chemistry at BMS, recalls. “We couldn’t get past a certain level of potency.” 
Early on, the team’s work suggested that a 4′-methyl thiazole was critical for potency. Replace the methyl with a hydrogen, and potency went out the window. But Das challenged that dogma, Barrish says. He thought the compound series had evolved to the point where it would be a good idea to go back and test those early assumptions. His hunch paid off – in the new, later kinase inhibitor series, it turned out that removing the methyl group from the thiazole actually boosted potency. Thanks in large part to that discovery, the team eventually was able to make kinase inhibitors with ten thousand fold higher activity. 
“Jag didn’t stop there,” Barrish says. After debunking the methyl dogma, Das found a way to replace an undesirable urea moiety in the team’s inhibitors with a pyrimidine group, which improved the inhibitors’ physical properties. With help from Das’s two insights combined, eventually BMS’s team came up with the molecule that became dasatinib (J. Med. Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jm060727j).
There's nothing wrong with challenging assumptions.

Organic chemist charged with IP theft

From this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a pretty awful little story of an employee stealing trade secrets for their own. From the article by Marc Reisch: 
As at the larger companies, Frontier requires employees to sign confidentiality agreements when they start work. Mohapatra signed such an agreement when he joined Frontier in October 2009. The scientist’s profile on the business networking website LinkedIn shows that he came to Frontier with a Ph.D. in organic synthesis from Delhi University and had worked as a research scientist at India-based pharmaceutical maker Ranbaxy Laboratories. 
According to the complaint filed in Utah Federal District Court, in October 2011 a coworker witnessed Mohapatra call up the syntheses for 2,2´-dipyrromethane and Fe(III) meso-tetra [o-dichlorophenyl] porphine chloride on his company desktop computer and mail them through his personal e-mail account. Miller says the former compound is an intermediate for a drug now undergoing clinical studies, and the latter is a conductive compound in development for use in solar panels and batteries. 
After the coworker reported her observations to her superiors, the firm’s information technology manager reviewed the hard drive in Mohapatra’s computer and discovered he had e-mailed those two formulas as well as two others to the president of Medchemblox, a planned Indian fine chemicals company. The complaint identifies Medchemblox’ president as an official with Dr. Silviu Pharmachem, an India-based company specializing in porphyrins and porphyrin building-block compounds. The review also turned up an e-mail from the president of Medchemblox. It told Mohapatra that the information he provided would enable Medchemblox to make a six-month supply of the iron porphyrin complex for a competitor of Frontier’s based in Germany.
On Oct. 26, Frontier placed Mohapatra on administrative leave and revoked his access to company computers. The complaint notes that Mohapatra subsequently admitted to Frontier officials that he had a stake in Medchemblox, as did his brother-in-law. Mohapatra also sent an e-mail to Frontier’s chief operating officer in which he wrote, “I realize I may have done something wrong. … Even if you lay off me [sic] or put me in jail I will not do anything to hurt FSI. I will keep out all together for myself of Frontier’s business.” Frontier fired Mohapatra on Nov. 1.
According to Miller, Frontier has an internal security system that mandates rigorous data isolation and requires, for instance, the use of multiple passwords and user-names. “We were surprised this happened,” he says.
Yet another chemist that fell victim to MICE. I find it interesting that Frontier (best known by me for being in Utah) has better IT security (i.e. something) rather than the typical nothing. Corporate IT security needs to get better -- and companies need to think about whether they have trade secrets that need to be protected.

Perhaps this is buying trouble, but... the intelligence agencies during the Cold War were famous for their molehunts and their molehunters, with careers (and lives?) hanging in the balance. Is that in our future?

(Hey, what was that employee doing watching her colleague cut-and-paste (or whatever) and e-mail?)
(Did you know that ASDI went out of business? I sure didn't.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gastight syringes

A list of small, useful things (links):
Readers, did I miss anything? Have a good weekend and see you on Monday. 

Turn that recorder off!: the danger of recordable predictions

There's been a minor amount of giggling about the lack of concern on the economy expressed in just-released transcripts of dicussions of Federal Reserve's governing board in 2006. From the New York Times, a bit of a summary of the conversations:
The general consensus on the board, summarized by Mr. Geithner, was that problems in the housing market had few broader ramifications. “We just don’t see troubling signs yet of collateral damage, and we are not expecting much,” he said at the September meeting.  
Mr. Bernanke initially agreed, telling colleagues at his first meeting as chairman, in March, “I think we are unlikely to see growth being derailed by the housing market.” As the year rolled along, however, Mr. Bernanke increasingly took the view that his colleagues were too sanguine.” I don’t have quite as much confidence as some people around the table that there will be no spillover effect,” he said. 
Some Fed officials argued that a housing slowdown would be good for the broader economy. “I really believe that the drop in housing is actually on net going to make liquidity available for other sectors rather than being a drain going forward, and that will also get the growth rate more positive,” Ms. Bies told colleagues at the committee’s June meeting. Ms. Bies could not be reached for comment Thursday. 
And even Ms. Yellen did not believe that the problems in the housing market would have broader consequences. “Of course, housing is a relatively small sector of the economy, and its decline should be self-correcting,” she said.
I feel for these folks. They're top-level economists and they missed signs of the largest recession of our generation. It must be embarrassing to be so publicly (to an extent) wrong. People tend to defend themselves from these problems by not making hard-and-fast predictions unless they're really, really sure or not being on record with a prediction in the first place. That's smart.

Of course, most folks aren't very good at predictions. I'm on record with a very good friend of mine from graduate school saying that vorinostat wasn't likely to make it to market -- oops. I predicted a U6-like (part-time + postdoc + unemployed) rate for chemists at 12% in 2009; it was at 9.6%. Even the most powerful DOOOOOOOOOMers can be wrong in their time horizons.

I wonder what it would be like if every utterance in conference rooms about a biological target, a series of hawt lead compounds, the yield of a particular chemical step or the identity of an impurity were recorded and transcribed, only to be released 6 years later. I'm guessing meetings would be a lot shorter in those conference rooms and predictions would fall to zero. ("XYZ8675309? Yeah, that compound will make it through tox -- or it won't.")

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What's the pharma version of "going out with the troops?"

"Who stole all our HPLC acetonitrile? I'm finding that SOB."
Credit: The Best Defense
From Tom Ricks' blog, here's a picture of the current Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces going on a training mission with a line unit. His commenters note that this is quite the photo op, in that he's easily recognizable, which he would not be, if he were wearing all the gear (helmet, body armor, etc.) that he would be if he were just one of the troops. The guest blogger, Mr. Williams, makes an interesting note about an Admiral Olsen, the former head of USSOCOM (the command over the US military's various special operations units):
While unlike Gantz he did not join a SEAL platoon doing exercises on San Clemente Island, he did frequently showed up at Coronado to join in doing free weights, long distance runs, and more gruelingly, swim out to the Point Loma buoy and back with the teams. Even at age 59 it was hard to beat him in the water.
From the comments come a smattering of stories of general officers doing field work, including stories of David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal participating in foot patrols and raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. I enjoyed this little story about a Lieutenant General (3-star) Lynch:
LTG Rick Lynch, when he was commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, was known to spontaneously join PT formations. I remember turning around and seeing his face and asking my buddy, "Who's the old guy?" Whoops. His CSM (Ciotolo) wore buck sergeant rank on his PT gear and was a common sight during PT. 
LTG Lynch would also go "undercover" and pose as a regular civilian to see how post services were serving Soldiers and the community.
I'm hard pressed to think about a pharma executive doing similar things in their time leading scientists. I think it would be silly to see ol' Jeff Kindler or Fred Hassan attempting to run a column. At the same time, I would think it would be helpful for a Ph.D. chemist at the director level to take a portion of her week/month and run a scale-up reaction or two, use the LC/MS, the NMR and the ELN and run a column on the Biotage. I presume that it would give the senior manager a perspective of the expected productivity of a bench scientist, the bottlenecks in research and the ability to observe their scientists in action.

I'm probably full of it. Readers? 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/12/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 10 and 11, there were 6 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 3 (50%) are academically connected and will be covered in next Tuesday's Ivory Filter Flask.

Spokane, WA: The mellifluously-named Jubilant HollisterStier is a sterile drug contract manufacturer. They're seeking a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to run their QC laboratory. 5+ years experience is desired; supervisory experience also desired. The salary is nice and healthy, though -- but what will you do up there in Eastern Washington?

Plymouth, MN: Amerilab Technologies is a manufacturer of effervescent powders (a key component of every American's diet.) They're looking for a B.S. chemist to be an R&D manager, most likely for formulation research.  10+ years experience desired.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs show (respectively) 224, 576, 2753 and 45 positions for the search term "chemist."

A regional glance: The San Francisco Craigslist biotech/science section shows 6 positions for the search term "chemist", including a B.S./M.S. inorganic synthesis position and a Ph.D. organometallic chemist position. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

12 things your HPLC would say to you, if it could

  1. Hey, look, it's sample 3 of 50 in an overnight run. Time to quit. 
  2. I'm running out of mobile phase, dummy.
  3. You need some key data? I want to talk about the pressure on this column. Who do you think's going to win this conversation? 
  4. Would you quit cycling the carousels and just empty out all the old evaporated vials? 
  5. I've seen you looking at that Agilent tramp. You'll quit it if you know what's good for you. 
  6. I love the look on your face when you're seeing if there's another peak... and look, there it is! 
  7. You think that muck's got your product in it? Dream on. 
  8. Prayer won't get you a stable baseline, buddy. 
  9. I'm making a funny noise so you'll PAY ATTENTION TO ME. Dammit, it never works. 
  10. Did you syringe filter your sample? Oh, you're so sweet.
  11. You're cute when you're enraged at me. 
  12. ...And I'm out of mobile phase. Oh, well, guess I'll take a nap! 

Process Wednesday: foaming -- not just for beer

Apropos of nothing, here's our mentor-by-literature, Neal Anderson, in his book Practical Process Research and Development, on foaming issues in scale-up reactors:
To prepare for a run, it is essential to review a process and examine the detail of exactly how the operations will be carried out. Vessels must be selected so that the reactions can be stirred at the minimum volume of the reaction (Vmin) and so that the reaction can be contamined (and usually stirred) at the maximum batch volume (Vmax). 
Gases evolved during processing, for instance during decarboxylation or neutralization of an acidic stream with NaHCO3, may form foams; such reaction mixtures take up a larger portion of the vessel volume. A defoaming agent was added to a Lossen rearrangement to address these problems (Figure 14.7); however, assays may be needed to detect the presence of any defoaming agent in the product. For the safety of operators and to minimize risk of contamination, any key volumes should be measured without opening the vessels. If the addition of key reagents is to be controlled by temperature, a sensitive temperature probe must be positioned so that the temperature can be monitored at the start and the end of the addition. 
Incidentally, Anderson's figure shows the relevant defoamer to be Dow's Antifoam 2210, which is apparently a "10 percent active silicone-glycol emulsion". (Boy, you don't need much of it -- Dow suggests that you start at 50 ppm, or 66 ounces in a 1000 gallon reaction.) 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Uh-oh: BLS measures chemist unemployment at 6.1%

Last year, the Wall Street Journal published the Bureau of Labor Statistics' unemployment rate for chemists and material scientists at 3.1%. This year, the BLS number for chemist and material scientist unemployment was...

6.1 percent! That's really high, folks. That's not a very good sign.

It will be interesting to learn if the ACS salary survey for 2011 (whose results will be published sometime this year) will follow this trend for chemist unemployment.

If you look at Figure 1 here, you'll see that the ACS and BLS numbers more-or-less agree. This number, though, I'll bet there will be some disagreement. Oh dear. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/10/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 3 and January 10, there were 20 academic positions posted on the ACS Careers database. Let's do the numbers (TM Marketplace):

Total number of ads: 20
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty: 12+
- Temporary faculty: 3
- Lecturer positions: 3
- Staff positions: 1
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 18/2

Huh: The University of Akron is looking for an assistant professor of bibliography for their technical libraries. I didn't know that you only (heh, only) needed a MLS for being hired for the librarian tenure track. Interesting.

Well, when you put it that way: A new breed of cat has popped up from the University of California, Merced: "Lecturer with Potential Security of Employment." (Isn't that every lecturer, emphasis on the word 'potential'?) UC-Merced deigns to disagree with me:
The Lecturer with Potential for Security of Employment (LPSOE) track closely parallels that of a tenure-track Assistant Professor, including membership in the Academic Senate, but with an emphasis on undergraduate education. This position will involve teaching primarily lower-division chemistry courses, coordinating various aspects of the undergraduate instructional program including oversight of instructional staff and training teaching assistants. Participation in education-related committees, student recruitment and outreach, and efforts to secure extramural funding for education program development is also expected.
Closely! Parallels!

Denver, CO: The University of Denver seeks a tenure-track professor of organic chemistry; specialization in bioorganic chemistry, chemical biology and medicinal chemistry is desired.

Good golly!: A postdoc in Bozeman, MT for 47,000 smackeroos. Ahhh, it's funded by the Navy. They're looking at corrosion problems related to biofuels -- sounds interesting. Bozeman (not Butte!) is a lovely town.

Centralia, WA: Centralia College is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist for a tenure-track position in teaching general and organic chemistry. Centralia professors are AFT-represented!

Daily Pump Trap: 1/10/12 edition

Good morning! Between January 5 and January 10, 2012, there were 25 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 17 (68%) are academically connected and will be covered in the Ivory Filter Flask.

Extraction!: Infinity Pharmaceuticals is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist or chemical engineer to run their program in isolation of natural products. "An ideal candidate will have a strong understanding of pharmaceutical unit operations, specifically in separation/purification fundamentals, as well as laboratory and manufacturing experience." Sounds like a good time.

Production!: Cambridge Isotopes is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to be their GMP production manager; 7+ years of experience desired. "Experience delivering APIs under cGMP regulations from gram to multi-kilogram scale within targeted deadlines and budget. Experience reviewing and revising batch records, SOPs and other relevant regulatory documentation. Demonstrated ability to effectively interact across departments. Experience optimizing existing and developing improved API production processes." Is there anything they don't want this person to be able to do?

Diffraction!: The International Centre for Diffraction Data is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to become a senior scientific editor of their database. Experience in crystallography is a must.

Pharmaceuticalation!: Aceto Corporation is looking for a sales manager for their API division; needs to have 5-7 years of experience in the field, preferably located in the New York City area. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Should you trust ACS presidents on jobs? I don't think so.

It's a little unfair to ask ACS presidents to be completely versed in the data on chemistry jobs -- but just a little sensitivity might be called for. In a reddit thread on chemistry jobs advice ("What is the chemistry job market like in the US?"), a graduate student chimes in with a real winner:
The job market for PhD Chemists is really good. I had an opportunity to speak with a former president of the ACS not too long ago. He cited the fact that unemployment for PhD chemists did not really change much even during the Great Recession (unemployment stays pretty much around 3-4% for PhD chemists). (emphasis CJ's) All of my colleagues that have defended have gone on to terrific jobs in industry and government.  
Starting salaries for PhD Chemists, especially those with an organic background, start around $80-90k and is highly dependent on region. For more information, you should visit the ASC [sic] website and read their annual reviews. There is a job security risk if you are in the industry, but the jobs in government and academia make less money and come with good security.
Good heavens. I think it's time to start asking ACS presidential candidates what the unemployment rates are for chemists, like asking US presidential candidates the price of a gallon of milk.

In a completely separate arena, longtime CJ favorite Virginia Postrel links to the blog in her article questioning urges to push college kids into the STEM arena:
The commentators excoriating today’s students for studying the wrong subjects are pursuing certainty where none exists. Like the health fanatics convinced that every case of cancer must be caused by smoking or a bad diet, they want to believe that good people, people like them, will always have good jobs and that today’s unemployed college grads are suffering because they were self-indulgent or stupid. But plenty of organic chemists can testify that the mere fact that you pursued a technical career that was practical two or three decades ago doesn’t mean you have job security today.
And in the comments, this gem:
organic chemistry is hardly skill based - mostly recall.
I think I need to go back to bed.