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.


  1. "organic chemistry is hardly skill based - mostly recall"

    Well, much as I recognize the above statement is not wholly true, how many 2nd year organic profs suggested that a good way to learn named reactions was to use 'flip cards'....

  2. I'm gonna let the commenter who claimed "mostly recall" fix the following lab situations:

    1. Rotovap stops working for no reason
    2. Fractional distillation at scale
    3. Ligand optimization in new catalytic method
    4. Choice of reducing / oxidizing agents late in synthesis
    5. Writing new HPLC methods for unknown compounds

    I could go on, but I won't. (smacks forehead into desk)

  3. Yo, chemjobber. Can you read the following article and comment on it? I'm thinking of reading the book...


  4. Look, my recollection is that of the of last two candidates ACS offered, one haven't spent a day in the lab since like the 80-ies, and the other never did any chemistry at all (I could not be bother which one "won"), so what do you expect them to know? A year before it was an old academic I believe, and Dr. Sanctuary showed us last week just what the attitudes among those are, so why would you expect them to care?
    But the truth is, the president is just a figurehead, a lipstick on a pig, it is Jacobs and her underlings who run the things at the ACS.

  5. uncle:

    Interesting enough that I think I will purchase a copy. The blurbs look prominent enough. I suspect, though, that it will be mostly about the bio/physics story: too many PhDs, not enough PI positions, grant $$, etc.

  6. "organic chemistry is hardly skill based - mostly recall."

    As if art history, or any other field of history, doesn't require recall...what a @#$%ing misinformed douche!

  7. By that logic, medicine isn't skill-based either. My doctor has been vastly overcharging me for simple recall.

  8. CanChem,

    Per Capita Healthcare spending, life expectancy
    U.S. $7,960/yr, 78.4 yrs
    Canada $4,363/yr, 80.7 yrs
    Mexico $918/yr, 76.2 yrs

    Yeah, some doctors in the U.S. may be overcharging just a little bit there...

    This also illustrates why medicinal chemistry is going to keep being a bad career choice. Given the choice between spending an extra year being old, fragile and possibly on life support, or having a more fulfilling youth, people will pick their or their children's youth over that new fangled drug.

    Unless med chemists can make a longer life more fulfilling (ex. Viagra) people may feel reluctant to spend much more time or money living longer with drugs instead of paying for that vacation right now.

  9. What planet are these people on? I'd like the current and past presidents of the ACS to spend some time freezing their butts off on Pluto while waiting for a new job, like too many chemists currently are doing. They are already out there, as exemplified by their cold, insensitive remarks. I think the ACS president and cronies, should be rebanded at a lower level, commensurate with their stupidity...

  10. @2:21pm
    Viagra was a happy accidental discovery. Interesting side effect turned profitable.

  11. Based on many pre-Meds and MDs the practice of Medicine is much more based on "recall" than skill based. Perhaps the TV Doctor House is an exception although his chief skill is synthesizing extraneous facts to come up with the correct diagnosis with 10 minutes left in the show

  12. @8:13
    The story of Viagra is well known, even among young chemists like me. It still stands as a good example of how improving quality of life is often much more important than longevity. If we could make people smarter, happier and healthier, especially during their most productive years, chemists would improve their employment in all areas. The focus on longevity is a major distraction.

  13. @See Arr Oh
    Well said (no need to smack our own forehead, since we need to save it for all the recall we do!) Let's smack the misinformed douche instead...

  14. @selina - Why thank you. You're right, foreheads are important. They store all my important recall, after all.

  15. FYI, forehead protects orbitofrontal areas of brain that do not store memories but that are involved in personality traits, judgement, motivation and restraint. A damage there causes either a dull lobotomized zombie devoid of personality, or quite the opposite effect - a lack of inhibition, i.e. compulsive-reflexive cracking of jokes and shockingly obscene or childish manners. (I know this from first hand, having an uncle who had his head bashed by a group of drunken Ukrainian contractors living next door after he went to confront them about their noise)


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20