Friday, June 29, 2012

What are your favorite chemistry aphorisms?

On days when the Forces of Good are on the run from the Forces of Evil, I'm reminded of Colin Powell's rules (which I wrote down into my quote book in 1995 or so):
  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done!
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
Rule #1 and #10 are important for me to remember. 

I'm also reminded of how much I love aphorisms of all sorts. One of the early signs of Derek Lowe's greatness, I understand, is that copies of his "Laws of the Lab" circulated long before mammoths ruled the earth the beginning of the World Wide Web. My favorite is "You should only believe yields in Tetrahedron Letters papers if you also send off for everything you see advertised on late-night TV."

Readers, what are your favorite aphorisms or proverbs, chemistry-related or otherwise? I'll nominate this one from Solomon:
Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.
Have a good weekend!

It's not just scientists that suffer when sites shut down

David Kroll offers a lovely eulogy for the Roche Nutley site at CENtral Science:
My nostalgia for Roche extends back to my childhood, growing up on a hill five miles across the Passaic River in the predominantly Polish town of Wallington. From a clearing in the woods on the hill, the major landmark across into Essex County was the Roche tower, built the year before I was born and known by the unglamorous name of Building 76. The route my family took while driving back from the official state pastime of mall shopping invariably took us past the Roche campus on the Route 3 side. This drive past Roche from the west was preceded immediately by a glorious view of the New York City skyline, almost straight on with the Empire State Building. Whenever I see these two landmarks, I know that I’m almost home. 
My Uncle Tommy was a facilities maintenance worker at Roche for about 30 years. Readers here are certainly concerned about the loss of scientist jobs – but Roche provided upward mobility for high school and GED graduates like my uncle. 
I think that's an unfortunate side product of our new, shrinking R&D reality. With large research campuses come many relatively well-paid support positions -- the administrative assistant, the technician, the dishwasher, etc. If our R&D future consists of smaller companies where the scientists wear many hats, there will be fewer jobs of that sort. Sure, that can sometimes mean higher productivity levels, but one has to acknowledge the human cost. 

Does killing your parents makes you an orphan?

Sorry for the trolly title, but that's what I was reminded of when I saw this article (via commenter Paul at In the Pipeline):
Biosciences added 96,000 jobs from 2001 through 2010, a jump of 6.4 percent, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and research firm Battelle said in report last week during an industry convention in Boston. The U.S. economy lost about 3.6 million private-sector jobs in that time, a decline of about 3 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 
Employment at laboratory companies, such as Princeton, N.J., contract researcher Covance Inc., rose 24 percent in the period and was the only area of biosciences to expand during the 2007-2010 recessionary cycle, climbing 6.1 percent, according to the report. 
Labs employed more than 450,000 people in 2010, or almost 3 in 10 U.S. bioscience industry workers. “This reflects the outsourcing of many research and testing services previously done in-house by major biopharmaceutical companies, as well as the rise of molecular diagnostic testing,” Battelle and BIO said in the report. 
Of course, Covance is the company that purchased Lilly's clinical research site in Greenfield, IN in Lilly's first employee-jettisoning swaparoo and acquired most of the employees in the deal (at a lower wage? That, I do not know.)

It would seem to me that outsourcing is not a great indicator of job growth, but I'm no economist. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

R.B. Woodward: Where's my lightning bolts?

Someone had to do it -- it might as well be me. Here is Derek Lowe's comment on the BRSM Blog article talking about a marine natural product's structure re-assignment:
Why the vengeful spirit of R. B. Woodward hasn't appeared, shooting lightning bolts and breaking Scotch bottles over people's heads, I just can't figure.
I used this website to come up with the captioned photo, using this image.

I'm sure you could do better; the website will allow you to change the captions. Put links to your submissions in the comments. 

Process Wednesday: molten sodium? Yeah, we got this.

What does it take to run a reduction of an oxime with 5 kilograms of melted sodium? I'm glad you asked -- Breitenmoser et al. would be happy to answer for you. [1] The reaction scheme is below:

How about making sodium sand so it would be flowable? (I see to recall a Dave Collum JOC procedure to make lithium sand -- I'm glad I never got asked to make that one):
A first familiarization experiment to generate granulated sodium by cooling melted sodium in xylenes below its melting point while stirring ended up with a broken glass impeller stirrer at 750 rpm. A second experiment without stirring during cooling led to sodium plates, which tended to aggregate upon restart of stirring. Therefore, all further experiments were carried out above 100 °C (sodium mp 98 °C) and at approximately 250−500 rpm, avoiding such problems by handling only liquid sodium. No stirring was applied during the melting of sodium. 
Never mind! After lots of RC1 and ARC studies, they finally arrived at a procedure that they were comfortable with. Reactor design became an issue:
To ensure a safe scale-up of the procedure described above, an intermediate scale-up with 410 g sodium (5 L reaction volume) was performed in a 100-L vessel (scale-up factor 90) to test the different reactor geometry (cylindrical Büchi steel-enamel reactor with impeller stirrer and baffle located at 11.5 L, minimal stirring volume 1 L). One change with respect to the run in entry 7 (Table 4) was carried out: only 1 equiv 4M2P (4-methyl-2-pentanol) instead of 2 equiv 4M2P was added prior to the addition of the oxime 2 to increase the excess of sodium by 1 equiv. Possibly, this amount could be further reduced, but this was not studied anymore. A lower than expected conversion of 64% was measured after 5 h at 115 °C. The low volumes led to rather inefficient stirring (baffle with different plates not immersed), meaning that the sodium was not finely dispersed by all baffles. Upon further scale-up, a faster conversion was expected... 
Indeed, in the next intermediate scale-up run with 2.0 kg sodium (23 L reaction volume), a conversion of 91% after only 2 h at 120 °C was measured.
I like this article, if only as a demonstration of the importance of reactor configuration in process development. Since it's a heterogenous reaction solution (melted sodium, starting material, toluene/xylenes), the quality of mixing became one of the main factors in determining reaction rate. Baffle height and volume became key to getting the an acceptable rate.

Finally, it's wonderful to see a situation in which scale-up leads to a faster reaction, as opposed to a slower one. Would that they were all like that.

[1] Breitenmoser, R.A.; Fink, T.; Abele, S. "Safety Assessment for the Scale-up of an Oxime Reduction with Melted Sodium in Standard Pilot-Plant Equipment." Org. Process. Res. Dev. ASAP

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roche closing Nutley, NJ site, cutting 1000 jobs

Via C&EN's Lisa Jarvis, bad news in New Jersey:
Closure of US site in Nutley, New Jersey expected to result in a reduction of around 1’000 positions. Respective R&D activities to be consolidated in Basel and Schlieren (Switzerland) and Penzberg (Germany).  
...Roche Pharma will continue to have a presence on the US East Coast with a Pharmaceuticals Translational Clinical Research Center of about 240 positions.
...A location is being identified on the East Coast to focus on translational clinical research to support Roche US-based clinical trials and early development programs, support and maintain Roche interactions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and enhance Roche’s collaborations with US based partners, such as academic institutions and biotech companies. This new center is expected to host around 240 employees. 
...As a result of the closure of the Nutley site, Roche expects a reduction of around 1,000 positions on the US East Coast. The transferred activities can be largely absorbed by the existing sites in Switzerland and Germany with an increase of about 80 positions.
Roche is committed to handling the designated job reductions in a respectful manner and to finding socially responsible solutions for the employees affected. This includes informing employees who will be affected as soon as possible and providing appropriate plans and programs to support them during this transition process.
The new US East Coast Translational Research Clinical Center is planned to be operational by early 2013. The transfer of business operations in Nutley is planned to be completed by end of 2013.
Call me naive, but I thought we were mostly done with the Big Pharma site closures. I guess not.

Best wishes to all affected.

Monday, June 25, 2012

And for the other side, #chemjobs in a nutshell

Congrats to Rutgers alum Dan Coiro for earning an award as America's Top TA (via James):
Soon, more than 150 students were packing Coiro’s weekly "Rogue Review Sessions" on the New Brunswick-Piscataway campus. In addition, he was fielding more than 700 e-mails a week from desperate students with organic chemistry questions. Dozens more were calling his cell phone in the middle of the night looking for help. 
"It started getting somewhat crazy," said Coiro, 22, of Roxbury. "Once I started doing this, I realized I really love teaching." 
Coiro’s dedication earned him the title "America’s Top TA" in a national contest held last month. One of the Rutgers undergraduates who came to him for organic chemistry help nominated him for the prize. Then Coiro’s loyal students mobilized on Facebook to vote him the winner of the contest, which was sponsored by the textbook company CengageBrain.
What did Mr. Coiro find on the other side of the rainbow?
Coiro graduated from Rutgers last month with a 3.6 grade-point average and about $15,000 in student debt. The son of an engineer father and an apartment manager mother said he is currently living at home and looking for a chemistry job to pay the bills. 
Aiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!! What's this young fellow thinking about doing? Well...:
But he has abandoned his plans to go to medical school. Instead, he is studying for the GRE exam and plans to apply to graduate school to become a teacher. He said his "America’s Top TA" title helped him realize his true calling is not medicine. Instead, he wants to teach high school science and eventually become a college professor. "I just changed gears after this," Coiro said. "I’d rather do something I really feel is my passion."
AAaaaaaiiii -- well, no. If indeed teaching organic chemistry is Mr. Coiro's passion, I congratulate him on finding his life's love (workwise, anyway) and wish him the very best.

Senior Chemists Committee? You can do better than that...

In this week's C&EN, George Heinze talks about the creation of a Senior Chemists Committee. Why?
Almost 38,000 ACS members are more than 60 years of age; they constitute 23% of the membership and are the fastest growing demographic in the society. More than 18,000 of these members are still working and active in the profession. A large number of the others are engaged in part-time work (such as consulting, contracting, and teaching). 
Its mission statement and goals?
The Senior Chemists Committee is a group of highly professional, volunteer chemists whose mission is to enrich the educational, technical, and cultural lives of the ACS membership by ministering to and employing the talents of senior ACS members (over 50).” SCTF [Senior Chemists Task Force] includes members under 60 in case they want to provide input to or use services of the committee. 
The goals for the committee, drafted by SCTF, are as follows: 
- Sharing with ACS members of all ages a rich variety of personal experiences and expertise gathered over many years of professional service;
- Fostering interest and participation in the science of chemistry through community outreach, especially in grades K­–12;
- Acting as science advisers and ambassadors for the purpose of cultural exchange at home and abroad; and
- Providing senior ACS members with challenging, diverse, and enjoyable professional experiences that enable them to contribute to the cultural experiences of their communities.
I think this is a good idea, but the SCTF has failed to think about crucial #chemjobs issues (or chosen not to talk about them.) Here's my rationale for a SCC:
  • Because of the poor economic situation (poor 401k growth, job loss, etc.), today's senior chemists will not experience the retirement situation that the previous generation has been blessed with (i.e. retirement at 60-65, followed by 20 years of enjoyment at spending down their retirement funds.) They're going to have to work longer, period. 
  • Senior chemists face higher-than-median unemployment (4.7% for the 50-59 cohort, 4.2% for the 60-69 cohort, median at 3.8% for the latest complete data.
  • Age discrimination is likely to continue; Society members need a place to get information about how to avoid it, and how to fight it. 
I'm sure it was just an oversight. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Funny thing -- what's the point of stealing chemicals?

Maybe I could steal some of these... yeah, that's the ticket!
One thing about working at small companies (as opposed to massive multinational corporations) is that you get to see all the foibles of the front office people. I'm reminded of that when I read this story about a controller of a Pittsburgh Acura dealership:
PITTSBURGH - A former controller of Baierl Acura stole more than $10 million through bad record-keeping and bank transfers and bought houses, vehicles, stocks, gold, jewels and furniture for herself and others, according to federal prosecutors. Patricia K. Smith, 58, of Cranberry Township, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge, and U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond sentenced her to 6 1/2 years in prison on Wednesday morning.... 
[snip] "According to information presented to the court, among the items Smith purchased were $1.8 million billed to American Express for private jet charters; travel to seven countries in Europe and four islands in the Caribbean; $44,500 for four club level tickets along with full hospitality at Super Bowl XLV; $32,500 for a luncheon for six people prepared by Food Network star Ina Garten at her barn in East Hampton, NY; $5,000 for "The Vatican Package," which included Mass in Papal Audience with VIP seating, airfare for four, VIP tour of the Vatican Museum with a private tour guide, and a private tour of the Sistine Chapel with family before it is open to the public; and $2,500 for a Phantom of the Opera experience, including costume fitting, wig fitting, an escort on-stage during the Hannibal Opera sequence, and four seats for the performance."
Of course (to any current or former employers reading this), I've never seen any stealing on that scale (or on any scale, I might note.) I'm also reminded of Anthony Bourdain's first workplace and how the cooks treated the restaurant's supplies:
A couple nights a week, the chef would back his Volkswagen van up to the kitchen door and load whole sirloin strips, boxes of frozen shrimp, cases of beer, sides of bacon into the cargo area. 
You don't see a lot of stealing by chemists, apart from the odd IP case now and again. I'd like to think that that you don't get more stealing by chemists  because (other than sheer honesty) people are paid enough (juuuust enough) and they can run the cost/benefit analyses in their heads. Also, there isn't anything to steal. Who wants a home 20-L rotovap? Not me. 

So, readers, I'm asking. What's the best story of stealing from chemistry/pharma-related employers that you've seen? Regale me, I beg of you. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Delayed retirement? Know anyone who has?

Linda Wang, senior editor at C&EN, is working on a story about the changing nature of retirement among chemists. She’s looking to interview chemists (in industry, academia, and government) who have delayed their retirement because of the poor economy, or been forced into early retirement because of unemployment.

If you or someone you know fits this description and would be willing to participate, please contact Linda Wang at l_wang -at- acs|dot|org

Who would you let go?

More notes on an occasional topic on this blog: firing. First, the Navy, as is traditional, let another ship captain go and told everyone about it (via Tom Ricks). Not for zipper problems, but for not handling his ship correctly:
The commander of the big-deck amphibious assault ship Essex was fired Monday due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to command,” a Navy spokeswoman said Tuesday. 
Capt. Chuck Litchfield was commanding the Essex on May 16 when it collided with the replenishment oiler Yukon a day before both ships returned to San Diego. “There were a number of factors that contributed to the collision with Yukon,” Reese said. “Part of it began with the loss of rudder control. There was a breakdown in command and control, in bridge resource management and in communication between the two ships. … All those factors contributed to the collision.” 
The problems “essentially began with the partial loss of rudder control,” she said.
When did you last hear of a pharma or chemical industry manager being fired for job-related performance issues?  While the life-and-death stakes are not as large, the financial costs to mismanaging a large project in industry is probably similar (or within an order of magnitude) to fixing "parts of the starboard elevator, lifeboats and catwalks... the flight deck and davits."

On a similar note, you are presented with 4 hypothetical people, one of whom you need to fire. Here are their profiles*:

Who would you dismiss? Via Bryan Caplan, here's how a study with a similar example worked out (I moved the years ahead to 2012, kept the ages and performance evals the same, and converted from pounds to dollars):
Who gets fired?  Almost half the respondents make what sounds like the profit-maximizing decision - firing #3.  But #2 is almost as popular, and almost 15% fire the older but excellent performer.  (See the bottom row of Table 2 for details).  More strikingly, though, answers vary radically by country... England fits the standard caricature of the "greedy" Anglo-American business model: over three-quarters fire #3.  Germany is at the other extreme.  Almost three-quarters fire worker #2, with worker #4 a distant runner-up.  Spain is closest to England, with France and Italy about midway between England and Germany.  In Italy, over 20% fire the excellent #4.
Click on the link to find out why. (Culture and economics play a role in how these decisions are made, unsurprisingly.) Personally, I would have gone with ol' #3 myself, assuming that the performance evaluations are fair and believable. Hard to say, though.

Readers, what would you have done?

Polymer engineer, Lawrence, KS

From the inbox:
This posting is for a Polymer Engineer in the Polymer Laboratory of Schlumberger located in Lawrence, Kansas. The position will have responsibility for polymer research, development and testing as well as design engineering and manufacturing support within Schlumberger. The successful applicant should be knowledgeable in polymer formulation, compounding and testing, including experience with polymer processing.  The candidate should also have experience with various polymer testing techniques including analytical (DMA, DSC, TGA, TMA, FT-IR), mechanical and electrical property testing.  Candidates should be able to communicate effectively and function in a fast-paced, multidisciplinary team environment.  Both new graduates and experienced professionals are encouraged to apply.

The desired candidate should possess the following qualifications:

Education: Ph.D. or M.S. in Polymer Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Chemical Engineering or related field from an accredited college or university.
The candidate must possess:* Previous project experience in an industrial setting is preferred
* Strong interpersonal and communication skills
* General polymer research and development experience, preferably in areas related to engineering thermoplastics including but not limited to polymer processing, formulation and design.
* Strong working knowledge in a broad range of polymer science skills including: structure-property relationships, polymer characterization, and polymer processing.

Please send your resume to Melissa Ver Meer, Polymer Engineering Manager, Schlumberger – Lawrence Technology Center at MVerMeer -at- slb/dot/com.
Remember to pronounce the company name correctly.

Daily Pump Trap: 6/21/12 edition

Good morning! Between June 14 and June 20, there have been 98 positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 11 (11%) are academically connected and 65 (66%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

San Diego!: Takeda has posted 5 associate-level medicinal chemistry positions. They're pretty vague about education level and/or experience; I think it's a safe assumption that they're for B.S./M.S. chemists.

Chicago, IL: Abbott is searching for a synthetic chemist for a position producing radiolabeled APIs; B.S. + 12 years, M.S. + 10 years or Ph.D. + 3 years.

Zeroes!: Merck (Boston, MA) is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist with 0-3 years of experience. HPLC, X-ray diffraction work or drug delivery experience preferrred.

Menlo Park, CA: Pacific Biosciences would like to hire a Ph.D. chemist to, well, you look:
Pacific Biosciences seeks a surface scientist to join a team to develop and characterize novel surfaces for cutting-edge, single-molecule, DNA-sequencing applications. The successful candidate will have strong hands-on skills in the modification of a variety of solid substrates for biological immobilization as well as quantitative analysis of surface physical and functional properties. Experience in the following areas is essential: 
  • Silane chemistry
  • Metal/metal oxide passivation and corrosion characterization
  • Physical and functional surface characterization using XPS, Auger, AFM, ellipsometry, SEM
  • Surface-based assay development for biological applications
  • Analysis of large complex data sets using JMP, R, or Matlab
Familiarity with nanofabrication techniques, organic synthesis and process scale-up is highly desirable.
Oh, and 2+ years of industrial experience would be nice.  I'm not a huge believer in the H-1B theory of overly specific job ads (in that I think it's invoked more often than it is true), but this ad seems so specific that it's tailored for one person (especially the nanofabrication and organic scale-up bit.)

Do you want out?: Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein and Fox, P.L.L.C. (Washington, D.C.) would like to hire a Ph.D. organic or medicinal chemist for a position as an IP technical specialist. Kenyon and Kenyon (New York) would like to hire a Ph.D. organic chemist as a technical proofreader. (Woo!)

Part two in vagueness: This ad is truly weird:
Seeking a Ph.D. scientist for interdisciplinary projects involving molecular imprinting and chemical sensing. A Ph.D. in Chemistry or a closely related field with a record of peer-reviewed publications is required. Applicants should have experience in chemical synthesis, purification, spectroscopy, and an understanding of electrochemistry. A strong background in chemical sensing is preferred. The ideal candidate should be highly motivated with demonstrated ability to carry out independent research and development. Please send resume and salary requirements to
Paging Admiral Ackbar... I'm sure it's completely innocent that a small company has a Yahoo account... yeah, that's the ticket. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unusual chemical hazards

The editor of Bretherick's Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards, Volume 2, 5th edition is P.G. Urben. Quite the sense of humor, he has. Also listed in this book? Bats, indigestion.

Bretherick's (Vol. 2, 5th edition), pg. 356-357. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Working in the diagnostics field?

Susan Ainsworth of C&EN wishes to hear from chemists who have recently begun to work in the field of diagnostics. She'd like to know about educational background, career history, information on how they found a job in diagnostics, what they love about working in this field, etc.

Her e-mail is s_ainsworth -at- acs(dot)org.

An interesting comment on what doesn't motivate scientists

Father's Day was yesterday and one gift from my wonderful wife was a copy of "How Economics Shapes Science" by Paula Stephan, a professor of economics at Georgia State. I'll be blogging about this; it's pretty illuminating, even though it's mostly about the economics of academic science.

I really liked this comment by Prof. Stephan in the conclusion of a chapter about monetary rewards for academic scientists:
No one would become a scientist solely for the money. There are too many other, more lucrative careers that require years of training and fewer hours of work and pay higher salaries. Nonetheless, success in science is accompanied by monetary rewards, and scientists are not immune to their allure. 
 A very, very true statement. 

As you can tell...

Things are quite busy at work. Not much time to blog today, so I'd like to point you other places:
  • Doubtless you've seen that Derek Lowe has gotten to respond at Slate to their rather wrong-headed "America Needs More Scientists" thoughts. 
  • Matt Hartings commented on Linda Wang's article on "Closing the Skills Gap" from the perspective of a professor trying to help his students. 
  • Carmen Drahl has written a fascinating article on "flavor pairing" theory in this week's C&EN. Those of you who are interested in molecular gastronomy should give this a read. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Working in the diagnostics field? C&EN wants to hear from you

Susan Ainsworth of C&EN wishes to hear from chemists who have recently begun to work in the field of diagnostics. She'd like to know about educational background, career history, information on how they found a job in diagnostics, what they love about working in this field, etc.

Her e-mail is s_ainsworth -at- acs(dot)org.

14 great things about a hard hat

Comfy, too!
  1. If you put it under your arm the right way, you can kind of imagine yourself like an astronaut walking to the launch pad. 
  2. Makes for grand gestures when you sweep your hard hat off your head.
  3. The inside is a great place to put a picture of your kids, family, etc. 
  4. A hard hat is a good place for that "NAICS 325 and PROUD OF IT" bumper sticker.
  5. As they get older and grungier, they get more character. 
  6. Makes your lab-only friends jealous when you post pics. (Kidding!) 
  7. When the plant manager asks you what to do, you can pretend like you're thinking by tugging on it. 
  8. They protect your head from banging into pipes (ouch!) 
  9. The smell of the sweat on the inside will calm down nervous horses, anxious owners and other beasts.
  10. When upside down, handy place to put your glasses when you're putting on your respirator. 
  11. Can store snacks, gloves, spare copy of The Merck Index inside. 
  12. Another stalling tactic to think: quickly remove your hard hat, scratch your head really hard, put it back on. 
  13. I hear tell that ladies like a man in a hard hat and steel-toed boots. 
  14. They protect your head from falling objects. 
Have a good weekend!

Derek Lowe addresses Whitesides on #chemjobs

Over at In the Pipeline, Derek has taken up The Whitesides Question:
Prof. Whitesides is exaggerating to make a point. It's not like there's no organic synthesis being done in the U.S. A lot of the stuff that's moved to China (and India) is routine chemistry that's being outsourced because it's cheap (or has been cheap, anyway). As that changes, the costs go up, and we head towards a new equilibrium. It seems beyond doubt that there are fewer people doing industrial organic chemistry than there used to be in this country, but it's not like it's only found in China (or will be)... 
[snip] ...thinking about the larger economic and scientific context - is hard. The time it takes to get a degree means that the situation could well have changed by the time a person gets out of grad school, compared with the way things looked when they made the decision to go. But this has always been the case; that's life as we know it. People have to keep their eyes open and be intelligent and flexible, because there are potential dead ends everywhere. (emphases CJ's) As hard as that advice is to follow, though, I still think it's better than any sort of scheme to allocate/ration people among different fields of study. My bias against central planning isn't just philosophical; I don't see how it can possibly work, and it is very, very likely to make the situation even worse.
Regarding the China issue, I tend to agree that what is being done in Chinese or Indian companies tends towards the routine and inexpensive. I think I am echoing many US chemists' concerns when I note that the Chinese are smart and will use routine work to innovate, etc.

I'm also sympathetic to Derek's philosophical bias against central planning. However, isn't that the nature of NSF funding? Someone has to figure out who gets more money, whether it's the physical chemists, the analytical chemists or the organic chemists. NSF money equals PIs, grad students and postdocs, right? Reducing funding to organic chemistry seems to be one of only a few tools to prevent over-production. (I don't understand the issues (i.e. the allocation of funds within NSF's Division of Chemistry) well enough to comment intelligently on the repercussions, so this isn't an endorsement of the idea.)

As I said a long, long, long time ago, as an organic chemist, all I want to do is "carefully learn a trade and continue a tradition." It's difficult to keep that balanced in my head with being aware and intelligent and flexible, but I'll do what I can.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

That NSF report: Who's hiring? Who's dodging?

More from that NSF workshop summary "Challenges in Chemistry Graduate Education." There were a number of companies represented on the panels, including ExxonMobil, Chevron Phillips, Merck, BMS and Corning. Who's hiring?:
Bill Beaulieu, manager of polyolefin catalyst and product development at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, briefly described the company, which was formed from the chemical assets of Chevron and Phillips but exists independently. A lack of government funding for polyolefin production and catalysis has led to a dearth of students in that area. However, the production of shale gas will likely drive petrochemical development in the next one to two decades, which could rejuvenate the U.S. petrochemical business. 
In the last five years, Beaulieu has hired ten PhD chemists. “For me, that’s a lot.” Most new hires come through advertisements on the ACS website, which drew 140 applicants for a recent position. The company typically hires U.S. citizens or those with green cards.
So who's dodging questions about hiring?:
David Kronenthal, vice president of chemical development at Bristol-Myers Squibb, echoed many of the previous panelists in listing desirable characteristics for new hires... 
[snip] During the discussion period, Robert Bergman from the University of California, Berkeley, asked about the advantages and disadvantages of a tight job market. “I know it’s good for [industry] to have 100 people applying for one job,” he said. “It’s not so good for us.” In response, Kronenthal said that a broader set of skills helps give students the resources they need to be creative when fewer positions are available. (emphasis CJ's)
Perhaps I'm cynical (me, cynical?), but I see that as a classic dodge. When Professor Bergman asks about a tight job market, the BMS VP points the finger back at the professor, basically telling him that academia needs to give broader skills to their students. Niiiiiice!

(Who are #chemjobs heroes in academia? Ron Breslow, Mike Doyle, George Whitesides and now Bob Bergman for having #chemjobs issues come from the overwelling of their hearts. (OK, so that's a bit thick.)) 

Want to work with chemistry and computers?

Rich Apodaca has a great post about the different programming languages that you might want to learn (and how it's more important that you find an interesting problem...):
Reddit Chemistry hosts an interesting discussion about which programming language is most useful to learn as a chemist. This is an important question as chemists everywhere come face-to-face with the worst job market on record. Combining a good chemistry background with a useful skill such as computer programming would be one strategy for staying prepared for whatever lies ahead... 
[snip] Identifying good problems - problems that when solved will yield profitable outcomes - is one of the most difficult and valuable things we do in our careers as scientists. This is equally true in software. Finding a good problem matters far more than finding a programming language to learn. I’d even go so far as to say don’t even bother learning a programming language until you’ve identified a good problem to solve.
I think software is still a place where younger chemists can still make an impact (and start from a basic skill set...)

Want to work in Oklahoma or Vancouver, BC

From the e-mail inbox, a couple of positions:

Oklahoma City, OK: CoMentis is looking for a M.S. chemist with 5-10 years of experience for a position as a medicinal chemist.

Vancouver, BC: A variety of positions (including a couple of M.S. process chemist positions) for QLT, Inc. in British Columbia. Not your typical destination, but you might be able to spend some time in Stanley Park, right? 

Daily Pump Trap: 6/14/12 edition

Good morning! Between June 12 and June 13, there were 30 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 6 (20%) are academically connected and 12 (40%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Zeroes!: Southern Clay Products is a company that makes additives for the paint, oilfield and coatings industry in Louisville, KY. They're looking for a B.S. chemist (0-3 years) to perform small molecule synthesis and polymer-oriented testing (GPC, etc.)

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech is looking for a Ph.D. chemist with 4 years of experience to be a small molecule analytical chemist; "drug product background" preferred.

Rockville, MD: I can never figure out what USP positions are really about. But they're looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist for a position as a reference standards scientist. It sounds mostly writing-based:
Independently maintain a complex portfolio of RS and ensure their availability through successful scheduling operations, maintaining necessary documents, providing complete and accurate information, and addressing quality issues. Excellent technical writing and oral communication skills required. Must be able to communicate effectively with both internal and external customers. A working knowledge of general analytical methodologies is required. A thorough understanding of basic organic chemistry is a plus. Knowledge of USP products and services highly desirable.
Nice to see, I suppose: Shimadzu is hiring for 3 mass spectrometry-related positions across the country.

Albany, NY: AMRI is hiring for an analytical chemistry position; a B.S./M.S. chemist is desired, with 2-5 years experience needed. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

George Whitesides on #chemjobs: "Should US students be doing organic synthesis...?"

I think this quote from Professor George Whitesides in that NSF report of graduate education in the chemical sciences that I just mentioned is the headline quote for the entire report (from my perspective, anyway.) I don't believe I'm leaving out any necessary context for this comment:
Whitesides believes that the question should be asked whether PhD theses are narrow technical presentations for jobs that no longer exist. Should U.S. graduate students be doing organic synthesis if most organic synthesis is being done in China? “That’s not to say that these aren’t really important activities, but we need to connect our investment in graduate school with what’s actually needed to give jobs to students.”
I am sure there is much to parse in that statement. However, such a question from a very prominent professor of chemistry demands an answer from our community as a whole. 

What does the Obama Administration think about academic chemistry?

See Arr Oh, in winning his second typospotting award, asked for me to talk about politics on the blog. Specifically, he wondered what the Obama Administration's approach to #chemjobs has been. There are some easy answers: #chemjobs villain Andrew Liveris is a frequent White House guest and co-chair of the President's Advanced Manufacturing panel and the President was surprised to be confronted by the spouse of an unemployed engineer.

However, thanks to a tweet by former ACS president Catherine Hunt, I ran across a NSF workshop summary on graduate school in chemistry that was very clear about White House priorities towards our favorite issues. From the director of the Division of Chemistry at NSF, Matthew Platz:
The Obama Administration has been very interested in science, Platz observed, and has clear ideas about what it wants to support. As a result, presidential priorities have been increasing as a proportion of the budget (Figure 2-4). Chemistry has not played a large role in these presidential priorities, though NSF’s Division of Chemistry has been able to keep its core funding relatively stable, largely by reducing instrumentation costs. 
However, if the chemical sciences community wants federal funding for chemistry to increase, it must demonstrate how its proposals contribute to the administration’s priorities. How can it help to create a workforce that is equipped to take on the challenges of the new century? How can it help create the skills in U.S. workers that will lead companies to locate their jobs here rather than in another country? 
The most important goal of the workshop, Platz said, must be how the chemical sciences can preserve and enhance quality with less money. “If we can come up with some strategies to do that, this workshop, in my opinion, will be a great success.” He challenged the workshop participants to devise experiments in chemistry graduate education that can inspire the field and attract support. In particular, the goal should not be to play a zero-sum game but to find new money to fund experiments at five to ten universities in addition to the core funding for chemistry. 
“Change has already come,” Platz concluded. “We can view this as an opportunity for our community and for the United States, or we can passively react to change and have it imposed on us.”
From a political science perspective, what do I see in that verbiage? I see that funding academic chemistry is not an especially high Obama Administration priority, and NSF is attempting to triage the process and not allow chemistry to be affected significantly by spreading some of the pain around. I see that the President is working with the constraints that Congress has imposed through its budgetary process; I cannot imagine that the Republican-controlled House or the Democratic-controlled Senate have academic chemistry as a priority either.

I wonder if academic chemistry sees itself as part of creating an educated workforce and contributing "on-shoring" jobs. I hope so, but I am somewhat skeptical of the academic chemistry community's ability to accomplish that goal. 

Process Wednesday: step 1 of troubleshooting

Having problems in the plant? Low yield? Low purity? What should you be doing? If you're Neal Anderson, step 1 is:
1. Confirm there is a problem.  
It is often wise to check any calculations, especially those used for purity or mass balance determinations. Check the reproducibility and reliability of the assay method and calculations. Inconsistent sampling can product anomalous results. When monitoring scale-up batches, it may be wise to obtain another sample from the reaction; then prepare another sample for IPC analysis and reassay.  (from Practical Process Research and Development)
I can't tell you how many times that I've begun to feel that rising feeling of panic, only to get another sample or redo an assay and get a great big sigh of relief.

(Of course, if your second sample confirms your bad result, don't go check a 3rd time, or a 4th, or a 5th. Sometimes bad news is really bad news.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What skills do I think new grads might be missing?

I think of myself as closer to a "new graduate" than not (in reality, it's been 5-10 years (left intentionally vague) since I left graduate school and entered the industrial world.) So I can't really speak for "this generation" of "new graduates." As I implied yesterday, I am skeptical about the supposed lack of skills that new B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. graduates have. But I'll attempt to point out areas where I think that new graduates might be able to improve, especially towards an industrial career. (I might be pointing out some of my own weaknesses, too.) My comments are going to be much more aimed at synthetic organic chemists, since that's the field that I understand the best:

What hard skills do I think new graduates could improve upon or demonstrate? Running larger-scale experiments (>100 grams of starting material) is always a nice demonstration that you understand the difficulties of scale-up. At the very least, telling people (photo in a presentation?) that you've used an overhead stirrer of some sort is helpful. Familiarity with basic analytical chemistry instrumentation is really important; that you can discuss the in-and-outs of fixing a HPLC that's beepingbeepingbeeping at you is a sign that you're someone that's adept at troubleshooting instruments. (This is a valuable skill anywhere, but especially at a small company.) A simple understanding of what a quality control laboratory does (and what it doesn't) and what makes a worthwhile certificate of analysis (and what does not) is more than I could have said for myself 10 years ago.

What soft skills do new graduates need to demonstrate? This is harder, a lot harder. My guesses: your advisor compliments you on a good notebook and good documentation of experiments. Being able to navigate the here-there-be-dragons aspect of reading through old texts, reviews, trade journals and patents and synthesizing it into a "OK, this is the subfield, and here's who the leaders are..." 5 minute summary is key. I like Keith Watson's comment on how to do this while still being in academia:
Industrial chemists can expect to work on dozens of technologies during their careers. Although a certain amount of mastery of a single discipline is needed to complete a dissertation, it is important that potential industrial chemists demonstrate that they are willing and able to learn new technologies. There are several ways to demonstrate this competency to potential employers, including learning and mastering the research of other professors within one's department. Another approach is to learn a new area of research every 6–12 months. This can be accomplished by investigating and reading the leading literature in the area...
The problem is this: after 24 hours of sitting and thinking about hard and soft skills that younger chemists need, I've come up with 2 paragraphs of mush that don't really amount to much. Readers, I'm sure that I'm just not thinking straight, and there are skills that new graduates don't have, but should. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

[For a much lightyears-better version of this post, check out Derek Lowe's "Lessons for a New Medicinal Chemist". While it's (obviously) aimed at med chemists, I think it speaks to the conceptual mindset that is needed.] 

Want to teach in Bangladesh?

From the e-mail inbox:
The Asian University for Women is a new university in Chittagong, Bangladesh ( Modeled on the liberal arts colleges of the US, AUW aims to educate young women from South Asia to be leaders of their respective countries. We are currently looking for an experienced teacher for the fall semester to teach General Chemistry 1. 
If you are a recent retiree, a faculty member on sabbatical, or between positions, or a recent PhD with strong teaching experience this could be for you. Teaching at this start-up institution (language of instruction is English) will be challenging but also highly rewarding as the students are exceptionally motivated. AUW will provide transportation to/from Bangladesh, housing, and a stipend. 
For further information, please contact Jinnie Garrett. (jgarrett -at- hamilton/dot/edu)
You know, for the right person, I would think this would be a really cool opportunity.

Daily Pump Trap: 6/12/12 edition

Good morning! Between June 5 and June 11, there were 81 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 9 (11%) were academically connected and 46 (57%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Dallas, TX: RSR Technologies is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to be an assistant laboratory manager. Expertise with ICP, AES, X-ray, SEM and ion chromatography in support of materials analysis desired.

Rolla, MO: Brewer Science is looking for a Ph.D. polymer chemist for its microelectronic coatings business. Polymer synthesis, functionalization and grafting skills desired.

Lovell, WY: The Western Sugar Cooperative would like to hire a B.S. chemist to be an assistant quality control chemist for a sugar processing facility. Honestly, this is some beautiful country, it is (check the map) remote 

Cambridge, MA: Vertex is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemical engineer (or chemist!) for a position in its chemical development department (5-10 years experience desired.)

College Park, MD: FDA is looking for Ph.D. polymer and analytical chemists for its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Salaries range from OK to pretty darn good.

Dublin, OH: Ashland is looking for a scientist in its analytical science division; Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and experience with methods development transfer desired. This is a supervisory position as well.

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/12/12 edition

Good morning! Bertween June 5 and June 11, there were 8 new academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 8
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty:  3
- Temporary faculty: 1  
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  1
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 6 / 2

Chapel Hill, NC: The Structural Genomics Consortium at UNC-Chapel Hill would like to hire synthetic organic chemistry postdocs for a multidisciplinary chemical biology program; some of the positions are aimed at chromatin regulation research.

Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University would like to hire a Ph.D. organic chemist for its undergraduate laboratories; this appears to a be a postdoctoral teaching appointment.

Jacksonville, AL: Jacksonville State University is looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry; they'd like a candidate who would maintain an active research program for undergraduate. Video conferencing might be a part of the job, apparently. (Hmmm.) Starts at 45k. (Hmmmm.)

Tacoma,  WA: Pacific Lutheran University is seeking a visiting assistant professor of chemistry; biochemistry and analytical chemistry interests desired, but not necessary.

The Bronx, New York: Albert Einstein College of Medicine is looking for a director for its translational medicine program. "The program will support all pre-clinical stages including computational drug design, fragment-based discovery, chemical elaboration, animal disease model testing, PK/PD and toxicology, medicinal chemistry, drug candidate stability, and local IND approval. The successful candidate will have experience in managing several of these elements and will have demonstrated achievements in the drug development pipeline in an academic and/or pharmaceutical environment." Got that? Sounds interesting.

University, MS: The University of Mississippi desires an "instructional assistant professor" of lower-division chemistry, which is apparently a "permanent non-tenure-track position." Oooh, where do I sign?

Monday, June 11, 2012

What are these skills that new graduates are missing?!?!?

In this week's C&EN, a valuable article by Linda Wang, detailing where employers feel that current graduates are lacking. While I find the article full of aggravating vagueness, the sad reality is that the voices heard are many of the people that new graduates (and all applicants, for that matter) need to please.

The lead paragraphs, including the throwing-down of the S-word:
After years of belt-tightening, the biotechnology industry is starting to see signs of recovery. “Companies are definitely hiring,” says Kerry Boehner, an executive recruiter at pharma and biotech recruiting firm KOB Solutions. “I’m extremely busy, and most recruiters I know are very busy.”  Large numbers of newly minted Ph.D.s looking for jobs should provide no shortage of talent, yet employers say they can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill their open positions. “The industry has reinvented itself,” Boehner says. “Companies have very specific skill sets that they’re looking for, and they’re not willing to compromise. They’re willing to wait until they find the ideal person."
[snip] The shortage of skilled workers in the biotech industry is emblematic of a broader skills gap problem that has developed in many other sectors, from nursing to information technology to advanced manufacturing. According to staffing firm ManpowerGroup’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, released last month, 49% of U.S. employers reported experiencing difficulty filling positions that were critical to the mission of their organizations. 
So, class of 2012, you're lacking. What are you lacking in?

Industrial experience: 
New Ph.D.s are increasingly finding that their academic credentials are just not enough to get them a job, because companies are looking for candidates with industry experience, whether from an internship or full-time employment. “The reason industry experience has become more important is because there are more people out there looking for jobs,” says Debbie S. Yaver, a director of R&D at Novozymes. “You somehow have to separate them, and one criterion is, ‘Do they have some industrial experience?’ 
"Key skill sets": 
“What we’ve noticed, within the time span of about 10 years or so, is that it’s now completely reversed,” said (Stephan) Rodewald, who is a research chemist at Goodyear Tire & Rubber. “We have trouble filling all the interview time slots with candidates that we think are qualified for the positions that we have. And when we actually take a chance on them and invite them out for closer scrutiny, often we find that they’re really lacking in terms of key skill sets.” Rodewald believes that graduate students aren’t getting the preparation they need to work in industry. “It may be a situation where the time that is available for professors to spend with their students and to ensure that they get proper training has just diminished,” he said.
 Mumbojumbogobbledygook Soft skills:
...They’re also seeking candidates with the right combination of soft skills for the job. Companies are looking for people who “have exceptional communication skills and the personality to work in a team,” Boehner says. 
...Cubist Pharmaceuticals, in Lexington, Mass., recently revised its hiring criteria to reflect its changing expectations. “We look for talent that not only has that key experience and the specific knowledge that most companies are looking for [but also] key competencies or personal attributes that are critical to where the organization is going from a strategic perspective,” says Debbie Durso-Bumpus, director of talent acquisition at Cubist. “I think because we look at it from four to five different perspectives, finding that right individual is a little tougher than if you were just to say, ‘Do they have the right experience and education to do the job?’ ”
...“The old model of education was to complete an apprenticeship and learn from the master,” says Judith A. Kjelstrom, director of the UC Davis biotechnology program and program manager of the DEB graduate program. “Universities drifted away from that model over the past 30 years to a model focused on didactic learning without offering on-the-job training. Our program addresses these shortcomings.” 
...UC Davis graduate Amanda J. Fischer completed a three-month internship at Novozymes while participating in the DEB program seven years ago. Fischer, who is now a senior scientist at Novozymes, says that interning for the company gave her a clearer understanding of what is needed to be successful in industry. “I realized that team building and building relationships are really critical in industry,” she says. “Also, in industry not all the questions need to be answered. You should focus your efforts where the outcome will lead to product innovations that can benefit the company.” Now in a hiring capacity herself, Fischer is looking for candidates who have industry experience. Her biggest concern about candidates without industry experience is whether the environment will suit them and whether they’ll be happy “with the way the projects flow,” she says.
What should you do, class of 2012? Well, they do have useful recommendations there (emphases CJ's):
For now, it’s up to individuals to pursue the industrial training they need. “If I were advising graduate students on how to make themselves most employable by industry, I would say to find yourself an industrial internship while you’re in graduate school,” Shulman says. “Take a summer off, and even if it slows you down getting your Ph.D. by three months, the fact that you’ve seen what goes on in industry is going to make you more attractive to a lot of companies.”  
An internship isn’t the only way to gain industry experience, however. Taking some time off between undergraduate and graduate school to work in industry can also be beneficial. Such candidates “would also rise to the top for me,” Novozymes’ Yaver says. “They have at least some perception of what the difference is between an industrial research setting and an academic setting.” 
Another way for recent Ph.D.s to gain some industry experience is to seek out an industrial postdoc or even a temporary position, Shulman says. Companies are increasingly looking for such short-term hires because they enable a firm  to evaluate potential candidates to fill permanent positions, he notes. 
For job seekers who don’t have industrial experience, Durso-Bumpus suggests they focus their job search on larger companies that might have more resources to train new employees. “As a midsize organization, we prefer people who had been there and done that and could do it again,” she says of Cubist. “Although as we continue to grow, we’ve actually gone to the market with more entry-level positions that we didn’t necessarily have in the past.”
Well, there you have it, class of 2012. Go get that industrial experience (good luck!)

The apparently inability of any industrial hiring managers to fully point to any actual missing skill sets (other than vague statements that they're missing) is a really important piece of the #chemjobs problem. I'm more than willing to buy into the thought that academia is training young chemists with the wrong techniques or doing it in the wrong manner (e.g. the career advisor's comment that "Universities drifted away from that model over the past 30 years to a model focused on didactic learning without offering on-the-job training.") But once again (in this article, and elsewhere), very few actual missing skill sets are on display. Rather, it's just the assertion that remains.

WuXi employees steals compounds, offers them for sale

From this week's C&EN, an article about a WuXi employee in Shanghai from Marc Reisch:
A former employee of Chinese contract research firm WuXi PharmaTech has been convicted of stealing samples of several proprietary Merck & Co. compounds and offering them for sale over the Internet through a broker. WuXi says it was the first theft of intellectual property in the firm’s 11-year history. 
According to Chinese media reports, the unidentified WuXi assistant researcher was sentenced on May 22 by a Chinese court to pay restitution of $45,000. He also was sentenced to an 18-month prison term, although the sentence was suspended because he is a first-time offender. 
“We regret that one of our employees committed a crime on our premises,” says WuXi CEO Ge Li, identifying the victim of the theft only as “a customer.” Li also notes that the breach of the company’s security protocols is an isolated case and involves only samples of two patented compounds whose chemical structures are available in patent filings. 
A Merck spokesman tells C&EN only that Merck “believes the situation has been satisfactorily resolved.” According to Chinese reports, the pharmaceutical maker initially got wind of the conspiracy in March 2011 when it discovered a website that was offering to sell MK-3102, an oral dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitor then under development as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.
I'm really rather skeptical that this is the first time that IP has been stolen from WuXi (or its customers.) Also, does this mean that large pharmaceutical companies need to be trolling the backwaters of the web, looking for structures of their proprietary compounds? 

I have long thought that it is interesting that there is very little active industrial espionage in the established pharmaceutical industry. That Abbott employees do not have to fend off Merck agents while taking their documents to the shredder bin suggests that there is simply not enough benefit to make such measures worthwhile. One wonders if, in China, such espionage efforts might just be worth the trouble? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hard times come again no more

I'm sorry to end the week on a down note, but I'm struck by a job loss situation that hit close to home. My wife works in health care; her facility was affected by layoffs recently. She's all right, thankfully. But a number of people won't be -- and there are a number of families who have lost either their primary or secondary breadwinner. That hurts -- there's no other words for it.

For those of us who work in the chemical or pharmaceutical industry, I know it must seem like all other fields have more stability. Statistically, I don't doubt that it's true. But I have a feeling (maybe a tough week at work, and in economic news) that things are still hard all over.

Best wishes to all of us. 

David Plotz can do better

I like David Plotz a lot. I was a reader of Slate early on, and Plotz's series on the "Nobel Prize sperm bank" was really fascinating history.

But Slate's approach to changing American science education is really wrong-headed. Here's the most terrible line, as far as I'm concerned:
America needs Thomas Edisons and Craig Venters, but it really needs a lot more good scientists, more competent scientists, even more mediocre scientists.
As Derek might say, Gott in Himmel! Speaking of which, Dr. Lowe has written a very clear response; I can't really add anything to what he has to say. I also wanted to highlight See Arr Oh's parody. It really has the right tone:
America needs Thomas Kinkades and Andy Warhols, but it really needs a lot more good artists, more expressive artists, more mediocre artists, and more starving artists.
Exactly. Go over there and read, and enjoy.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Apologies to all, and to Andy Samberg

I'm in the plant, I'm in the plant
You haven't heard from me
'Cause I'm workin' in the plant
I'm in the plant, I'm in the plant
I can't post much
My project's in the plant

DPT coming up, hopefully soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Process Wednesday: Seeing through a glass, darkly

I'm going to guess a turbidity probe costs more, too.
Credit:, southernsportsman
Upon looking through a manway and seeing a hazy solution (suspension?), I was reminded of limnology (the study of inland waters) and one of their tools, the Secchi disk:
The Secchi disk, created in 1865 by Pietro Angelo Secchi SJ, is a circular disk used to measure water transparency in oceans and lakes. The disc is mounted on a pole or line, and lowered slowly down in the water. The depth at which the pattern on the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water. 
Of course, one finds that chemists and chemical engineers have come up with something a little more advanced to measure turbidity inside reactors. From Dow crystallization engineers in the pages of Organic Process Research and Development [1]:
The fiber-optic probe measures backscattered light to generate a real-time turbidity signal indicative of the amount of solid-phase material present in the crystallizing slurry.  
A fiber-optic probe can be used for a broad range of applications because the output signal depends only on the probe’s ability to detect backscattered light; that is, no specific chemical properties such as molecular absorption are required. It also can be quite robust; numerous Dow probes have been in service for more than 10 years with no degradation in performance and without fouling problems. The basic Dow design includes a polished sapphire window, a spring-loaded gasket seal system to resist solvent infiltration, and fiber-retaining inserts (Figure 1). This design allows for expansion and contraction over a wide temperature range without breaching the process seal, yet it maintains precise optical alignment of the fibers and the window.
Well, I guess we'll have to turn that agitator back on and let it stir some more...

[1] Harner, R.S.; Ressler, R.J.; Briggs, R.L.; Hitt, J.E.; Larsen, P.A.; Frank, T.C. Org. Process Res. Dev., 2009, 13 (1), pp 114–124. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Daily Pump Trap: 6/5/12 edition

Good morning! Between May 31 and June 4, there were 77 new positions posted to the ACS Careers website. Of these, 20 (26%) are academically connected and 39 (51%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Ashland, MA: Nyacol Nano Technologies is a company that develops inorganic colloids and nano-materials; they're looking for a Ph.D. chemist to be a technical service manager. 4+ years business experience desired; additives, catalyst, coatings, colloids and nano-materials experience desired.

Sounds like a challenge: D.E. Shaw Research (New York, NY) is looking for a scientific Chief of Staff for its world-wide team; sounds like a scientific administration challenge for someone.

Bedford, OH: Ben Venue Laboratories is looking for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist; 3+ years experience desired.

Marlborough, MA: Rohm and Haas is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to work on "development of novel spin on films to support pattern transfer in advanced microelectronic applications." Yeah, that.

Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratories is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic polymer chemist for a staff research position: "The candidate must also have a demonstrated ability to write successful research proposals. We are especially interested in an early- to mid-career candidate to integrate into an ongoing fundamental research program and to create and execute new research programs in the area of polymer synthesis. Success will be gauged through publication in high impact journals, success in expanding funding and participation with the scientific community through scientific meetings, workshops, and service."

Lexington, MA: OK, so what's going on at Cubist? Why do they come back to ACS Careers about once or twice a year, looking for senior med chem associates? They're looking for B.S./M.S. chemists, with 2+ years experience in organic chemistry (2+ years in industry desired.) They're either growing, or having a difficult time keeping people around. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/5/12 edition

Good morning! Between May 28 and June 4, there have been 19 new academic positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads:  19
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty:  7
- Temporary faculty:   2
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  6
- Ratio of US/non-US positions: 19 / 0

Are you a lanthanide chemist? If so, Florida State has the Gregory Choppin endowed professorship for you! I think they want you to be a tenured professor already.

34-Down, Maine: The University of Maine - Orono (a word frequently appearing in crosswords) is looking for a visiting assistant professor of organic chemistry for a 1-year contract.

The Pittsburgh of the South: The University of Alabama - Birmingham is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry, with plans for biomedical applications of mass spectrometry or NMR.

A neat job: Ball State (Muncie, IN) desires an instructor of chemistry for advanced high school students. I'd think this would be a great job for someone.

Anderson, SC: Looks like Clemson is hiring a postdoc for a federally-funded defense-related project:
...seeking applications for a Research Associate position on a Defense Threat Reduction Agency funded project. Applicants must have an earned Ph.D. (or equivalent) as well as research experience in one or more of the following areas: ionizing radiation detection and measurements; polymer science, particularly with experience using atom transfer radical polymerization; and nuclear forensics.
Pittsburg, KS: The Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University wishes to hire a research associate/lab assistant. They're looking for a B.S./M.S. polymer chemist. You'll be making 32-34k, which ain't so great -- that said, it's about 10k more than the median household income for the city.

Monday, June 4, 2012

(Retired) Lab PPE

Happy Lab PPE Day! In lieu of a picture of myself, I've posted a picture of some old, retired (and extraordinarily comfortable) Red Wing boots that I bought for myself once. Protected my toes more than once, these steel toed boots did. (As you can see, I cannibalized the shoelaces.)

As you can see, I got a lot of use out of them.

Check out more (and prettier) pictures of people wearing their lab PPE at!

Happy Lab PPE Day!

I love this picture of prescription eye glass sideshields;
such an important, neglected part of lab eyewear safety.
Credit: @kzrt
Good morning! It's the inaugural Lab PPE Day, where we're celebrating the wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment for the laboratory!

Stay tuned here and at the official Lab PPE Day Tumblr for updates!

If you want to participate, e-mail your picture to labppeday -at- gmail/dot/com or Tweet it to @LabPPEDay!

Job posting: nucleoside chemist, Boulder, CO

From my e-mail inbox, an associate scientist position at miRagen Therapeutics in Boulder, Colorado:
miRagen Therapeutics, Inc. is currently seeking an Associate Scientist with a minimum two years of experience in nucleoside and nucleic acid chemistry. Responsibilities include:
  • Multi-step synthesis of novel nucleoside monomers, linkers, phosphoramidites and bioconjugates.
  • Solid phase synthesis and downstream processing of modified RNA, DNA and modified biopolymers.  
  • Purification and isolation of intermediates and final products using flash chromatography or other  purification methods such as HPLC.
  • Sample analysis and characterization using NMR, UV spectrophotometry, HPLC and mass spectrometry.
  • Evaluate and develop novel nucleic acid delivery technologies
Qualifications: Suitable candidates will possess a BS or MS in chemistry, biochemistry, or related field and 2+ years’ experience working in the design and synthesis of modified nucleosides and oligonucleotides including but not limited to the following: modified base and sugar moieties, modified internucleotide bond chemistry, bioconjugate chemistry, and advanced solid phase synthesis of complex oligonucleotides.  Additionally, the ideal candidate will have the ability to effectively work and communicate within a multi-disciplinary team.
Looks like fun -- and they read the blog. What could be better? 

2011 ACS starting salary survey: unemployment up for new grads across all educational levels

Credit: Chemical and Engineering News, "Starting Salaries"
From this week's Chemical and Engineering News, an article by Susan Morrissey summarizing some bad news from the class of 2011:
In the most recent American Chemical Society survey of new graduates in chemistry and related fields, 13% of respondents were not employed but were actively seeking jobs last year, up from 11% of those who responded to the 2010 survey. Another 41% of respondents—down slightly from 44% in 2010—opted to pursue additional education or do a postdoc. 
For the 35% of new graduates who did find full-time jobs last year, there was some additional good news related to their paychecks—at least for those with a Ph.D. The median salary of inexperienced Ph.D. graduates was $85,000, a 13% jump from 2010, the first increase since 2008 for this group. The news was not as good for inexperienced master’s or bachelor’s degree graduates—starting median salaries for master’s degree graduates were up 4% in 2011 to $46,700, and starting salaries for bachelor’s degree grads held at $40,000... 
[snip] New graduates continued to feel the effects of the recession in 2011 as the unemployment rate for all degree levels rose. For bachelor’s degree recipients, 14% reported they didn’t have a job but were seeking one, up from 12% in 2010. Nine percent of Ph.D. earners said they were looking for a job in 2011, up from 6% in 2010. But the biggest jump was for those graduating with master’s degrees. Those seeking employment in this group grew from 11% in 2010 to 18% in 2011. The increases were essentially the same for both chemists and chemical engineers at each degree level.
[I know I keep saying this.] We're going to come back to the 2012 Starting Salary Survey. I think these numbers are really pretty disturbing. What the headline numbers tell me is this: across all educational levels, less than half of new graduates are working. Also, look at the "not employed" numbers for bachelor's, master's and doctoral-level graduates: 17%, 23% and 12%. Those are big, big numbers.

P.S. It's time for the Eka-Silicon caveat, brought to you by Ms. Morrissey's article: "More than 11,733 recent graduates were sent surveys, and 2,051 usable responses were returned for a response rate of 17%. (emphasis CJ's) The respondents represent many cohorts—degree level, field of study, gender, experience level, type of employment, and other—and for some groups, the number of respondents is small and thus likely not representative."

A 17% response rate is not very high, and limits our ability to extrapolate conclusions from it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lab PPE Day is June 4, 2012!

Go check out all the people participating in Lab PPE Day at the official Lab PPE Day Tumblr! Lots of great pictures of chemists that want to participate there, too!

If you'd like to participate and show young chemists that it's normal and common to wear lab PPE, you can Tweet a picture to @LabPPEDay or e-mail a picture to LabPPEDay -at- gmail/dot/com! 

Green Keck clips

A small list of useful things (links):
Did I miss anything? Have a good weekend!