This e-mail interview has been lightly edited by Chemjobber, and checked for accuracy by HV.
CJ: Can you talk about your background and how you found your current position?
HV: I have a PhD from [large Midwestern state university] in inorganic and organometallic chemistry. I graduated in Sept 2007. I did a 3 year post doc at [another Midwestern state university]. My wife is also a PhD and Post doc biochemist and she found a job in St Louis. I moved with her hoping to find a position in St Louis. Boy, was I in trouble.
Around the same time I moved to St Louis, Pfizer was closing their St Louis site and the market here was flooded with chemists with 10 to 20 years of experience. I could not find a teaching position either. I met a scientific director of a biosciences company at a social event and he offered to help. He knew another company's scientific director who was looking for chemists who were interested in jumping to CRO work in biology. He made a couple of calls and I had an on site interview for a position.
CJ: Was it painful to you to transition out of chemistry?
HV: I dont think it was painful at all. Chemistry is a basic science. If you have the interest and the passion to adapt to something new and pursue it, a PhD enables you to make the transition and apply the critical thinking needed.
What would you recommend to people who want to follow in your path?
I highly recommend synthetic organic/organometallic chemists to start looking towards CRO jobs or at least make an attempt towards mass spectrometry or analytical positions. Start attending webinars in biology in basic glycoprotein analysis and get accustomed to GMP and GLP practices.
CJ: Can you talk about some of the personal struggles that you overcame during your job hunt?
HV: Personal struggles... seeing other chemists get jobs while you are struggling to get one, especially the ones I trained in graduate school. I battled depression, got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and it was a constant struggle to get by everyday. Luckily, I had a very supportive wife. I joined the local American Diabetes Association chapter and I live a very active lifestyle. I run 3 miles a day now!
CJ: What do you think is the current situation in the biotechnology world -- are things looking up or looking down?
HV: Biotechnology is looking up. Think about this: Abbott's Humira is the # 1 selling drug in terms of sales. A TNF blocker... who would have thought that 15 years ago? The traditional way of making drugs using exclusively chemistry has almost disappeared and there is more emphasis on biology-based drugs. Plus, there are a number of biosimilars hitting the market pretty soon.
Chemists need to adapt and it is not very difficult. We already know the basic instruments/analysis. We need to keep an open mind. Comfortable jobs in Big Pharma doing synthetic chemistry in an R&D lab is almost a pipe dream -- unless your advisor really knows someone.
This might be a cliche, but networking really helps. Get involved socially -- I was hesitant and hated to say that I was looking for employment every time someone asked me. This is one of toughest recessions to hit the USA and chemists are just at the wrong place and the wrong time to graduate.
Hope everyone out there gets a job soon!
CJ here again -- thanks to HV for a great interview and thought-provoking comments.