Friday, November 30, 2012

Age discrimination in pharma discussion

An important discussion on age discrimination in pharma is going on below, if you should choose to join in. 

Thank you note etiquette

Because I can't send each and every one of 
you a thank you note, I've appended one above. 

I've also typed it out for comparison. 

I am a big believer in writing 'thank you' notes (by e-mail or in person.) I also think that it's important for job candidates to send thank you notes after on-site interviews. After a long discussion recently elsewhere online*, it seemed like the general consensus was:
  • Send an e-mail note as soon as possible after the interview. 
  • Write a physical thank you note (on nice stationery?) as well, to be sent after you return home. 
  • Send to all relevant people (at least your immediate 'host' and head honcho). 
  • Add personal details, or reinforce a point that you'd like to make again. 
There was some pushback about whether or not a physical thank you note was necessary or relevant, as opposed to e-mail. I argued that a handwritten note is typically more impactful in that it is a physical object (and a tool that is not usually used, i.e. handwriting, and thank you notes.) I am not sure that the detractors felt that physical thank you notes were worth the effort and expense. 

Perhaps things have changed, and thank you e-mails are now de rigueur. Readers, what say you? 

*Being oblique to protect the innocent

Book review: "The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table"

Image credit: Amazon
I was recently sent a review copy of "The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table" by UK author Tom Jackson. It's certainly a beautiful book to look at, filled with interesting facts about the history of chemistry (and science in general.) The structure is unique; it is structured as a list of 100 mileposts in history, it starts with "Stone Age Chemistry" as item #1 and ends with "The Higgs Boson" as item #100.* The book teaches a variety of chemically-related concepts (e.g. temperature, disproving vitalism, chirality (!), x-ray crystallography) in very accessible but accurate language.

Since I assume that I am not the target audience of this book, I passed along my review copy to a couple of adolescents (ages 9 to 12) that I know. Two of them were somewhat intimidated by the book, I think ("I would probably read it... if I had to") while one of them paged through it for a few minutes and said, "Pretty neat!" I thought so, too.

I would recommend Tom Jackson's "The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table" for adolescents, especially those who are getting into chemistry for the first time. Those young people who already have a love of history will really enjoy this book.

Other than the physical copy of the book, Chemjobber has received no compensation for this review.

*The enterprising purchaser/reader will have to find the latest developments with the Higgs Boson elsewhere, as item #100's blurb begins "In 2011, scientists became hopeful that they could would get an answer to one of the big questions in science: does the Higgs Boson exist?" Short answer: yes, we think so. 

Age discrimination in Silicon Valley

I don't really know very much about age discrimination, but I assume that it does happen. (My short experience observing large pharma layoffs tells me it might, in its weird legal fashion.) The San Jose Mercury News has an interesting article about it, with plenty of quotes about investors and executives ideas that young software developers are more knowledgeable about modern software protocols and have more time on their hands:
Some technology recruiters say unequivocally they see bias at work. Marta Fuentealba, a principal at start-up specialist Talent Farm, says she's encountered it many times. 
She recalls a meeting at a software company a few years ago, when the human-resources executive told her he would like to find somebody "around age 26 or so" to fill a job. An age requirement along those lines would violate both state and federal laws on discrimination, California labor lawyers say. 
"You mean, somebody less jaded?" Fuentealba recalls asking, hoping to jolt the executive back into legal territory. "And he said, 'No, I mean somebody young, probably no older than 26.'" Back at the office, she sent the executive resumes from a variety of candidates. 
..."I am just an incredibly enthusiastic fan of very talented 20-somethings starting companies," Sequoia Capital's Mike Moritz, 58 years old and a top VC, once said at a conference, echoing similar comments he has made over the years. "They have great passion. They don't have distractions like families and children and other things that get in the way of business." He was 49 at the time.
Yikes. Remind me not to try to become a Silicon Valley entrepreneur anytime soon; seems like being a husband and a father could be a liability.

I've never really worked with older chemists as peers for an extended amount of time; I've mostly had them as bosses. I don't really think there's a significant creativity difference between younger and older chemists.*

This bit in the article about certain cosmetic changes during job hunting I found particularly distasteful:
Silicon Valley veterans try to adapt as best they can. Adams of Socialdial ticks off a list of faux pas that he believes peg older jobseekers as outsiders. "You can't have an AOL email," he says. "That's horrible. A Gmail address is okay. What's really cool is an email with your name on it," as part of the domain. 
In person, older job applicants should carry a backpack, not a briefcase, he says. Avoid Blackberries and Dell laptops in favor of Android phones and Apple products. And above all, steer clear of wristwatches, which most younger people have replaced with the clocks on their phones. "The worst would be a gold Rolex," he says. "Tacky, and old."
I wonder if similar (and stupid) age-related cosmetic issues are at work in the chemistry world -- I tend to think not, but I dunno. It seems that we have a culture that values wisdom and experience (relative to Silicon Valley, anyway). But I haven't been in the big world of the pharma/chemical industry very long. Readers, please feel free to correct me.

*I have, on occasion, found older chemists who have failed to keep up with the chemical literature in any serious fashion. (Around the time of Suzuki's Nobel prize, I was amused to talk to one manager who found palladium-catalyzed chemistry to be a cute academic oddity, as opposed to a technology that should be seriously considered.) I don't think that's really age-related, so much as it is about failing to exercise an important prerogative of a Ph.D. chemist's life: to keep current with important, job-relevant literature. I assume that these mental discipline issues are found in both the young and the old.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How many 1st year grad students will get their Ph.D. in chemistry?

A little evening tidbit: Dan Drezner is a professor of international political economy and a longtime foreign policy blogger. He's been involved in an interesting debate about whether or not a Ph.D. is required for going into policy in the Washington, D.C. area. He is pushing back strongly against any encouragement of a doctorate as a terminal degree. Here is a tibdit from his latest long post about it that I found stunning:
Furthermore, not finishing a Ph.D. is not exactly uncommon.  Click on this slide show about Ph.D. attrition rates from the Council of Graduate Schools, and note the following three facts: 
1)  Only 46% of all entrants finish their Ph.D. after seven years in a program.
2)  For social science Ph.D.s, that figure is even lower -- 41%
3)  If you extend it out to ten years, the lowest completion rate among the social sciences is political science -- only 44% complete a doctorate after a decade.  In other words, entering a Ph.D. program and then not finishing is the modal outcome. 
From that report (written in 2008, collected from data before then) the 10-year completion rate was 62% for a doctoral degree in chemistry. (I wonder what that number is now? To SESTAT!)

Job posting: B.S. analytical chemist, Cincinnati, OH

From the inbox:
This hands-on Analytical Technician position will be responsible for performing sample preparation and analytical testing in support of research scientists.
- Hands-on operations of advanced analytical equipment
- Role may include support of testing demand in any lab and may include Microscopy, IR, DSC, chromatography/separations and similar and even lab work in other site labs....
B.S. chemistry desired. 40-60k for Cincinnati? Sounds okay -- readers, what say you?

Daily Pump Trap: 11/29/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 27 and November 28, there were 30 new positions posted on ACS Careers. Of those, 13 (43%) were academically connected and 13 (43%) are from Kelly Scientific Careers.

Yuurrrggghhh: Tiring to wade through all of these academic and Kelly postings.

Denver, CO: Leprino Food is searching for a carbohydrate chemist to be a food scientist; B.S./M.S./Ph.D. desired, with rising levels of experience. (0-2 years for Ph.D.) They're a cheese company (among other items.)

Orange, TX: Invista is searching for an experimental technician (associates/B.S., with 2+ years experience); they have advertised this position at least 5 times this year, which is indicative of either growth or high turnover. Probably the latter. (Glassdoor, for what it's worth, says 50-55k. I am skeptical, but hopeful.)

"Harrisonburg, VA or Menlo Park, CA": SRI International is looking for a director for medicinal or biological chemistry, which they put at associate or full professor level. They want 8-10 years experience, with a requirement of previously getting funding. Huh.

St. Louis, MO: Ameren (a power utility, I believe) is looking for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist to be a laboratory supervisor. 4+ years experience desired.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gray absorbent pads

A long list of small, useful things (links):
Did I miss anything? Readers, let me know in the comments. 

A passage that has stuck with me for a while now

This Paul Krugman blogpost on economic insecurity rings really true to me:
Every time you read someone extolling the dynamism of the modern economy, the virtues of risk-taking, declaring that everyone has to expect to have multiple jobs in his or her life and that you can never stop learning, etc,, etc., bear in mind that this is a portrait of an economy with no stability, no guarantees that hard work will provide a consistent living, and a constant possibility of being thrown aside simply because you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There are a lot of political responses to this paragraph (Krugman argues for stronger state benefits in his post), but that's not what I am focused on. I do this that it is a remarkably apt counterpoint to Professor Whitesides' call for chemical entrepreneurship, or Madeleine Jacobs' comments about "thriving in the global workforce."

I think that this sentence says something true about industrial chemistry as an enterprise, and what the future might hold. Best wishes to all of us. 

Process Wednesday: hey, why not turn up the dryer by 10°C?

Credit: Cann et al. ORPD
I love the little details that you get to see in process papers. From an OPRD ASAP [1]:
A final issue was the decomposition of 11 during drying. The penultimate 11 degraded by urea bond cleavage to form 2−3% of amino acid 14 and piperidinyl quinolinone 4 during drying at 50 °C. Laboratory experimentation revealed that any potential residual levels of HCl, LiOH, dimethylamine or LiCl were not the root cause of this degradation. This led us to speculate that the degradation may be facilitated by the carboxylic acid moiety of 11. This possibility is supported by 1H NMR studies, which showed that the indazole N−H resonance at 13.04 ppm in 11 was a rather broad peak of two protons between 12.4 and 13.4 ppm. This implies the potential existence of 11 as a zwitterion (Scheme 16), and the carboxylate anion may serve as the nucleophile to attack the urea carbonyl group to break the urea bond. 
Decreasing the oven temperature to 40 °C limited decomposition to less than 0.1% over 63 h of drying while Dynochem modeling revealed that the rate of drying was controlled by moisture transport from inside the wet cake. To minimize drying time we utilized an agitated filter-dryer in a two stage protocol. The wet cake was first deliquored for at least 12 h at ambient temperature with minimum agitation, thus avoiding the formation of gummy balls. This was followed by warming to 40 °C with intermittent agitation. The telescoped process was then utilized to produce 1.7 kg of penultimate 11 in 80% yield and a purity of 95.6% and 99.3% ee.
From the supporting information, it appears that the cake washes were water, then MTBE, and then they put it in an agitation dryer (I wonder what one of those babies cost?) and vacuum dried at 20°C without agitation for 16 hours. Only after then, did they turn up the heat to just 35°C.

As someone who occasionally sets dryer specs (and gets into arguments about them), it's interesting to see (and perhaps unsurprising) that increasing the drying temperature by 10°C would raise the level of an impurity by 2%. Something else to worry about!

1. Cann, R.O.*; Chen, H.C.; Gao, Q.; Hanson, R.L.; Hsieh, D.; Li, J.; Lin, D.; Parsons, R.L.; Pendri, Y.; Nielsen, R.B.; Nugent, W.A.; Parker, W.L.; Quinlan, S.; Reising, N.P.; Remy, B.; Sausker, J.; Wang, X.;   "Selection of an Enantioselective Process for the Preparation of a CGRP Receptor Inhibitor." Org. Process Res. Dev., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/op3003097

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

UNC physics professor falls victim to romance scam

This has probably been covered in a number of places already, but the relevant Argentinian court has ruled in this case, so it's worth covering in full:
The 68-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill physics professor arrested in Argentina early this year after being caught with more than 4 pounds of cocaine hidden in a suitcase has been convicted by an Argentine court. 
Paul Frampton, the Oxford-educated Louis D. Rubin Jr. Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy, told investigators he was duped into unknowingly carrying the drugs after being lured first to Bolivia with a promise of meeting a famous bikini model. 
He was sentenced to four years and eight months of confinement Monday afternoon after three days of hearings. He expects to serve his sentence under house arrest at a friend’s apartment in Buenos Aires.
It sounds like the prosecution has him dead to rights, with the drugs in hand. However, it's pretty clear that he thought that he was communicating with the bikini model in question.* (N.B. Google searches will be guaranteed to be Not Safe For Work.) From my perspective, it's kind of sad. I suspect (although I could be completely wrong) that someone younger/more-Internet-savvy or someone with somewhat stronger family/community ties would not have fallen for this classic confidence trick.

Naturally, his salary and tenure are at risk, which is generating its own little controversy.

What I find worthwhile for discussion is that Professor Frampton appears to be serving his role as a professor while in legal trouble in Argentina:
Frampton contends that he has been doing his job while incarcerated, including writing research papers and advising students by telephone and email.
I would be interested to hear from readers about professors who have been similarly out-of-pocket (overseas? on sabbatical? in space?), and whether or not they have continued to carry out their duties as professors.

*As I said on Twitter, if Christina Hendricks** e-mailed me and asked me to smuggle some drugs for her, I might consider it. (And then, being reminded of the faithful love of my wife and the smiles of my children, I would decide against it.) But first, I would ask myself -- why is Christina Hendricks e-mailing me? 

**perhaps wise not to Google her at work, either. 

Missed the "Doctoral Glut" ACS webinar? Watch it here

I don't often suggest that you spend 60 minutes watching a video, but if you're interested in hearing what economists think about the existence of a doctoral glut in the sciences, you could do worse than Professor Richard Freeman and Professor Paula Stephan, both experts in the labor economics of science. Check it out. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/27/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 20 and November 26, there were 103 new positions posted on C&EN Jobs. Of these, 32 (31%) were academically connected and 62 (60%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Labs is looking for a postdoctoral fellow for a project titled "Simulating the generation, evolution and fate of electronic excitations in molecular and nanoscale materials with first principles methods." Huh.

Taylorsville, MI: This manufacturing optimization position is weirdly posted to C&EN Jobs, especially when it desires "plywood process knowledge". But it's interesting nonetheless.

Bridgewater, NJ: Henkel is looking for a senior development chemist for polyurethane work; I think they would take the right M.S.-level recent graduate in polymer chemistry.

Malvern, PA: Teva is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemical engineer with 5+ years experience with reaction engineering and process hazard analysis.

Ahh, you guys: Shamrock Technologies (yes, them) is looking for a salesperson; there's some wonderful language, including "This careeer (sic) should be an exciting and rewarding experience for someone who can handle adversity by overcoming it. Research and Sales have this in common." and "Requirements: Ability to retain and apply knowlege. (sic) /Drive to accomplish. / Willingness to take rejection (temporarily). / Background in chemistry. / Like people."

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/27/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 20 and November 26, there were 32 academically connected positions posted on C&EN Jobs. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 32
- Postdocs: 3
- Tenure-track faculty:  26
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  2
- US/non-US: 28/4

Johnstown, PA: The University of Pittsburgh - Johnstown is looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry.

CJ learns something: Last Tuesday, I posted a quizzical comment about electrical engineering (semiconductor design, really) and its connection to chemistry. A passionate anonymous commenter wrote in to correct me, for which I am eternally grateful. So thanks, anon.

Manhattan, KS: Kansas State is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to run its undergraduate teaching laboratories.

Asheville, NC: Warren Wilson College is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Champaign, IL: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is (once again) searching for chemical safety and chemical waste professionals. I feel like this is a once-a-year occurrence, for which I am a little confused. The turnover must be high-ish.

Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Research Corporation is looking for a postdoctoral fellow in carbon capture technology.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In case you missed it: Day 4 of the #SheriSangji hearings, Baudendistel cross-examined partially

In case you missed it, Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice of C&EN have posted their summary of Day 4 of the preliminary hearing of Professor Patrick Harran on charges stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009.

Included in the summary is Mr. Baudendistel's comments on the interactions that the postdoc assigned to Ms. Sangji had with her, regarding safety. Friends/readers, would your mentorship relationships survive such scrutiny, with regards to chemical safety?

If you want to get into the inside baseball of the legal maneuvering, there's a little bit after the jump:

I don't understand what this guy is saying

From this week's C&EN, Rick Mullin interviews Ian Shott, the head of AMRI's European operations on his business improvement philosophies:
“Yes, I think of myself as a process engineer,” Shott said, reminiscing about his efforts to combine process development R&D with contract manufacturing at Rhodia ChiRex. Shott also challenged his peers to rewrite the organic chemistry playbook by exploring the use of special catalysts, continuous reactors, and “greener” processes. These days, however, his interest in process design reaches further upstream to basic laboratory chemistry. 
“I think the whole road map from discovery to mature manufacture needs to be rethought,” Shott said. “I am quite interested in things like network analysis.” Applied in other fields of R&D, notably electronics and computers, network analysis is an engineering discipline used to predict interactions between components of a system or network. In drug discovery, for example, researchers are beginning to use chemoproteomic data to develop mathematical models for analyzing protein networks. It is a matter, he argued, of interjecting principles of engineering in an environment that is dominated by traditional chemistry. 
“People have been talking about systems biology, which tries to model and predict every chemical reaction, whereas network analysis isn’t going to that level of detail,” Shott said. “It is focused more on the outcome, rather than simulating the interaction, and so it is intrinsically simpler and intrinsically cheaper, using data that are available.” 
Shott sees the increased emphasis on data analysis as a revolution in drug research that will bring the chemical engineer into the process earlier. In drug discovery and development, “you have your classic paradigm in which first you have the discovery chemist, then you have the organic synthesis chemists, and then, very late in the day, you get chemical engineers involved,” Schott said. “But chemical engineers can actually be involved at any one of these stages. They’ve got the mathematics, they’ve got the statistics, and they’ve got the chemistry. If they are biochemical engineers they have biology as well. This is really a hot topic for me.”
I confess (not a surprise) to some level of territoriality, but this set of statements really confuses me. I am not sure what Mr. Shott means, other than that smart engineers can help chemists do math (which, I admit, is not a strong suit of chemists.) Is that the difference? That chemistry projects need more mathematics to guide their decisions? I dunno.

The oil and gas bidness is doing okay

From this week's C&EN, a report on the fortunes of French chemical company SNF and their polyacrylamide business from Jean-Francois Tremblay:
Demand in the water treatment business is determined by population growth and water standards, not the economy, Remy points out. And population and water standards are both rising in developing countries, to the benefit of SNF’s international business. Industrial water treatment is more reactive to booms and downturns—but only to a point. “Demand would decrease if sites were to close, but it’s not a phenomenon that is happening in a very noticeable way at the moment,” Remy says. “If industrial sites exist, they need to process their water.” 
Beyond water treatment, polyacrylamide plays an important role in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), an oil extraction technique that boosts well productivity. EOR, which is mostly practiced in the U.S., is economically viable as long as oil trades at more than $15 per barrel, Remy says. Given that oil currently sells for close to $100 per bbl, he expects oil drilling to remain a strong market for SNF. 
Daniel Choi, a research associate at the consulting firm Lux Research, agrees. “As global oil consumption rises to over 90 million bbl per day, the world’s key oil fields are declining and producers are looking to squeeze every last drop,” he says. “We expect EOR to play a crucial role in SNF’s strategy.” 
Similarly, polyacrylamide is used in ­hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a relatively new method of hydrocarbon extraction also practiced mostly in the U.S. The growth of EOR and fracking in the U.S. has boosted SNF’s North American sales to nearly half the company’s global turnover.
I wonder if oil will ever fall back to below $50 a barrel? (Remember back when gas was below $2/gallon?) 

Day 4 of the #SheriSangi preliminary hearing

Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice have written up their notes from Day 4 of the preliminary hearings, which included Brian Baudendistel's partial cross-examination by Professor Harran's defense attorney, Thomas O'Brien:
O’Brien: Are you aware that the standards of care for safety in academic laboratories differ from the standard of care in industrial laboratories?
Baudendistel: I don’t agree with that.
O’Brien: You’re not aware of that, sir?
Baudendistel: I think there is a difference in universities’ compliance with applicable regulations, so in that sense, yes. Is there an accepted difference? I don’t agree with that.
O’Brien: Do you agree that there’s a difference in how safety is conducted in academic universities versus safety conducted in industrial universities?
Baudendistel: Industrial universities…
O’Brien: I’m sorry, industrial laboratories.
Baudendistel: I think that there is less compliance with applicable regulations in the university setting as there is in industry.
O’Brien: Would you agree that there is a difference also in how employees are trained in terms of academic university lab workers versus industrial laboratories?
Baudendistel: Yes.
O’Brien: Would you agree that in industry employees are trained at a much higher standard?
Baudendistel: Yes.
If you read the whole thing, you can get to Mr. O'Brien's attempt to get Ms. Sangji's undergraduate education (classes, etc.) as training towards laboratory safety. (I think.) I think December 17 and December 18 are going to be very interesting days...

More in the morning.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have you seen a more colorful turkey?
If you're in the US, Happy Thanksgiving. And if you're elsewhere, Happy Wednesday/Thursday! (TM Leigh Boerner)

I am tremendously thankful for:

- The health and wellbeing of my family
- A great town to live in
- Continued employment
- A blog/Twitter community that I can learn from
- Commenters that are knowledgeable and aren't afraid to challenge
- Readers that keep coming back for more

Thanks for a great year. I am terribly thankful for each and everyone one of you, and I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving. (Safe travels, everyone.)

Day 3 of preliminary hearings: Neal Langerman testifies

From the AP's report on Day 3 of the preliminary hearing for the charges against Professor Patrick Harran stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009, chemical safety expert Dr. Neal Langerman testifies:
Under questioning by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Marguerite Rizzo, Langerman said Sangji should not have been handling the chemical tert-Butyllithium without specific training and study of instructions provided by its manufacturer. He said the chemical is highly flammable if it comes in contact with oxygen. 
Asked about Sangji's background, Langerman said, "She absolutely did not have sufficient skill, knowledge or training to be handling tert-Butyllithium." 
He said the 23-year-old, who had a bachelor's degree in chemistry, never worked with the chemical until she came to UCLA. Equipment in the lab was inadequate and technicians were not provided with protective clothing, he said.
In addition, Sangji made errors in procedure, Langerman said, adding that the accident was predictable and preventable. 
"When you ask an untrained person to deal with a high-risk task, something bad is going to happen," he said.
It's interesting to note that Dr. Langerman has said from the beginning that a blast shield would be recommended in working with tert-butyllithium. This is a recommendation that almost certainly is not being followed in US academic chemistry laboratories. (One wonders about the cost/benefit of this recommendation -- is the extra protection worth the awkwardness?)

...And attending the hearing, our favorite PR fl Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, sent to cover UCLA's protect UCLA's image:
Outside court, Kevin Reed, an attorney for UCLA who is observing the case, said: "The fundamental thing is this was a terrible tragedy. Dr. Langerman's testimony has not done anything to convert what was a tragedy into a crime."
(Mr. Reed failed to note that Dr. Langerman demolished his argument that Sheri Sangji was "an experienced and skilled chemist.") Lawyers -- you gotta love 'em.

UPDATE: The C&EN team has weighed in with its more detailed report on Day 3, based on Dr. Langerman's testimony. New facts/facets of the case:\
  • The Harran defense team objected to not questioning Dr. Langerman's experience in investigating past laboratory accidents; the judge ruled that the defense will be able to cross-examine him on this issue. (See C&EN's Michael Torrice in the comments on this issue.)
  • Dr. Langerman testified that Ms. Sangji performed titrations of the tBuLi before the fatal reaction. 
  • Dr. Langerman noted that the plunger problem likely happened after Ms. Sangji had successfully transferred the first portion of tBuLi. 
This is as good as a time as any to link again to Aldrich technical bulletin AL-134, which instructs the student on safe transfer of pyrophoric reagents. 

Also, Dr. Langerman will return for cross-examination on December 18, 2012. 

Process Wednesday: back next week

Process Wednesday has started the Thanksgiving holiday early. In exchange, have a only slightly altered image from LinkedIn:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day 2 of the #SheriSangji preliminary hearing

Here's a link to the AP report of day 2 of the preliminary hearing for the charges against Professor Harran stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009. Cal/OSHA investigator Brian Baudendistel was on the stand; no cross-examination (I believe) by the defense yet.

His testimony will conclude today, which is Day 3 of the hearing.

UPDATE: The C&EN team's report is here.

McKinsey report on manufacturing

The red boxes mark places where chemists typically work. Credit: McKinsey
From the Washington Post summary of a McKinsey report on manufacturing, an uncomfortable statement:
Manufacturing contributed 20 percent of the growth in global economic output in the decade ending in 2010, the McKinsey researchers estimate, and 37 percent of global productivity growth from 1995 to 2005. Yet the sector actually subtracted 24 percent from employment in advanced nations. 
“Manufacturing makes outsized contributions to GDP. It makes outsized contributions to overall productivity growth. It drives prosperity,” said James Manyika, one of the authors of the report. “But purely on employment, it has been declining over time.” 
That said, it's sort of good news for chemists:
In other words, the manufacturing worker of the future is more likely to have a graduate degree and wear a suit or a labcoat to work than to have only a high school education and carry a lunch pail.
I hope that's true.

Daily Pump Trap: 11/20/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 15 and November 19, there were 94 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 15 (16%) are academically connected and 63 (67%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources. 

New York, New York: D.E. Shaw has been making some interesting moves in biomedically-related science. Here they are, looking for drug discoverers:
Extraordinarily gifted scientists with expertise in computer-aided drug design or protein structural modeling are sought to join a New York–based interdisciplinary research group that is pursuing an ambitious, long-term strategy aimed at fundamentally transforming the process of drug discovery. 
Candidates should have world-class credentials in drug discovery. Relevant areas of experience might include medicinal chemistry, structure- and fragment-based drug design, molecular modeling, chemo- and bio-informatics, and/or target analysis and selection. Specific knowledge in one or more of these areas is less critical than exceptional intellectual ability and a demonstrated track record of impact in drug development. 
I wonder what they're up to?

Kingsport, TN: Eastman is looking for an "information scientist"; looking like they're looking for someone with a B.S. in chemistry or chemical engineering and a Master's in Library Science. Interesting. 

Columbus, OH: CAS is looking for M.S./Ph.D. chemists with knowledge of organometallic or coordination chemistry.

Manchester, MI: Amcor Rigid Plastics is looking for a group leader for its analytical laboratory; B.S. in chemistry plus industrial experience in QC desired. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/20/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 13 and November 19, there were 30 new academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 30
- Postdocs: 3
- Tenure-track faculty:  20
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  5
- US/non-US: 27/3

La Jolla, CA: UCSD's Laboratory for Bioresponsive Materials wishes to hire a synthetic chemist as a postdoctoral fellow.

Why are you here, exactly?: One of the weirdest things about ACS Careers C&EN Jobs is the misplacement of all sorts of ads. You really can tell that institutions are just spamming ads out there, with no hope of an actual return. (I'm developing opinions about recruiting, which is maybe a sign that I've been at this too long.) So it's with that comment that I note that Harvard University is searching for an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering in the august pages of C&EN Jobs. Perhaps it has something to do with the desired subfield?
We are particularly interested in: 1) emerging and/or ‘beyond-CMOS’ devices (including, but not limited to, nanoscale, molecular, low-dimensional, and quantum-effect devices); 2) all aspects of CMOS integrated circuits and systems design; and 3) emerging applications, including, but not limited to, bio/medical-technology (e.g., implantable systems, imaging, neuronal interfaces, biomolecular sensing and analysis), terahertz technology, and optoelectronics. 
I guess there's chemistry buried in there somewhere.

Chicago, IL: UIC is looking for a B.S./M.S. synthetic chemist for work in a tuberculosis therapy program. Is this a temp position?

Shanghai, China: NYU Shanghai (yes, you read that right) is looking for non-tenure-track instructors of science (probably chemistry in there) for a one year term in Shanghai. You know what? As hokey as this seems, this is probably a good opportunity for someone.

Mahwah, NJ: Ramapo College is looking for an assistant professor of analytical chemistry; Ph.D. desired.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What is the strategy of the Harran defense?

C&EN reporters Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice are covering the second day of the preliminary hearing of Professor Patrick Harran on charges stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009. Jyllian has a nice summary of the point of a preliminary hearing: "The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the prosecution to present evidence to a judge, who will decide if there is enough to take the case forward to a trial." Her summary post of day 1 is up. You should go over there and read it.

For those who are really interested in the details of it, I've summarized/paraphrased the Harran defense team's (as represented by attorney Thomas O'Brien) questions below the jump:

There's gotta be money to be made here

As most of you know, the US is undergoing a bit of an industrial revolution because of natural gas extraction due to hydraulic fracturing. I was interested to read this Wall Street Journal article about recycling the (huge amounts of) water used in the process:
...From energy industry giants Halliburton Corp. HAL +3.68% and Schlumberger Ltd. SLB +2.04% to smaller outfits such as Ecologix Environmental Systems LLC, companies are pursing technologies to reuse the "frack water" that comes out of wells after hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"—the process of using highly pressured water and chemicals to coax oil and gas out of shale-rock formations. 
While the recycled water can't currently be cleaned up enough for drinking or growing crops, it can be cleaned of chemicals and rock debris and reused to frack additional wells, which could sharply cut the costs that energy companies face securing and disposing of water.... 
After a well is fracked, contractors typically clean the water that flows back out of the well by filtering it or adding a chemical that attracts small solid particles, making it easier to remove these contaminants. Some companies treat water at the well, while others bring it to a facility built nearby.... 
The interest in water recycling is creating opportunities for small companies such as Select Energy Services LLC, a closey held Houston firm that said it has had a rapid rise in demand for its water-recycling services. It currently has full-scale operations in four areas including North Dakota and Colorado, up from one at the end of last year, as more companies examine recycling frack water.
It seems pretty apparent to me that old-fashioned industrial needs (like wastewater treatment, etc.) are going to be a stronger engine of job growth in the US than expected.

[Also, how long do we think that natural gas prices will stay low and oil prices will stay relatively high? If that's the case, does this mean good things or bad things for chemists employed in the petrochemical industries? I think it means good things, but maybe that's my optimism creeping out for the day.]

C&EN: BASF opens an R&D facility in China

Jean-Francois Tremblay has an interesting short article about BASF opening an R&D facility in Shanghai. Some of the language sounds familiar to me:
“By 2020, 50% of BASF’s R&D will be conducted outside Europe,” said Andreas Kreimeyer, a board member who oversees BASF’s research organization, at an inauguration event. “Shanghai will work on global topics.” The firm plans to take advantage of the Shanghai center’s location to team up with leading scientists at universities and research institutes throughout Asia... 
[snip] After Kreimeyer assumed responsibility for R&D in 2003, he led an effort to reconsider BASF’s commitment to centralizing research in Germany. He and his colleagues concluded that the pros of keeping basic research in Germany did not outweigh the cons. The new strategy has been under way for the past two to three years, he told C&EN in Shanghai.“Centralization has the big advantage that you have all the company’s top experts in one location,” Kreimeyer said. But BASF seeks to work with the world’s top scientists, and that is more easily achieved through a greater geographic spread, he said. “The argument for decentralization is stronger, but you have to make sure that the required communication and cooperation take place.” (emphasis CJ's)  
Another advantage of decentralization is likely to be greater creativity. The China R&D center will mostly be staffed by scientists from Asia, which BASF expects will lend a greater diversity of thought to its research activities, noted Martin Brudermüller, the firm’s vice chairman and head of Asian operations.
It's difficult not to look askance at some of the language, even if where BASF puts its R&D is of no particular significance to me.* I wonder if Mr./Dr. Kreimeyer has announced to German BASF employees where 50% of company R&D is going to be, or if that's a statement only made outside their ear shot.

[UPDATE: I should note that BASF was actually hiring quite strongly for very specialized people in their NJ facility for quite a while, so the US is benefiting from their very strong position in the chemical sector.]

I am also terribly amused at this set of statements on tax incentives (emphases mine):
In Shanghai, companies that set up R&D facilities can benefit from incentives including cheap land, subsidies, and exemption from import tariffs. The incentives were not a major factor in BASF’s decision to establish the R&D center in Shanghai, said Stefan Dreher, a BASF vice president who managed the set-up of the facility. More important, he said, is that China’s business hub is a natural location for a research center serving Asian customers.
“Asian hair is different. Construction materials are different,” Dreher said. “It’s too slow to ship all the materials and samples to headquarters and expect that they solve all the problems.” Without a major R&D center in Asia, he added, BASF would lag in responding to requests from its customers in Asia.
The incentives are never the reason that companies act, is it? (There's also an amusing (but probably small) dissonance is saying that Germany is close enough for planned communication and cooperation, but too far/slow to respond to customer needs for R&D. Huh.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Burn unit physician testifies on details of Sheri Sangji's death

From the Westwood-Century City Patch comes a dispatch on today's preliminary hearing on the evidence against Professor Patrick Harran. The medical details of Ms. Sangji's death are quite graphic:
...Dr. Peter H. Grossman told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench that it initially appeared that 45 percent of Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji's "total body surface area" had been burned, but the amount was later increased to 48.5 percent...
[snip] The doctor said the young woman told him after being transferred from UCLA Medical Center to the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital that a chemical she was working with spilled and ignited, resulting in her clothing catching on fire. 
In graphic testimony, the doctor described Sangji as "having quite a bit of pain," with second- and third-degree burns on various portions of her body, including her neck, hands, breasts, abdomen and lower extremities. She underwent a number of procedures, including the removal of "non-viable tissue" and the placement of cadaver skin on her wounds during her hospitalization, he testified.
The prosecution introduced 20 photos—shown on a large courtroom screen—of Sangji's injuries. "Her overall condition was worsening and she was becoming septic," Grossman said of the process of the blood system becoming infected with bacteria. 
Grossman noted that Sangji's heart stopped during one surgical procedure and doctors were able to get her back to the hospital's intensive care unit in critical condition. She was eventually declared brain dead and taken off life support Jan. 16, 2009, he testified. 
On cross-examination by defense attorney Thomas P. O'Brien, the doctor said he was "surprised, quite surprised that she ended up going through the course she did" and he had believed that she was going to make it out of the hospital alive.
I don't really have much to add to this (apart from horror), other than that I finally have the answer to my questions about what caused her death.

Friday, November 16, 2012

#SheriSangji preliminary hearing actually began today

At 1:30 pm Pacific today, the preliminary hearing for Professor Patrick Harran on charges relating to the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji at UCLA began. C&EN reporters Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice were there to cover it. A more detailed report is coming from Dr. Kemsley -- watch The Safety Zone for an update (expected Monday AM.) Here are the relevant Tweets:
#SheriSangji hearing today: DA called fire dept investigator, burn doc, pathologist. Hearing resumes Mon 1:30 pm PST 
[as to which fire department investigator was called to testify] checked notes: City of LA fire dept arson investigator
It is my understanding that a preliminary hearing is used to determine the quality and quantity of the prosecution's evidence and that we're not likely to hear much from the defense. It will be interesting to see if Drs. Kemsley and Torrice will report any probing questions from Professor Harran's defense team.  

Would you like to know more?

We can ill afford another Klendathu.

context: herehere, and here (video.)    

Is Dovebid a complete scam for instruments?

Why the hell not? 
Is there anyone who has had experience using Dovebid to purchase old instruments (GCs, HPLCs)? What's your experience been? Mine has not been very positive.

[It's like sight unseen, right? Who the hell does that? Is there a rating system? How is this not a complete scam?]

Also, should you buy a used HPLC or a used GC? I get the sense that there's real risk there, but I don't really know. 

It's okay to have a script (of sorts)

I am, believe it or not, mostly an introvert. I think I went to my first ACS conference (2005, San Diego) and did not meet a single person that I did not know already (actually, that's not entirely true. I seem to recall meeting a senior grad student from Pitt. Nice guy. Can't remember his name.) I did a little (a lot?) better in 2008 in Philly, but not too much. Now, I think I could just spend time talking to people, the next time I go to a conference.

So I bring to you Kiyomi Deards, who is a science librarian at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. She has written a nice guide for networking for introverts. One of the things I really like about her comments is that she actually has a script for meeting people (not just going to a conference or a meeting, but actually introducing yourself to people):
Introduce yourself. This is probably the hardest thing to do, some ways you can do this are: 
a. (Hold out your hand.) [Say your name] from [Insert Name of Your Institution], and you are?
Follow up: And what do you do?
b. Hi, I’m [say your name] from [Insert Name of Your Institution], I really like your dress/purse/speech, etc. Make sure you really like what you are complementing people about, never be insincere.
c. Find a friend who is outgoing and get them to introduce you to everyone. (I once met 30 people in one afternoon this way.)
Believe it or not, I actually will mentally practice what I'm about to say, when I talk to a new person. I'm glad that Kiyomi has informed me that I'm not the only one.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

#foodchem: Secret ingredients, secret recipes

This is written for Central Science's food chemistry (#foodchem) carnival.

Where would dessert be without it?
Credit: misanthopology101
At grad school gatherings, a good friend would always bring his mother's special dessert. This stuff was incredible; it was creamy, chocolatey and crunchy and utterly delicious. It represented everything that was warm and friendly and homey about the American Midwest, even as it may have been bitterly cold outside.

Naturally, he was sworn to secrecy about the ingredients and the recipe and (honorably, rightly) refused to give it out. I was reminded of that when I read a recent column in The Atlantic when drink columnist Wayne Curtis visited the Benedictine distillery in Fécamp, France and talked about the secret recipe for the liqueur:
That notebook, in turn, had been associated with the Benedictine monks, who she said had helped devise the recipe. Any chance that I might glimpse this exalted tome? “No, it’s not here,” the guide said. “The location is a secret that nobody knows. We just know that it’s in a safe place.”...  
[In reference to other distillery tours] A top-secret formula is usually involved, known only to a small cabal. (At the Angostura bitters plant in Trinidad, I was told that only three people alive hold a key to the room where the barks and spices are mixed.) 
The author goes on to talk to chemist and absinthe distiller T. A. Breaux, who addresses the science nicely.
“Big spirits makers have chemists on staff, and if they’re worth a damn, there’s not a whole lot that you can keep secret,” says the chemist T. A. Breaux. Determining the exact processes used to extract flavor from a liquor’s various ingredients can be trickier. “You can do steam distillation, maceration, or ethanolic distillation,” Breaux says, and the tastes of the resulting products will vary widely. But he adds that here, too, chemical analysis can crack the code. “Anything can be resolved eventually, depending on one’s determination,” Breaux says. He cites Chartreuse and Campari—two liqueurs whose ingredients are guarded with particular secrecy—as examples of products he could probably figure out if he so chose. 
Chemistry is different, of course; intellectual property both protects patent holders from infringement, yet forces them to reveal the contents of their drugs. At the same time (perhaps like the distillers), the willingness to divulge the methods of manufacture can be equally small. I remember asking a salesperson of a raw material of ours recently over lunch about the broad outlines of how they made it. He tried to pull the same baloney as the Benedictine tour guide above, telling me that no one knew how it was done and there were maybe 4 people in the company who knew the details of the chemistry. (I think I grunted, rolled my eyes and went back to eating my burger.)

[Is this dichotomy seen in the home as well? It seems to me that there are many more burdensome special techniques (slow roasted for 14 hours in a clay pot at an unknown temperature, blah, blah) than there are secret ingredients.]

In the home kitchen, I think we're faced with the same problem as the distilleries, where secret recipes would ultimately yield to determination. Yes, I could purchase 2 gallons of Cool Whip and 14 brands of store-bought cookies to figure out the exact flavor and texture of my friend's dessert, if I wanted to. But why do it? It would have been fun to crack the recipe (and chemists love a challenge!), but without my friend's company and the warmth of a grad school gathering, it would just be another dessert in a 9X13 pan.

36.8% of chemistry Ph.D.s work outside of science and engineering?

From a comment on In The Pipeline, I tracked down this interesting chart in the Biomedical Workforce Task Force report (a.k.a. the Tilghman report) from earlier this year. It's on page 62. It has some interesting numbers, especially this chart on the fate of Ph.D. chemists.

I note that the chart says that the number of doctorates is "weighted", whatever that means. Also, the data is from NSF SESTAT (the statistics service of NSF) and the 2003 (?) or 2005 (?) National Survey of College Graduates. The chart in the report is really grainy, so I copied all the percentages to a Google spreadsheet and redid the chart above.

From the inbox

From an astute reader, a polymer scientist position for Honeywell in Kansas City, MO. What might you be doing, you ask?:
The Kansas City Plant is a U. S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration facility managed and operated by Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies (FM&T). 
I think you might be helping to make nuclear weapons. You need a M.S./Ph.D. in chemistry, with 2+ years experience with polymers (7+ years desired.) See job ID# 00207348.

And here's this advertisement from On Target Laboratories:
On Target is seeking accomplished organic chemists with Ph.D. in organic or medicinal chemistry with minimum 3 years of postdoctoral experience. The candidate will be expected to design and synthesize Near Infra Red (NIR) dyes, photodynamic therapeutic agents, and small molecular ligands to target cancer and inflammatory diseases. Experience in total synthesis of natural products, gram scale synthesis, drug discovery techniques such as SAR studies, purification and analytical techniques (HPLC, LC/MS, NMR, fluorometer, UV-Vis, etc.), in vitro studies, in vitro assays, and in vivo (imaging and efficacy) studies are plus.
I'm going to assume you guys mean 3 years experience after you graduated, right? Right? 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/15/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 13 and November 14, 35 new positions were posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 7 (20%) were academically connected and 17 (49%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Not bad?: The Metropolitan St. Louis Wastewater District wishes to hire a lab manager; B.S. degree in chemistry, 8+ years experience in environmental testing desired. 70k to 105k.

Golden*, CO: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is looking for a postdoctoral fellow to perform electrochemistry research.

Groton, CT: Pfizer is searching for a postdoctoral fellow in cheminformatics.

Hickory, NC: Shurtape Technologies desires a senior analytical chemist; Ph.D. in chemistry, 5-8 years experience desired.

Zeroes!: Vertex Pharmaceuticals wishes to hire a Ph.D. analytical chemist, 0-3 years experience.

*Thanks for the catch, Miss MSE!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

LaClair retracts hexacyclinol

Well, it's not like that ever happened:
The following article from Angewandte Chemie International Edition, “Total Syntheses of Hexacyclinol, 5-epi-Hexacyclinol, and Desoxohexacyclinol Unveil an Antimalarial Prodrug Motif” by James J. La Clair, published online on February 9, 2006 in Wiley Online Library (, has been retracted by agreement between the author, the journal Editor in Chief, Peter Gölitz, and Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. The retraction has been agreed due to lack of sufficient Supporting Information. In particular, the lack of experimental procedures and characterization data for the synthetic intermediates as well as copies of salient NMR spectra prevents validation of the synthetic claims. The author acknowledges this shortcoming and its potential impact on the community.
Never mind!

Hat tip to @JamesDFirth, who put it on Twitter first.

(Those looking for context, this Derek Lowe post from 2006 will do nicely.) 

Process Wednesday: Why is the drying taking so long?

From a 2006 Organic Process Research and Development paper [1], a reason why tray dryers don't work very well:
The model describes the drying process as a penetration process. It is assumed that there is a drying front that moves from the equipment wall into the bulk solid, parallel to the wall. Particles between the drying front and the wall are assumed to be completely dry, and particles beyond the drying front are assumed to be completely wet. This is shown schematically in Figure 2.  
The heated surface is shown at the bottom. Below the drying front there is a layer of dry solids with zero moisture content. Above the drying front a layer of wet solids is shown in black. This layer of wet solids is assumed to be at boiling temperature at the prevailing pressure. The vapour phase consists of the pure liquid component.
So as far as I can tell, this means that, in a tray dryer with no movement, the material you want to dry will always be furthest away from the heat source. Grrrrrrrrreat.

I've worked at places with tray dryers in the past; we had to routinely break the vacuum, go in there with a scoop and turn the stuff over by hand. It's remarkable how fast a 20L rotovap can work by comparison to a medium-sized tray dryer; one can only imagine how fast a double cone dryer works in comparison.

1. Hoekstra, L.; Vonk, P.; Hulshof, L.A. "Modeling the Scale-Up of Contact Drying Processes." Org. Process Res. Dev., 2006, 10 (3), pp 409–416.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Taking a year between undergrad and grad school?

The excellent and mysterious @jfreebo speaks in the comments on taking some time between getting your undergraduate degree and graduate school in chemistry:
...I have a bachelors degree in chemistry. I had decided not to pursue a PhD after seeing the working conditions of those grad students with whom I conducted research (aka, I bumbled around the lab like the undergrad I was). I don't think those students had correct assumptions about what a real working life was like. I don't think they had the same feeling that someone working at a large corporation has: you may be brilliant, but you may still lose your job, sometimes for arbitrary reasons. I think too many graduate students put up with complete BS from a PI because they don't have the private sector experience that teaches you to quit and find a new boss sometimes, or that the people you work for often don't have your best interests at heart.
Summer internships don't solve the problem. After your summer of fun, you get scooped back into the mothership, not having experienced many of the real pressures of industry. 
I'd argue a lot of candidates would do well to take at least a year off before starting graduate school. You would then learn valuable life skills: how to craft a resume and interview so someone actually wants to pay you to produce something; how it often happens that companies and your bosses have opposing incentives from what you want in life; you may learn you like something better than chemistry, or that you like a certain aspect of chemistry better than another; etc. 
The world will not end. Grad schools will not think you have the plague. 
As you can see below, I asked about it on Twitter and lots of people responded. Most of the responses were quite positive. As someone who worked for a year as an analytical/formulation chemist in between undergraduate and grad school, I saw a lot of the benefits that folks talk about. I think there are two caveats:
  • Financial: what's the typical grad school stipend? 20k? 22k? What's the typical entry-level chemist salary? 30k? 40k? If you take a year to work, the transition from a higher income to a lower one is going to be a challenge (if not a very big one.) Living below your means (always good advice) in preparation wouldn't hurt. 
  • Time: I know that I'm going to sound like a broken record, but I really believe that your 20s are a very formative time in your life. If you decide to spend some time out of school in your 20s, make it count! Don't hang around your apartment playing Goldeneye (not that I would know anyone who did such a thing), go and learn and experience life and talk to people on other career paths like @jfreebo suggested up there. 
Readers, got any other suggestions? 

A year off

Found graffiti

Where's the other elements?

You never know what you'll find on a nice evening's walk with your wife. 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/13/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 8 and November 12, there were 95 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 26 (27%) were academically connected and 59 (62%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Wichita, KS: Koch Fertilizers (yes, that Koch) is looking for a B.S. chemist to run its QA systems; 15+ years in management of quality control desired.

Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Labs is looking for a Ph.D. chemist with synthesis experience to be a molecular catalysis chemist.

Cudahy, CA: DayGlo Color Corp. is looking for a senior chemist to work on research towards new product development. B.S./M.S., 3-5 years exp. 54-62k offered. (Meh, especially for southern California.)

Albany, OR: W.R. Grace is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. organic/organometallic chemist; process experience desired. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/13/12 edition

Good morning! Between November 6 and November 12, there have been 33 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 33
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty:  25
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions:  2
- Staff positions:  3
- US/non-US: 27/6

Worcester, MA: Worcester State University is searching for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Will there be Dunder-Mifflin sponsorship?: The University of Scranton is also looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Geaux to Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University is searching for an assistant professor of computational chemistry; I understand they have a new building?

Nice try: The University of Wisconsin-Stout (in Menomenie, WI) desires an "instrumentation innovator", i.e. an instrumentation specialist. M.S./ABD is desired.

Huh: Mississippi State is looking for an instructor/lab coordinator for its general and organic chemistry labs. Little did I know that the University is located in "Mississippi State, Mississippi."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Podcast: "The Doctoral Glut", See Arr Oh and Chemjobber

Last Thursday, there was the ACS Webinar titled "Doctoral Glut Dilemma", with Professors Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan, discussing the issues surrounding Ph.D. chemists. This weekend, See Arr Oh and I talked about the webinar, and recorded it for a podcast, which is below:

[I should really thank See Arr Oh for really encouraging me to get this posted as soon as possible, and actually serving to make my weekend reasonably productive.]

0:00-10:45: Intro, discussion of the "demand-side" problem with chemistry
10:45: Are young chemists just screwed?
13:00: Oh, how we hate the term "transferrable skills."
15:00: CJ's analogy of the job market as a gigantic DMV
17:45: Professor Freeman's "personalized medicine" terminology for distinguishing yourself in the job market, discussion of the "purple squirrel" problem
22:00: The importance of industrial internships in getting hired
23:45: When will the job market in chemistry get better? Try 3-4 years, says Prof. Freeman.
24:15: Prof. Stephan's strong suggestion that university departments report the job outcomes of graduates. (Link to my comments on the Tilghman report.)
31:00: Will lower-tier Ph.D. programs go away? Answer: No.
32:30: Taking alumni employment statistics with a pound of salt.
35:00: What about alternative careers?
38:35: Chemical entrepreneurship is the future!
41:00: Concluding thoughts

Public recording of a bet on a carbon tax

Melody Bomgardner and Alex Tullo have a blog on cleantech at C&EN's Central Science called "Cleantech Chemistry." She wrote this about the post-election results:
Perhaps most fascinating to me, though also the most far-fetched, is discussion about whether the fiscal cliff, tax reform, and the deficit will drive Congress to think about introducing a carbon tax. Hmmmm…
I found this interesting, but hard to believe. I have publicly bet Melody that this will not happen:
How's this: if Obama, Reid or Boehner (not their staffs) mention a carbon tax (not cap/trade) as a revenue source between now and Labor Day 2013, I will send you the coffee mug (or other sub-$20 item) of your choice. 
She has agreed, and if it doesn't happen, I will get a C&EN coffee mug, or some other swag.  

The 3rd quarter of 2012 was not so great for chemical, pharma firms

From this week's C&EN, I see storm clouds brewing. From Melody Bomgardner, 3rd quarter earnings for chemical companies were not looking so great:
Against the backdrop of a slowly strengthening U.S. economy, chemical firms saw earnings slide again in the third quarter, in large part because of rapidly declining prices. Out of 21 firms tracked by C&EN, Dow Chemical, DuPont, and eight other companies reported lower sales and earnings in the quarter compared with last year. 
The results prompted promises by chief executive officers to heighten the cost-cutting moves they have been implementing throughout the postrecession recovery. As they announced financial results, Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris and DuPont CEO Ellen J. Kullman unveiled additional restructuring plans, including layoffs, to be implemented in the fourth quarter and beyond (C&EN, Oct. 29, page 7). Then, one week after Dow’s Oct. 23 announcement, the company amended its tally of layoffs, saying it will cut 3,000 positions in the next two years, an increase of 600 from the original statement and equal to 6.3% of the firm’s workforce.
From Ann Thayer, same thing goes for the pharma companies:
For the third consecutive quarter, no relief came as combined sales and earnings declined at the major pharma companies tracked by C&EN. Overall, quarterly sales fell 5.0%, and earnings for the companies that reported them dropped 9.1%. For the first nine months of the year, sales were down 3.0%, while earnings declined 5.4%. By comparison, in the first half of 2012, sales slipped just 2.1% and earnings were down 3.5%. 
Four companies reported double-digit drops in sales, and five had similar-sized slides in earnings. Hardest hit was Bristol-Myers Squibb. Its third-quarter sales plummeted 30.1% to $3.7 billion, and earnings dropped by an even larger 34.3% to $685 million. U.S. patents expired in March on its high blood pressure drug Avapro and in May on the blood thinner Plavix. Excluding these two products, the company’s sales were up 7% compared with the third quarter of 2011.
Does anyone foresee another round of layoffs from Big Pharma? By now, I can't see how they could cut more (he said naively.)

Why does ACS Publications increase its journal prices?

From this week's C&EN, a long and interesting article by Lila Guterman about ACS Publications and its customers (mostly university librarians) who are pretty unhappy with ACS' price increases:
Jenica P. Rogers, director of libraries at the State University of New York, Potsdam, said the price of ACS’s all-journals electronic licensing package would have consumed more than 10% of her 2013 acquisitions budget. It was, she said, outside the range of what her small university could afford. Her blog posting received more than 100 responses in comments, Listserv postings, and blog posts by other librarians. In October, Rogers posted on her blog that other librarians had told her they intend to cancel as well. ACS says it has seen no uptick in cancellations in recent years. [snip] 
...ACS’s price increases in recent years, [ACS Pubs President] Crawford says, have been “well within scientific publishing industry norms.” For its all-journals package, the increases in both 2010 and 2011 were 7%; in 2012, the increase was 6%; and in 2013, it will be 5%—except for smaller academic institutions and community colleges, which will see no price increase. These price increases include the seven new journals ACS has introduced since 2010. However, customers seeking relief had the option to decline the new titles and, as a result, would have seen smaller increases of 5% in 2010 and 2011, and 4% in 2012. No new-title increment was added to the 2013 subscription fees. 
Explaining the yearly increases, Crawford says, “Manuscript submissions for consideration continue to rise at double-digit rates, and our published article output increases upward of 5% annually, with concomitant costs.”
If you read further in the article, you'll see that instead of charging a flat fee, ACS Publications charges you a rate based on your usage level (among other things). The more you use, the higher the fee apparently. If you read the whole thing, you'll see that ACS proposed to one small college an 1,800% increase in fees, that seemed to have gotten bargained down to a series of increases in a year (that included a 70% increase for the 2012-2013 year.)

Does anyone have a good answer as to why they do this (other than "because they can?") It seems apparent to me that they're burning up a lot of good will on the part of professors and librarians (not that anyone in DC cares about that, apparently.) I would expect this sort of behavior from Comcast, not a titular non-profit.

[2nd question: does anyone know something prominent at ACS that's funded substantially by ACS Publications? Like maybe there's a $30 million picnic for sick kids that takes up all of ACS Pubs' profits -- yeah, that's the ticket...]

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chemistry is The Answer

Thanks to Fortune Magazine, a great look back at how enthusiastic people were about the products of chemistry back in the 1970s. (Harkens back to the now-classic "When Chemistry Was Swell" post by Carmen Drahl.) Gotta love the smoking 1L 3-necked RBF in the above show tune.

In These irony-laden Times, I just don't think that it works well to use music to promote chemistry and chemists. But I'm probably wrong, and there's probably a very talented chemist/songwriter out there.

Have a good weekend! 

ACS Webinar on the doctoral glut: be glad you're not a biomedical scientist

credit: ACS Webinar
There was a lot that I could say about yesterday's ACS Webinar with Professors Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan, and hopefully I'll be saying more of it next week. But what I found fascinating about their presentation was this graph above. Stephan suggested that the issues with chemistry Ph.D.s is demand-related -- basically, as the manufacturing sector has slowed, the industrial demand for chemistry Ph.D.s has slowed as well, even as graduation of Ph.D.s has remained relatively flat. [Professor Freeman made the interesting point that he thinks that many, many more people should be doing masters degrees instead.]

[Is anyone else terribly amused by the comment in the ACS Webinar blog post where someone says that their hiring managers cannot find chemistry Ph.D.s to hire?]

As I said a long time ago, I had been warned away from the biomedical sciences, and that turquoise line up there is one of the reasons why. 

How sports psychology might apply to job searching

As I talked about yesterday, Kate Clancy (a professor of anthropology) had an interesting couple of posts a couple months ago on the application of sports psychology to her life in academia. She lists the factors that she does and does not control, and how she rates herself on each one. I've taken her list and modified it a bit for my work:

Factors that I do control: time I put in, effort, my decision making, my attitude (needs to improve!), how I interact with coworkers, my knowledge of the literature, my lab skills, my writing.

Factors that I do not control: When the plant starts or ends a process, my bosses' decisions, our customer's decisions.

I think this applies doubly to those who are seeking jobs. Job seekers do not control: the broader economy, the relative lack of chemistry jobs, the massive supply of chemists that are out there, the location of those jobs, the HR departments and their hoops, the employers and their needs. However, there are a lot of things that job seekers do control: the amount of time spent searching, applications written, effort spent networking, the appearance/quality of your CV, your interview presentation, etc.

I fully admit that I spend much more time bit complaining about the factors than I do not control, rather than the factors that I do. Readers, how about you?