Monday, December 31, 2012

#chemjobs-related Reporters of the Year, 2012

I wanted to take a moment and recognize a few reporters who told the story of the #chemjobs problem this year:

Brian Vastag, whose article on the front page of The Washington Post about the problems of early- and mid-career scientists was eye-opening. I was amused to hear it quoted (indirectly) by Jared Bernstein at a panel discussion on H1B visas and demand for STEM workers.

Susan Ainsworth, Linda Wang and Sophie Rovner, for their coverage of chemist unemployment in the November "employment outlook" of C&EN. Especially key is Linda Wang's searing portrayal of mid-career chemist unemployment. I also want to note how many #chemjobs-related articles that Susan Ainsworth has written this year (and how many readers of this blog have chosen to comment in those pages.)

These reporters have a much bigger microphone than I do. I tend to yell at reporters when they get things wrong; it makes me happy when I feel that reporters get things right.

It's my hope that 2013 will be a better year for jobs in chemistry than 2012. I hope it will be a good year for the blog as well. Thank you once again for reading, commenting and writing -- it makes it all worth it.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year to us all. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

wwwtp: structures + kid = wth?

So you've absorbed my science into your DNA? (hopefully not haploid.) My chemistry is so stupid a kid could do it? You've hired some really smart kids (literally?) Your kids like to draw on your walls?

Readers, can you make heads or tails of this ad? 

I do not think that means what you think it means

From a nice blogpost by political writer Josh Green on the late Jack Klugman's advocacy for the Orphan Drug Act (emphasis mine):
Hatch, too, finally relented. Thanks to Klugman, the Waxman-Hatch Orphan Drug Act became law in 1983. In an ending Hollywood might have scripted, it has been a remarkable success. The FDA has approved more than 300 orphan drugs, with 1,100 more under development. One of the first developed under the law was AZT, the early AIDS treatment. Two years later, Congress expanded the law to include biological and chemical drugs, which helped spur the biotech industry. 
Rurrr? I assume he means "biological drugs" or "biomolecules". Ah, well, can't win them all. 

A few favorite posts

I don't really have much to say about 2012, other than it was a tough year for #chemjobs, but a good year for this blog. Here are a few posts that I am especially pleased with:
Thanks for all the reading, commenting and e-mails. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Does your date have good credit or bad credit?

The New York Times had an interesting article on people inquiring about credit scores on dates:
As she nibbled on strawberry shortcake, Jessica LaShawn, a flight attendant from Chicago, tried not to get ahead of herself and imagine this first date turning into another and another, and maybe, at some point, a glimmering diamond ring and happily ever after. 
Her musings were suddenly interrupted when her date asked a decidedly unromantic question: “What’s your credit score?”
Amusingly, a chemist shows up later in the article (I've deleted his name):
[Name removed], a 33-year-old chemist in San Francisco, said he worried that the vast disparity between his girlfriend’s credit score and his own low one could create tension in their relationship. When the couple leased a car in October, Mr. [Removed] had to leave his name off the contract because his poor credit scuttled his chances for the bargain interest rate that his girlfriend qualified for. 
Mr. [Removed] said he resented that his credit score, which he said was marred by a single contested cable bill, has limited his access to credit. “I always pay my bills so it’s pretty ridiculous that a billing error can ruin your score,” he said. His girlfriend declined to be interviewed.
I've always been under the impression that chemists probably tend to stay out of financial trouble and, in general, have good credit. My little anecdote about this was to see the very modest cars that my professors (no slouches in the earnings department, I suspect) drove. When I was at a large pharma company, I also noted the relatively modest vehicles in the parking lots. That said, graduate school can be a good time for people (including myself!) to get themselves into some small or large amount of debt, which can have repercussions down the road.

Naturally, though, asking a credit score on the first date is sort of stupid. While "what is your financial situation?" is incredibly important for any long-term relationship, at that moment, it's just sort of rude.

Labor law practitioner on #SheriSangji: Not rare for employer to face charges

From the C&EN story (written by Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice) on the preliminary hearing of evidence against Professor Patrick Harran (emphasis mine):
...When the hearing ended, O’Brien said he would submit motions to dismiss or reduce the charges against Harran. But he requested to do so in writing, noting that the facts in the case are “voluminous” and that the case itself represents a new use of California labor law. 
Upon accepting O’Brien’s request, Judge Lench ordered that motions and counterarguments be filed by Feb. 1, 2013, and she set the next court date for Feb. 15, 2013. 
Kirk McAllister, an attorney who is not involved in the case but is knowledgeable about this area of California law, says that a request to present written arguments is not unusual for a lengthy preliminary hearing. Harran’s hearing began in November and then was postponed until Dec. 17 for scheduling reasons. 
McAllister also says that felony labor code charges are not unusual for a workplace injury—even if they have not previously been filed against a university professor.
I think that's a helpful thing to know -- that employers do have felony labor code charges filed against them. That the employee was a lab technician and the employer is an organic chemistry professor is probably the most broadly newsworthy piece of this phase of the Sheri Sangji case.

Daily Pump Trap: 12/27/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 20 and December 26, there were 120 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 18 (15%) are academically connected and 74 (62%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Around the nation: Shimadzu has posted 7 positions around the country for their instrumentation divison.

Tullahoma, TN: An unnamed company is looking for a Ph.D. chemist for work on molecular imprinting and chemical sensing.

Commerce, CA: An unnamed company is looking for a cosmetic chemist for work on nails; B.S./M.S. (7 years, 5 years experience (respectively.) You gotta love this part of the ad: "As far as job description, this is what I have outlined. Please feel free to edit as appropriate."

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 202, 614, 2435 and 13 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 120 positions for the search term "chemist", with 2 positions for the search term "organic chemist", 17 for "analytical chemist" and 10 for "research chemist." 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Hilarity ensues when a forklift meets a drum.

UPDATE: In the comments, slrls links to a hilarious but extraordinarily bloody forklift safety video. (It is not for the faint of heart.)  

NYT asks, college or a job for rural Montana kids?

Check out my rig! Credit: New York Times
From a Glen Ernst tweet, an interesting New York Times article on the effect the hydraulic fracturing boom is having on a small Montana town:
...At the end of a gravel highway in northeastern Montana, graduating seniors in Bainville are asking similar questions about their future. Should they get an education and pursue their interests? Or should they stick close to home and surf a wave of cash and jobs that will only grow as companies begin to build a new industrial rail terminal and worker camps, forever transforming this quiet farm town where residents say the population has doubled since the 2010 census found 300.
Dmetri Ross, 17, said he would join his father and uncle at an outpost of Nabors Industries in western North Dakota, working in a lab running tests on water samples and cement related to drilling. “I’d be happy to make a career out of it,” he said. 
...Nobody needed to recruit Shay Findlay. One day after he graduated from Sidney High School, he drove into town and started looking for work. He found a job on the first try, doing repair work on drilling pumps. 
He is 19 and on his second job now, earning about $40,000 a year and still sleeping in a bedroom in his parents’ basement decorated with his high school graduation picture and diploma. He bought a dirt bike and a flat-screen television, and took out a loan on a hulking black Chevy Silverado truck with personalized license plates — FDLSTIX — for his childhood nickname, Fiddlesticks... 
[On his friends going to college, elsewhere:] “They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”
It's pretty funny and emblematic of the New York Times to be concerned about these kids; I think it's a bit rich for them to routinely bemoan the lack of jobs for non-college graduates and then throw up their hands in terror when kids in small rural towns decide not to go to college in favor of those jobs.

At the same time, there are folks who could indeed benefit from school -- the young man who wants to follow his family into a water testing laboratory would probably benefit from an A.A. in chemical technology (maybe, anyway); one wonders whether such a thing might be available to him in western North Dakota. Distance education might be the thing that works for him -- hopefully, he'll get it  -- if he wants it.

Finally, there are folks who could benefit from these jobs -- the young man with the truck doesn't sound like he wants to go to school, and he's earning a decent wage and learning some decent skills. (He probably could use a lesson in personal finance, but UHK will teach him a lesson or two about borrowing money for a new truck, and that'll be that.)

Readers, what do you think?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

#SheriSangji preliminary hearing: Day 6

Drs. Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice of C&EN have posted their summary of Day 6 (the final day) of the preliminary hearing of Professor Patrick Harran on charges stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009. It should be noted that a preliminary hearing is a determination of the quality of the prosecution's evidence in the case.

I don't plan on writing up a full review of the preliminary hearing until the first week of next year, when folks will have returned from winter breaks. But I will note a couple of really remarkable developments on Day 6. Cal/OSHA investigator Brian Baudendistel was questioned again by both the prosecution and the defense. The really illuminating questions, however, came from the defense's questioning of chemical safety expert Neal Langerman:
  • The defense attempted to get Dr. Langerman to admit that Ms. Sangji demonstrated her ability meet Dr. Langerman's personal training standards to work with pyrophorics because she performed an experiment with Grubbs II catalyst in dichloromethane in a glovebag, and that Professor Harran watched her work and declared her technique "perfect." 
  • The defense suggested that Professor Harran's postdoctoral fellow was the key person who was supervising and training her, and that it was reasonable for Professor Harran to rely on the postdoc in her training.
I surmise that Dr. Langerman was not particularly interested in going along with the defense's reasoning on this issue. You should go over there and read the transcripts that Drs. Kemsley and Torrice have provided to see if you agree. 

I find it surprising and perhaps objectionable that Grubbs II in dichloromethane has been described as "reactive" and "air sensitive". From the Chem 215 notes at Harvard authored by Myers and coworkers:
Ru-based catalysts show little sensitivity to air, moisture or minor impurities in solvents.
A variety of Google results tends to support the Myers position that Grubbs II is not particularly sensitive to air. Professor Doug Taber comes a little closer with his description that "Prolonged exposure to air and moisture deactivates the complex..." The couple of minutes that it would take to weigh out the complex and toss it into the flask doesn't count, I don't think.

What is ultimately more probative (and again, perhaps I am wrong) is that it would be difficult to immediately tell that air-sensitive technique with Grubbs II was either good or bad. Bad technique with tBuLi announces itself with a flame; bad technique with Grubbs catalyst might result in a mild color change and a poor yield.

Readers, am I nuts in thinking that this is a crazy comparison to make? The Sangji case is such a weird nexus between law and chemistry; God help us all if this makes it in front of a jury.

Friday, December 21, 2012

We're all here, right?

Of course, the appropriate Chemjobber headline would have been:

"World to End on Friday, Chemists to Suffer Most."

Seriously, though, a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

See you on Wednesday (or in the comments.) 

Metal bowls

A list of small, useful things (links):
Readers, did I miss anything?

UPDATE: Brandon, on selecting a Ph.D. thesis advisor. 

#AnnieDookhan is indicted on 27 counts, pleads not guilty

From the Boston Globe's newsblog, news of forensic chemist Annie Dookhan:
Former state chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court today to 27 indictments for allegedly mishandling and tainting drug evidence, including one case where she claimed to have tested a drug sample that wasn’t even in her laboratory at the time. 
Dookhan, 35, is at the center of one of the largest law enforcement scandals in recent Massachustts history and her alleged misdeeds in the now closed state drug laboratory in Jamaica Plain may impact tens of thousands of cases and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. 
Today, Dookhan pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to 27 indictments that allege she deliberately mishandled evidence she was supposed to verify were illegal drugs and for falsely claiming to have a master’s degree from UMass-Boston. 
Dookhan has been free on $10,000 cash bail when she faced a preliminary round of charges and has also been under a 6 p.m. curfew. Today, her attorney Nicholas Gordon, said in court that Dookhan’s social life has been impacted by the limitation and asked that it be set at 10 p.m., a request that was granted.
It will be interesting to see what Ms. Dookhan's legal strategy would be; seems to me that she's waiting for a plea deal that will not come quickly.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Podcast: Matt Hartings, See Arr Oh and Chemjobber talk ACS exec salaries

As promised, we're posting our little podcast about ACS executive salaries, our thoughts on "whither the ACS?" and our summary of our entire conversation:

See Arr Oh has so helpfully given us timepoints, and he and I have added our editorial comments:

0:03 - Intro - ACS Executive Compensation (note: the conclusion is at 27 minutes, not 35.)
0:37 - Meet the Crew, and Our First Blunder (only 37 seconds in! Sheesh...)
1:45 - They make what!?!
4:02 - What's the point of the ACS?
5:50 - ACS executive bonuses: "More than my base salary"
6:26 - Executive-Think
10:20 - What are these bonuses based on?
13:30 - Show Me The Data!
15:50 - Shouldn't the mid-career professional be a core mission of the ACS?
18:45 - Do Local Sections care?
20:14 - College Library Systems v. ACS Publications (a.k.a. the SUNY-Potsdam story)
22:58 - Where do CJ's dues go?
27:00-29:00 - Closing thoughts
29:14 - Bonus outtake

Research associates of the world, comment!

From the ACS grad report, this comment:
A second helpful change would be for funding agencies to be more receptive to requests for support of more senior research associates who are regular employees of research institutions. Such positions would help to provide a professional path forward for postdoctoral associates.
I suspect that these positions are paid somewhat better, are somewhat more stable than a postdoc and indeed carry some health insurance and other benefits. I would guess that there are a fair number of these positions, too. On Twitter, there were a couple of interesting comments from knowledgeable folks:
So they're stressful (but are they more stressful than a regular industry job? I could argue it both ways.) So does anyone have anything to add about academic staff scientist positions? 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/20/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 18 and December 19, 47 new positions were posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 3 (6%) are academically connected and 29 (62%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Wyandotte, MI: BASF is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemist (5+ years for M.S. chemists, new Ph.D. grads eligible) for its high temperature polymer group.

Albany, NY: Well, it's been a while since we've seen an AMRI posting, and here we are! Two of them, a synthetic chemist position (B.S./M.S., 3-7 years exp.) and a more senior LC/MS position. You have to love this:
"The Research Scientist III is encouraged to display a degree of professionalism reflected in part by increasing the scientist's knowledge of analytical chemistry theory and practice through reading scientific journals and texts at times beyond the "normal" working hours."
(Normal working hours at AMRI are north of 60, right? That was the rumor.) Professionalism! 60-70k for a research scientist III at AMRI -- another data point.

East Chicago, IL or La Porte, TX: Tradebe Environmental is a hazardous waste company; they have 2 "field chemist" positions open. This is not typical chemistry, there's no doubt about it, but it is hard (and necessary) work. My understanding is that it's not particularly well-paid and there's an expectation that field chemists will move onto other positions within the company.

Hello there, Sheboygan, WI: I think it's interesting how many Sheboygan Falls, WI-area positions that Kelly Scientific Resources is posting; Sigma-Aldrich must consistently have turnover issues or something. (Maybe I'm wrong.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Podcast: Matt Hartings, See Arr Oh and Chemjobber talk grad school

Last week, ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri and his President Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences held a press conference and released a long report on the state of graduate school in chemistry. Matt, See Arr Oh and I did a Google Hangout, and we talked over some of the issues raised in the report. (Tomorrow, we're releasing a 2nd podcast where we talk about ACS executive salaries.)

See Arr Oh has helpfully provided some time points for you all; I've added some editorial comments.

0:03 - Intro
0:54 - Who we are, in a nutshell (diversity of opinions)
3:58 - Should grad students be TAs?
7:05 - Time To Degree - "Cap things at 5 years"
11:10 - CJ goes on a rant about the sunk costs of graduate school, and that they're sunk
16:14 - Adjuncts, or The Wheel of Pain
23:15 - Funding: Grads vs. Adjuncts
28:41 - Recruitment of international graduate students: top vs. mid-tier institutions
34:19 - Research Associates - the answer? Maybe not.

UPDATE: Part 2 (on ACS executive salaries, and concluding thoughts) is up here. 

A Chemjobber holiday tradition

As a public service, I'm rerunning this post. Feel free to e-mail/print out and give to your family. 

Day 5 of the #SheriSangji preliminary hearing; hearing on potential trial on Feb. 15, 2013

Drs. Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice of C&EN have posted their summary of Day 5 of the preliminary hearing of Professor Patrick Harran on charges stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009. It should be noted that a preliminary hearing is a determination of the quality of the prosecution's evidence in the case. Day 6 happened yesterday; a link to C&EN's write-up will be posted when it is up.

Biggest news first: preliminary hearings are done, and and a hearing before Judge Lisa Lench on whether or not a trial will proceed will be argued on February 15, 2013.

The defense has raised two basic objections in Day 5 of the testimony, which focused on Cal/OSHA investigator Brian Baudendistel and his cross-examination by Thomas O'Brien, the lead counsel for the Harran defense team:
  • Ms. Sangji was an experienced chemist, and therefore knowledgeable enough to make chemical safety PPE choices on her own
  • Professor Harran was not fully informed of his responsibilities/liability as an employer with respect to chemical safety. 
It seems to me that the latter is less objectionable than the former, which to be blunt, I find to be a pernicious myth. Now, of course, all the legal relationships between institution, PI, student and technician/employee are going to be formalized and codified. Where Professor Harran is in this previously gray area is basically the crux of any criminal penalty going forward.

In other news, the Los Angeles Times has indicated that the Baudendistel gambit by the Harran defense to remove his testimony does not seem to have worked for now. Jyllian Kemsley also thinks that it's been tabled. Finally, I should also point out the rather cynical ploy by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in the AP wire report (assuming, of course, that the reporter got it right):
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement praising Harran as a valued member of UCLA's faculty who is making great strides in the global effort to cure cancer.
It's funny how there are positive and negative ways to cast the nature of the research Ms. Sangji was doing at Professor Harran's direction. Sometimes, her research is referred to as work on a "diet drug", but at other times, Professor Harran is a cancer researcher. The answer is that Professor Harran was working on both anti-obesity and anti-cancer compounds; the ultimate goal of his (worthy, good) research is irrelevant to these legal proceedings. Assuming again that he was quoted correctly, Chancellor Block should ashamed at this blatant attempt to pee in the jury pool.

There's a lot more detail in Jyllian and Michael's post, so you should definitely go over there and read it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Got a question for a hiring manager? Linda Wang of C&EN wants to know

Got a question for a recruiter or hiring manager, but afraid to ask? Let C&EN senior editor Linda Wang ask (anonymously) for you in a new employment story. Email your questions to: l_wang -at- acs/dot/org

What is Parabon's technology? I don't understand it.

Via Extreme Tech, a NSF press release for a drug delivery company that I just don't understand:
..."We can now 'print,' molecule by molecule, exactly the compound that we want," says Steven Armentrout, the principal investigator on the NSF grants and co-developer of Parabon's technology. "What differentiates our nanotechnology from others is our ability to rapidly, and precisely, specify the placement of every atom in a compound that we design." 
..."When designing a therapeutic compound, we combine knowledge of the cell receptors we are targeting or biological pathways we are trying to affect with an understanding of the linking chemistry that defines what is possible to assemble," says Hong Zhong, senior research scientist at Parabon and a collaborator on the grants. "It's a deliberate and methodical engineering process, which is quite different from most other drug development approaches in use today." 
...The Parabon and Janssen researchers intend for their new prostate cancer drug to overcome several existing cancer-treatment obstacles. The drug design combines a toxin with a chemical that makes cancer cells susceptible to that toxin. Additionally, the drug incorporates components that improve delivery to cancer cells while avoiding healthy tissue, and chemical markers that allow researchers to monitor the drug's arrival at tumors. For the new compound, total design time plus synthesis time will be a matter of weeks. 
..."Currently, most drugs are developed using a screening technique where you try a lot of candidate compounds against targets to 'see what sticks'," says Armentrout. "Instead, we're designing very specific drugs based on their molecular structure, with target molecules that bind to receptors on specific types of cancer cells. In plug-and-play fashion, we can swap in or swap out any of the functional components, as needed, for a range of treatment approaches."
Huh? I really don't quite understand what is going on here. What's worse is the Extreme Tech explanation for what is happening -- it makes even less sense. I'm going to highlight in bold the strangest sentences to this dumb chemist:
...While there are many applications in microelectronics, optics, and sensor technology where the ability to precisely engineer nanostructures would be invaluable, the ability to nanotailor drugs for treating cancer is ripe and low-hanging fruit...  
Cancer medicines are typically so expensive that a real price per molecule can be discussed using familiar numbers. For this reason insurance companies do not want to be caught paying for any extra molecules if the prescription only requires a certain amount. They also want to be sure that the drug company is providing the amount claimed. Platinum for example, is more expensive than gold even before it is turned into a medicine. To use it as a cancer treatment, any sample must be pure and the quantity known, and regulated as such. Beyond that it must be turned into a molecule that the body can properly absorb, distribute to the right tissue, metabolize, and excrete in a way that ensures sufficient time to function. Each of these steps can add an order of magnitude to cost — and that’s just for simple metal ion. 
...The DNA itself is not the drug. The DNA is the ferry that brings to bear the drug or other molecule of interest that is bound to it. The DNA also acts as the selector that tags the correct drug, the counter that determines its total number, and the matrix that stabilizes it in a permanent structure. Many cancers are currently treated with a medicinal cocktail, which for some reason is invariably prescribed as a combination of four drugs and designated with a four-letter word. The right blend for one patient is not the necessarily the proper one for the next, and neither is the dose. Excess drug and mismatch of inventory to demand is a problem no cancer treatment center wants to have, particularly when shelf life is limited. Hospital and pharmacy error is also a significant problem. On-demand DNA-based assembly suddenly makes many of these problems recede into the distance...
...The ability to program-in new functional molecules is nearly as limitless as one might have bar codes to track the vials in which store them. For drugs, your custom pill could also have all the other things that might be needed rolled into one. Drugs to treat the side-effects of the primary treatment, anti-nausea medicine, blood thinners, pain controllers, and whatever else.
For now, the methods that Parabon uses to create its starter molecules — the relatively short DNA strands to which a drug or other molecule is actually bound to — are synthesized by the trillions in identical form with standard methods, probably traditional PCR. This is not, in a strict sense, identified with the 3D printing methods of today. As the technology evolves, the “building of the house” may become more closely knit within the same platform to the “building of the city,” and PCR machines may evolve to become more like 3D printers. The extent to which this is already happening is tough to know, but we can be sure of one thing, it is definitely happening.
This is a big prank or something? Has this text been machine translated from the original Urdu?

If you look at the actual graphic that's involved, I think the idea is the following:
  • Covalently bonding drug molecule to DNA
  • Designing DNA macromolecular structures that contain a variety of DNA-drug hybrids, tailored to patient need
  • This DNA/drug hybrid could be used as a delivery vehicle -- and could be synthesized on demand at the hospital.
  • Parabon has invented a software program to help biologists design these drug hybrid macromolecules.  
Anyone have a better idea of what it is?

Naturally, this is the problem when science gets translated by people who don't fully understand what's going on. Metaphors get mixed, language "sounds about right", and people press "publish"/"send" instead of sitting down and actually reading the text. (Besides, DNA-drug hybrid technology has been known for quite a while, right?) 

Readers, do you have any idea what this technology is? 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/18/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 13 and December 17, there were 125 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 19 (15%) were academically connected and 89 (71%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Torrance, CA: Phenomenex, once again, has posted 5 positions to C&EN Jobs; I wonder what's going on there?

Raleigh, NC: Agile Sciences has published an ad that's so specific that there must be something fishy going on there:
Required: PhD in Chemistry plus 3 years of experience in the job offered or as Researcher or closely related occupation. Special Skills required: Experience must include 3 years of postdoctoral research in organic synthesis. Must have experience synthesizing 2-aminoimidazole compounds and testing them for biofilm inhibition/dispersion activity. Must have experience with solution phase organic synthesis and molecular biology techniques. Must have published papers on the subjects of solid and solution phase organic reactions, performing circular dichroism in conjunction with 1- and 2-dimensional (COSY, TOCSY, ROESY) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and quenched molecular dynamics (QMD, using QUANTA/CHARMM) simulation.
I mean, there are so many "must haves" there. What is this about?!?

Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories is looking for what seems to be a postdoctoral fellow in materials science (quantum dot something-or-other); they call it a "limited-term research associate" for 1 year, plus a discretionary 1 year. Sounds like a postdoc to me.

Las Vegas, NV: Clark County Water District wants a B.S. chemist for a testing position; looks like they'd take a new graduate. Salary of $45k minimum. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/18/12

Good morning! Between December 11 and December 17, there were 25 academically-connected positions posted on ACS Careers. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 25
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty:  17
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions:  3
- Staff positions:  3
- US/non-US: 18/7

Gary, IN: Indiana University - Northwest is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry to teach organic chemistry and biochemistry.

Valley City, ND: Valley City State University is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry to teach physical and analytical chemistry. The high this week in Valley City is 25°F, it looks like. Brrrr.

La Jolla, CA: UCSD's Laboratory of Bioresponsive Materials is looking for a postdoc in synthetic polymer chemistry; must have 1 first-author publication in a "well-renowned journal, (e.g. JACS or Angewandte)." Look, fella, if you were able to command that, you wouldn't be advertising this position. That said, thanks for being honest!

Gainesville, FL: Want to know what a chemistry librarian makes? With a MLS, the University of Florida will pay you (minimum) $45,417. Wooo!

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: The University of Saskatchewan is looking for a chair of rational drug design. Huh. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

From the inbox: 5 postings at ThermoFisher

A grateful reader posts 5 jobs at ThermoFisher in Fremont, CA (thanks, reader!):

Associate Scientist, Organic: B.S./M.S., 0-2 years synthetic experience
Senior Scientist, R&D: B.S./M.S./Ph.D, 8+ years in diagnostics experience
Senior Scientist, R&D: M.S./Ph.D. in analytical chemistry, 5-8 years experience, LC/MS-MS oriented.
Senior Scientist, R&D: M.S./Ph.D. in analytical chemistry, 5-8 years experience, LC/MS-MS oriented.
Scientist, R&D: B.S./M.S./Ph.D., 3 years minimum experience, looks like biological assay design. 

What is Andrew Liveris saying, exactly?

So we've talked about Dow's layoffs and retrenchments already; here's Andrew Liveris in this week's C&EN talking to investors (article written by Alex Tullo):
Dow Chemical’s chief executive officer, Andrew N. Liveris, isn’t as optimistic as he once was.
In 2009, Liveris had just guided the company through the financial crisis and Great Recession, all while digesting its purchase of specialty chemical powerhouse Rohm and Haas. The “new Dow,” armed with enormous economies of scale and its widest-ever breadth of technical expertise, seemed ready to conquer any market it coveted. Solar panels, lithium batteries, and polymers made from ethanol, though new to Dow, were targets every bit as legitimate as the packaging, paint, and construction materials that had always been at the firm’s core.
Faced with slumping revenues and earnings, Liveris is now cutting back. In October, Dow announced it will lay off 2,400 workers—5% of its workforce—and shut down 20 plants. And reversing its stance of only a few years ago, the company is cutting future-oriented spending by about $1 billion in total. Mostly this will come from capital projects, but R&D will not be spared the ax. Dow also plans over the next two years to divest underperforming businesses that together generate $1 billion in annual sales. (emphasis CJ's) 
At an investor forum in New York City on Dec. 3, Liveris tried to justify such measures to reporters, investors, and analysts. Dow didn’t change, he maintained. The rest of the world did by slowing almost to an economic halt. 
Even with the cuts, Liveris said he wants to keep Dow’s scientific staff intact. When asked whether he will lay off chemists, Liveris responded, “Not to my knowledge. We are pretty much redeploying people. Scientists are precious. You bring them in, you train them, you redeploy them.” (emphasis CJ's) 
He added that the company wants to attract more scientists. For example, Dow is moving researchers from a former Rohm and Haas laboratory in Spring House, Pa., to a newer, former Pfizer site in nearby Collegeville. “Finally, our scientists in the Philadelphia area are getting modern facilities,” he said, positing that Dow could “attract the best scientists on the East Coast.”
So. Couple of things:
  • So we're not laying off chemists, but we're cutting underperforming businesses and R&D?
  • We know that Dow has/will laid off 2000 employees; doubtless some of them are bench/R&D chemists (not necessarily equivalent). Have all the chemists affected been offered transfers to other Dow sites? 
  • If you read the rest of the article, it's about how much Europe and China's slowdowns are affecting Dow (which, I suspect, is draws a significant portion (a majority?) from non-US business.) What does that say for US growth prospects in 2013? 

Hey, this labor market is weird!

From the letters this week at C&EN, an amusing set of juxtapositions:
I was nearly overcome with fear reading the Nov. 5 issue of C&EN. On page 11, I read of the “near-retirement ... of more than 6,000 physical scientists employed by DOD.” On page 26 is the statement: “Companies looking for highly skilled workers in the U.S. argue that more visa and green cards slots are needed so they can fill open positions.” Luckily, a short time later, the answer hit me as I read on page 50 that “in the U.S., unemployed chemists are still struggling to find jobs. The unemployment situation is especially dire for mid- to late-career chemists.” There are even tales of those forced to relocate to other parts of the U.S. or the world. 
Is a solution taking shape in the minds of C&EN readers? Perhaps something other than “reevaluating the security clearance system to open up more research jobs to foreign-born workers.”  
I personally am fortunate enough to not be in the situation of the unemployed—who are so artfully personified on the cover. However, if I were, I would find it quite insulting to read of a “scientist shortage” (page 11) without at least a cursory analysis from the editor. 
I haven’t seen this sort of self-contradiction since, well, the articles about the electric-vehicle market (C&EN, Oct. 22, pages 8 and 26). Please pull it together. 
Ken Doll
Peoria, Ill.
The non-interchangeable nature of scientists is a puzzle; if only there was a way for mid-career scientists to retrain for a new subspeciality. Hmmmm.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fed, Aldrich stimulate economy by using paper currency as absorbent material

In a surprise move, Aldrich has announced that it is helping the Federal Reserve use its excess of US dollars by stuffing them into their containers in place of vermiculite. "As a part of the latest nominal GDP targeting program that Chairman Bernanke has announced, the Fed has given us several thousand pallets of dollar bills to be used instead of that weird gray absorbent rabbit pellet looking stuff. Hey, grad students, postdocs and other bench scientists are the most likely to actually put cash into the economy by spending it."

A spokesman for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors released a statement saying, "We thank Sigma-Aldrich for their help in releasing hard currency to the general public. It is unfortunate that Sikorsky would not sell us helicopters for our project on a larger scale, but we believe that our friends in Milwaukee will have a similar effect. We  have also instructed that we will not allow Federal Reserve Notes to be used as packing material in Aldrich brand tetrakis(triphenylphosphine)palladium, since we want our money to be spent and not hang around in the warehouses."

Pfizer just won what?!!?

I'm just going to leave this one here for your perusal (emphasis mine):
In 1849, two cousins founded Charles Pfizer & Company in a modest red brick building in Brooklyn, N.Y. Little did they know, the company would grow up to be one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, with the nation’s happiest employees.
The multinational pharmaceutical giant ranked No. 1 on CareerBliss’ third annual Happiest Companies in America list, which honors the 50 companies that are most dedicated to cultivating happy work environments.
Um, uh, no comment.

There just aren't enough hours in the day

This New York Times story about Russian author Nikolai V. Zlobin's book about America for Russians is both funny and poignant:
But of course much in everyday American life sounds bizarre to Russians, as Mr. Zlobin documents meticulously in his 400-page book, “America — What a Life!” 
It seems strange, 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, that ordinary Russians would still be hungry for details about how ordinary Americans eat and pay mortgages. But to Mr. Zlobin’s surprise, his book — published this year and marketed as a guide to Russians considering a move abroad — is already in its fifth print run, and his publisher has commissioned a second volume. 
With the neutrality of a field anthropologist dispatched to suburbia, Mr. Zlobin scrutinizes the American practice of interrogating complete strangers about the details of their pregnancies; their weird habit of leaving their curtains open at night, when a Russian would immediately seal himself off from the prying eyes of his neighbors. Why Americans do not lie, for the most part. Why they cannot drink hard liquor. Why they love laws but disdain their leaders.
I think attempting to explain any large country that's rather heterogeneous is a fool's errand. The United States is such a mess of ridiculous and weird subcultures -- imagine trying to explain the chemblogosphere to someone who is not a reader or a blogger! I can't imagine attempting to explain Amish culture or suburban American teenagerhood to someone who hadn't lived either of those experiences.

This article is a great reminder to me of all the difficulties that graduate students and scientists from other countries must have when navigating the United States and its strange customs. That they experience difficulty is expected; that most seem to transition to "doing fine" and manage to do good science is pretty amazing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I don't think medchem will reshore to the US. Do you?

Credit: Boston Consulting Group
I've been watching the boomlet in articles this past year about the "reshoring" of manufacturing back from Asia to the United States with some interest. The latest in this trend is Charles Fishman's article in The Atlantic Monthly about General Electric bringing back some appliance manufacturing to its facility in Kentucky. There has been a bit of hubbub about Apple's commitment to spend $100 million to built an assembly line in the US. (The Financial Times notes that it is not much, compared to the billions that it's spent on its facilities at Foxconn City.) Also, Felix Salmon points out that a lot of the jobs coming back are paying $10-15/hr, as opposed to the $20+/hr that most folks imagine.

I think this is business and the media chasing "hot trends", as opposed to looking at the long-term picture. [I've made a ten-year dinner bet with an old high school classmate about the share of US manufacturing as a percentage of US GDP. He says it's going to be higher in 2022 than in 2012; I say it's going to be lower.]

So a couple of new-ish things to comment on:
  • There is a lot of talk about the an American manufacturing renaissance due to hydraulic fracturing, all the natural gas/oil that is going to be produced and the cheap energy that's going to result. I think that's really real and why serious federal regulation of either 1) hydraulic fracturing or 2) carbon emissions will not happen during President Obama's 2nd term. There are just too many oxen to gore.
  • Also, Ben Bernanke has just announced that the Fed will keep rates low for the foreseeable future until unemployment falls below 6.5% to inflation goes above 2.5%. This is a pretty bold step* and shows their commitment to lowering unemployment as much as possible. So it won't be hard for companies to borrow money for the foreseeable future. 
So here's my question: we all saw pharmaceutical manufacturing go overseas in the last 20 years, shortly followed by a lot of basic medicinal chemistry R&D. I suspect that some specialty chemical manufacturing will indeed see increases over the next ten years; to right is a graph from a Boston Consulting Group report that shows that chemicals might be on the cusp of returning to the US.** Is there any evidence that medicinal chemistry R&D is "reshoring"?

I don't see it at all, but I'd be interested in hearing a contrarian opinion. Readers?

UPDATE: The ever-awesome Rich Apodaca has some thoughts on how it could happen.

*and a big screw-you to net savers. That part is frustrating, if understandable. 
** That's probably driven by hydraulic fracturing more than anything else.

Unemployment rate down to 7.7%, U6 rate down to 14.4%

Credit: Calculated Risk blog
BLS reported last Friday that the unemployment rate was down to 7.7%, with the broader U6 unemployment rate down to 14.4%. Great news, it seems.

The chemical manufacturing subsector lost around 9,000 jobs (about 1% of overall employment) from October to November , but these numbers are noisy enough that it's not a trend.

These are also the numbers with Hurricane Sandy in them, fwiw. 

Job posting: Ph.D. inorganic chemist, Minneapolis, MN

From the inbox:
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Salary Range: $90,000 to $120,000/yr. base salary (depending on current salary level)

Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry or Physical Chemistry and AT LEAST 10 years of industrial experience. This person must know heterogeneous catalysis and have experience with testing, analyzing, evaluating and scaling-up catalyst processes. Candidates could come out of catalyst manufacturers or other operating companies such as refineries, petrochemical manufacturers, or plants that use hydrogenation. Hydrogenation experience is a major plus.

Job Description:
This person will work in a newly formed lab within a site of approximately 30 people. This company is a start-up company but in terms of stability, this company is much farther along than most start-ups. They have a manufacturing facility overseas that is producing material and they have plans to retrofit another site in Canada and build a pilot plant in the near future. This person will work in a growing small group responsible for the new pilot plant. This person will be working to scale-up new processes from bench to eventual pilot scale. The base material is biosuccinic acid which this company is going to be converting into other marketable materials. This company is based near Minneapolis and is aggressively expanding. Relocation assistance will be offered with this position if needed and this position is bonus eligible as well. If you are interested in this position, please send your resume to
Best of luck!

Daily Pump Trap: 12/13/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 11 and December 12, there were 21 new positions posted on the ACS Careers website. Of these, 5 (24%) are academically connected and 15 (71%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

A lone position: Consumer Reports (Westchester, NY) is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist to be a food scientist to run a project tracking metals in food. Looks to be a contract position for 2 years.

And that's about it: Other than Kelly positions, there was just that one position. The holidays suck for hiring -- sigh.

What is Merck looking for?: For the search term "chemist", there are 28 US positions listed at Merck's Careers site.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs show 219, 595, 2493 and 14 positions (respectively.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why is sequestration bad?

Credit: Washington Post, altered by Chemjobber
So, as promised, the second part on the "fiscal cliff." Apart from the big tax increases that were planned because of the fiscal cliff, there are also large budget cuts planned. What's undesired for both parties in Congress is the targets of the cuts and the means by which they will be applied. From the Washington Post:
Legislators don’t have any discretion with the across-the-board cuts: They are intended to hit all affected programs equally, though the cuts to individual areas will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent (and 2 percent to Medicare providers). The indiscriminate pain is meant to pressure legislators into making a budget deal to avoid the cuts.
Naturally, the science funding agencies will be hit because of this. From C&EN's article on the issue:
For example, the National Institutes of Health, part of the Department of Health & Human Services, faces a total of $11.3 billion in cuts over the first five years of sequestration. Elsewhere, the Environmental Protection Agency could lose $213 million and the Department of Energy could be out $4.6 billion. 
For example, the National Science Foundation’s average annual budget over the first five years is $5.6 billion, assuming congressional appropriators hold all discretionary accounts flat to mirror the overall cap set by the law. Each year of this period, it would lose an average of $421 million to deficit reduction, for a total five-year loss of $2.1 billion, according to AAAS. 
...Sequestration would make that situation worse, says Steven Fluharty, senior vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania. The university received $900 million in R&D awards in 2012, 80% of which came from the federal government. He estimates that sequestration could cost the university $50 million to $60 million per year in research funding and more than 1,100 jobs.
But what is immediately relevant to me is that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and their programs will be affected. I know that there are many who think that this might be a blessing in disguise, but I don't think that's the case -- subjecting all federally-funded science to more-or-less arbitrary cuts (and basically subjecting academic science to funding decimation) does not seem to be wise.

I think the case could be made for altering federal funding of R&D away from its human-health-first-and-foremost/keep-Granny-alive priority to something that focused more on the basic and less on the translational, and more on the long-term than the short-term. But that's an argument for another time. Sequestration is big and random (as opposed to big and prioritized), and therefore undesired. The House of Representatives and the President should come to an agreement and sooner rather than later.*

*I know that's a lame conclusion, but I do not love politics on this blog. The rest of the internet is better for that.

Process Wednesday: byproduct versus sideproduct

From the sticklers at Scientific Update, a comment in Organic Process Research and Development on a grammatical issue in chemistry by Will Watson:
Following my colleague John Knight’s editorial about the misuse of various terms, particularly the distinction between crystallisation and precipitation, my beef is about the use of “side products” and “byproducts”. 
These two terms are bandied about indiscriminately and concern materials other than the desired products that result from the reactions. However, there are two distinct types of materials that are formed during a chemical reaction, and if the terms are used correctly, these can be classified as either byproducts or side products... 
Byproducts are materials that are produced as a direct result of the desired reaction, and so they will appear as part of the fully balanced chemical equation. Side products, on the other hand, are the result of side reactions. Let me explain a little further. If we carry out a decarboxylation reaction, we will expect a stoichiometric amount of CO2 to be produced; if we carry out a Suzuki coupling, we will similarly produce a stoichiometric amount of borate byproducts and HX, with HX usually being neutralised by the base present in the reaction mixture. 
Side products are impurities which appear during the reaction as a result of (1) side reactions that can be alternative reaction pathways or (2) further reaction/degradation of the desired product after it has formed. Once we isolate our product, it is likely to contain some impurities, and these can be either byproducts or side products.
...So please, let us use the terms byproduct and side product correctly. “What about impurities that are carried through from a previous step?” you ask? Does it matter if they are byproducts or side products from the previous step? Are there any suggestions? Should they be called preproducts, pre-impurities, or...?
I confess that I've never really thought very hard about this issue (the world for me being divided into "desired" and "undesired")... but it's an interesting question. I suppose that for his last question, I would have to go with "side products." 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

4 remarkable assertions in the ACS Presidential Commission Report

I could talk about the 2012 ACS Presidential Commission Report on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences a lot, but instead, I think I'll just quote a few statements of fact that were made:

On #chemjobs:
"Given what seems to be a permanently restructured employment market for PhDs, the Commission perceives a risk that the number of career opportunities in the chemical science professions may be insufficient to accommodate those qualified for and desiring entry." 
"In the last decade, 300,000 jobs have been lost in the pharmaceutical industry worldwide. This total is larger than the entire US pharmaceutical employment base. Large US research facilities have been closed and sizable systematic reductions in domestic research capabilities have been implemented or announced, apparently driven in significant part by consolidation in the industry. Some of the reduced functions have been outsourced to other technologically strong nations."
On too many chemists:
"A large undergraduate teaching need is not a sufficient justification for a large graduate program."
"In discussing the employment scene earlier in this chapter, the Commission was frank in its assessment that the current rate of PhD production is too large. While some portion of the excess reflects the current stage of the business cycle, there is evidence, in the growth of postdoctoral employment and in stagnant salaries over a long term, that the nation is producing a systematic excess of PhDs."
On teaching undergraduates:
"While graduate students are certainly exposed to teaching through teaching assistantships, their experiences generally are not drawn from carefully crafted programs designed to teach students how to teach."
On postdocs:
"Some statistics about postdoctoral associates are enlightening. In 2009, the most recent year for which the NSF has published detailed data, there were approximately 4200 postdocs in chemistry, 2350 in biochemistry, and 1100 in chemical engineering. The percentages of temporary visa holders in these groups were 64.7%, 60.7%, and 62.4%, respectively."
"A significant problem in the current employment pipeline for chemists is a bulge at the postdoctoral level. Particularly in more biological areas of chemistry, many current postdocs have previously been postdocs for one or even two appointments. For these individuals, the second, or later, postdoctoral appointment serves largely as a buffer zone in the ebb and flow of the job market; it is not a position that significantly improves one’s job chances." (emphasis mine)
Quite an indictment of the current state of affairs.

Are personal statements important?

4 positions in Lilly/Shanghai; temp job listed in Indianapolis

That moment when you realize that the number of jobs advertised for Lilly in China is more than the number of jobs advertised in Lilly in Indianapolis. 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/11/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 6 and December 10, there were 103 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 18 (17%) are academically connected and 65 (63%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Rahway, NJ: Merck wishes to hire a Ph.D. chemist for its Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences group; "PhD degree with no more than three years of experience in industry within preformulation, analytical chemistry or formulation development." Ahhhh. I see.

King of Prussia, PA: Arkema wishes to hire a Ph.D. fluoropolymer research scientist; 5+ years as a polymer scientist desired.

No rappers in sight: Cristal Global (Glen Burnie, MD) is a manufacturer of titanium dioxide products; they're looking for a principal scientist in product development (B.S./M.S./Ph.D. with experience.)

Madison, WI: Silatronix is up in the battery scientist sweepstakes, desiring a B.S./M.S. in materials and 5-10 years experience with lithium-ion battery R&D.

Columbus, OH: Another in the periodic Chemical Abstracts Service postings for B.S./M.S. chemists; 49-58.8k listed. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/11/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 4 and December 10, there were 26 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 26
- Postdocs: 2
- Tenure-track faculty:  19
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions:  2
- Staff positions:  2
- US/non-US: 24/2

Savannah, GA: Armstrong Atlantic State University is hiring 2 assistant professors and one instructor-level position. Preference for analytical chemists in the assistant professor positions. 

Anchorage, AK: The University of Alaska - Anchorage is hiring an assistant professor of chemistry.

Moraga, CA: St. Mary's College of California wishes to hire a part-time lecturer of nursing chemistry. Eh? 

Greensboro, NC: The UNC-Greensboro would like to hire an instrumentation support technician.

Hilo, HI: The University of Hawaii-Hilo, College of Pharmacy desires an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. Ooooh.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

ACS presidential commission on graduate education: "rate of producing PhDs is... too high."

Credit: Anon121020121039a
From the ACS Presidential Commission Report on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences (emphasis CJ's):
There is little doubt that the rate of producing new chemical sciences PhDs in the US is too high for the current employment market, but the current imbalance could not have been avoided without years of forethought. Because the average time-to-degree is about six years in our fields and because many PhDs temporarily occupy postdoctoral appointments, the time constant for adjustments in new employment candidates at the doctoral level must be something like 7-9 years. It is simply not possible for the system to adjust to changes in demand taking place on shorter timescales, and certainly not to those with the suddenness and degree of the 2008 contraction. 
The question of greatest relevance to the work of this Commission is whether the employment markets have undergone or will be proceeding through systematic changes that should lead PhD producers to alter the scale or the balance of their programs. By the word “balance,” we mean the mix among distinct areas or capabilities fostered in the program. Among departments of chemistry, balance would relate to the number of new PhDs produced in traditional subfields, or the numbers produced, for example, with synthetic, computational, or measurement skills.
Just in case anyone (including myself) did not believe in a PhD glut, senior chemistry professors believe it now.

My goodness, we are in a big, big hole.

2011 ACS officer salaries

The latest ACS Form 990. (2011)

Click to see bonuses and other incentives.

C&EN: Patent cliffs in pharma generate job losses

From this week's C&EN, Rick Mullin talks about some of the continuing job losses in pharma and the patent cliff:
The patent losses and sales declines have been accompanied by job cuts. AstraZeneca moved early in the year when it disclosed that 7,300 positions will be eliminated, including more than 2,000 in R&D. 
Notably, the company made big cuts in neuroscience research. But it also made a strategic change. AstraZeneca increasingly employs scientists who work primarily on data generated by academic and other research partners that perform experiments designed in collaboration with the drug company. The move highlights an increasing emphasis on research partnerships and on mathematical modeling and statistical analysis in the drug industry. 
Other firms cut staff in reorganizations in 2012. Merck Serono cut 500 jobs in April in the process of closing its headquarters in Switzerland and moving operations to its parent company in Germany. And in a move that heavily impacted New Jersey’s “pharmaceutical alley,” Roche announced it will close its operations in Nutley, N.J., which had served as the company’s U.S. headquarters for decades. About 1,000 jobs will be eliminated. 
Novartis said it will shed nearly 2,000 jobs in the U.S. in the face of losing patent exclusivity for Diovan, a blood pressure medicine that had sales of $6 billion in 2010. Meanwhile, Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines arm of Sanofi, launched a manufacturing-oriented restructuring program expected to eliminate as many as 2,000 jobs across France. Sanofi itself announced a revamp of its research operations in France that will eliminate 900 jobs by 2015.
 I wonder what 2013 will bring? Good things, I hope, but I am not feeling it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The tax bite of the "fiscal cliff"

Credit: Wonkbook
(click through to see whole infographic)
So a reader challenged me to address the fiscal cliff and its effects on chemists. I've decided to address it in two portions. The "fiscal cliff" [or (as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein more descriptively (and accurately?) refers to it) "the austerity crisis"] is a package of tax cuts that are ending and federal spending cuts that might happen. Naturally, those in federally-funded universities, grant-related positions and the like will suffer effects from it; I will address it tomorrow. But everyone pays taxes, so everyone will be affected by this.

I am really not particularly interested in the elephant-versus-donkey part of assigning blame, but I do want to talk about the actual practical effects of what were to happen if all of the intended tax increases were to be imposed.

To the right is a portion of an infographic from the Tax Policy Center** and Washington Post that predicts that:
  • For 2nd lowest-income quintile households (20k-39.7k), the average increase would be $1,231.
  • For middle income quintile households (39.7k to 64.5k), the average increase would be $1,984.
  • For the 2nd-highest income quintile (64.5k to 108k), the average increase would be $3,540. 
These are not insignificant increases -- I estimate that, for my household, I suspect it would be somewhere around $300 a month, which would definitely affect our consumption. I'll throw in the numbers for the non-1% households of the top quartile (e.g. a double Big Pharma household?): 
  • For the top 80%-90% of households (bounded by 108k to 143.4k), the average tax increase would be $6,162. 
  • For the top 90-95% of households (bounded by 143.4k to 204.3k), the average tax increase would be $7,830. 
  • For the top 95-99% of households (bounded by 204.3k to 506.2k), the average tax increase would be $14,085
I think it's safe to assume that these tax increases (or, actually, returns to Clinton-era income tax rates, and Bush-era payroll tax rates) will be unlikely to happen for the bottom 98% of households, so in other words, most everyone. That said, it appears to me entirely possible that said tax increases will actually happen for a month or two, while the powers that be play chicken with one another. 

*Based on this white paper. 

Getting into finance from the bench?

From the inbox, a organic Ph.D. who's thinking about getting out of chemistry and into finance:
My other passion is my retirement.  I love playing with my 401k and IRAs and began to read more on the finer aspects of finance, particularly the trade and research within the financial world.  I have a few questions about the profession: 
1)  How hard is it to get a job with no business experience, or a weak business acumen?
2)  Do companies overlook this when PhD's are applying with a scientific degree assuming they can undergo a short course?
3)  When applying for this type of job do you tailor your resume in a less scientific manner?  What should your resume/CV contain?
4)  Lastly how do you even get noticed for a position as an analyst/trader/researcher with a scientific PhD vs an MBA? 
I'm just now reading more into the profession as an analyst and I'm sure I'll have more questions in the future.  I was hoping that your readers might also shed some light on the profession and what advantage a PhD would have in the industry, and are scientific PhD's something that companies are looking for? 
I know that chemists do indeed go into finance; you'll see them occasionally in the comments here and especially at In the Pipeline. Finance seems to be relatively low barrier-to-entry (i.e. it's who you know, not necessarily what your degree or what your resume looks like), but I suspect it's relatively difficult to stay in the field (or at least, there's fairly high turnover.) I am sure that chemists get hired as financial analysts; I assume there's some sort of degree/certification that's needed.

But I'm basically talking ex recto. Readers, what do you think?

Daily Pump Trap: 12/6/12 edition

Good morning! Between December 4 and December 5, 64 new positions were posted on C&EN Jobs. Of these, 9 (14%) were academically connected and 45 (70%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Baltimore, MD (I believe): Oh, Allichem, at least you're honest. 50-60k for a M.S./Ph.D. organic chemist? Where can I sign up?

Los Alamos, NM: Los Alamos National Laboratories is looking for a postdoc in chemistry:
The candidate should have experience with fabrication of solar cells (DSSC or OPV) or other optoelectronic devices, such as LEDs. The ideal candidate should also have strong background in chemical synthesis (experience with organic oxidative condensations and/or dendrimer synthesis is particularly useful), have hands-on experience with HPLC purification methods and be familiar with standard characterization methods, such as NMR, MS, FTIR and UVVIS absorption. 
Sounds interesting.

Seattle, WA: Seattle Genetics is looking for an associate director of chemistry; Ph.D. and 10 years of oncology-directed research is required.

Chapel Hill, NC: Rheomics is looking for a microfabrication technician; B.S. chemistry desired, 2+ years experience, and "laboratory chops." Fair enough.

Golden, CO: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is looking for a postdoc in computational chemistry for work on "modeling electronic properties of and transport through organic polymeric materials with quantum and classical mechanics."

Philadelphia, PA: Got experience in German and a B.S. in chemistry? Kelly has a gig for you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An evening funny

Back tomorrow with more.

Stolen from synthesisman's post on the chemistry Reddit. I admit I heard this a couple of times in graduate school. 

Process Wednesday: Stopping at the right time

From a recent Org. Process Res. Dev. ASAP [1], a really great point about scaling up and reactions that are sensitive to side reactions. The authors had just developed a successful cyclization with 90% yield and 96% purity to produce 1.5 kilograms of material. And then...:
In order to test the robustness of this process, the reaction was extended for an additional 20 h. While the cyclization was complete within 2 h, the level of 18 increased almost linearly with reaction time, reaching 50% after 22 h at the expense of product 11, indicating that 18 was mainly generated from 11 (Figure 1a) [CJ's note: Left-hand graph above.] Thus, it became critical that the reaction be stopped at the right time point to minimize degradation, a challenge at plant scale. As the de-ethylation is likely acid catalyzed, base additives were considered to slow this process. The addition of 2,6-lutidine (2 equiv) was found to significantly retard the rate of the formation of 18 without a negative impact on the cyclization rate (Figure 1b) [center graph]  
Subsequently, an improved cyclization procedure was developed, using 1 equiv of p-toluenesulfonic acid (p-TSA) buffered with 3 equiv of pyridine as the catalyst and a Dean−Stark trap to remove water generated during the reaction. The cyclization of 10 was complete within 3 h, and 11 precipitated out from the reaction mixture as the p-TSA salt.  
More importantly, once the reaction was complete, no further decomposition of 11 to 18 was detected (Figure 2) [graph to right]; the levels of 11 and 18 remained essentially constant at 94% and 4%, respectively, even after heating the mixture to reflux for an additional 21 h. After cooling to room temperature, 11-TSA was isolated in 97% yield and 95.8% purity (containing 2.6% of 18). Material of this quality can be directly used in the next step. Interestingly, pyridine and p-TSA were found to be the ideal combination. Reactions catalyzed by p-TSA alone or with 2,6-lutidine in place of pyridine were observed to be slower and generated higher levels (4.8−8.8%) of 18.
I can't agree more about the difficulty of stopping a reaction at the right time. I think it's just very difficult to get that sort of thing to take place in a busy chemical manufacturing plant; it's much better to build that robustness in from the start.

1. Shu, L.; Gu, C.; Dong, Y.; Brinkman, R. "Efficient Large-Scale Synthesis of a 2,4,5-Triarylimidazoline MDM2 Antagonist." Org. Process Res. Dev. ASAP. DOI: