Thursday, February 28, 2013

AMRI admits that Lilly is the source of their medchem resource increase

After I posted on Monday about my skepticism about AMRI's claimed increase in medchem resources, AMRI contacted me via Twitter and noted that the increase was due to their new "insourcing" relationships. When I asked which relationships those were and if it was the Lilly relationship, they initially confirmed it and then deleted the tweet about 10 minutes afterward. You can see the exchange below:

As I said, from what I know of the Lilly situation, I don't think that their hoped-for situation would be a positive development for chemists. [cue Lenina Huxley voice]: "Now all chemists work for AMRI." 

Interview: XE, an organic chemist turned medical doctor

XE is a former Ph.D. organic chemist and chemistry professor who became a physician; XE contacted me after reading about my thoughts about becoming a physician. This e-mail interview was formatted only.

Chemjobber: How much education did you need to get "current grades" for medical school applications?

XE: Luckily most of the requirements to get admitted to med school had been accomplished obtaining my B.S. in Chemistry (obtained over ten years before I applied).  Different med schools have different specific prerequisite course requirements.  I took a few biology courses in my spare time to fulfill them after I had been admitted.  I needed to take the MCAT exam as well for my application.

From your first day as a med student to your first day as a non-trainee (i.e. attending physician), how long was the process? 

XE: 8 years (4 med school plus 4 residency in dermatology).  Residency varies from three years after graduation (internal med, pediatrics, family medicine) up to seven (neurological surgery).  I did not do a fellowship, which would have added to that total.

What advantages/disadvantages do you see about a chemist attempting to become a physician? 

XE: I would separate this question into 1.  Advantages getting admitted to med school; and 2. Advantages practicing medicine.
  • The Ph.D. degree is an advantage gaining admittance, in my opinion.  Admission committees interpret the Ph.D. as a sign the applicant is intelligent, hard working, persistent, and unlikely to be entering medicine solely to make money.  I also found that being a chemist was helpful in preparing my memory.  Much of med school is memorization and recall of large volumes of facts, a skill at which organic chemists in particular seem adept (e.g. named reactions, structures, etc.)
  • My chemistry background finds daily application in practice as well.  Being familiar with chemicals helps understand poisoning, acid-base chemistry and partial pressures of blood gases, and solubility of uric acid (e.g. gout), for example.  Knowing natural product chemistry comes in handy reassuring chemophobic patients that many of the feared pharmaceuticals I prescribe are actually “natural” in origin (e.g. antibiotics, cardiac medicines, etc)
Do you see the future of medicine in the US as a positive or a negative one? 

XE: I assume you mean the future of a career in medicine in the US.  In general US medicine has to restrain cost, whose current rate of growth is unsustainable.  Different disciplines will be impacted differently over the next 10 years (specialists negatively, and primary care positively, in my opinion).  The outlook for physicians is still fairly positive, because physicians see the patient and have the most control over utilization, i.e. prescribe drugs and order tests.  And the supply of new physicians, determined by the total number of residency slots per year, has not changed in over 20 years, and is unlikely to change much in the future.

Switching from chemistry to medicine after the Ph.D. and postdoc is somewhat of a career gamble, due to the long period of training and opportunity cost.  It has worked out for me, as well as others (e.g.  It is critical that someone contemplating this move be sure they can be happy interacting with a wide range of people on a regular basis (less so if you become a pathologist or radiologist).

[Chemjobber here again] Thank you to XE for the very educational interview!

Advice from younger readers to more experienced ones?

Last week's request for things that annoy more experienced Chemjobber readers (those above 40, say) about their younger colleagues turned out to be quite mild. No long diatribes, no broad generalizations, just some gentle comments about etiquette (technology-related and otherwise.)

I've worked with lots of older chemists; I've found all ranges of behavior, great and not so great. The thing that concerns me the most is an adherence to failing memories for all manner of managerial tasks and details -- it seems that consulting notepads/e-mails/references is just too much trouble. I don't think people realize how much credibility they can lose when they do not rely on notes in a public setting and get all manner of fairly key details incorrect. Of course, I don't think this is something that's unique to older people -- I suspect it is simply that they are more likely to be in a situation where they're the ones talking, and everyone else is listening (and perhaps critiquing) intently.

[I also suspect that I've been exposed to one particular type of older chemist and precious few others.]

So, Chemjobber readers under 40, what gentle advice do you have for your older colleagues?

Daily Pump Trap: 2/28/13

Good morning! Between February 26 and February 27, there were 13 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 5 (38%) are academically connected.

Philadelphia, PA: Avid Radiopharmaceuticals is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist; 2+ years of pharmaceutical analytical development, GMP experience desired.

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech desires a B.S./M.S. research associate for its protein analytical group; NMR experience desired as well as experience with "leachables and extractables." (What are those?)

Riverside, CA: USDA desires a Ph.D. chemist for a soil chemistry/science position; 76-144k offered. Wow.

Raleigh-Durham, NC: Another day, another Shimadzu field service engineer position, this one in Raleigh-Durham.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs show 198, 612, 2,330 and 10 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 101 for the job title "chemist", with 4 for "organic chemist", 20 for "analytical chemist" and 7 for "research chemist." 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's a good thing I'm not an assistant professor

...because this would be the last slide of my seminars about my work (of course.) 

Process Wednesday: "bearding"

A recent Organic Process Research and Development paper comments on the capabilities of the Lasentec focused beam reflectance measurement (FBRM) tool and how it is used in crystallization processes of pharmaceutical compounsd. It mentions the problem of "bearding", which is a crystallization term that I was not aware of. Adlington et al. [1] define it as such:
"The following campaign saw the appearnce of a rim of solid at the solvent level knows as a beard."
They reference another OPRD paper from 2006 [2], which talks about a beard, and how it was affecting the purity of their crystallization by forming the incorrect polymorph:

The apparent reduction in MSZW was traced to fouling of the reactor wall (“bearding”) by AG035029. This spontaneously nucleated “beard” was Form A (Ostwald’s rule of stages), and the spurious contamination of the batch by this material resulted in bulk crystallization of Form A. The beard fouled the batch in one of two ways: by seeding the batch prior to the intentional Form B seeding as shown in Figure 11a or by overriding the Form B seeding. This latter case was observed by FBRM as a secondary seeded nucleation event (Figure 12). 
The fouling of the glass wall stems from strong adhesive forces between the glass surface and AG035029. While adhesion of material to a glass surface can be attributed to several factors including surface roughness and contact angle, hydrogen bonding, or van der Waals interactions, the most likely candidate in this case was thought to be hydrogen bonding, as the chemical structure is rich in this component. To overcome the adhesion between the carboxylic acid and the hydrophilic glass surface, a high-boiling solvent was required that could provide an alternate source of hydrogen bonding, such as a longer-chain alcohol. The former requirement would ensure the liquid composition at the meniscus would be rich in the alcohol component and essentially trap the API in the solvent mixture.  
Figure 13 shows snapshots of the reactor wall with and without the addition of n-butanol. In the top row, the fouling progresses until the entire surface above the liquid is covered in Form A that spontaneously nucleated whereas in the bottom row, the area above the level of the liquid is clear throughout the entire experiment. Accordingly, 9 vol % of n-butanol was added to the reaction mixture, and this successfully eliminated the bearding effect.
I wasn't aware that this phenomenon had a name, but I've sure seen it a lot!

1. Adlington, N.K.; Black, S.N.; Adshead, D.L. Org. Process Res. Dev., ASAP DOI: 10.1021/op300326b
2. Kline, B.J.; Saenz, J.; Stankovic, N.; Mitchell, M.B. Org. Process Res. Dev. 2006, 10, 203-211. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reddit Chemistry Jobs FAQ, part 2: getting a job in industry

In part two of the Reddit Chemistry Jobs FAQ (part 1 is here), a set of classic questions about jobs in industry. From stathicus:
Realistically, can you get a job in industry with just a B.S in chemistry in this economy? How difficult is it to find jobs in industry? Is it super competitive? 
Also, what are the chances of getting a job working for a company that would pay for graduate school? I know quite a few people who graduated with physics and engineering degrees and are now working for companies that are paying for them to persue master degrees but I haven't heard many stories about chemists getting the same deal.
From gunbladelh: "Is it easier to find a job in industry with an M.S or a Ph.D?"

From deathbyentropy: "I'm worried that I will get an Ph.D. entry level position and be worked to the point that I hate it. Are there many Ph.D. positions that only require the 9-5 +/- a few hours?"

Let's go with the numbers (as we have them*) first:
  • For all ACS members in 2012, unemployment decreases with degree level (B.S.: 5.9%, M.S.: 5.4%, Ph.D.: 3.4%). 
  • For ACS members that graduated in 2011, the percentage that were employed full-time did not really correlate to degree level (B.S.: 33%, M.S.: 48%, Ph.D.: 38%). (Note that a high percentage progressed further to graduate education or a postdoc.) 
  • For ACS members that graduated in 2011, the percentage that were unemployed also did not correlate to degree level (B.S.: 17%, M.S.: 23%, Ph.D.: 12%).
These numbers suggest that, to understate, it is difficult to get a job in industry with just a B.S. in this economy. I believe that it can be done; I have seen it myself. What I believe has changed from five or ten years ago is the amount of effort it takes to find a job out of college. 

I worked as a B.S. analytical chemist/formulator in the late 1990s for a year; I applied to a scant number of positions with my not-particularly-impressive credentials (B.S. in biochemistry, about a year of working in a laboratory during the school year, nothing special**). Applying in January or February of my senior year (just a few months before graduation), I was able to get a full-time job doing bench science at a drug delivery company fairly easily. I don't think that's much the case anymore. I suspect that most B.S. entrants into the job market have, like a recent post of mine mentioned, been spending their summers and off hours in the laboratory getting direct work experience, either through REU-style academic internships or industrial internships. In other words, doing well at your coursework is insufficient. 

I don't think it's "super-competitive", like medical school, where it seems like the interviews have only gotten more complicated and the necessary grades and test scores have only seemed to increase over time. But I really think that some effort and planning between your sophomore and senior years is required. 

As for paying for graduate school, I think that it is relatively uncommon for companies to do this. For the most part, they want to hire you after the schooling, not before. You typically get paid to go to graduate school in the sciences; either you get a fellowship (no teaching requirement), you teach to earn your keep (teaching assistantship) or a professor pays your stipend (research assistantship.) Sometimes companies will pay for part-time or online master's programs, but I think the pool of master's students is deep enough that there's no real incentive for this. 

It has long been a truism that "master's chemists are the most employable." To a great extent, I believe that. However, I don't think there's very much outside of intuition to support that. Certainly, the numbers up above don't really show that; Ph.D. chemists have had the lowest unemployment rates of the different degree levels. I think that it is true that master's chemists have more flexibility to be hired into entry-level positions -- there are a lot of lab associate-type positions that are essentially closed to Ph.D.s. 

Finally, entry-level Ph.D. positions are not exactly 9-to-5 (more like 7-to-5), but are not the "round-the-clock and weekend" hours that you might be used to in graduate school. Industrial hours are usually somewhere around 8-to-5 (especially at the larger corporations), and weekend work is relatively rare (or even sometimes forbidden, from a safety perspective.) You're low person on the totem pole, and so you'll be expected to put in your hours, but, compared to graduate school, it's relatively relaxed (emphasis on "relatively.") (UPDATE: See Arr Oh and The Aqueous Layer add their wisdom, basically cautioning that while you won't be worked to death, but you will still want to work hard.)

More questions to be answered next week! 

*ACS surveys have statistical issues; they're surveys of the members (not all chemists are members) and the response rates can be quite low (for example, the response rate of the Starting Salary Survey was 17%, so the fuzziness of those numbers is high.) 
**Outside of class-required labs, I had 2 summers of molecular biology-oriented laboratory experience and 1.5 academic years of undergrad research under my belt. Hard to say if that's a lot or a little, but I didn't have a ton of papers to show for it. 

In the meantime, also... ain't a full lid yet here at Chemjobber, but I would like to commend to you Vittorio Saggiomo's "And So God Made a Chemist."

This is obviously a play on the "So God Made a Farmer" commercial from the Superbowl. Vittorio actually spent a good bit of time framing the visuals and the text to match the old Paul Harvey speech, which is pretty remarkable. (And if you're a bit of a softie like me, you might get something in your eyes.)

"My men are here! I am here! But soon *you* will not be here!"

The mysterious "Andre the Chemist" talks about the NSF's call for suggestions on how to improve STEM graduate education:
As an academic, my view is of course thusly tainted and all the "real world" chemists can object to me having thoughts on the matter (although please be aware that I do have experience as a chemist outside of academia to draw on as well). All that being said, I have two suggestions I think would be useful: 
1) Mental health education, routine personal private screenings, and appropriate available services for all chemistry graduate students. 
2) The creation of a new terminal degree, distinct from the PhD, that graduate students can obtain.
He has interesting thoughts; go over there and read. (I'm nervous about the PhD' (or whatever you might call it) and how it might be valued...)

Daily Pump Trap: 2/26/13 edition

Good morning! Between February 21 and February 25, there were 30 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 17 (57%) of them are academically connected.

Cleantech corner: Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM) is looking for a Ph.D. electrochemist; naturally, Silatronics (Madison, WI) is also looking for a Ph.D. electrochemist (with 5 years of "national laboratory lithium ion coin cell development.").

It's obvious what needs to happen, right? The guy who's hiring in New Mexico needs to quit his job and move to Wisconsin, thus creating 2 openings in New Mexico!

Calipatria, CA: CalEnergy Corporation is looking for a B.S. chemist with 5 years experience with analytical instrumentation. I love these detailed job descriptions people have these days:
The employee will utilize all of the sensory perceptions such as touch, taste, feel, hearing and seeing. 
Taste? Really? (There must be a legal reason behind this.) 64-83k -- not bad.

Milwaukee, WI: Cambridge Major is looking for two analytical chemists, one a B.S./M.S. with 5-7 years of experience and the other, a M.S./Ph.D. with 5-7 years of experience. Both of these are for API-related work.

Baltimore, MD: Shimadzu is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a MALDI applications specialist; 2-10 years experience desired.

Alsip, IL and Morristown, NC: Nufarm Americas is hiring two formulations chemists, M.S./Ph.D. desired, with the minimum of a bachelor's degree. 15 years experience desired. Good luck with that. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 2/26/13 edition

Good morning! Between February 19 and February 25, there have been 20 academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 20
- Postdocs: 6
- Tenure-track faculty:  8
- Temporary faculty: 5
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  0
- US/non-US: 20/0

Laramie, WY: The University of Wyoming's School of Pharmacy desires an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry.

Northhampton, MA: Smith College desires a laboratory instructor for a one-year term. M.S./Ph.D. required.

Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee is searching for two professors of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Ithaca, NY: Ithaca College is hiring a "teacher-scholar postdoctoral fellow." I love these rather lengthy titles; aren't you missing a "junior" or a "vice deputy" in there? Also, they will take candidates who have gotten their Ph.D.s in the last 2 years, so postdocs appear to be eligible.

Evanston, IL: An "immediate" opening for an organometallic postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern. Immediate!

Staten Island, NY: Wagner College is hiring an assistant professor of biochemistry and microbiology; the position is based in the biology department, but will interface with the chemistry department. Huh.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Translating ACS President Marinda Wu into Up-Goer Five

In the beginning of January, ACS President Marinda Wu talked about her plans for ACS in the pages of C&EN. Here's a key portion on #chemjobs (it is not the whole section):
We must learn to view globalization—the movement of research, manufacturing, and consumption around the world—more as an opportunity than a threat. Globalization is here to stay and, indeed, it is accelerating. 
The task force recommendations were presented to the ACS Board of Directors in December to show how ACS can help connect members with more employment opportunities and thrive in an increasingly global environment. After incorporating the board’s feedback, action steps will be finalized and shared broadly with ACS leaders and members to facilitate implementation during the course of this year and beyond. 
For example, we are launching a new International Employment Initiative (IEI) at the April 2013 ACS national meeting in New Orleans at Sci-Mix. Employers with overseas job opportunities will be able to connect with job seekers. IEI will be part of the ACS Career Fair and also the virtual career fair. In addition, a Presidential Career Advancement Symposium highlighting numerous successful career paths including entrepreneurship will be featured at the September 2013 ACS national meeting in Indianapolis.
I found this sadly full of buzzwords, so I decided to do my own version in Up Goer Five language (i.e. the 1000 most common words in the English language) -- let's see if it makes more sense:
The study of stuff, how to make new stuff and the spending of money on stuff will change from how it is now (where we have lots of money, and people in other parts of the world have less money) to a world where many people in other parts of the world have about as much money as us. That is a good thing that might help us make more money and it might not be a bad thing. This will not go away, and it is probably happening faster.  
The people that I asked to help me with this told me and the people who work with me to show how our group can help people find more jobs and do well in this world where people living around our world, but not near us have almost as much money as we do. Once we agree, we will tell you about how to make this happen this year and later.  
Very soon, we are going to help people find jobs not here in the States, but other places in the world. In the fall, we will be talking about how you can make your own job, or ask people to give you money to help make your own job. 
Sounds about right.  

I want proof of this claim by AMRI

Also in this week's C&EN, an interesting writeup of Informex (the fine chemicals trade show) by Rick Mullin:
The fine and custom chemical executives gathered in Anaheim, Calif., last week for the annual Informex exhibition reported that business continues to be strong in pharmaceuticals. A shift in contract manufacturing from China and India back to the West has provided a steady boost to the sector, they said. 
Susan B. Billings, business development manager for Albany Molecular Research Inc., said drug and biotech companies are increasingly interested in working with contract research and manufacturing firms with integrated drug discovery capabilities, “and they are willing to pay for it.” 
At the end of collaboration, Billings said, they want to have meaningful outcomes such as a clinical candidate that they can advance. AMRI has increased its medicinal chemistry resources in the U.S. by 50% since 2011, she said.
I would really be interested to know what this means. Have they expanded their medicinal chemists by 50% in the US? I doubt it. How did they measure to get this number? Does this include the Lilly contractor folks? Also in the same article:
Meanwhile, Asymchem, a U.S.-based firm that does all its manufacturing in China, has been investing in specialized flow chemistry and enzymatic manufacturing, according to Matt Johnson, director of chemical development. “We don’t want to be continually perceived as the cheap alternative to Western supply,” Johnson said.
Good luck there.

This week's C&EN

From this week's C&EN, lots of interesting articles:

Friday, February 22, 2013

12 STEM grad ed improvement ideas rejected by NSF

1. Grad school thunderdome
2. Random full professors are promoted to emeritus
3. Alcohol prohibition
4. Stoning for plagiarists, fabulists
5. K-101 grants for in-laboratory kegerator
6. Ask 10 good questions at seminar? 1 chapter shaved off thesis.
7. Employment outcome tracking of alumni for 10-15 years
8. Random associate professors become postdocs
9. Mandatory tequila shots for committee before candidacy exams
10. Issue every new grad student helmet/face shield for lab safety, head-mounted camera for ethics monitoring
11. Mandatory tap-dancing/jazz hands training for job talks
12. The Oprah solution: "You get tenure! And you get tenure!"

BTW, it's a real request for proposals. Seriously, you should do it. 

Was there, or is there, poaching between pharma companies?

A while ago, some documents relating to Palm poaching Apple technical staff surfaced. Here's a quote from Gizmodo's account:
Notably, former Palm CEO Edward Colligan has made a statement which points out that the company was threatened with patent litigation if it didn't stop poaching staff from Apple. In the legal filing, Colligan explains how Jobs suggested that "if Palm did not agree to such an agreement, Palm could face lawsuits alleging infringement of Apple's many patents." An email which made up part of the discussions is pictured below, in which Jobs points out the asymmetry of the situation, writing: "I'm sure you realize the asymmetry in the financial resources of our respective companies when you say: ‘We will both just end up paying a lot of lawyers a lot of money.'" 
I don't really have much to say about the Palm versus Apple thing -- business ain't beanbag and corporations will do whatever it takes to get leverage and coercive power over other organizations.

I think there have been a variety of famous departures of medicinal and process chemists during the late 1990s and 2000s for new shores. But I wonder if it is/was common for pharma companies to entice each other's program managers over if/when they wanted to compete -- and, if so, if it happens much anymore? Did presidents of R&D (at the LaMattina level, say) ever call each other and made angry noises? I wonder if they ever called a truce, like Apple and Google decided to? (Such truces, of course, are 1) possibly illegal, 2) good for the corporations and 3) less good for individual workers -- 'twas ever thus.) 

Job search stats: The Golden Years

It's time to revisit the job search stats that the blog has collected so far. As you might remember, I've divided up the modern era of chemistry employment as follows:
  • The Golden Years: pre-2003 
  • The Clouds Before The Storm: 2003-2007
  • The Great Recession: 1/1/08 to 7/31/2009
  • These Modern Times: 8/2009 - present
Today, we're covering The Golden Years:

Industrial B.S./M.S.-level position, time period, number of full apps/on-site interviews (no phone)/offers:

#22A (biologist): 1996: 10/3/1
#31: 4/1997-9/1997: 190/5/2
#17: 9/1999: 2/2/2
#22B (biologist): 1999: 10/2/1

Industrial Ph.D.-level position, time period, number of full apps/on-site interviews (no phone)/offers:

#9D: 9/1990-2/1991: 50/3/2
#9C: 4/1992: 2/1/1
#9B: 11/2000: 3/2/1
#30A: "late '90s": 15/10/8

So, not a whole bunch of data points, but what do I notice?:
  • I think what I notice is that applications bear interview fruit a lot easier. 
  • The number of applications (with the exception of #31) is a lot lower than These Modern Times (50+). 
I wonder -- if there are more jobs per candidate, does that mean that there will be lower numbers of applications per candidate? I would think yes, but I'm no statistician. I'll be crunching the numbers for 2003-2009 next week. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Advice from experienced readers to younger ones?

This has been a post a long time coming, but a recent conversation that I had crystallized it. Someone that I respect is a hiring facilitator (not technically a HR-type, but deeply involved in interacting with hires at non-degree-requiring, entry-level positions). This person complained about their interaction with Millenials, noting that they tend to show up to interview positions not correctly dressed, not armed with enough social graces (i.e. bad at small talk with new people) and just not very good at being in the working world. 

I am sure some of those comments are relevant to me as well; my generation (Gen X) was known as "the slacker generation" for a while there. (I don't doubt that macroeconomics plays a big role in all of this.) 

So, older Chemjobber readers (say 40 and above), what do you have to say about your younger coworkers (and people who wish to become your younger coworkers?) What criticism of their behavior do you have? E-mail etiquette? Time spent on their phones? Do they not afford you enough respect in meetings or listen to you well enough? Give it to us straight, so that we can change. 

[Chemjobber readers below 40, you'll get your turn next week. Please hold your comments until then.] 

It's See Arr Oh week in the chemblogosphere!

See Arr Oh and I did a fun podcast over the Pierre-Yan debacle; go over to Just Like Cooking to hear it. SAO did the editing this time, so you won't get any of my                pauses.

Also, an absolutely stunning kerfluffle happened in the comments on Derek Lowe's post on BlogSyn #003. I'll ignore the negative and accentuate the positive, including this wonderful line from "another process chemist" (emphasis mine):
As a process chemist, I'm amazed that this is controversial in the slightest. Our deliverable is the knowledge used to execute the chemistry, which could then be carried out by an operator anywhere in the world.
If I were the skin art sort (I am not), I might think about having this tattooed on me. Well said.

And congratulations once again to Blog Syn; you guys are on the right side of things. 

Quick hits

Other things I'd like to note:
  • I am hearing a rumbling of a recent set of small company pharma/biotech-related layoffs in the RTP region of North Carolina -- has anyone heard that? UPDATE: Like the idiot I am, I failed to note that David Perrey ran with part of this two days ago. Sincere apologies for not seeing it in my RSS feed, David. 
  • There has been a raft of "too many PhDs" news recently:
    • Yet more rumblings, this time from Nature Jobs, about changing the nature of the Ph.D. 
    • A report from Science Careers' Michael Price on a recent panel at the AAAS meeting, including the suggestion from Prof. Gregory Petsko that life science postdocs get paid $55,000 in order to cut supply. 
    • The Inside Higher Ed post on similar doings, covering Paula Stephan's broad review of fields. I note that computer scientists and physicists are having their issues, too. 
    • Finally, a really fantastic overview from The Atlantic's Jordan Weissman about recent Survey of Earned Doctorate data, including this nicely done graph of physical science Ph.D.s. (to right.)
It's that "nothing" trend that I find really bothersome. (I wonder if there will be statistical pushback? Time to consult my copy of "How Economics Shapes Science.") 

In the clouds, a silver lining

Luke Timmerman at Xconomy has a nice writeup responding to that silly PriceWaterhouseCooper report (and covering Derek Lowe's response to it as well). He covers a couple of recently unemployed scientists, including Steve Richards, a Ph.D. medicinal chemist:
After reading this report, I felt compelled to follow up with a regular Xconomy reader who I’d characterize as smart, experienced, hardworking, positive, and—last time I checked—jobless. His name is Steve Richards, and he’s a medicinal chemist by training. Back in 2010, he got more than 18 months’ notice that his job at South San Francisco-based Exelixis (NASDAQ: EXEL) was going away, and had done all the right things in terms of networking and job hunting since. He still hadn’t found a full-time gig when we last spoke in September, although he had lined up a temp job at UCSF to help keep his skills sharp. 
Steve Richards
Credit: Xconomy
When I called Richards on Friday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear some good news. He latched on with a new startup, South San Francisco-based Global Blood Therapeutics. He’s doing medicinal chemistry for drug discovery, work that’s right up his alley. “I’m working on small molecules, treatments for genetic blood disorders,” Richards says. “It’s exciting biology. It’s great to be back.” 
I was heartened to hear that a Yale-trained medicinal chemist with a decade of experience can still find a job in pharmaceuticals even though it took a herculean effort. But not surprisingly, I found that Richards was similarly baffled by the sentiments expressed in the recent PwC report. 
“As somebody who has been among the workers displaced from the industry because we were told we were unnecessary, to now hear people say ‘We can’t find enough people for this new R&D environment,’ it’s unsettling,” Richards says. “While many people will acknowledge there are a lot of people who have been disengaged from the industry, there aren’t a lot of mechanisms to re-engage these people.” 
It's really nice to hear a happy story these days, especially with all the unfortunate news. I should also note that he introduces Marie Beltran, a biochemist still looking for a position. Go over there and check it out! 

Daily Pump Trap: 2/21/13 edition

Good morning! Between February 19 and February 20, there were 5 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 4 (80%) are academically connected. 

Hmmm: Of course, the one industrial position posted in the last two days is for a civil engineer. Of course.

Who are they looking for at 3M and Cambrex?: One in my continuing, irregular series of looks at companies on the Chemical Week 75 list, 3M seems to have 72 positions related to being a chemist; most of them, I suspect, are not really aimed at chemists per se. Cambrex seems to have 4 positions related to being a chemist.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show 201, 733, 2421 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 95 positions for the job title "chemist", with 7 for "research chemist", 22 for "analytical chemist" and 4 for "organic chemist."

Postdoctoral expansion: Here's an ad posted on LinkedIn (with the recruiter's contact information) for a synthetic chemist (emphasis mine):
I am seeking outgoing, driven individuals who would thrive in a collaborative environment.  My client is seeking a PhD synthetic organic chemist with 2-4 years of post-doc work in chemical synthesis.  This is a development position with Fortune 1000 company.... 
[snip] PhD Organic Chemistry with at least 2 years relevant experience in an academic or industrial environment.
I sincerely hope this was the recruiter's doing, and not the Fortune 1000 company; I can't imagine that they're looking for a 4 year postdoc, right? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Against "networking" for networking's sake

From Willliam Carroll, Jr., the former chair of the board of director of ACS, a very interesting comment on the power of networking in this week's C&EN. It riffs off a recent New York Times article where they reveal that some companies (Ernst and Young, Deloitte) rely on internal referrals for (respectively) 45% and 49% of their non-entry-level placements. This is where Dr. Carroll loses me:
In some ways, this process is disturbing. You may wonder, “Do I really need to know somebody to get a job? What happened to merit?” Although disturbing, it’s also understandable. Deloitte receives 400,000 résumés per year. If a résumé gets just seven seconds of attention, human prescreening of that many résumés would take more than 100 person-days per year. It’s simpler, cheaper, and more reliable to sort by keyword and get referrals. 
Diversity is an issue, however. Companies recognize that people tend to recommend people like themselves. That’s one reason why many limit the percentage of people hired via referrals and recruit entry-level personnel differently...
So why am I telling you another disturbing story about jobs? Because there’s a take-home lesson: A network is even more important than we thought it was.
I preach the network to groups of grad students and postdocs. I say to them, “Do you know everyone here? Turns out, most of you will have successful careers—some of you will be in C&EN. Here’s a chance to meet stars early, become colleagues, and later brag that you knew them when. Imagine how far you’ll go with each other’s network.”
Dr. Carroll then points out that networking is something he believes is a core function of the American Chemical Society, there are 163,000 members on the ACS Network*, that ACS local sections are a great place to get to know people and get involved and fdafguyfdsfereruirere -- sorry, I fell asleep.

In one sense, I think that Dr. Carroll is right. Networking is more important than ever, and it is very important that your network knows when you are looking for a new position and how best to help move you forward in your career goals. It is important to get to know influential people, work for them and to make a good impression on them. 

That said, shouldn't someone push back against all of this networking mumbo-jumbo? Aren't there legitimate questions of merit to be discussed about These Modern Times and our approach to hiring at all levels? I confess that I really dislike the phrase "It's not what you know, it's who you know", especially as applied to success in the job market. Does any of Dr. Carroll's comment go against that terrible phrase? 

Instead of another paean to "networking", I would like to see people of Dr. Carroll's stature indicate what technical skills and character traits that employers most like to see. We all know that some people have "it" -- what exactly are those traits, and how can we grow them in ourselves? Wouldn't that be a better thing to spend column inches talking about, rather than another suggestion that you "get to know people"? 

*Isn't it time that we declare the ACS Network a failed experiment? How many active users are there on the ACS Network? Does it even reach 1% of membership? In 2008, it was cool to establish new online social networks. It's not 2008 anymore. 

The ChemDraw Wizard is back!

The ChemDraw Wizard, Pierre Morieux, is back with his second video and his first as an employee of Perkin Elmer Informatics. Naturally, this video spends a little more time selling the features of ChemBioDraw 13. Those with a peptide bent will really like it, I think.

I love Pierre's smooth drawing style and I really enjoy his whimsy.

Bonus Process Wednesday: small-scale agitation parameters

If you're following Blog Syn #002 (Selective C-H Olefination of Pyridines, by J.Q. Yu et al.), it seems that that agitation is the key to the reaction. From Professor Yu's e-mail:
Put the reaction tube in the middle of hot plate to obtain a stable stirring (500 rpm is enough). Don't let the solid adhere to the tube wall. 
I wonder if, for heterogeneous reactions, there should be a standardization of the parameters for agitation, i.e. size/weight of stir bar, inner/outer diameter of reaction flask, type/size of stirplate, etc.

It'd probably save some people a little bit of grief. 

Process Wednesday: reglassing

Credit: De Dietrich Process Systems
When you have glass-lined steel reactors, one of the things that the chemical engineers seem to worry a lot about is damage to the glass itself. One of the things that can put pinholes into the glass, for example, is static electricity discharge from non-polar solvents like hexanes. Corrosion with certain reagents (which they try desperately to prevent by barring them, wisely) is another source of damage. My favorite (because it's so simple, yet so costly) is dropped tools -- you drop a hammer or a wrench into a glass-lined reactor, you're gonna leave a dent.

As a relatively novice process chemist, I was unaware that glass-lined steel reactors (like old cars) can be sent for refurbishing. De Dietrich Process Systems' sales brochure about it is happy to tell me about the process:
Reglassing is the process by which older or damaged glasslined steel equipment is refurbished to like-new condition. All glass-lined reactors, tanks, columns, and accessories such as covers, agitators and baffles, can be reglassed if the steel substrate is in good or repairable condition.  
The process starts once a vessel has been inspected and approved as a candidate for reglass. Next, the old glass lining is removed by grit blasting. After any steel repairs and modifications are complete, DDPS proceeds with the glassing process. Here we fuse corrosion resistant 3009 glass onto the prepared steel in our computer controlled electric furnaces. Finally external protective coatings are applied via DDPS’ epoxy system. The end product is a high quality, glass-lined steel vessel or accessory. 
Reglassing is ideal for situations when time and cost are a primary issue. The turnaround time is within weeks versus months to fabricate a new vessel and there is nearly a 50% cost savings compared to buying a new vessel. ...All vessels reglassed by DDPS come with the same standard warranty as new vessels, ensuring you are receiving a vessel “as good as new.”
Now that we're going to get that reactor back, when I can start my boiling caustic soda process? (Kidding.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reddit Chemistry Jobs FAQ, part 1: Alternative careers

A long time ago, I volunteered to write a chemistry jobs "frequently asked questions" section for the Chemistry Reddit. It's about darn time for me to do so, so I'm starting today. Since Tuesday is my "academic" day, I'll basically be devoting a post most Tuesdays to working on this FAQ. I've asked for questions on Reddit and as of this morning, the most upvoted question was on alternative careers for chemistry:
Avoidingbadsubs: What other non-traditional jobs are there out there for those with a chemistry degree?
That's a great question and one that gets asked a lot -- what can I do with my chemistry degree, other than chemistry? I really dislike answers that start with "Anything!" because it's too vague. Noting that Jerry Buss (the late owner of the Los Angeles Lakers) and Angela Merkel (current chancellor of Germany) were Ph.D. chemists isn't particularly useful, especially since Dr. Buss left chemistry to become a wildly successful real estate investor and Dr. Merkel happened to get involved in the founding of political parties in the newly democratic and newly reunited Germany.*

It is probable that just a bare minimum of B.S. chemistry degree holders end up doing chemistry after they graduate. The best statistical data is referenced in this report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; they find that, of every 19 STEM degree holders, only 10 will hold jobs related to their degree early in their career. (Granted, this statistic came from the 1993-2003 time period, a time that was very different than our own.) After 10 years, of those 10 STEM degree holders, only 8 will be still working in STEM. So I think that it is reasonable and potentially even prudent to be thinking about fields outside of traditional bench-oriented chemistry.

I think the question should be answered thusly: Where have people with chemistry degrees gone? Unfortunately, there is not clear statistical tracking as to where chemists have gone, so we're left with the world of anecdotal evidence, for which there is a ton.

The best collection of those anecdotes (in my opinion) is Dr. Lisa Balbes' book "Non-traditional Careers in Chemistry"; I've summarized a lot of these chapters on my blog and you can see the table of contents of the book here. The typical alternative careers are covered: teaching, writing, working with computers, the legal and regulatory fields in great detail with in-depth interviews. (Here's another list of potential careers Dr. Balbes' compiled; here's a helpful set of questions to ask yourself about alternative careers that she wrote up.) Another great resource is the Just Another Electron Pusher blog, which has profiled many different people with very different careers in chemistry. My favorite were the flavor chemist and the actor, but there are a lot of "practical" careers there as well. Finally, I was not aware until today of the blog "The Road Less Traveled" about alternative careers in chemistry; there's 81 entries over there as well.

In 2010, noted chemistry blogger Derek Lowe asked his very experienced pharma-oriented readership about what they did after if they had left chemistry. The result was a 196-comment thread; I summarized 160 of those comments with the 35 different career transfers from chemistry to something else as follows:
Computer-related work (computational science, programming, etc.): 9 (26%)
Other: 8 (23%)
Business (MBA, business development): 4 (11%)
Intellectual property law (patent attorney, agent): 4 (11%)
Regulatory affairs: 4 (11%)
Pharmacy-related stuff: 3 (9%)
Teaching (high school, tutoring): 3 (9%)
After looking at all these piles of anecdotes, alternative careers in chemistry seem to fall under a few general categories:
  • Non-traditional teaching (high school, tutoring)
  • Working with computers somehow
  • Being a writer/editor
  • Working on the business side of chemistry (legal, regulatory, sales, marketing, etc.) 
  • Something else that's not easily defined
I hope that I've managed to practically express the breadth and depth of available resources on this important question. As with all careers, you have to start somewhere; there's likely a path to follow (with attendant grunt work and learning curve) and there are people who have blazed a trail in front of you. And even then, there's nothing stopping you from blazing a trail of your own.

My very best wishes to you all -- talk to you next Tuesday and beyond.

*So all you need to do with your Ph.D. in chemistry to become a national leader is have a historical collapse of a decades-old undemocratic state! 


Hey, folks:

While I'm working on another couple of posts, enjoy a couple of great efforts from See Arr Oh and friends:
I'm taking care of business in a flask, but I'll be back soon. 

Daily Pump Trap: 2/19/13 edition

Good morning! Between February 14 and February 18, there were 23 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs. Of these, 6 (26%) are academically connected and 1 (4%) is from a staffing agency.

Arden Hills, MN: Land O' Lakes desires a B.S. chemist (3+ years in food testing) to be an analytical laboratory testing supervisor.

Hoffman Estates, IL: Tate and Lyle (the makers of Splenda) are looking for a Ph.D. research scientist. Here's their description of the desired qualifications:
The successful candidate will have a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry, a strong desire to apply their expertise toward developing food ingredients that deliver health benefits and 3-5 years of industrial experience. 
A background in ingredient design for foods is desirable. Deep experience in biochemistry and medicinal chemistry is required.  Experience in any of the areas of ingredient design from the following list is desirable: enzyme modification of ingredients, physical processing of ingredients (spray drying, drum drying agglomeration, blending etc), natural products extraction, separations technology as applied to product design, fermentation to produce ingredients, or formulation of complex ingredient systems.
Does this person exist outside of Tate and Lyle and Cargill? I am curious.

Westbrook, ME: Sappi Fine Paper wishes to hire a carbohydrate chemist for a postdoctoral fellowship: "will involve technology development as it relates to polysaccharides (e.g. starch, cellulose) and proteins.  The project work will include the modification of these polysaccharide- based polymers for use in a range of potential product applications."

Byron, IL: Exelon desires chemical technicians for nuclear-related water testing. They wish to hire someone with the following preferred qualifications:
- Bachelor's Or Master's Degree in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering, or equivalent degree
- Two years professional work experience in chemistry
- Navy Nuclear experience as an Engineering Lab Technician (ELT)
- Demonstrates leadership capabilities by motivating and inspiring others to accept challenges and meet or exceed expectations, and consistently achieves results, while acting as a role model for exhibiting appropriate behaviors.
Their offered pay? $30-35/hour, no relocation. 5 openings. I feel like this is a low ball offer, but I dunno.

East Bay Area, CA: An unknown company wishes to hire a B.S. chemist with 5-7 years experience in product development for a position researching water filtration technology. Why they didn't spend their money to leaflet Nalco's sites in Chicago and Houston is beyond me. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 2/19/13 edition

Good morning! Between February 12 and February 18, 11 new academic positions were posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 11
- Postdocs: 1
- Tenure-track faculty:  8
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  0
- US/non-US: 8/3

Akron, OH: The University of Akron is looking for an assistant professor of analytical or bioanalytical chemistry.

Farmville, VA: Longwood University desires a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be an assistant professor of organic or organometallic chemistry.

Alliance, OH: University of Mount Union desires an assistant professor of biochemistry. I hear they have a decent football team.

Pittsburgh, PA: The University of Pittsburgh desires a lecturer for general chemistry; it is a one-year renewable position.

Sanford, FL: Seminole State College of Florida desires a M.S. chemist for a tenure-track teaching position.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Podcast: Dr. Rubidium on #AnnieDookhan

In the third part of our epic podcast with Dr. Rubidium, See Arr Oh and I interview her on the Annie Dookhan case. Dr. Rubidium worked as a forensic chemist, so this is a nice explanation of the case and its odd aspects:

Thanks to See Arr Oh for the timepoints:

0:04 - Introduction
0:46 - A Hot Mess
1:25 - Too Productive = A Problem
2:19 - CJ as drug dealer
2:45-9:00 - Dr. Rubidium explains it all: How do analytical chemists test illegal drugs?
9:04 - Dookhan: Tip O' The Iceberg?
11:55 - Analytical Standards - 'Keys to the Castle'
13:35 - Chemists in Court
15:04 - Part-time Harvard Doctorate
16:12 - "This wasn't a surprise to anyone she worked with"
17:36 - Selling paper in Scranton, PA
19:10 - "And that's the other title for the podcast!"
19:21 - Bonus track

And yes, podcast listeners, I am working towards a RSS feed for the podcasts. I think I'll be setting up a separate blog for it, since I can't seem to figure out other ways of doing so. Hopefully by the next one.

Great Recession? What Great Recession?

UPDATE: Linda Wang e-mails to note that Bruce Roth's response was indeed noted:

Bruce Roth did say this in our interview: “I understand the difficulty. If you can’t get a full-time position, then you may have to settle for a postdoc, but it’s a red flag.”


The excellent Linda Wang talks to a variety of hiring managers, recruiters and high-powered folks (including Bruce Roth, a co-inventor of Lipitor, an involuntary Pfizer alumnus and a VP of medchem at Genentech), asking them frequently asked questions on jobs and hiring, including this little gem:
Q: If you see a candidate who has done multiple postdocs, what impression does that give you?

Roth: (SEE UPDATE) It’s often a red flag, because nobody wants to do multiple postdocs. The worry is that you’re doing it because you’re unable to get a full-time position. It makes a hiring manager wonder whether you’re not as good as others who are getting those positions. If you stay in a place for a longer period of time, or if you’re able to get a non-tenure-track position as a researcher, in some respects that’s actually better than doing multiple postdocs.
Frishberg: You’re talking to somebody who you know is going to have trouble because for industry, you don’t necessarily need the postdoc. And for academic jobs, you probably do, but not five of them. One or two of them is fine, otherwise it looks like you’re unemployable or do not know what you want to do.
I think that it is possible that both these gentlemen answered, "Well, we know that because of the recession, hiring has been slow and so candidates have had to resort to multiple postdocs, blah, blah..." and their answers were cut out for space. Yeah, that's the ticket. You gotta really love Dr. Frishberg's response of industry positions not necessarily needing postdocs -- you gotta be kidding me, right?

Personally, I know that I was biased against doing a 2nd postdoc because of exactly this concern when I was looking for a job in 2008. I had a choice between the job that I took or another postdoc and thought to myself, "I don't want to do another postdoc!" But a lot of people were not fortunate enough to get a job at that time; in that case, another postdoc was/is better than starving.

As I have asserted a number of times, quite often a postdoc is the modern employment equivalent of an "inferior good", i.e. a choice that people make because they do not have better choices.* (Multiple postdocs have got to be an "inferior good.") How often do you hear of people leaving their postdocs as soon as they get an industrial job? That's how you know it's not a choice that people want to make, it's a choice they have to make. I am disappointed with Drs. Roth and Frishberg that they did not acknowledge this in their answer.

Once again, I am impressed at Linda Wang's ability to get people to answer in the most frank manner possible about hiring. As much as I might be irritated by some of these answers, it's important for job candidates to read them and for them to be on the record. Go and read (and stew, if you're like me.)

*I should note that I am stretching the definition of "inferior good" quite a bit, in that inferior goods are purchased items that are purchased less as the purchaser's income increases (like ramen noodles, for example). A postdoc is not a purchase; therefore, it's probably not an inferior good. 

UPDATE: Linda Wang e-mails to note that Bruce Roth's response was indeed noted:

Bruce Roth did say this in our interview: “I understand the difficulty. If you can’t get a full-time position, then you may have to settle for a postdoc, but it’s a red flag.”

This week in C&EN

This week's C&EN is a treasure trove of interesting material (to me, anyway). Don't miss:
All in all, a very interesting issue. More to come...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Podcast: Dr. Rubidium, See Arr Oh and Chemjobber at the movies

In the second portion of our epic podcast with Dr. Rubidium, See Arr Oh and I talk about Hollywood, movies, TV and the portrayal of chemists:

(Now traditional semi-apology: there's no introduction or conclusion. Ooops.)

0:00: When is Annie Dookhan going to be on CSI?
1:36: NCIS and Abby's degrees
2:35: Agent Scully, Agent Mulder and Hollywood's degree inflation
3:50: There's no time for continuing education on CSI, much less paperwork!
6:33: Where did Walter White get his degree?
7:10: Dr. Christmas Jones and her tank top of power
9:24: Dr. George Henry, ER's M.D/Ph.D. (played by Chad Lowe)
10:20: Where are the lab support folks? It's all Quincy's fault.
12:30: Dr. Rubidium loves Jason Statham
14:19: The Joker almost made SAO not want to be a chemist
15:16: The EH&S aspects of action movies
16:06: Crime scene technique, including "the handkerchief of magic"
17:45: Chemicals don't look right in the movies
19:00: Labs don't look right in the movies
19:55: The process chemistry of movie toxic gases
20:30: Skyfall and the cyanide capsule of doom
22:30: Things don't explode that way!
25:30: Suspension of disbelief
26:45: Scientific consulting on movies
29:45: Casting R.B. Woodward and Rosalind Franklin in the movies

Tune in next Wednesday for Dr. Rubidium's thoughts on the Annie Dookhan case.

Does this anti-chemophobia tactic work?

John Hickenlooper is the governor of Colorado and he visited Washington recently to talk about hydraulic fracturing. To demonstrate its safety, he told them that he drank some:
State Capitol veterans loved the story coming out of Washington, D.C., on Tuesday about Gov. John Hickenlooper drinking fracking fluid because it reminded them of the time a state transportation chief swilled a mixture of magnesium chloride. The drinks were intended to show the stuff is safe. 
Then-Department of Transportation director Tom Norton drank his concoction in a legislative committee in 2002 after getting complaints about the magnesium chloride sprayed on Colorado's roads to fight ice and snow. 
Hickenlooper on Tuesday told a U.S. Senate committee that he swigged fracking fluid once. His admission came when he testified that states and not the federal government should lead in regulating natural gas production, a sentiment that angered environmentalists and drew applause from energy groups fighting the Environmental Protection Agency.
I don't think that there are huge acute/chronic human toxicity issues around hydraulic fracturing fluid -- that said, you don't see me volunteering to have a rig next to my house any time soon. I believe that shale gas is, on balance, a positive development for our country and is having/will have good effects on US chemical manufacturing.*

Drinking a glass of hydraulic fracturing fluid (which is mostly water and salt with some various other things (polyols, I'm guessing)) doesn't really demonstrate anything other than a lack of acute toxicity -- presumably, that's not really the issue that people care about. I believe that chemophobia is mostly based on concern about long-term health effects, not short-term ones. (i.e. my couch will give me cancer in twenty years, not that it is killing me right now.) So, nice try, Gov. Hickenlooper, but I don't think folks are buying it.

Readers, what's the best demonstration of non-toxicity that you've seen?

*Let me go on the record: I think hydraulic fracturing is good news, and like most resource extraction issues in the United States, there will be hard-working men and women in this country who will exploit those resources to the very, very fullest. That's the story of our country, from the coal mines of West Virginia on west, good, bad and ugly. I don't believe very many of the acute/chronic toxicity issues that arise around hydraulic fracturing fluid (especially in the popular press), but I don't think that they've been studied particularly well. We could always use more research. 

Comment of the week: corrections after chemistry?

That moment on the blog, when someone suggests a career in corrections... From the alternative careers thread, Anon021320130859p says:
A pattern that is emerging among more successful careers right now is that they deal with loss aversion. Society continues to spend irrational amounts on healthcare because we are attempting to avert a loss of health that will come anyways. Much money has been spent on accountants and financiers trying to pick safe ways to invest or just hold on to cash longer, not necessarily to take big risks. We also spend enormous amounts on military to prevent things that are unlikely. The U.S. also has a the highest per-capita prison population, presumably to prevent all those people from inflicting more damage in society. So career recommendations: 
1. Medicine - Doctors may be in deep debt, but they never worry about being unemployed. Careers related to it will probably fair well. As long as people are convinced they can spend huge amounts of money to live months longer...
2. Accounting - Always seemed stable, just boring.
3. Defense - Find a way to make a career in that area, probably get a pension. Soldier, medic, technician, air traffic controller....
4. Corrections - Some of the strongest unions are in corrections, correctional officers make lots of money and can retire early with a pension. Police, prison guards, private security?
As someone who has seen (in a volunteer capacity) California correctional officers at work, I do not envy their jobs. Imagine sitting at a gate on a metal folding chair in the hot southern California sun wearing a thick, puncture-resistant dark green jumpsuit. No thanks! Never mind that they are likely to see their wages decrease over time...

That said, the problem-solving aspects of police work would be interesting, but I do not wish to face the depravity of the human heart on a day-to-day basis. Yikes. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Situations Wanted?

From the pages of the ACS' Dallas-Fort Worth section's February newsletter, the Southwest Retort, a rather wonderful and typical "Situations Wanted":
Recent double masters (organic and analytical) graduate... actively seeking job in chemical industries. Experience in methods development and analysis by chromatographic techniques. Excellent management and organization skills, instruments maintenance and troubleshooting. E-mail: *******
One of the unfortunate transitions away from the printed version of Chemical and Engineering News is the seeming lack of "Situations Wanted" ads -- if you leafed through a copy from the 1980s, it seems like the Situations Wanted section was quite populated with people looking for um, new situations.

I bring this up because I would like reader suggestions to see if a regular "Situations Wanted" feature on the blog would be useful. Do we have readers with enough networks and influence on hiring to make it worth it? Please, let me know how you feel about this. What should the format be?

40+ and alternative careers?

Respected commenter and reader The Aqueous Layer has this to say on the alternative careers front:
I think this line of thinking is great for people under the age of 35. When you start pushing into your 40s and beyond, it becomes much harder to transition into an alternate career, from both ends. Employers are going to be much less willing to take on a 45 year old with no experience. The adage about "It's easier to find a job when you have one" is also true as well. HR and/or hiring managers might not admit it, but there is a bias towards hiring people who already have jobs... 
50 and older it becomes more of 'what will I settle for' or 'what can I do to help make some money to pay the bills'. Unfortunately, I know several people who ended up in that boat, cobbling together small teaching gigs earning less than $25K total.
As someone who is in TAL's gray zone (i.e. NLT35, NMT41), I would be interested in hearing from readers who have successfully (or unsuccessfully!) transitioned away from traditional bench/research-related work to something else. Please tell us in the comments or write me at chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com.

From the inbox

San Diego, CA: The Human Biomedical Research Institute has a synthetic medical chemistry postdoctoral position open.

Cincinnati, OH: An agrichemical formulation position; B.S./M.S./Ph.D. desired, 5+ years experience.

Chicago, IL: A cosmetic chemistry position. B.S./M.S. desired, 3+ years experience.

Kent, OH:  A post-doctoral position for an organic geochemist. 

Daily Pump Trap: 2/14/12 edition

Good morning! Between February 12 and February 13, there were 12 new positions posted on C&EN Jobs. Of these, 4 (33%) are academically connected.

San Jose, CA: Becton Dickinson is looking for a B.S. chemist for a managerial position:
This position is managing our core chemistry team focused on the introduction of new antibody conjugate reagents used in Flow Cytometry. A complete understanding of conjugation and dye chemistry is needed to accurately guide the team through technical issues as they arise.
5 years supervisory experience, 3 years of FDA regulatory experience desired.

Shimadzu: A field engineer position for Baltimore, MD and a San Diego sales position.

Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratories is looking for a postdoctoral fellow for NMR work towards batteries and electrical energy technology.

Golden, CO: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is looking for a Ph.D. chemist (doctorate within the last 3 years) for a postdoctoral fellowship towards polymers in "organic radical batteries."

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 200, 716, 2,374 and 18 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 100 position for the job title "chemist", with 7 for "research chemist", 16 for "analytical chemist" and 1 for "organic chemist." 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The David Challenge: which alternative career would you suggest?

An actual "CJ's Diner." Credit: PALMETT0
From a couple of weeks ago, an excellent question from a frequent commenter (David Formerly Known as a Chemist) at In the Pipeline,
And again I ask all of you, what alternative career paths would any of you encourage people to pursue? What other careers don't have high numbers of people complaining about how tough it is out there?
From the comments, a number of different suggestions:
  • Anon012820131032a: "Pharmacists, Dentists, Opticians, Engineers"
  • My 0.02: "It seems that there are endless positions for computer programmers."
  • Anon012820130852p: "Accountants, doctors, pharmacists, optometrists, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, computer programmers, market researchers, sales folks."
  • Regret: "Everyday of my life, I regret the decision to choose chemistry over computer science. Worst. Decision. Ever."
I'll be honest: none of those careers (or the other non-traditional chemistry careers -- keep scrolling) seem to me to have the same amount of tradition, art, craft, science, fun and money that I see in the field that I work in (chemical manufacturing). That said, I think that David has a really good question -- what alternative career path would I encourage?

Far be it from me to discourage anyone to do what many of the readers of this blog has done, which is to get a Ph.D. in chemistry -- even more narrowly, organic chemistry. But as I keep saying, I think it is terribly important to have a finely calibrated sense for where you stand compared to your peers nationwide and to have a clear-eyed expectation of what might lie ahead for you (salary, length of job search) if you do not snag a Big Pharma entry-level senior scientist post. So that's my first response to David's challenge: I would encourage those who plan on a career in chemistry to understand the tradeoffs for what might lie ahead.

For those who find a 7-year journey to $90,000/year job (to pick some round numbers that are likely too short and too much) to be too long for not enough money, I've always asserted that engineering and nursing must have the best returns on investment for schooling. 4 years, a decent wage, government support (nursing) and licensure all seem to be things that weigh in favor of these two fields. That said, they're not free of complaints, so that fails the second part of David's challenge.

(If time and family were no object, I would personally be very interested in becoming a physician. I like people enough that I think I could deal with them day-to-day (I think) and the balance between routine work and long-term problem-solving would be interesting. But again, there are plenty of complaints about medicine as a career, so it fails part 2 of the David challenge.

Some days, I fancy a career as a short-order cook at an old-style diner, but that's not exactly lucrative.) 

Finally, it seems to me that computer science has a relatively low barrier-to-learning and accepts informally-trained folks for jobs routinely. I plan to try to teach my kids the basics of coding as soon as practical; it sees like a fun computer-oriented activity and it seems to me that coding will be a basic skill for the future.

Readers, what would be your alternative career of choice? 

A sad picture.

Thanks to the latest report from The Day's Lee Howard about Pfizer's quiet layoffs from its Groton site (now, less than expected!) and Derek Lowe's report about it, I heard tell of stories of a funny/sad juxtaposition from the old from the old Upjohn site, I believe. I found it on a random website. The blue banner says: "The science of being a good neighbor" and the red one says "We love where we live."

From Kazoo Chemist, at In the Pipeline: "The one in the picture is Building 209. That housed most of the medicinal chemists on the 6th and 7th floors." Sigh. 

Process Wednesday: pH adjustments on scale

Adjusting pH in a 2 liter flask in the lab is easy, but what about doing it in real time in the plant? Francis X. McConville has something to say about that in "The Pilot Plant Real Book":
For example, take a look at the lag time in the response of acid/base pumps or valves, and the real-time titrant delivery rates... If pH adjustment in an agitated vessel is the goal, ensure that agitation and turnover rates are sufficient in comparison to the rate of titrant addition. It may be necessary to add the acid/base to a separate closed circulation loop to ensure better distribution in very large tanks. It may simply be that the adjustment has to be undertaken slowly to allow sufficient mix time. pH control of slurries is particularly difficult.  
The relative location of the pH probe and titrant addition lines will also have a major effect on the operation of the control loops. Poor placement can cause long response delays or, worse, huge pH fluctuations. Try to determine the actual time required for a complete feedback cycle to be completed and compare this to the flowrates of all the streams involved. And finally, pay attention to the titration curve of the system you are trying to control. pH titration curves are not linear, and if you are trying to control pH on the steepest part of the curve, where small adjustments can mean major pH swings, it will only magnify your control problems. 
I have had some small experience observing the adjustment of pH in large stirred vessels (50 gallon) and above. Patience, I think, is a real virtue in these situations -- back-titrating after you've rocketed past the pH you were trying to hit is really annoying. Slurries, as Mr. McConville notes, are even more problematic and slow to respond.

I think it points to the general undesirability of pH adjustments on scale, especially ones that rely on judgment and metering in small amounts of titrant. It's probably just better to have a process where you add a known amount of titrant and let the agitator do its work.

I'm sure I'm being wrong-headed here somehow -- thoughts?