Sunday, June 30, 2013

By the way, is dentistry a STEM field?

How does the Senate immigration bill (that has passed the Senate) define "STEM"? (oh, how I hate that term.) Here's the section that I found (page 661):
INCREASE IN ALLOCATION FOR STEM NON-IMMIGRANTS.—Section 214(g)(5)(C) (8 U.S.C. 1184(g)(5)(C)) is amended to read as follows:  
‘‘(C) has earned a master’s or higher, in a field  of science, technology, engineering, or math included in the Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Programs taxonomy within the summary groups of computer and information sciences and support services, engineering, mathematics and statistics, and physical sciences, from a United States institution of higher education (as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)) until the number of aliens who are exempted from such numerical limitation during 4 such year exceed 25,000.’’
In reading the Issa*/House Judiciary committee (?) version of the STEM green card bill, a slightly different version in a definitions section (page 6):
The term ‘field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics’ means a field included in the Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Programs taxonomy within the summary groups of computer and information sciences and support services, engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, mathematics and statistics, physical sciences, and the series geography and cartography (series 45.07), advanced/graduate dentistry and oral sciences (series 51.05) and nursing (series 51.16).
Is dentistry a STEM field? Nursing? Yes, they require a deep understanding of Science and Mathematics, but it is not what I consider Science, or Technology, or Engineering or Mathematics. Health care is its own field, with its own terminology (and its own immigration issues, I might note). It's all very exasperating to me.

This is why this term is so appallingly stupid -- for some reason, it means A Good Thing, and so all sorts of things get shoehorned into STEM.

[Hey, what happened to the biomedical sciences section in the Senate version? I gotta understand this stuff better.]

*Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), member of the House Judiciary Committee

There's probably going to be a STEM green card bill signed by the president

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, a little factlet that's being lost in the news about the Senate passing the immigration reform bill:
Foreigners who earned Ph.D.'s at American universities would be eligible for green cards, while foreign students who completed master's degrees or Ph.D.'s in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (the STEM fields) could petition for a card. 
"The real game changer in the bill for universities is in the green-card section, where advanced-degree graduates for STEM fields have green cards stapled to their diplomas," said Craig Lindwarm, assistant director for international issues and Congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
Immigration reform is headed over to the House of Representatives. Very few people believe that the House has the inclination (or the organization, for that matter) to pass the Senate bill. It is my vague understanding that they're much more likely to do this in piecemeal fashion. And what do I see coming out of the House Judiciary Committee? (via The Hill):
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed a tech-backed immigration bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on a 20 to 14 vote. 
The bill would increase the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers, as well as make 55,000 green cards available to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced technical degrees. But to offset making those green cards available, the bill would eliminate the diversity visa and siblings of U.S. citizens.
The House bill (or at least, the Issa version) is here; the Senate bill that has been voted on is here. I have no idea whether or not the House will consider low-skill immigration, but I think it's quite likely that some form of high-skill immigration (i.e. expansion of H-1B visas, green cards for international students who graduate with Ph.D.s and M.S.s) will make it through the House and the Senate and be signed by the President. I should note that I am neither an immigration legislation specialist, or a Congressional expert.

Gee, I hope this works out for everyone involved. Certainly, the tech companies will get what they want (and, seeing as how they're the source of much future economic growth, perhaps they should be at the front of the line?) But at what cost?

Best wishes to all of us. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Posing with hands

Busy day today, but a couple of posts coming this weekend, I hope. Via the National Meeting e-mail (tempted to click unsubscribe...), check out Alan Alda and Alton Brown, who will both be attending the Fall ACS conference in Indianapolis.

Hands -- it's what makes a face. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I love these sorts of ads

Via LinkedIn, a human resources person that got really bored at Chromatic Technologies in Colorado Springs: 
We are looking for another genius to add to our team who is capable of becoming an expert in: 
1. Microencapsulation, 2. Ink formulation, 3. Coating formulation, 4. Desire to work in research laboratory, 5. Project management, 6. Comfortable testing products in the field with customers, 7. Smart materials, 8. Organic Chemistry

We need a person who has: 1. Passion, 2. Solid work ethic, 3. A capacity to work tirelessly to help the team, 4. A value for personal relationships, 5. Willingness to work overtime to complete tasks, 6. Solution mentality, 7. A unique perspective, 8. Serious drive to innovate, 9. Intellectual curiosity, 10. A positive attitude to solving hard problems, 11. A love for creating things, 12. Resilience to set-backs, 13. Tack [sic] record of success 
Desired Skills & Experience: PhD or Masters in Organic Chemistry - but someone who is blindingly intelligent, innovative, passionate, and willing to commit themselves to a fantastic company are welcome to apply! 
Company Description: World's leader in innovation. The best - and still not satisfied. Experts in thermochromic inks and coatings.
Uh, wow.  

Daily Pump Trap: 6/27/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 25 and June 26, there were 17 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 3 (18%) were academically connected and 8 (47%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist to join their corporate QA structure. Sounds vaguely interesting.

Bridgewater, NJ: Henkel is looking for a B.S. chemist to become a product development scientist towards adhesives.

Waynesboro, VA: Invista is looking for an experienced Ph.D. analytical chemist for its apparel division to be a "business analytical chemist." It's a really odd set of skills they're looking for, but it sounds interesting.

Golden, CO: The DOE is looking for a biofuels chemist, looks like. Salary: $89,033.00 - 115,742.00?!?! Nice.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 219, 1008, 2506 and 15 positions for the search term "chemist." (That Careerbuilder number is significantly higher than its typical 650-750 positions.) LinkedIn shows 132 positions for the job title "chemist", with 2 for "organic chemist", 19 for "analytical chemist" and 5 for "research chemist." 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I don't know what happened yet

So you post a couple times using your tablet device, and suddenly the blog format changes. Efforting...

Sometimes, it feels this way

Bonus Process Wednesday: Industry shouldn't be complacent about chemical safety

In the middle of a pretty interesting editorial on academic chemical safety by Trevor Laird (who should maybe be considered one of the first chemistry bloggers?), a comment on small companies and process safety:
Industry, however, should not be complacent. While the emphasis on developing a safety culture in most larger companies is high, particularly in Europe and North America, in a few smaller startup companies and in some countries, the safety culture needs to be drastically improved with a greater emphasis on education and training. For example, some companies I visit/audit still scale up processes without any understanding of the thermal hazards of working with larger equipment, relying on the fact that they have not had an incident this year as a basis for safety. I fervently hope they do not end up paying for this ignorance if someone should be injured or die.
I wish I could say that I disagreed with Dr. Laird, and that everything was fine in industry. But I really can't.  

Process Wednesday: Th'Gaussling speaks the truth

Th'Gaussling writes a really great summary of ways that you can get less expensive prices from chemical manufacturers if you decide to scale up your chemistry -- it is really worth your time:
To the greatest extent possible the raw materials for your product are preferably:
  1. existing items of commerce unencumbered by composition of matter or process claims.
  2. available in a grade suitable for direct use.
  3. unencumbered by import restrictions, law enforcement watch lists, and relevant EPA restriction lists.
  4. TSCA and REACH listed already.
  5. those free of problematic isomers.
  6. those not requiring tight fractional distillation to purify.
  7. free of explosaphors like azide or nitro esters.
Your costs are best contained if your product:
  1. does not require enantiomeric purity or is not subject to facile isomerism affecting the specification.
  2. does not require more than one protection/deprotection scheme.
  3. does not require tight fractional distillation for final purity.
  4. does not require bulk high pressure chemistry (shops that can do this are limited).
  5. is air stable.
  6. is soluble enough in process solvents to maximize space yields (if it is, say, < 10 wt %, batch costs will start to get high).
  7. does not require solvent changes in a process unit operation.
  8. is amenable to parallel synthetic strategy.
  9. does not require serious chilling of the reaction mixture (say, < -20°C).
  10. has been screened for real purity requirements rather than those based on the desire for tidiness.
  11. can be isolated by a simple Buchner filtration rather than, say, a centrifuge or other more elaborate solids isolation scheme.
  12. can be isolated by simple distillation.
Of the items that th'Gaussling mentions, #7 in the process/non-raw materials section is the one that I think makes the most sense, but is least discussed among chemists. I think he is referring to solvent swaps, which are relatively simple to do in the lab -- you just throw your flask on the rotovap, strip off the first solvent and dump in the 2nd. In the plant, though, solvent swaps take a lot of time (hours to distill off a solvent) and you can't really distill to dryness, so you're left attempting to chase away the remaining drops of the first solvent by adding in increasing portions of the 2nd and distilling further. It's not an ideal solution and it tends to tie up a reactor with processing that isn't really making any product.

He has additional comments, so go read the whole thing -- if you're ever interested in working with a CMO, they're handy tips. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How do you give a scientific talk to people outside of your field?

A reader recently asked this question: how do you give a job talk about your work to scientists and technical people who are not in your field? Specifically, this was a person who was interviewing for a non-bench-research-but-still-technical position, coming out of an academic postdoc.

I have actually done this -- and unsurprisingly, it is harder than it seems. You can get messed up in the details of trying to "teach" too much and get tripped up in the details of your work. I don't claim to have an answer, but here are a few suggestions:
  • Teach your terminology early, and keep it simple. 
  • Have two or three clear stories, with obvious "problem solved" sections. 
  • Encourage your audience to interrupt you to clarify.
Readers, have you faced this situation? What would you recommend?

Daily Pump Trap: 6/24/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 20 and June 24, there were fifty new positions on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, three (6%) were academically connected and 39 (78%) were from Kelly Scientific.

Beerse, Belgium: This experienced Ph.D. process chemist position sounds endlessly fascinating. I must get there someday. 

Audubon, PA: Mysterious global CRO looking for B.S. chemists with LC/MS experience.

I AM A CHEMIST… And I work for the American Chemical Society (ACS)! 
As a sales professional, if the sound of that declaration resonates with you, then you will be excited to learn that Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a division of the ACS is currently hiring!
Hmmm. Hmmmm.

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/25/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 18 and June 24,  there were five new academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 1
Tenure-track: 1
Temporary faculty: 0
Lecturers: 0
Staff: 3
US/non-US: 4/1

Orlando, FL: The University of Central Florida is searching for an assistant professor of nanotechnology.

Fight the new normal?: This one-year staff research assistant/postdoc position for a mass spec specialist at the University of New Orleans is for 45k. That is not a pretty salary, but there you are. What I find vaguely disturbing is the following statement:
Teaching experience and 1-3 years of postdoctoral experience preferred.
In some sense, this is a good thing. The job market has been hard, and some postdocs have extended their stays and there is no reason to exclude them from consideration. I am concerned, however, that this is/could become the new normal in chemistry, just like it has been in biology for years. I guess it is better to acknowledge the reality, instead of wishing it away.

New York, NY: Memorial Sloan-Kettering is looking for a research assistant in the organic synthesis core. I think they're looking for a MS chemist.

Saudi Arabia: This research collaboration specialist position at KAUST looks well-paid, and deadly boring.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Job posting: NMR chemist, San Jose, CA

HGST, a Western Digital company and a major producer of hard disk drives, is seeking a chemist with NMR experience to join a team of materials scientists who support HGST's research, development, and manufacturing efforts in all aspects of hard disk drive technology.  The position is located in our world-class Materials Laboratory in San Jose, California.   
...Experience in general wet chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and strong NMR spectral interpretation sills are required.  Sample prep/isolation strategies include careful mechanical teardown techniques, collection of sample via trapping of volatiles and/or extraction, concentration and analysis.   
A background in 19F NMR is a big plus.  Additional pluses would include background in polymer chemistry, structure, and properties, as well as background in thermal analysis (TGA, DSC, TMA, DMA).   
Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, Physical Organic Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Polymer Science, or equivalent experience is required.  Immediate availability is highly desired.  
Subject to availability, entry-level Ph.D. candidates will be considered.  However, relevant postdoctoral and/or previous industrial experience would be a plus.
Sounds intriguing.  

JOC's estimated data manipulation rate? 0.4% of submissions

In the middle of a terribly interesting article by Stephen Ritter about Amos Smith's Organic Letters data integrity editorial, a noteworthy estimate of data manipulation:
C. Dale Poulter, a chemistry professor at the University of Utah and editor of the Journal of Organic Chemistry, knows these problems well. They are part of the reason he enlists the help of a data analyst. 
When it comes to checking reported data, a reviewer or data analyst must make sure the spectra, elemental analyses, and other data required by the journal are there, Poulter explains. The presented data are then reviewed to be certain there aren’t any blatant misinterpretations. Any anomalies reviewers find could be the result of a simple mistake—such as a typo, math error, or loading the wrong data set. Or they might point to data manipulation. 
The occurrence of data manipulation remains rare, Poulter says — only about a dozen cases out of the 3,000 manuscripts submitted to his journal each year. These cases aren’t reflected in paper corrections or retractions, he notes, because the papers are not accepted for publication.
This works out to about a 0.4% hit rate, which is pretty low.

One assumes that reviewers are reasonably vigilant about such matters, but I wonder if there should be a financial incentive to detect data manipulation? I wonder what a $250 bounty for provable data manipulation (paid to the volunteer peer reviewer who detects it) would do for data integrity.

(Of course, the unintended consequence would be people setting up fake professors and sending in bogus article submissions to get some extra cash for reviewing...) 

This week's C&EN

Lots of interesting stuff in this week's C&EN:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Andre the Chemist, with some excellent final words

Andre the Chemist has posted part 4 (the last) of our conversation. A brief excerpt:
More importantly, I think our conversation has distilled down my thoughts on this to a more basic premise, which is a difficult concept in today's world:
Don't be afraid to make a mistake.
We all are taught to seek out perfection in every step we take in our life. However, one slip on your planned road isn't going to destroy your life.

If you take a job and don't like it, work on finding a new one. If you don't think your grad degree is in the right field, try a postdoc in something different (I've done this one, and it is possible). If you've spent a few years in grad school but don't think it's for you, you should at least consider that slogging your way through it might be worse for you professionally than just leaving.

The harder you work on finding the right spot for you, the better chance you will have of being the success you want.
This is a profound point, and one that is worth thinking on. Thanks to Andre for a great series and lots of good thoughts on the geographical questions surrounding chemistry jobs.

(parts 1, part 2 and part 3.)

What actually gets people to switch jobs?

The other week, I wrote briefly about Paul Sturgeon's column in Plastics News where he expressed doubt that HR departments knew how to attract Gen X and Y top performers. To recap, here's Mr. Sturgeon again:
Finally, your company does not understand what the candidates want. Many studies have been done of Gen X and Y to see what is important to them. When compared side by side with what most employers think is important, the correlation is closer to the opposite than to lining up. Prestige, power, salary, and so on, the things that are important to boomers, rank near the bottom of the list for X and Y. They are looking for things like flexible hours, relationships with colleagues and interesting work. When companies try to woo them with an offer that represents a 10 percent boost in pay, with a better 401(k) match than what they have now, they are shocked when the candidate turns that down. 
I never had a chance to comment on this portion of the article, but I don't think it's as demonstrative as Mr. Sturgeon thinks. To be honest, a 10% pay raise plus a better 401 (k) match wouldn't necessarily get me to quit my job and move to another company either. (Did that really work for baby boomers?) It obviously depends on the other circumstances of the position. Now, if you doubled my pay... (And who's to say that top performers did not immediately turn around to their own management and use the new offer as leverage for their current position?)

This also brings to mind the really interesting survey that See Arr Oh posted; he also compiled all the different motivating factors into a nice list -- I'll quote the top 5 below:
1. Meaningfulness of work (28%)
2. Good coworkers (14%)
3. Commute/location (13%)
4. Salary (11%)
5. Stability (9%)
I agree with this list, and it doesn't surprise me at all. It matches nicely with the theory of Dan Pink's "Drive" (reviewed in a great post by Lisa Balbes at ACS Careers Blog) that people are motivated best by autonomy, mastery and purpose.

There are a couple of things I wanted to mention from See Arr Oh's survey. First, he asked for "top two workplace criteria", which 42 different people happily listed in the comments. I suspect that a more directly-on-point question may have been "Currently employed industrial chemists, what improved conditions would get (or have gotten) you to leave your current position for a new employer?" In those cases, I suspect that "meaningfulness of work" may have fallen and "commute/location", "salary" and "stability" may have risen.

Also, I wonder if there is a stated preference/revealed preference problem. ("Stated preference" refers to what people say, whereas "revealed preference" refers to what people actually do.*) Perhaps I am transferring my own internal struggles, but I wonder if relatively young chemists have had the same difficulties as I in aligning their ideals (loyalty and perseverance, for example) with the choices laid before them? Do people have as much ambivalence as I do about expressing how important their income level might be to them?  Either way, there is nothing quite as revealing about oneself as the choice between "Do I stay with my current job?" or "Leave for greener pastures."

*Here's a nice example where people say they want to help the environment by purchasing "greener" products (stated preference), but when they're charged more for them, no sale! (revealed preference)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Part 3 of dialogue between Chemjobber and Andre the Chemist

This is part 3 of a four-part conversation between Andre the Chemist and CJ on the geography of chemistry jobs and advice for young chemists. Yesterday was part 1 and part 2; today is part 3. Part 4 will be hosted by Andre tomorrow. 

Dear Andre:

Thanks for a great response yesterday. To answer your last question first, I don't have the problems with Detroit (and the Great Lakes State) that you do. (One suspects that from late August until early January, you refer to Michigan as 'that state up North.') I did, however, root against the Bad Boys of Detroit when I was a kid with all my heart. Bill Laimbeer, I still hate you.

I think you've hit on a major issue with the chemblogo/Twittersphere, which is that it is indeed heavily populated by current and former organic/pharmaceutical/medicinal chemists. Would that it was different! I would love to hear different perspectives on the employment market from other core fields of chemistry (yet another thing the ACS Salary Survey has not really tackled -- I am sure that they would, if they had the resources.) For what it's worth, there are a lot of organic and medicinal chemists in the American Chemical Society, compared to the other fields.

While I agree with you that the geographical centers of the pharma world (the Bay Area, San Diego, Boston, RTP and New Jersey) are not quite the list of states that you mentioned (Texas, California, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Michigan, Oklahoma, Wisconsin), but there is some overlap between the two. A funny question: are we ascribing too much to a state, as opposed to a city here? It would be very interesting to me to know if Wisconsin's private chemistry employment could be found outside of Milwaukee, or if Minnesota's private chemistry employment could be found much outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul (Rochester?).*

Second, I think that there are some patterns that are emerging in these states, because it seems to me that there are some distinct fields there. Let me take a stab at defining them:
  • Life sciences: Bay Area, San Diego, Boston, RTP, New Jersey/Philadelphia
  • Classic chemical manufacturing: New Jersey/Philadelphia, Delaware, Minnesota, Michigan (basically Midland and southwestern MI?), Wisconsin
  • Oil/gas: Texas, New Jersey, Oklahoma
[Readers, I am sure that I am wrong. Please correct my definitions in the comments.]

We could have a really interesting discussion about which of the above geographical areas that you and I would rather live in. I confess that I am not excited about moving to either Texas or Oklahoma, even though I suspect that I am more amenable than your median American chemist. (Main problem for me: our respective families are on the coasts. Yes, I know that plane tickets are relatively inexpensive and affordable. But committing basically $2000/year (family of 4) in flights/rentals and 1 week of vacation time is a real cost.)) But yes, their cost of living is remarkably low, including housing.

I agree with your recommendation of Texas as a state that young chemists should look at more closely. As Rick Perry was fond of reminding us in 2012, Texas managed to survive the Great Recession and come out more or less OK. I know of a number of my former colleagues who are living in the Houston area, working in chemistry, and seem to be doing just fine from a professional perspective. Also, it seems to me that that the Texas state government is trying hard to move into the life sciences, so that is something that young chemists could keep an eye on.

Idealism, etc.: I am terribly amused that you find "think deeply about what is truly important" as an idealistic statement -- it's not meant to be. What I mean by it is, I think an undergrad/grad student/postdoc should think seriously about how much they care about money. I know that we're all supposed to love, love, love chemistry and be willing to do what we love for $55,000 a year (or pick some other low-ish number.) But I think that some people value freedom and a relaxed schedule much more than a top 10% salary -- and students should think seriously about whether or not earning a relatively low salary rankles them. If it does, they should know that -- and do something about it.

International jobs**: I think international jobs are a very interesting problem. Outside of specific fields (flow chemistry, etc.), is there expertise, training and/or valuable job experience to be found overseas that cannot be found in the United States? Yes, there are lots of stories of US pharma chemists going to Shanghai to take their old job, but those positions don't really seem to be open to younger chemists. I am sure that such fields exist, and that there are specific scientific skills to be gained overseas that cannot be found in the United States -- I would love to know what they are.

I guess my concern boils down to this: can chemists work overseas and then come back and find work in the United States? (Let's leave aside academic training and/or multinational companies and secondments for now.) Outside of the oil/gas industries (a field that will allow a chemist to travel the world!), I am not completely sure that there is a clear path back to the bench. If so, I'd love to hear about it.

[Obviously, if you ultimately want to be a business-type, living/working overseas and getting the language skills would be fantastic.]

What would I have done different?: I am not really sure I have an answer to that question. For the most part, I think I have a career that I desire, I just wish that it hadn't taken as long as it had, or cost as much in terms of moving (3 moves in 4 years) or relatively slow salary growth. If there is one thing I would have done differently, I think I would have hewed much closer to your advice of not treating graduate school like school initially, and much more like a job. Perhaps my imagination is just limited that way.

I have more to say, but not much more time to write, unfortunately. Here are some questions for you:
  • How the hell is a relatively young student supposed to know what interests them, and where they might go if they have multiple interests? 
  • How much money/time have you personally spent on moves, after you graduated from college? 
  • Of the 3 fields I've identified (life sciences, chemicals/polymers manufacturing, oil/gas), which fields do you think offer the most promise? Which one of those would you have chosen? 
  • Do you root against the Red Wings, or just the Victors? 
I'd love to hear what you have to say. Cheers, Chemjobber

*First person to find me a chemistry job in the Boundary Waters might get a $25 gift card from me. 
** Slightly altered from original version to clarify meaning (4:37 Eastern.) 

Part 3 of Andre and CJ up later today

In the meantime, check out this very interesting comment from Dr. Mindbender, who has worked in biotech/pharma:
...As a BS scientist I was never once offered relocation money and moved on my own dollar when it was necessary. I was fortunate to have friends in hub areas that were able to let me stay with them until I could land a job and repay them for their kindness. I wasn't struggling for money while I was working, but I was living in hub cities and wasn't able to save a whole lot. When the layoffs came, my savings depleted quickly. That made moving with my own money rather onerous. Again, this was only possible because I had friends in areas where jobs were. I don't think it's responsible to advise people at this stage to just jump into a totally new scene for the adventure. Being young doesn't mean you can afford to be reckless just because you have more years to bounce back from it. Every person has their own preference, so the big city/small city is really a personality dependent variable. But smart planning is absolutely essential for people at that level. All of this ignores the fact that most companies won't even consider non-local candidates for BS positions due to the huge talent pool to draw from. Even during the "golden years" this was true. 
As a PhD scientist, you MUST be flexible or be prepared to work non-ideal jobs. It's frowned upon in American universities to "inbreed," which indicates that there's an expectation that you'll be moving around to different places quite a bit. Don't want to move away from your hometown for work? Fine. Don't bitch about how you have to bust your ass adjuncting with no benefits to pay the bills. Like having an affordable apartment to yourself? Great. Don't complain about all the good jobs being in expensive locales that you don't want to live in. It's true that being a scientist nowadays requires an ability to be nomadic. I'll mention that I've moved a lot and have never gotten very generous relocation packages. Unlike BS level positions, most of the best jobs are concentrated into very specific geographical areas and it can be difficult to break into them. Living in one of the hubs doesn't guarantee that you'll be immune from struggles either. But if you're flexible, then it'll make finding a job a lot easier for you. If you can keep a good attitude about it, then you're in good shape and you'll probably find your experience rewarding.
 More by 4 pm Eastern. 

Job posting: surface scientist, W.R. Grace, Columbia, MD

Via an e-mail from an astute reader:
Opportunity to join W.R. Grace's Analytical Center of Excellence in our Surface Science and Microscopy and Spectroscopy characterization group.  This position will partner with a variety of areas globally in support of chemical and materials characterization requirements associated with research and development, manufacturing, and sales and marketing organizations.  
The successful candidate will have a solid knowledge of surface science and other relevant material characterization techniques and be able to develop and document new measurement methodology.  The candidate will handle multiple tasks with a high degree of accuracy in a fast-pace analytical chemistry laboratory.  Position will supervisor two or more professionals.  Hands on experience with ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) microscopy instrumentation (SEM, FESEM, EPMA, XPS and/or TEM) as well as experience working with infrared (FTIR), UV/Vis, light microscopes, sample preparation methodology and sample preparation equipment.
There's more at the link. Looks like a M.S./Ph.D. (0-5 years for the Ph.D.!) position. Best wishes to those applying! 

Daily Pump Trap: 6/20/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 18 and June 19, there were 25 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 17 (68%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Princeton, NJ: Betapharma looks to be a medicinal chemistry startup? Anyway, they're looking for someone who appears to be at the director level or higher. "Recognized medicinal chemistry expert with drug discovery experience."

Austin, TX: Sapling Learning (the online teaching folks) are looking for more chemistry content developers; they're either growing like weeds or have very high turnover.

Greater Sacramento Area: Ampac Fine Chemicals is looking for both a continuous chemistry expert (it's pretty cool to see this be posted) and a senior process chemist position. I suspect that both of these are more based on experience than degree level.

Starkville, MS: Anyone want to be the Mississippi state chemist? You need a Ph.D., and to be willing to work for a maximum of $90,000. (Uh, what? That seems to be a touch low.) 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Where should a young chemist hope to start their career? (Part 1 of dialogue with Andre the Chemist)

The rest of this week, Andre the Chemist and I will be talking about career advice for (relatively) young chemistry professionals. Today, I'm writing about job geography and Andre is responding at his blog. -- CJ

UPDATE: Andre has responded at his blog. (Truly hilarious and thoughtful.)

Dear Andre:

Hope that you are enjoying your summer -- and that you're getting a good workout on the minor league wrestling circuit (isn't that what unusually large academic chemists do when they're not doing research or writing lecture notes?) 

Anyway, thanks for doing this dialogue with me. I'm excited to find and discuss our differences (if we have any) on what we think relatively young chemists should be doing to further their careers. I wanted to talk about geography -- and I think you wanted to talk about when chemists should specialize? Either way, I'm excited to hear what you have to say. 

I know it's been a month, but I wanted to pick some nits about some advice you gave recently to graduates (B.S. and further): 
...Go anywhere for a job. 
This is a big country. There are lots of places. Lots of these places have jobs. Some of these jobs are interesting. 
When I talk with students about jobs, I always ask if there are any locations in particular they are focusing on. Most students say they are looking at a combination of area X (which is close to where they attended school), area Y (which is close to where they grew up), and/or big city Z (which is any big city where it's fun to be a twenty-something)... (snip) 
...If you find a job in Idaho or Oklahoma or West Virginia or Arkansas or New Mexico or Michigan, try it out. You'll still get to see your friends and family. As a college graduate who's employed you'll make enough money to go on trips. You can fly anywhere in the country in a day and you can drive a lot of places. 
If you move someplace and don't like your job or where you live, you know what? Move someplace else. At least you'll be making money and getting job experience. And I haven't even talked about working in another country.
I agree that students tend to fall into the X, Y, Z category, and that they can be relatively unwilling to consider other areas. Personally, I am nearly indifferent to where I live, just as long as I can make the rent and my wife can find a job as well.* But I think that students are making a certain amount of sense:

1) The ties of family and friends count for a lot, in terms of happiness. Community takes time (and money!)  to build and it makes sense for students to attempt to preserve some social capital by either staying where they are, or going back to where they have been. While community can be developed and friends can be had by moving someplace and meeting people (I can say this, having done it a number of times), I suspect that people (and society in general) are getting worse, not better, at joining communities or integrating newcomers into communities. 

2) Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems like we're at a moment in our society where broad prosperity doesn't seem to be spreading across the country. Rather, there are pockets where things are going quite well (Silicon Valley, I'm looking at you) and there are places that seem less prosperous (St. Louis? Baltimore? I don't really want to single a city out.) While I don't doubt that your students' perspectives are skewed by television and that they're not consulting the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the latest on unemployment, do you think that some cities might be better for chemists (Boston, definitely) and some might be worse? 

I am loathe to give people firm advice on how to prioritize choices for a career**, and I suspect that what you are saying is "don't count any place out!" and I agree, for the most part. But I wonder if we can, through our discussion, come up with a means of determining what might be a good set of priorities that aren't 1) close to home/family or 2) in big city Z. If you put a gun to my head, here's my list:

1. Choose places where there are lots of people older/more experienced than you that you can learn from, than not. 
2. Choose bigger institutions over smaller ones. 
3. Choose bigger cities over smaller cities. 
4. Choose more densely populated regions over less densely populated ones. 

I confess I'm trolling a bit here, but I suspect that a successful career will have more in common with this list than not. 

What is it like for academics? Does the bright lights of the big city shine for you guys? What place would you never, ever, not-in-a-million years live? Can't wait to hear about it. 

Cheers, Chemjobber

*It would take a lot for me to live somewhere where it is consistently humid. 
**People who write to me for advice are probably frustrated by me saying "First, go think deeply about what is truly important to you." 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Job posting: postdocs for the Australian Synchotron

From the inbox:
Job Description: The Australian Synchrotron is seeking highly motivated research scientists driven by the opportunity to engage and collaborate with industry to deliver scientific outcomes in the role of Industry Support Scientists. 
Industry Support Scientists will play a key role in the development of partnerships and support of commercial and non-commercial users in experiment design and the effective application of the Australian Synchrotron beamline facilities. In addition, the roles will provide post-experiment support to users including the analysis of data and the writing of commercial reports. 
There exist 3 vacancies for Industry Support Scientists in the following key areas: 
Industry Support Scientist - Spectroscopy: Infra-red spectroscopy/microscopy experimentation and analysis. X-ray fluorescence, XANES and EXAFS experimentation and analysis

Industry Support Scientist - Biological Diffraction: Protein crystallography, experimentation and analysis. Small Angle X-ray Scattering from macromolecules, experimentation and analysis

Industry Support Scientist - Materials Diffraction and Scattering: Powder diffraction experimentation with whole pattern fitting (Rietveld) analysis for quantitative analysis and/or structure solution. Single crystal diffraction experimentation and analysis for small molecule structure determination. Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) from solutions or solids, experimentation and analysis. 
 Best wishes -- click here to apply. (Nice salary! starting at $75k US.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 6/18/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 13 and June 17, 56 new positions were posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 8 (14%) are academically connected and 39 (70%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Amgen is searching for a B.S./M.S. associate to work on the molecular modeling team:
Amgen is seeking a highly qualified individual to provide scientific computing and decision support in the area of chemical and biological informatics. As a member of the molecular modeling team, the individual will have responsibilities in the following areas: 1) scientific computing, including implementing and developing cutting edge scientific advances; 2) scientific data analysis and decision support, including applying scientific computing techniques to maintain the existing infrastructures as well as develop new capabilities.
3-5 years "scientific experience" desired.

Hoboken, NJ: Wiley is searching for a sales associate for their chemistry databases. Wiley has chemistry databases?

Tulsa, OK: A staffing agency is looking for a high school diploma holder or B.S. chemist to be a lab tech for an olefin polymerization lab. In the right circumstances, this would be a great position to get some oil/gas/polymer experience -- hopefully for a little more than $16-$18/hour, though. (Unknown how good that is in Tulsa.)

Emeryville, CA: Sandia National Laboratories desires a Ph.D. computational biologist/chemist for a postdoctoral position to work on biomass research. Bet they pay well (I hope.)

Who are you?: Can anyone tell me who this "sales technical consultant" position is with? (NY/NJ area)

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/18/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 11 and June 17, there were 10 academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 10
- Postdocs: 0
- Tenure-track faculty:  4
- Temporary faculty: 2
- Lecturer positions:  3
- Staff positions:  1
- US/non-US: 7/3

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University is searching for a Ph.D. NMR spectroscopist to run their walkup NMR facility.

Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University is looking for a general/organic chemistry laboratory coordinator. Ph.D. desired.

Quebec City, Quebec: Université Laval is searching for an organic/bioorganic assistant professor. Quebec City is pretty lovely, really.

Okanagan, British Columbia: The University of British Columbia - Okanagan campus is looking for a head of chemistry, looks like. It's like Canadian week!

Austin, TX: St. Edward's University is hiring a visiting assistant professor of chemistry. Organic Ph.D. desired, will consider physical/analytical chemists.

Hmmm: I think Queen's University - Belfast is having problems with the C&EN Jobs software, having posted their position for Ph.D. studentships 3 times. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Will shale gas create #chemjobs, or just engineering/construction jobs?

Also in this week's C&EN, an interesting set of comments reported by Michael McCoy from the annual meeting of the American Chemistry Council (the chemical industry's trade group) (emphasis mine):
Through the end of March, nearly 100 chemical investment projects that capitalize on shale gas had been announced, the report found. Valued at $71.7 billion, the new plants are expected to generate $66.8 billion in annual chemical output and create some 500,000 jobs in chemical plants and surrounding communities by 2020. 
“There’s been a dramatic change in the past five years,” Calvin M. Dooley, ACC’s chief executive officer, told reporters during a press conference at the event. 
Dooley was particularly proud that more than half of the announced spending is from companies based outside the U.S. In the decade prior to 2010, he said, investment left the U.S. at a prodigious rate, causing a 20–25% decline in the chemical industry’s employee ranks. 
Yet ACC’s top officers acknowledged that the full impact of shale gas is yet to be seen and that it can’t offset the effects of a weak overall U.S. economy, stagnation in Europe, or even production woes. On the first day of the meeting, ACC released statistics showing that U.S. chemical production this year through April is up only 0.6%.
 This comment about manpower was especially interesting:
And the blossoming of multiple new plants after many fallow years will strain the engineering and construction industries, executives acknowledged. As it is, companies that scheduled plant maintenance in the spring had trouble finding qualified welders and pipe fitters, Gallogly said, and the problem will only worsen when big ethylene facilities start getting built. 
“There should be significant manpower shortages,” he said. The ethylene crackers that have been announced won’t all be built, Gallogly predicted, and some of those that are built will be delayed for reasons of manpower and permitting.
It seems like there are always shortages of experienced welders.

One hopes that, after a while, there will be a boom in the hiring of research chemists in the chemical and polymer industries to take advantage of relatively inexpensive and plentiful natural gas. We've really yet to see evidence of that, though, just a lot of promised jobs. (FWIW, I think there will be.) 

This week's C&EN

Some interesting articles in this week's C&EN:

Friday, June 14, 2013

I can't compete with this

From the comments at In the Pipeline in reaction to the management moves at Merck, someone who is much, much better at The Onion-style satire than I am:
NEW YORK, N.Y. ( - Merck will reduce its workforce by an unprecedented 120 percent by the end of 2013, believed to be the first time a major corporation has laid off more employees than it actually has. Merck stock soared more than 12 points on the news.
The reduction decision, announced Wednesday, came after a year-long internal review of cost-cutting procedures. The initial report concluded the company would save $1.2 billion by eliminating 20 percent of its 85,000 employees. 
From there, said a spokesperson, "it didn't take a genius to figure out that if we cut 40 percent of our workforce, we'd save $2.4 billion, and if we cut 100 percent of our workforce, we'd save $6 billion. But then we thought, why stop there? Let's cut another 20 percent and save $7 billion.
Believe it or not, it gets better. Go have a read. Have a great weekend (and yes, more comments on Sturgeon coming.) 

Busy day today

Posts later in the day, I hope.

In the meantime, head over to Just Like Cooking, where See Arr Oh is following up on Sturgeon's piece from yesterday and asking: "What are your top two workplace criteria?" 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Does your company *really* care about hiring?

Via John Spevacek, an interesting set of comments from Plastics News about why some fields (plastics, in particular) seem to be having difficulty finding 'top performers'*:
First, hiring someone really isn't that important to most companies. If it were, you would have a written plan for how and where you are going to find the candidates you want to attract, a schedule for when you are going to have interviews, who will be involved in each interview with their availability confirmed, and the agenda for the interview. This would include the final decision makers. You won't do this — most don't. But if it were important you would. 
Realizing that the top performers are interviewing you at least as much as you are interviewing them, the plan would include your presentation on where the company is headed, exciting new initiatives and a capture strategy for making an offer that will be accepted. The plan would include every detail from where the candidate will stay if out of town, transportation, and where you will take them to dinner (Oh no, you don't take them to dinner?).
In my limited experience, I suspect that this level of planning (i.e. deep thinking about if/whether/who/how we are going to hire) doesn't happen as much as it should. Part of that is that most everyone thinks they're going to be a good judge of character and they know already "what the company needs" -- so why think about it?

The article also makes a set of interesting points about Generation X and Y and what they're looking for:
Fourth, and this is especially true with the Generation X and Y candidates, they don't trust your company. Unlike the baby boomers, who grew up with a certain level of trust in institutions like the government, big corporations, schools, and organized religion, Gen X and Gen Y don't see a reason to trust anyone. There is a 50-50 chance that their parents are divorced, they probably have a parent who has been 'downsized' or 're-engineered' out of a good job, they've seen wars they don't understand, and they've lost all faith in government (Congress' approval rating is around 16 percent as I'm writing this). 
I grew up in Cincinnati, and if you could "get on" at GE, or P&G or Milacron (it was Cincinnati Milacron back then), you were set for life. We baby boomers miss those days, but understand they are gone. The Gen X and Gen Yers grew up with that reality, so even if you are a company with what you believe is a prestigious pedigree, they don't trust you. They desperately want to trust someone, but understand that you will have to do something to earn that, or the top performers that we are talking about will not resign from their current company to come to yours. 
Finally, your company does not understand what the candidates want. Many studies have been done of Gen X and Y to see what is important to them. When compared side by side with what most employers think is important, the correlation is closer to the opposite than to lining up. Prestige, power, salary, and so on, the things that are important to boomers, rank near the bottom of the list for X and Y. They are looking for things like flexible hours, relationships with colleagues and interesting work.
I hate to admit it, but I resemble a lot of the above comment (with the exception of the flexible hours - that's not really my thing, even though I wouldn't mind it.)

[More on this later -- I don't think I'm done thinking about this.]

*One notes that the author appears to be a consultant on hiring executives in plastics, so maybe a little grain of salt. 

Daily Pump Trap: 6/13/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 11 and June 12, there were 24 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 5 (21%) were academically connected and 14 (58%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

It's the instrument people, really: A software position from Shimadzu, and a field sales engineer one, too.  A couple of Phenomenex product manager positions... and that's about it. Sigh.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 217, 846, 2,632 and 17 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 115 positions for the job title "chemist", with 6 for "research chemist", 1 for "organic chemist" and 8 for "analytical chemist." 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

BREAKING: On the Internet, "The Chemjobber" might be a dog. Or a duck.

Healthy skepticism about this blog, courtesy of the LinkedIn ACS discussion group (thanks to an astute reader):

I don't really have much of a problem with people being skeptical about me. That said, I am amused that there is no evidence about me. None at all, really.

[As for my credentials for analyzing the job market in chemistry? Well, I guess it has to do with it being my main hobby for the last four-and-a-half years. Look, I'm just a guy. I tell people what I can measure, I tell people what I have seen published (and where they can see it for themselves) and I listen to what people have to say. All in all, it's a pretty great hobby.] 

How awesome is it to be called "The Chemjobber"? Too awesome, really. It reminds me of concern about "The Batman."

A delicious meal with John Lechleiter

A funny story about Lilly CEO John Lechleiter relayed to me via the power of the interwebz:

During a time when Lilly was actively outsourcing chemistry positions to China and laying off chemists,  Lechleiter had a meal with a group of interns as part of the corporate program. The questions during the Q&A session were fairly mundane, e.g. "what's the best part of being CEO?" and "how do you propose getting more women on the scientific advisory board?"

A chemistry intern broke the pattern with this question: "Dr. Lechleiter, I am one of the few chemistry interns this chemical company has hired this year. I have seen a lot of chemists - including my own boss - lose their jobs as part of an outsourcing push to China. What would you, as a trained chemist like me, give to me as advice during troubling times like this?"

Sounds like Lechleiter was surprised at the question, and didn't give a very satisfactory response, including claiming that it wasn't as if one job in Indianapolis was being traded in Indianapolis for one job in China. (Naturally, another interested observer mentioned: "Of course not, one job is traded for three jobs.") Lechleiter also noted that pursuing an advanced degree was still valuable and that there always will be jobs for Ph.D. chemists.* **

*(I wonder if he had a geographical location when he said that?) 
** Someone should write a song called "There Will Always Be Jobs for Ph.D. Chemists." 

Process Wednesday: another happy customer of activated carbon

I'm on record saying that I don't love activated carbon; since I wrote that post, I still don't love activated carbon even though it can be incredibly useful. Via a recent Org. Process Res. Dev. paper [1], here's a perfectly cromulent use of it for its main purpose: decolorization:
In addition to a potential excessive level of heavy metals in 1 carried over from the Negishi reaction, the kilo-lab runs were faced with some residual yellow-to-brown discoloration carried over from the Friedel−Crafts acylation step. To address the color issue the workup procedure after the final coupling reaction was modified to include treatment with active carbon.  
Thus, the solid material obtained after precipitation of the product with ethanol was redissolved in DCM and treated with Darco KB at 35 °C. After filtration through a Celite bed, the DCM solution was washed with 5% aqueous ammonium chloride to remove residual DMF. 
The supporting information has more details, including the dissolution of the crude material in 80 liters of dichloromethane and the addition of 2.3 kilograms of Darco KB, stirring for an hour at 30°C (is that all it took?), followed by filtration through a bed of Celite. Man, that must have been a mess... Glad it worked for the authors!

[Incidentally, this article is an interesting example of the non-profit pharma model at work, in that it is a BMS compound, licensed to an organization (the International Partnership for Microbicides) for use in the developing countries.]

1. Pikul, S.*; Cheng, H.; Cheng, A.; Huang, C.D.; Ke, A.; Kuo, L.; Thompson, A.; Wilder, S. "Synthetic Process Development of BMS-599793 Including Azaindole Negishi Coupling on Kilogram Scale." Org. Process Res. Dev. ASAP,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ph.D. chemist tries to find job by offering 10% of first year's salary as finder's fee

I promise I did not make this up. Found on the Chemistry Reddit (emphasis mine):
My wife has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry (Qualifications below), an exemplary track record during her post doc, and is driven, smart, capable, and a quick study. She finished her post doc last year in August and has been frantically seeking employment since. Eight months, and 46 applications in to her search, she has still not had a single interview, and has been repeatedly hammered with rejections from HR and applicant tracking systems this is including several reworkings of her C.V. to help her past the ATS filters. As you can imagine, she's frustrated, and at the end of her rope. I'm not as educated as she is, and have never had to apply for a Doctorate level industry position, so I can't render her any advice. Lately, my upbeat attitude, and my smiling support are falling on deaf ears as she is starting to sink in to a "No one will even interview me" funk. We need help, and no one we know has a single bit of advice that isn't a link to job boards, anecdotal advice like "More networking equals more job opportunities", etc... 
So, here is the deal. 
You, the job locator, will be responsible for connecting my wife with a viable local (Boulder-Denver corridor) company who is looking for someone with her expertise, or is interested in training a brilliant scientist in the particulars of the new job. Once the connection has been arranged, the interview process completed, a reasonable offer of employment extended, my wife has accepted the position, and her probationary period at said job is complete, we will pay you 10% of her first years earnings. This percentage is not to exceed $8000 dollars regardless of the salary in question. This payment will be distributed in two amounts. The first amount equaling half of the promised payment will be delivered to you by personal check after her probationary period is at a close, and a satisfactory performance review is rendered by her managing supervisor. The second half will come by personal check at the six month mark of employment after a second satisfactory performance review. 
These two conditions for payment are binding and final as we are wary of employment scams and are not interested in falling prey to con artists.
So that's an innovative way of dealing with chemical unemployment. Best wishes to her.  

That's not who I would have picked

Are you a chemist over 50 attending ACS Indianapolis this fall? Well, there's no one that you'd rather hear from, I'm sure, than this fellow (via the National Meeting e-newsletter*):

Perhaps someone in the audience could ask about Lilly's outsourcing pushes or perhaps how Dr. Lechleiter thinks older chemists should handle issues of age discrimination.

[In all fairness to the organizers, you get the biggest name you can get -- I understand that. The CEO of the largest local employer of chemists would be a good get.]

*Something tells me attendance at ACS Indy will not be high. Why the once-a-week spam newsletter?

Daily Pump Trap: 6/11/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 6 and June 10, there were 54 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 4 (7%) were academically connected and 36 (67%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Racine, WI: S.C. Johnson is looking to hire an experienced Ph.D. physical organic chemist for a senior chemist role; looks like product development.

Davis, CA: Arcadia Biosciences is looking to hire an experienced bench biochemist, looks like. Sure wish they would pay a little more than $54-58k, though.

Groton, CT: This is an interesting position, from my perspective. It's for a senior process engineer for Pfizer. Looks to be oriented towards API manufacture. (I'll bet they're paid a little more than $54k.)

Philadelphia, PA: The Philadelphia Museum of Art is looking to hire a Ph.D. analytical chemist to analyze art works:  "Graduate degree in chemistry, material science or like w/ expertise in FTIR, GCMS, Py-GCMS, Raman, XRF, SEM-EDS, and/or XRD required."

Little lost lamb: Because the American Chemical Society is where you would go to hire a senior X-ray physicist.

Ivory Filter Flask: 6/11/13 edition

Good morning! Between June 4 and June 10, there were 11 academically connected positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 11
- Postdocs: 1
- Tenure-track faculty:  2
- Temporary faculty: 4
- Lecturer positions:  2
- Staff positions:  2
- US/non-US: 9/2

Philadelphia, PA: The University of the Sciences is looking for a visiting assistant professor of biochemistry. 

Portales, NM: Eastern New Mexico University is looking for a B.S./M.S. technician to look into algal biomass -- could be interesting.

Towson, MD: Towson University desires a lecturer in organic chemistry.

Pikeville, KY: The University of Pikeville is looking for an instructor of analytical chemistry. (You'll be teaching south of Coal Run Village, KY apparently.)

South Korea: The National Center of Evolutionary Nanoparticles in South Korea is looking for a research professor or postdoctoral fellow. Gotta love how they're seemingly interchangeable. (What is an evolutionary nanoparticle, anyway?)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Your day's dose of cheer

Courtesy of Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett (two economists that are not exactly on the same side of the ideological spectrum) in the New York Times last month:
While older workers are less likely to be laid off than younger workers, they are about half as likely to be rehired. One result is that older workers have seen the largest proportionate increase in unemployment in this downturn. The number of unemployed people between ages 50 and 65 has more than doubled. 
The prospects for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed. A worker between ages 50 and 61 who has been unemployed for 17 months has only about a 9 percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. A worker who is 62 or older and in the same situation has only about a 6 percent chance. As unemployment increases in duration, these slim chances drop steadily. 
The result is nothing short of a national emergency. Millions of workers have been disconnected from the work force, and possibly even from society. If they are not reconnected, the costs to them and to society will be grim. 
Unemployment is almost always a traumatic event, especially for older workers. A paper by the economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimates a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed. This higher mortality rate implies that a male worker displaced in midcareer can expect to live about one and a half years less than a worker who keeps his job. 
There are various reasons for this rise in mortality. One is suicide. A recent study found that a 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate (say from 8 to 8.8 percent) would increase the suicide rate for males by 1.47 percent. This is not a small effect. Assuming a link of that scale, the increase in unemployment would lead to an additional 128 suicides per month in the United States. The picture for the long-term unemployed is especially disturbing. The duration of unemployment is the dominant force in the relationship between joblessness and the risk of suicide.
It seems to me that this would be something that the ACS' Senior Chemists Committee would be interested in talking about.

Best wishes to the long-term unemployed, and all of us. 

The sea turtles of Chinese chemistry academia

In this week's C&EN, a fascinating article on the returnees to Chinese chemical academia by Shawna Williams:
When Kuiling Ding joined the faculty of China’s Zhengzhou University as an assistant professor in 1990, he signed a five-year contract and in exchange received 5,000 yuan—about $1,350 according to the exchange rate of the time—in housing assistance. “At that time 5,000 yuan was still a big number,” he says—at least compared with his salary, which was less than 1,000 yuan per month. 
Now director of the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC), Ding is able to offer new assistant professors a starting salary of around 300,000 yuan ($49,000) per year, lab space in a gleaming new building, and housing assistance to cope with Shanghai’s sky-high real estate prices. Nearly all of SIOC’s new faculty are eligible for a special government program to recruit researchers with international experience, meaning that they can also receive about $1 million in start-up funds. 
In fact, 50 of SIOC’s 54 research professors have postdoctoral experience from an institution overseas, and some also earned their Ph.D.s abroad. “Over 10 years ago, most excellent researchers stayed abroad because the differences in the living standards, the research facilities, and the funding support between China and developed countries were too big at that time,” Ding says. “But now the gap is getting smaller and smaller.”
It’s a refrain echoed by nearly everyone familiar with chemistry in China: Science funding in the country is booming, and the quality and quantity of research produced are greater than ever. Talented Chinese chemists trained abroad are taking notice, and many are heading back to their native country for jobs. At the same time, Chinese chemists on both sides of the Pacific say that if their country is to attract its best researchers to come back home, it will need to make changes that go beyond what money can buy. 
The article is worth reading, if only to hear about what is stopping Chinese graduate students and postdocs from returning to China. Here's one excerpt that I did not expect:
SIOC’s Ding says that one challenge he faces in recruiting is that many potential faculty members are parents, and they don’t want to put their children in Chinese schools, where competition and pressure are notoriously high.
(I wonder if it is the fate of parents around the world that they do not wish to put their kids through the same path of schooling, even though it got them where they are?) Also, an interesting comment on Chinese academic funding and the it's-who-you-know-not-what-you-propose aspects:
Huang also believes that his successful funding proposal to the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) was evaluated on its merit. He says he bases that statement on his experience as a reviewer for NSFC and on the foundation’s reputation among his colleagues. Shi and Rao also credit NSFC with fair evaluation of proposals but say its grants are not as large as those given by other funding bodies that do weight decisions heavily on connections. 
Huang is one of 16 SIOC chemistry professors who earned their Ph.D. and did a postdoc abroad, compared with 34 who earned a doctorate in China but did a postdoc abroad, and four who did neither, says Ding. 
Researchers such as Huang are much less likely to return than are those who earned a Ph.D. in China, mostly because of the longer time spent away, according to David Zweig, a social scientist at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology who studies returnees to mainland China. “Unless they’ve gone back on a regular basis and built up a really close relationship with someone back in China who can help them get a job, they’ll have a hard time getting a job, grants, and tenure,” he says.
I know that most American academics are more than aware of the connections/relationships aspects of U.S. academia -- that said, I believe that most folks would agree that the U.S. system is more merit-based than not. (Perhaps the difference is that there are too many academic family trees and factions for any one set of relationships to dominate?) I would love to know the qualitative/quantitative differences between the U.S. and Chinese funding systems, who wins and who loses...

C&EN readers are worrying about #chemjobs

Seems like chemical employment-related letters are showing up more and more in the pages of C&EN -- here's the latest batch in this week's C&EN:
Wm. Charles Jamison’s letter was spot-on (C&EN, April 15, page 2). The top priority for the American Chemical Society should be to improve the job market and benefits for U.S. chemists and biochemists at all levels. We are going through a painful period in which too many chemists are unemployed, unemployable because of their age, or just underemployed. 
It makes no sense to make it a priority to bring in foreign chemists given these problems. I encourage ACS to lobby hard to maximize job opportunities for U.S. chemists and to defend their benefits from further erosion. In some cases, retraining to fit certain job opportunities may be required, but this should nonetheless take priority over bringing in foreign chemists. 
In the past, ACS has not given high enough priority to improving the job market for those who choose a career in chemistry in the U.S. I hope the society will adjust its priorities. 
Michael G. Henk
Jamison’s letter was refreshing. I loved his statement: “If ACS really exists to serve its membership—rather than large institutions such as major universities and multinational companies that principally want a bottomless pit of cheap labor—it is time to consult with other scientific societies and learn their views on the current employment outlook.” Amen, Mr. Jamison! 
John Connolly
Nashua, N.H.
I agree with Mr./Dr.(?) Henk that employment for ACS members should be the number 1 issue for the society. I suspect, from a dollars-and-cents perspective, that it is not.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Product review: ChemDraw for iPad

A hydrogen sulfide probe, (randomly selected from my pile
o'magazines.) Took me a bit to draw this.**
I was happy to get an opportunity to review ChemDraw for the iPad, since ChemDraw is the gold standard for chemical drawing applications. I suspect that 10% of my time in graduate school was spent, hunched over at my desk, carefully (or not so carefully) transcribing structures from papers or my notebook.*

Using the free code provided to me, I downloaded a copy from the App Store and set to work fiddling with it; it's fairly intuitive and really doesn't take much to get started drawing structures. Even though there isn't (yet) the ability to use the ACS stylesheet, the structures still look pretty nice. (Thankfully, the atom labels are not in Times New Roman.) It's really nice to have a "clean" function (the broom icon).

As Andre the Chemist has mentioned, there is no text box, so it is difficult for the organic chemist to type in reagents above the arrow. Also, there are not a number of desirable R groups available to label molecules, including N3 for the molecule in the image above or "OR" for etheric R groups. (I assume that all these functions are coming in future releases.)

I was also surprised at the relative inability to communicate one's ChemDraw for iPad structures to the rest of the world. You can't save your structures as an JPEG image, nor can you Tweet them.*** You can use Perkin-Elmer's "Flick to Share" network, but it seems odd to create pretty much an entirely new social network (with its own login/password combo) to e-mail around ChemDraw files. You can definitely e-mail the ChemDraw files to yourself, which I suspect is the main way that people will transfer them.

At the moment, this application seems to be a work-in-progress; as I have said, the desktop ChemDraw is such a mainstay of chemists that it seems obvious that this app will improve over time, and the apparent imbalance between the desktop program and the app will disappear. It will definitely be well-used, I suspect, by chemists who want to draw simple structures on the go, so that they can fill in detail work later. For now, I think that it serves as a good, basic tool to communicate structures with your iPad.

Note: Other than a free download code****, Chemjobber has received and will receive no financial incentive for writing this review.

* If I had a nickel for every time I heard, "ChemDraw is of the devil!" 
** 7 minutes, to be exact. 3:30 on my desktop ChemDoodle.
*** You can screenshot your files, which is what I did above. Also, the number of folks who Tweet structures into the wild is probably quite small.

**** The app costs $9.99. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Quote of the day: Rio Bravo

"Every man should have a little taste of power before he's through." - Nathan Burdette, Rio Bravo

Amos Smith speaks on data integrity

So this editorial in Organic Letters is both reassuring and more than a little frightening:
I write to alert the organic chemistry community to a serious problem related to the integrity of data being submitted for review and publication by Organic Letters and to outline steps that the Journal is taking to address this concern. Recently, with the addition of a Data Analyst to our staff, Organic Letters has begun checking the submitted Supporting Information more closely. As a result of this increased scrutiny, we have discovered several instances where reported spectra had been edited to remove evidence of impurities. 
Such acts of data manipulation are unacceptable. Even if the experimental yields and conclusions of a study are not affected, ANY manipulation of research data casts doubts on the overall integrity and validity of the work reported. [snip] 
...The Associate Editors and I give notice to the community that Organic Letters will enforce these guidelines and will assess significant penalties for infractions that entail data manipulation. 
In some of the cases that we have investigated further, the Corresponding Author asserted that a student had edited the spectra without the Corresponding Author’s knowledge. This is not an acceptable excuse! The Corresponding Author (who is typically also the research supervisor of the work performed) is ultimately responsible for warranting the integrity of the content of the submitted manuscript. [snip] 
The responsibility to foster a research environment where all involved can confidently present their results, even if they are not optimal, resides with each research supervisor and Corresponding Author.At times, the inherent power of a research advisor’s position can create an atmosphere that leads some to embellish results. In this vein, I echo the recommendation of the IAP-IAC Committee on Research Integrity (Responsible Conduct in the Global Research Enterprise: A Policy Report, InterAcademy Council / IAP, 2012): “Research institutions need to establish clear, well communicated rules that define irresponsible conduct and ensure that all researchers, research staff, and students are carefully trained in the application of these rules of research. Research institutions also need to create an environment that fosters research integrity through education, training, and mentoring and by embracing incentives that deter irresponsible actions.” (boldface added for emphasis).
He goes on to conclude that this is a small percentage of submissions, etc., etc. I believe that this is a big deal, but I'll be interested to see what sanctions (if/when) will be imposed... 

Job posting: project manager, Grafton, WI

From the inbox:
Cedarburg Hauser has a job opening our Grafton, WI API manufacturing facility for a Project Manager. Not a lab job, but we’re definitely looking for someone with a Chemistry degree.

Summary: The Project Manager is responsible for writing client proposals, generating change orders, managing projects from receipt of purchase order to delivery of material, and interfacing with clients regarding non-technical issues at every stage in the project plan through the effective management of people and resources, following cGMP (where applicable) and Cedarburg Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Standard Operating Procedures.

Education and Experience:  BS in Chemistry or equivalent degree with relevant pharmaceutical experience.
See here for more details. Best wishes to those interested.  

Job posting: Senior Characterization Scientist, San Francisco

The Senior Characterization Scientist we are seeking will possess a passion for providing solutions to product development challenges in support of research and commercialization of novel high-tech films and coatings. In this role, you will address tough compositional analysis and analytical testing challenges, using your expertise in analytical chemistry and materials science. Highly creative techniques will result in timely, accurate and meaningful breakthroughs and results.  
Qualifications: Bachelor’s of Science or equivalent in a scientific discipline (Analytical Chemistry or Materials Science preferred); Master’s of Science degree or PhD desired. 
Experience in providing solutions to product development challenges, through innovative analytical chemistry and materials science methods (10+ years with Master’s degree or 5+ years with PhD), including at least 3 years experience in chemical or related industry.
Best wishes to those interested -- see here for more details.