Friday, August 30, 2013

Eleven things to do before going on vacation

Nervous, nervous:
  1. Convince yourself that it's okay to apply for vacation.
  2. Try to get as much as possible done on your project. 
  3. Hide all your key glassware.
  4. Remind your bosses 3 days before that you'll be on vacation. 
  5. Clean.
  6. Work on your (electronic) lab notebook. 
  7. Booby-trap your hood to prevent five-fingered glassware washing. 
  8. Label random flasks random phrases ("big scale workup", "crummy aqueous layer")
  9. Convince yourself that it's okay to actually go on vacation. 
  10. Breathe that lab air deeply. 
  11. Walk out the door.
See you all on Tuesday. 

Pity the physicists

Via Science Careers, a rather familiar-sounding set of tales about young particle physicists and what they're doing to find a job: 
Young particle physicists face a job crunch that some older physicists have predicted for years. In 2010, researchers at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, started taking data with the world's largest atom smasher, the 27-kilometer-long Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Last year, to great fanfare, the LHC blasted into existence the long-sought Higgs boson, the last piece in physicists' theory of the known particles, the standard model. But the huge teams working on the LHC have also cranked out hundreds of Ph.D.s, and with particle physics budgets in the United States and Europe stagnating, there aren't enough academic positions to accommodate them all. 
Within the particle physics community, young researchers themselves are drawing attention to the problem. Over the past 10 months, particle physicists in the United States have conducted a planning exercise that culminated recently in a 9-day retreat at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, called "Snowmass on the Mississippi"—after the ski resort in Colorado where physicists used to gather. The grassroots Snowmass Young Physicist Movement (YPM) conducted an online poll and held more than a dozen town hall meetings to find out what graduate students, postdocs, and untenured faculty members are thinking. "For young particle physicists the issues are jobs, jobs, jobs," says Bjoern Penning, 34, a postdoc at the University of Chicago and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, and a co-convener of the Snowmass YPM. 
Young particle physicists say their older colleagues are generally supportive, but don't always fully appreciate their predicament. "I think the senior people, they actually think that if you work very hard, you'll make it, because they made it," says Marcelle Soares-Santos, 31, a postdoc at Fermilab who works on a cosmology project known as the Dark Energy Survey. But that's hardly the case, she says: "We don't control all the variables."
What I found interesting about the article was the seeming understanding amongst young physicists that they would be relatively unlikely to find a position within academic or government laboratory physics. The numerical odds are slim:
The numbers make the problem clear. In 2007, the year before CERN first powered up the LHC, the lab produced 142 master's and Ph.D. theses, according to the lab's document server. Last year it produced 327. (Fermilab chipped in 54.) The two largest particle detectors fed by the LHC, the A Toroidal LHC Apparatus (ATLAS) and the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS)—which both independently spotted the Higgs—boast teams of 3000 and 2700 physicists. By themselves, the CMS and ATLAS teams minted at least 174 Ph.D.s last year. That abundance seems unlikely to vanish anytime soon, as last year ATLAS had 1000 grad students and CMS had 900. 
In contrast, the INSPIRE Web site, a database for particle physics, currently lists 124 postdocs worldwide in experimental high-energy physics, the sort of work LHC grads have trained for.
Yikes! At least younger Ph.D. chemists have postdocs to keep a roof over their head... but is that just delaying the transition?  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Where's Carmen?, part 3

The 3rd #WheresCarmen poll for #ACSIndy is up: (requires Facebook registration to vote.) Enjoy! 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/29/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 27 and August 28, there were 64 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 3 (5%) were academically connected and 29 (45%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources. 

Monroeville, PA: PPG industries is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist -- looks to be entry-level.

Boston, MA: I find this Wolfe Laboratories position very interesting. It's titled "Postdoctoral Scientist", with the typical project-directed language. There's also a "client interaction" section, but I suspect it's boilerplate. And then there's this:
Post doctoral experience in analytical biochemistry or closely related discipline. Good understanding of excipient and ligand interaction with proteins. Evaluation of thermodynamic and kinetic models.  
At Wolfe Laboratories Inc., we pride ourselves on retaining and growing our team members, and ensuring they are developing to their full potential. This position can provide many different avenues for advancement, including: 
Training towards becoming a Project Manager
Leader of an innovative business line
Become a Lead Technical Researcher
Managing a team of Postdoctoral employees
So, is this a postdoc* (i.e. an academic-type training position), or is it a probationary entry-level position? I'd love to know that. (There's a 'more pie' joke in here, too.)

*Note they'd like you to already have had a postdoc! 

North Brunswick, NJ: Chromocell Corporation is looking for a scientific IT director and an informatician -- interesting positions. "Must be able to bridge the gap between technical IT staff and management" -- uhhhhhh.

Naperville, IL: BP Amoco would like to hire an entry-level Ph.D. analytical chemist for work on petrochemical-focused process analytical chemistry. Cool. The title is interesting: "assistant analytical chemist."

Ewing, NJ: FMC Corporation is looking for an entry-level analytical chemist (M.S., 3-5 years; Ph.D. 1+ years experience.)

Langley, VA: The Central Intelligence Agency has decided to post a Science, Technology and Weapons Analyst position on the board. I wonder how many graduate students have applied to one of these positions? (raises hand) A very interesting prequisite:
Please attach to your online application the following items: 
A cover letter.
A 5-8 page analytical writing sample in your area of claimed substantive expertise, preferably unedited by others.
I think that's a pretty interesting idea, but it's quite a high barrier to entry (although there's nothing keeping you from sending in a paper of yours...)

ACS Career Fair Watch: 53 positions for ACS Indy, 7 for the Virtual Career Fair. 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/29/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 22 and August 26, there were 118 new positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 21 (18%) were academically connected and 62 (53%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Patrick AFB, Florida: The Air Force Technical Applications Center has long been a C&EN Jobs user; they've posted another 5 positions, mostly analytical in nature.

Florence, SC: IRIX is back with a principal scientist position, paying 65k-75k. There's a pay/title mismatch there, I think.

New York, NY: D.E. Shaw is hiring for 8 positions for its New York branch, and one for its Hyderabad branch. I sure would love to talk to a D.E. Shaw employee, to find out what they're up to....

Raleigh-Durham, NC: Novan Therapeutics is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist for method development. ("GC-FID, GC-MS, reverse and normal phase HPLC-UV, HPLC-ELSD, IC, Ion Exchange chromatography.")

Pleasanton, CA: Clorox is looking for a cat litter researcher -- not kidding:
Ph.D. or M.S. in Geology, Geochemistry or similar field with an emphasis on clay mineralogy and properties.  
Candidates must have a working understanding of clay mineralogy, morphology, chemistry, properties, and functions.  They should have experience in the pratical application of clays and minerals as absorbents for the removal or neutralization of odors and contaminants.  They need to have shown their ability to apply theory and principles of kinetics, equilibria, and absorption to solving practical problems.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

STEM Glut Watch: Veterinarians

Thanks to @UnstableIsotope, I see that veterinarians are running into some supply/demand issues with respect to unemployment: 
There are way more veterinarians than there is work for them to do, according to a recent survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, as the nation's veterinary schools continue to crank out graduates. 
A report from the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates the supply exceeds the demand by the equivalent of 11,250 full-time vets. 
"There is a palpable tension," says Christopher Byers of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. "Right now, as a profession, we have so many veterinarians who are not being utilized to their full capacity. And now it is our job to figure out why that is and to come up with ways to rectify that." 
He says vets don't have high unemployment, but the underemployment is significant. More than half say their practices are not at full capacity owing to a variety of factors, including that the sour economy has led many to forgo pet ownership as well as preventive care. "There are a lot of veterinarians having big red flags go up in their head, questioning why we have more opportunities for veterinary training when the demand isn't there," Byers says.
In case you didn't know (I didn't), there are around 61,000 employed veterinarians in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Having a 17% surplus seems a bit high, but I'm no labor economist.

I think it is worth noting that veterinarians may not be the best source of unbiased information (i.e. they have their interests, too -- low unemployment, full offices, higher wages.) That said, I was rather amused to read the justifications from a veterinary school administrator:
So now, the schools are in a bind — tuition money on one side, market realities on the other. Dan Givens, an interim dean at Auburn University, says veterinary medicine is a calling that attracts people no matter the economics. And, he says, given public health threats, too much talent in the workforce has upsides. 
"If we had a new foreign animal disease come into the United States, the excess capacity would be a great blessing for us, because we would be prepared for this huge surge in need," Givens says.
I'm so pleased that our (expensive, unnecessary (?), ineffective) insurance policy for a new foreign animal disease is the wasted human capital represented by underemployed veterinarians. Yay.  

Process Wednesday: qualification samples

I recently read Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir of life as the proprietor of a small restaurant in New York (Prune) and her life working in the kitchen. This passage about her life as a wedding catering chef was something that I could relate to: 
When the intended couple had agreed on this menu, back in January, after a private tasting in the little nicely dressed and furnished showroom of the catering company, it had been prepared for them by the chef of the company, in just enough quantity for the tasting -- not more than four portions of each thing - and each ingredient had been hand-selected by the chef and prepared the same day as it was eaten. In fact, it went from stove to table during the tasting and it, indeed, looked and tasted very good. I had been assigned to execute dozens of those tasting over the years and felt genuine pride in what we produced.  
But by the time the bride and groom, now betrothed, and their three hundred guests were enjoying this same meal on a beautiful June evening, we were now on a very different scale of production.... 
...The wedding meal itself, a sit-down dinner for three hundred that followed the butlered hors d'oeuvres hour, had sat in the warehouse kitchen refrigerator, some components of it for days, and then in the back of the cargo van in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the LIE. On the long ride out to Amagansett, three cater waiters assigned to ride with us, so they can help us unload cases of Sterno and staff cola and seltzer at the destination, sat on their garment bags containing their waiter tuxedos and sang show tunes. In the way, way back of the cargo van - perched on a five-gallon bucket of leek compote amid stacks and stacks of disposable aluminum hotel pans packed with salmon filets portioned at four ounces and already partially blasted in the convection ovens back at the warehouse - sat Andrea, the freelance chef assigned to run the party. 
Whenever a potential customer of a CMO receives a qualification sample from a company, I wonder if they ever recognize that the method used to produce this lovely, lovely in-specification 100 gram sample could possibly be very different from the actual manufacturing process. (Of course, a bride and a groom are much less likely to have a quality control department on their wedding day to stop the caterers at the door, inspect the incoming meal and tell them to send it back...)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Are in you in biotech/life sciences, but not on the coasts?

If so, Deirdre Lockwood (reporter for C&EN) would love to talk to you!:
I'm interested in hearing from chemists or chemical engineers who have found work (or are looking for work) in the life sciences/biotech industry outside of major hubs like San Francisco, San Diego, NY/NJ, and Boston. I'm hoping to get a sense of how the job market is in some of the more emerging biotech clusters.
E-mail her at  D_Lockwood -at- acs/dot/org. 

VAPs? A professor comments

Shawn (an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic) comments on visiting assistant professor positions:
In a tight job market, it is hard to condemn postdocs from taking VAPs since a job is better than unemployment. If an individual aspires to a tenure track or industrial position however, I recommend remaining a postdoctoral researcher as long as it is feasible/tolerable. Even a second postdoc may be a better stopgap measure than a VAP. Even though there appear to be problems aplenty with VAPs, other job seekers may find them less problematic. Retirees interested in a second career are likely less sensitive to long-term job prospects, uncertainty and compensation issues associated with VAPs. I know several people in this category, and all bring a unique perspective to teaching that has added value for their students. Laid off workers from industry may have similar problems to postdocs breaking out of academia once they have taken VAPs, however. This is a catch-22 in reconciling present realities with future opportunities.
You should read the whole thing to get a sense for what he says to say about the positions (a lot, really.) It's worth your time. Also, in the comments, an even more pointed statement against VAP positions from someone who appears to be a full professor at UC Irvine:
I too can cite examples of VAPS being a dead end or, at least, a ticket to endless more VAPs. In fact, a friend at a prestigious primarily undergraduate institution told me the following. "To hire VAPs, we dangle the possibility of giving them the inside track for tenure-track jobs in front of candidates. But the truth is that we conduct a full search for tenure track positions, and the VAPS really don't help them. We view a VAP the way any future employer does, as a lesser position indicative of some weakness in their employment history." 
(There's a more pie joke in here somewhere!)

(What would the VAP system look like, if it were fairer? Would it be full of mid-career chemistry professionals? or retirees? In an ideal world, would postdocs be allowed to apply for VAPs?)

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/27/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 20 and August 26, there have been 28 new academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 1
Tenure-track: 26
Temporary faculty: 0
Lecturers: 0
Staff: 1
US/non-US: 26/2

Cambridge, MA: Harvard is looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry and an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia desires an assistant professor of bioanalytical chemistry. Also, a joint appointment between their department of astronomy and the department of chemistry:
Candidates will teach in chemistry or astronomy, and conduct research in the interdisciplinary field of astrochemistry, with interests in physical chemistry (theoretical or experimental) as well as in molecular astronomy. The candidate will be expected to build upon the current research interests of members of the chemistry and astronomy departments as well as scientists at the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory. 
Sounds interesting.

Newark, NJ: Rutgers desires an assistant professor of synthetic chemistry.

Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina is looking for 3 assistant professors, one each in environmental/analytical chemistry, materials chemistry and catalysis.

Shanghai, China: NYU Shanghai is looking for an associate or full professor of computational chemistry; the position looks to split time between New York and Shanghai. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Well, that was quick: Harran defense motions denied

From C&EN's Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice, a tweet (40 minutes ago):
Judge denied Harran 3 motions to dismiss-next date 10/3-details later from @mmtorrice at 
 The Sangji case grinds onward.

UPDATE: Here's Patch's pretty decent write up of the today's Harran hearing, including this nice snippet of dialogue from the hearing:
Sangji's contract was with the university, not Harran, O'Kane argued. And the charges against the professor apply only to employers, not supervisors, according to the defense's interpretation. 
Judge George G. Lomeli disagreed. 
"The court concludes that he's an employer. Period," Lomeli said. Harran had the authority to recruit, interview and hire personnel, the judge said. 
Even if that weren't true, Lomeli added, Harran was a "supervisorial employee" subject to criminal charges under the relevant labor laws.
Also, here's C&EN's very detailed write-up of today's hearing, including this very key snippet about all of these legal issues:
Judge Lomeli denied this motion as well, stating that the district attorney’s evidence “managed to establish the requisite burden of proof of a ‘strong suspicion’” that Harran committed the charged crimes. He pointed out that the case had not reached a stage in which the district attorney had to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 
That last sentence is key.

UPDATE 2: Here's the Los Angeles Times story. Nothing new in the story, but you should really click through to the story to see the picture of Professor Harran. I don't know him at all, so perhaps I project -- but I can see the wear of the process on his face. 

Placeholder for chemical safety/#SheriSangji discussion

On Monday, August 26, the prosecution and the defense will be in court discussing 3 motions in the Sheri Sangji case. Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice have done a very nice job summarizing some of the key points up for discussion. Read it here.

In addition, Jyllian has a long article in this week's C&EN discussing the state of academic chemical safety in the University of California system, following the settlement between the UC system and the Los Angeles County's District Attorney's office. It's worth your time, and there will be more discussion today.

UPDATE: Bumped to top of page. 

A chemist offers a different opinion on the #SheriSangji case

From the defense motion to attempt to dismiss the charges against Professor Harran, a very interesting little side detail about the Los Angeles District Attorney office's pre-filing investigation. Basically, they talked to Dr. Neal Langerman (a chemical safety specialist) and Dr. Steve Carr, a chemist (Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry) for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Department and a researcher of water treatment chemistry. The defense is basically arguing that Dr. Carr's interview was potentially exculpatory and not included in their evidence:

Two things:
  • I don't have time to double-check right now, but I'm pretty sure that Ms. Sangji did not perform a cannulation on October 17, 2008. I could be wrong. UPDATE: Never mind, I am wrong -- according to Jyllian Kemsley (and her lab notebook, she did do a cannulation.) 
  • I love the bit about an experienced chemist not following the AL-134 bulletin because they would want to suck out every last drop of tBuLi. I'm sure that's at least partially true, but, to my mind, it's not evidence of best practices.
What is ironic to me is that a lot of chemists would say, (or have said!) similar things about the case. Plenty of room for reasonable doubt? More later. 

NSF: California, Texas and New York home to 25% of US' science/engineering workforce

From this week's C&EN, coverage by Andrea Widener of this NSF report on the geographical spread of the nation's scientists and engineers. Unfortunately, there is no breakdown for chemists, but there is a tally of physical scientists as a percentage of employed:
  1. Los Angeles, CA (2.5%)
  2. Denver, CO (2.5%)
  3. Boston, MA (2.2%)
  4. Houston, TX (2.1%)
  5. San Diego, CA  (2.0%)
  6. Santa Clara, CA (1.9%)
  7. Oakland, CA (1.8%)
  8. Montgomery County, MD (1.7%)
Looks like NSF hit a lot of the highlights of the geography that Andre and I were covering. I was surprised by LA, though. (Also, click through to the report to see the role that "computer science and mathematical occupations" plays in this analysis -- quite a large one, as you might expect.)

Monday morning tidbits

From this week's C&EN:
  • Letter: The State Department's Fulbright awards need you! 
  • ACS wants you to envision the future of the Society. (Hmmmm.)
  • The ACS Council has its agenda set for ACS Indianapolis, including (drumroll please): "And through a special discussion, the council will address the society’s possible role in creating demand for chemists. ACS already offers a number of programs designed to help chemists navigate the challenging employment environment; the discussion will explore further actions that ACS and individual members could take to increase the number of jobs for chemists."
    • Now I'm wishing I was attending ACS Indianapolis.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/22/13 edition

Between August 20 and August 21, there were 39 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 8 (21%) were academically connected and 24 (62%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Lansing, MI: MBI is looking for an experienced analytical chemist to direct analytical chemistry research towards biological systems; Ph.D. with 2+ years experience or B.S./M.S. with 8+ years experience desired. 

Zeroes!: Vertex (Cambridge, MA) is looking for a formulations specialist; B.S. in PharmSci, materials science, 0-4 years experience desired. Also, JRF America (Philadelphia, PA) is looking for a B.S. chemist with 0-2 years experience in analytical chemistry.

This is sort of weird: Houghton International has posted the following ad:
Looking for new PhD students or MS students with 5 years or more experience in either tribology or emulsion chemistry to help develop metal working and metal rolling fluid products. Positions are available in Valley Forge, PA, Shanghai, China and Pune, India. Tribology experience can be with any metal. Emulsion experience in both oil in water or water in oil would be suitable.  Applicant needs excellent communication skills and must be willing to travel to customer sites.
I would really love to hear an expert tribologist's opinion on this ad. The "students" comment, combined with the required amounts of experience, seems incongruous somehow. 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/20/13 edition

Between August 15 and August 19, there were 114 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 30 (26%) were academically connected and 71 (62%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Tuscon, AZ: What kind of project management position for a mining division of BASF requires a Ph.D. in organic or organometallic chemistry? 25% travel required.

Pleasanton, CA: I'm so pleased to note that Clorox is still hiring for entry-level researchers for product development -- pretty cool. Very specific things they're looking for, though:
Candidates must be qualified based on education and expertise in at least one of the following areas:
1. Oxidation using molecules, catalysts or enzymes in aqueous solutions with experience in kinetics and equilibria.
2. Aqueous surfactants, colloids and interfacial science for household product formulation.
3. Water soluble polymers for household product formulation.
4. Clay, minerals, and synthetic materials to neutralize or remove odors and contaminants.
5. Microbial environmental interactions, bacterial biofilms, molds, and mechanisms of antimicrobial agents.
This is fun...: A patent attorney is advertising in the job ads. Huh.

Pittsburgh, PA: A random water treatment chemicals company wants a chemist for a product manager -- gotta love the resume submission e-mail "productmanager10 -at- gmaildotcom." Yeah, baby!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/20/13 edition

Between August 13 and August 19, there were 32 academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 1
Tenure-track: 31
Temporary faculty: 0
Lecturers: 0
Staff: 0
US/non-US: 30/2

Loretto, PA: Saint Francis University is looking for an assistant professor of analytical chemistry.

WHUT: The University of South Carolina's School of Medicine (Columbia, SC) is looking for tenure-track assistant professors. Desired: "...several tenure-track ASSISTANT PROFESSOR positions in Inflammation and Dietary Supplements. Outstanding applicants working in the area of inflammation and willing to incorporate dietary supplements research are encouraged to apply." Huh?

Worcester, MA: Worcester State University seeks an assistant professor in analytical chemistry; your on-site interview will include a teaching demonstration.

Cool: NASA-funded postdocs might be cool.

Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma seeks an assistant professor for natural products drug R&D. (thanks, milkshake!)

Salt Lake City, UT: The University of Utah has 2 positions open for assistant (or other rank!) professors of physical chemistry.   

Friday, August 23, 2013

17 things management doesn't want to hear during a tour of your facility

"Let's show you the laboratory. And we're growing by leaps and bounds -- orders are up, we've got lots of inquiri-"
  1. "What's that smell?" 
  2. "Pull the pin, pull the friggin' pin on the extinguisher!"
  3. "That data is bulls--t and you know it!" 
  4. "YOUR MOM!"
  5. "Do they know that we make a 1000% margin on this compound?" 
  6. "This POS HPLC couldn't find a peak with two hands and a flashlight!"
  7. "Quick, hide!"
  8. "This company sucks." 
  9. "There's not a chance in hell we'll get this contract." 
  10. "Look at all this dirty glassware." 
  11. "Here come the suits." 
  12. 他妈的!
  13. "I can't wait for 5 o'clock -- I'm gonna get a beer..." 
  14. "Hey, get a paper towel -- I think my hood shut down." 
  15. "Did you get your Ph.D. from a Cracker Jack box?" 
  16. "Do you think we know that we shipped them a sample from Aldrich?" 
  17. "Uh-oh." 

Ask CJ: Computational chemistry jobs?

A reader writes in with a question about computational/theoretical chemistry jobs:
I was curious as to what the CJ readership has to say about computational chemistry, it's prospects in industry and academia, and any general thoughts on computational/theoretical chemistry.  
Personally, I went into this field because I fell in love with quantum chemistry in my undergrad. The complexities and vastness of quantum essentially boiled down to our desire to learn how things work. I mean really work. Computational chemistry was just the applied application of that. Recently I've found that computational chemistry is being used more and more to compliment all types of chemistry and with the increase of computing power it has really boomed in popularity in recent years. Not only is it more user friendly, but its much more accessible now as well. 
So here's what I've said about computational chemistry in industry, here, here and here. Wavefunction also wrote a very worthwhile post about the topic, which he knows a lot about. I concur with one of Wavefunction's original comments: "Comp chem has always been a niche slot, with low demand and low supply."

But here's something I will say that's positive about the field -- if you decide to leave chemistry for another field, you could probably do worse than to have a lot of computing/coding experience.

Readers, you probably know a lot more than I do about this -- what do you think? 

Why are there many more openings than hired employees?

A lot of the economics blogosphere has been quietly discussing this recent column by Peter Orszag, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget where he lays out a bit of a puzzle about the current state of the U.S. job market:
An odd puzzle is taking shape in the labor market: Over the past three years, the number of job openings has risen almost 50 percent, but actual hiring has gone up by less than 5 percent. Companies are advertising a lot more jobs, in other words, but not filling them. 
To get some sense of how significant this is, consider that if, since June 2010, hiring had risen a third as much as advertised jobs have (rather than only a 10th), and nothing else were different, job creation would be roughly 500,000 higher each month, and the unemployment rate would already be back to normal levels.
Orszag lays out four different hypotheses, all of which have been discussed widely since the Great Recession, but does not draw any conclusions. (The column is worth reading in full.) The 4 hypotheses are:
  • The classic "skills mismatch" explanation, i.e. "We can't find enough CNC technicians!"
  • Low offered wages
  • "Internal markets" theory, i.e. companies are finding ways of promoting people from within
  • A reduction in "recruiting intensity", i.e. they're advertising, but they aren't really looking  
All these theories have some evidence in the academic economics literature behind them (not that I can evaluate them reliably...)

I wonder if we are seeing a similar pattern in the chemistry world. Certainly (and this is a gut feeling and no more), the ads in the back of a physical copy of C&EN have basically dwindled to perhaps 1 industrial ad every two weeks or so. In that same vein, I can say that the last job ad by a major US-based chemical or pharmaceutical company in C&EN was probably 2 or 3 years ago. (Of course, the online C&EN Jobs database has routinely gotten a smattering of job postings directly from larger corporations.) In that sense, I think that "recruiting intensity" is definitely trending downward since 2008.

Are low offered wages keeping out-of-work chemists on the sidelines? Pfffft. Don't buy it for a second. Same with the "skills mismatch" theory.

I like the "internal markets" theory a lot, even though I have little evidence for it. (The paper that most recently and most prominently mentioned it is here; damned if I understand much of it. The basic idea: labor mobility is way down, because companies are doing more hiring from within.) Here's Orszag on that theory:
The third possible explanation is that the gap between job advertising and new hires reflects the growing use of companies’ “internal” labor markets. A variety of other indicators — including fewer people moving to take new jobs — suggests that companies are often filling openings from within. Many nonetheless advertise such positions externally, which would boost the job-offer rate in the data. The survey counts only jobs filled from outside a company in its statistics on hiring, so the increase in job-offer rates for this reason would not correspond to an increase in hiring rates. 
This possibility doesn’t explain why the gap is wider for smaller businesses, because larger companies have more robust internal labor markets. But it is consistent with anecdotal evidence that external applicants are facing more onerous interview processes and that companies are hiring outside job candidates only slowly and cautiously.
I personally know of one "internal markets" hire, but I'm sure that are more, i.e. permanent interns sllooooowly becoming actual full-time employees, etc...

Readers, what do you think? Which hypothesis matches your experience in job hunting recently?

Where's Carmen? poll for Monday, September 9

The 2nd "Where's Carmen?" poll to help her decide what to cover is up (Facebook registration needed.) Go over there and help her decide! 

What is that equipment in the Breaking Bad Lego set?

Credit: Ars Technica, annotated by CJ
So television's favorite manufacturing chemists have a Lego set of their very own. I don't watch the show (tomorrow's Onion headline today!: "Area Blogger Never Misses Opportunity to Remind Audience that He Doesn't Have Cable"), but I hear enough about it that I have a general idea of what it is about.) The bloggers of C&EN have asked if anyone had any opinions about the Lego Set and its accuracy -- I am curious to know if any readers/commenters had thoughts. Seems to me to be a fairly basic kilo lab set up (how would Walter White know about that, anyway?), but, again, I haven't seen the show enough to have an informed opinion. Anyone? 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Podcast: 1st Lieutenant Cramer, Ph.D.

Today is part two of my conversation with Chris Cramer, professor of theoretical chemistry and Army vet. He talks about his experiences in the U.S. Army and what scientists who work for the military do:


0:30: How to pay for college? How about ROTC?
1:57: Prof. Cramer admits to being pre-med once upon a time
3:00: It is hard to get the Army to change its mind, but it can be done.
4:20: You're a Ph.D. in chemistry -- isn't it time to join the Army?
4:47: "Crossed retorts"
5:10: 1st Lieutenant Cramer goes to Korea
7:58: 1st Lieutenant Cramer finally gets to do some science (after some maneuvering)
11:00: "Real computing power"
12:59: What do scientists who work for the military do?
15:13: What about funding?
17:16: He who pays the piper...?
17:51: What's Prof. Cramer's favorite part of Twitter?

Once again, thanks to Professor Cramer for sharing his time. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Submarine science, or doing projects on the sly

"Quiet! Management thinks we're doing that stupid Project A!"
(Credit: metroactive)
I was both surprised and not surprised to read this comment by Validated Target in a recent In The Pipeline thread on innovation:
..."loose cannons and mavericks" does not equal non-conformist innovators. The history of Drug Disco is filled with examples of the latter. 
1. Cimetidine started out as a two-person project (chemist and biologist) who were inspired by Black's work on H2R antagonists. As it was told to me by those who were there, they were repeatedly told to stop work on the (back burner) project. As other SKF projects withered and died, pre-cimetidine results FINALLY merited further examination, the project was green lighted. Cimetidine / Tagamet saved SKF. The two guys who took the heat were non-conforming innovators. 
2. I've heard that Prozac was a 2-man (chem + bio) project for a while at Lilly until it picked up speed. I think it was the biologist who, from the literature or a meeting, first wanted to go after an SRI. It was not some corporate committee that set a mandate or a glorified thought leader. It was a scientist with an idea and it worked and everybody took a pill and chilled out (and cashed in!). 
3. I can't think of others cases at the moment. (IBM threatened to fire Bednorz and Mueller if they didn't stop work on the unofficial yet Nobel worthy superconductor project.) 
Later in the thread, London Chemist has another one:
the Germans working on gabapentin were repeatedly told to stop working on it by W-L's* US management.

I think it is terribly interesting how often scientists will say "Oh, yes, sir, I've been working all day on Project A" and in a hidden hood somewhere, they're actually running Project B experiments, too. I've done it before, and I don't doubt that I'll do it again sometime in the future. In the classic New York Times Magazine article "Lethal Chemistry At Harvard", the chemistry students of Harvard actually had a name for it:
They spoke of ''submarine science,'' in which graduate students feel obliged to spend their days doing experiments suggested by their adviser -- even if they are certain they won't work -- and wait until after hours to try what they wanted in the first place.
I wonder if advisers/managers ever realize that, chances are, their students/employees are working on something on the side? I wonder if they ever try to make sure to quash that behavior ("Johnson, I want 100% effort on Project A! 6 reactions a day!") or if they just don't care, just as long as Project A is meeting its milestones.

(I'll tell ya one thing -- if I'm ever the boss (that'll be the day), I just won't care.) 

Job postings: Lab safety postdoc, worthwhile Canadian process development position

From the inbox, a couple of job postings:

First, on the D-CHAS chemical safety listserv, a postdoc with the Laboratory Safety Institute:
The Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI) is seeking candidates for a laboratory safety post-doctoral position. This one to two year position is intended for a chemist with excellent teaching skills and a career significantly involving laboratory safety.
Interested? Contact Jim Kaufman at jim =at= labsafetyinstitute/dot/org. Seems to me that this could be a great learning experience for someone.

Also, an opening for the director of process chemistry for Gilead's Edmonton, Alberta site:
A Ph.D. in chemistry (or related science or engineering) with a minimum of 15 years of experience in research and development of chemical processes for the manufacture of pharmaceutical intermediates and activities.
I would love to know what the history of that site is....  

Process Wednesday: the importance of excluding oxygen from your Grignards

From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson and his book "Practical Process Research and Development" (2nd edition, page 267-269), a lesson in oxygen and Grignard reagents:
Excluding O2 can also be critical for reactions using stoichiometric amounts of metals. Modi et al. found that O2 reacted with Grignard reagents faster than H2O. [66] Researchers at Johnson and Johnson studied the conversation of an Mtr-protected arginine derivative to the corresponding ketones using Grignard reagents. [67] (The 3-methoxy-2,3,6-trimethylbenzylsulfonyl (Mtr) protecting group is removed by TFA and other strong acids. Other protecting groups have superseded the use of the Mtr group for arginine residues. [68].) The J&J researchers found that when flasks were opened for sampling O2 was inadvertently introduced and led to the formation of the benzo[d]thiazole trimer shown [above]; in this case, one molecule of O2 consumed 3 molecules of benzothiazolyl magnesium chloride. ...By adding the benzothiazole to a solution of excess t-BuMgCl the generation of the trimer was minimized. 
Anderson goes on in the safety notes to comment that Grignard reactions in the pilot plant (just like all pilot plant reactions, IMO) should be run under positive nitrogen pressure to exclude O2 and prevent fires.

[I didn't remember the bit about molecular oxygen and Grignards, but Michael Smith's "Organic Synthesis" has a nice summary of the reaction:
"Another electrophilic reagent that reacts with Grignard reaagents is molecular oxygen, which gives a hydroperoxide anion as an initial product. This anion reacts with additional Grignard reagent to give an alkoxide, and hydrolysis liberates the alcohol has the final product."
Huh. I'll have to go back and reread that chapter.]

Also interesting: the paper that Neal Anderson references first (Modi et al., in the above passage) talks about how they had to rigorously exclude oxygen from the quench of the Grignard reaction:
Our observations of the effect of traces of oxygen on the conjugate addition of Grignard reagents to 1 led us to investigate the possibility that the low, erratic yields that we had encountered on conjugate addition of Grignard reagents to the steroidal ∆4,6-3-ketone system also might be the consequence of the intermediate enolates reacting with oxygen faster than they protonate during quenching of the reaction.... 
[explanation of reaction....] The reactions were quenched by injection of water or aqueous hydrochloric acid with rigorous exclusion of air.... The isolation of products of 1,6-addition of the Grignard reagents to the steroidal 3-keto-∆4,6-diene system in yields that were at least three times greater than had been observed previously again illustrates that the carbanions formed by conjugate addition of Grignard reagents to enones or to dienones faster with oxygen than they react with water. 
I confess that, on lab scale, there's been little desire on my part to keep my quenches rigorously air-free (even though I should, for safety reasons.) I guess I will now. (I wonder how often alcohols are seen as Grignard side products?)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Call me crazy...

...but I don't think of the employees of the Chemical Abstracts Service as faceless (or noseless or mouthless, anyway):

(from an e-mail for SciFinder training.) 

Podcast: Prof. Chris Cramer on his MOOC experience

About a month ago, I talked to University of Minnesota theoretical chemistry professor Chris Cramer (and Twitter star) about his experience teaching a Massive Open Online Course, or a MOOC on statistical thermodynamics. It was really interesting -- we talked about the structure of the course, its economics and the future of higher education:


0:00-1:30: Introduction, what is a MOOC?
1:30: How many students did he have?
3:50: From MOOC skeptic to MOOC dabbler
5:00: Who took his course?
7:35: How will this affect higher education?
12:00: Will MOOCs ultimately make money?
13:25: How does the Minnesota state legislature feel about MOOCs?
18:00: Will this be used to force down costs?
20:40: What does this mean for young professors?
29:30: Prof. Cramer predicts possible futures for higher education
30:50: Has there been peer review of MOOCs?
33:40: Prof. Cramer's recommendations for young faculty and MOOCs

Thanks for Professor Cramer for the conversation -- stay tuned for Thursday, when Prof. Cramer talks about his very interesting career in the Army! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

ACS is trial extending unemployment waivers to 3 years

The last bit of Society news from this week's C&EN, from the Committee on Membership Affairs (emphasis mine):
Building on the bylaw change from 2012 to allow market testing, the Membership Affairs Committee (MAC) is creating new opportunities to enhance both recruitment and retention by initiating a series of five new tests designed to increase membership: 1) extending the two-year dues waiver for unemployed members to three years, 2) allowing members to automatically renew their membership by credit card on an annual basis, 3) offering incentives for early renewal, 4) providing introductory offers for individuals who join ACS at conference events, and 5) offering a $15 membership recruitment commission to the ACS International Chemical Sciences Chapters as a cost-effective, grassroots, international recruitment effort. In each case, the test is meant to identify new ways to grow ACS membership while increasing society income and/or membership or decreasing expenses.
I recall suggesting this a while back -- I'm glad they're trying it out. 

CEPA: "Demand for workers in the U.S., including chemists, remains weak."

Also in this week's C&EN, a writeup of the different committee business conducted at ACS New Orleans, including this report from the Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs:
The unemployment rate for all ACS chemists was 4.2% as of March 2012. The unemployment rate for new chemistry graduates as measured in August 2012 was 12.6%, down slightly from the prior year, but still three times greater than the rate for all ACS chemists as a group. The Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs is especially distressed about the plight of new graduates, postdocs, and long-term unemployed workers. CEPA continues to develop and deliver programs for these most affected groups. 
Demand for workers in the U.S., including chemists, remains weak. Starting salaries are one measure of demand for new chemistry graduates. The greatest demand for graduating chemists is in product development. Graduating chemists are also in higher demand than average in the areas of management and professional services. Traditional career paths like industrial research and academic employment show weaker demand. 
The difference in median salaries for newly graduated women and men remains high, with men out-earning women by $6,000, but modest gains in parity can be seen when compared with figures from 2011. Unfortunately, the lessening of this gap has more to do with falling salaries for men than with gains in women’s salaries. 
...The number of employers on-site was down slightly from Philadelphia. The addition of the virtual component provided access to more than 500 additional job seekers and 11 additional employers. Some 31 workshops, 252 mock interviews, 449 resume reviews, and four live webinar events were conducted at this meeting.—Lisa M. Balbes, Chair
(Am I crazy for thinking that if you had a resume review done, you should be practically forced to do a mock interview?) 

15% of ACS membership lives outside of the U.S.

From this week's C&EN, an interesting comment from H.C. Chen, chair of the International Activities Committee and Wayne E. Jones, Jr., the chair of the Membership Affairs Committee:
The American Chemical Society has a long history and unsurpassed reputation as the premier publisher of chemistry-related research. Increasingly, the majority of the papers contributed to its world-class journals are from non-U.S. colleagues. This is not a prediction of the future but is the current reality of our society and our profession. 
Both the ACS constitution and mission statement promote international engagement, and the society has embraced this opportunity in ways that extend well beyond publishing. 
For example, last year, one in five new ACS members lived outside the U.S., and more than 15% of the entire membership lived in countries other than the U.S.  
Consistently, 15% of national meeting attendees are international....
I wonder what the citizenship numbers looked like for the membership of the ACS 20 years ago? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

What's the synthetic organic chemistry job market like in Europe?

Someone who found the blog via Google writes in: 
I'd be curious to know more on the European job market in organic chemistry, out of my curiosity and also because one of my good European friends is looking for jobs in organic chemistry in Europe, so I am just trying to see how things turn out for [them]. I should mention that I myself am not a chemist but an academic in [another science field] instead. So, I guess, my question would be to request for information on academic (postdoc in university or research labs) and industrial (companies) job markets in Europe (mostly France, Germany, Netherlands, Scandinevia etc.) on synthetic organic chemistry.
Quite honestly, I have no earthly idea how the European job market for synthetic chemists is faring right now. My honest guess is that it's probably not going so great, but I don't know whether it is just a reflection of Europe's financial or economic troubles, or a more structural trend where jobs are either moving to the United States (:-/ sorry) or to Asia.

I did want to highlight a recent report from Alex Scott, an editor for US-based Chemical and Engineering News, where the most recent quarter's results from European businesses was not very positive:
European chemical companies are reporting uneven financial performance for the second quarter of 2013. Producers of agricultural chemicals enjoyed solid growth, but other chemical sectors, including some polymers and performance chemicals, struggled under tough market conditions. 
One company hit hard is Germany’s Lanxess, which saw a double-digit percentage sales decline and almost a triple-digit decline in earnings for the second quarter compared with the same period one year ago... 
...In contrast, Bayer was buoyed by its pharmaceutical business, where new products performed “well above expectations,” the firm said when announcing secondquarter results. Likewise, Bayer’s agriculture business is “maintaining its gratifying business development in a persistently positive market environment.” But Bayer’s performance chemicals business was buffeted by tough market conditions, lower selling prices, and higher raw material costs. 
BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, expects little change from the difficult economic outlook forecast at the start of the year. “What we see right now is pretty much a flat development going into the second half,” Chairman Kurt Bock told stock analysts recently... 
Doesn't sound like a positive trend for industry, anyway.

As for academia, I have no earthly idea. Readers, any thoughts as to how the Continent is doing in hiring organic chemists? 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Compound-backed loans? NMR tube-backed loans?

From the Wall Street Journal, an interesting report of handbag-backed loans:
HONG KONG—When 30-year-old homemaker Maggie Wong is tight on cash, all she needs to do is reach for her designer purse—and then hand it over to a loan officer.  
Say hello to the handbag-backed loan. While typical lenders often ask for cars and homes as collateral, Hong Kong's Yes Lady Finance Co. deals in borrowers' beloved handbags. The four-year-old company accepts purses on the spot, bringing in assessors from affiliate Milan Station Holdings Ltd., a chain for luxury secondhand purses, to check the bags' condition and authenticity. 
Yes Lady provides a loan within half an hour at 80% of the bag's value—as long as it is from Gucci, Chanel, Hermès or Louis Vuitton. Occasionally, a Prada purse will do the trick. 
Secondhand classic purses and special-edition handbags often retain much of their retail prices.
A customer gets her bag back by repaying the loan at 4% monthly interest within four months. Yes Lady says almost all its clients quickly pay off their loans and reclaim their bags. 
The company recently lent about US$20,600 in exchange for a Hermès Birkin bag, but Yes Lady's purse-backed loans start at about US$200.
This is basically a pawn shop that specializes in purses -- they're offering a 48% APR for loans of a handbag.  (Twice as much, one notes, as a credit card in the US.) Knowing how some people treasure their handbags (just like others might treasure a pair of boots or an especially beloved multitool), it makes a lot of sense to me, especially since Milan Station and Yes Lady have probably worked out a deal to take possession of the purses if the loan is not repaid.

Is there something as valuable and fungible to a chemist as a purse is to a Yes Lady customer? I dunno. Can't imagine a marshal coming to chain up one's NMR or HPLC. "See here, mister, you're gonna hand over all the drafts of your thesis -- and then you're gonna pay me back..." 


Carmen Drahl is wanting you to decide where she goes at ACS Indy. Click here if you'd like to participate (Facebook poll) - you could win one of 6 $50 gift cards!

Quote of the day, regarding commercial chemical purity

A favorite childhood novel of mine was Louisa May Alcott's "Little Men", the relatively unknown companion to "Little Women". A quote that I think about occasionally regarding business and the purity of chemicals:
Jack Ford's peculiar pastime was buying and selling; and he bid fair to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, a country merchant, who sold a little of every thing and made money fast. Jack had seen the sugar sanded, the molasses watered, the butter mixed with lard, and things of that kind, and labored under the delusion that it was all a proper part of the business. His stock in trade was of a different sort, but he made as much as he could out of every worm he sold, and always got the best of the bargain when he traded with the boys for string, knives, fish-hooks, or whatever the article might be. The boys who all had nicknames, called him "Skinflint," but Jack did not care as long as the old tobacco-pouch in which he kept his money grew heavier and heavier.
Occasionally, when dealing with commercial chemical purveyors, I get the sense that they also labor under the delusion that such things are a proper part of the business.

(I wonder how people knew when their butter was mixed with lard, back then?) 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/15/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 13 and August 14, there were 32 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 10 (31%) are academically connected and 20 (63%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech is looking for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist to be a research associate in working with proteins; HPLC/MS/capillary electrophoresis experience desired.

Charlotte, NC: WM Plastics desires a B.S./M.S. polymer chemist for a lab supervisor/product development position. Best part of the ad:
Must be able to lift 65lbs, stand or sit for extended periods of time, willing to get dirty but also be able to present yourself in a professional and courteous manner.
Where's Usher and Luda when you need them?

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 246, 1223, 2682 and 13 positions. LinkedIn shows 176 positions for the job title "chemist", with 7 for "research chemist", 17 for "analytical chemist" and 3 for "organic chemist." 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ask CJ: no GMP experience? / PI's presentations on your CV?

Two good questions I've been meaning to get to:
I have recently been looking at jobs in the [Mid-Atlantic] area and for the most part I seem to meet the qualifications they post - except for experience with cGMP. I'm at a loss for how I would find a job to even get my foot in the door, so to speak. Is not having experience with cGMP as big of a deal as I think it is, or do you think that companies would be somewhat lenient as long as I was willing to learn?
CJ sez: cGMP is not only a weird set of amorphous regulations emanating from Q7A; it's also a bit of a mindset. It is hard to get that training anywhere than on-the-job, so I can understand why some companies wish other companies would train their people well, so that they could poach them.

Couldn't hurt to apply, but don't expect an enthusiastic response.

Also, a reader asks a very creative question about adding lines to your CV:
I've only given one presentation of my own work outside my department, but my PI has presented my work at a couple of larger conferences (Gordon conferences etc.). Is it appropriate to list those presentations in a separate section of my CV indicating that it was my work but I did not do the actual presenting? Or should it just be left off all together?
CJ sez: No dice. While I think that giving data that ends up in a presentation should give you some kind of co-credit, I don't think that's standard practice in chemistry. (That said, I think that you could probably get away with it if you were apply to non-chemistry jobs.)

Readers, you're smarter than me -- what do you think? 

Are scientists more like journalists than we care to admit?

In the midst of a Felix Salmon think piece on Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) and his purchase of The Washington Post, a terribly interesting description of newspaper journalists and where greatness in newspapers comes from:
...Amazon, by contrast, is all about efficiency. It has a relatively small number of executives at its headquarters, who are paid overwhelmingly in stock; if the stock does well, they do well. It also employs, mostly indirectly, thousands of workers in warehouses around the world, picking and packaging the goods it sells; those workers are treated badly, and enjoy effectively zero slack in their working lives. What Amazon doesn’t have is paternalism, or a culture which in any way tolerates any unnecessary increase in labor costs. Its employees are cogs in the corporate machine, and they are expected to work as efficiently as possible. 
The Grahams (or the Sulzbergers, or the Newhouses, or the Chandlers, or the Bancrofts) never thought of their journalists and editors that way. And the fact is that while you can achieve better profits by cutting here and maximizing there, you can never achieve long-term greatness that way. Greatness emerges mysteriously from the slack in the system, from source lunches and newsroom cross-pollination and expensive editorial whims. It emerges, ultimately, from the ability to give people time and space and money, in the certain knowledge that most of that time and space and money will end up being wasted, and embracing that waste as a good and ultimately necessary thing. 
The Washington Post has not had the luxury of being able to waste time and space and money, not in many years — and as a result it is no longer a great newspaper. Maybe no newspaper can ever be great again, in that sense: the economics just don’t support it any more. But the fact is that Jeff Bezos is now an employer of journalists, and as such he is in charge of hiring and firing and paying a group of employees quite unlike any he has hired in the past. They’re not always rational, they’re not always efficient, and as a group they tend towards the skeptical and cantankerous. On top of that, they’re not entirely motivated by money.
I found this to be a pretty good viewpoint about scientists (cantankerous, skeptical, not entirely motivated by money.) I also suspect that the best way to get truly innovative results from scientists is to give them time and space and money, and be willing to live with a little bit (or a lot) of waste.* But then again, I am a scientist, so I would say that.

*The problem, of course, is that shareholders (and their Wall Street advisers) may not be willing to live with that level of waste, especially when revenues and profits trend downward. 

Process Wednesday: a systematic approach to not making compound eggs

Credit: Org. Process Res. Dev.
From Organic Process Research and Development, a really neat ASAP [1] of the problems encountered by a Pfizer team during drying of a compound:
The initial problem statement related to a substantial increase increase in the amount of agglomeration, which was observed following the isolation of compound A during recent manufacturing campaigns. This observation was in contrast with examination of previous isolated batches, which showed substantially less agglomeration. The difference in the extent of agglomeration between older and more recent batches is shown in Figure 1, which includes both scanning electron micrographs and photos of the material held on a sieve following equivalent sieving protocols for the two samples. 
...As solubility measurements revealed that the solubility of compound A in 2-MeTHF at the wash temperature was over 7 times higher than that measured in the acetone/water mixture, this was considered a likely cause for the rise in agglomeration for recent batches.
What I think is interesting about this paper (other than the incredibly awesome picture of compound A eggs forming in their agitated filter-dryer (AFD)) is that they were able to develop a measurement of the "agglomerate hardness" (i.e. how hard are the compound A eggs, anyway?) using sieving/shaking techniques and they tracked the effect of different washes of the wetcake and its stickiness (using rheological measurements). Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, they found that washes where compound A was more soluble would be more likely to develop agglomerates. The authors used a nitrogen "blow-through" step (i.e. blowing N2 through the wetcake) to remove solvent to a concentration below "the sticky point" (direct quote), which ultimately solved the agglomeration problem. All in all, an interesting read.

1. Birch, M.; Marziano, I. "Understanding and Avoidance of Agglomeration During Drying Processes: A Case Study." Org. Process Res. Dev. ASAP DOI: 10.1021/op4000972

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Does this picture look weird?

Does this picture look weird? It's from the SI (page 3) of a Nano Letters ASAP. Chemistry Blog has the details.

Daily Pump Trap: 8/13/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 8 and August 12, there were 92 new positions. Of these, 17 (18%) are academically connected and 63 (68%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Ahhh, Phenomenex: This must say something good about the economy, right? Phenomenex has the first "multiple positions" post that I've seen in forever. That said, it's the same four or five slots (especially that 'organic surface chemist' position) that they've been flogging for the past 3 years or so.

[I also remember the Millenium "multiple positions" posts back in the depths of the Great Recession, when milkshake would remind me again and again that there was no evidence that Millenium was actually hiring the people that it was advertising for.]

Khan, I'm looking for the superior intellect: Alexander BioDiscoveries, a startup company, desires a medicinal chemist:
Requirements: Applicants should possess superior intellectual ability, a strong record of previous accomplishment, hold a PhD in Chemistry or related discipline, and have experience in organic or medicinal chemistry, preferably with an emphasis in multi-step organic synthesis of small molecules and peptides using solution and solid phase methods.   LCMS/HPLC experience is preferred. 

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech is looking for an experienced B.S./M.S. analytical chemist, or a Ph.D. with 2 years of experience for work in their global QC functions.

Westbury, NY: Spectronics is looking for a chemical engineer?/chemist? for design and production of ultraviolet dyes. Huh.

Cambridge, MA: Vertex is looking for a temporary formulations specialist. 0-4 years experience!

Oh, Kelly: Are you a chemist? Do you like chemistry? Kelly Scientific Resources would like to know if you want to be a clinical nurse consultant -- 5-7 years of patient care or medical device sales required!

ACS Indy Career Fair Watch: 17 positions for the Career Fair, 3 positions for the Virtual Career Fair. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/13/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 6 and August 12, there were 20 academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 2
Tenure-track: 13
Temporary faculty: 1
Lecturers: 0
Staff: 4
US/non-US: 18/2

Holy assistant professors, Batman!: Lots of open assistant professor positions.

Providence, RI: Brown is search for a faculty position in inorganic chemistry.

West Lafayette, IN: Purdue has an assistant professor opening in biochemistry. 

Omaha, NE: Creighton is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry (bioanalytical, bioorganic, bionanofemtozyngachemistry, etc, sounds like.) (Kidding with that last one.)

Harrisonburg, VA: James Madison University has 3 openings for assistant and associate professors of chemistry. (biochemistry, materials, laser/atmospheric)

Kearney, NE: The University of Nebraska - Kearney is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry - I love how "equipment caretaker" is listed in the job description.

Sherman, TX: Austin College is search for an assistant professor of chemistry to teach biochemistry, among other classes.

Riverside, CA: You ARE the Last Minute Lecturer! La Sierra University announces a 1 year visiting assistant/associate professor position, with salary at 52-56k! Wooooooo! Starting date: September 1, 2013. (Pack up, send in your resume, get on your camel and get moving.)

Baton Rouge, LA: LSU is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to look after maintaining their NMR spectrometers. 

Daily Pump Trap: 8/8/13 edition

Good morning! Between August 6 and August 7, there were 38 new positions posted on C&EN Jobs. Of these, 7 (22%) were academically connected and 31 (50%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Wickliffe, OH: The Lubrizol Corporation has 2 openings, one for a polymer chemist and one for an entry-level Ph.D. synthetic chemist. (graduated by September) Both positions are being interviewed for at ACS Indianapolis; click if you're interested in being one of Mr. Buffett's chemists.

Cambridge, MA: Moderna Therapeutics is looking for an experienced Ph.D. chemist for work in mRNA delivery/formulations. Also, they'd like a Ph.D. chemist with 3-5 years experience with nucleoside synthesis and bioconjugate chemistry -- I wonder if there are more than 500 people in the US with such experience levels?

Edmonton, Alberta: Gilead is looking for a B.S./M.S. senior research associate for process development of APIs.

Boston, MA: Innnnteresting -- here's a WuXi AppTec business development position; 80-115k offered. Seems a touch low, but what do I know? 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Division of Medicinal Chemistry Wants to Change Its Name

Also from this week's C&EN, a fascinating bit of ACS inside baseball:
The ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry has announced a proposed name change: Division of Drug Discovery.  
I am a former Medicinal Chemistry Division chair and former editor of Annual Reports in Medicinal Chemistry (ARMC). Though retired, I am still a member of the division and still intellectually involved. 
I have carefully read the rationale for changing the name of the division and frankly find it lacking. Chemistry is chemistry whether one is synthesizing peptides, small molecules, oligonucleotides, or whatever. Medicinal chemists have always been versed in biology and interacted with other disciplines. Likewise, ARMC has always included topics in biology and other related disciplines relevant to drug discovery. 
One sentence in the “rationale” summed up what this is really all about: “This revised description of the Division can potentially address one of its most pressing threats: stagnant membership associated with contraction of the industrial R&D organizations, limiting the ability of the Division to provide the range of services attractive to members.” 
I encourage my fellow medicinal chemists to contact Eric Walters, the secretary of the division, and ACS with their views. This is a watershed event. We should not remain silent and allow only division members who attend the ACS national meeting in Indianapolis in September to decide our fate. 
Richard C. Allen
Flemington, N.J.
I have lots of thoughts on this issue, but (as you can tell) I am a little pressed for time today. Here are (some of) my thoughts:
  • I am really glad that MEDI has recognized that they have a problem. 
  • That said, it seems to me that they've chosen an odd solution -- did people really think that by changing their name, that they'd attract more members? 
  • I also briefly read the summary of their executive committee discussion; lots of #chemjobs talk in there that I need to address. Also, a lot of talk about younger chemists and attracting them to MEDI. 
    • Might I suggest that the reason that there aren't very many younger MEDI members is that the industry has seemingly quit hiring large numbers of entry-level medicinal chemists? 
More to come. All of this to say that these membership problems cannot possibly be solved with a name change... but they probably knew that anyway. (Something must be done / this is something / therefore, it must be done!) 

C&EN: BASF closes fuel cell plant

From this week's C&EN, a sad remnant of the depths of the Great Recession (article written by Michael McCoy): 
Although the fuel-cell sector may finally be taking off, the German chemical giant BASF has decided to exit one part of the business and close a facility in Somerset, N.J. The move will affect about 25 employees. 
It was with some fanfare that BASF opened the $10 million Somerset facility in 2009. The company invited the press and the governor of New Jersey to see a factory where it would produce membrane electrode assemblies for high-temperature polymer electrolyte membrane, or PEM, fuel cells. 
Composed of electrodes, catalysts, and membranes, the assemblies allow hydrogen to react with oxygen to generate heat and electricity. BASF primarily targeted stationary applications such as backup generators and combined heat and power systems...
With the closure/bankruptcy of A123 Systems, it really feels like all the big-name cleantech organizations that were sprouting up in 2009-2010 have failed. Someone (me?) should do a tally -- I remember when the A123 Systems ads for electrochemists were the only thing to grace the jobs section of the back of C&EN...

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Dorta Affair and others...

Paul at ChemBark is doing yeoman's work on the Reto Dorta case, where a rather unfortunate comment was left in the Supporting Information of an Organometallics paper.

All of the above are worth your time.

UPDATE: Carmen Drahl and Steven Ritter have the C&EN writeup of the Dorta affair; all the relevant detail in one place, plus some good commentary. 

How's that DPU thing working out for you?

Derek Lowe notes the recent Bloomberg story on the GSK mess in Shanghai, and includes this quote from Liu Xuebin, one of the scientists who recently resigned after their Nature Medicine paper on multiple sclerosis was retracted:
“This was my first job in industry and there was a very different culture,” Liu said behind thick, rimless glasses and dressed in a short-sleeve checked shirt tucked neatly into his belted trousers. “I was also not experienced with compliance back then, and we didn’t pay enough attention to things such as recording of reports from our collaborators.” 
There was also a culture in which Glaxo scientists were grouped into competitive teams, known as discovery performance units, which vied internally for funds every three years, he said. Those who failed to meet certain targets risked being disbanded. 
The publication of Liu’s paper in Nature Medicine was initially lauded by Glaxo, he said, adding that the company rewarded his 30-strong team with 20,000 yuan ($3,300), which they spent on a team-building trip.
Derek thinks the emphasis by Liu on publishing in journals is strange -- I agree. But it's apparent that GSK thinks publishing is important; that said, I'd love to know if/whether a 20,000 RMB bonus to 30 people is particularly impressive. It doesn't seem to be very much (median household income in Shanghai appears to be in the 50,000 yuan range.)

Also, I remember being skeptical about the DPU structure. While I am sure that all failings will be blamed on it (as employees are wont to do), I do think it is instructive that Liu decided to mention them, even if (I assume) Shanghai may feel different amount of pressure, compared to DPUs in the US.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stop it, just stop it

Dear superfluous management type:

Please, for the love of God, stop visiting our laboratory, wandering around aimlessly and asking if the key reaction is done yet, or if it has been TLC'd recently, or if we've tried your suggestion. Reactions on useful scale take time, and we are working as quickly as possible. As a matter of fact, we work slower when we are distracted by your questions.

With the greatest love and respect, CJ

How long did it take to get a Ph.D. in chemistry in the nineties?

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is a wonderful thing; it's chock-full of interesting data and well-regarded. Paula Stephan has noted that thesis students tend to get the survey with their graduating paperwork, and so they're tricked into filling out the National Science Foundation's survey and thinking that it's required to graduate (it's not.) The response rate is, therefore, quite high.

For the years 1994 through 2000, I've listed below the both the median total time-to-degree and the median registered time-to-degree* for doctoral students in chemistry. Sadly, there does not appear to be a breakdown for subfields in chemistry:

(year): (total time-to-degree)/(registered time-to-degree)

1994: 7.3/6.0
1995: 7.4/6.2
1996: 7.4/6.1
1997: 6.9/6.0
1998: 6.8/6.0
1999: 6.9/6.0
2000: 7.0/6.0

I'll be looking into the eighties and the oughts soon. I note that, for 2011, median time-to-degree was 6.9 years, with a registered time-to-degree of 6.0 years.

*According to NSF's definitions: TTD: total elapsed time from completion of the baccalaureate to the doctorate (total time to degree), RTD: time in graduate school less reported periods of nonenrollment (registered time to degree)