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? 


  1. I am not really sure how the job market for organic chemists is doing (I moved into the rubber industry after grad school) but my former group in Germany is getting flooded by post-doc applications. Not a good sign for the job market I'd say.

  2. In Europe, PhD students are prized for their skills in problem solving and leadership, and are recruited by a much broader range of industries.. For PhD students at good schools, there are numerous job opportunities that probably go to MBA types in the US. Of course, if someone really wants to stay in organic research, they will probably need a postdoc and the number of good positions is more limited. There are also many smaller biotech and especially medium sized companies in non-traditional areas that hire PhDs with organic backgrounds.

    And even among the big pharma companies, recently hired PhDs are not just used at the bench as was once the case for US based pharma companies. While they are expected to be in the lab, from day one they will probably have at least one highly trained technician. Selecting people who can work well with others and be productive in a team is an important part of the hiring process.

    Interviews in Europe can also be quite tough. Its not uncommon to have four or five candidates for the same job visit together on the same day. There are lots of questions and "go to the board" moments at these interviews.

    But given that PhDs in general are prized in Europe, I would have to say the job market looks much better than in the US. Note that these comments refer to Germany/Switzerland/Netherlands/Denmark/Sweden. I'm not sure about France and the situation in Spain/UK/Italy doesn't seem to be as good.

  3. Not particularly related, but an interesting data point: the couple jobs I applied for in Germany actually bothered to send rejection emails within a short time (like 2 weeks)! There were just standard online form applications for mid size companies.

    It actually feels nice to receive rejection letters as opposed to eternal silence. :)

    1. Funny story on US company's HR practice of eternal silence:

      I've applied to several jobs with very larger DOD contractor, and never got any kind of rejection letter. I touched base with HR reps on LinkedIn and asked for a status update on their careers FB page. I got nada in response.

      So, when someone else posted on the FB page they were excited about a job opening I waited a month then started a conversation string with him. It went like this:

      Me: Hey, so did you ever hear anything back from your application?

      Him: No, I haven't heard anything back.

      Me: Yeah, I've applied for several jobs over the last few months and never received any response.

      Not even 4 h later, I had rejection letters for every position I applied for. If I'm going to take an hour or more to write up a good cover letter, and fill out an application. I think every company owes every applicant a blanket rejection letter at the very least.

      I was just happy to be able to prod HR into momentarily changing their practices.

  4. Depends for what type of jobs. Most good jobs in organic chemistry research are in Germany and Switzerland. BASF and Bayer hire large amounts of PhD chemists and there is several career pathways for them out of standard research. Novartis and Roche are the jewel of the crown of the Swiss area but are extremely competitive (probably even more than American big pharma positions). The rest of Europe is going through rough times and most scientists stick to university jobs typically highly pyramidal (Japonese style). UK has lost a lot of pharma jobs. Ireland continues to be a major hub for manufacturing and there should be chemistry jobs there.

  5. I also think that the job market in Europe as a whole is quite bad for organic chemists. In Germany, there are a few positions, but there are a lot of applicants from Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe.
    My personal experience is that a lot of organic chemists in Germany start working in the polymer industry because they can't get synthetic jobs.
    One skill that would help an applicant not from Germany is to speak the language.

    If you want to read about selected German job positions, you can do this on my blog: Unfortunately, I normally don't find the time to do English blog posts parallel to the German ones.

  6. Spain is finished, maybe even as a viable country by the of the century. There is no future there for chemists or for many other people with an education. Unemployment is ridiculous high and, the state can't afford to pay debt or pensions, birth rate is too low and immigrants don't want to come since there are no jobs so the population starts to collapse and all the young people are leaving since there is no jobs and no future which means faster population and economic collapse, less money for the state and faster collapse of the welfare system causing even more young people to leave. Germany will not transfer the money it makes in taxes and indirectly from young Spanish immigrants to help out Spain, so Spain is really screwed.

    This is unfortunate for me from two angles: Spain is out of the question for jobs and I have to compete with Spanish chemists for jobs in Germany, but maybe I can beat them out since I know German and the Spanish often do not. Even with that though, it'll be a bit hard and I don't know how to play a musical instrument so I can't apply for that 'Hofnarr' job at Timm333's blog.

  7. Uncle sam, most big German corporations will pay your German lessons. If they think you are a good chemist they will not shy away because of not speaking the language as long as you are committed to learn.

  8. One of the consequences of the Spanish crisis is a very significant reduction on salaries. That may make it a very interesting hub for companies to set shop in or for the creation of a CRO/CMO cluster that could even compete with the asia-pacific market. The very large pool of highly skilled talent certainly is there. I would personally much rather work with CROs there than in China/India. A major hurdle is the Euro but that one has not easy solution.

  9. I'd happily work for a Tenerife based CRO!

  10. How is the job situation in organic chemistry Scandinevia and Finland? The idea I get is that they pay quite a bit of money to their postdocs in some subjects (much more than the postdocs in the US).
    How is the postdoc hiring scene and the scene in companies/industries?


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