Monday, September 30, 2013

So that's one way to deal with bankruptcy

Ripped from the headline's in this week's C&EN, an unusual coda to a business relationship (article by Alex Tullo):
A dispute over a failed biotech start-up may be the motive in one of two attempted murders in La Jolla, Calif., San Diego police say. Hans A. Petersen, former CEO of Traversa Therapeutics, allegedly shot his former chief scientific officer, Steven Dowdy, in the early morning hours of Sept. 18, hitting him once in the lower back. 
Three hours later, Petersen allegedly broke into the home of Ronald Fletcher, his brother-in-law, and shot Fletcher once in the stomach. Fletcher managed to wrestle the gun away from Petersen. The two victims survived the attacks. 
Dowdy is a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Traversa was founded on small interfering RNA (siRNA) delivery technology that Dowdy developed at UCSD. The technology tackles the problem of delivering siRNA drugs to cells by taking advantage of macropinocytosis, a mechanism that cells use to ingest large amounts of material. 
Traversa made some commercial progress, signing on Sanofi as a partner in 2010, but the company filed for bankruptcy early in 2012. Petersen and the firm had parted ways about a year before that. San Diego police speculate that Petersen blamed Dowdy for the loss of his job.
You'll see that Mr. Petersen has a LinkedIn profile -- you really wonder if the people who he recommended are attempting to scrub their pages now...

A hilarious juxtaposition of letters

Not much #chemjobs-related news in this week's C&EN, but two letters that are pretty funny when combined:
Who Will Hire Pharma Grads? 
With AstraZeneca closing its research facilities in neurosciences, who is going to hire those seven to 10 neuroscience postdocs paid for by AstraZeneca when they finish their terms at Tufts University (C&EN, Aug. 5, page 22)? Certainly not AstraZeneca. It doesn’t sound like a sustainable model for big pharma to support postdoctoral researchers who will not have prospects for a job in industry. 
Patrick J. Bednarski
Greifswald, Germany
Following right after Dr. Bednarkski's letter, a letter on a different topic (emphasis mine):
Get More Teachers Into Industry Labs
Now that we’ve seen high school science teachers successfully working in industrial labs during their summer breaks, we need to expand this effort to include grade school and junior high teachers (C&EN, Aug. 12, page 34). With some industry science experience, these teachers can inspire, mentor, and foster even younger students to have an early interest in chemistry and chemical engineering. There are excellent job opportunities in the chemical industry. 
Chemistry is different from nearly all of the other sciences taught in school. A child can work with both hands and mind. We still have chemistry sets for children; there must also be a school experience. I note that industrial work in the U.S. continues to decline, but the chemical industry seems to be flourishing.
Warren L. Dowler
Pahrump, Nev.
Ah, yes, flourishing. That's exactly what I would not call it, but hey -- what do I know?  

Friday, September 27, 2013

C&EN wants to know "How Did You Get Your Job?"

C&EN is collecting stories of chemists getting their current jobs:
Please tell us the story of how you got your current job in 250 words or less. You might consider answering some of these questions: How long did you search for your current job? What circumstances or contacts ultimately opened the door to a new job for you? What gave you the edge in landing your job? When did you start your current job?
If you want to participate, click here. versus the ACS Salary Survey

Chad Brick makes an interesting point in the comments:
The ACS salary survey is a poll of ACS members, who are not average chemists and who seem to have higher salaries than most. For example, new PhDs normally enter as something equivalent to's "Chemist IV" at the companies I have worked at, starting at the bottom/middle of this distribution and working their way up. 
That's a full $10k less than what ACS is reporting as the typical salary for PhDs with 5-14 years since their BS, which is pretty much the same group of people. I think you are better off looking at's distributions for Chemist IV (younger PhD) and Chemist V (after your first major promotion, small group leader) than the ACS survey.
I've posted the two of them against each other above, so that you can see the difference.

I think Chad's comment is correct, in that we do not have an ACS-independent sense of "the average chemist." Also, because larger companies tend to support ACS and to pay employee dues, one suspects that more large company employees are represented than not, driving the salaries up. Finally, there's the methodological issue: ACS Salary Survey numbers are self-reported (you'd be likelier to report if you felt better about your numbers), while's numbers are from HR professionals (a different problem: they might be tempted to fluff up their numbers a bit.)

Readers, your thoughts?

UPDATE: Chad has more thoughts on this on his blog. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

It's the same everywhere

I totally get what this Reddit poster is saying about graduate school:
I'm a graduate student in an R1 university. I wanted to share my experiences to determine if what I'm observing is a problem everywhere or if it is specific to my university. 
Don't get me wrong, my department has many intelligent people and is often underrated. However many people barely scrape by doing a minimal amount of research and hardly showing up. Some people shock me when they pass their oral exams or get a PhD when they can't explain LeChatelier's principle. I have a hard time thinking that such people would pass an oral at MIT or Caltech. However this isn't my concern; perhaps I underestimate them and should get off my high horse. What grinds my gears is how these people perform in the lab and affect my research
What I see is a general lack of regard for safety and a lack of respect for instrumentation/apparatus that many people use. Pulling solvent into vacuum pumps (and not changing pump oil), clutter everywhere, furtive use of instrumentation by people who know that they don't know what they're doing and who do not own the instrument, huge scale-ups (for example involving liters of bromine and no headspace in the flask), things of that nature. Oh, and a large proportion of Chinese students who don't understand English and will tell you they understand everything you say, then break stuff. I really don't mind explaining something twice-I don't understand what their deal is. The best part is that if you bring it up during group meeting or send out a mass email describing how not to screw up the glovebox, everyone nods and agrees, then nothing changes the next day. I'm not saying I'm perfect or have an immaculate hood, but I do try to be very respectful and careful if I am using someone else's instrument for example. 
My point here is that there is clearly a lack of leadership in my lab, but my lab has too many people and I have too much research to do for me to try to improve things. As much as I have tried, it really isn't my job or in my authority to manage them. I can't wait to get into industry where if people do this kind of crap, they're fired.
I remember making the exact same complaints in graduate school. What I find most remarkable about this post (which is not a unique complaint) is a similar post by someone in a very different field:
Over the last eight months, I have led a company in Afghanistan to conduct various engineer missions. An active-duty company deployed on its own to fall under a National Guard battalion under an active-duty engineer brigade. 
...The lesson that I learned relating to the aforementioned comments is this: We are a bureaucratic organization with rules, regulations, and doctrine that are sound and have been well researched, but we continue to flounder due to the lacking personalities and void of accountability. Understanding the art and science of warfare is enforced in schools, not in our formations.... 
...My personal battle has been with peers on battalion and brigade staffs. When I do not receive the information that I require, I demand it as it is required for success. The demanding is my unraveling. I have found myself in a pitched battle with officers junior to me calling me "bro," saying that I do not have tact, and then going to tell their respective commander that I do not play nice. I didn't know that I had to play nice. I thought I was selected as a commander to achieve a mission within my higher commander's intent.... 
...Perhaps this is why the top percentage is leaving the military. Not spouse careers, salary, benefits, upward mobility, or awards. Existing with other peers who do one-third the amount of significant output may be the real factor. At least that is my factor.
Perhaps it's my lot in life to bounce around non-elite institutions of various sizes, but it seems to me that most organizations in this country muddle through and most have their malcontents and incompetents. Some companies do their best to weed them out, but that takes time and effort and judging who "isn't meeting expectations" is a hard science at best.

Organizations that are truly excellent from top-to-bottom are probably few and far between (no matter the size.) I wonder if I'm being overly pessimistic. Readers? 

Daily Pump Trap: 9/26/13 edition

Between September 24 and September 25, there were 22 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 11 (50%) were academically connected and 10 (45%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources. 

Cincinnati, OH: I think this B.S. chemist position for Flint Group sounds kinda interesting:
The Pigment Development Chemist role is to formulate organic pigments for commercialization, primarily for the Graphic Arts and Coatings industries. In order to successfully perform this function, sound technical ability, experience in the field, good communication and team work across different departments within Flint Group as well as with suppliers and customers will be required.   Intimate involvement in Research, Development, Production and Quality Control will be required. 
The ideal candidate will have a strong Organic Chemistry background, specializing in Azo Pigments, be familiar with project management principles and be able to design and execute experiments. The candidate will also be required to translate laboratory experiments to production scale up, and trouble shoot production and quality problems as they arise. Team work and problem solving skills are a necessity in this environment. A background in Azo pigment chemistry is necessary, with knowledge of other pigments being a plus.
They're looking for a B.S. chemist with 4+ years experience -- I'll bet you couldn't fill a large-size classroom with the candidates for such a position.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 197, 676, 2486 and 15 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 135 positions for the job title "chemist", with 9 for "research chemist", 23 for "analytical chemist" and 1 for "organic chemist."

Now that's a fun one: Via LinkedIn, a M.S./Ph.D. level surface chemist position:
QuantumScape is looking for a Senior Chemist to develop and run a benchtop program to make sulfide thin films and/or coatings via sol-gel synthesis, chemical bath deposition, or other relevant techniques.  The candidate will design and perform experiments with the objective of adapting known recipes or creating new recipes for synthesis of thin film materials in a fashion that is amenable to high volume manufacturing.  The ideal candidate is self-motivated, high performing, can work independently and in teams, and loves challenging projects.
They want sulfide chemistry synthetic experience -- where would you get that, I wonder?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

BREAKING: Phil Baran receives MacArthur Fellowship

According to Gawker (now there's a phrase I did not expect to type into this blog), the MacArthur Fellows (also known as the "genius grant") for 2013 were released early by a Mississippi newspaper's website (before the embargo tomorrow morning). On that list?:
— Phil Baran, 36, La Jolla, Calif. Organic chemist at Scripps Research Institute who invents ways to recreate natural products with potential pharmaceutical uses.
I do not have any reason to believe that the story isn't true. (And if not, someone has put together a very real-sounding list.) Congrats to Professor Baran and his group.

UPDATE: The New York Times is confirming the leaked list and has interviews with some of the grantees; Professor Baran's name is on the list. Congrats, officially.

625k -- that'll buy some xenon difluoride...

Daily Pump Trap: 9/24/13 edition

Good morning! Between September 19 and September 23, there were 105 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 50 (48%) were academically connected and 38 (36%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Devens, MA: Johnson Matthey Pharma Services looking to hire 4 chemist/engineer-types for process development, including a B.S./M.S. position with 3 to 5 years experience. 56.2-70k offered -- am I crazy for thinking that's a touch low?

Berkeley, CA: LBNL is looking to hire a postdoc for its Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis; looks to be materials-oriented, but I'm not sure I fully understand what this position is about:
  • Complement the high-throughput (HT) experimentation effort at JCAP South with a synergistic HT computational effort on materials structure prediction, solid phase stability, band structure and aqueous dissolution as a function of changing oxygen and water environment (pH and standard hydrogen potential) parameters.
  • Structure prediction of ternary and quaternary ionic systems, with the ability to evaluate thermodynamic stability of new phases from first-principles calculations.
  • Evaluate potentially metastable structures (e.g., likely to be synthesizable, particularly under the various non-equilibrium synthesis conditions in HT experiments).
  • Conduct rapid calculations and data mining of stable crystalline compounds in a given chemical phase space.
Beats me.

Ewing, NJ: FMC Corporation desires a senior Ph.D. analytical chemist (10+ years.)

Shimadzu: Another 3 positions. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/24/13 edition

Good morning! Between September 17 and September 23, there were 67 academic positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 5
Tenure-track: 57
Temporary faculty: 0
Lecturers: 2
Staff: 3
US/non-US: 67/0

Pasadena, CA: Caltech desires an assistant professor of organic chemistry with an emphasis on chemical biology and organic materials. That's a fairly narrow set of candidates, yes?

Athens, GA: The University of Georgia wishes to hire an associate or full professor of organic chemistry.

Raleigh, NC: ...or, if Athens isn't your thing, you might want to consider North Carolina State, who is also conducting a search for organic chemistry faculty.

Aliso Viejo, CA: Soka University of America is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry; any field allowed.

Farmville, VA: Longwood University is looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry.

Well, as long as you're humble about it: Santa Barbara City College desires a chemistry instructor -- it bills itself " #1 Community College in the Nation." Huh. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

ACS Salary Survey: unemployment down slightly, median salaries up slightly

The full article by Sophie Rovner about the 2013 ACS Salary Survey is out, and there are a variety of interesting things to comment on. The short version is that unemployment is down slightly, from 2012's 4.2% of respondents to 3.5% in 2013. Median salaries for all chemists rose between 2012 and 2013, going up 2.2%. 

Inflation: I think the most interesting graph of the article is below:

It basically shows that, since 2003, salaries for all chemists (academic, industrial, governmental, at all degree levels) have failed to keep pace with inflation (as measured in 2003 constant dollars). While you could argue that this is due to the broader economy, it's not a pretty story, especially combined with the relatively high rates of unemployment.

Unemployment: We've covered the basic unemployment numbers from the ACS Salary Survey already. Here's a problematic comparison between the US population of college graduates and ACS members that I see in the web version of the article:

I'm not convinced it's an apples-to-apples comparison when you're comparing a professional society of over 60% Ph.D.s to a college-educated labor-force with less than 10% Ph.D.s (it's probably more like 5%, actually.) 

U6-like lowest since 2008: I've long titled the sum of the percentage of unemployed chemists, part-time chemists and postdocs in the ACS Salary Survey as the "U6-like number." In other words, it's a broader measure of unemployment in chemistry ("U6" refers to BLS' broadest measurement of unemployment in the U.S.) That number for the 2013 Salary Survey was 8.9%, which is lower than it has been since 2008, when it was 7.5%. That's nice to see, even it is quite high. 

Weird geography: I don't think Andre the Chemist or I could have predicted this one: 
Unemployment rates among ACS members also varied across the U.S. The percentage of out-of-work members who were looking for a job as of March 2013 was lowest in the East North Central region,which consists of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and highest in the Pacific region. New England, which at 6.9% had the highest unemployment rate last year, saw that number drop to 4.2% this year. The unemployment rate in the Pacific region eased from 6.5% to 4.9% during that same period.
The Upper Midwest with the lowest chemist unemployment? The Pacific region with the highest? Huh? 

The Eka-silicon caveat: Ol' E-s isn't going to like this one: 
The survey was sent to a random sample of 25,000 ACS members under the age of 70. The sample excluded student, emeritus, and retired members, as well as members living outside the U.S. The survey recipients returned 7,078 complete responses, for a response rate of 28%.
I'm pretty sure a 28% response rate is the lowest we've ever seen. 

The human side of chemist unemployment: David Harwell makes some sad points about long-term unemployment amongst chemists:
Still, Harwell cautions that the unemployment numbers might be artificially lowered by a small number of out-of-work chemists who have given up on searching for a job and thus are no longer counted in unemployment statistics. “We know that some people are dropping out,” he says. “We’re seeing people leaving chemistry.” 
The situation is toughest for what he terms the “very long-term unemployed,” who find it difficult to reenter the workforce for myriad reasons. “Their connections go cold; it’s hard for them to keep up their skills,” Harwell says. “They can go back to school, but that costs money, and if they have kids or a mortgage that is also eating through their savings, they just have to do something to survive.” 
And that doesn’t mean they are “making a targeted move from one sector of professional employment to another,” says Harwell. Instead, some of these chemists are now working at retail chains or in restaurants to make ends meet.
We've still got a ways to go. Best wishes to all of us.  

Now that's a way to find a position in chemistry

should also be subtitled "IHOP - the ultimate in #altchemjobs."

I want to come back to this article by Deirdre Lockwood about people finding chemistry positions in places other than the coasts. Here's a rather wonderful story about someone looking for a Q.C. position in the Pacific Northwest, ultimately ending up in Missoula, Montana:
Although most people relocate only after they’ve found a job, Becky Winnick, an R&D chemist at Blue Marble, took a different path. After graduating in 2011 with a B.S. in environmental chemistry from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., she worked at a series of unpaid or stipend-based internships in environmental science, and for a few months at analytical chemistry firm Dragon Analytical Laboratory in Olympia. Then she decided to take a road trip to find work in a place she wanted to live. She “couch surfed” through Spokane, Wash.; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Kalispell, Mont., researching opportunities in libraries along the way. “I was hoping to find a simple quality-control job,” she says, but she had no luck. 
Once Winnick reached Missoula, she fell in love with the town’s combination of access to nature and a vibrant music, art, and social scene and was determined to stay. She found a place to live on Craigslist and pounded the pavement of Missoula’s fledgling biosciences scene, networking with University of Montana professors and dropping off her résumé at several companies. When none of them hired her, she took a job at an IHOP restaurant for the summer and volunteered with a wildlife refuge, planning to move again by winter if nothing panned out in terms of starting a chemistry career. 
Last October, Winnick saw a job posting for Blue Marble. She was hired as an intern and moved up to a permanent position in January. Now the 23-year-old works on projects from inception to scale-up, testing different extraction methods to fill requests from potential clients for such things as a natural blue food coloring and determining how to make the extracts in larger reactors.
I don't think this is a viable route for most (any?) Ph.D. chemists, but I think that, for the right person (relatively young, no familial responsibilities), this approach to finding a job in chemistry can work well. Read the whole thing! 

Retired industrial scientists as postdocs?

From this week's C&EN, a very interesting letter: 
Some students might enjoy doing postdoctoral work, but the majority would like to find a rewarding career. I worked as a postdoc back in the early 1970s when my salary was $10,000 per year. Compared with that, today’s postdocs are lucky in terms of pay.... 
...I strongly support the idea of hiring retired industrial scientists as postdoctoral researchers in academe. With their years of exposure to industrial problem solving and product development, many retired scientists and engineers could contribute a lot to the research programs of principal investigators at universities. And the presence of a retired industrial scientist in a research group would benefit graduate students. Retired industry scientists could nurture grad students by, for example, holding informal sessions on industrial problem solving, thinking in terms of improving a company’s bottom line, addressing applied research problems, and so on. I am interested in contributing as a postdoc. 
Sitaram Rampalli
Orland Park, Ill.
First, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator, $10,000 between the years of 1970 and 1975 ranges between $41,000 and $60,000 in 2013 dollars. Seems to me to be fairly comparable to modern postdoc salaries, if not higher.

Second, I would love to hear about postdoctoral fellowships and why more older/retired scientists aren't hired into said groups. My answer would probably be that 1) older scientists are typically not interested in the $30-50,000 (with no benefits) that postdocs are offered and that 2) principal investigators aren't interested in dealing with direct reports that are 20 years older than they are. Maybe I'm wrong.

(Honestly, wouldn't an adjunct position be a better fit?)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kevin Trudeau went to jail, for too short a period of time

Maybe I'm just upset that I didn't write
"Natural Job Hunting Tips 'They' Don't Want You To Know About."
Credit: Phil Plait
Back when I was in graduate school, I used to come home late at night and watch TV until I fell asleep (such "Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About." They were both fascinating and angry-making. It was so obvious that he was bilking people out of their money by slagging the industry I hoped to work for (the pharmaceutical industry) and it made me mad -- but I kept watching.
a bad habit...)

[I confess that I love watching natural salespeople do their thing -- it's such a study in psychology. (I love to wander the aisles at county and state fairs and watch the pitchmen sell knives and such; quite a performance they put on. I am a bit of a cheapskate, so it's not like late-night infomercials get me to buy things.)]

Well, ol' Mr. Trudeau was sent to jail for a night the other day:
After spending just one night locked up in a federal jail, former infomercial king Kevin Trudeau is a free man again. 
But U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman — who jailed Trudeau on Wednesday only to free him Thursday — said he’d keep the smooth-talking 50-year-old fraudster and alleged multi-millionaire on “a very tight leash.” If Trudeau doesn’t come clean about just how rich he is, he’ll be back in custody next week, the judge warned. Trudeau said “no comment” to reporters as he left the Metropolitan Correctional Center and entered a taxi. 
Trudeau, of Oak Brook, has for five years failed to pay a single cent of the $38 million fine Gettleman imposed on him for flouting a court-ordered ban on making false claims in his diet book infomercials. The judge this week finally lost patience with Trudeau’s insistence that he is broke and can’t pay the fine after learning that Trudeau went on a luxury spending spree just days after he’d been ordered to limit his spending to necessities last month. 
Those luxuries included two $180 Vidal Sassoon haircuts, $900 worth of cigars and $1,000 in meat he bought from an up-market website.
It's a shame it didn't last longer. Kevin Trudeau is a fraud (albeit an entertaining one) and he deserves all the punishment he can get. 

A helium petition

You've probably already seen the Derek Lowe post about the potential for helium shortages, due to the U.S. government's potential shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve. (How we got here is pretty bizarre, to be honest.)

My official position has pretty much been the same as Derek's -- there's a short-term crimp in the supply due to worries about lack of Congressional action and also a lack of industrial capacity. There are also long-term worries (helium is a non-renewable resource, after all.) But we're not going to run out of helium in the next 20 to 30 years, as there appears to be plenty of industrial capacity coming online.

All of this to say that there's a petition to encourage the President and Congress to pass a bill to address the Federal Helium Reserve issue (which the House has one version, and the Senate has passed another (just yesterday!)). Now the bills need to be reconciled, passed and given to the President for his signature.

If you are so inclined, sign the petition!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

This Roger Perlmutter quote seems a little entitled

"I need people who are prepared to change the world."
Roger Perlmutter is the new head of Merck Research, and he talked with Forbes' Matt Herper recently. Here's the final quote from Herper's really revealing article:
One result is that too many people can become risk-averse, not making big enough bets in a business that is built on risk and mystery. “I’ve said to people that my feeling is that if you’re a manager in our organization, not every day or every week, but every now and then, I expect you to bet your job. I expect you to come into me and say, ‘I’ll bet my job that this is right and we ought to be doing this.’ People should be prepared to do that,” Perlmutter says. He says people were quite surprised when he stood up and said that in front of the organization. “I’ve said,you know, if you’re not prepared to bet your job, why are you here? Because if all you’re going to do is manage in the traditional way, I don’t really need you here. I need people who are prepared to change the world.”
First, I think this is management big-talk that's not going to really change the way that people work. Perlmutter already made the changes he wanted to make when he let a bunch of management layers go -- the rest is all noise.

I'm in some sympathy with Perlmutter in that he's like the general manager or a head coach of a football team -- only results matter. He's only measured in terms of successful new drug launches and the like -- if there aren't enough, no matter the reason, he might be out on his ear.

In another sense, however, one might suspect that Perlmutter is independently wealthy enough that he can make that sort of declarative statement, "If you don't like the way I'm doing things, you can fire me." Not very many scientists, or managers of scientists are willing to make those sorts of statements. And maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing most of his people won't be, either. 

Daily Pump Trap: 9/19/13 edition

Good morning! Between September 17 and September 18, there were 38 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 16 (42%) are academically connected and 13 (34%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Alcoa Center, PA: Alcoa desires a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to work on ICP-MS or ICP-AES towards metals analysis at Alcoa's main R&D center.

Marina del Rey, CA: C3 Jian is a small company focusing on dental medications; they have an opening for a B.S. chemist to work on peptide chemistry; sounds intriguing.

Cambridge, MA: Schlumberger is looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist for a position as a postdoctoral fellow looking at new ways to analyze crude oil mixtures with GC.

King of Prussia, PA: GSK is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist to work on analytical technology transfer.

Indianapolis, IN: Lilly desires a M.S. chemist for an "Associate Consultant Scientist ADME"; looks to be cheminformatics-related. Don't know that I love the "Consultant" being put in my title...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

So what would you ask a ACS presidential candidate?

If the comments to Monday's post on ACS presidential candidates' statements on #chemjobs issues, a commenter had a good suggestion:
You should formulate your own survey with a few specific questions on how they think ACS can impact the employment market. Send it out and see if you get any response. Just say that you represent a blog focused on chemistry and science employment market and see what happens. After all, despite the hackneyed statements, this looks like three very different people--one a long time govt lab employee, one high up in a huge corporation, and one the head of a small business. Would be interesting if you could get them to say anything and how different their perspectives would be.
That sounds like a great idea. Here are the 2 questions I plan to ask the candidates:
  • Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it? 
  • How would you describe ACS' response to the Great Recession and the increase in unemployment amongst its members? How should ACS respond to similar situations in the future? 
Readers, what would be your questions? I plan to submit 4 questions to the candidates -- that leaves 2 slots open, but if there are questions that are better than mine (and there will be!) I would be happy to substitute. 

(Perhaps to increase our bona fides, we could note whether or not we were members. For the record, I am an ACS member.) 

Are you a woman in process R&D? OPRD wants you!

Trevor Laird, the editor of Organic Process Research and Development, has an editorial asking for women in the process R&D world to serve on OPRD's editorial advisory board: 
...However, in process R&D, the number of female chemists and chemical engineers with whom I come into contact is quite small; although I have no actual statistics, the gender ratio between women and men in this sector of the fine chemical and pharmaceutical industries seems heavily skewed towards men. 
Thus, on Organic Process Research & Development’s (OPRD’s) Editorial Advisory Board (EAB), women make up only about 10% of the members. This is not because we favor men in the appointments system, it is just that so few women are recommended to me (and of course that could be part of the problem).  
Therefore, I would like to hear from female chemists and engineers who would be interested in joining our EAB, which meets once a year in the United States (usually at Informex) and once a year in Europe (London or Cambridge). Additionally, I would like to have recommendations for female members of the EAB from male colleagues.
Sounds like a good idea.  

Process Wednesday: putting oxygen into reactors

I'm still reading Bert Hulshof's relentlessly fascinating Right First Time in Fine-Chemical Process Scale-up. Here he is, talking about fermentation, oxygen and agitators: 
Adequate and continuous supply of oxygen to the growing cells of the microorganism is a crucial factor. The dissolved oxygen profiles usually require special attention during process scale-up due to various reasons, such as maintaining the specific power input and a turbulent flow on both scales, keeping the air-flow proportional and the pressure identical. Maintaining a turbulent flow on both scales is more difficult to control than the other three requirements.  
If the viscosity, usually in the range of factors of 30 - 2000 more viscous than water, increases during the fermentation process, the Reynolds number may become too low resulting in a large decrease of oxygen transfer. A general solution to this problem is diluting the process, which affects the productivity. The dissolved oxygen (DO) profiles in 25,000-L fermenters show relatively high concentrations of oxygen in the well-mixed Rushton turbine regions, while low to very low values were measured in the radial and axial planes away from the stirrers. This may lead to relatively dead zones in even larger-scale fermenters where oxygen depletion may reduce the productivity of the process.  
Recently, progress has been made to improve oxygen transfer by introducing novel gas injection nozzles and using pure oxygen. Intensified oxygen mass transfer can be achieved by injecting gas into liquid via these nozzles at supersonic flow velocities, forming very tiny gas bubbles (size range of 100 um) and giving enhanced interfacial area and higher gas pressure in the bubbles on commercial scale. 
I tend to think much more about keeping oxygen out of reactors. [There are three sides to the fire triangle: heat, oxygen and fuel. The typical 2000 gallon reactor is full of flammable fuel, i.e. solvent, so keeping the oxygen level close to zero is important.]

Fermentation is about getting oxygen to the bugs so they can make product, so keeping oxygen levels up is important. It looks like fermentation processes run into similar issues as other agitated processes -- if the solution becomes too viscous, you can't get oxygen to the bugs and your process slows. Also, it appears that agitation can only do so much to make sure that oxygen is well-distributed throughout the reactor. (I don't think I'm wrong to say that a Rushton turbine has a relatively high power number, so you would it expect it to deliver the most mixing capability for gas/liquid systems*, so that tends to indicate the problems associated with oxygen distribution in fermentation...)

(I wonder if this is a problem in beermaking? I am going to guess "no", but I don't know very much about beermaking processes...)

*Note: IANAChE, i.e. I Am Not A Chemical Engineer.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What were the 3 best and worst things about your research group?

A reader very kindly donated to the GeekGirlCon DIY Science Zone and has asked the following question:
I constantly think of or hear things that professors do with their students and think "what a great idea!" or "holy hell I hope I never do that to my students."  So, rather than constantly thinking of these things and forgetting them I was hoping you could forever put this in print AND include the wisdom of our wonderful community by asking for everyone's top 3 list of best and worst things about their research group in grad school.  
First, thank you to anyone who donated! And second, I am more than happy to answer this question:

The best 3 things about my grad school adviser/group (note that I'm remembering this through a haze of positive nostalgia):
  1. Personal mentoring: I always felt like my research advisor was dedicated to making me a better scientist, a better communicator and a better chemist. Group meetings weren't micromanaging beatdowns, they were a weekly 2 hour opportunity to learn from him (and each other!) about all aspects of organic chemistry. Even one-on-one meetings were positive and solution-oriented. 
  2. Help with communication: Papers, orals, theses, interview talks were all practiced in front of the group, with slide-by-slide critiques given by fellow group members. 
  3. Picking up the phone: I am always weirded out by stories from folks whose advisers wouldn't write letters of recommendation or make a phone call or two about a student. He has always been an advocate for his students, even after they've long since left his group. 
The 3 worst things about my grad school adviser/group:
  1. Favoritism/cliquishness: People have a natural tendency to congregate with like-minded people. There was a fair bit of cliquishness, and it was occasionally clear that the boss would prefer to interact with one group of students over another. I think this is a natural state of affairs, but I think that research advisers should act intentionally to counteract it. 
  2. How we treated 1st years: I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was definitely a style of mentoring 1st years (usually by 2nd or 3rd years) that either worked really well (90% of the time) or didn't work at all. I think we could have done a better job there. 
  3. Benign neglect: My adviser did a great job of training us to be independent scientists and people who could think critically about chemistry. There was very little micromanaging, which I was (and still am!) incredibly grateful for. However, there were times when I felt that it shaded into benign neglect, and that projects or students could occasionally languish. (I don't think it happened very often, which is why I'm putting it at the bottom of the list.) 
Readers, what were the 3 best and worst things about your research group? 

Daily Pump Trap: 9/10/13

Between September 5 and September 9, there were 98 new positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. Of those, 25 (26%) were academically connected and 49 (50%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Midland, MI: 6 positions posted by Dow Corning, including 2 entry-level Ph.D. positions for organic synthesis and organometallics. It's nice to see Dow Corning hiring lots of folks - good news, I think.

Zeroes!: A junior chemist position in Louisville, Kentucky at Nuplex Resins. Love this line:
Bachelor degree in Science. Specialization in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering/Polymers/Coatings is a plus.

No experience is necessary, fresh graduates can apply. Any experience in the chemical industry will be useful.
There must be a shortage of chemists -- there's no other explanation for this reasonableness.

Naperville, IL: Nalco is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to work as a chemist towards pulp and papermaking -- interesting.

Tampa, FL: A confidential organization is looking for a patent analyst (B.S., M.S., 2-4 years experience w/patent searching.) Gotta enjoy this: "THIS POSITION IS WITH AN ORGANIZATION THAT IS NEW TO THE TAMPA, FLORIDA AREA." Oh, good. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/10/13

Between September 3 and September 9, there were 29 new academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 1
Tenure-track: 25
Temporary faculty: 0
Lecturers: 2
Staff: 1
US/non-US: 27/2

Slowing down just a little: Still lots of universities posting ads for professors...

Princeton, NJ: Princeton is looking for an assistant professor in all areas of chemistry.

Santa Cruz, CA: UC Santa Cruz desires an assistant professor of bio-organic chemistry/chemical biology.

Urbana, IL: UIUC is hiring a professor of chemistry; all ranks open.

Fort Myers, FL: Florida Gulf Coast University wishes to hire an assistant professor in chemistry.

Buies Creek, NC: Campbell University is hiring an assistant professor of organic chemistry. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

And now for something completely different: Chris McCandless, lathyrism and HPLC

If you've ever read Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild (I have not), you may be interested in this story. Even if you haven't, it's probably worth your time. Krakauer's book is about Chris McCandless, a young man who became a bit of a wanderer in the American West. He ultimately died in Alaska of what was, until recently, believed to be starvation. But Krakauer recently published a blog post noting a fascinating story of chemistry and chemists that might explain why he actually died:
After Hamilton read “Into the Wild” and became convinced that ODAP (CJ's note: beta-N-oxalyl-L-alpha-beta diaminoproprionic acid) was responsible for McCandless’s sad end, he approached Dr. Jonathan Southard, the assistant chair of the chemistry department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and persuaded Southard to have one of his students, Wendy Gruber, test the seeds of both Hedysarum alpinum and Hedysarum mackenzii for ODAP. Upon completion of her tests, in 2004, Gruber determined that ODAP appeared to be present in both species of Hedysarum, but her results were less than conclusive. “To be able to say that ODAP is definitely present in the seeds,” she reported, “we would need to use another dimension of analysis, probably by H.P.L.C.-M.S.”—high-pressure liquid chromatography. But Gruber possessed neither the expertise nor the resources to analyze the seeds with H.P.L.C., so Hamilton’s hypothesis remained unproven.
Read the whole thing, for a fascinating story of 3 different teams of chemists (academic and industrial!), TLC, natural products, botany and HPLC.

I like this study on the 'S' in STEM

Via Beryl Benderly at Science Careers, a very interesting report from College Measures, an organization affiliated with the American Institutes for Research (an organization that I can't really put my finger on, in terms of where they're coming from...):
Politicians, policy makers, governors, and many others trumpet the need for STEM education to feed the STEM workforce. Despite such rhetoric and clamoring, the labor market is far more discriminating in the kinds of degrees it rewards. Data from College Measures show that employers are paying more—often far more—for degrees in the fields of technology, engineering, and mathematics (TEM). Evidence does not suggest that graduates with degrees in Biology earn a wage premium—in fact, they often earn less than English majors. Graduates with degrees in Chemistry earn somewhat more than Biology majors, but they do not command the wage premium typically sought by those who major in engineering, computer/information science, or mathematics. 
...Because three states—Texas, Virginia, and Colorado—have sufficient numbers of students in large STEM fields, this study was able to explore the link between STEM education and first-year earnings. 
Overall, data show that graduates with degrees in the fields of technology, engineering, and mathematics (or TEM) experience greater labor market success than graduates in other fields and that graduates with degrees in science-related fields (or S) do not generate any greater labor market returns than, for example, the non-STEM field of English Language and Literature....
Obviously, I believe these numbers are true, but I would like a little more confirmation (not just 3 states' worth of data.) Nevertheless, I think this represents a core challenge to both academics and those concerned about the chemical enterprise as a whole. If young chemists are earning consistently less than young professionals in other fields, why should young chemists stay chemists? (Love of the field, I guess.) 

ACS President-Elect candidates on #chemjobs

The ACS has 3 presidential candidates this year, G. Brian Balazs, Charles E. Kolb, Jr., and Diane Grob Schmidt. I have excerpted the #chemjobs portion of their candidate statements below:

G. Brian Balazs
An education in science remains a great investment, and employers want the analytical thinking and advanced skills that result from hiring chemistry graduates. However, ongoing changes in the job market have resulted in talented individuals at all degree and career levels unable to find a job in an area that matches their interests and abilities. I believe we can do more to help, and these are the areas I would emphasize: 
Work with potential employers to emphasize that chemistry graduates have the discipline and analytical skills employers are looking for 
Enable job seekers to identify a broader set of opportunities including “nontraditional employers” while simultaneously providing more tools to address the dynamic nature of the job search environment 
Provide students with better means for identifying potential internships and other in-school employment experiences, and better inform them of the value that employers place on direct work experience
Charles E. Kolb, Jr.
Third, we need members prepared to seize the ­future. 
Nearly all of the critical challenges facing our world have significant chemical components. ACS must help our current and future members better understand how their vision and their skills can contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable future. The fact that too many ACS members are unemployed or underemployed, while most global challenges need chemical insight and innovation to be addressed successfully, is a travesty. ACS needs to develop more effective ways to help current and future members orient their interests and capabilities to successfully address critical problems. ACS also needs to motivate both private and public investments to ensure resources exist to fund the science needed for progress.
Diane Grob Schmidt
...In order to realize a sustainable future in these crucial and difficult times, we must marshal our resources to bridge the gaps and solve problems. We live in interesting but challenging times. Chemistry is a rewarding profession, but only if you have a job. In the past, our graduates were offered jobs before graduating; now frequently they wait six to nine months or more before finding employment. Even midcareer chemists are concerned about job security and may fear job loss from outsourcing. No wonder our young people show increasing reluctance to select chemistry as their future profession. Further, the public image of chemistry is suffering from media attacks. “Chemicals” is seen as a bad word. Funds for research are being cut.... 
There are five focus areas where we must concentrate: 
Employment. Jobs, jobs, and jobs! This should be our major concern! ACS cannot create jobs but must work to create an atmosphere domestically that encourages growth and the addition of U.S. jobs. 
Education. Strong leadership, even a transformational role, in the educational system that prepares our future chemists and chemical engineers for getting, keeping, and growing in their jobs.
If you'd like to read their whole statements (who wouldn't?), they are here, here and here.

This week's C&EN

Couple of interesting tidbits in this week's C&EN:
  • This Sarah Everts piece on chemistry in Nazi Germany is pretty remarkable; I wonder what a similar analysis of American Chemical Society actions during World War 2 or the McCarthy Era or the early Reagan years would produce... (trying to think of similar 'interesting times' in America, not drawing a parallel.)
  • Looks like the helium crisis is getting pretty dire because of Congressional inaction. I don't have much hope here. (article by Andrea Widener)
  • Rick Mullin has an interesting comment on the 'echo chamber' problem in science communication, including this quote: "Bloggers I have spoken with agree that even the good science blogs tend to be echo chambers, read largely by like-minded scientists."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Help fund the DIY Science Zone at GeekGirlCon!

Lots of science bloggers are going to be helping out at the DIY Science Zone at GeekGirlCon (a convention for young women about geek culture) next month, including myself. Here's the DIY experiments we're planning to do with kids:
  • DNA extraction made easy!
  • Are you bitter? A genetic taste test.
  • Magic breath! Acid-base chemistry of the body.
  • CSI: GGC! Finding latent prints using ninhydrin.
  • Coffee ground fossils!
  • Neuron know-how! Build your own & learn how they work.
  • Slime-to-go!  Make your own bag of goo.
  • Making craters! Please bring your own sound effects.
  • Dancing raisins!  No choreography skills required.
  • Nature notebooks! A mix of art & nature.
I'm going to be doing the ninhydrin stain station. Looking forward to it.

We're soliciting donations for our efforts. Your contributions would be spent on:
  1. Zone supplies (activity ingredients, tarps, cleaning supplies, etc.)
  2. Zone advertising (banners, flyers, posters, etc.) - being in a high traffic area helps, but we'll still need to advertise around the con!
  3. Two-day GGC badges for zone workers
  4. Two hotel rooms for zone workers within a short walking distance of the con
  5. Airfare assistance to zone workers needed financial help
We're offering Acts of Whimsy for donation levels reached -- you can see them here. (scroll down) The one that I am committed to doing is:
@Chemjobber is known for his ceramic duck, which is his Twitter avatar. If $300 is raised, he will change his duck's hat (and outfit?) by popular demand, no matter how silly. If we reach $750, he will answer with "Quack!" at GGC whenever someone says, "Hey, CJ!"
I have already obtained supplies to change my Twitter avatar picture, and I'm looking forward to quacking a lot at GeekGirlCon.

Here's what I am offering to you, Chemjobber reader. If you donate and tell me, I will offer you a handwritten thank you note and, for any donation of $20 or larger, a post of your choosing.

I do not love soliciting funds, but teaching science and the scientific method to kids is worthy in my opinion. Thanks for listening. 

Why Gen X and Gen Y do not trust large organizations

...The big government/civil service agencies are old. They're products of the 20th century, and they are used to running their human resources and internal security processes as if they're still living in the days of the "job for life" culture; potential spooks-to-be were tapped early (often while at school or university), vetted, then given a safe sinecure along with regular monitoring to ensure they stayed on the straight-and-narrow all the way to the gold watch and pension. Because that's how we all used to work, at least if we were civil servants or white collar paper pushers back in the 1950s... 
...The key facts are: Generation X's parents expected a job for life, but with few exceptions Gen Xers never had that — they're used to nomadic employment, hire-and-fire, right-to-work laws, the whole nine yards of organized-labour deracination. Gen Y's parents are Gen X. Gen Y has never thought of jobs as permanent things. Gen Y will stare at you blankly if you talk about loyalty to their employer; the old feudal arrangement ("we'll give you a job for life and look after you as long as you look out for the Organization") is something their grandparents maybe ranted about, but it's about as real as the divine right of kings.  
Employers are alien hive-mind colony intelligences who will fuck you over for the bottom line on the quarterly balance sheet. They'll give you a laptop and tell you to hot-desk or work at home so that they can save money on office floorspace and furniture. They'll dangle the offer of a permanent job over your head but keep you on a zero-hours contract for as long as is convenient. This is the world they grew up in: this is the world that defines their expectations.
First, I think the statement about "employers" is perhaps a bit overly broad, and really applies to large organizations -- however, those are the organizations that have the resources and salaries that are most desirable, so maybe it's more on point than I'd like to admit.

Second, I see a lot of this in my personal experience. As you know, my father (whom I love dearly) has worked for the same medium-sized corporation since the late 1970s; I clearly remember the rounds of layoffs and mergers and national-media-level scandals that I saw as a teenager. Because of my dad's long rants at the dinner table, I've always held corporate America at arm's length. (What's funny, of course, is that my beloved dad can't understand why I'm hesitant to work for large companies. Sigh.)

Stross' concluding comments are really about the lack of loyalty that we tend to see in modern organizations (italics are by Stross)
We human beings are primates. We have a deeply ingrained set of cultural and interpersonal behavioural rules which we violate only at social cost. One of these rules, essential for a tribal organism, is bilaterality: loyalty is a two-way street. (Another is hierarchicality: yield to the boss.) Such rules are not iron-bound or immutable — we're not robots — but our new hive superorganism employers don't obey them instinctively, and apes and monkeys and hominids tend to revert to tit for tat quite easily when unsure of their relative status. Perceived slights result in retaliation, and blundering, human-blind organizations can slight or bruise an employee's ego without even noticing. And slighted or bruised employees who lack instinctive loyalty because the culture they come from has spent generations systematically destroying social hierarchies and undermining their sense of belonging are much more likely to start thinking the unthinkable.
Certainly, "the unthinkable" is different for an intelligence organization than an employer of scientists and engineers. That said, the lack of trust between employer and employee probably manifests itself in less productivity improvements and/or innovation than the employer would expect...

Ask CJ: Why are we telling people that we need more scientists?

Someone who happened on the blog via Google writes in:
I found your blog while doing some research into careers in the sciences for my [child.] My [child] is a senior in high school, and has really enjoyed and excelled at biology, chemistry and physics. 
[They] wants to major in college in some sort of science, and is leaning towards chemistry or  biochemistry. But what I keep finding in my research is how difficult the job market is for scientists. We keep hearing in the media, from the government and from our schools that the US needs more kids to major in STEM fields. Our school district just opened our third high school, specifically for STEM students.  
I wonder if you could address in your blog why it is that we are encouraging more kids to go into STEM majors, while the reality of the job market seems to indicate not enough jobs for our current scientists?
Here was my partial response:
...The answer to your question is that there's quite a difference between the need for more STEM training for K-12 students, and a need for more scientists/engineers/mathematicians. My standard answer is that we do not need more scientists; what we really need is more computer types, because that's where the projected job growth is supposed to be. (And, deep down, that's where everyone knows the jobs of the future are. If you look at your district's new high school, I suspect that it will be IT heavy.)  
(There is also the "we need more people to think like scientists" idea, which is usually what scientists mean when they agree with "more STEM training.") 
I think that no one (i.e. no politician) wants to say "We need more computer programmers, and more petroleum engineers", because it's not very sexy nor exciting. But if you say, "we need more cancer and Alzheimer's researchers", it gets people excited and it gets juices flowing in a way that no one can accomplish with the more complex truth.  
Also, the parent wanted to know how to get their child involved in academic or industrial internships. There are a variety of sources for these positions:
  • Look online for local area companies/universities -- sometimes, they'll post listings. 
  • Talk to your high schooler's science teachers; they may know of openings or organizations that look for summer students annually. (It's how I got my first two science internships.) Ask them to look, or ask their contacts. 
  • Talk to science-related organizations (local American Chemical Society chapter, science museum, etc.)
  • It's a shot in the dark, but you could always cold call/cold e-mail local universities to see if there are professors who might be willing to take on a summer student. 
Readers, any more ideas? This parent is in the Philadelphia area -- are there any good organizations around there that coordinate STEM (ugh, that phrase) internships? 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dear companies, please feel free to pay for interview costs

I've heard a couple of reports recently of small-ish companies deciding to invite people for on-site interviews, but not being willing to pay for the travel costs.

First, interviewees, be careful about this. Carefully weigh your ability to pay for these travel costs against the likelihood (or not) of being hired. Go into this with your eyes open.
  • Get in writing that they will reimburse you for your travel expenses. 
  • Better yet, get them to arrange your travel. 
Second, interviewers/potential employers, what the hell are you thinking? If you're inviting people from out of town (i.e. more than 120 miles (or two hours of driving) away), are you really not going to pay for the extra $500? At least be upfront about your unwillingness to pay.

Love, CJ

Where are the non-academic PhD chemists in the United States? Where aren't they?

Here's an interesting visualization of the geography of industrial (or at least non-academic) chemistry, from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Two things to explain here that I think I understand about these charts:
  • The darker the state is, the higher the absolute number of non-academic Ph.D. physical scientists.
  • The selected states have the highest (or lowest) rate of chemists amongst non-academic Ph.D. physical scientists. 
Here's the raw numbers, in order of "prevalence index", a number that's not explained in the chart:

Chemists most prevalent: Delaware: 7.836, New Jersey: 2.459, Indiana: 1.475, North Carolina: 1.393, Michigan: 1.115, Kentucky: 0.721, Arkansas: 0.607

Chemists least prevalent: North Dakota: 0.2620, Nevada: 0.2620, New Hampshire: 0.3110, New Mexico: 0.3440, South Dakota: 0.4260, Mississippi: 0.4780, Vermont: 0.5740, Idaho: 0.7700, Wyoming: 0.7700, Montana: 0.8360, Alaska: 0.8690. 

I'm not positive that this chart showed me anything I didn't know (I probably would not have guessed Kentucky or Arkansas, but that's about it.) That said, it's worth a click. 

Daily Pump Trap: 9/12/13 edition

Good morning! Between September 10 and September 11, there were 44 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 25 (57%) are academically connected and 13 (30%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Woburn, MA: Here we are again, with an Organix postdoctoral position. Pay 40-48k.

Livermore, CA: Postdoctoral position at Sandia National Labs in laser spectroscopy.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs show (respectively) 261, 725, 2,620 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 152 positions for the job title "chemist", with 6 for "research chemist", 18 for "analytical chemist" and 1 for "organic chemist."  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Process Wednesday: just how mobile is a reactor, anyway?

Tim Blades, director of operations for the Chemical Biological Application 
and Risk Reduction Business Unit, talks at a June 27 demonstration 
of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System at the Aberdeen 
Proving Ground. (Army)
Process Wednesday is not meant to be topical, but I did happen to run across a story recently that I found incredibly relevant to the news of the moment -- the Department of Defense is developing a mobile chemical weapons destruction facility:
Should the Pentagon need to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons, it can do so with new mobile systems that can neutralize and destroy the materials, according to defense officials. 
The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS) is designed to destroy chemical warfare agents in bulk and can be up and running within 10 days of arriving on site. 
“We are acquiring some ability to deal with chemical materials should we be in a position where we have to do that,” Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said Wednesday during a presentation at the IDEEA-sponsored COMDEF conference in Washington.... 
...A crew of 15 people is needed to operate the system at any given time, according to the Army. The system can neutralize between five and 25 metric tons of chemicals per day, depending on the material.
To this novice process chemist, the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System appears to be a flow unit (the pipes on the right?) with a 2000 gallon reactor (with agitator gearbox?) attached to it. I don't quite know what the reactor w/agitator is for: to hold the hydrolysate? to be the unit where the hydrolysis happens? It would also be terribly interesting to know how they get the nerve agent into the system. Crack open the nerve agent rounds, pour into tote, suck into reactor? Doubtful.

[Worth remembering that nerve agent destruction is fairly simple -- mix your sarin or VX with caustic soda (50% aqueous sodium hydroxide) and heat until you can't detect the nerve agent anymore...]

I'm interested to learn that they need 15 folks to operate the system -- that suggests to me that it's a reasonably complex process (although who knows if that's 3 teams of 5, working 3 shifts a day) or 1 operator and 14 people to cringe and make sure (s)he's doing it right.

Finally, I am very curious to know exactly how mobile such a unit might be. I know that reactors go across the country on flatbed trucks all the time -- how exactly would they transport such a unit overseas? By boat? Does a 2000 gallon reactor fit in a shipping container? Could a C-130 fit a 2000 gallon reactor? Dunno.

I like adventure myself, but I would not volunteer to work with the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System in Syria, or anywhere else where this unit might be required. Unless, of course, the FDHS came with a battalion of crack infantry troops to surround it....

UPDATE: For those who wish a slightly more skeptical view of the practicality of this, click here. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#ACSIndy Career Fair: 99 positions, 523 job seekers

Credit: @CountTheBricks
The ACS Indianapolis National Meeting has the following stats, thanks to our multiple photographers, @CountTheBricks, @rgcjk and @xtalca:

Employers: 29
Job seekers: 523
Positions available: 99
Recruiters Row: 13

That's a ratio of 5.28:1 (job seekers to position), which is slightly worse than #ACSNola at 5:1, but better than Fall 2012 (Philadelphia), 5.71:1 and Spring 2012 (San Diego), 8.76:1.

Other photos after the jump:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Early 2013 ACS Salary Survey: unemployment falling, salaries up for some

Data from this year's C&EN article and my post from 2011
I didn't get to do a recap of last week's release of the early results from the 2013 ACS Salary Survey, written up by Sophie L. Rovner:

Unemployment is down: The unemployment rate for members is down 0.7% between 2012 and 2013. Seems to me that the decrease in unemployment has been relatively broad-based, but it's nice to see the numbers for the B.S. members dropping significantly. Elizabeth McGaha, assistant director of ACS’s Research & Brand Strategy (RBS) department (the department that does this survey), notes that full-time employment is at 91.1%, which is the highest level since 2008. Good news, I'd think.

But: I was a little bit plesantly surprised to read the comment offered by David Harwell about this drop:
David Harwell, assistant director for career management at ACS, which publishes C&EN, cautions that the latest number might be affected by unemployed chemists who have given up on new job searches and thus are no longer counted in unemployment statistics.
And salaries:  The Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI inflation index put inflation for 2012 at 1.7%. How did ACS member chemists do?
Salaries for U.S. chemists have edged up 2.2% in 2013 compared with 2012... the overall improvement in the median salary for chemists can be attributed entirely to a rise in pay for Ph.D.s, who saw a 1.4% boost over last year, the data show. Chemists who hold a bachelor’s degree actually suffered a 2.6% drop in median salary from 2012 to 2013.
Not so well, looks like.

(The Eka-silicon caveat: We'll also have to see what the response rate for the 2013 Salary Survey was -- I know I filled mine out.)

I think we're through the very worst of the Great Recession for chemistry, but I'd like to see ACS member unemployment drop well below the median unemployment for their equivalent degree levels before I'll say that we're recovered. That, and salary increases well above inflation. That'd be nice. (It's too soon to hope for signing bonuses, right? There's your Monday morning chuckle.)

Best wishes to all of us. 

C&EN is 90!

Lots of retrospective articles that I'm looking forward to reading in print. Also, very much looking forward to doing the crossword puzzle...

P.S. I really love the pic of the production staff - I have a soft spot in my heart for "behind-the-scenes" folks. 

Total and AkzoNobel shutting down facilities in Europe

One spot of unfortunate news in European chemical manufacturing in this week's C&EN, from Alex Tullo:
Total, one of Europe’s largest oil companies, will close its ethylene cracker in Carling, in northern France, and AkzoNobel will end production of organic peroxides in Deventer, the Netherlands. Both closures are driven by overcapacity in European chemical markets combined with growing international competition. Total says it will shut its Carling cracker in the second half of 2015 but will invest more than $200 million to enhance hydrocarbon resin and polymer production as well as associated R&D at the site. The closure will result in a net loss of 210 jobs. Meanwhile, AkzoNobel will cease organic peroxide production in Deventer by the end of 2016, eliminating 215 jobs. “Global demand patterns for organic peroxides are trending away from mature markets in Europe and becoming increasingly concentrated in Asia and North America,” says Werner Fuhrmann, head of specialty chemicals at AkzoNobel.
Best wishes for all involved.  

Last week's C&EN

Last week was a bit of a tough week for me, with work and all -- I didn't get a chance to cover issue 35 as much as I wanted to. Some highlights:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Unemployment rate down 0.1% to 7.3% for August

Credit: Calculated Risk
Fresh electrons from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the National Unemployment Rate for August was down 0.1% to 7.3%. The broader U6 measurement of unemployment was also down by 0.3% to 13.7%.

The media is going to be talking about (and already is) about the lukewarm payroll number: 169,000 new non-farm jobs for August, which is not very stunning and lower than expected.

The number of long-term unemployed stayed flat at 4.3 million. Those with a college degree have an unemployment rate of 3.5%, a drop of 0.3%; those without a high school diploma have an unemployment rate of 11.3%, an increase of 0.3%.

Chemical manufacturing employment was down 3,200 jobs to 793,000 from July's 796,200.

It looks to me like August was a so-so month for employment, and 2013 isn't looking much brighter, which is too bad.

Thanks, as always, to Calculated Risk for the graph. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Daily Pump Trap: 9/5/13 edition

Good morning! Between September 3 and September 4, there were 25 new positions posted. Of these, 1 (4%) is academically connected and 8 (32%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Iselin, NJ: BASF is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist to work on heterogenous catalysis. It's worth noting that BASF has posted 7 positions in this period.

Atlanta, GA: The Coca-Cola Company is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist; minimum of 3 years industry experience.

The Woodlands, TX: CESI desires a M.S./Ph.D. colloid chemist.

The Woodlands, TX: Flotek Industries wants an entry-level Ph.D. chemist -- I really like the way this position is described (emphases mine):
Flotek Industries has an opening with the newly established R&D group in The Woodlands, Texas. A successful candidate would preferably have a Ph.D. degree in synthetic organic or polymer chemistry, with or without prior industrial or postdoctoral experience, and must have demonstrated proficiency in performing lab-scale organic synthesis, making new molecules with targeted benefits, and applying scientific methods to target and solve problems. A successful candidate is expected to either have or develop knowledge in the chemistry of citrus oils and surfactants. The ability to use mathematical and statistical methods to optimize efficiency of product development is a strong plus. 
It's nice to see that some companies are selecting for the ability to be trained.

Memphis, TN: I think it's fascinating (and natural) for St. Jude's Children's Hospital to need a director of GMP manufacturing.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 244, 658, 2629 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 137 positions for the job title "chemist", with 3 for "research chemist", 16 for "analytical chemist" and 2 for "organic chemist."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

So what the hell is the state of the economy, anyway?

Let's look at some recent numbers:
  • 2nd quarter GDP was revised up to 2.5%. (Normally, that would be a so-so number, but considering recent years, it's pretty good.)
  • Weekly unemployment claims are at a 5 year low.
  • Home prices are up 10-12% year-over-year (comparing 2012 and 2013), according to both the Case-Shiller Index (20 city composite) and CoreLogic.  
  • Consumer sentiment is pretty good, if not great. 
  • The American Chemistry Council's new-ish index (which is supposed to predict the overall American economy as a whole) is looking positive for the six to eight months. 
Of course, long-term unemployment is still crummy (and will continue to be) and Paul Hodges still thinks we're DOOOOOOOOMED. (Actually, I feel like he's moderating his tone juuust a bit.

Readers, any thoughts on the direction of the economy? 2013 is almost 75% over, and it's unclear to me what kind of year it has been. I'm thinking positive for 2014, though. I hope I'm right. 

Process Wednesday: yield versus time

From a terribly interesting new text called Right First Time in Fine-Chemical Process Scale-up by the wonderfully named Lumbertus A. Hulshof, a comment on commercial scale chemistry and optimizing for speed or yield:
From an economical viewpoint this parameter [CJ's note: productivity (i.e. kilograms/hour-meter3] is usually predominant, but not much in the mind of the chemist who is more focused on a maximal chemical yield. The chemist may ignore the fact that for processes with a higher contribution of the variable costs (raw materials) compared to the fixed costs (labour, equipment, etc.) it is better to optimise on yield, whereas for processes with a lower contribution of the variable costs compared to the fixed costs to the total costs the plant residence time is a crucial factor to optimise and not the yield. 
As an example, the condensation of glyoxylic acid and phenol in water gives p-hydroxymandelic acid in 75% yield after several hours, while a 55% chemical yield is obtained already after a period of 2 hours. Thus, the productivity of the process can be considerably higher, while the chemical yield has still not reached its highest value... the chemical yield is after a half-life usually 50%, after two half-lives 75%, after three half-lives 87.5% and after four half-lives 93.8%. So, the gain in yield after 4 half-lives is a poor 19% compared to 75% after two half-lives, whereas the residence time in the plant is twice as long! 
It seems to me that, for the manufacturing-oriented chemist, it's much easier to focus on understanding the economics of the variable costs (amount of solvent, equivalents of reagent, choice of raw materials) than it is to understand the fixed costs of a chemical plant (labor, utilities, etc.) I've also found that the "cost to run the plant per day" may not be a number that management is interested in divulging, and it may be inaccurately calculated or not really well-understood. Ultimately, though, you have to keep both numbers in mind.