Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy (early) Thanksgiving!

Here we are again at another Thanksgiving (well, tomorrow, anyway). Once again, I am incredibly thankful to be part of an excellent chemistry blogging/Tweeting community.

To the people who read and comment on this blog, I am so incredibly thankful for each and every one of you. Your clicks, comments, tweets, and e-mails (especially the skeptical ones!) give me motivation and joy.

If you are in the US, may you and your family have a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving.

(And if you're not in the US, may you and your family have a wonderful, happy Thursday/Friday. Back Monday.)

Note on TMS diazomethane

Thanks to a tweet last night, I was reminded of the death of chemist Roland Daigle in 2009. Unbeknownst to me (even though I remember reading Jyllian Kemsley's article on the fines of Sepracor Canada that resulted from his death), there was a Clinical Toxicology report on what happened, including scale. I reproduce it here as a public service to chemists:
Fatal Occupational Exposure to Trimethylsilyl-Diazomethane 
Murphy NG,1 Varney SM,2 Tallon JM,1 Thompson JR,1 Blanc PD.3 
1IWK Regional Poison Centre, Halifax, NS, Canada; 2Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Center-Denver Health, Denver, CO, USA; 3Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, UCSF, San Francisco, CA, USA. 
Background: Diazomethane (DM) is a highly explosive, toxic methylating reagent causing severe pulmonary injury. Trimethylsilyl-diazomethane (TSDM) is a less explosive analogue that may not be less toxic. We describe the first documented case of a fatality following TSDM exposure. 
Case report: A 46 year-old male pharmaceutical chemist presented to the ED with progressive dyspnea. At noon on the prior day, as part of a chemical analysis, he had mixed 2 mL of acetone with 25 mL of L-Malic acid to which was added TSDM dissolved in n-hexane. After 1 hour this mix was combined with an inert gas and a small amount of methylene chloride under a fume hood that was later reported to be nonfunctioning. 
Although he experienced no immediate mucous membrane irritation, 8 hours post-exposure he developed cough, pleuritic chest pain, hemoptysis, and progressive shortness of breath; by 15 hours, he presented to the ED in respiratory distress, hypoxic (PaO2 67), hypercarbic (PaCO2 46), and acidemic (pH 7.26). A chest radiograph showed an acute lung injury pattern. By 23 hours he required intubation. 
At 26 hours postexposure he developed profound bradycardia, refractory hypotension, and asystole. 
Case discussion: DM inhalation is known to cause fatal pulmonary edema without an immediate irritant prodrome and with a similar time course to this case. Structural modification of DM with an added trimethylsilyl group makes TSDM less explosive, but its propensity for lung injury is unclear. The chemical admixture as described in this case may have liberated nitrogen gas, but this should not have led to pulmonary injury; nitrogen dioxide should not have evolved. The toxicity may stem from residual DM present in the reagent or a direct effect of TSDM, its metabolites or breakdown products, or potential intracellular formaldehyde formation. 
Conclusion: The temporal relationship to exposure with inadequate ventilation and clinical effects similar to the analogue toxicant DM support a causal relationship between TSDM and acute lung injury. Additional safety data for this chemical is warranted, including experimental inhalation testing in animals.
The conclusion that I draw from this is not that chemists should not use TMS-diazomethane, but that they should exercise due caution with respect to the potentially fatal consequences of inhaling it. Work practices, engineering controls and PPE are all a part of that.

(Does anyone wonder if there's a misreporting of the scale of whatever test Mr. Daigle was performing? 2 mL of acetone and 25 mL (?) of malic acid does not make a ton of sense.) 

More Annie Dookhan fallout: crime lab chemist fired for not having chemistry degree

Another chemist has been fired from the Massachusetts state crime lab. Not for tampering (a la Annie Dookhan), but for having insufficient credentials and testifying falsely about it (via the Boston Globe):
The drug analyst who was fired for misstating her credentials allegedly falsely testified in federal court as recently as August that she has a degree in chemistry and possibly did so in dozens of state court cases as well, opening the door for a flood of new legal challenges related to the Hinton drug lab scandal.

The analyst, Kate Corbett, was fired by the State Police Friday for allegedly asserting that she holds a degree in chemistry from Merrimack College, though investigators determined that her degree is in sociology.

Corbett has not been accused of tampering with evidence, a charge that led to the conviction of Annie Dookhan, the woman at the center of the lab scandal.

But Corbett’s declarations in court that she is an expert with a chemistry degree could potentially derail convictions in those cases, say legal analysts, who say her testimony would be tainted.
The explanation is somewhat tragic, really:
However, State Police conducted background checks on the chemists’ education to ensure that the analysts met the agency’s standards for accreditation, and superiors learned of the discrepancies with Corbett’s education. 
According to a State Police report obtained by the Globe, Corbett earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Merrimack College in 2001, though she claimed on her resume that she obtained a degree in chemistry in 2003. 
A State Police investigation concluded that, in the two years after she first earned the sociology degree, she took enough credits that she believed would satisfy a chemistry degree. However, according to the State Police report, Corbett assumed she had earned a second degree without confirming it with Merrimack College. 
Also, according to the report, she would not have qualified for a second degree because she would have had to take an additional set of coursework to meet bachelor of science requirements.
I think her dismissal was the right response from an organization that is being seen as less than competent, charitably speaking. It's fairly apparent to me that her management is (yet again) at fault -- she started working for the lab in 2005. If her credentials were important (and it sure sounds like they were), then they should have been examined by her superiors.

Process Wednesday: on hiatus, 1 week

Process Wednesday will return on December 4, 2013. Count on it.

Up next will be this very informative OPRD ASAP on Merck's scale-up safety review, in case anyone's interested in reading it.

Also, today is as good as a day as any to point out that the venerable process chemist Quintus has a blog now, with lots of good entries, including this comment on a recent fun OPRD ASAP (the scale-up of a cubane diester!) 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ask CJ: I want to go to graduate school to become an analytical chemist -- how do I do that?

From the inbox, a very interesting question from WD:
I'm [22-28], BS in chemistry, graduated with GPA < 3.0. I've had personal circumstances that prevented me from actually focusing on school during my whole undergrad. I'm at a much better place in life, considering further education. 
As of today, I'm at my first "real" job-- [redacted] chemist at [redacted] -- been here almost one year... I do a lot of [synthesis.]  
...I've had some chances to tinker and work with analytical instruments here. I loved it, even though it was only working with IC and GC/MS.  
My ideal career would involve studying these instruments, coming up with better methods and improvements to the instrument, and generally be around them 24/7. Would I be able to gain this sort of knowledge/experience via M.S or Ph.D? I was around a few organic, inorganic grad students while in undergrad so I know what their work consists of, but I don't really have a clue on what analytical chemistry grad students do, or what sort of angle they tackle this big umbrella term, "analytical chemistry".
Personally, I think WD is eminently eligible for graduate school in analytical chemistry, perhaps a master's program? I would think that WD would need to do some independent study and do well on the chemistry GRE in order to shore up their case. A nice letter from one of WD's analytical colleagues would probably be helpful, or perhaps a letter from an analytical chemistry professor at their old school (one that has reviewed WD's current work experience and has positive comments.)

All of that said, I know next to nothing about graduate school in analytical chemistry. Analytical chemists -- now's your time! What should WD do next? 

Annie Dookhan sentenced to 3-5 years in prison

Via the Boston Globe, a sad end to this sordid tale (how's that for a cliché?):
Annie Dookhan, the drug analyst who tampered with evidence and jeopardized tens of thousands of criminal convictions, was sentenced Friday to three to five years in state prison, closing a sorrowful chapter for the woman at the center of a scandal that continues to plague the state’s criminal justice system. The 36-year-old mother of a disabled child, whose marriage fell apart in the months after the scandal, softly pleaded guilty to 27 counts of misleading investigators, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence. She must also serve two years of probation and undergo mental health counseling, if needed. 
After the sentence was handed down, Dookhan struggled to hold back tears as she whispered with her lawyer before being led away in handcuffs by court officers. Two family members, believed to be her parents, watched from the courtroom gallery. Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office prosecuted the case, said in an interview later that the conviction of Dookhan was only one part of an ongoing investigation into the quality of drug testing at the Hinton drug lab, but she said it was needed to bring some accountability for her crimes. 
“Certainly one of the victims in this case, and the actions of Annie Dookhan, is the public trust,” Coakley said. 
Dookhan’s lawyer, Nicolas A. Gordon, would not comment after Friday’s hearing. He had asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol S. Ball to sentence Dookhan to no more than a year in prison. Dookhan admitted to filing false test results and mixing drug samples, and to later lying under oath about her job qualifications, but she said it was only to boost her work performance. 
Prosecutors had asked that Dookhan serve 5 to 7 years in prison, but Ball kept to her earlier decision that she would sentence the chemist to 3 to 5 years, finding that, while Dookhan was a “broken person who has been undone by her own ambition,” the consequences of her crimes were still “nothing short of catastrophic.”
Considering how many people were sent to prison without proper due process (well into the dozens or hundreds, I suspect), her sentence is comically insufficient. Harry Elston is on record (on Twitter) saying that she should be serving the sum total of time served by the innocent people that she sent to prison; can't say I disagree with him.

UPDATE: Here's Carmen Drahl's story on the sentencing at C&EN. Via Carmen and WBUR, the judge's sentencing opinion, which gives some insight as to her logic. 

Job posting: synthetic organic chemist, Guelph, Ontario

From the inbox:
Wellington Laboratories Inc. is an internationally known supplier of environmental reference standards for use in environmental analysis and toxicological research ( The company is comprised of a Reference Standards Division, a Research Division, and an Analytical Division operating in a modern technical facility in Guelph, Ontario. The company’s foundation is in its staff which provide a strong combination of synthetic/organic and environmental/analytical backgrounds. We currently have an opening for a Synthetic Organic Chemist in the Reference Standards Division.
M.S./Ph.D., looks to be entry-level. Click here for details.  

Daily Pump Trap: 11/26/13 edition

Good morning! Between November 21 and November 25, there were 43 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 19 (44%) were academically connected and 21 (49%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Whoa!: NIST is looking to hire a director of its new Office of Data and Informatics; salary is $123,758.00 - 155,500.00. I'm guessing this is a fairly senior position.

Richmond, VA: Altria desires an assistant QA manager; B.S., 8-10 years experience desired.

Peninsula, CA: Thermo Fisher looking for a senior chemist, M.S./Ph.D., 3-7 years experience desired. Looks to be research towards the analytical chemistry of carbohydrates? Interesting.

Cincinnati, OH: A very different kind of senior chemist, via Monster:
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has a position available at the U.S. EPA in Cincinnati. This position is with a government grant specifically for seniors over the age of 55. The position applies knowledge of general methods for organic and inorganic analysis of environmental samples, including chromatographic, electrochemical and wet chemical methods.  DUTIES: Operate lab instruments, ensure lab equipment is in working order and properly calibrated, analyze drinking water samples and data record keeping. REQUIRED: To be eligible for this government grant you must be over 55, B.A. /B.S. degree in Chemistry, and 10 years related experience in organic (GC. LC) analytical instrumentation.  Word processing and spreadsheet skills are highly desired.   Send resume to: No phone calls please.
What in the heavens is this about?  

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/26/13 edition

Good morning! Between November 19 and November 25, there were 28 new academic positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 2
Tenure-track: 17
Temporary faculty: 3
Lecturers: 3
Staff: 3
US/non-US: 27/1

Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University is looking for a professor of chemistry or biology to join their ranks at the associate or full professor level.

Pullman, WA: Washington State has postdocs open for analytical chemistry research towards biofuels.

Louisville, KY: The University of Louisville searching for a biophysical chemist for an assistant professor position.

Carbondale, IL: SIU is looking for 2 tenure-track assistant professor positions, one in biochemistry, the other in analytical chemistry.

Bothell, WA: The University of Washington has 3 lecturer positions open; they seem to be seeking "dynamic individuals." (Eyeroll.)

How is this a consultant position?: This seems like a fairly standard chemical engineering postdoc/staff scientist position at LSU, but it's labeled as an "information technology consultant." Weird. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The latest ACS Form 990

The latest ACS form 990. Last year's post is here.

As you can see, the directors don't get paid. 

Not so for the officers of ACS, which are all firmly in the 1-2%. 

How their pay is structured, regarding bonuses and regular compensation.

The link between pesticides and genetics and Parkinson's disease

A really fascinating article by Lauren Wolf on the link between pesticides and Parkinson's. To me, this is the key passage:
Still, “the vast majority of us are not getting Parkinson’s, and the vast majority of people who work with pesticides don’t get Parkinson’s,” Goldman says. “So there’s obviously something else at play.” 
That “something,” today’s scientists believe, is genetic susceptibility. Along with Tanner and Kamel, Goldman explored this gene-environment interaction recently by surveying a group of male farmers. The researchers genotyped the participants’ DNA to determine which subjects had mutations in a gene coding for glutathione S-transferase T1. This type of enzyme is responsible for cleansing cells of foreign substances such as pesticides and protecting against oxidative stress. 
Men who were exposed to paraquat and who had nonfunctional glutathione S-transferase were 11 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than nonexposed men who had functional enzymes (Mov. Disord. 2012, DOI: 10.1002/mds.25216). 
Another recent study examined the association of pesticides, Parkinson’s, and mutations to a protein pump called P-glycoprotein. This macromolecule sits on cells lining blood vessels in the brain, defending a person’s gray matter by pushing out molecular intruders. 
Agricultural workers in France who were exposed to organochlorine insecticides and who had gene mutations affecting P-glycoprotein’s performance were three to seven times more likely to have Parkinson’s than those who weren’t exposed (Arch. Neurol. 2010, DOI: 10.1001/archneurol.2010.101).
I am always looking for the mechanism behind chemical/epidemiological studies. Genetic variation in how we deal with xenobiotics makes sense to me; when I say to my non-chemist friends, "you have a liver and it does its job well", there's something to the thought that well, different people have different livers.

[This will also lend itself to lots of #chemophobia-tinged scares, where members of the general public may/will diagnose themselves with inefficient/insufficient CYP450, etc. Can't win 'em all.]

Friday, November 22, 2013

Just keep driving

Made with this sign generator.

Have a good weekend!

(P.S. If anyone would like to make a map of this, feel free. I'll post any that come in my inbox.) 

Need to blow a whistle on something?

DrFreddy and Swedish law has got you covered. (His talk on crypto is good advice for those who are very concerned about secrecy.) 

What mobile technology would you like to see for use in the lab?

Friend of the blog Philip Skinner (@KayakPhilip) generously donated $200 to the Geek Girl Con DIY science zone. He asked for a post about mobile technology for science, which makes a lot of sense, since he's a marketing director at Perkin Elmer Informatics(@PKI_Informatics), the folks behind ChemDraw (@ChemDraw) and ChemDraw for iPad. He asks:
If technology was no barrier, what sort of mobile (or other) technologies would we want for science - either in research or even in education?
This is a great question, and one that I’ve wrestled with for a while now. In my personal life, I’m a bit of a Luddite. I don’t own a smartphone (yet) and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I owned a tablet. In my professional life, I still use a pen and paper quite a bit, and it’s been a while since I’ve used an electronic notebook for work.

But if I were trying to dream up technology that would make a working scientist’s life easier, it would be a weird meld of Google Glass and a broadly integrated super-LIMS. Ideally, it would record everything I did in the laboratory, and it would keep track of every bit of chemistry I’ve ever thought about.

The Google Glass part: Do you accurately write down every single thing you did in the lab? I try to, but was that 0.459 grams of reagent, or 0.457 grams? How many minutes between the 2nd time I pulled an aliquot of that sample and the 3rd? Humans are pretty good at observing their experiments, but computers, would be far, far better. People are, most of the time, the recorder of scientific information coming out of an experiment -- perhaps it's the experiment that should be recording itself.

If there was a way to capture all of the data and keep track of it, notebooking would cease to be the drudgery of “I added reagent A, and then reagent B, and then reagent C” and be more about why you did certain things and not how. Obviously, really smart cameras would be a major part of this technology…. It could take photographs of my reactions and my TLC plates (now there's a simple something that needs to happen -- a TLC UV lamp that takes pictures and sends them to your electronic notebook!). Better yet, everything would be integrated into the laboratory of the future through…

A super-LIMS: If I am not mistaken (since I have never worked with one) a LIMS system is how laboratories that have to process a lot of samples keep track of all of their data. But why stop at a HPLC or a GC? Why not integrate all of the laboratory's instruments and inventory into said system? Then, you could link your reaction with all of the data attached (brand names, lot numbers of solvents, reagents, the water content of the solvents, the exact weights) with all the analytical data attached to the file. I know that a lot of the pharmaceutical company e-notebooks probably will integrate HPLC traces and pdfs of NMRs, etc. into files already. Wouldn’t it be great if those e-notebooks would also advise the chemist of previous literature that was relevant to the experiment, or previous experiments within the company that had been tried, or solvent/reagent combinations that might work better?*

But what if the chemist thought of something later that night? That’s where the third item comes in: the super-tablet. Instead of looking for a Post-In note or something, you could pull out your tablet, access your company’s intranet and scribble something down to yourself that day. Want to check out how your overnight run on the HPLC is doing? Check it out on your mobile device! Naturally, the super-tablet would have access to all the literature and internal documents that your company had, if you wanted to take a brief moment and browse through some relevant journal articles. (Of the three things I’ve talked about, this is the one that is most close to fruition -- I suspect most major pharma company laptops can access most internal data at home.) It would be even better if it could keep track of all the reactions that you'd ever done and all the papers you've ever read.

Readers, what is the mobile (or not) technology that you would like to see in the lab? Is there is there something that you've always wanted?

*Or you could imagine some horrendous version of Clippy: "It looks like you're doing an olefin metathesis! Did you remember to degas your solvent?" 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Job postings: Director of Device Development, Santa Barbara, CA and Senior Research Associate, Pleasanton, CA

From the inbox: 
Director of Device Analytical Development, Allergan (Santa Barbara, CA): 
The Director is responsible for leading the Device Analytical Development department of Allergan Device R&D organization to provide high quality analytical support for the development of biomaterials, medical devices and related drug device combination products for global market meeting worldwide regulatory requirements.  
Education and Experience: Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry or a related scientific field, plus 10-15+ years experience in physical and chemical measurement methodology development and applications for medical devices and pharmaceuticals in support of product development and characterization. 
Interested folks can contact Holly McArthur at hmcarthur -at- beaker/dot/com
And another one, for the (somewhat) younger crowd
Senior Research Associate, CooperVision (Pleasanton, CA):  
Performs research and/or development in collaboration with others to support contact lens and ophthalmic materials projects. GMP/GLP experience a plus. 
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science with 5+ years industry experience or Masters of Science with 2+ years industry experience. EXPERIENCE: 2-5 years industry experience depending on level of degree
Here's the ad on LinkedIn. Thanks to those who e-mailed this in! 

Daily Pump Trap: 11/21/13 edition

Between November 19 and November 20, there were 31 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 8 (26%) are academically connected and 18 (58%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Things are slim these days: Not a ton of industrial positions being posted on C&EN Jobs these days. Sigh.

Boucherville, Ontario: The National Research Council of Canada has posted what looks like a postdoc position in polymer chemistry. (Feel free to correct me, readers, if I am incorrect.)

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 202, 866, 2700 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 157 positions for the job title "chemist", with 20 for "analytical chemist", 5 for "organic chemist", 9 for "research chemist", 2 for "synthetic chemist" and 0 for "medicinal chemist."

And there it is: Did anyone see that Pfizer is hiring new Ph.D. process chemists for its Groton site? "No industrial experience required." Yeeaaaahhhh!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The weirdest clash of opinions you will see today

Not everyday when science Nobelists get to take shots at the Economics prizewinners -- it happened this week at the Swedish embassy compound at the gathering of this year's Nobelists: 
Then Martin Karplus, a Harvard University chemist, interjected, “ “What understanding of the stock market do you really have?” 
Economics – “if one wants to call it a science” – seemed unable to explain the oscillations of the market, he said. 
“I see these fluctuations and they make zero sense to me,” Professor Karplus declared. “Maybe they make sense to you.” 
Professor Fama dismissed the question as unsophisticated, declaring its premise “factually incorrect.” 
The hard scientists, more amused than chastened, turned to mocking the economists. 
“You’re asking about a very fundamental question, on what the nature of life is,” James Rothman, a professor of cell biology at Yale University and one of the three newly minted laureates in medicine, told one questioner. “I don’t think there’s anyone here — even the economists  – who would have an opinion on that for sure.”
It's always interesting for me to see hard scientists dog economics -- I think there's a kernel of truth in there (i.e. economics does seem different than physics or chemistry), but it bothers me in the sense that someone has to think about the intersection of society and money and find some principles in there. Oh, well.

Update: It strikes me, after reading Unstable Isotope's comment, that another headline for this exchange is "Chemist Trolls Economist". 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What do US students call introductory organic chemistry?

I have more I'd like to do with the data set, but I felt the responsibility to get this out there, so that I could not procrastinate. Above is the color coded map of responses that I got to my SurveyMonkey survey (the survey was open from Friday until late last night); here are the raw numbers.

I haven't had time to do detailed study of the numbers. Suffice it to say that this is NOT a great random survey; it's more or less an internet poll. That said, the numbers are pretty clear that "orgo" is almost purely an East Coast and Midwest phenomenon and "o-chem" is mostly a Western term.

There's a raft of cross-tabs I've yet to do. Questions I plan to answer with the data set:
  • Is there a correlation with the year that organic chemistry was taken, and the frequency of the use of the different terms? 
  • Are there strong differences within states with regards to the different terms? (i.e. do different institutions within the same state use different terms?) 
  • What term do people in other English-speaking nations use? (I have 105 answers from different nations, mostly the UK, Canada and Australia.) 
Readers, any questions that you'd like to see answered? (Also, I plan to do shading of the colors, and point out states with statistically insignificant numbers.) 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A fair warning to petroleum engineering students?

I don't think I covered this before, but I found it a very interesting reputed warning to Texas A&M petroleum engineering students:
Dear Admitted Aggie PETE Applicant, 
The Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University, is pleased that you applied and were admitted to our top ranked petroleum engineering program. If you pursue a degree in petroleum engineering, our program is committed to providing the highest quality education available. 
Recent data suggests that some concern about the sustainability of the entry level job market during a time of explosive growth in the number of students studying petroleum engineering in U.S. universities may be prudent. 
Our advice is that you become aware of graduation projections and petroleum industry employment outlook for people with petroleum engineering degrees. For example, between fall 2011 and fall 2012, the number of freshmen in petroleum engineering programs in the U.S. increased from 1,388 to 2,153, a 55% jump in one year. Based on the many inquiries and applications TAMU is receiving for the petroleum engineering major, the number of U.S. students in petroleum engineering will probably continue a strong upward trend, as long as the employment market remains stable. These days, a very large number of people are already studying in petroleum engineering programs (see attachment, showing data made available through the Society of Petroleum Engineers, SPE), at a time when: the number of recent graduates, who began their studies several years ago, is already at about historical highs and growing rapidly (see attachment); our program’s board of industry advisors are recommending that we “do not grow” our undergraduate program at this time; and oil and natural gas price projections and expectations of U.S. governmental policy influences are viewed as not particularly encouraging by the U.S. petroleum industry. 
We are not trying to discourage you from a career that we think is among the most fascinating, dynamic, challenging careers that exist. However, we also want you to know that the Aggie PETE program is doing the right thing by providing you with information that could end up being important to your future.
First, does anyone know if this letter is actually true? It's found in a number of places online, but it all leads back to the blog "Cost of College." I suspect that it IS true, in the sense that if someone was e-mailing around a false letter from a Texas A&M department, they'd be quick to respond and deny authorship.

UPDATE: I have confirmed the provenance of the e-mail with Professor Dan Hill, Department Head of TAMU petroleum engineering. 

That said, I think this is a fascinating look at how an academic department might go about expressing its concerns to potential students:
  • They comment on their own internal statistics, regarding admissions. 
  • They look at professional society data. 
  • They talk about their board of industry advisors, and their negative recommendations regarding growing their program.*
  • They look at future projections on their core commodities. 
Looking back on the fat years with respect to organic chemistry and pharma, I wonder if any of these steps were ever taken? Something tells me "no." 

It is important to note, in retrospect, that there are some key differences between academic petroleum engineering and academic chemistry here: I believe that engineers are more comfortable in attempting to predict the future (statistically, looking at trends, etc.) than scientists are. I also think that there is much more alignment between academic engineering departments and their industry alumni. Finally (and most importantly), petroleum is probably one of the most accurately measured commodities in the history of mankind and the cyclical nature of the prices (and its effect on economies and labor markets) is widely understood and discussed. 

Something for industrial chemists and chemistry academics to consider, on that great day when salaries start to rise significantly and chemistry enrollments begin to climb quickly... Oh, by the way, did I mention that the Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that there will be 17% job growth in petroleum engineering between 2010 and 2020. Anyone care to guess what that number might be for chemists? (click on the link to find out)

*It should be noted that there is a potential conflict of interest here, in that it is in the interests of current employees to limit the number of future employees.

An institute for the long-term unemployed?

MIT professor Ofer Sharone hopes to solve a dark problem that few even want to discuss: how to help the long-term unemployed. 
More than four years after the last recession ended, long-term unemployment remains near record levels, with 4.1 million Americans out of work for more than six months and still struggling to find jobs. What makes the problem so vexing, Sharone said, is these workers, typically older, have qualifications that should provide the path to employment, namely experience, accomplishment, and college degrees. 
“You can’t just say go get an education because these people are often educated.” he said. “It’s scary because there’s not an obvious, easy solution.” 
Sharone, however, is daring to try to find one. Later this month, he will launch a project called the Institute for Career Transitions, an organization to help the long-term unemployed, focusing on 40- to 65-year-old workers with college degrees. The institute will begin by pairing them with career counselors or job coaches, free of charge, for three months. 
Sharone and his researchers will also try to build a better understanding of long-term unemployment and approaches that might help overcome its challenges and barriers. They will study the moods, health, and levels of depression among participants, examining how long-term unemployment — and repeated disappointments — affect them, their motivation, and ability to get back to work.
I think the problem of the long-term unemployed will only become more problematic in the future. Best wishes to Professor Sharone and his project, and best wishes to all of us.  

"Write about the Soviets"

From the letters to the editor, a very interesting comment:
Reading “Chemistry in Nazi Germany” (C&EN, Sept. 16, page 30), I am reminded of my time in the 1980s stationed in Mannheim, West Germany, as a young U.S. Army lieutenant. Right across the river was BASF world headquarters. It was difficult to find out what anyone—chemist or not—from the World War II generation had done during the war. After several years, one local friend admitted to me that his father had been a captain in the Waffen SS. 
I would be interested in reading how chemists and other scientists interacted with the government of the former Soviet Union. While in the Army, I was told at times that U.S. troops were in Europe and that NATO had been formed to finish what our parents’ generation had not—meaning defeat the Soviets. Few people in the U.S. seem to know that the Soviet Union set up a prison work-camp system almost as brutal as the Nazi camps. The Soviet prison camps had no gas chambers but rather had limitless Arctic tundra in which to bury prisoners and political dissenters, who were often worked to death. The mortality rate among Soviet prisoners was alleged to be 60%. 
As your story notes, it has taken 50 years for the truth about chemists in Nazi Germany to come out. I hope it does not take another 50 years to see how our Soviet adversaries enlisted the help of chemists and other scientists in their cause and for their aggressive military ends. Books such as “The Gulag Archipelago,” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and “Dear America!” by Thomas Sgovio, tell the story of this murderous, decades-long Soviet system, but from the point of view of survivors. 
No one has yet examined how the scientific, intellectual leaders within the U.S.S.R. collaborated with the political rulers. I would be glad to see this truth told in the pages of C&EN, however disturbing it may be. 
Mark A. Benvenuto
I would also be interested in such a story on Soviet organic chemistry and also the Soviet chemical manufacturing industry, but I suspect it would be quite the multi-part series.  

This week's C&EN

A variety of chemistry news in this week's C&EN:

Friday, November 15, 2013


Never bought one of those stickers.
Courtesy of Jake Yeston, a really good question: When you were an undergrad, what did you call your sophomore organic chemistry course?* I called it "o-chem", and when my friend who was going to school in Houston called it "orgo", I must have looked at him like he had three heads. 

[It seems to me that calling it "orgo" (as seems to be done in Harvard's extension school) is an odd abbreviation, because it adds a letter that isn't in the word. 'O-chem' makes sense, especially when you think about 'p-chem', although I suspect no one calls it 'a-chem' or 'b-chem'.] 

Readers, what did you call it? What do you prefer now?

UPDATE: Readers, please answer this survey on SurveyMonkey about what you called organic chemistry; I'm going to try to map it.

*Doesn't Juniata teach organic first? What do they call it? 

How do you prevent "You didn't tell me!" from happening?

In the midst of the recriminations about the execution of the Affordable Care Act's online marketplace, a classic bit of CYA in the New York Times (emphasis mine): 
Plenty of finger-pointing remains about how the situation developed so badly. Aides said the president did not believe that anyone had purposely deceived him or his top advisers, but they have concluded that some of the people working in the trenches on the website were not forthcoming about the problems. 
At the same time, the White House trusted its own policy and political teams rather than bringing in outsiders with more experience putting in place something as technically challenging as and the infrastructure to support it. 
Officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services repeatedly expressed doubts that the computer systems for the federal exchange would be ready on time, but they said that neither they nor their contractors had recommended a delay in opening the exchange. Political and policy teams at the White House insisted on pushing ahead without delay, they said.
As someone who "works in the trenches" (and foresees a lifetime of trench-work), I found that comment singularly enraging when I read that last Saturday. I had to take a minute to walk around the house and cool myself off.  It wasn't a political thing; it reminded me of many project management foul-ups that I've been involved with: unrealistic deadlines, vague goals, hoped-for science with paper chemistry that violates most literature precedent, finally concluded with the classic "You didn't tell me!"

"You didn't tell me" is classic boss-speak (or in this case, boss' aides-speak) for "It's not really my fault this project didn't go well."* My (mental, usually unsaid) response to "you didn't tell me" is usually "you weren't listening" or "you weren't listening closely enough."

Here's the question that I have -- how do you avoid getting to those points in projects? How do you let the boss (or the boss' aides) know that things aren't going well? How do you adjust expectations early? (My typical means of solving the problem is to get someone that the boss trusts aside and having a frank sotto voce conversation about the likelihood of us meeting the goals that have been laid out.)

Readers, what has been your experience with project management? Any advice that you can give us all?

[I discourage explicitly political talk on PPACA in the comments -- there are plenty of other places on the Internet to talk about this issue.]

*To his credit, in my opinion, President Obama took quite a bit of responsibility in his press conference yesterday.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A good, different perspective on sales and marketing jobs

Philip Skinner is a friend of the blog, a former medicinal chemist and a current marketing director at Perkin Elmer Informatics. He e-mailed me a very interesting set of critiques (after a discussion on Twitter) about a comment I made on Monday:
Yes, there is inappropriate boostering of the need for more STEM education that isn't supported by the job market. You only need to look at stagnant salaries to prove that. You will never get me disagreeing with that (at least until it miraculously isn't true) 
However, there is a hierarchy of thought as to what is an appropriate STEM career. A few years back, we all pushed against the idea that a STEM education was for becoming a STEM academic researcher only (if you can't, then go into industry). We now are (mostly) over that and see industry roles as another valid decision for a STEM graduate. 
My issue was with the following (sarcastic) statement "Because after spending 2 years in the lab, there's nothing a B.S. chemist or a biologist wants to do more than marketing or medical-device sales". I would respond "why not?". Some of them actually do, and we should actually be happy that a STEM education sets you up for more careers than a pure research role. I don't see a difference between the prejudice in that statement and these variations...\ 
"Because after spending 2 years in the lab, there's nothing a B.S. chemist or a biologist wants to do more than scientific journalism" 
"Because after spending 2 years in the lab, there's nothing a B.S. chemist or a biologist wants to do more than become a science educator" 
"Because after spending X years in the lab, there's nothing a graduate chemist or a biologist wants to do more than work in industry" 
"Because after spending X years in the lab, there's nothing a graduate chemist or a biologist wants to do more than become editor of a scientific journal" (tell that to Stu Cantrill) 
My point is that if you need a STEM education to do the job, it is a STEM job. I doesn't have to be a research job to be a STEM job. A STEM education isn't a vocational training. We are just exposing the next layer of prejudice here. 
Some people want to be researchers, some don't and actually want something different where they are still needed for their STEM education. But don't assume that everyone wants to be a researcher, and if they don't it is because they couldn't. Just as we thankfully now don't assume that everyone wants to be an academic. 
I think the common assumption here is that you don't need a STEM education to do STEM sales or marketing - that anyone can do them. I wouldn't include a retail store manager as a STEM career, although I think a STEM education would certainly benefit you in that role. But you do need a STEM education for (some) sales and marketing positions, which is why I see it as prejudice and am pushing back. Everyone in my team, myself, and my boss, has a lab/science education or background - many have advanced degrees. I am unusual in not really having chosen this as a career path, many did. I don't hire people with marketing or MBA degrees into my marketing team - unless they have it as an extra. I hire people with science degrees.
Philip says much the same things in the comments here.

He is right in that I was probably being sarcastic and dismissive of Carnevale's comments on bachelor's science graduates going into marketing or sales positions. I think a lot of this stems (pardon the pun) from my biases against Carnevale and the work of the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. For me, hearing these statements from Philip has moral force that Carnevale's statements simply don't. Carnevale has not been there, Philip has.

Philip's assertion about the important of a science education for science sales and marketing is something that I think I had not fully absorbed until his statement. Where he and I may digress is on the fate of (specifically) B.S. chemists/biologists who enter into the sales force. Perhaps this speaks to my views of either the bachelor's science degree or the entry-level positions that they're put into, but I have a mental image of 23-year-old kids with a list of cold calls to make. That's probably too narrow a vision of what they're asked to do, to be honest.

By contrast, I've interacted enough with Philip and his team to recognize that they do get to use their chemistry backgrounds and be innovative. I think this is something that I need to do more thinking and reading about. Food for thought for me, and for other readers of this blog. Thanks, Philip. 

Are you in a pharma permatemp/contractor position? C&EN wants to talk

From Linda Wang, intrepid C&EN reporter:
Permanently in a temporary position?
C&EN is working on an employment story looking at the rise of short-term and temporary position in the pharmaceutical industry. As a consequence, more chemists are getting stuck in a series of short-term contract positions with no end in sight. If you are in this situation and would be willing to share your experiences with C&EN (anonymously, if necessary), please e-mail Linda Wang at l_wang -at- acs/dot/org
I know you're out there, folks -- tell your stories!  

Daily Pump Trap: 11/14/13 edition

Good morning! Between November 12 and November 13, there were 28 new positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 6 (21%) were academically connected and 20 (71%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Romeo, MI: L&L Products desires a senior polymer chemist; "5-10 years post doc" is an interesting way of putting it. (I'm assuming the charitable interpretation, friends.)

Sterlington, LA: Dow is searching for a B.S./M.S. analytical chemist who has 3 years GC experience, with 5+ years in analytical chemistry. Why I had to slog through 3 paragraphs to figure that out is a good question. Gotta love this gem:
Key Responsibilities:
  • Promote the use of the Analytical Work Process, and Environmental, Health &Safety and Operating Document Management System procedures and practices and compliance related activities such as cGMP.
  • Screen complicated service requests for value and alignment with goals....
"I'm sorry, sir, that doesn't align with my goals."

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show 210, 893, 2533 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." (A ~200 jump for Careerbuilder.) LinkedIn shows 146 positions for the job title "chemist", with 6 for "research chemist", 6 for "organic chemist", 17 for "analytical chemist" and 4 for "synthetic chemist."

Hey, look!: DuPont Crop Protection is hiring experienced synthetic chemists (B.S./M.S.-level.)

Zeroes!: GSK is hiring a Ph.D. medicinal chemist (0-2 years) for its RTP location. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

11 things to say about a paper that didn't work

You see a reaction that might help you out, you run it on your substrate and it doesn't work. What to do next?
  1. "%$#%$#^%$^%^^%!!!!!"
  2. "72 hours to run a reaction -- nice long vacation they took..."
  3. "Oh, that guy. Never mind." 
  4. "That's what you get when you follow a paper from [prestigious university X]"
  5. "Look at this table -- have they never heard of a heterocycle?" 
  6. "Potassium carbonate for this -- what an arbitrary choice." 
  7. "*&&&**(**!!!!"
  8. "I knew I should have never trusted a journal with an impact factor below 10!"
  9. "That's what you get when you follow a paper from East Pudknocker U."
  10. "Look at this typo in the SI!"
  11. "Well, maybe we should read the paper again...." 

Help wanted: the American Council on Science and Health needs a new president

Josh Bloom is a former Wyeth medicinal chemist and a friend of the blog. He's now the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health, which is a non-profit that presents industry viewpoints on issues of science and medicine. He's asked for some help with finding a president for his organization: 
Job description: The President of ACSH acts as the primary spokesperson for the organization and determines the overall direction and execution of the organization’s mission, operations and strategic plan. The successful candidate will have an advanced degree (Ph.D., M.D., J.D.).  He or she should have a strong interest in public health, science and medicine.   
Desired Skills and Experience: The successful candidate will possess an advanced degree, have excellent writing and presentation skills, a strong interest in public health, science and medicine. An established record of managerial experience is required. Some fundraising experience a plus. 
Send resume and cover letter to Dr. Josh Bloom, bloomj -at- acsh/dot/org
I like ACSH a lot, since they counter a lot of nonsense out there about chemophobia, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, so I'm happy to help them with this search. It's also a chance (any time you have a leadership opening) to make a good organization better.

It seems to me that they're looking for someone who's relatively senior (i.e. not my age), who has leadership experience and doesn't have a problem asking people for money. But here's the key: this person should really enjoy getting in front of a camera and defending science and medicine as a field and as an industry.

For the right person, I would think such a position would be fun -- that said, it'd probably be a lot of hard work and you'd have to enjoy arguing with people. Readers, have any ideas? 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Daily Pump Trap: 11/12/13 edition

Good morning! Between November 7 and November 11, 76 positions were posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 32 (42%) were academically connected and 35 (46%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Jacksonville, FL: ADPEN Laboratories looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist for their agrochemical department. 65-95k.

Lakewood, NJ: Nitto Denko Automotive looking for a B.S. R&D chemist, 2-5 years experience. 52-58k. Hmmmmm.

Lake Charles, LA: Paper chemist (B.S. degree) needed by Georgia Pacific. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 11/12/13 edition

Good morning! Between November 5 and November 11, there have been 32 new academic positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Postdocs: 2
Tenure-track: 27
Temporary faculty: 1
Lecturers: 2
Staff: 0
US/non-US: 27/5

Touch late?: Ohio State has two positions open for assistant professors, one in Analytical Chemistry, the other in Chemical Synthesis.

Sheboygan, WI: Lakeland College wishes to hire an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Castleton, VT: Castleton State College desires a Ph.D. chemist for a joint chemistry/physics appointment; teaching p-chem, I think.

With a name like that...: Dixie State University (St. George, UT) is looking for an assistant professor of chemistry. You'll be teaching gen chem, looks like.

New York, NY: Hunter College is searching for a Ph.D. chemist to be a instrument facility manager; 55-85k. With a working spouse, might just be doable. (just)

No age discrimination there!: Sichuan University is looking to hire professors of chemistry: 
The College of Chemistry at Sichuan University (SCU) is actively recruiting high level faculty candidates from home and abroad. We offer a generous start-up package, laboratory space, and competitive salaries (specifics are negotiable). We are currently hiring multiple faculties in the following two positions: 
1.  Multiple faculty positions at the Full Professor level with research emphasis in Organic Chemistry (Physical Organic Chemistry), Physical Chemistry (Catalytic Chemistry) and Radiochemistry. 
Strong research background and exceptional accomplishments.
Less than 40 years old.
Ability to direct a nationally-funded major research program. 
2.  Multiple faculty positions at Assistant, Associate and Full Professor levels with research emphasis in Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry. 
Ph.D or equivalent degree in relevant area.
Less than 60 years old.
Extensive teaching experience at the university level.
Native English speaker (required).
What I love about the Chinese and hiring is their rather blunt requirements. While I think age discrimination is undesirable and wrong, I think it's better to get our biases out up front than have them hidden by other, prettier language. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Three dumb quotes from the Chronicle's article on the "STEM crisis"

There's yet another article discussing whether there is or is not a "STEM crisis." I don't have time to get into the details of the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael Anft, other than to say that the usual skeptics (Matloff, Hira, Teitelbaum) are in there, as well as the STEM boosters (Carnevale, Atkinson.) It's the STEM boosters that I want to point out for ridicule (emphasis mine):
STEM majors, no matter where they work, in STEM fields or out, do better than other types of majors and tend to move into management pretty quickly," says Anthony Carnevale, a research professor and director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, which has published papers that point to a shortage of STEM grads. "Having experience in technical matters helps them land good non-STEM jobs. They might work in places like marketing or medical-device sales, where their technical backgrounds helped them get in." 
So, even if there were no STEM worker shortage, it still might be a good idea to graduate more science and tech majors? 
"That's about it," says Mr. Carnevale. "You have to produce STEM workers like crazy just to have enough of them in the work force. Unemployment rates for grads in those fields are lower than the overall national average for college graduates"—3.4 percent for computer and math grads, compared with an aggregate figure of 4 percent for all college grads, according to the Department of Commerce—so "STEM is still a place you go where you have a pretty good shot. But we don't want to overdo it. You don't want to pump a bunch of people out there who, in the end, have nothing to do."
Because after spending 2 years in the lab, there's nothing a B.S. chemist or a biologist wants to do more than marketing or medical-device sales.

From IT trade association head Robert Atkinson, no expressed concern about downward wage pressure in IT/computer science (emphasis mine):
"There's no question that to keep our innovative edge, we need more people coming into technology fields," says Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, an advocacy group that receives the bulk of its funding from tech companies. It urges the federal government to widen the so-called STEM pipeline from school to work. 
The wage issue shouldn't be used to discredit the idea of a worker shortage, Mr. Atkinson believes: "Companies can go overseas for workers, so wage growth in the U.S. is more limited." There will be work in IT for people with the right set of skills, he says, adding that lower wages probably won't keep them from accepting jobs.
[stunned silence]
He also makes less modest proposals—ones that echo the United States' longtime love affair with machines and material progress. That includes a desire to funnel college students into what he calls "more useful" majors. 
"We should be making some value judgments on what kind of people we'll need for the nation to move forward," Mr. Atkinson says. "The distribution of degrees right now is entirely up to students. Shouldn't we be steering them into degree types that are of more value to society, such as computer science or engineering? The American tradition is one of hard-core pragmatism. We're at risk of losing that, and we're in trouble now in regards to competitiveness."
You know, I don't typically say things like this, but if Atkinson actually said this, he's* what he said was really stupid. Jaw-droppingly stupid. I'd really like to believe in science and engineering as careers, but why would we be trying to force them into these careers? What more enticements can we offer them other than -- I dunno -- higher wages and more job security?

*UPDATE: 11/11/2013, 6:31 Eastern: While it may be a distinction without a difference, it was wrong of me and overly personal to refer to Mr. Atkinson as "stupid", as opposed to his statement. My apologies to Mr. Atkinson. Once again, though, I wildly disagree with his statement and its logic.  

Letter on substitute teaching for retired ACS members

Concerning actions ACS members can take to further science education in general and chemistry education below the college level in particular (C&EN, Aug. 19, page 2): When I retired in 2004, one of my daughters-in-law told me that I must sign up as a substitute teacher. She teaches English in one of Maryland’s rural counties and is troubled by the rare times she has to take time off for illness or out-of-classroom assignments. It is apparently common for high school teachers to worry about the caliber of substitute teachers who cover for them. 
I took her advice to heart and contacted the Montgomery County, Md., school administration. They were almost desperate for substitute teachers, and anybody who could be cleared by the county police was given a four-hour training session and put on a list of available substitutes. The school system has a computer-run assignment program, such that a teacher who needs a substitute enters a website and generates a job number and a computer-based search. I signed up to substitute teach only for physics, chemistry, and higher mathematics in the three high schools I can get to in less than 20 minutes. I soon achieved a good reputation in those schools, and the science and math teachers there would telephone me directly if they planned to be away. The computer program also has a priority function, which put me as first to be called. 
Montgomery County pays me $16.63 per hour as a substitute teacher, so a few days a month teaching barely meets restaurant bills for me and my wife, but she appreciates having the days free of my being around the house. 
Retired ACS members who want to further elementary and secondary science education can do so easily and with great effect by substitute teaching in their local school systems.
Jacques Read
Washington, D.C.
I don't really think this is a viable employment strategy for out-of-work scientists (surely just 1 or 2 unemployed scientists could cover a district's science substituting needs.) That said, it is an option that isn't talked about much.  

This week's C&EN

Interesting tidbits in this week's C&EN:
  • Marc Reisch covers the lawsuit between Materia and Evonik over Grubbs' catalyst. I'm surprised this hasn't been bigger news, especially over the patents filed by Wolfgang Herrman (1998) versus Grubbs (2000, 2001.) 
    • I've heard various things about Materia and its patents, especially that their licensing fees for industry are particularly high. Readers, any truth? 
  • Rick Mullins' coverage of CPhI was worth a read, especially the bit about "crappy chemical processes." 
  • Become a ACS Public Policy Fellow!  (by Connie Murphy)

Friday, November 8, 2013

"I've always found Professor Woodward to bring me cheer."

I hope you have a great weekend, readers.

(Why do I have an Elizabeth Taylor perfume commercial in my head?) 

A gentle answer: David Kroll and Kristen Johnston, talking opiate research

Most of you probably know that I spend a healthy amount of time on Twitter; you can usually find out exactly what I'm up to by clicking the link to my profile page to the left. (Relax, this isn't some sort of Twitter evangelism post.) This last Sunday, I was a little startled to see David Kroll (of Terra Sigillata fame, and former pharmacology professor) engaging with actress Kristen Johnston, talking about pharmaceutical companies and opiate addiction:
Kristen Johnston: I wonder why no drug co has made safe, non-addictive painkiller as successful as treating pain as Opiates are? 
HollywoodDebi:  if it's not addictive, how will they line their pockets? 
David Kroll: Reason no drug co has made a non-addictive painkiller as effective as opiates is because the science is hugely challenging 
Kristen Johnston: I honestly doubt that.
It was at this point that, watching this, I turned to my wife, pointed out the exchange and said, "Who are people going to believe? The pharmacologist or the actress?"* But David, to his credit, began to really engage her, talking about her addiction to pain pills that she is in recovery from**:
David Kroll: Kristen, no scientist wants people to go through the struggles you've experienced. The field is working very hard on this. 
Per-Ola Norrby: I know that AstraZeneca poured billions into pain, unsuccessfully, now stopped trying. 
Kristen Johnston: OK, I believe you. Do you mean too diff to actually create the drug, or too diff to fight big pharma? 
David Kroll: if a company found a non-addictive painkiller as effective as strong opiates, they'd have a blockbuster 
David Kroll: I'd say too difficult to find something as effective without being an opiate and having addiction potential. 
David Kroll: So it's not a fight against big pharma. It's a problem that needs both govt funding and big pharma investment
Kristen Johnston: I see. Thank you for clarifying. I appreciate it.
Click here for the whole exchange, of which I've excerpted a small part.

I think David gave me a really important lesson in the power of empathy, in terms of persuading people about the difficulties of science and engaging people who simply do not have the same background that you do. These are all things that I know, but it's much easier to throw up one's hands and think that arguing with people about the benign intentions of the pharmaceutical industry is futile. Sometimes, it's not.

*It was also at that point that I felt the beginnings of getting really offended; nothing quite like one's motives impugned to get the blood running hot. 
** Something that I wasn't aware of, actually. 

BREAKING: 204,000 new jobs created in October, unemployment rate up 0.1% to 7.3%.

Good morning! Fresh electrons from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the National Unemployment Rate was up 0.1% to 7.3% in October. 204,000 non-farm payroll jobs were created in October, which is good news. The broader U6 unemployment rate was up 0.2% to 13.8%.

[Look at that! The revisions for August and September were both up, a total of 60,000 jobs for both months. It's like finding $200 in your couch cushions!]

The unemployment rate for college graduates was up 0.1% to 3.8%; the unemployment rate for non-high school diploma holders was up 0.6% to 10.9%.

Chemical manufacturing employment was up 2,300 jobs to 794,100 people. Naturally, as the pharma layoffs actually happen (payroll-wise), that number will climb in the coming months.

The media will be focused on the good-looking payroll numbers; people should be looking at the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, both of which took a bit of a dive.

UPDATE: Felix Salmon points out the effects of the shutdown on this report, which makes a lot of the data suspect. He's probably right, but I'm no market trader, just some guy with a blog. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013 not shaping up to be a great year for pharma: Challenger reports 19,507 jobs lost

The big news first: Challenger, Gray and Christmas (which is a company that does outplacement services for large firms, and tracks layoffs as a result) reported that there have been 19,507 jobs lost in the US pharmaceutical sector for 2013, with pharma announcing 10,585 cuts in October. That's a big number, and as you can see below, that easily beats 2012 (14,150.)

The inspiration for this chart, of course, is Matt Herper's vital and still-relevant analysis that he put together in April of 2011. John Carroll (FierceBiotech) followed it up in October 2012, and I'm just adding the relevant numbers so that the chart is up to date. (See here for the spreadsheet that the above chart is based on, I'm putting the links to the relevant Challenger press releases below.)

Since 2000 until the end of October 2013, according to Challenger's numbers, there have been 349,502 jobs lost in the US pharmaceutical industry. As Matt smartly pointed out in 2011:
"not all those people remained unemployed, and the total headcount of the pharmaceutical industry did not drop that much. Many of those who were laid off were probably hired back by other drug makers. Some folks have probably been laid off more than once. It’s also worth noting that big mergers are one reason for the cuts."
This is a vital industry, and one that I'm proud to be a part of. While I think there are definitely glimmers of hope here and there, times are still very hard. Best wishes to all of us.

Press releases: Total 2011 Challenger numbers, total 2012 numbers, October 2013 numbers.

Well, that's disappointing

Courtesy of Twitter follower @TfOH_C6H6, a bit of gallows humor:

I'm sure it's an unhappy coincidence more than a comment on the market. Still, though...

Daily Pump Trap: 11/7/13 edition

Good morning! Between November 5 and November 6, there 24 new positions posted to the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 12 (50%) were academically connected and 9 (38%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Camden, SC: Invista is a carpet manufacturer; they've been steadily hiring chemists and engineers from C&EN Jobs for 2-3 years now. They're looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist who wants to be a chemistry lab manager (looks to be QC-ish) and a chemical hygiene officer (glamorous!)

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 189, 724, 2482 and 11 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 143 positions for the job title "chemist", with 7 for "research chemist", 5 for "organic chemist", 19 for "analytical chemist" and 0 for "medicinal chemist."

什么?: Why would a DNA sequencing company (Mountain View, CA) need a help desk operator that's fluent in Mandarin? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A reminder of one of the reasons that people want to work in pharma

In the middle of a fascinating article about the concerns about high drug pricing by Barry Werth* in MIT Technology Review, a stark reminder of the good that effective pharmaceuticals (such as Vertex's Kalydeco (a cystic fibrosis drug) can do: (The caption from the article reads: "After her son Brady’s health improved, 
Rebecca Schroeder had Kalydeco’s molecular structure tattooed on her foot.")

Kalydeco (ivacaftor)
Credit: MIT Technology Review,
Rebecca Schroeder 
Not to get all mushy on you guys, but if my kid's life was improved significantly from a drug, I'd think about having its structure tattooed on me. (I'm not really a body art guy, fyi.)

I think that a lot of people get involved in chemistry to do good and to have a positive impact on someone else's life while doing the science that we love. It's one of the weird tragedies of our time that pharmaceuticals (and medicinal chemistry in particular) can do so much direct good, and yet, there are many more people who want to work in the field than can be hired. 

*He's coming out to a sequel to "The Billion Dollar Molecule" in February! I can't wait. 

Process Wednesday: when a dilute reaction is better

Credit: Fishman, A. et al. Org. Process. Res. Dev., 2000, 77.
From Organometallics in Process Chemistry [1], an interesting reaction setup to generate a desired
product in a dilute fashion
They found the intramolecular cyclopropanation proceeded best when run at low concentration. To accomplish this while maintaining good process throughput, they slowly added the starting material from a dilution feed tank while distilling the solvent from the reaction mixture to maintain a constant volume. In this manner, [(R)-2] was maintained at low concentration during the cyclization reaction while the volume yield of the process was a reasonable 60 g/L... Halogenated hydrocarbons gave the highest selectivity for the desired reaction, while a temperature above 80°C was needed to effect good conversion in a reasonable time. Rarely used as a solvent, dibromomethane was selected as the optimate balance of these factors. 
This reaction was run at 21 gram scale of diazoacetate with 200 mL of dibromomethane in the original paper [2]; I wonder if scale-up was ever tried? I'd be concerned about maintaining the concentration of the reaction on large scale (apart from the safety concerns with heating a perchlorate salt.)

1. DelMonte, A.J.; Dowdy, E.D.; Watson, D.J. "Development of Transition Metal-Mediated Cyclopropanation Reactions." Topics Organomet. Chem. 2004, 6, 97-122.
2. Fishman, A.; Kellner, D.; Ioffe, D.; Shapiro, E. "Practical Chemo-Enzymatic Process for the Preparation of (1R,cis)-2-(2,2-Dihaloethenyl)-3,3-dimethylcyclopropane Carboxylic Acids." Org. Process Res. Dev. 2000, 4, 77. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The gap between new graduates and ACS members is still significant

Credit: C&EN
The gap between the employment rate of new graduates and median ACS members is still too wide.  (Of course, that's comparing people who are 21 and 22 versus many who are in their 40s and 50s.)  Just in case anyone forgot...

RSS problems?

A longtime reader is having issues with the blog's RSS feed;Newsblur is the relevant RSS reader. Anyone else having similar issues? (Anyone else know how to deal with this? I'm flummoxed.)

Daily Pump Trap: 11/5/13 edition

Good morning! Between October 31 and November 4, there were 73 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 24 (33%) were academically connected and 32 (43%) were from Kelly Scientific Resources. 

Louisville, KY: Momentive is searching for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. chemist (3-10 years experience) to be a technical service chemist; looks to be a project management type.

East Chicago, IN: ArcelorMittal is looking for a metals testing chemist.

Woburn, MA: Like the swallows to Capistrano, Organix is looking for postdocs. I feel like this language is new:
Organix Inc. is an internationally recognized Contract Research Organization situated in the vibrant and exciting area of Boston, Massachusetts.
Vibrant! Exciting! (Honestly, that's probably accurate, for people in our field.) 40-48k. Woo!

Little Lost Lamb, Law Firm Edition: A law firm in Manhattan wants to ask members of the American Chemical Society if they have the following:
Bachelor of Science or higher degree in Electrical or Computer Engineering or a related field of study. 
Two to three years of law firm or industry experience or at a minimum a general understanding of the patent prosecution process. Admission to the USPTO preferred but not required. 
Experience with cellular digital data and signal processing a plus.
Can't find it? Must be a STEM shortage.

Little Lost Lamb, Kelly edition: Are you a chemist? Do you like chemistry? Kelly Scientific wants to know if you want to be a non-profit Aquatic Director:
The role of the Aquatic Director is to provide administrative oversight and strategic direction to program areas, swim lessons, and related staff. In addition, aquatic safety and successful risk management procedures must be implemented. The successful candidate will have a strong knowledge in aquatics management to include programming, swim lesson instruction, first/aid and CPR instruction, water chemistry knowledge, and facilities. The ability to assess information quickly, to seek input from others, and to communicate directly and effectively is necessary. A bachelor-s degree, W.S.I. certification (or equivalent) and L.G.I. certification is required. Additional aquatics certifications are preferred.
Non-traditional jobs in chemistry indeed. 

Bonus Ivory Filter Flask: #buttscan edition

Via See Arr Oh, a hilarious prank:
Many aspiring faculty members complain that search committees ask for lots of information they will never use (or even look at), with vague explanations of what to send. Rebecca Schuman, an adjunct at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a blogger who writes frequently about job issues in academe, has proposed an unusual way to take a stand about such requests. On her blog, she has announced a contest in which she will pay $100 each to the first two people who send a photo of their butt to a search committee (mixed in with the other materials -- to raise the question of whether anyone would find it). Schuman is requiring that contestants provide her with proof, and that they apply for a job in their discipline for which they have the basic requirements. She also has offered to up the payout to $200 for applications to Ivy League search committees. 
Via email, Schuman said that several people have indicated that they will send tush-shots to search committees, but so far no one has provided proof.
If it were me, I'd nestle this photograph between the cheeks of the 4-page statement of teaching philosophy.

Of course, there is already a winner. Butt wishes to them, and to all of us.

[SAO asks if industrial positions deserve such a prank; I think not, in that most of the time, they're pretty bare bones. Any federal Ph.D. position that asks for undergrad transcripts, though, deserve a twin salute.]