Saturday, January 31, 2015

RIP Carl Djerassi

Via the New York Times: 
Carl Djerassi, an eminent chemist who 63 years ago synthesized a hormone that changed the world by creating the key ingredient for the oral contraceptive known as “the pill,” died at his home in San Francisco on Friday. He was 91. He died of complications of liver and bone cancer, according to his son, Dale. 
He arrived in America as World War II engulfed Europe, a 16-year-old Austrian Jewish refugee who, with his mother, lost their last $20 to a swindling New York cabdriver. He wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, asking for assistance, and obtained a college scholarship. It was a little help that made a big difference. 
Dr. Djerassi (pronounced jer-AH-see) wrote books, plays and 1,200 scientific articles; taught at universities for five decades; created an artists’ colony in California; and obtained a patent on the first antihistamine. His work on the science of birth control helped engender enormous controversies and social changes, altering sexual and reproductive practices, family economics and the working lives of millions of women around the world...
Difficult to imagine a world without oral contraceptives. Best wishes to his family and friends.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

3 thoughts on attending my father's retirement party

My father, whom I love dearly, is retiring from a very long career today.

Thought #1: I'm incredibly proud of him -- he has given many years to this company and I hope the higher-ups know how much of his life he's poured into this place.

Thought #2: I would love to know what percentage of my father's cohort back in 197X are still working with his company? He has been through so many layoffs and reorganizations. He is, in some real sense, the living avatar of "survivor bias."

Thought #3: Whenever I tell folks that my Dad is retiring after 30+ years on the job, people always smile as if to say, "That will never happen to you, or to me." I sincerely hope I get to become a 20+ year person at a single company, but my thoughts are "nope, that'll never happen." Sigh.

Congratulations, Dad. Well done.

Brett: "leaving was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made."

Our latest (of many!) entries in the "quitting chemistry graduate school" series is from "Brett" (this submission has been lightly edited for clarity and privacy): 
1. Why did you leave?
First, I wasn't in a chemistry program but a pharmaceutical sciences program at Big State School. I had started working for a new professor who'd only been there a year - I was [their] third grad student. While a PharmSci department, our lab was an unabashed synthetic lab with a "med chem" veneer.  
After my first year the boss ran into a family situation: [their spouse] and kids moved across country for a very well paying job and [they were] stuck. [Their] frequent week long visits to [their] family led to some friction with the department which culminated in [their] summary termination. And that was that.  
The lab was dissolved, one grad student left the school and the two more senior students were unceremoniously shuttled to other labs to start over. I kinda lucked out in that I was given off to a collaborator in the department who was looking at the biosynthesis of my target molecule. They basically just cut me loose to continue working on my molecule knowing I’d have little help from anyone else if I found a serious chemistry issue. This wore thin very fast and six months after the change I told my new boss I was giving them a six month warning and then leaving with a masters. 
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden? 
I was very devastated immediately after being told that the lab was dissolving. The chemistry problems began to stack up and I became very disillusioned with the field in general. Reading the blogs didn’t help. This was a few years after the big market crash so my future seemed pretty bleak. I stopped working weekends and started keeping more normal business hours as I began to phone it in.  
As I said above, I chewed it over for about 6 months before telling my boss I was leaving. At that point I started finishing up what I could, which amounted to very little, wrote up my thesis, and began applying everywhere and anywhere. THAT was especially soul-crushing. Nearly 100 CVs sent all over the country for anything related to the field with nary a response. At the same time I seriously considered just leaving the field and began applying to jobs at different craft breweries. I had way more callbacks for those jobs but an offer didn’t materialize before I had a very tempting offer at Big Pharma. 
3. Where are you now? 
I am a medicinal chemist at a big pharma company. My job has changed several times since I started working here from a more, support/optimization chemist to a full blown med chemist. 
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now?  
I think leaving was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If anyone asks if I’d go back my answer is ‘no’. Full stop. No debate.  
While the decision was good, I would not consider myself overly happy right now. The job pays well and has excellent benefits; I however, find myself almost completely ambivalent towards chemistry. I enjoyed my first position a good deal since it dealt with just synthetic chemistry, no biology or SAR. I’ve come to realize I am not cut out for this and just CANNOT find the interest in the actual fundamentals of med chemistry. If I had been offered a job in a brewery post grad-school I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Even with the inferior pay I feel I would have been happier. I don’t see myself sticking to chemistry for the long run. I’ve burned out too badly and have been mulling options for a while now.
Best wishes to "Brett" and thanks to him for his story. Want to tell the world about leaving graduate school in chemistry? E-mail me at  

Daily Pump Trap: 1/29/15 edition

A few of the positions posted on C&EN this past week:

Detroit, MI: This "technical specialist" position appears to actually be, um, a technical specialist position. B.S. in chemistry/engineering with 5-10 years experience desired.

Rockville, MD: I can never tell what these USP positions are about, but here's one on "nomenclature and labeling." They want a M.S./Ph.D. or a Pharm.D. with 10 years of work experience and they seem to be paying a healthy sum.

Clinton, NJ: ExxonMobil looking for a research technologist; looks like an experienced analytical chemist position to me.

Melrose Park, IL: I did not know there were "hair fiber physics scientists", but there you are. (B.S./M.S. in physics/chemistry.)

Washington, DC: CropLife America (what's that?) is looking for a director of environmental policy, 120-140k offered. Advanced degree, experience in regulatory affairs desired.

Redwood City, CA: Relypsa is looking for a CMC scientist; M.S./Ph.D. with 4-8 years experience desired.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) 247, 1302, 2194 and 19 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 560 jobs for the job title "chemist", with 74 for "analytical chemist", 2 for "organic chemist", 2 for "medicinal chemist" and 38 for "research chemist." 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

7 things every chemistry PhD student should see before they go to graduate school

From Thoreau, a funny suggestion (emphasis mine): 
Adjuncts are planning a nationwide walk-out on Feb. 25. In my ideal world, any student seeking a PhD would be unable to register for the GRE or request recommendation letters until they submitted documentation that they had attended the protests and had written a 5-page essay on “What I learned from attending the National Adjunct Walkout Day protests.”  Those seeking a STEM PhD would also be required to spend a day shadowing a disgruntled 6th-year postdoc. 
Med schools want applicants to shadow practicing medical doctors to get a feel for what they are getting themselves into.  This practice should be extended to all doctoral programs.
Here's my suggested list of things that a prospective chemistry graduate student should have to do before they sign on:
  1. One full iteration of "someone should organize this flammable cabinet" at group meeting. 
  2. Be forced to have a 20-minute conversation with a 5th-year graduate student that stayed up all night running a column and rotovapping fractions.
  3. The discomfort on a PI's face when asked "so where have your students gone over the last 10 years?" 
  4. Fill out 20 applications to various entry-level Ph.D. positions in industry. You cannot leave until the phone rings or you get 5 rejection letters. 
  5. A required signature from the 10th-year graduate student who arrives in the lab at 11 pm each night to work the overnight shift.
  6. Sign-off from NMR staff scientist, asking "so what do you think of my chances?" 
  7. Required 30 minute conversation with department chair, mostly consisting of awkward pauses.
There's my (rather silly) list -- what's yours? 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What do you do when your interviewer is wrong?

From this week's letters to the editors, a great #chemjobs question:
I read “Interviewing Insights” with interest, even though I don’t foresee having to go through that process again (C&EN, Nov. 3, 2014, page 20). As with most articles I’ve read on that subject over the years, it seems to cover most of the bases (and traps and pitfalls) except one. 
I haven’t yet seen an article on this subject that includes any mention of the following scenario, which I ran into more than once while being interviewed. It’s almost similar to the scenario Tatyana Sheps describes, where they asked her to solve a difficult (and somewhat nebulous) problem. 
In my case, however, there was not an explicit question being asked. Rather, while discussing some topic, the interviewer would say something that was clearly and obviously (and even blatantly) false. For example, the interviewer might say something that violated one of the laws of thermodynamics. In retrospect, it is clear that interviewers were not testing the knowledge of thermodynamics (or whatever the subject of the false statement was about). More likely they wanted to see how the interviewee handled suddenly being placed in a potentially awkward situation. 
Yet I’ve never seen that type of interview tactic described or discussed, or any recommendations given about how to handle it, in any of my readings on interviews, including this one in C&EN. 
Howard Mark
Suffern, N.Y.
If indeed it is a test of the interviewee's willingness to tell important people that they're wrong, it's a fiendishly clever way of going about it.

I don't really think there is much to be gained from this, but I am open to the possibility that there might be something to it?  

So that's an interesting quote about IP stuff in China: "Even if they are published, they are difficult to duplicate.”

From an article in this week's C&EN by Maureen Rouhi on R&D in China: 
Evonik’s Chen contends that enforcement of IP rights is improving in China. He points to the establishment of three IP courts and moves to improve judicial transparency. However, Chen adds, “the situation in small cities and remote areas is still behind that in the big cities.” 
In a sign of better IP protection for Solvay, in December 2013 the company won an IP lawsuit in a Chinese court against the Chinese firm HySci Specialty Materials. Solvay had sued HySci for infringement of patents for rare-earth mixed oxides used in automobile catalytic converters. 
The court victory aside, Solvay’s Metivier says IP protection is still a problem in China. The greatest risk, he explains, is “know-how leakage,” when staff leave the company or succumb to outside offers to divulge trade secrets. 
Prosecuting trade-secret theft is made difficult by “lack of discovery to extract key evidence from opponents coupled with high evidentiary standards in China,” says Jeffrey D. Lindsay, head of intellectual property at Asia Pulp & Paper, an Indonesian paper manufacturer with operations in China. Western companies that sue to protect their IP “tend to have success,” Lindsay adds, “although the lower level of damages in China leads some infringers to not fear the law all that much.” 
To enhance IP security, “we don’t develop products that can be easily copied,” Xenidou says. “Our materials and processes are quite complicated, sophisticated, and integrated with customer processes. Even if they are published, they are difficult to duplicate.” 
Metivier explains that Solvay institutes processes to segregate know-how, so that people do not have all the data on a product or process. “We also follow up with the people leaving the company, identifying where they go and for whom they work,” he says. 
Meanwhile, other factors may be dimming China’s innovation sparkle. Metivier notes a growing nationalism that manifests in a belief that the country will succeed on its own. A consequence, he says, is greater difficulty in bringing in foreign scientists, and that worries him. “If you want to be an innovative country, science and development needs to be open,” he says. “China needs to promote exchange to achieve diversity.”
It sure seems like a lot of work to protect one's IP in China. Better to protect than not, I suppose.  

This week's C&EN

Lots of great reads in this week's C&EN:

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Y": "I am very happy"

Our third submission in this series is by "Y": 
1. Why did you leave?  
Quite frankly, I failed my first committee meeting. I've never felt confident in my background knowledge in chemistry (had to take all 8 cumulative exams to pass - most others finished in 5-6). After failing the committee meeting, I felt deflated. I couldn't imagine going through the process again a couple more times (successfully or not). 
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden? 
After my first committee meeting (in Sept), I avoided talking to my PI about rescheduling another one until he cornered me in January. We sat down in his office and it was right there and then that I decided I didn't want to continue. This was my third year of grad school and I no longer was a TA but I realized that I wasn't satisfied without the teaching component of the job. I was frustrated with research and couldn't get results that I wanted or could make sense of. Teaching those first two years were the most enjoyable part of my time, so I wanted to continue with that. Perhaps I had been thinking about leaving in the back of my head after the failed CM but I didn't actually commit to the idea until my meeting in January with my boss. 
3. Where are you now? 
I left with a master's and worked full-time as a lab instructor at another institution for four years before moving. After my husband finished his PhD (we started at the same time but at different schools), he was offered a job out of state, so I followed him. He had moved for me when I began my prior job, so I felt that I could return the favor. I am now an adjunct at the same university he is employed at. 
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now?  
I am very happy. After deciding to leave, I felt like I had something to look forward to. Even though I could have left with my master's after making the decision, I stayed in the lab to work the rest of the semester (since I was under contract) and of course, my research progress started to go forward. I don't regret my decision - I think it would have be difficult if my husband and I were on the market at the same time. Given that our academic fields are very different from each other, it would have been unlikely that we could have landed jobs in the same university or town. I have been extremely fortunate to be hired at the same school he is fully employed and I think that not having a PhD did not matter in my employment. I'm also lucky that we are able to teach a course together as part of a unique learning experience at our school.
Thanks to "Y" for their story.  

Job posting: safety and facilities coordinator, Newark, DE

From the inbox, a position at the University of Delaware's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry: 
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry invites applications for a safety and facilities coordinator. This individual will provide oversight and management of Departmental space for the safe, reliable conduct of chemical research and instruction.... 
This position requires a Bachelor’s degree in a chemistry related field and four years related experience.  An advanced degree is preferred.  Applicants should have experience handling a wide range of chemical materials in a research setting, including first hand experience handling and quenching pyrophoric materials.  Applicants should have a technical aptitude and basic understanding of building infrastructure, effective communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to organize and coordinate the activities of people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. 
Interested? Apply here (go to the "staff" section, search for job ID 102630, "Safety and Facilities Coordinator in Chemistry and Biochemistry")

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Steve: "I was actually relieved that the slog was over."

Our second story of quitting graduate school comes from Steve: 
I spent five years getting no results.  My supervisor was hired to be the director of a research institute at my university after spending years in industry and government labs in the States, and I was his first grad student.  The first year or so was lost in setting up the lab and waiting through renovations.  Another year was lost chasing a compound that a collaborating group had published (turned out later that the results they got were actually due to the steel walls of the pressure reactor and not the compound - and they got another paper to correct this). 
My difficulties were not entirely due to circumstances.  Synthetic research and I are not a good mix.  I've said in the past that I suck at research, and my supervisor told me not to be so hard on myself, because if the project had involved measurements or anything other than air-free metal complexes I would have had a much easier time. 
After banging my head against the wall for five long years, during which time I tried to write up and discovered my work filled 32 pages, including introduction and literature review, I admitted that it wasn't going to work.  My project was dead and never going to produce results, and while I had some momentum going on a side-project, I was just too burned out to carry on.  An hour after I sent my withdrawal notice, I got an email from the university telling me they were giving me the boot because of an unsatisfactory grade at a presentation six weeks before.  Efficiency has never been this school's strong suit. 
Rather than being crushed, I was actually relieved that the slog was over. The unwritable thesis was no longer hanging over my head, and I was so worn down at that point that I didn't really care my life's ambition had dissolved.  I had a sessional gig at a second-tier regional university, and they didn't seem to care that my promised credentials weren't going to appear.  After that, my current position fell into my lap.  It's a postdoc, but they knew they entire story and hired me anyway.  I've been far luckier than I deserve.
 Thanks to Steve for his story. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"N": "a very blunt conversation with my boss"

From "N", their story of why they quit graduate school in chemistry:
After three and a half years of graduate school, I left the program with a Master of Science degree. I was attending graduate school that had a smaller faculty, lots of equipment, and is located in a beautiful area. To fully understand my dilemma, I wanted to study synthetic chemistry, but I didn't feel comfortable with the available research groups once I was already enrolled at the University. I joined an [redacted by CJ: "non-organic"] group with the understanding I could choose my projects and still be involved with synthesis. 
I decided to leave the program when I realized I was not receiving the mentorship that I was expecting. My boss was not well versed in this area and I was left on my own figuring out how and what to do when I was stuck. This was both my fault for not understanding my boss’ skill set and my boss’ fault for allowing me to join his group. 
My process for leaving was deliberate. I was unhappy and started reducing my research hours in lab. The fewer hours I worked, the less I moved forward. However, I did not realize research was the thing that was making me upset until I had a very blunt conversation with my boss. He informed me I would be in school eight years if I did not increase my hours in lab. Due to that conversation, I was certain I would not be staying for my PhD. 
I was concurrently studying to receive my MBA at the same University, so I continued on with the MBA program while finishing in the Chemistry Department. I am graduating [redacted by CJ: "soon"] with my MBA and plan to apply for full time management jobs in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. 
After one year, I regret that I did not look into transferring to other programs that would fit my research style better. I need a little more structure and guidance and I felt uncomfortable transferring to other groups at my University. I also wish I would have talked to somebody on my committee to ask them for help and guidance. I believe finishing with my PhD would have been beneficial for my career path, but I would rather be happy than stay in a program that was not the right fit. 
"N", thank you for your story and for also being our first submission! Best wishes in your new path. 

Stories wanted: "I Quit Graduate School in Chemistry"

At the end of Vinylogous' recent excellent post on mental health and graduate school in chemistry, he posited questions that people considering leaving graduate school should consider: 
There's a pervasive thought--"I've already put in 2 years, so it would be a waste of time to quit now." (Or however many years). But time already invested is a sunk cost. It doesn't matter how much time you've put in if you're not going to get anything out of the degree. Only three factors should matter when deciding whether to quit grad school: 
1. Am I happy right now? (Am I mentally healthy? Are there variables I can change about my current situation to make myself happier?) 
2. What is the future benefit of me getting this degree in comparison to not getting it? (is it necessary for your career? Is it limiting?)  
3. What am I missing out on by following through with grad school? (This is known as "opportunity cost" and includes the salary you could collect at a different job, time spent with friends, family, and your SO, traveling while young and unencumbered, etc).  
If the answers to those aren't positive, there's no reason to stay.
I don't feel qualified to talk about these questions and answers at all. Because of that, I would really like to hear from people who left graduate school in chemistry. I'd like to hear:
1. Why did you leave?
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden?
3. Where are you now?
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now? 
While you're welcome to put submissions in the comments, I'd be happier to take e-mails for posts later. You know the e-mail address:

UPDATE: Me, being an idiot. Confidentiality guaranteed, of course. Publication not until you say "yes, CJ, it is okay to publish."

(I feel like, someday, the blog should have a phone number and a voicemail box. That'd be awesome.) 

Glassdoor Review of the Week: Moderna Therapeutics

Speaking of Moderna, I am reminded that a couple weeks ago, someone at In the Pipeline posted a pretty awesome-not-awesome Glassdoor review of them (the review was written a year ago): 
Moderna takes advantage of all employees below the executive level- overworked and grossly underpaid, they feel as though they can get away with this type of behavior because of rival companies recently closing their doors. When the bubble bursts, the executives will have handsome rewards while the little guys will be have a place firmly set in the unemployment line. This mentality is not serving them; however. Within the last six months, both the CSO and the VP of Manufacturing quit on short notice. 
Moderna tried to spin it as a shortcoming of those employees; however, both of which worked consistently 100 hours a week only to be on the receiving end of the CEO's wrath and arrogance. I do wish I could give specific instances regarding the CEO; however, that would be telling of my identity- just take it that most of the things that come out of his mouth are positively flabbergasting and without a doubt abusive. He is unjustly paranoid and prone to wild attacks creating an atmosphere of deceit and hostility. He will pit employees against each other, overtly lie, and then find an ideal scapegoat among the lower employees and hang them out to dry. He is a master of creating a very toxic environment and I genuinely pity the people who are still employed there. 
Should you decide that you want to work here, just know what you're getting yourself into. 60 hours a week in the lab is a vacation, that alone, wouldn't be bad. The sophomoric and soap opera-esque drama that unfolds on a daily basis does; however, have a proclivity for making an 80 hour work week feel like eternity.
There was also this little tidbit written in September 2014:
I was the first Director of Chemistry. I helped Moderna setup their chemistry department, negotiate to acquire lab assets from my previous employer. Hire staff and filed first two Chemistry Patents applications. Honestly speaking, I had never experienced such an abusive, manipulative and arrogant CEO and the-then-CSO at any company in my entire life. The behavior from management was to blame every thing on others. Change projects on a fly, then fire some associates for failure if results to their like were not produced over night. Random firing of associates was a common practice. I am speaking facts here. I am not sure Glassdoor will publish it.

Let's make this a routine feature, shall we? If you see a Glassdoor review of a company that you find worthwhile to point out, feel free to e-mail me. 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/20/15 edition

A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs this past week:

Rocky Hill, CT: Henkel is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic polymer chemist; looks to be adhesive-related?

Oak Ridge, TN: Interesting ad for a Ph.D. physical chemist to work on "helium ion spectroscopy." Sounds fancy.

Cambridge, MA: Moderna Therapeutics (recipient of just a little money recently) is hiring an B.S./M.S. bioorganic chemist.

Athens, GA: This ad for a scientist by Argent Diagnostics is a little bit strange and I can't quite put my finger on it:
...Specific Duties and Responsibilities: 1. Project management and leadership of current and future SBIR/STTR funded grants. 2. Spectroscopy testing, data collection and chemometric analysis for ongoing research activities as needed. 3. Develop quality control protocols, new product ideas (hardware and software), and other detection opportunities. 4. Research, prepare and manage future SBIR/STTR grant submissions. 5. Supervise other employees and manage collaborative multidisciplinary research activities...
Will this position mostly be a grant writer? I dunno, but there are about 15 references to SBIRs in the ad.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/20/15 edition

A few of the academic positions posted this past week on C&EN Jobs:

Goodbye, assistant professorships: We seem to be transitioning into "visiting assistant professorship" season. 

Sherman, TX: Austin College looking for a visiting assistant professor for fall 2015 to teach general chemistry. 

Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg College looking for two VAPs in biochemistry and physical chemistry. 

Qatar: I can't tell what this "teaching specialist - organic chemist" position in Qatar is about, but hey, maybe you want to do it? 

(Should we think of taking teaching positions in wealthy Gulf oil states like an organic chemist going to work in Shanghai at WuXi, or should we think of it like college kids going to Alaska for a season of crab fishing?) 

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: The Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation is looking for a M.D./Ph.D. director of radiopharmaceutical chemistry -- looks lucrative: $125,000-$175,000. (CAN)

Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College looking for a M.S./Ph.D. instrumentation specialist. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Interested in a LEGO NMR spectrometer?

Credit: LEGO

Mark Lorch has a pretty funny take on this, so I thought I'd mention it here.

If you're a LEGO fan, it appears that you can lend your support to have them make an NMR machine spectrometer kit to purchase.

They need 10,000 folks to support it and they've only got 837 right now. 

Job posting: pilot plant scientist, Louisville, KY

From the inbox, a position at Zeon Chemicals in the Bluegrass State: 
Job Skills/Requirements: 
This position will be responsible for the daily operation of the pilot plant for emulsion polymerization and finishing. This entails safely running polymerization reactions and understanding the chemistry of the polymers. Work will consist of running polymerizations as designed by Research Scientists as well as developing own work to improve processing of existing products and processes. The pilot facility also is responsible for the finishing of polymer latex into solid crumb rubber. Some of these projects will be to support our manufacturing facilities, and new product scale up into the manufacturing plants. This operation will include solving both chemical and mechanical problems.  
With the variety of projects ongoing, the successful candidate will have good organizational skills, keen ability to prioritize effectively and will keep several projects moving simultaneously. The person in this position will spend a significant portion of time in the pilot plant facility. These polymerization reactions can run longer than 12 hours, so some night work is expected. Exposure to noise, fumes, and heat will be a normal part of the work environment.  
An BS in Polymer Science (MS preferred), Chemical Engineering or Chemistry is required. Good Chemical Hygiene practices are critical and demonstrated adherence to safe laboratory practices is a must. Must have a minimum of 2 to 8 years practical experience in industrial environment including, hands-on ability to operate a pilot facility. Excellent hands-on skills and approach are critical for success. 
Link here. Best wishes to those interested.  

Situation wanted: greater Boston, experienced medicinal chemist

If you were, say, an experienced medicinal chemist looking for work in the Boston area, where should you be looking? 

Interesting call for archiving by Jeff Seeman

Also from this week's C&EN, a letter to the editor from chemical historial Jeff Seeman:
The insightful article by Linda Wang titled “Turning Off the Lights” focuses on the difficult process, physically and emotionally, for faculty to close down their laboratories (C&EN, Sept. 8, 2014, page 50). One newly minted emeritus faculty member, Al Padwa of Emory University, describes how “there are some things he just can’t bring himself to throw away yet . . . old photos and correspondence that date back many decades.” 
In fact, perhaps those documents should never be sent to the dumpster. As I said in my guest editorial “Estate Planning,” correspondence including e-mails, drafts, literature searches, notes, and photographs may be important historical resources that should be saved, not thrown away (C&EN, Dec. 3, 2012, page 3). 
Before you dump the underpinnings of your life’s work, speak with your institution’s archivist (or the archivist at the Chemical Heritage Foundation). Every year, chemistry’s heritage disappears in the rush to free up office space with the planned—and sadly, sometimes sudden and unanticipated—departure of senior scientists. I repeat: “As individuals and as a community, we must do estate planning of and for our own heritage.” 
Jeffrey I. Seeman
Richmond, Va.
Something tells me that the number of professors whose materials should be archived is different than the number of professors who will volunteer to have their materials archived.

This week's C&EN

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

Last week's C&EN

Some interesting things in last week's C&EN:
  • Thought it was very interesting that (new editor-in-chief) Bibiana Campos Seijo shared her thoughts on that "gatekeeping" article that we all were discussing a couple weeks back. 
    • (Excited to see what her favorite topic will become.) 
  • Pretty fun infographic by Andy Brunning on chemical deicers.
  • I thought this article by Britt Erickson on inert ingredients in pesticides is one that chemists should try to understand a little better (i.e. it's not just the active ingredient that bothers folks.) 
  • I'm going to guess a payline move from 17% to 19% doesn't make folks in academia feel much better? (by Andrea Widener)
  • Some very odd thoughts by industry folks in this Rick Mullin piece on lab automation -- does a mass spec really need GPS? 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rest in peace, Sheri Sangji

Six years ago today, Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of her injuries sustained while running a reaction with tert-butyl lithium in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran at UCLA. My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and her family.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How will these graduate students be made whole?

Via Retraction Watch, a really terrible story of a pharmaceutical sciences laboratory run by Professor Uday B. Kompella at UC-Denver's medical school where one of the graduate students was falsifying LC/MS data and making other students look bad in the process.

To left, a screenshot of the internal UC-Denver report talking about Rajendra Kadam, the "golden boy" referenced in the report.

What do you think the innocent graduate students got out of this process? Do you think the UC-Denver Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences is going to specially shepherd these students into their postdoctoral positions, with letters from the department chair saying "please don't look poorly on this student -- she's a very good worker and this scandal shouldn't reflect poorly on them?" Somehow I doubt it.

Collateral damage doesn't just happen from drone strikes. 

Once again, a note on comments

I've had some longtime, beloved readers who can't post comments on the blog. Have you had this issue? Please let me know by e-mailing me:

It would be helpful to know which device and which browser you were using. At the moment, it seems to be an iPad/iPhone issue, with any browser on those platforms. Anyone else able to comment? If not, please e-mail me. Thanks! 

Goldman sees chemical companies' profits down

This seems relevant to some readers of the blog. Via Bloomberg Businessweek:
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut earnings estimates at seven U.S. chemical makers to reflect a stronger dollar and product prices that are falling with crude oil. 
Goldman lowered 2015 profit estimates 20 percent at Dow Chemical Co. and LyondellBasell Industries NV , 19 percent at Westlake Chemical Corp. and 6 percent at Eastman Chemical Co., analysts led by Robert Koort said in a note yesterday. The changes reflect the impact of falling oil prices on ethylene and related plastics. Estimates for 2016 were also reduced. 
“Despite this cut, we still see downside risk to our 2015 EPS estimates if we use the current spot Brent oil price or our commodities team’s new $50 per barrel Brent oil forecast for 2015,” Koort said in the note.
 That sounds like bad news for R&D hiring at these companies, we'll have to see if that's the case. 

15 undergraduate research positions available this summer

The Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) is a NSF funded Center for Chemical Innovation whose mission is to transform how plastics are made and unmade through innovative research, engaging education, and diverse partnerships that together foster environmental stewardship. CSP participants aim to design, prepare, and implement polymers derived from renewable resources for a wide range of advanced applications, and to promote future economic development, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability in the emergent area of biobased products. 
The CSP will provide up to 15 undergraduate research positions to undergraduate students during the summer of 2015. Up to nine positions are available at the University of Minnesota and up to three positions each at University of California-Berkeley and Cornell University.  
This program is open to students in science and engineering majors, preferably chemistry, chemical engineering and material science. Underrepresented multicultural students – African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American students, or students with disabilities who have US citizenship or permanent residency status are strongly encouraged to apply.  
This paid research experience requires a full-time commitment to extensive lab work for ten weeks during the summer. All participants will have the opportunity to present their research in a CSP meeting at the end of the summer and in an undergraduate research expo.
Link here. Deadline: February 1, 2015. 

What's your experience buying used equipment online?

I've asked this question before, but I'll ask again:

Anyone want to talk about their experiences buying used equipment on Dovebid and the like?

I've found it to be hit and miss, you? 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/15/15

A few of the positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website:

Oak Ridge, TN: ORNL has an interesting Ph.D. separations chemist position; looks to be nuclear chemistry related, of course.

Colorado Springs, CO: The National Swimming Pool Foundation is back looking for a Ph.D. chemist (ideally) to be a product development manager. The team is still "magically charged." Starts at 70k?

Mapleton, IL: Evonik looking for a quality control manager (5-15 years experience, B.S. desired) Glycerin manufacture, looks like?

Santa Rosa, CA: Thermochem desires a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. LC/GC-MS chemist.

Charlotte, NC: Not everyday you see a "wood technologist" position. "A Master’s Degree in Wood Chemistry is preferred" - credentialism! (M.S./Ph.D. in related position will be considered.)

Rolla, MO: OK, either Brewer Science is growing like crazy, or they have unreal turnover. They'll be interviewing for 8 positions at the Denver ACS.

The Woodlands, TX: Flotek looking for a research chemist towards oil/gas work, varying levels of education/experience desired. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Too late, Professor

From the front page of the Wall Street Journal, a brief celebration of manufacturing "tiptoeing" back from overseas into the United States.* Ironic tidbit from a Harvard Business School professor: 
Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School, is less optimistic. “China has really captured the whole electronic supply chain,” he said, and that is unlikely to return to the U.S. 
Instead of trying to make established products in the U.S., Mr. Shih said, “we’re going to have to focus on next-generation technologies” in, for example, advanced pharmaceuticals.
Oh, if that's all we have to try to capture within the United States!

I suppose Professor Shih could be talking about the United States attempting to corner the market on biomolecule API manufacture. In that sense, yeah, sure, that'd be great.

*Worth noting that the article has a long story about a small US company hemming-and-hawing about where they should manufacture their new car seat, and ultimately staying in China. Thanks, dudes. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Revisiting mental health and graduate school, by Vinylogous Aldol

Vinylogous' excellent contribution is up at Not The Lab. A key excerpt:
Quitting grad school is a really taboo subject--maybe even more so than mental health or the fact that academia is pretty rubbish at drug discovery. Why don't we talk about it more? Grad school should not be the only priority in one's life--and it's perfectly OK for it not to be the highest priority (although certain PIs may disagree).
Go over there and read -- it's very good and worth your while. 

Chuck Norris' ghostwriter is a poor plagiarizer, too

It is further testament to the need for medical science and pharmacology to begin to rethink the current approach to advancing the treatment and cure of illness. 
During the past two decades, the pharmaceutical industry in particular has focused almost exclusively on an automated, high-tech approach to discovering drugs derived from synthetic compounds and has shunned traditional trial-and-error chemistry and natural compounds.
I regret to inform the man who played Cordell Walker that his undoubted ghostwriter is plagiarizing an article by Dan Hurley, written in the New York Times Magazine (emphasis mine):
For the pharmaceutical industry — which during the past two decades has increasingly focused on an automated, high-tech approach to discovering drugs — it would mark a victory for old-fashioned trial-and-error chemistry, the kind of endless tinkering and mucking around in the dark that by now was supposed to be a thing of the past.
Mr. Norris, I think you're wrong about the pharmaceutical industry, but that's okay. But I advise you, fire your ghostwriter -- they're not very good.

UPDATE: Oh, the irony. Chuck's ghost also plagiarized celebrated plagiarizer Jonah Lehrer. From the WND article:
Modern pharmaceuticals are supposed to represent the practical payoff of basic high-tech research, yet for every billion dollars invested in research and development since 1950, the number of new drugs approved has continued to fall by one-half every nine years. 
And from Lehrer's Wired article from 2011:
These troubling trends play out most vividly in the drug industry. Although modern pharmaceuticals are supposed to represent the practical payoff of basic research, the R&D to discover a promising new compound now costs about 100 times more (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than it did in 1950.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Revisiting graduate school and mental health with Vinylogous Aldol

A note to readers: Vinylogous Aldol and I will be sharing a brief discussion today and tomorrow on our thoughts on mental health since our previous series. Tomorrow, it will be at Not The Lab. 

Dear Vinylogous:

How are you? It's been a while, hasn't it? Two years since we last discussed the issue of "Is graduate school in chemistry bad for your mental health?" I hope that the time has gone well for you in graduate school. I've certainly had a lot more perspective since then.

The stresses of industrial work

Since we've written that series, I've also experienced some of the fun aspects of life in industry as well. While I have been spared being laid off so far (thankfully), there have certainly been ups and downs.

A favorite novel of mine ("Gates of Fire", by Steven Pressfield) talks about how the soldiers of Sparta counted their years and their memories by different wars and battles. My father's long career in corporate America seems to have been marked by not only what he was working on, but who his supervisor was, and whether or not that supervisor was a good or a bad one.

I experienced a change like that in these intervening years. It (and the change in management style, expectations and relationship-managing) was difficult at best and somewhat humiliating at worst. Looking back, I shared a healthy chunk of blame in its rocky start. That said, it was a very good, maturing (and extremely humbling) experience for me. That is something that I suspect that doesn't happen very often in graduate school; most of the time, a student has 1 PI. Industry seems to switch management about once every 3 years. I wasn't prepared for it, and it showed.

I regret to tell you, Vinylogous, that I wish I could say that the moments of greatest stress have resulted in some professional triumph on my part. Rather, I experienced a rather difficult project where, in the end, I was not able to meet the rather simple chemistry goals that had been set out. Everything mostly worked out in the end, but there were too many missed deadlines and out-of-specification results that I was responsible for. I learned a lot of lessons, but I sure wish I didn't have to learn them this way. It's been a while, but the project still pains me in the still quiet moments when I think about work. While I've tried to channel my disappointments in positive directions (including writing a really detailed, brutal postmortem), I still think about that project a lot. Happily, work has moved in a much more positive direction since then (and my mental health!)

I don't think anything that I experienced could match the depressive depths of graduate school, but I suspect that the real difference happens to be that I have a wife and children now. Getting to see them (and experiencing their daily, unconditional love) is something that I didn't have before. Also, it's funny to see how having friends who aren't other graduate students (and have troubles of their own, and sharing those troubles with them) has been pretty therapeutic. Being part of a community (whatever it may be - hobby-based, faith-based) matters -- that's something the real world is a lot better at, I think, than graduate school. I also started running regularly, which has been a source of some solace (and back pain.)

Is graduate school any different? 

It's clear to me that graduate school hasn't changed that much since we last talked. The median time-to-degree for graduate students is still above 6 years for students in the physical sciences (6.5, to be exact*), it's not like the funding pressure has gotten better since then either. I am more surprised to hear some graduate students being paid in the high-20s or low-30k range, which, as far as I'm concerned is both a hell of a lot more than I was being paid and great news. Grad school sucks on its best days, and getting paid more is better than a kick in the shins. I wonder if the new and welcome emphasis on reproducibility in science is having mental health repercussions -- I haven't heard any, but I am sure that having a paper retracted would be a tough day.

So, some questions for you, Vinylogous:

1. How has the intervening 2 years been for you and your mental health?
2. I feel like younger professors are getting a lot better about work-life balance than not -- am I right in thinking that?
3. Are mental health-related issues getting talked about more, among newer graduate students?
4. I know you talked about it a little bit in our e-mail exchange, so I'll steal this question from you: how should a graduate student know when it is time to quit a program? Does the "sunk cost fallacy" play a role in this? ("I gotta recoup these last 4 years by getting a Ph.D.!")

Once again, sorry that this is a touch late -- hope to hear from you tomorrow.

Cheers, CJ

*I originally cited the "since bachelor's degree" number, where most people use the "since starting graduate school number. Thanks to Organometallica for the catch. 

Job posting: lecturer, Orono, ME

From the inbox:
The Department of Chemistry at the University of Maine (Orono, ME) invites applications for a Lecturer (on-going) to begin September 1, 2015 (candidates who would not be available until January 1, 2016 also will be considered).   This is a continuing position, with reappointment subject to satisfactory performance.  The position requires a Ph.D. in organic chemistry or closely related discipline by date of hire.  The successful candidate is expected to teach sophomore organic chemistry, including laboratory supervision, and to develop innovative and effective approaches to instruction. Other duties may include student advising and appropriate department or university service.  For more details and the application procedure see or   Evaluation of applications will begin January 15, 2015 and continue until the position is filled.  The University of Maine is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. 
Best wishes to those interested.  

Fellowship available at the University of Maine for the study of the chemistry of marine anti-biofouling

From the inbox:
Dr. William Gramlich at the University of Maine in the Department of Chemistry  are seeking a student with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in chemistry, chemical engineering, or other closely related field, to pursue a Ph.D. and research new materials and chemistry to prevent marine organism fouling on aquaculture infrastructure to be supported on a NSF EPSCOR funded SEANET fellowship beginning in Fall 2015. (
Best wishes to those interested.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Because you wanted to take more thermo: Chris Cramer, University of Minnesota, 1/19/15

Chris Cramer is not unknown to readers of this blog -- here's my interview with him on his MOOC, "Statistical Molecular Thermodynamics."

He's teaching it again this year. It is starting January 19, 2015 and running with eight weeks of content. Learn more here!

Job posting: Science Advisor, Boston, MA

From the inbox:
Goodwin Procter seeks a highly qualified science advisor to join our Intellectual Property Transactions & Strategies group. Preferred candidates will have experience drafting patent applications and office action responses, conducting prior art database searches for patentability and freedom to operate analyses, and/or performing due diligence for corporate transactions and technology transfers.
Ph.D. needed for this position. Best wishes to those interested. 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/6/15 edition

A few of the positions posted at C&EN the past two weeks:

Bridgewater, NJ: Henkel looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. development chemist for work on adhesives.

Aiken, SC: Interesting postdoctoral opportunity at Savannah River National Laboratories; sounds like they're looking for an analytical chemist, mostly.

Harrisonburg, VA: SRI International is looking for a Ph.D. mass spectrometrist.

Toronto, ON: NoNO is a new biopharmaceutical; they're looking for a M.S./Ph.D. formulation chemist; offering 60-90k.

Lakewood, NJ: Nitto Denko is looking for a polymer chemist, B.S. level with 0-2 years experience. They're offering $19-24/hr. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/6/15 edition

A few of the academic positions posted by C&EN these past weeks:

Flint, MI: The University of Michigan - Flint is looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry. 58-62k offered.

Georgetown, TX: Southwestern University desires an undergraduate organic laboratory director.

Tampa, FL: The University of Tampa is looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry for fall 2015.

Grove City, PA: Grove City College is looking for an assistant professor; "Successful candidates will possess a Ph.D. in analytical or synthetic chemistry with expertise in either environmental, medicinal, polymer or biological chemistry."

Houston, TX: Rice University is looking for Wiess postdoctoral teacher/scholar positions. 50k to start -- could be worse.

Astana, Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev University is looking for quite a number of chemical engineering professors.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thomas Connelly's interview at Scientific American

It's a month old, but while I'm casting a skeptical eye at senior ACS leadership, I might as well take aim at the new CEO/executive director, Dr. Thomas Connelly, who was interviewed by Josh Fischman over at Scientific American: 
What are your priorities going to be as CEO?
I would like to see our membership broaden, particularly into different geographical areas than the U.S. and Europe. I also want to focus on STEM education, and educate policymakers and the public about ways that chemistry enables solutions to big problems.

What is important about education?
Our society recently set up an association of chemistry teachers, and we should continue that work, particularly in the kindergarten through grade 12 area. But education should not stop there.

It should continue?
We need to educate the general public. They need to understand the science behind food and energy and human health issues, and chemistry is central to that.

What are some examples of chemistry’s role in these areas?
Chemistry is key to protecting crops in our food supply, for instance. Soil chemistry is important for that, as is crop nutrition. In the environment, chemistry is important for maintaining ecosystems. People need to understand geochemistry and atmospheric chemistry in order to do that.

Are there challenges that chemistry faces?
I don’t think there have been clear messages in all of these areas, and we need clearer communication. Understanding human health from a nutrition standpoint is one instance. Consumers are presented with a lot of information on food labels. But what does it all mean? What is important for your health? We could add a lot of clarity there.
Glad to hear that recent historically high unemployment for all members and very high unemployment for new graduate members in 2013 do not appear to be challenges that chemistry faces. 

Diane Grob Schmidt's presidential address: an industry focus

It's the first issue of the year for C&EN, which means that we get a new ACS presidential address from a new ACS president, Dr. Diane Grob Schmidt. It hews to a pretty standard cheery format, but the start is rather irritating to those who are irritable, i.e. me:
The workforce has changed dramatically since I went to work for Procter & Gamble as a newly minted Ph.D. more than 30 years ago. I was a longtime P&G employee, retiring from there just last year. Today’s chemistry graduates will likely end up working for several employers over the course of their careers. While some may have only one or two employers during their careers, I think many will find employment changes to be the new norm. 
The current employment environment is dynamic, not static. And that is not necessarily a negative. New opportunities can be fruitful, especially for those with an entrepreneurial mind-set. I remember a person from my graduate school class who was interested in synthetic organic chemistry. He knew there were markets that were not served by existing laboratories or resources to test or explore certain synthetic pathways, so he built his own small company. He identified a need, had the skills and knowledge to meet that need, and then acquired the business skills necessary to form and run a company. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Count me as somewhat less than cheered by a suggestion by someone who just retired from 30+ years at a major corporation that my likely future being laid off every 5 years in a dynamic environment is "not necessarily a negative." I think that her long career at P&G is exactly the sort of thing that the vast majority of chemists aspire to and long for, and she does glosses over the potential disruption that can happen when chemists are asked/forced to change employers.

I was also a more than a bit flummoxed by this paragraph, when she talks about the value proposition of ACS to industry (emphasis mine):
...Another vital step in developing a strong relationship with industry is ensuring we are providing the products and services that industrial chemical scientists want. Over the past 10 years, the share of ACS members employed in manufacturing has declined by 14%. That prompts the question: What can we do to attract and keep industry members?
Uh, that's not the question that I'm prompted to ask. I'm prompted to ask:
  • What happened to these members? 
  • Is it an increase in academic members or a loss of industrial members? 
  • Are those members who dropped out still chemists, or have they left the field altogether? 
  • What can we do to help unemployed member chemists? 
Maybe I'm just irritable and skeptical. Nevertheless, best wishes to President Grob Schmidt -- I sincerely hope she's successful in deepening ties to industry. 

Bonus Monday paranoia: what are the tail-risks of Vanguard?

I am a huge fan of Vanguard, the mutual fund company. I basically don't believe in fancy stock-picking* and I like their emphasis on passive investing.

But when I read things like today's headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal ("Vanguard Sets Record Funds Inflow"), I get a little nervous. What if Vanguard has skeletons that we don't know about? What if VFINX is actually some guy in Atlantic City named Vinny?

I should calm down some.

*No offense intended to fancy stock-pickers out there. 

This week's C&EN

A quiet-ish first week at C&EN this week:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for a good 2015 for all.

2014 was a year for somewhat less posting for the blog (and less regular and timely posting, too.) I would obviously like to change that, so I am working on disciplining myself to make that happen. I have some larger projects, but I don't wish to jinx myself.

If you have thoughts on what you'd like to see from this blog in 2015, feel free to comment here.

Again, best wishes to you, your family and to us all in 2015. 

2014: Another good year for #chemjobs reporting

Before the year ends, I wanted to make another plug for the #chemjobs-team at C&EN of Sophie Rovner, Susan Ainsworth and Linda Wang.

I look forward to good things from them in 2015!