Tuesday, December 29, 2015

BREAKING: DuPont to cut 1,700 jobs in January

From both C&EN's Alex Tullo and DelawareOnline's Scott Goss (text below is from Scott Goss):
DuPont will eliminate about 1,700 job in Delaware in early 2016, the company announced Tuesday. 
CEO Ed Breen announced the layoffs in a memo sent to DuPont’s roughly 6,100 Delaware employees on Tuesday. 
The job cuts include employees who were told earlier this month that their jobs were being cut, along with several hundred who will received notification in January.
The workers will depart the company by the end of March. 
Breen said he chose to announce the full impact now – before those remaining employees receive a pink slip – because DuPont is required to detail the layoffs in a state filing due by Dec. 31. 
“Especially given that we are in the middle of the holidays, we would have preferred to wait until individual notifications were complete before reporting the full local impact,” Breen wrote in the memo. “… I wanted you to hear the difficult news – directly from me …”
Best wishes to those affected.

UPDATE: From Philly.com's Joseph N. DiStefano, an e-mail from a CR&D scientist (thanks, Anon318p). Mr. DiStefano's annotations are italicized:
We will hear what happens to all of Central Research and Development [CR&D], on January 4th. Three options: 
1. Laid off --  ~80% of CR&D will get this. Of the 250 principal investigators [PIs, with PhDs] plus associate investigators [AIs, with BSci, MSci degrees], about 17 PIs plus 34 AIs will be left.
(But of that 80%, some will stay with DuPont in other jobs, another company source says. That leaves option 2:) 
2. Pulled into a business... (But) the businesses are laying off staff.
(And then there's option 3, for the minority who keep their jobs in the renamed Central R&D unit): 
3. Be part of "Science & Innovation," the new CR&D.  
Five of the seven CR&D managers have been let go. 60% of the patent group in CR&D, IB and other businesses have been cut... 90% of Pioneer (crop seed R&D) was laid off, 200 people -- a week before Christmas -- what a great holiday present!  The other 10% were told to move to Iowa or else they would not have jobs. 
We have been told not to work in our labs. We have been told just to make certain all of our chemicals are labeled (for disposal).  
And we have been told that we have a day to collect our personal belongings and get out [off site permanently by Jan 5th].  
So I am here "working" most of this week  -- removing my personnel effects... Jan 4th (I will) learn my fate... Looking at academic positions, consulting... 
There will be a lot of good people looking for jobs. 
My heart goes out to those folks that are at mid-career and do not have the "cushion" of retirement. 
I found one AI almost crying in the hallway last week.  
It will be terrible to be here on Jan 4th. 
NO ONE would have predicted what is happening now at DuPont just a couple of months ago! 
Ed Breen and Nelson Peltz can take credit for destroying one of  the best industrial research organizations in the world. 
I will agree that there were issues. But you fix things, not destroy them. That is what real leaders do. 
Dupont does a terrible job marketing. It is the interface between marketing and technology development that had been broken. -- So you destroy the technology organization? Not!   
If you have a leaky roof -- do you burn down the house? 
It is just so surreal!!
Holy cow.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

The EU restricts the contents of chemistry sets?

Adrian Dingle's review of the MEL chemistry kits inspired an interesting conversation between Adrian and the CEO of MEL, Vassili Philippov. According to Mr. Philippov, the contents (and amounts) of chemistry kits sold within the European Union are designated by EU regulations. Here's a link to the list, and here's the seemingly relevant statement in the regulations: 
...Only the chemical substances, mixtures and indicators given in Table 1 and Table 2 may be supplied in chemistry sets or in a supplementary set for a chemistry set up to the amounts and concentrations specified in those tables. 
The quality of the chemicals used should be appropriate for the experiments described. In particular, the chemicals should not contain impurities or substances that allow undefined and dangerous reactions to occur. 
Apart from its presence in tincture of iodine, denatured alcohol (ethanol) shall not be supplied in a chemistry set. However, where experiments contained in the instructions of a chemistry set require it, the use of denatured alcohol may be suggested in the instructions....
So. Dumb American question: is this really true?!? Does the EU actually restrict the contents of chemistry sets? What kind of restriction is this, anyway? Is this something where, if you sell it, the EU tells you to stop selling it? or is this more of a suggestion? Readers, any ideas?

(I don't really think there are any rules in the US about the contents of chemistry sets (although it appears that the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls a fair number of them) although it is clear that, if you put really toxic substances in a children's chemistry set, you'll probably be sued out of existence.)

(This is also one of those things where Americans tend not to really understand how EU regulations actually govern things within the EU, etc., etc. Sorry.) 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Back on Saturday. Until then, my family and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

AZ Innovative Medicines and Early Development Graduate Programme

Also, from the inbox, an invitation to apply for the AstraZeneca Innovative Medicines and Early Development Graduate Programme:
...the IMED Graduate programme is a global initiative designed to provide high-calibre science graduates with a two-year placement in the company, with the potential for long-term career development. The programme was launched in 2013 and we have now successfully recruited and on boarded 75 graduates on the programme across IMED and who are directly contributing to our science and projects across our core R&D Sites in the UK/US and Sweden.   
The programme is very much focused on breath of experience and our graduates are encouraged to undertake broad scientific placements that will provide them with the solid foundations to be great scientists for the future.  Each graduate will be required to complete 3 eight months rotations as part of the programme. Graduates are also provided with a mentor for the duration of the programme whose aim is to provide the career support and guidance to ensure that they are being developed to their full potential.
The US deadline is January 29, and the UK deadline is March 4. Best wishes to those interested.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

BMS requiring employees to waive their rights to sue and agree to arbitration in the future

I have recently learned that Bristol-Myers Squibb is presenting its employees with a nasty choice: continued employment at BMS requires agreeing that future legal disputes with the company will, for eternity, give up the right to suing the company, but instead will rely on arbitration by a for-profit arbitration organization.

Among other things, the agreement states that:
  • the employees give up the right to be a part of a class action lawsuit
  • the employees' rights to go to the government with concerns is not limited (whew!)
  • the employees have the right to challenge the arbitration agreement (generous of them)
  • worker's compensation, unemployment, ERISA, NLRB are not covered by the agreement
BMS employees have until January 22, 2016 to decide if they will agree to continue to be employed under this agreement. Apparently, all new employees will be asked to sign away their rights to sue as well.

My understanding of arbitration clauses has been that this is a growing phenomena in retail disputes or disputes with financial firms, but a brief perusal of the internet indicates this is an increasingly common practice. The National Employment Lawyers Association (certainly NOT an uninterested party in this case) claims 27% of US employers have these sorts of binding arbitration agreements with their employees. I understand that arbitration firms are, in general, pretty friendly to employers, although this is an impression and not a peer-reviewed scientific fact.

Sadly, it appears to me there is little (short of political action at the Congressional level) that the employees of BMS can do in this situation. I do not love the class-action system (I think it's a terrible legal kludge with bad incentives), but it seems like one of the few remaining constraints on employer power in the employer-employee relationship.

Readers, do you have experience with such agreements? Can you name other major employers of chemists that currently have such agreements? How does a chemist best decide to protect themselves? 

"AAAS Chemistry Section Will Not Proceed with Nomination of Patrick Harran as Fellow"

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today announced that its Section on Chemistry has voted not to move forward with the nomination of Patrick Harran as a Fellow, following re-review of his nomination. 
On December 18, the AAAS Council approved the Chemistry Section steering group’s request to conduct a complete re-evaluation of Dr. Harran’s nomination after it became apparent that an initial review of nomination materials had not included all relevant information. Members of the nomination reviewing committee recently became aware of a 2008 case involving the death of a technician in the UCLA laboratory of Dr. Harran. 
The AAAS Council Subcommittee on Fellows, which is empowered to review the nomination and election process, is also considering changes to the Fellow review process for subsequent nominations. 
In a tradition dating to 1874, election as a Fellow of AAAS—the world’s largest general scientific society—is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers that recognizes efforts to advance science or its applications. 
Under AAAS bylaws, Fellows are nominated either independently by three existing AAAS Fellows, as in Dr. Harran’s circumstance, or by the elected leadership of topical membership Sections. Following review by the relevant topical sections, Fellows are then ratified by elected members of the AAAS Council, without interference or influence by AAAS staff. Fellows are honored in an induction ceremony at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tim Cook is Wrong: The US has many tool and die makers

In the midst of a 60 Minutes piece on Apple's products and manufacturing, this whopper of a statement from Apple CEO Tim Cook (emphasis mine): 
And most Americans would be surprised to know that nearly all Apple products are manufactured by one million Chinese workers in the factories of Apple contractors, including its largest: Foxconn. Yet Tim Cook insists that China's vast and cheap labor force is not the primary reason for manufacturing there. 
Charlie Rose: So if it's not wages, what is it? 
Tim Cook: It's skill. 
Charlie Rose: Skill? 
Tim Cook: It's skill. It's that Chi-- 
Charlie Rose: They have more skills than American workers? They have more skills than-- 
Tim Cook: Now-- now, hold on. 
Charlie Rose: --German workers? 
Tim Cook: Yeah, let me-- let me-- let me clear, China put an enormous focus on manufacturing. In what we would call, you and I would call vocational kind of skills. The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills. I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we're currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields. 
Charlie Rose: Because they've taught those skills in their schools? 
Tim Cook: It's because it was a focus of them-- it's a focus of their educational system. And so that is the reality.
So there are two claims here. The first claim is that the US has very few tool and die makers.

That is false. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States has somewhere around 75,000 tool and die makers. Maybe these aren't the folks that Tim Cook is looking for? Maybe these folks make too much money for him to hire? Maybe there aren't enough for Apple?

But he is wrong: there are many, many tool and die makers in the United States.

Regarding the second claim: I would like to hear if it is true that manufacturing skills are emphasized in the Chinese educational system. Something tells me this is wrong. Readers, your thoughts?

UPDATE: This Marketwatch commentary (thanks, Anon1221p) notes that there were fewer tool and die makers in the US in 2014 than there were in 2004. Sure hope that number turns around, and that Apple is a part of it.  

This week's C&EN

It's the "Year in Review" issue this week:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A recent Harvard chemistry faculty application rejection letter

Credit: Anonymous (received in fall 2015)
Looks like folks at Harvard Chemistry and Chemical Biology have not been filling out the form rejection e-mails correctly...

(alternate hypothesis: Vin Diesel has been doing hiring for Harvard Chemistry.)

(alternate, alternate hypothesis: Barbara Bach has been doing hiring for Harvard Chemistry.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

C&EN: DuPont Central Research "will soon cease to exist"

DuPont Central Research & Development, one of the most prestigious and accomplished research organizations in the chemistry world, will soon cease to exist. 
According to a memorandum obtained by C&EN and authenticated by DuPont, the company will combine DuPont Science & Technology and DuPont Engineering into a single organization called Science & Engineering, effective Jan. 1, 2016. “As part of this integration, Central Research & Development will be substantially redesigned to become ‘Science & Innovation’,” states the memo, attributed to DuPont Chief Science & Technology Officer Doug Muzyka. 
DuPont isn’t commenting on questions regarding the numbers of possible layoffs or the fate of central research labs at DuPont’s Chestnut Run facility and Experimental Station, both in Wilmington, Del....
Read the whole thing. Best wishes to all affected.

UPDATE: More details from Delaware Online.

A Chemjobber holiday tradition

A revised edition for a new year. Print it out and send to your family -- it works!

Chemistry fire/death at Tsinghua University?

Credit: Beijing News
There are both English language and Chinese language reports of a chemistry lab accident at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Friday morning, with one fatality. Some reports indicate the fatality was a postdoctoral fellow. Anyone have any news?

E-mail me at chemjobber@gmail.com, if so.

UPDATE: Quite a dramatic picture from Shanghaiist - dunno if true. Also, the name of the deceased:

"32-year-old Meng Xiangjian, who joined the university last year, has been named as the sole victim of the explosion."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"...but by our skills with a lightsaber."

Credit: Stuart Cantrill
Nature Chemistry has its January cover out; it is a beautiful one. Stuart Cantrill (the editor-in-chief of Nature Chemistry) made a fun version of it, to left. 

The "skills gap" cake is baked

Via my weekly dose of pain (a Google alert for the term "skills gap"), this fun little ranking of the "most difficult jobs to fill" for the 3rd quarter of 2015 by the American Staffing Association (the trade association, I presume, for the staffing industry):
  1. Podiatrists
  2. Photographic process workers and processing machine operators
  3. Occupational therapists
  4. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
  5. Psychiatrists
  6. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists
  7. Internists, general
  8. Physical therapists
  9. Speech-language pathologists
  10. Occupational therapy assistants
What I find hilarious about this list is how highly specialized they are, and how the supply of these positions are fixed for a period of time that is measured in years, if not decades. How long does it take to train a podiatrist? I presume that, for psychiatrists, the "post-bac to completed residency" time period is longer than 8 years. OTs? 2-3 years at least, right? 

The only one on this list that I suspect is somewhere close to "possible to address in one year" are the "heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers", although as someone who drives a smallish car, I sure would like those folks to be more experienced, as opposed to less. 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/17/15 edition

A (very) few positions this week from C&EN Jobs:

Boise, ID: The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is looking for an environmental health toxicologist.  

Newark, DE: Air Liquide is looking for a Ph.D. chemist to perform research into plasma-based depositions. 

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) "1000+", 475, 9,563 and zero positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 1,554 positions for the job title chemist, with 202 for "analytical chemist", 41 for "medicinal chemist", 28 for "research chemist", 31 for "organic chemist" and 11 for "synthetic chemist." 

Continuous manufacturing: Interesting to me that Vertex is looking for a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. experienced continuous manufacturing chemist for API work. 

Your morning shot of schadenfreude

If you haven't heard already, federal prosecutors arrested Martin Shkreli for insider trading due to his time as CEO of Retrophin (before he was at his current company and he got a chance to jack up the price of Daraprim.).

I have a funny feeling he will not go to trial, nor be convicted. 

Los Angeles Times on the Harran/AAAS contretemps

Kim Christensen of the Los Angeles Times (one of the original reporters on the Sangji/UCLA beat) covers the Harran/AAAS contretemps. The new news in the article includes comments from Professor Harran's attorney, Thomas O'Brien: 
...Harran’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, declined to directly address the fellowship controversy. 
“Professor Harran has always taken full responsibility as supervisor of the laboratory in which this tragic accident occurred,” O’Brien said. “He remains committed to pushing for increased safety in academic laboratories as he continues his groundbreaking research.”
...UCLA officials said in a statement that Harran has “a well-deserved reputation as one of the most creative and influential synthetic organic chemists of his generation” and should receive the fellowship. 
“The December 2008 laboratory accident was a terrible tragedy and Prof. Harran and the Regents remain dedicated to improving lab safety and abiding by all the terms of their agreements with the District Attorney,” it said. “It is our belief, however, that the understandably strong feelings that surround this tragic accident should not negate Prof. Harran’s important work and this substantial honor.”
I think the adjectives and adverbs are doing yeoman's work in these statements.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Time for bold Fed predictions: CJ sez "up" today, twice next year.

The Federal Reserve is set to lift interest rates for the first time in over nine years on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern. 
The announcement, scheduled to come out of what’s called the Federal Open Market Committee, will be followed by a news conference with Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, who will speak at 2:30 p.m. 
The Fed has kept interest rates in a band between zero and 0.25% since December 2008, when it lowered rates in the midst of the Great Recession.

Now that the U.S. economy has been growing steadily for years, the central bank is poised to begin lifting rates. 
The likely rate hike has been well choreographed. Markets were pricing in an 83% chance of a rate hike, as of Monday afternoon. 
One of the big questions awaiting Yellen is how quickly the Fed will follow up the first rate hike with another — some say it could be as little as three months later...
Of course, I predict (like darn near everyone) a 0.25% hike today.

I predict for 2016:

1. There will be at least 2 rate hikes next year.
2. Both of them at the 0.25% level.

My reasons: the Fed has to signal to the US and the rest of the world that the era of zero-interest rates is over, and raising rates at least once more before the election is likely, probably in March or so, so no one is thinking "this is intended to influence the election one way or another."

All of this said, I personally feel there hasn't been a ton of evidence that we have a great economy right now. The Conference Board forecast is for 2.6% growth next year, and I'd take the under on that one. (of course you would, CJ. - ed.) GDP was up and down for this year, and wage growth is meh at best. (maybe I'm pessimistic on that one.) So I don't see evidence for cranking up interest rates.

Readers, I'd love comments, but I'd value predictions for 2016 more. We'll check in again next year and see who wins - maybe a picture of Paul Volcker as a prize?

UPDATE: Going up! From the FOMC:
Given the economic outlook, and recognizing the time it takes for policy actions to affect future economic outcomes, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1/4 to 1/2 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative after this increase, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Daily Pump Trap: 12/15/15 edition

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

Terre Haute, IN: Taghleef Industries is searching for a B.S./M.S. research scientist in product development.

Madison, NJ: Merck looking for an "associate director of API technology portfolio management." 10 years experience, B.S. in chemistry/chemical engineering needed.

Seattle, WA: The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is looking for an experienced medicinal chemist; looks like conjugation chemistry experience desired.

Decatur, GA: Koch Ag & Energy Solutions looking for a M.S./Ph.D. senior research chemist for fertilizer applications.

North Brunswick, NJ: I feel like this isn't the first time Chromocell has been looking for an operations manager? 

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/15/15 edition

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

Hempstead, NY: It is interesting to see the trend away from larger universities to smaller schools. Hofstra posted an inorganic/physical position and an organic position.

That said...: The University of Maine (Orono*, ME) is looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Johnson City, TN: Posting from the Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University for a synthetic carbohydrate chemistry postdoc. I once heard a rumor that it is closer to Canada from Johnson City than it is to Memphis.

Anaheim, CA: Chemistry instructor position at Fullerton College in the North Orange County Community College District.

Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College looking for a visiting assistant professor of bioorganic chemistry.

*a favorite word in the NYT crossword

Monday, December 14, 2015

Patrick Harran's nomination as an AAAS fellow to be reconsidered by the chemistry section

"Conn, sonar, we are cavitating."
Via Twitter at 8 pm, the interim statement from the AAAS, by Gavin Stern (AAAS news director):

AAAS Section Requests Permission to Re-review the Election of Patrick Harran as a Fellow
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today announced that its governing Council has been asked by the steering group of the AAAS Chemistry Section to allow reconsideration of the nomination of Patrick Harran as an elected Fellow. 
The Chemistry Section’s request to the Council was made after it became apparent that an initial review of Dr. Harran’s nomination materials had not included all relevant information. 
In a tradition dating to 1874, election as a Fellow of AAAS—the world’s largest general scientific society—is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers that recognizes efforts to advance science or its applications. 
Under AAAS bylaws, Fellows are nominated either independently by three existing AAAS Fellows, as in Dr. Harran’s case, or by the elected leadership of topical membership Sections. Following review by the relevant topical sections, successful fellows are then ratified by elected members of the AAAS Council, without interference or influence by AAAS staff. Newly elected Fellows are then inducted at a ceremony during the AAAS Annual Meeting in February. 
In November, AAAS had announced the election of 347 new Fellows, to be honored at a 13 February awards ceremony. Last week, members of the nomination reviewing committee became aware of a 2009 case involving the death of a technician in the UCLA laboratory of Dr. Harran. 
An additional announcement will be made as soon as the relevant AAAS governance bodies issue a final decision in this case.
Fascinating. More soon. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sinatra's 100th birthday

My absolute favorite Sinatra song. Have a great Saturday.

Weekend thought: The Stockdale Paradox

I've heard this many times, but it is still interesting/irritating/interesting to me. Via a blog post on the "Six Characteristics of the Highly Effective Staff Officer" (written by Andrew “Evan” McCoy, Assistant Operations Officer for 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment), the Stockdale Paradox: 
...Medal of Honor recipient ADM James Stockdale was held prisoner for more than seven years during the Vietnam War. He was tortured multiple times, kept in isolation and had no knowledge when his captivity would end or if he would be killed by his captors. Throughout this period of captivity he was well aware of the grim outlook that his situation held, however throughout these dark times he held on to the indisputable fact that everything would work out in the end.  
While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable, he noted that it was always the most optimistic of his prisonmates who failed to make it out of there alive. “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” The Stockdale Paradox[iv] can be summarized as so: 
You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. 
AND at the same time… 
You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
The Stockdale Paradox is found in the business book "Good to Great", which I have read a portion of, with considerable skepticism. But I do think there is something to the Stockdale Paradox. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

100 ul pipette tips

Small, useful things (links):
Again, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds tens of dollars joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up.

Have a good weekend! 

Dow-DuPont means layoffs: DuPont announces 10% job cuts for global workforce

Of course, now that the Christmas season is truly upon us, it means it's time for layoffs. This year is no different, with the Dow DuPont merger a real reality. From the Wall Street Journal today (by Jacob Bunge, David Benoit and Chelsey Dulaney): 
Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. announced Friday that they have agreed to merge, fusing two stalwarts of American industry into a giant worth about $130 billion. 
The deal would reshape the chemical and agricultural industries and comes as sinking commodity prices and a strengthening U.S. dollar have pressured revenue at both Dow and DuPont. 
The companies plan to strip out about $3 billion in costs as they combine operations and ultimately break up into three separate businesses about 18 to 24 months after closing the deal. Those three resulting companies, which would be publicly traded, would be focused on agriculture, material sciences and specialty products. 
The union marks a new chapter for two of the oldest U.S. companies, which had both sought to reinvent themselves as makers of more-profitable products while facing pressure from major investors agitating for the companies to make faster, bolder moves...
Of course, there will be layoffs. From the same article:
Friday’s announcements will lead to major job cuts. DuPont said it is cutting about 10% of its global workforce in its restructuring ahead of the deal, and further reductions are likely as the combined company streamlines ahead of its planned breakup. 
Here's the official DuPont press release.

This is terrible news for all chemists involved, I feel. Best wishes to those affected.

UPDATE: Lots of current employee comments about DDP (my unofficial nickname, homage to Mr. Page Joseph Falkinburg) over at the Chemistry Reddit.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Boss Likes Good News

I thought this viewpoint from Bob Lutz (a longtime GM executive) about the engineering culture at Volkswagen was... interesting and potentially revealing: 
Ferdinand PiĆ«ch, the immensely powerful former chief of Volkswagen's supervisory board, is more than likely the root cause of the VW diesel-emissions scandal. Whether he specifically asked for, tacitly approved, or was even aware of the company's use of software to deliberately fudge EPA emissions testing is immaterial. 
I sat next to him at an industry dinner in the Nineties, just after the fourth-generation Golf had debuted at the Frankfurt show. I told him, "I'd like to congratulate you on the new Golf. First of all, it's a nice-looking car, but God, those body fits!" 
"Ah, you like those?" 
"Yeah. I wish we could get close to that at Chrysler." 
"I'll give you the recipe. I called all the body engineers, stamping people, manufacturing, and executives into my conference room. And I said, 'I am tired of all these lousy body fits. You have six weeks to achieve world-class body fits. I have all your names. If we do not have good body fits in six weeks, I will replace all of you. Thank you for your time today.' " 
That's how you did it?" 
"Yes. And it worked."
Assuming that this story is true and that this actually is the prevailing culture at Volkswagen, it's not surprising that such a ruse was devised to keep the bosses happy (and EPA in the dark.)*

I presume Truly Wise Bosses when when the turn the screws to your employees (if you have to), knowing when to let them lead, and knowing when they may be turning to nefarious and ultimately destructive means to give you good news.

*It also reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Bill Buford's "Heat", about the famous New York City chef, Mario Batali: 
Did Mario know what the kitchen was like without him? According to Tony [CJ's note: one of his sous-chefs], "Mario knows exactly what he doesn't want to know." 
I think a lot of bosses know exactly what they don't want to know. 


I did want to draw attention to a couple of broadly advertised internships/fellowships:

The SCI Scholars Program seems prestigious and reasonably lucrative; deadline is December 15.

The ACS Public Policy Fellowships are open for applications, with January 15 as the application deadline.

San Diego, CA/Corvallis, OR: HP is looking for R&D interns at the graduate student level; a good opportunity to see life at industrial research.

Daily Pump Trap: 12/10/15 edition

A few (?) of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs this week:

Slim: still relatively quiet, only one position: PharmaBlock Sciences is based in Nanjing, China, but they're looking for US sales representatives.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) "1000+", 532 , 9,511 and 10 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 1509 positions for the job title "chemist", with 204 for "analytical chemist", 39 for "research chemist", 38 for "organic chemist", 35 for "medicinal chemist" and 8 for "synthetic chemist." 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Prof. Patrick Harran selected as AAAS fellow

Via Twitter and C&EN's Jyllian Kemsley, an interesting piece of news (here reported by UCLA's press office): 
A total of 347 scholars were selected this year; they will be honored Feb. 13, 2016, at the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C. UCLA’s new fellows are: 
Patrick Harran 
Harran, UCLA’s Donald J. and Jane M. Cram Professor of Organic Chemistry, builds new chemical compounds in creative ways and uses those molecules to drive research in biology and medicine...
Over at The Safety Zone, Jyllian notes the Daily Bruin's reporting comments from AAAS' press office:
Ginger Pinholster, AAAS director in the office of public programs, said the AAAS fellow selection process is based strictly on scientific achievement. 
“(Selection as a fellow) doesn’t reflect behavior or other issues,” Pinholster said. 
Pinholster added the AAAS administrative members who oversaw the selection process for the fellowship were unaware of the charges against Harran.
I don't really buy the "we didn't know" defense, although stranger things have happened before. I think they simply judged it as "not relevant", which is... interesting, disappointing and a good demonstration of the hierarchies at work in academic science. Younger folks, take note.

(It would be interesting to know about the past and present of AAAS fellows; I presume there is the normal distribution of human failings spread amongst them.)

UPDATE: Courtesy of Jyllian Kemsley, the Sangji family responds, calling for the revoking of the fellowship. "We respectfully request that you refuse to honor the unsafe science conducted by an unethical scientist."

UPDATE 2 (201512110357p): AAAS director of the Office of Public Programs Ginger Pinholster tweets that there will be a statement on the Harran/AAAS fellowship next week.

Dow, DuPont in merger talks to form one company, and then break up into 3 separate companies

Via @DrQualls on Twitter last night, I see that the Dow and DuPont are in talks to merge. From the Wall Street Journal (article by David Benoit, Dana Cimilluca, Dana Mattioli and Jacob Bunge):
Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. are in advanced talks to merge, in what would be a combination of two of America’s oldest companies that together are worth nearly $120 billion. 
The chemical giants, which each have a market capitalization of about $60 billion, could announce a merger in coming days, people familiar with the matter said. It would be followed by a three-way breakup of the combined company, they said, a common approach to mergers and acquisitions of late. Dow’s Chief Executive Andrew Liveris is expected to be executive chairman of the new company, with DuPont CEO Edward Breen keeping that title. 
Terms of the deal couldn’t be learned, but some of the people said it would be billed as a merger of equals, meaning there wouldn’t be a big premium for either set of shareholders. A deal hasn’t yet been inked and the talks could fall apart, the people cautioned. 
Even if the two sides manage to agree, there is no guarantee antitrust regulators would bless the union or that the breakup plan would address any such concerns. The merger would combine two top suppliers of industrial and agricultural chemicals and crop seeds....
This is, undoubtedly good news for the financial wizards who will consult on this merger and the newly crowned CEOs. It's not good news for the future of corporate America, as this column by WSJ's Dennis K. Berman notes (ht anon) - if this is how huge conglomerates plan to make more profits (rather than reinvestment in capital and R&D), we are in serious trouble.

I can't imagine this is good news for the industrial chemists of America (and the world), either. I presume that there will be plant closures and R&D cuts to follow; I don't think it's a coincidence that, after the divestment of DuPont's fluorochemicals business to Chemours, Chemours has been busily laying people off and closing plants. I predict this means more mid-career chemists let go, slower wage growth for chemists, lower retirement and health benefits, fewer entry-level R&D positions for chemists at the new companies and lower starting salaries.

I hope I am wrong.

Best wishes to the employees of Dow and DuPont - and to all of us. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ask CJ: how to improve safety culture as a new lab member?

From the inbox, a great question about how to change safety culture from a postdoc we'll call "QV." QV writes the following:
...I'm trying to figure out the best way to improve my lab's safety goggle compliance; in grad school, we had it impressed on us early and often that lab glasses were not the exception but the rule.  
In my new group, though, there hasn't been that sort of pressure and I am the only one who wears safety glasses, with others citing their normal eye glasses as acceptable eye protection. I know from experience that, even with side shields (which these folks don't use) regular eye glasses are seldom enough--luckily this group has never had a big accident, but it means that the importance of *proper* eyewear was lost on them. What should I do about trying to get the lab into the habit of using proper PPE, especially as a newcomer?
I don't have a lot of advice for QV, but here goes:
  • Lead by example.
  • Build rapport with your coworkers. 
  • Find ways of helpfully contributing by taking responsibility for safety issues in your group. 
  • Over time, talk to your PI about ways of improving safety in the group, maybe after you feel you're "a group member." 
In this case, I think it would be helpful to build relationships with coworkers and show that you can be a resource before you can successfully get them to change their behavior. Maybe I'm wrong.

Readers, what do you think? I think my approach could be called the "hearts and minds" approach - too soft, do you think? 

Letters on mental health and graduate school

From this week's letters to the editor in C&EN, a set of fascinating ones:
The article “Managing Grad School Stress” by Linda Wang was most welcome (C&EN, Sept. 14, page 59). In 45 years as a student, postdoc, and faculty member, I have seen almost all graduate students stressed at some point. 
The article omitted an important group of people who in many cases act as psychologists, counselors, and relief valves: support staff, especially secretaries and administrative assistants. Frequently going beyond their job descriptions, they provide perspective, sympathy, and a human touch that students sometimes feel is lacking from some faculty. I know of at least one Ph.D. chemist who spent so much time doing counseling instead of chemistry in a central lab facility that she changed careers to social work. 
While not always recognized for their contributions to graduate training, these supporting players are beloved by the students and essential in these increasingly stressful times. 
Alexander Scheeline
Urbana, Ill. 
Wang’s excellent article on managing grad school stress cut close to the bone for me. While I was a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1950s, one fellow student did, in fact, kill himself. I, too, might have gone that route, or at least dropped out of the program, had it not been for the intervention of two perceptive and sympathetic faculty members: my formal research director, professor Isadore Perlman, and my de facto research mentor, professor Robert Connick. 
Evan Appelman
State College, Pa. 
I read your article on managing graduate school stress with great interest as it provoked recollections of my own experiences in the early 1980s. One paragraph in particular suggested that advisers are not blameless, but why? Could this be a result of their own experiences that, in most cases, have not been punctuated by life in a nonacademic environment? 
When I started my first job at a pharmaceutical company, it took me several weeks, if not months, to become accustomed to the concept of a weekend, let alone an evening. Testimony of graduates whom I hired, years later, would sometimes include tales of adviser-originated phrases like, “If I’m here from 8 AM until 10 PM seven days a week, then you should be too,” “Don’t waste precious research seconds,” and “Why on Earth would you want to take a day off [to spend time with your spouse, partner, family, etc.]?” 
It was always far more impressive to see a person who achieved outcomes and managed their time efficiently, rather than one who prided himself or herself on sheer physical presence in the lab or office. Time management and life balance can be taught, but it is best taught by example lest those less experienced in both have nothing by which to measure their achievements in such skills. 
Young academics striving for tenure are in their own (sometimes self-made) pressure cookers, may have had no training themselves in a more realistic environment, and could benefit greatly from learning by some of the examples described in the article. Overall, moderation in all things (including moderation—sometimes, but not always, the extra effort is essential, just not continuously) would seem to be the best policy! 
James T. Palmer
Templestowe, Australia
Gotta say, I love Alexander Scheeline's perspective - so true. Staff can be great counselors, and I feel that they are not recognized as such by many departments. 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/8/15 edition

A few of this week's positions posted a C&EN Jobs:

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech wishes to hire a B.S./M.S. chemist for its med chem separations group. Sounds like fun, really.

For a taste of your whiskey: Gowan Company is a herbicide/pesticide marketer; they're looking for a B.S. chemist to be a "strategic negotiator." Fancy title.

Daejeon, South Korea: SK Life Sciences looking for a process chemist.

Chattanooga, TN: BASF is looking for a "lab chemist - carpet." It actually sounds pretty interesting:
As the Technical Application Laboratory Chemist at our Chattanooga, TN facility, you will complete hands-on application work on technical service projects for existing products and new products entering the commercialization phase to support growth with our customers.
 So I guess the folks at Invista would be your competitors?

Pearl River, NY: Pfizer looking for a vaccine development scientist; interesting comment here:
Ph.D in Chemistry, Biochemistry or related discipline with 2+ years of related work experience. BS/MS degree for internal candidates only.
For the most part, I agree that B.S./M.S. scientists should have a chance to compete for Ph.D. positions, but the internal/external bit is curious.

Greensboro, NC: Syngenta looking for a Ph.D. analytical chemist.

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/8/15 edition

A few of the academically-related positions posted on C&EN Jobs:

Durham, NC:  North Carolina Central University is searching for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University is looking for an assistant professor of analytical or physical chemistry; ASL or the willingness to learn ASL is needed.

Washington, D.C.: George Washington University desires a laboratory operations manager; looks biologically oriented.

Boston, MA: The University of Massaschusetts - Boston is searching for an assistant professor in green chemistry "dedicated to Green Chemistry principles and practices, with a strong record of experimental research in Materials and/or Polymer Chemistry."

University Park, PA: Interesting Penn State position for online general chemistry education; will be fascinating to see if lecturer-type positions like this begin to pop up more often.

Corvallis, OR: Instructor position at Oregon State University; M.S./Ph.D. needed.

The List: The joint ChemBark/Chemjobber 2016 Faculty Jobs List stands at 443 positions, as of Sunday, December 6, 2015. Discussion of the list, advice, etc. is at the open thread. 

We made sodium in America

Also in this week's C&EN, a sad little story about a sodium metal plant? packaging facility? closing in New York (article by Marc Reisch): 
Struggling to improve its financial position, Chemours is once again pruning operations. By the end of 2016, the company plans to eliminate 600 jobs worldwide and shut down its sodium and lithium metals facility in Niagara Falls, N.Y., the only such operation in the U.S. 
The cutback will allow Chemours, which separated from DuPont in July, to operate more efficiently and concentrate on its core titanium dioxide and fluorochemicals businesses, says CEO Mark Vergnano. 
About 400 jobs, or about 5% of the firm’s employee and contractor base, will be cut company-wide. Chem­ours will take a $45 million charge against earnings for this move, which it says will save $50 million annually. 
An additional 200 jobs will go when Chemours shuts the Niagara Falls metals operation in December 2016. The company plans a $17 million charge but says its income will improve by $20 million annually....
Best wishes to them.

This week's C&EN

A late start to the week. A few articles from this week's issue of C&EN:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

"The Cutting Edge" with Jack Baldwin

Fascinating little documentary about Jack Baldwin and colleagues, thanks to Peter Kenny. Professor Baldwin is quite outspoken. (Part 1 of 3 is linked above; it will show parts 2 and 3 automatically.)  I don't know the first thing about UK academic chemistry; I presume there's some cultural aspects I don't quite understand here.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Weekend "Ask CJ": chemists who want to work in the space industry?

Now here's something you don't see very often. From the inbox, a question about the space industry:
Do you know anything about job opportunities for MS chemists in the space industry? I've been applying to technical writer positions at places like NASA, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Boeing, but also one R&D position at SpacePharma (http://www.space4p.com/). Unfortunately, most of these companies need engineers instead of scientists...
Seems to me that there are a few defense contractors, and both the Navy and Air Force have propellant-oriented research.

Readers, any ideas?  

Friday, December 4, 2015

A nice story to end the week

I am not as much of a sports fan as I was when I was in graduate school, but I still enjoy a feel-good story and this long article in Sports Illustrated about the Caltech basketball team is a great example of the genre. Written by Chris Ballard, there's a funny little anecdote about a chemist we may know:
By Eslinger’s arrival, in 2008, losing had become a badge of honor at Caltech; being bad at sports only proved how smart the students were. Two years earlier, the Provost’s office had even explored the idea of eliminating the school’s NCAA program entirely. “There were some dark years,” says Robert Grubbs, a Nobel-winning chemistry professor and one of the few hoops boosters on the faculty. “The first time I took my older son to a basketball game here, by halftime he was cheering for the other team.”
Did not know Professor Grubbs was a basketball fan.

(Does anyone remember the poster session at the 2005 National Organic Symposium that was held in the press box? fancy suite of some sort? at the football stadium at the University of Utah? Am I misremembering that?) 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/3/15

A few (?) of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs this week: 

The December swoon continues: Only one Ph.D. analytical/physical chemist position with Hexion. (Stafford, TX)  

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, LinkedIn and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) "1000+", 535 (down by ~100?), 9,598, and 8 positions. LinkedIn shows 1,479 positions for the job title "chemist", with 194 for "analytical chemist", 37 for "organic chemist", 29 for "research chemist", 35 for "medicinal chemist", and 7 for "synthetic chemist." 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The 2014 Survey of Earned Doctorates is out

The 2014 Survey of Earned Doctorates is out. Here's the data on graduates in the 2014 academic year and their post-graduation plans. I've taken a screenshot, here's the data in PDF and Excel format. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Product review: MEL Chemistry set

The MEL Chemistry starter kit
I recently saw the MEL Chemistry set and I decided that I wanted to try it out, so I contacted MEL via Twitter and asked if they could send me a few sets. A week or two later, a big box arrived. Needless to say, my kids were pretty excited.

It's a really interesting idea; you get a full set of chemistry glassware, including lab glasses (reasonably comfortable, if I do say so myself), a small Erlenmeyer, a small beaker, a 60 mL syringe and seriously detailed chemistry/safety manual.

I also received 5 sets of experiments:
As a parent who is a scientist, I think we've received all the different "chemistry at home" kits out there. They are all uniformly mediocre. Sadly, I'll point out here that the most remarkable thing about the Magic School Bus chemistry kit is that it's shaped like a school bus - other than that, it's got the same mix of weak acid, weak base and plastic test tubes as the rest of the lot.*

The experiment kits
Not so for the MEL Chemistry kits. Over the course of three weeks, I tried these out with my kids. I liked them; they are small (5 mL or so), so there's not a lot of waste generated during the experiment. There is enough to try again (we didn't get the zinc-carbon battery to work the first time, so we're gonna loop around to that one again.) My older child really enjoyed (as do most kids, I suspect) the pH indicator lab. The making of tin dendrites with tin chloride and a battery was pretty cool, we all thought, and we brought a good bit of consternation and fun to the house when we decided to light a mix of sugar, baking soda and hexamine powder to make a "sugar snake." (The smoke cleared pretty quickly, and I did not manage to burn the house down.) You're not gonna find this stuff at Target. 

I didn't get to try out the app that goes with the kits, nor the virtual reality glasses, unfortunately. (Someday, a smartphone to call my own.) 

I have two caveats that I have about the MEL Chemistry kits: first, these kits are prominently labeled with a "12+" label. While I could quibble with the age limit, I have to say that there are enough materials to cause some amount of consternation (potassium permanganate, iodine solution, hexamine) that younger children most certainly should not be unsupervised around these sets, which is not something you'd say about typical store-bought chemistry kits. 

Oxidizing away ink with potassium permanganate
The other thing to note is that the kits are pretty pricey: it's ~$40 for the starter kit, and then another $36 per month for the 3 experiments a month that you can receive. You gotta have a kid who really likes science, I'd imagine, for that to pencil out.  

Overall, I'd give a strong recommendation for the MEL chemistry kits for older kids who are getting bored with the boring chemistry kits and want to give a shot at something a little more advanced. "I thought this was a lot cooler than the other kits," my older child said - and I agree. 

*OK, so the idea that the Magic School Bus kit has that you should learn these skills first (observation, notebook skills, etc) before doing experiments is probably valuable. The rest of it is pretty ho-hum.

Apart from receiving the kit, Chemjobber received no compensation for this review. 

Daily Pump Trap: 12/1/15 edition

A few (?) of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs this past week: 

Slim: Not too many positions, to be frank. 

"Knowledge of French a plus": L'Oreal USA looking for an associate scientist.  

Basking Ridge, NJ: Lexicon looking for an associate director/director of chemical development. 

Weird question: Anyone know anything about Infineum? What's it like to work there? 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ivory Filter Flask: 12/1/15 edition

A few of the academic positions posted on C&EN Jobs in the last week:

Geneseo, NY: SUNY-Geneseo searching for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry.

Chicago, IL: Northeastern Illinois University hiring an assistant professor of organic or inorganic chemistry.

Winona, MN: Winona State University looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry; can't tell if it is tenure-track or not.

Scarborough, ON:  University of Toronto Scarborough wishes to hire "an assistant professor, teaching stream" in analytical chemistry. Any idea what this "teaching stream" is?

Richmond, VA: The University of Richmond is searching for a director of introductory chemistry. laboratories. Looks to be M.S./Ph.D., with Ph.D. preferred.

Salem, VA: Roanoke College looking for two visiting assistant professors.

The List: The joint ChemBark/Chemjobber 2016 Faculty Jobs List stands at 429 positions. Status updates are being done, daily/weekly if possible.

Permanent open thread: There is some moderate demand for an open thread for 2016 academic job search discussions. I encourage it to happen here

2016 Academic Job Search Open Thread

Have at. Be civil.