Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Job posting: assistant professor, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada

From the inbox, a faculty position at the University of Waterloo:
The Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science at the University of Waterloo invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in any area of Nanotechnology. Exceptional candidates at a more senior level may also be considered. 
Applicants should have outstanding training and demonstrated excellence in areas related to nanotechnology, especially nanoscience, that complement existing strengths, ranging from computational studies and fundamental properties of materials to novel applications and devices. The successful candidate is expected to establish a strong independent research group and be able to develop interdisciplinary collaborations with other researchers in the Department of Chemistry, the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) and other departments and centres at Waterloo. Successful candidates will also have established outstanding teaching records or will be able to provide evidence of potential for high-quality teaching in nanotechnology at all levels. Postdoctoral experience, in addition to a Ph.D. degree in any area of chemistry or related fields, is essential.
Full description here. Best wishes to those interested.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day; back tomorrow

Fort Bliss National Cemetery
Credit: Keith J. Andrews
Today is Memorial Day in the United States; it's a national holiday.

Back tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Daily Pump Trap 5/27/16 edition

A few of the position posted recently at C&EN Jobs:

Billerica, MA: EMD Serono is looking for a Ph.D. medicinal chemist.

San Diego, CA: Eurofins Advantar Laboratories is looking for an experienced B.S. chemist.  

San Luis Obispo, CA: Promega, looking for a B.S. manufacturing chemist once again. 

Silver Spring, MD: FDA is looking for a postdoc to perform NMR research into drug mixtures. 60-80k offered. 

Also...: FDA is looking for "staff fellow chemists"? I can't quite figure out what those are...

Ivory Filter Flask: 5/27/16 edition

A few of the academic positions recently posted at C&EN Jobs:

Taipei, Taiwan: National Taiwan Normal University is looking for 2 assistant professors, one in inorganic chemistry and another in physical chemistry.

Philadelphia, PA: The University of the Sciences is looking for a visiting assistant professor in inorganic chemistry.

Holland, MI: Hope College is looking for a visiting assistant professor in analytical, physical or organic chemistry.

Houston, TX: Rice University's Earth Science department is looking for a stable isotope lab manager.

I have a different idea: Maybe Montana State should call it "NMR guru."

Clinton, NY: Hamilton College is looking for a "Laboratory Supervisor", but it sure seems like a lecturer position (or a lab coordinator?). 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Glassdoor review of the week: Santa Cruz Biotechnology

I really like the detail about the single in-house handyman, not that I've ever seen an organization like that...

More here. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Warning Letter of the Week: Huey Lewis edition

Tell me, doctor
What results do we want this time?
Purity of 50, or 99.99%?
All I wanted to do was make my compounds and cha-ching!*

From our friends at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, a real gem of a 483 for API manufacturer Tai Heng Industry, located in Shanghai, China:

2.     Failure to prevent unauthorized access or changes to data, and to provide adequate controls to prevent manipulation and omission of data.
During the inspection, an FDA investigator discovered a lack of basic laboratory controls to prevent changes to your firm’s electronically stored data and paper records. Your firm relied on incomplete records to evaluate the quality of your drugs and to determine whether your drugs conformed with established specifications and standards.

Our investigator found that your firm routinely re-tested samples without justification, and deleted analytical data. We observed systemic data manipulation across your facility, including actions taken by multiple analysts and on multiple pieces of testing equipment.

Specifically, your Quality Control (QC) analysts used administrator privileges and passwords to manipulate your high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) computer clock to alter the recorded chronology of laboratory testing events.
Oh, the FDA inspectors will never notice that!

*with apologies to Huey Lewis and the News.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Postdoc opening: Nano Terra, Cambridge, MA

Nano Terra is a product development accelerator headquartered in Cambridge, MA, USA. We leverage our expertise in surface science, printing and patterning, advanced materials, chemistry and polymers, rapid prototyping, and engineering and modeling as we work with our partners to develop revolutionary new products. We have worked on joint development programs in a range of industries, including consumer goods, aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, materials, chemicals, packaging, life sciences, and electronics. Our past and present customers include innovative industry leaders such as 3M, Boeing, Honeywell, Motorola Mobility, Merck, ITW, Infineum, and various agencies in the US government. We are looking for individuals who are dedicated, passionate, and creative to join our team. 
Nano Terra is seeking candidates for 1 year Post-Doctoral Appointments. These are entry level positions for Ph.D. level organic chemists who have just completed their degrees, and are looking for industrial experience.
More details here. Best wishes to those interested.  

"Athletic transferable skills"

From my weekly dose of pain (a Google Alert for the term "transferable skills"), this gem from an article about former high school athletes:
Identify and parlay athletic transferable skills!  Athletic transferable skills are skills learned in sports that can be transferred to other areas of human development and life experiences.  For example, kids who learn through sports how to set goals, manage their schedule, work successfully with teammates, and develop leadership skills need to be specifically encouraged and shown how to use those skills in the classroom, their future careers, and practically every imaginable aspect of life.
Don't get me wrong, it's fairly clear to me that high school athletics provides fantastic training for basic life and job skills. It's just funny to me how this term ('transferable skills') gets used to justify not only graduate school, but also high school basketball. 

Interested in a mechanism-teaching organic chemistry game?

Julia Winter is a high school chemistry teacher and a chemistry game entrepreneur - she'd like some help from you, if you're interested: 
We* have completed development of the first iteration of the Mechanisms Game for organic chemistry with the NSF SBIR Phase I grant. 
We now move into the research phase, gathering feedback from professors and instructors.  
Here's how it works: You will have access to the mobile application (on iOS at this time only), and then do a 20-minute interview about the potential for using the application in an organic chemistry classroom. 
We hope to wrap up this research phase by mid-June. Our NSF report is due June 30. (They hold final payment until the report is in!) 
If you are interested in helping with this study, please email Julia Winter, julia@alchem.ie or message her at @OChemJulie 
*Alchemie, @LearnAlchemie
Mobile games are an interesting way to teach chemistry; best wishes to Julie and her company.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

2013 SDR: 13% of postdocs in the physical sciences are 6 years or longer

Around these parts, I tend to focus on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, just because it's an annual survey and it's considered to be quite accurate. The National Science Foundation also administers the Survey of Doctoral Recipients, which is a longitudinal study which surveys the same group of Ph.D.-holders year-after-year, with a new batch of Ph.D. holders every year. It surveys about 40,000 Ph.D.s a year. 

I am happy to find that the SDR collects data on postdocs, and appears to track how long postdoctoral appointments last in this table, with the title of "Table 76. Status of postdoctoral appointments among doctoral scientists and engineers, by years since doctorate and broad field of doctorate: 2013." From this, I was able to extract that there were 5400 postdocs in the physical sciences in 2013. Here's their respective years since their doctorates: 

Physical sciences postdocs: 

≤ 5 years since doctorate: 87.0% (4700 postdocs)
6–10 years since doctorate: 9.3% (500 postdocs) 
11–15 years since doctorate: 3.7% (200 postdocs) 

And for the comparison that everyone is wondering about: 

Biological/agricultural/environmental life sciences

Total: 15,100 postdocs

≤ 5 years since doctorate: 80.1% (12,100 postdocs)
6–10 years since doctorate: 17.2% (2,600 postdocs) 
11–15 years since doctorate: 2.0% (300 postdocs) 

You can check my work here. Worth noting a couple of things: 
Readers, this is relatively new data to me, so I invite you to offer your interpretations. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the stories from this week's C&EN:

Friday, May 20, 2016

A priceless quote from Chad Mirkin

At the bottom of a Science article about the new overtime rule, a fascinating quote from Northwestern professor Chad Mirkin:
Chemist Chad Mirkin of Northwesthern University in Evanston, Illinois, who sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, worries that not only will positions dry up, but perceptions of the postdoc as an “all-out work commitment” that prepares young scientists for a faculty position will change. “When I did a postdoc, money was not my prime motivator—the experience for me (and most who I know) was priceless,” he says.
It's hard to know what to say to such a comment. "Tone-deaf" is a good start - I'll supply my own quote, which is "out of touch with the likely reality of the median postdoc."

I suspect (although I don't have a lot of data) that the median postdoc is a life scientist, who is somewhere slightly older than 30 years old, and has family commitments, or is looking to start some. Could that person use some overtime, a raise (if the PI chooses the exempt status route) or some free time? Yeah, I'm going to guess they could. 

Do I wish that the overtime, the raise or the free time came on my dime (putting my taxpayer hat on), rather than the PI's dime? Yeah, I wish that were true. One more time: I'm in very strong sympathy with PIs who have had this new federal (as of yet, unfunded) mandate foisted upon them. If I were the Emperor of the American scientific research enterprise, I would have phased this rule in over 3 or 4 years. But, I'm not. 

How not to do the rainbow flame demo, Woodson High School edition

Both DC area station WJLA and the Washington Post have the reports from the Woodson High School fire from last year. The details from Post reporter Moriah Balingit aren't pretty (emphasis mine): 
...The school system, which said little about the accident in the fall, confirmed this week that the teacher violated safety protocols because neither she nor her students were wearing safety goggles during the demonstration, which involved her pouring the flammable liquid onto a table. The demonstration created what one student described as a “splash of fire” that burned students nearby. 
While a ventilation hood would not have been required, an expert said it should have been used and could have prevented or mitigated the fireball that burned five students and the teacher. Two students had to be flown to hospitals with serious burns.... 
The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health found no workplace safety violations at Woodson as a result of an investigation that concluded in December. WJLA first reported on that agency’s findings last week. 
According to the investigative report obtained by The Washington Post via the Freedom of Information Act, the teacher told investigators that she poured ethyl alcohol from a beaker out onto a demonstration table and ignited it. She then introduced different kinds of salts to the flame. 
When the flames began to die down, according to the report, she lifted a large jug of the flammable liquid by its mid-section and dumped it onto the table. The bottle compressed, creating what officials called a “bellows effect” that shot a plume of flammable vapor out of the bottle. A burst of air from an HVAC vent might also have propelled the vapors. 
The vapor ignited, generating a large fireball that burned nearby students. The blaze melted plastic chairs and charred a backpack, according to investigative photos. 
The report notes that the classroom had a bevy of safety equipment, including lab gloves, aprons, safety goggles and a ventilation hood. Though the safety equipment was not in use, investigators concluded that no citations were warranted because of a lack of classroom guidelines. 
“The school curriculum for this demonstration does not provide any detailed instructions on how a teacher should perform the demonstration,” investigators wrote.
Once again, we have the bulk container of the flammable solvent playing the key role in the injury of chemistry students during the rainbow flame demonstration.

Now is a good time to note a previous set of rainbow flame demo injuries has resulted in a $1.5 million dollar settlement from a Georgia school district. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Maybe we're the last humanists

"How about a research assistant professorship in the Yukon?"
Credit: jmount43
For this to work right, you gotta imagine Pacino's gravelly voice:
"Let me give you a little inside information about the job market. The job market likes to watch. It's a voyeur. Think about it. It knows chemists have needs. You have this extraordinary love for your science, and you need to pay the rent.  
What does it do, I swear for its own amusement, its own private, cosmic gag reel, it changes what it wants every two years. It's the goof of all time. We want chemists! We want biologists! How about a postdoc? How about a postdoc in chemical biology? 
We want big data folks! Total synthesis is dead! Total synthesis is great problem solving! Do research at the bench but don't forget the soft skills! Learn to communicate, but don't forget to be productive! Do methodology! Learn some computational skills! Be productive, but don't be too narrow. Specialize, become an expert! Ahaha!  
And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is the job market doing? It's laughin' its sick, [rear-end] off! It's a SADIST! It's an absentee landlord!" 
(With apologies to Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy)

Will postdocs get overtime, if they are under $47,476? Looks like it

As people can tell, I was busy today, but I did want to comment on something that has been brewing quite a while, but was announced today. From the New York Times (article by Noam Scheiber):
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in a far-reaching effort to improve the lot of workers that has ignited criticism from business groups, announced on Tuesday that it was making millions more employees eligible for overtime pay. 
Under the new regulation to be issued by the Labor Department on Wednesday, most salaried workers earning up to $47,476 a year must receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours during a week. The previous cutoff for overtime pay, set in 2004, was $23,660. 
“This is a big deal to be able to help that many working people without Congress having to pass a new law,” said Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, an early voice in urging the administration to take up the issue. “It’s really restoring rights that people had for decades and lost.” 
The change is expected to play out in a variety of ways. Once the rule goes into effect on Dec. 1, many workers will receive more pay when they work overtime, but others may end up working fewer hours if employers move to limit their time at work. In other cases, employers may decide to increase the salaries of some workers to push them over the cutoff so that the employers will not have to pay overtime or hire additional workers after limiting hours for existing employees...
Just in case you were wondering, Mr. Scheiber directly addresses the point that most of you are thinking (emphasis mine):
Certain categories of workers, like teachers, doctors and outside sales representatives, continue to be exempt from the regulation, though academics primarily engaged in research are not. 
Over at the Huffington Post, Francis Collins (director of the NIH) and Thomas Perez (the Secretary of Labor) co-wrote a piece, with the final concluding policy announcement (emphasis mine):
In response to the proposed FLSA revisions, NIH will increase the awards for postdoctoral NRSA recipients to levels above the threshold. At the same time, we recognize that research institutions that employ postdocs will need to readjust the salaries they pay to postdocs that are supported through other means, including other types of NIH research grants. While supporting the increased salaries will no doubt present financial challenges to NIH and the rest of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, we plan to work closely with leaders in the postdoc and research communities to find creative solutions to ensure a smooth transition.
This is a pretty darn big deal, in my opinion. It sure sounds like there are many, many universities who are lobbying the White House very, very hard to make sure that this policy gets delayed (and who knows if a President Trump or a President Clinton would change President Obama's rule?). It is also unclear to me how this set of policies gets enforced. However, if it does, here's my set of predicted policy ramifications:
  • If you're a postdoc who is making less than $47,476, you will be eligible for time-and-a-half for any hours that you work over 40 hours a week. 
  • If you're a PI that is paying your postdocs less than $47,476, you will have to track your employees time and either 1) pay them overtime, or 2) bar them from working more than 40 hours a week (which, yes, includes checking work e-mail from home.) 
  • Postdocs will either get paid more, or work less. 
    • Hard to say that getting paid more is bad, but...
  • I cannot take 100% pleasure in this, because this is the problem with regulation - there will always be someone stuck with a terrible dilemma, assuming actual compliance: postdocs (who may have limited time to do their work) will be forced to work only 40 hours a week, or PIs who had budgeted for postdoc salaries of (hypothetically speaking) $39,000 a year will be forced to either cough up an extra eight thousand bucks, or cut back the hours of their direct reports. This is a non-ideal way to implement a regulation, I feel. 
It will be interesting to see how this will affect the ~4000 postdocs in chemistry (will it? I presume that most make under $47,476, but I dunno), but I suspect that it's the US biomedical research enterprise that just got a very unpleasant (for employers) shock. Readers, what do you think? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

What chemists hear, when physicians talk about chemicals

Also in this week's C&EN, Jessica Morrison looks at PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. Here's a quote from prominent critic of the chemical industry, Dr. Phillippe Grandjean, a physician and adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health: 
“People started looking over the last 10 years for adverse effects” from exposure to PFOA and related compounds, says Philippe Grandjean, an environmental health scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who studied immunotoxicity in children and found a link between exposure to perfluorinated compounds and weakened response to vaccines. “We were thinking in the beginning that a carbon chain wrapped in fluoride ions seems like it won’t do anything. It’s certainly very stable, but the question is, will it interact with biological molecules and cause any adverse effects?”
It's not completely fair to criticize Dr. Grandjean for not quite getting the terminology right for perfluorinated alkyl compounds*, but it sure does grate on my ears.

*"a carbon chain bonded to fluorines" would have been perfectly fine, for example.

Department of "You Can't Please All The People All the Time"

In the letters to the editor in this week's C&EN:
The use in this article of the photo of the bloody lab jacket draped over the chair is unnecessary and tasteless. Unless I’m missing something, there isn’t anything from that photo that can be taken as a learning tool to prevent future accidents. 
Jeffrey Earnest via C&EN’s website 
I would like to thank the poster [of this story] for including the picture of the bloodied lab coat. It does justice to the extent of this tragedy. Lab safety isn’t just a video game where you can just press the reset button and start over. There are real-life consequences. 
Tom Bauer via C&EN’s website
For what it is worth, I thought the photo of the lab jacket was appropriate to post. 

This week's C&EN

A few articles from this week's issue of C&EN:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Goofy idea of the morning: oral histories of senior antibiotics scientists

This morning's In the Pipeline post is on a new Pew roadmap for antibiotic discovery, and there was this passage in the Pew report which will be familiar to any readers of the blog:
There is growing concern that as industry teams are downsized or shuttered, antibiotic scientists have moved to other firms, shifted to different biomedical areas, or retired, leading to the loss of valuable institutional knowledge and expertise. Antibiotic discovery has a long history, but much of the published research is buried in old journal issues or out-of-print books, and other research never makes it to publication. Organizing this body of research and making it accessible to the scientists who need it is critical for advancing discovery. Valuable knowledge may include compilations of screens that have been run before and information on past research programs. While much of this information is publicly available, what may be most useful is an account of what projects failed, and why.
If we deployed 5 or so scientists to go and interview the men and women who worked in antibiotic drug discovery over the last 20 or 30 years, and get them to tell about their projects and what worked and what didn't, I think it may uncover some important insights for the future.

Like any good Gen Xer, I could fill many pages of blog comments about the faults of the Baby Boomers. That said, they are probably the most scientifically advanced and technically knowledgeable generation in the history of humankind. Knowledge that hasn't been published or written down somewhere about antibiotic medicinal chemistry is, over the long run, likely worth the ~$10 million bucks it would be to get a couple of smart people to get them to talk about their scientific stories.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"[T]here is absolutely no routine here"

Here is our second story of a chemist working (and changing jobs) after 50, from Larry F.:
I worked at a large research center for a large chemical/oil company for 12 years (130 employees) right out of my post-doc. One of the advantages for working at a large company  was that I was exposed to a lot of different areas of the business, from the commodity side (we had groups that went down to Houston and Louisiana to troubleshoot our production facilities) to basic research developing a line of specialty chemicals, so I developed a lot of process/scale-up expertise.

In 2001 or so, headquarters decided to get out of the specialty chemical business (despite spending $250MM in the previous 5 years, but that is another story), laid off the entire research staff and closed the building. Three of the senior employees bought the building and all the equipment for a song and started a small custom manufacturing business with about 15-20 former employees.

Flash forward to today: we have about 50 employees and I am still in the lab most days (I am 57 years old). With a small company, there are no real titles, everyone pitches in as needed (including the owners). Being a contract lab, what comes through our door on a regular basis spans all of chemical research. Despite my formal training in organic chemistry, I have tackled projects for our customers spanning inorganic, organometallic and polymer chemistry as well as the occasional organic target compound. I have made quantum dots, metal oxide nano crystals, catalysts, and the like.

Our company works with a range of clients: small startups that don't have facilities to generate larger quantities of material, up to some of the largest chemical companies in the world that for some reason do not want to do kilo lab or pilot work on the materials they develop! I also help with any production problems that may come up in our scale up facility. My tenure (and trust of the owners) has afforded me the ability to work more or less independent; that is, when a customer calls in a request to do something, I talk to them, generate a price quote, do the lab work and be the key contact person during the lifetime of the project.

I think I was pretty lucky, in that the owners liked me from my time dealing with them at the larger company and thus bought me on when we went private. I am also lucky in that the variability of the work coming in keeps me interested in what I do, there is absolutely no routine here. I joke that I plan to work until I'm 90, but I see a 10 year horizon for at least being in the lab.
Thanks to Larry F. for his contribution.

Readers, have a story of staying a chemist after 50 to contribute? Write in to chemjobber@gmail.com; confidentiality and final publication decision is yours. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"We can't repel an Oxide of that resonance"*

Via Twitter, a very funny drawing by Debbie Gale Mitchell. (Twitter handle @heydebigale)

*The very clever title of this blogpost is by Twitter user Christopher Willis.

Phytoremediation? Huh

In the middle of a New York Times article about a new 911 call center in New York City, an intriguing comment: 
One answer involves an experiment in phytoremediation, the use of plants to help purify the interior environment, undertaken with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 
Exhaust air from a training room is pumped out through ductwork to a ceiling diffuser in a nearby corridor. As the air falls from the diffuser, it is gently pulled into a grid of permeable planters lining the corridor and carried through the plants’ root systems. These act as a filter. 
The cleaned air is then pumped back to the training room in a relatively closed circuit that will permit architects and engineers to measure the system’s efficacy. Whatever else, it offers a breath of greenery within the mechanical cube.
The article links to a RPI press release about this technique; a brief Google search reveals some NASA  research into using plants to remove indoor VOCs. I guess the question I have is this - do the plants/dirt actually absorb the compounds (decane, etc) or do they metabolize them? Probably the former, I suspect, which may mean the plants/dirt need to be replaced? 

Good tribute to Harry Kroto

I really enjoyed reading this longer article on Harry Kroto's life by Neil Withers at Chemistry World. Here's a taste:
The paper was submitted to Nature two days after their speculative structure had been finalised. ‘I think if it had gone to Science for refereeing they would have turned it down,’ Kroto said. ‘But it went to Nature and they were really nice referee reports: "I don’t know there’s much in this paper, but it’s a nice paper. A lot of people would be interested in this conjecture",’ he recalled. 
Unbeknownst to Kroto and the Rice team, they nearly missed out being first to the discovery. A team from Exxon in New Jersey, US, led by Andy Kaldor, had seen very similar results about two years earlier, but without grasping the significance. ‘Two other groups did the experiment. I don’t think [the discovery] would have lasted six months after us. Someone would have done it,’ Kroto said. So why did the Rice–Sussex team get there first? ‘The clue for me was what was going on was Buckminster Fuller’s dome, and that was through graphics, not science.’ 
There were many critics of the incredible-seeming structure, including Kaldor, and Kroto has called the period after the initial observation of C60 his ‘five years in the desert’. ‘There were half a dozen papers by three of the major groups in the field who said we were wrong,’ Kroto recalled. So the race was on to produce C60 in quantities that could be put in a bottle and held in the hand – or at least studied by more conventional characterisation methods. ‘I was absolutely convinced we were right and that one day we’d do it.’
It is really remarkable to me how often these (literally, in this case) prize-winning discoveries always seem to have at least one or two groups that were really close to being first. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: For those of you who enjoy dishy peer reviewer letters, Neil (via Twitter) sends along some of the original referee reports and some correspondence between Professor Smalley and an editor. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Job posting: assistant professor in polymer chemistry, Michigan State University

From the inbox:
The School of Packaging (www.packaging.msu.edu) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University (MSU) is seeking qualified applicants for an Assistant Professor position in Polymer Chemistry/Synthesis. This is a nine-month, tenure-track position with research/teaching/service (50%/40%/10%) assignment. The successful candidate will be expected to develop an externally funded research program with a focus on using renewable materials to produce polymers for packaging applications with an emphasis on novel feedstocks such as carbon dioxide, insects, and plants to provide novel bio-based functionality and improved sustainability.
Full details here; sounds like the posting is still active. Best wishes to those interested.  

Postdoctoral position: LC/MS research, Drexel Autism Institute, Philadelphia, PA

From the inbox: 
Position Title: Postdoctoral fellow 
Job Overview: The Exposure Science lab of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is recruiting for an early year postdoctoral fellow to conduct research related to quantitative studies of exposure and metabolism.  Candidates should be comfortable working at the Drexel Autism Institute with the understanding that the Institute is a multidisciplinary institute emphasizing public health science approaches.  Candidates will design, develop, and conduct research on preventable causes of autism.  They will receive mentoring on general scientific research with an emphasis on liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry and advanced (bio)analytical chemistry.  Independence to pursue their own lines of research will be encouraged in addition to the research directions of the laboratory.

Postdoc: The Blair Lab, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

From the inbox:
Position Title: Research Specialist/postdoctoral fellow 
Job Overview: The Blair Lab–University of Pennsylvania is recruiting for an entry level research specialist/postdoctoral fellow.  Candidates will design, develop, and conduct research as well as manage routine lab tasks. 
Qualifications: The successful candidate should hold a PhD in a biological or chemical field or a PhD in biomedical sciences completed in the last five years.  Ideally, the candidate should have experience with quantitative liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry applied to complex biological specimens.  Experience working both independently and under direction is also critical.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Your 2017 ACS dues will be $166

Also from this week's C&EN, Kristin Omberg, the chair of ACS' Committee on Budget & Finance writes about the increase:
Each spring, the Society Committee on Budget & Finance (B&F) reviews a proposed membership dues increase for the following calendar year. Between 2015 and 2016, dues increased $4.00, from $158 to $162. In 2017, dues will increase $4.00 again, to $166. 
If you'd like to understand their formula, read on. 

This week's C&EN

A few articles from this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Friday, May 6, 2016

The View from Your Hood: Natchez Trace Parkway

Credit:  H.J. Elston
A View from Your Hood from H.J. Elston: "On the Natchez Trace Parkway between Natchez and Tupelo, MS after the San Diego ACS Meeting, 2016."

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption, please) at chemjobber@gmail.com; will run every other Friday.)

Typical pre-audit behavior in chemical manufacturing

From the Boston Globe:
A state chemist at an Amherst drug lab got high on methamphetamines or other drugs almost every day at work for nearly eight years, consumed the lab’s own supply of drugs, and cooked crack cocaine in the lab after hours — actions that jeopardize an untold number of cases — according to an investigative report released Tuesday. 
Investigators for the attorney general’s office found that chemist Sonja Farak had tested drug samples or testified in court between about 2005 and 2013 while under the influence of meth, ketamine, cocaine, LSD, and other drugs, according to the report, much of which is based on Farak’s own grand jury testimony. She even smoked crack before a 2012 interview with State Police officials inspecting the lab for accreditation purposes, she testified.
Or, as we call it at Forest City Chemicals, Friday.*

(How did her coworkers not notice her cooking crack in the lab? I mean, I'm as oblivious as the next guy at my lab, but I think I would notice my coworkers consuming the starting materials. I think.)

(*That's a joke, folks.**) 
(**Seriously, though, it is pretty clear that Ms. Farak was deep in the grips of addiction.) 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"I was doing the science I wanted to do with more or less no boss(es)."

Last week, I asked for stories of chemists who managed to stay employed after middle-age. Here is our first story, by Anon:
My short response to "how chemists keep their jobs past 50" is to go "academic".  Let me briefly explain.  As part of a corporate acquisition several decades ago, I along with several hundred other drug discovery scientists were laid off (aka fired).  I was 49 at the time and wanted my next job to be such that I had some control of when I retired. 
I decided the only way to keep doing science and retire under more or less my terms was to go the academic route.  There is no question that getting grants, tenure and good students was challenging at the beginning but after a few years, I was doing the science I wanted to do with more or less no boss(es). 
After several decades of doing the job of my dreams, I got sick of the cold wintry weather and being far away from my kids/grandkids and decided to retire at 70+.  At my exit interview, a high-level HR representative asked me why on earth I am retiring. How's that for feeling "loved"? 
If my university employer were in, for example, Florida or Arizona and my kids/grandkids lived close by, I would still be employed.
Thanks to Anon for their contribution. Readers, have a story of staying a chemist after 50 to contribute? Write in to chemjobber@gmail.com; confidentiality and final publication decision is yours. 

Anyone know anything about the patent agent exam?

Does anyone know anything about the patent agent exam? Hard, easy, how to study? Are prep classes worth it?

Are there exams for specific localities? If so, Maryland, DC and (maybe?) Virginia are relevant here.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. (If you feel like it, e-mail me at chemjobber@gmail.com - confidentiality guaranteed.) 

Daily Pump Trap: 5/5/16 edition

A few of the positions posted recently at C&EN Jobs:

Rocket Center, WV: Orbital ATK is looking for a rocket scientist:
ATK’s Missile Products Division has an exciting opportunity for a Chemist located our Manufacturing Center of Excellence near Cumberland, MD. This position will support the development and manufacture of propellant, explosive and adhesive bondliner formulations for rocket motor and warhead programs. 
  • Manage propellant production from subscale through production for assigned programs
  • Formulating existing and novel energetic and adhesive compositions
  • Proactively interact within cross-functional program teams...
M.S./Ph.D., 0-10 years experience. Looks fascinating. 

San Francisco, CA: Nurix is looking for a cheminformatician; they're looking for someone with "[a] Ph.D. in Cheminformatics or related science." Does such a degree exist? 

Holbrook, NY: LIA Labs is looking for a ICP analyst; "Up to 59,509.00" (something tells me that's not enough?) 

Uncle Sam pays good: Not every day that you see a $100,000 postdoc. (Of course, it's DoD - what else did you expect?)

Alpharetta, GA: Chemence is looking for a research chemist for work on adhesives; 10-15 years experience desired.

Good luck, folks: The Chemical Heritage Foundation is looking for a president and CEO.

Brevard, NC: If it's in Western NC and it's in C&EN Jobs, you know who it is and what they want...

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) "1000+", M: "1000+", 414, 10,298 and 18 positions. LinkedIn shows 2,217 positions for the job title "chemist", with 33 for "organic chemist", 179 for "analytical chemist", 39 for "research chemist", 10 for "synthetic chemist" and 32 for "medicinal chemist." 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

[Scene: Jules and Vincent, in a diner, post-seminar]

Credit: YouTube
Vincent: Yeah, but what did you think about the presenter calling that synthetic step 'clever'? He even put it in his slides.

Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call that synthetic step clever, but it definitely worked. I don't think it was "clever", that reaction was "straightforward". "Straightforward" goes a long way in a presentation.

Vincent: So a reaction needs to be more innovative than straightforward to be a "clever" synthetic step. Is that true?

Jules: Well we'd have to be talkin' about one clever motherf*****n' synthetic step. I mean it'd have to be five times more clever than that Woodward total synthesis of reserpine, you know what I'm sayin'?

Warning Letter of the Week: Lost safety glasses edition

Looks like Polydrug Laboratories got a tough 483 from the FDA recently:
Our investigator observed specific deviations during the inspection, including, but not limited to, the following.

1.    Failure to record and investigate all quality-related customer complaints according to an established procedure.

During the inspection our investigator found a torn sheet of paper titled “Product Quality Complaints” on the floor of your warehouse. We compared it to your firm’sofficial complaint log and discovered that only 2 of the 17 customer complaints on the torn sheet were recorded in your firm’s official complaint log. Further, your firm indicated that there may be additional unlogged and/or uninvestigated complaints, but did not provide further explanation. Your firm had not investigated the complaints we found on the torn sheet. These uninvestigated complaints reported API that were either sub-potent or contained filth, including the following problems:
  • low assay value for [redacted] API
  • particles and hairs in [redacted] API
  • an insect and dirt in [redacted] API
  • safety goggles in [redacted] API
  • [redacted] scoop in [redacted] API
I'm a little surprised about the lost safety goggles and scoop - I am under the impression (that like surgical suites and the dreaded sponge count) items need to be logged in and out of final product packaging areas. 

What is the price of HPLC acetonitrile?: 5/4/16 edition

Something that bothers me about spending on lab consumables is that it is very difficult to track the price of certain supplies. The amount of transparency is quite low; with that in mind, I plan to track the price of a 4X4L case of HPLC-grade acetonitrile weekly indefinitely as a public service.

I initially plan to look three places: the Sigma-Aldrich website, EMD-Millipore's site and also P212121, a site of Sean Seaver, a chemblogosphere stalwart. I have also added an unnamed lab supply house:

Sigma-Aldrich (4X4L, HPLC grade, ≥99.9%, 34851-4X4L): $1,150
Unnamed Very Large Supplier (4X4L, HPLC grade, 99.8% min (GC assay)): $190-230
EMD-Millipore (1X4L, HPLC grade, 99.8% min (GC assay), AX0145-1): $288.00*
P212121 (4X4L, HPLC grade, Purity >99.9%, PA-30000HPLCCS4L): $135.00**

*I know that EMD-Millpore offers 4X4L cases, but I can't find them on their public websites.
**There's a minimum of 5 cases. 

Also, there is a University of Wisconsin-Madison datum that shows HPLC MeCN at $46.50 for 4L (thanks, Anon!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The scientist's Kobayashi Maru

"Prayer, Mr. Saavik. Thesis committees don't take prisoners."
Credit: unwinnable
I have recently been enthralled by Hope Jahren's "Lab Girl." Professor Jahren is a geobiologist at the University of Hawaii; she has written a blog for a long while, and recently published her book, which is mostly memoir, interspersed with comments about botany. She is an exceptional narrator - upon reading this sentence, I burst out loud in laughter and knowledge that I would never write so well: 
I have become proficient at producing a rare species of prose capable of distilling ten years of work by five people into six published pages, written in a language that very few people can read and that no one ever speaks. This writing relates the details of my work with the precision of a laser scalpel, but its streamlined beauty is a type of artifice, a size-zero mannequin designed to showcase the glory of a dress that would be much less perfect on any real person. 
 Readers of this blog will enjoy this sentence:
"You may have heard that America doesn't have enough scientists and is in danger of "falling behind" whatever that means) because of it. Tell this to an academic scientist and watch her laugh." 
The book is getting wide and deserved praise, so it is with some trepidation that I express my discomfort with this passage that I have excerpted. Preceding the passage, Professor Jahren relates the time that she went to Ireland, collected many samples at significant personal cost and then was forced to throw them away at the airport since she did not have the proper permits:
Bill would forever after refer to that trip as "the Wake," whereas I dubbed it "the Honeymoon," and we took to reenacting its climax at least once a year. Whenever we got a new recruit to the lab, his or her first task was to label empty vials, hundreds of them. We'd explain that this was a necessary preparation for a large-scale collection we had scheduled and give directions for a long and complicated alphanumeric code, rich with Greek letters and nonsequential numbers, to be inscribed on each vial in pen, along with the order of production.  
After a day of steady labor on the part of the newbie, we'd hold a summit and either Bill or I would play Good Cop and the other would play Bad Cop (we traded off). The meeting would start out with our asking the newbie how he or she had liked the task and whether this sort of work was tolerable. It would then slowly morph into a discussion of the upcoming sample collection and the rationale behind its purpose.  
Little by little, Bad Cop would become more and more pessimistic as to whether the proposed collection would test the hypothesis after all. Good Cop would resist this logic at first, urging Bad Cop to consider the fact that the newbie had put so many long hours into the preparation. Even so, Bad Cop just couldn't let go of the nagging realization that this approach wasn't going to yield an answer, and finally Good Cop had no recourse but to agree that starting over was as unavoidable as it was necessary. At this point, Bad Cop soberly gathered up the vials and dumped them en mass into a lab waste receptacle. The Cops exchanged a knowing look, and Bad Cop trudged off without satisfaction, leaving Good Cop to observe the newbie's reaction.  
Any sign that the newbie regarded his or her time as of any value whatsoever was a bad omen, and the loss of so many hours' work was a telling trial of this principle. As a corollary, any recognition of futility was perhaps worse. There are two ways to deal with a major setback: one is to pause, take a deep breath, clear your mind and go home, distract yourself for the evening, and come back fresh the next day to start over. The other is to immediately resubmerge, put your head under and dive to the bottom, work an hour longer than you did last night, and stay in the moment of what went wrong. While the first way is a good path toward adequacy, it is the second way that leads to important discoveries.  
One year I played Bad Cop but forgot my reading glasses and so returned early to the melee. Our newbie, named Josh, was busily digging his vials out of the refuse bin, separating each one carefully from the used gloves and other trash. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "I just feel bad that I wasted all these vials and stuff. I thought I could unscrew the caps and save them, and they could be extras or something." As he continued with his task, I caught Bill's eye and we smiled at each other, knowing that we'd identified yet another sure winner. 
I agree that science requires such dedication, and yes, while a trip home may attempt to preserve your sanity, facing your problems and fixing them right then and there will certainly lead to faster answers immediately. Having the fortitude to face such a failure and go right back to problem-solving is indeed the sign of a passionate scientist.

However, is there a point to such an artificial test of character? Are there other tests of character that don't involve wasting hours of mind-numbing work for an undergraduate? (Isn't there enough mind-numbing work already without coming up with a fake test?)

There is so much artificiality to job interviews and training scenarios that perhaps something like this is really not too far out of the norm. That said, if I were Josh and I found out this was a fake situation, I would be royally irritated.

Readers, what do you think? Is this indeed the ultimate test of character for a scientist? Do you believe in the no-win scenario? Are there better tests that are less artificial? 

Ivory Filter Flask: 5/3/16 edition

A few of the academic positions posted recently at C&EN Jobs:

Moscow, ID: The University of Idaho, looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry; $59,000-$65,000 offered.

Milledgeville, GA: Georgia College & State University is looking for an organic chemistry lecturer.

Possibly the best or worst title of the year: "NMR Spectroscopy Expert with NMR Facility Manager Responsibility", Montana State, Bozeman, MT.

Isn't that just "NMR Facility Manager"? or maybe "assistant professor of chemistry (specialty in NMR)"? I dunno. $65-80k offered.

Philadelphia, PA: Two postdocs? staff scientist? positions at the University of Pennsylvania, one in peptide synthesis and the other in mass spectrometry.

Waco, TX: Postdoctoral position in boron complex research at Baylor.

St. Louis, MO: Synthetic postdoctoral position at St. Louis University.

Oxford, MS: Synthetic postdoctoral position at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.

Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University is searching for a visiting assistant professor in analytical chemistry.

Collegeville, PA: Ursinus College is looking for a visiting assistant professor of chemistry. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Department of Move Along, Nothing to See Here

The preliminary conclusion of the UC Center for Laboratory Safety is that the University of Hawaii - Mānoa needs a major overhaul of its safety systems, and it is promptly publishing the results of its self-critique and lessons learned.

Just keeeeeeeeeeeeeeding!!! Via Jyllian Kemsley, Hawaii-Manoa's press release:
In its preliminary investigation, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety, considered a national leader in laboratory safety, determined that the explosion was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem. The UC Laboratory Safety Team was on the Mānoa campus the week of March 28.
Also, in the comments over the weekend, Dr. Kemsley notes:
U Hawaii Manoa Environmental Health & Safety Director Roy Takekawa said at a March 17 press conference that the lab had been inspected in January and "passed all requirements." 
 Nope, sounds like an isolated incident to me. 

RIP Harry Kroto

Oddly, it's not on the newswires yet, but C&EN tweeted yesterday (and there was also a blogpost) that Harry Kroto has passed away. Condolences to his family and friends.

UPDATE: Bethany Halford's C&EN article on his passing. Also, Curious Wavefunction's thoughts on Professor Kroto.

18 patent brokers?!?!

Also in this week's C&EN, an article by Frank Hersey about moves in China's research enterprise to move faster towards commercialization: 
...In light of the increasing push to transfer technology to industry, Tianjin University in 2013 opened China’s first national center for patent and intellectual property. The Tianjin University Technology Transfer Center now has 18 full-time patent brokers who work on moving technology from the university to industry. 
Removing the need for central approval for the sale of intellectual property will, in turn, grant China’s universities and institutes greater autonomy in what they research. 
“Passing greater autonomy to universities and cutting the red tape on the reporting for grants involving science and technology is a very big thing because, in general, funds have been very controlled. So if we see policies that allow for more entrepreneurial ventures within the university—your degree programs, new directions for research—that the university can control, then we get bottom-up control. This will have a big impact on research in general, and chemistry is poised to benefit enormously,” Siegel says. 
Or, as Yu summarizes, China’s new policies “will encourage chemists to get involved in ‘useful’ research.”
I still haven't really figured out how Chinese granting agencies work and what power and funds are pooled in Beijing. That said, is anyone else weirded out about the push to commercialize work from universities? Hard to know what will be better for China...  

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's C&EN: