I know. Enough with the bad news, already.
Feb24

I know. Enough with the bad news, already.

Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news? The bad news, you say? Okay, here it is. The bad news—wait for it—is that there is no good news. Cue the trombone. The surplus of scientists at the bachelor’s and doctoral levels has been a hot discussion topic recently, as well as in the past. Last week, there was an appearance of even more articles focused on how badly the Great Recession has hurt new college graduates, at all levels. The scope of this phenomenon appears to extend beyond science, and beyond North America or the EU. What follows is a quick overview of three articles on various aspects of this topic. A devalued bachelor’s degree First, there’s the provocatively titled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk,” a New York Times article by Catherine Rampell. The opening statement provides a startling and depressing premise: The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job. An Atlanta law office is presented as a microcosm of what’s being seen more broadly. At this firm, the minimum prerequisite for employment, regardless of position, is a bachelor’s degree. This includes office administrators, file clerks and even their in-office courier. Evidence is provided that this situation is not unique to this one law firm: Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites. The shortage of scientists is nonexistent Returning to the sciences—in spite of the data supporting the premise of a glut of newly graduated scientists, there has been chatter bemoaning the opposite. The Atlantic associate editor Jordan Weissman had apparently heard enough talk of a shortage of scientists, and presents data that flies in the face of that notion in “The Ph.D Bust: America’s Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts.” Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America’s scientist shortage — the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it’s time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead. Weissman makes his case by providing graphs based on data from the National Science Foundation, broken down by broad disciplinary...

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Now it’s official—it’s not a pretty picture out there
Nov08

Now it’s official—it’s not a pretty picture out there

Well, no doubt you’ve had at least a cursory look at the excellent C&EN cover story regarding the 2012 Employment Outlook for chemists. The cover shows a long queue of labcoat-wearing chemists, all presumably in line for the one available position. Cheery. This story is in contrast to some previous commentary suggesting a recovery may be around some invisible corner, and, as chemists, we can get through it with grim determination. Following that, we’ll be somehow rewarded at the end of the ordeal. All we need to do is say “entrepreneurship” three times, click our heels together, and we’ll all be given a cushy new job in Kansas with all relocation expenses reimbursed. If you’ve been through layoffs and site closures, as I have, and are, in turn, still connected to former colleagues facing a similar fate—again—or are still unemployed after a protracted period of time, this insistence that things aren’t so bad can be, well, annoying. It suggests the problem is you. A few months ago, my personal annoyance meter pegged out, and I took ACS CEO and Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs to task for portraying the chemistry job market as rosier than I saw it, and for scolding a mother, a scientist who had gone through a downsizing, for urging her daughter to “not go into science.” Well, although I’m sure my post had little if anything to do with it, a similar message has gotten through. Facts are presented, and they are cold and hard. Okay. If you haven’t already, you need to read this cover story in greater detail. It’s broken up into several articles, with titles shown below. Under the heading of each title, I’ve followed with a few of my thoughts upon reading each one. There’s much more information within each article than referred to with my superficial observations. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t read each article in their entirety, regardless of where you are in your career journey. Overall, the full story was a struggle for me to get through—not because of how it’s reported (which is excellent), but because it rings so true. I’ve been there. Others still are there. It’s no fun revisiting. Anyway, here we go: For Hire Here, the stage is set with a big picture view of the Great Recession and current global economic factors. The promise is to drill down, in the accompanying articles, to the impact on employment for chemists, now and into the future. Tepid Recovery Curtails Hiring From the outset, no punches are pulled: “Not that long ago, chemists regarded their education as a guarantee of lifelong employment. That’s...

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How far will you go to stay in science? Let C&EN know!
Oct04

How far will you go to stay in science? Let C&EN know!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I went through a job search last year, and had been preparing for the possibility of a career change after 20+ years as a medicinal chemist. I was able to stay surprisingly positive through it all, and managed to land a new position in May of last year as….a medicinal chemist. So much for the career change, right? Well, not so fast. Because much has changed. First, there’s the setting. I’ve gone from an industrial setting in Big Pharma to what is essentially an academic setting at a nonprofit research institute. It’s very invigorating here, and I need to wear different hats through a typical day. Translation: Busy. But that’s a good thing. Second, and perhaps foremost, is the time spent commuting. At my last position, my round-trip daily commute was about an hour on average. While unemployed, when I began my tenure here as an electron pusher, my commute was zero. Okay, maybe a few seconds walking from one room in my house to another. Now however, I typically spend around three hours a day on the road. The upshot is my days are long, and when I get home, I have at best two good hours before it’s time for sleep—and my brain disengages long before that, I’m afraid. And yes, if you’re wondering, there is a discernible difference, thankyouverymuch. And, to make matters worse, there were several articles this past May discussing the results of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine entitled “Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk,” which examined health effects of long-distance commuting. I’m afraid the data doesn’t look very good. The data showed statistically significant correlations between commuting distance and increases in blood pressure, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI). The researchers summarized by stating, “Daily commuting represents a source of chronic stress that has been correlated positively with physiologic consequences including high blood pressure, self-reported tension, fatigue, and other negative mental or physical health effects in some studies.” Uh-oh. In other words, Long Distance Commute = Bad For Your Health. I’m striving to be an outlier from this data, but I realize all too well that I’m putting myself at risk, both chronically and acutely, with all the miles I now drive. However, this is a minor complaint—I know I’m very fortunate to be employed. The job market appears little better, if any, than it did a year ago. I’m still monitoring the situation, as a few of my former colleagues are looking for a job, either due to the same site closure that affected me, or a subsequent one after they...

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On the Continually Bleak Chemistry Job Market
Aug14

On the Continually Bleak Chemistry Job Market

You’ve probably seen the numbers. On August 3rd, the July unemployment figures for the US were widely reported. Relatively stagnant, again, with an overall unemployment rate of 8.3% Last month, here at C&EN, Rudy Baum presented his take on unemployment figures for ACS members, which fell from 4.6% in March 2011 to 4.2% for March 2012. He pointed out that this rate was still “well below” the national unemployment rate, which was at 8.2% in March 2012. This was followed by a commentary by Madeleine Jacobs, CEO and Executive Director of the ACS. She expressed concern for her membership by stating that “those unemployed chemists are no longer solving critical challenges and creating jobs to ensure sufficient energy, clean water, and food while protecting the environment and curing diseases. Unemployment has both a human and an economic face.” She was prompted to speak out by Brian Vastag’s article in the Washington Post from July 7th, which covered the lack of available jobs in the sciences. Within that article, a chemist, displaced from her position at a pharmaceuticals company, was quoted as advising her high-school aged daughter to avoid pursuing a career in science. “I tell her, ‘Don’t go into science.’ I’ve made that very clear to her,” she said. Ms. Jacobs was particularly disturbed by this advice, and felt compelled to call others to action. This is where her initial expression of concern morphed into something else: “Many people became scientists to fulfill what they saw as their patriotic duty. Let’s not discourage our children who are passionate about chemistry and other sciences by pointing them to other fields.” She then proceeded to quote, as support for her position, a biology undergraduate, who said, among other things: “Anyone who would discourage a child who loves math and chemistry from pursuing a career in science because it might be difficult to find employment might not be a scientist for the right reasons.” I guess there’s room enough for at least two on that particular high horse. Okay, where to begin? Among my coworkers, Madeleine Jacobs’ commentary was viewed with something best described as sputtering disbelief. Her rebuke smacks of “nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” or “hard work is its own reward.” Gee, um, thanks, Mom. That disbelief was wonderfully crystallized in a subsequent post by Chemjobber. He first pointed out that a straight comparison between the unemployment numbers of ACS members and those of the country at large was a bit misleading: “Less than 30% of the United States has a college degree. The ACS membership in 2010 consists of 64% Ph.D.s, 18% M.S. holders and 18% bachelors’ degree holders.”...

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Website helps scientists learn about careers within Federal agencies
Jan31

Website helps scientists learn about careers within Federal agencies

As an individual currently employed in the private sector, I must admit to a wide breadth of ignorance regarding what employment opportunities may exist for a scientist within a Federal government agency. It would I appear that my own personal lack of knowledge regarding government science positions is shared by many others, and this has not gone unnoticed by the very Federal agencies who are in need of top scientists to fill these roles. Seeking to bring attention to the variety of science and technology (S&T) opportunities available, a pilot website, INSPIREST (careers.science.gov) has been created. The website was developed through a collaboration of six Federal agencies—the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of State (DOS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—along with the Partnership for Public Service—and they would like your help in directing its mission to provide useful information to prospective employees at all stages of their careers. INSPIREST was created in response to a perceived lack of general awareness and understanding of the opportunities in the Federal government for scientists and engineers, but this was not the only factor. Other challenges to nurturing a vital S&T workforce include: increased vacancies of key positions due to growing retirements within the “baby boomer” generation, and competition with the private sector for top talent. The website’s creators also recognized that USAJOBS.gov—the primary avenue for applying to science and engineering positions for most Federal agencies—had a limited ability to communicate what jobs are available and what these jobs are really like. I, for one, am grateful that a need was recognized to create a site like this. When I was going through my job search last year, government positions were definitely on my radar, and a few emerged from job search engine queries. I found that gathering information on and applying for these position were long, convoluted ordeals. INSPIREST seeks to demystify that process. The INSPIREST website currently consists of three main sections. The Profiles section contains interviews with scientists, engineers, and technology specialists (actual people—including chemists and chemical engineers! Here, here and, yes, here) who currently have jobs “related to National priorities such as energy, discovery science, space exploration, national security, international diplomacy, and U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century,” according to the website. The Resources section contains, not unexpectedly, resources. Okay, about what? Well, you can find information extolling the benefits of public service and the Federal employment experience. There is also key information and resources for finding Federal positions and applying for them. There is also a section highlighting the six participating...

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Chance favors only the prepared (and clear) mind
Jul05

Chance favors only the prepared (and clear) mind

Last week, there was a terrific post here by Christine on the value of looking deep inside yourself to find what you truly love to do. This caught the notice of David Kroll, fellow blogger on Terra Sigillata here at CENtral Science. There’s a connection here that’s relevant to me, and how I was able to keep my brain engaged while seeking my next position which I landed a few weeks ago. Please bear with me as I explain, as I think there’s a shred of relevance here for anyone who’s currently unemployed. My unemployment began in early January of this year. During my job search, I knew I needed to stay active mentally and physically, be focused, and expand my network. Part of my strategy regarding networking was to use social media, including Twitter. I had an account for over a year, but tweeted seldom, with brilliant witticisms such as “Got new tires for my car today.” It’s a wonder my relatives followed me, let alone anyone else. I got into it more seriously this time around, looking to establish a consistent personal brand, as advised by the social media mavens and jargonistas. I started following science-y folks, including science bloggers, like David Kroll. Then, on February 3rd, I saw this: I answered each bit internally: Hey you! Who, me? Job-seeking in non-traditional chemistry careers? Why, yes, it so happens that I am, if you must pry. Wanna blog with some killer writers? I’m not sure. Sounds dangerous. What or whom did they kill? Oh, wait, I get it. My answer is, um…..yes? Contact @rachelpep http://bit.ly/eeRKOv <click> I checked out the link. I became better acquainted with this blog and the rest of CENtral Science. (Confession: I had visited the blogs here before. Once. I hereby throw myself upon the mercy of the court.) I really enjoyed reading the past posts by Leigh Krietsch Boerner. There was a lot of useful info that really hit home—and funny at the same time. This sounds challenging and fun, I thought. What the heck, give it a shot! So I did, and, well, here I am. I could have dismissed this opportunity out of hand. But in it I saw a chance to get out of my comfort zone and keep my brain active. And, hey, you never know where things will lead. Okay, this blogging opportunity didn’t directly lead to me securing my current position. But I have no doubt it made a difference. It definitely helped me keep a positive frame of mind. I was getting feedback, getting to meet new people, talk science—all good stuff. So, when I...

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