2009 ACS salary survey
Jul12

2009 ACS salary survey

So, the results are in from the 2009 ACS salary survey, and they can be summarized in one word: ouch. Median salaries for all chemists fell 3.2%, and the unemployment rate jumped to 3.9%, the highest rate for chemists in 20 years. Hemlock, anyone? Okay, so things aren't that bad. The overall unemployment rate for the same time was 8.6%, according to the report and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So at least chemists had it better than the general population. But keep in mind that the numbers in the salary survey are from March 2009, and things may have gotten better (unlikely) or worse (probably) since then. For June 2010, the national unemployment rate was 9.5%. So use that to normalize your thinking as you read it. Also note that this survey focuses on the Big Three* types of employers: academia, industry, and government. But even if you don't want to go into one of those areas, I do suggest you go read it, as well as C&EN editor-in-chief Rudy Baum's take on it. I'm just talking highs and lows here. And there really aren't that many highs. I guess one would be that the unemployment rate for PhDs was lower than that of master's level chemists (3.3% versus 4.2%). So finish your degrees, grad students. Also, oddly enough, median salaries for professors teaching with 12-month contracts at PhD granting schools shot up, from $120,600 in 2008 to $149,000 in 2009. The article calls it an anomaly. And it does seem very strange, given that more educational institutions are cutting back in everything, including salaries. At my school, Indiana University, there's a hiring freeze right now. So yeah, go figure. (Aside--did you know that salaries for all faculty and staff have to be publicly posted, if the school is public? Yep. So if you attend one, you can look up how much your adviser gets paid. Try looking at your respective Office of Financial Affairs website.) And now the bad news: there was a large increase in the amount of PhDs in post-doc positions, 2.5%. That's up from 1.3% in 2008, and the highest number in 10 years. Ergh. That either means that people are post-docing longer, or more new PhDs that would have normally gotten a job are now going for the post-doc. Or both. In any case, that's not good news. I really hope chemistry doesn't turn into one of those disciplines where you can expect to post-doc for a long time after you finish, like biology or astronomy. To put it mildly, that would suck. More things that suck: in academia, the higher the rank,...

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Working for The Man
Jul07

Working for The Man

THE GOVERNMENT. It sounds a little scary, doesn't it? After all, THE GOVERNMENT is who tells you what to do and takes your money once a year. But they do good stuff too, like that whole, you know, constitution and bill of rights thing. Plus they employ a whole lot of chemists. Surprised? I kind of was. I was tooling around on USAJOBS.gov the other day, and just did a quick search for 'chemist.' And great googly moogly! There were A TON. And I just want to clarify that these aren't jobs in government labs like PNNL or Brookhaven--that's something totally different. This is a job list for government agencies, and these were just some of the ones I saw: NASA The Army The Navy The Air Force (sadly did not see any for the Marines) FDA Agricultural Research Service DEA FBI Homeland Security Most of these jobs listed are research jobs, so if you want to avoid industry or academia but want to stay in the lab, this may be the course for you. I should also add that many government jobs require that you be a US citizen (not necessarily born here, but naturalized). And pass a background check. And....anything else? Since I've never held a government job, I asked my friend John Spencer who's a project manager for Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Indiana, part of the Department of Defense. Hi, John! John says hi. He also said that his application was a little different than most, since he started out as a contractor for Crane. But yes, expect a background check. A lengthy one. His was about a 30-page document that asked for information including every place he's lived for the past seven years, all his employers in that time, all the schools he attended in that time, any foreign travel and foreign contacts, his family relationships and their nationalities, et cetera, et cetera. What you'll get asked also depends on the level of security of the job you're applying for. I'm assuming that the check for the FBI might be a titch different than the one for the USDA, but we know what happens when we assume... John likes working for the government. Like any other job, it's got its perks and disadvantages. File under perks: the pay is good (generally somewhere between academia and industry pay), and the people tend to be intelligent. Plus if you like variety, it's easy to move around, John said. He's had three different jobs in the three years he's worked at Crane. Job security is another benefit of government work. Once you get hired, it's...

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Nature Jobs International Salary Survey
Jun25

Nature Jobs International Salary Survey

Nature jobs has published their first ever International Salary Survey, tracking things like salary level, job satisfaction, happiness, and gender bias for over 10,500 scientists over 16 countries, including those working in non-traditional jobs, although the article did not elaborate on that point. The goal of this survey was "to track contentment with one's job by region or by job attributes such as health care, the degree of independence or mentoring potential," says Gene Russo in the analysis, something hard to come by previously. The results are pretty interesting. In short, if you want to be a happy scientist, live in Denmark. Avoid Japan. Also, expect to take a pay cut for having ovaries in every country they charted. Surprisingly enough, the gender salary difference was the lowest in India. But overall salaries are also the lowest in India, which may explain the smaller difference. (Although it IS possible that they really are less sexist in India. Right? A girl can dream.) In other news, I got turned down for another science writing internship yesterday. I've honestly lost count, so I don't know if it's my 11th or 12th rejection. What did I say before about persistence and not giving up? I think I need to go read that...

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A little light reading
Jun23

A little light reading

Since I've started this gig, I've been amassing information sources about alternative careers in chem, both mentally and bookmarking-ly. I thought I'd do a brain dump here, so my six devoted readers (hi, Dad!) could maybe use some of this stuff, too. First, the books. A word about books in this context: old. Well, maybe. The trouble with putting something in print and then binding it is that the info can quickly become dated (the newest book in my list is from 2007). I'm not saying this is always the case, but sometimes. Anyway, you know that, so why am I blathering on so? Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas in Chemistry by Lisa M. Balbes. The book lists a bunch of different fields a PhD chemist can go into, and talks to several people in each field with varying types of jobs. Here's a review of the book. Balbes also does technical writing/editing and career consulting through Balbes Consultants. She does a lot of writing for ACS careers too. Here's her blog, although of late it just seems to be links to her ACS career articles. Alternative Careers in Science, Second Edition: Leaving the Ivory Tower by Cynthia Robbins-Roth. Okay, so I did not actually read this one, since the library doesn't own a copy. According to one of those amazon reviews, this is geared more toward biotech-y type jobs. But for those of you in biochem or with undergrad degrees in biology, this might be useful. (That would be me. I actually have two undergrad degrees--one in biology and one in chemistry that I got concurrently. It's a long kind of stupid story, but the gist is that the university wouldn't let me get two BS's at the same time. It was too hard, they said. Whatever, they'll let you do it now. So I have one BA and one BS. Gosh, how interesting! Back to books.) Guide to Non-Traditional Careers in Science: A Resource Guide for Pursuing a Non-Traditional Path by Karen Y. Kreeger. My library also did not have this one, but here's a pretty dang positive review, but remember that this book was published in 1998. Things may be just a smidge different in the work force now. Career Transitions for Chemists: Making it Happen by Dorothy Rodmann et al. This was published in 1995 by the ACS. And though it's 15 years old, and despite the overly perky sounding subtitle, there is actually some useful information in there. The first part of the book talks about things like what skills you have as a chemist and how they can be used. (Although it...

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