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Category → the job market

The “10K BA” — Is it possible in chemistry?

Are you getting the value you expected out of your chemistry education?

twocharts450Earlier this week, Chemjobber blogged about the regrettable employment situation for chemists. The centerpiece of the post was a graphic, which originally appeared in a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on 2012 employment numbers. The figure represented the unemployment numbers, broken down by highest level of education completed and the associated wages for those employed in each group.

Chemjobber amended the graphic with both the ACS member unemployment numbers (also by degree), plus the BLS numbers in the category “chemists and material scientists.” The result is powerful. Chemjobber summed it up:

As you can note, chemists come out worse in every single apples-to-apples comparison on all equivalent degree holders.

Not. Good.

A further irony is found in the title of the original graphic, which Chemjobber retained: “Education Pays.” Well, yes, if you’re employed, your salary will generally increase with level of education (except for the slight dropoff from “Professional degree” to “Doctoral degree”).

However, if you have the misfortune of being among the unemployed—the numbers are even worse for recent graduates—your return on investment is currently zero. This adds insult to injury, particularly if you attended an expensive private institution and have a seemingly insurmountable student loan debt to pay off. “Education Pays” then sounds derisive.

The soaring cost of higher education was the subject of a recent New York Times op-ed piece, entitled “My Valuable, Cheap College Degree,” by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and former professor at Syracuse University.

The title refers to an effort to provide more affordable higher education opportunities:

One idea gaining currency is the $10,000 college degree — the so-called 10K-B.A. — which apparently was inspired by a challenge to educators from Bill Gates, and has recently led to efforts to make it a reality by governors in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as by a state assemblyman in California.

To achieve these cost cuts, there is a reliance on distance learning, such as massive online open courses (MOOC) and other formats. Understandably, this goal has been greeted with a fair amount of skepticism:

Some critics see it as an invitation to charlatans and diploma mills. Even supporters often suggest that this is just an idea to give poor people marginally better life opportunities.

Continue reading →

A glut of chemists with bachelor’s degrees as well?

This past November, C&EN ran a cover story on the employment outlook for chemists.

The coverage consisted of several simultaneously published stories regarding various aspects of the employment outlook. The main focus shared by many of these stories was on chemists already in the workforce, and the effects that recent or impending layoffs have had on their lives. I offered a few thoughts on the topic as it stirred up fresh memories of having gone through similar experiences myself.

The bleak employment outlook for recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry was also described, but in less detail than given for experienced workers. Those details, plus profiles of some recent graduates, were provided earlier this week, in “New Bachelor-Level Chemists Face Grim Job Market,” an excellent article by C&EN Senior Editor Susan J. Ainsworth. Some thoughtful comments on this story have been provided by Chemjobber this week.

The first paragraph of the C&EN article sets the tone for what is to follow:

The inhospitable employment climate has not spared anyone in the chemical sciences, but many who have recently earned a bachelor’s degree may be in for a particularly tough fight.

Some survey data was provided to accompany the previous qualitative assessment:

In the most recent American Chemical Society survey of new graduates in chemistry and related fields, in 2011, 14% of recent bachelor’s degree recipients reported that they didn’t have a job but were seeking one, up from 12% in 2010 (C&EN, June 4, 2012, page 36). In contrast, 9% of new Ph.D. grads said they were seeking employment in 2011, up from 6% in 2010.

With such limited employment prospects for new graduates, it stands to reason that the bar would be set high to be considered for those opportunities that do exist.

Continue reading →

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.

Even a beer line at a poster session is never this grim.

Image: C&EN

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:

Continue reading →

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.

Yeah. This is fun. Courtesy flickr user fakoman

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 were able to land elsewhere.

Tip: When away from home for an extended period, keep a family portrait on your desk. Not this family—yours. Courtesy flickr user Gary M

There’s another long-distance commuting situation that—to me, at least—seems to be more common now than it had previously been. I’m referring to those that have retained their current position, or have found a new one, but have had to move far away from their families. The sad result is they are now only able to be with their families on weekends, or even less frequently. This particular variation on the two-body problem causes a completely different form of heartsickness than from extra sedentary hours per day. This is a situation that I have great difficulty picturing myself doing and have deliberately tried to avoid. That said, you never know what you’re capable of enduring if you have no other options.

This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by C&EN, which, in the coming months, will publish an article about chemists who have had to relocate while their families remain behind.

If this is a situation in which you find yourself and would be willing to share your experience regarding the pros and cons of your predicament as a contribution to this story, please contact Susan J. Ainsworth, Senior Editor, ACS News & Special Features Group. Her email address is…

S_Ainsworth AT acs DOT org.

Your experience may provide reassurance to others facing this dilemma. Thanks in advance for your help!

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.”

He offered a comparison that still isn’t perfect, but is much better, by limiting the comparison of unemployment numbers to ACS members and nonmembers with college degrees. To summarize—if you break it down by degree, ACS members have higher unemployment than the college educated public at large. Continue reading →

Scientific staffing: Connecting employers with job candidates

Profile: Lynn Sullivan, Chemist (B.S., 1999), Account Manager for Aerotek, Inc.

Lynn Sullivan brought seven years of industry experience to her current job as account manager for Aerotek, which provides recruiting and staffing services. Courtesy photo.

Chemists on the job market may be all too familiar with the process by which staffing companies work with recruiters to connect employers with job candidates.

But has it crossed your mind that it takes someone who has firsthand experience in the chemical industry to know who will be a good fit for the job?

Lynn Sullivan serves as an account manager for Aerotek, which provides recruiting and staffing services in the Atlanta metro area. Prior to her account management role with Aerotek, Lynn worked as a chemist for seven years. For more than four years now, Lynn has been working to help the scientific and healthcare industries find hiring solutions.

Although she started off as a biology/pre-med major at Delta State University, she decided that wasn’t the career path that she wanted and made the switch, receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry. After graduation, she landed an industry job, where she worked in quality control and eventually moved into R&D.

While working as a manager in an R&D department, Lynn was responsible for hiring technicians to work in the lab. She used a staffing company to help her identify job candidates, which led her to consider a career switch into the field.

“I thought it would be a great fit for me because I could stay in the sciences but work more with people,” Lynn explained.

Day to day, you can find Lynn calling companies, meeting with customers and working with recruiters to identify candidates for the companies’ needs. One of her favorite parts of the job is building relationships with people in a variety of scientific fields.

Lynn strongly believes that her degree and prior experience in the scientific industry helped prepare her current role. She doesn’t miss working in a lab—after seven years at the bench, she realized it wasn’t her passion. But her current job requires her to visit labs often and learn about the research at various companies—so she still feels very connected with the scientific world.

For those interested in a career like Lynn’s, she said there’s no industry-specific experience required. However, it’s important to make sure you don’t want to work in a lab environment and are willing to go into more of a sales position within the science community.

Lynn said working for a staffing company requires an interest in sales because “we are selling our staffing solutions to employers, whether it’s to meet a temporary, cyclical or more permanent solution.”

The obvious question to ask a person who works in scientific staffing is: What advice to you have to chemists on the job market today? Here’s what Lynn had to say:

Lynn's advice to chemists on the job market is: network well and have a clean, professional resume. Photo credit: flickr user washtenawcc.

“Two things that are important for chemists looking for jobs:  networking and their resume.  Networking is key to helping people find employment.  When networking, you want to make sure you have a clean, professional resume.  Chemists often forget to include laboratory skills, and that’s what will catch the eye of an employer or recruiter.

“For new graduates in Chemistry, it’s important to not only include any undergraduate research or internships, but to speak specifically about what your role was in the laboratory, and what equipment or techniques you utilized.”

In her spare time, Lynn is an active member of the American Chemical Society, and is currently the Chair Elect for the Georgia Local Section. In the past, Lynn served as committee chair of the Women’s Chemist Committee for the local chapter.

When asked why she has chosen to be involved in ACS, Lynn said she initially got plugged in for networking purposes and to meet new people in her area with a chemistry background.

“Organizations like ACS allow you the chance to meet chemists with a variety of backgrounds and to stay current with new research and industry trends,” Lynn said. “It also gives me the chance to volunteer by educating and promoting the field of chemistry to others.”

Why women leave science (and what’s being done about it)

Women in their mid-thirties with careers in science, engineering and technology are twice as likely to quit their jobs as men– and studies on women and work-life balance suggest that it will take more than surface-level changes to put a dent in this statistic.

Even though it's not 1923 anymore, women in STEM careers still report that they struggle to thrive in a male-dominated workplace culture. Photo credit: flickr user Meaghan Courtney

In 2008, the Harvard Business Review wrote about a research study that explored the reasons why women leave behind STEM careers:

“The Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit organization that studies women and work, recently reported that women in science, engineering, and technology fields are likely to leave their positions, in large part ‘because the hostility of the workplace culture drives them out. If machismo is on the run in the United States, then this [science, engineering, and technology fields] is its Alamo– a last holdout of redoubled intensity.’”

-Quote from p. 50 of Glass Ceilings & 100-Hour Couples

The researchers found five reasons why women leave science:

  1. The hostility of the workplace culture
  2. A sense of isolation in a male-dominated workplace
  3. Disconnect between women’s preferred work rhythms and the types of behaviors rewarded in male-dominated fields
  4. Long work weeks and travel combined with household management becomes too much to handle
  5. Bemoaned by the “mystery” surrounding career advancement and lack of mentors

It’s easy to see how it can become a downward spiral: Women drop out because there aren’t many other women who they can relate to—which serves to worsen the situation.

But it’s not just that there aren’t more women around. The pressure of juggling responsibilities of work and home, as well as a plethora of other factors, contribute to why more educated women are quitting their jobs recently than ever before.

The results of a research study on why women opt out of their careers are chronicled in a book titled Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us About Work and Family. Continue reading →

What it takes to be a chemistry entrepreneur

If you’re a chemist with a great idea, it just might be that some entrepreneurial training and business savvy is all you need to start up a company that could lead to new jobs, according to Harvard University professor George Whitesideds.

George Whitesides, professor at Harvard University, talked about what it takes to start up a small company. If you missed the ACS Webinar, check it out here: http://acswebinars.org/vcf2011-innovation

A few weeks back, Whitesides, along with ACS Immediate Past President Joseph Francisco, co-hosted an ACS Webinar titled “Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs.” If you missed it, you can view the recorded webinar here.

The option of taking your idea and starting up a company is something that’s not talked about in much depth in the circles I run in, i.e. in grad school.

Whitesides said he believes this is a problem. Students are coming out with advanced chemistry degrees but without the entrepreneurial know-how to turn their ideas into profits for the benefit of themselves and the economy.

During the webinar, Whitesides shared his thoughts on this issue and also offered suggestions to the ACS regarding what they can do to help create more jobs for chemists.

Read the entire report from the ACS Task Force here.

What’s the problem?

Whitesides had a thing or two to say about what it will take to get chemists back in the game.

To begin, the Task Force asked the question, What is causing the decline in employment for chemists? Is it a problem of declining need for chemists, or chemists’ decline in innovation?

The Task Force’s conclusion was that “there’s no loss in innovation, but there are problems in getting the ideas that are emerging in chemistry into a state where they are recognizable in creating large numbers of jobs,” Whitesides said.

In other words, the problem is not that there’s nothing left for chemists to contribute. In fact, the biggest problems facing society now are problems that require chemistry– so the opportunities are, in principle, unlimited, he said.

Okay, it’s not that chemists aren’t needed in society. They are. So, the problems lie more in the arena of turning brilliant ideas into marketable products.

But starting up a company is not as simple as we’d like to think. Continue reading →