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.

Some of the government's money could be yours! Image by flickr user Alex E. Proimos.

Surprised? I kind of was. I was tooling around on 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.

Image 1942, Library of Congress.

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 a bit hard to get fired. "Sort of like tenure in academia," John said. But it does also have its downside. "The job security tends to make people a bit lazier," he said. You can get fired of course, if you're doing something unsafe or illegal. But just not working that hard? That would probably get you shunted to another department. (Yay, government?)

I have you now. Image by flickr user Laura Padgett.

So it's definitely something to think about, especially since more typical industrial or academic sectors are not so happy right now. I know, tell you something you don't know. But actual numbers saying things are bad are useful. This week's C&EN cover story is about the decline of jobs in industry, while The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story Tuesday about how tenure in academic jobs is going bye-bye. So, yeah. Hello, Uncle Sam? . ETA: As a reader commented below, apparently the Air Force and Navy are not actively hiring at this time (7/16/10), they're just accepting resumes. But I guess this brings up the need to point something out. The goal of this blog is to inform people who are searching for alternative careers in chemistry as to what other options are out there. It doesn’t mean you will find employment in one of these options, although I hope you do if that’s what you want. Although I do try to indicate the availability of these jobs, I leave the actual jobseeking to you. Also please note that details posted today may not be applicable a month, six months, or several years down the road. I am also not responsible if someone pursues a career they learn about here, gets a job and a) doesn’t like it, b) hates their boss, c) doesn’t get paid as much as they want to, d) trips and fall on the sidewalk one day on their way to work, breaks their wrist and has to go through expensive physical therapy and even with that, their tennis game is never the same again, or e) pretty much every scenario possible.

Author: Leigh Krietsch Boerner

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  1. A few years ago, C&E News published an article about someone who moved from industry to government. It was just a small article, but I found it particularly interesting because it described the opportunities in government for people with MS degrees. I clipped it out, and although I didn’t act on it for a while, I kept it in the back of my mind, and about two years ago, I started applying for government jobs. I’ve been working at the FDA for about a year now, and I love it. It’s very different from my jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, but I feel like I’m using more of my skills (particularly my writing skills) than I did when I was a chemist in the lab.

  2. This article suggested that chemistry jobs could be located on the USAJobs website by searching for “chemist”. I did so, and e.g. found advertisements listed with e.g., the Navy, the Air Force and the DEA.

    HOWEVER, as was confirmed after speaking with representatives with civilian HR for the Navy and the Air Force, there are NO actual jobs on offer: they are simply collecting resumes, or as a representative of the Air Force put it “they’re on a fishing expedition”. This was also the case last year.

    I suggest that the author of the article on this blog more carefully research their information before they post it to the general public.

  3. Dear Leigh,

    I’m glad that we agree that you are not responsible for one of your readers tripping and falling on their way to work (??).

    You are still in graduate school, and from your comments on “Chemjobber”, seem to be at a school where there are good connections to major industrial players. For those of us who are both past that stage in our careers and do not have an institutional connection to the likes of 3M, Saibic or BASF (etc), looking for a position that is commensurate with our training and intellectual expectations is a different story.
    When one is worrying about how to pay the rent each month, the time that it takes to fill out a resume and cover letter on a HR website becomes precious. Preferably, that time should be invested in applying for _real_ jobs, as opposed to resume collection exercises.

    You would be doing many job hunters a big favor by distinguishing between the two different types of job advertisements in your writings.

    By the way my resume is on file with 3M.