This Year’s Model

The anticipation is over – The Next Electron Pushers have arrived! Before I tell you more, let’s begin by acknowledging the boss work done by our predecessor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner. If this is your first visit here, do yourself a favor and read some of her past posts, like this one or this other one. Awesome stuff! Or her personal blog now that she’s moved on. She’s extremely talented, and should enjoy great success as a science writer – if not, there’s something wrong with this world. As has been pointed out here before, this blog aims to inform people who are searching for nontraditional careers in chemistry of the options that are out there. But these days, alternative careers aren’t only on the minds of those young grad students working feverishly to finish their thesis work, defend, and go out into the big, bad world. Alternative careers are also of great interest to people like me. I was recently “exited” from a large pharmaceutical company due to the closure of drug discovery at the site where I enjoyed a truly wonderful run of twenty-three years as a medicinal/organic chemist, reaching the level of Principal Scientist. It’s unfortunate, to be sure, and I’ve gone back and forth through the usual stages of grief, but I harbor no ill feelings. It’s just business. The pharmaceutical industry as we knew it is changing and contracting. This is certainly true in the US and EU. (No news flash there.) I’m exploring alternative careers out of personal curiosity, yes, but also perceived necessity. No question, I would prefer to continue a career in or near the lab as a medicinal chemist in drug discovery – I loved everything about it: analyzing data, designing new compounds, searching the literature, developing a synthetic route toward those compounds, making the compounds, submitting them for testing to generate data – and the whole DMTA (Design, Make, Test, Analyze) cycle begins again toward developing a structure-activity relationship (SAR). Add to that working with my chemistry colleagues, and interacting with project team members from other disciplines. What a rush! (A moment of shameless self-promotion – I was and am damn good at it. Don’t believe it? Just ask me.) That said, if I end up working in another field, I expect to love doing that as well. Otherwise, why do it? Well, I hope to have that luxury. We chemists have a rich array of skills that can seamlessly translate into other fields. Says so right here. [Although this article specifically discusses organic chemists, the underlying rationales presented most certainly apply to other chemistry disciplines] So I’m teaming up with Christine Herman, who is one of those grad students trying to prepare themselves for the many options that lie ahead. Christine is a fourth year at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She’s been blogging about nontraditional science careers for the Daily Illini for the last few months, and I’m grateful to have her push electrons here with me. Here’s our plan: Christine and I will try to cover careers that haven’t been profiled yet, or revisit some if we can provide any additional (and hopefully useful) information. After the scattering of my former colleagues, I have a rich vein to tap into (assuming anyone will want to speak with me). Also, I intend to speak with recruiters and hiring managers (a local career fair is coming up soon), and I get three months of outplacement services as part of my severance (we were treated well, no question – they didn’t have to do that) – I imagine the career counselors there could share some interesting info and point me to past clients, initially chemists, who have gone on to other things, and succeeded. As we travel along together, please bring other career options to our attention. Christine and I will do our best to give them their due – the knowledge will help us as we figure out what’s next, and hopefully we can help others entering or re-entering the job market. 

Author: Glen Ernst

Chemistry and pharma researcher and manager. Lifelong passion for science, the arts and language. Blogger for CENtral Science, also blogging as The Scientist Next Door. LinkedIn:

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  1. Welcome! Do you have an e-mail address? I’d love to do an interview with both of you!

  2. Hi Chemjobber, thanks! Count me in, too. I’m at