From the archives—a surplus of PhDs
Jan25

From the archives—a surplus of PhDs

Okay, a couple of topics to cover today, and they are related. First, if you haven’t done so already, you should check out The Watch Glass, a Tumblr which contains excerpts from the C&EN Archives. This endeavor is curated by recent JAEP guest poster, Deirdre Lockwood. Although The Watch Glass is only a couple of weeks old, there have already been some very interesting nostalgic snapshots of chemists and chemistry from the past. This inspired me to have my own peek at the archives and see what interesting things I might find. It didn’t take long. I’d like to highlight one discovery in particular, a small article entitled “Ph.D. outlook: too many for too few jobs.” Hmmm, doesn’t that sound familiar? Yes, but here’s the kicker. The publication date of this article: August 13, 1979. “What? 1979? Surely there must be some mistake! That’s a current topic!” I hear you scream. That, or it’s just the voices. You know, the shrill ones in my head. Okay, the C&EN archives are by subscription only. That is a bit problematic, because not all readers of this blog have access, whether they’re ACS members or not. I had to wait for the library to email a pdf from scanned microfiche (ask your parents or advisor). Fortunately, the article is short, and the abstract, which is viewable to all, contains roughly half the content, from which you can get the gist. It begins: The fourth in a series of employment reports from the National Science Foundation has been issued. The report concludes that the number of science and engineering Ph.D.’s in the labor force will increase nearly 50% by 1987. Well, that’s quite a large increase. That’s good, though, right? The result of a productive American education system. U-S-A! U-S-A!! The only hitch is that the number of traditional employment positions available to these Ph.D.’s will increase only 35% over the same period. Wait, that number’s smaller. Thank you, Señor Buzzkill. (Wait, was the  word buzzkill even used back then? Never mind.) Thus, the trend of scientists and engineers with Ph.D.’s to work outside their fields appears to be increasing. In 1977, for example, only 25,000 or about 9% of the doctoral labor force held nontraditional jobs. By 1987, about 17% or 70,000 of the Ph.D.’s will be otherwise employed. There’s that word—nontraditional. Although, back in 1979, a nontraditional science career seemed to mean anything outside of academia.  The article goes on to forecast more nontraditionalism to come: Moreover, NSF’s projections for science and engineering doctoral degree holders who receive their degrees between now and 1987 indicate that even a larger number of these will find jobs in areas unrelated to their training. By 1987 it...

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Awarding nontraditional chemistry
Oct11

Awarding nontraditional chemistry

As has been reported at C&EN and elsewhere, the anxiously awaited 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded Wednesday to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka for their work characterizing the structure and function of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Here at CENtral Science, giddy Nobel fan boy David Kroll has followed up with two terrific posts (and promises yet another) about this year’s award, and Carmen Drahl, in the context of discussing a researcher’s two “families,” conducted an insightful interview with author Cheryl Renée Herbsman, daughter of Robert Lefkowitz. The impact of this research cannot be overstated. GPCRs are huge, no question. Easily half the projects I’ve worked on in my career as a medicinal chemist have targeted GPCRs, and many of those that did not still contained one upstream or down in a broader signalling cascade. In spite of the importance of this research, there has been some complaining about this year’s chemistry Nobel, and others given in recent years. The injured parties argue that the chemistry award is being somehow sullied by including work that isn’t really chemistry—by an overly strict definition. Last year’s award, which was for discovery of quasicrystals by Dan Shechtman, was also criticized by some because it didn’t go to a “real chemist.” This attitude even caught the attention of Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann, who viewed the Nobel Committee’s recent decisions “as a call to our profession to embrace the far and influential reach of chemistry.” In the chemistry blogosphere, there were several calls to abandon this chemistry-purist attitude, including a very nice rebuke by Derek Lowe, who succinctly stated, “Biology isn’t invading chemistry – biology is turning into chemistry.” Derek went on: And that’s the story of molecular biology for you, right there. As it lives up to its name, its practitioners have had to start thinking of their tools and targets as real, distinct molecules. They have shapes, they have functional groups, they have stereochemistry and localized charges and conformations. They’re chemicals. In his blog, Chemjobber granted this argument, but is still uncomfortable with the notion. He wrote, “My main complaint against this trend of biology/biologists winning recent chemistry Nobel prizes is that it is beginning to distract from the non-life-sciences aspects of chemistry.” I mention all this grumbling about the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because a topic covered by this blog is so-called nontraditional careers in chemistry. So far be it from me to criticize the awarding of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry to chemistry research that some may view as nontraditional. Breakthrough scientific research often occurs at the boundaries of disciplines. A key insight can be made by someone skilled in...

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Ensuring drug safety: A chemist in regulatory affairs
Feb21

Ensuring drug safety: A chemist in regulatory affairs

Profile: Olen Stephens, Ph.D. chemist, chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer at the Food and Drug Administration. A few weeks back, Glen wrote a post about a website, INSPIRE, which is chock-full of information about government jobs for scientists. If you haven’t yet, check it out here. There’s still time to take the survey that will help them improve their site. As promised, here is the first of two profile posts about chemists currently working for the federal government. Today I’d like you to meet Olen Stephens, a Ph.D. chemist who works in regulatory affairs. From academia into government Olen Stephens always thought he wanted to be a college professor, but after giving it a try, he realized it wasn’t the job for him. Now he works in regulatory affairs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and says he loves his job and the work-life balance it allows him. I should also mention that Olen and I share a family connection. He’s my mother-in-law’s sister’s son, a.k.a. my husband’s cousin! Olen was a double major in chemistry and biology at Earlham College and went on to get a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from the University of Utah (2004). After a postdoc in biophysical chemistry at Yale University, he landed a tenure-track professorship position at his alma mater, Earlham College. As a chemistry professor, Olen taught organic chemistry, biochemistry and general chemistry. But the job was “not a good fit on either side,” he says. “Teaching wasn’t what I thought it was,” Olen says. The combination of teaching, grant writing, and conducting research left little time to spend with his wife and newborn son. At the same time, Olen says he wasn’t interested in working in industry either. In his first year teaching at Earlham, Olen met another Earlham alumnus who worked at the FDA.  Later, when Olen was looking for a career change, she told him about a position they were looking to fill. Five months later, Olen had landed the job and his family moved to the Washington, D.C. area, and the rest is history. Regulatory affairs– What’s that all about? Olen has been working as a chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer since 2008 and finds his career both challenging and rewarding. At the FDA, Olen works as part of a team to review drug applications and identify safety issues that need to be addressed before drugs can be administered to humans. The job requires a lot of reading and writing, which Olen says he enjoys and was well-equipped for, thanks to the liberal arts education he received at Earlham as an undergrad. There was a huge learning curve when...

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The Quest for a Passionate and Purposeful PhD
Nov30

The Quest for a Passionate and Purposeful PhD

This guest post was written by Selina Wang, PhD. When I became a “PhD“ rather than “PhD candidate”, I couldn’t get the question “Now, what?” out of my head. It reminded me of the feeling I had when being asked “What do you want to do when you grow up?” as a five-year-old. Except I wasn’t five and I was supposed to be smart and have a respectful answer that validated the three letters that were now attached to my name. I was fearful to step into this unfamiliar territory. In addition, the same excitement I felt about my area of research when I first started the PhD program was now accompanied by the additional baggage of skepticism and confusion. I was about to face some huge energy barriers and to anticipate high entropy – something called the post-doctoral life and beyond. As I explored post-doctoral opportunities, I felt a little lost, sort of directionless and almost underwhelmed by this supposedly-one-of-the-greatest-accomplishments-of-mine-so-far.  Industry, government or academe?  Not sure.  A job that pays better than a graduate student’s stipend?  I hope so. I started to wonder how many of us that attend graduate school with a crystal-clear view of our future career direction maintain that view upon graduation. You know, despite how clear your NIR tubes are and how your crystals grow bigger and faster than your labmates’. I, like many, had an incredible experience in graduate school. I was in love with doing research and could have stayed in the program forever if I was allowed to (and if I had won a lottery so money was no object). I had a strong sense of purpose – to discover the unknown, to tell people about things they didn’t yet know, to satisfy my own curiosity. I was surrounded by individuals who cared about the same things as I do, including an assiduous PI who started his tenure-track faculty position the same year I started my PhD program. They understood my dorky jokes, granted that they didn’t have the sense of humor to laugh at most of them. It was a safe environment to learn and to do research – which was my job. Five years quickly flew by (with the exception of the year of my qualifying-exam). I had to move on to a post-doc position, though the idea of being a post-doctoral researcher never excited me. Why give me a PhD if you don’t think I am ready “as is”? At the end of my two-year post-doc gig, I felt my skills were sharpened and I started to feel an itch to get out into the real working world. I had a clearer idea of my strengths and...

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ACS Webinars: Academic Jobs Outlook
Sep09

ACS Webinars: Academic Jobs Outlook

You may be wondering why I’m blogging about academic careers on a blog which is supposed to be all about nontraditional careers for chemists. Well, I attended the ACS Webinar titled “Academic Jobs Outlook” that was videostreamed live from the ACS National Meeting in Denver last week. If you missed it, you can still sign up and view it here. While watching, it dawned on me that many chemists get turned off from academia because they realize that they wouldn’t want their PI’s job. But there’s more to academia than R1, and that’s what I hope to highlight in this post. The webinar hosted a panel of three faculty members who shared about their experiences at three different types of academic institutions: an R1 institution, a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) and a community college. Meet the members of the panel (modified from the ACS Webinars website): Here is a table that summarizes the topics that were discussed by the panelists, highlighting the differences between the three types of academic positions. Note: The panelists spoke from their individual experiences, so it may differ from school to school— I suggest you talk to faculty members who work at the university or college you’re interested in applying to, in order to get a clearer idea of what it would be like to work at that school. Breaking it down If you love teaching undergrads but could do without writing grants and managing a lab, you’re probably most cut out for a faculty position at a community college. If you like the balance of teaching undergrads and research/managing a lab, a professorship position at a primarily undergraduate institution may be a good fit. If you are really passionate about research, and you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) writing grant proposals, and could see yourself managing a lab with grad students and postdocs, and also do some teaching at various levels, then the professorship path at an R1 university would be a good choice. The question of work-life balance During the Q&A portion of the webcast, I took advantage of the “submit a question online” function and asked if the panelists could talk about work-life balance. My question was selected! I got really excited in a nerdy kinda way. Anyways, their answers weren’t surprising, and were pretty consistent with what I’ve heard from other professors. The pre-tenure years are busy because of all the expectations and pressures to build your tenure portfolio (different components depending on the institution). You should expect to work long days and weekends during the academic year. During the summer months, you may get to have a more 8-to-5...

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Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011
Aug29

Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011

Hi everyone! Just wanted to draw your attention to several opportunities for learning more about chemistry careers and the job market. As you all know, the ACS National Meeting in Denver, CO kicked off yesterday. Check out these awesome C&EN Picks videos for a sneak peak at what’s going on at the meeting this week. Thanks to the wonderful interwebs and ACS Webinars, those of us who are not in attendance at the ACS meeting can still tap into some of the awesome career information, as if we were right there. All you have to do is sign up and then log in for the live webcast and watch the seminar in the comfort of your own home (or office, lab, or wherever you will be at the time). For some of the sessions, you can even have your questions answered by the speakers themselves by submitting them online during the live Q&A. Here’s a list of the webinars: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 – Live video streaming from Denver, Colorado Convention Center Navigating the Global Industrial Job Market 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Richard Connell (Pfizer, Inc.), Scott Harbeson (Concert Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), Jos Put (DSM), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs 11:00 AM – 12:00 N (Mountain Standard Time) Keynote speakers George Whitesides (Harvard University) and Joseph Francisco (Purdue University), and moderator,  Madeleine Jacobs (American Chemical Society) Academic Jobs Outlook 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Christine Gaudinski (Aims Community College), Laurel Goj (Rollins College) and Jason Ritchie (University of Mississippi), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Networking 101 — Making Your Contacts Count 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Located in the ACS Village in the ACS Exposition Hall with speaker, Bonnie Coffey (Contacts Count) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Wednesday, August 31, 2011 – Webinars Only Working in the USA — Immigration Update 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Navid Dayzad, Esq. (Dayzad Law Offices, PC) and Kelly McCown (McCown & Evans LLP) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) From Scientist to CEO 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Keynote speaker, Randall Dearth (Lanxess Corporation) and moderator David Harwell (American Chemical Society) What Recruiters Are Looking For — Making the ‘A’ List 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Meredith Dow (PROVEN, Inc.), Alveda Williams (The Dow Chemical Company), Jodi Hutchinson (Dow Corning Corporation),  and moderator, David Harwell (American Chemical Society) A blurb about ACS Webinars: ACS Webinars™ is a free, weekly online event serving to connect ACS members and scientific professionals with subject matter experts and global thought leaders in chemical sciences, management, and business. The ACS Webinars are divided into several series...

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