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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.

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 →

Flavor chemistry: The science of deliciousness

Meet Bethany Hausch: chemist, food scientist, and my good friend! Courtesy photo.

Profile: Bethany Hausch, chemist, food scientist and technologist at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours

We are quickly approaching the holidays and it only seems appropriate that I blog about food, since it’s such a crucial component of the season.

More specifically, this blog post is about food science, and about how a good friend of mine, Bethany Hausch, took her chemistry skills into the world of flavor science. We met when Bethany was studying at the University of Illinois, and I’m so happy that I get to blog about her journey!

Bethany is a technologist at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours in Beloit, WI. She works in the Analytical Lab at Kerry where she uses various instrumentation to analyze flavors and study the composition of foods.

“Each day is different and depends on the tests requested from R&D scientists,” Bethany says. “Most days I work on three or four projects.    This could include identifying the source of an off-flavor in rejected product or comparing the flavor of samples in a storage study.  I might also spend part of my day determining the sugar profile of anything from coffee syrups to baby cereal.”

In undergrad, Bethany majored in chemistry (B.S., 2008), but when she looked at the traditional career options available to chemists, none seemed to be the right fit. Food science seemed to have more direct applications to everyday life, so she went on to earn her Master’s degree in Food Science & Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois in 2010 and immediately landed her job at Kerry.

What Bethany loves most about her job is the element of discovery and the fact that she’s learning new things all the time. Since the Analytical Lab provides support to all divisions of the company, Bethany learns about a lot of different types of foods and about the compounds that give them their flavor.

“I enjoy this field because I see the beauty of science while working on projects that are practical and have direct consumer applications,” she says. Continue reading →

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 that address topics of interest to the chemical and scientific community; these series include career development, professional growth, business & innovation, green chemistry, and joy of science. Each webinar is 60 minutes in length, comprising a short presentation followed by Q&A with the speaker. The live webinars are held on Thursdays (and on some Tuesdays on career topics) from 2-3pm ET.  Recordings of the webinars are available online and upcoming events are posted at http://acswebinars.org/.

I’ll be blogging about a few of the webinars and will also post links to other blog posts that summarize the discussions that take place during these webcasts.

Stay tuned!

Chemist-turned-marketing director in the computer software industry

Profile: Philip Skinner, Field Marketing Director for PerkinElmer, San Diego, CA

Electronic laboratory notebooks are the way of the future for scientific records, and Philip Skinner is helping pave the way for them.

Philip Skinner, Field Marketing Director for PerkinElmer, San Diego, CA. Courtesy photo.

Philip is a field marketing director for PerkinElmer, where his current focus is promoting E-Notebook products to companies and laboratories.

But he wasn’t always in the software industry. He is a trained synthetic organic chemist who received his Ph.D. at the University of Durham in the North East of England and did a postdoc at ETH Zurich before landing a job in med chem.

While working in med chem, Philip helped asses E-Notebooks for his company. This experience helped him develop professional partnerships within the computer software industry. Little did he know that the time and effort invested would eventually develop into a full-time job just when he needed it.

In 2009, the pharmaceutical company where Philip had worked for eight years cut 40 percent of its staff and Philip was left unemployed. He spent nine months actively exploring other career options, including project management and consulting. Finally, the software company developing E-Notebooks decided to expand their sales team, and they offered Philip a job. Shortly after, he moved up in the company into a marketing position and is now a director of field marketing.

Philip said he would not have been so lucky had he not had the training and connections with the folks in the software industry.

“I met a lot of people networking, but I got this job from contacts I had made and nurtured for many years, and people I had actually worked in partnership with,” he said.

For the most part, he works from home, where he spends his time preparing for product demonstrations, participating in conference calls and talking with customers.

“One of my main roles is essentially a translator,” Philip said. “As an experienced lab scientist, I understand the way at least the drug discovery world works. I can speak with the scientists we are working with, but also to our software people.”

Will traditional lab notebooks soon be replaced with electronic lab notebooks? Photo credit: flickr user proteinbiochemist

To expand the company’s client base, Philip demo’s the products at trade shows and visits companies all over the country– so there is a good deal of travel with his job.

Philip said the best and worst part of his job is working from home since he said it makes it very difficult to maintain work/life separation. But he said he is very happy with his career move.

“I enjoy the work, I like the people, it gives me a lot of freedom,” he said. “I feel valued and useful… and I feel that I have somewhere I can actually grow.”

For chemists who may be interested in breaking into the software industry, Philip suggests doing research on both the companies and products, making connections with people in the field, and determining which entry positions into the company are a good place to start. Continue reading →

A chemist employs his analytical skills in the wine industry

To make wine, you start with grape juice, let the fermentation process begin and a few steps (and few months) later, you may have yourself a delicious alcoholic beverage, if you balanced all the flavors just right.

Conceptually, it’s very simple, but in reality, winemaking is an art that some people spend their lifetime perfecting.

Yet when you break it all down, winemaking is chemistry. And sure enough, there are chemists who work at wineries—like Kawaljit Tandon, a research chemist at Constellation Wines U.S., the largest premium wine company in the world.

Kawaljit Tandon, research chemist at Constellation Wines U.S. Courtesy photo.

Kawal’s job isn’t exactly “non-traditional” since it’s essentially an R&D job in a beverage industry. But I thought he’d still be a good fit for this blog since becoming an enologist and working with winemakers isn’t something that comes to mind right away when you’re thinking about what you can do with a chemistry degree.

Kawal received his Bachelors degree in Agriculture Sciences from Bangalore, India, before coming to the U.S. and earning a Masters and Ph.D. in food science from The University of Georgia. In grad school, he studied the flavor chemistry of fresh tomatoes using various sensory techniques and analytical instrumentation.

As a post-doc in food chemistry at Cornell University, Kawal found out about the job at Constellation Wines U.S. and applied. Although he didn’t study wine prior to landing the job, his training in basic plant physiology, food chemistry and analytical instrumentation prepared him well for the position.

“I had too much of the upstate NY snow and could not resist sunny California!” Kawal said. “It has been a learning curve though since this job was my first exposure to grape and wine flavor chemistry.”

Kawal researches the aroma and flavor of grapes and wines, as well as cork and other closures, oak barrels and adjuncts, and packaging materials. When an aroma or flavor issue arises with a wine product, he investigates it to determine the source of the stink, which could come from cork (haloanisoles), or from the yeast (sulfur compounds) or from the grape itself (methoxypyrazines). He is also involved in tracking aroma compounds in grapes and following that through winemaking and storage.

“Wine is a very dynamic medium and there is chemistry happening all the way from the vineyard to fermentation to barrel ageing to bottling and post-bottling storage,” Kawal said. Continue reading →

Project management as a bridge between roles in science and business

Project Manager: Becky Urbanek, Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals

Most chemists, whether in industry, government, academia, or some other setting, have worked on a research project at some point. So, who starts the project, who leads it, and who is responsible for its outcome?

In academia, it’s likely to be your advisor. In industry, it turns out, there’s a separate discipline devoted to formulating and sharing best practices in the management of projects. Not unexpectedly, this discipline is called project management, and the people who oversee the day-to-day management of the projects are…(drumroll, please)…project managers.

Try a quick search of “project manager” or a closely related query on any job search engine. The results suggest that project managers can be found across a variety of industries: construction, information technology, advertising, and many others. Project management of scientific projects is but a small piece of the larger project management pie. (Mmmm…pie) That said, managing a scientific project is the most common way a chemist is likely to transition into such a role.

Becky Urbanek, Ph.D., Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager. Courtesy Photo

With enough experience and, yes, street cred, chemists—with their vast array of transferable skills—are often called upon to be research project managers. Such an opportunity was presented to Becky Urbanek, whose chemistry background [B.S., chemistry, Ohio Northern U., 1993; Ph.D., organic chemistry (natural product total synthesis), Univ. of Minnesota, 1998] led to her recent role as a Principal Scientist and medicinal chemist* at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals.

It became evident that management of projects afforded her some additional transferability. Last year, an announcement was made that all drug discovery activities would cease at her site. Becky was able to transition to another role on the business side of the organization, and is now Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager.

“I had been a project manager for drug discovery projects for several years and really loved that role,” Becky said.  “I didn’t fully appreciate that project management was a developed profession on its own until the announcement of our site closing and I began to plan for what would come next.”

Becky’s contacts in other parts of the company were a valuable asset.

“I spoke with other project managers that I knew within AstraZeneca and beyond and they recommended courses and that I join the PMI (the Project Management Institute) to further explore project management as a career path,” she said.  “I found out about my current job by watching the internal job postings and then networking within the company to learn more about it.”

Before proceeding, let’s pause to define what a project is and is not.

The definition comes from the PMI, mentioned above, a professional association for project management and globally recognized as one of its leading authorities. A project is defined as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” The key word here is temporary—a project always has an end, or handoff of some kind. Projects are distinct from operations, which are the ongoing efforts an organization must undertake to sustain its core business.

With such a broad definition, projects can be found within any business or function (or in the home—wallpapering a bedroom is a project…and good way to enhance your profanity repertoire). Whether formal project management methods are used is completely up to the individual company. Project management provides a framework for analyzing and planning a project’s lifecycle.

Project management formally divides project activities into categories and more easily managed bits, referred to as processes. The PMI and other professional associations are there to provide guidance, not mandate how projects must be run. It’s somewhat like a menu—choose what works best depending on the project and the people actually doing the work.

Becky’s role involves establishing a project management office (or PMO) to oversee a portfolio of related projects involving compliance with US and foreign government regulations as well as internal practices. The regulations cover diverse areas such as anti-bribery/corruption, data protection and patient privacy.

Not the PMBOK guide – but only slightly scarier, and a tad more bitey. From Flickr user kk99

A useful project management reference can be found the PMI’s main publication, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK Guide. The guide’s goal is to document and standardize generally accepted project management information and practices.

Knowledge of project management processes can also be quite helpful while working within a project, even if you aren’t its manager. It gives you an appreciation of the complexity of managing a project, and can help you understand the context behind certain project-related decisions.

A common adage within the field is that communication takes up 90% of a project manager’s time.

Becky says that much of her day is spent “talking with the various project leaders of the projects in our portfolio to understand their projects—their resource needs, interdependencies with other projects, status of deliverable timelines and budget situation.”

“I also develop or help identify the tools necessary to track the portfolio of projects, resourcing demand, and such—my skills with Excel from my previous career help with that, she said. “A lot of time spent on the phone, since it’s a global role, and the computer.”

Becky says she has no regrets about leaving the bench.

“I had made the decision many years ago to exit the lab, but I do miss being involved in discovery research projects,” she said. “There was such excitement in drug discovery teams when you were making good progress and you believed that you really could positively impact patients’ lives.”

The impending site closure was undoubtedly an impetus to seek a new position internally, but Becky was also attracted to the role because “it sounded interesting!”

“It was a great opportunity to move within AstraZeneca in to another function that I knew nothing about, and also give me visibility across other areas of the business,” she said. “It would give me experience as a project/portfolio manager outside of Pharma R&D, making me more marketable. I believe that project management is a growth area as it spans many sectors.”

*And in the spirit of full disclosure, my former colleague.