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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Now it’s official—it’s not a pretty picture out there
Nov08

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. 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: For Hire Here, the stage is set with a big picture view of the Great Recession and current global economic factors. The promise is to drill down, in the accompanying articles, to the impact on employment for chemists, now and into the future. Tepid Recovery Curtails Hiring From the outset, no punches are pulled: “Not that long ago, chemists regarded their education as a guarantee of lifelong employment. That’s...

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Flavor chemistry: The science of deliciousness
Dec20

Flavor chemistry: The science of deliciousness

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. However, the job also comes with a bit of routineness, which Bethany says she could do without. Also, making the switch from academic research to industry work was a bit of a transition. In her Master’s research, Bethany enjoyed taking a project from start to finish and grasping the big picture of the projects she worked on. However, in her industry job, her analytical work is one piece of a big puzzle that she doesn’t always get to learn all the details about. Bethany often receives a blank stare when she tells people she went to school for food science, because most people don’t realize it’s a legit...

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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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Chemist-turned-marketing director in the computer software industry
Jun30

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 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.” 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...

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A chemist employs his analytical skills in the wine industry
Jun09

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. 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. Each step along the way requires analytical support, and Kawal and his chemistry colleagues are there to make sure it all happens so that the final product is of the highest quality. Kawal uses several pieces of advanced instrumentation on a regular basis, including a GC-MS, GC-MS/MS and GC-O as...

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