Category → resources
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. Continue reading →|
Are you a chemistry student about to embark on a new career? Perhaps you’re an experienced professional seeking the next step (whether voluntary or otherwise) in your career development? You have to appreciate the career resources, in all their awesomeness, which are available to you as an ACS member.
But ACS membership is not a prerequisite for many resources. Currently, in advance of this month’s ACS National Meeting in Anaheim, there is a series of ACS Webinars entitled “Your Career GPS” designed to help you in your chemistry career journey. The first of these, “Today’s Job Search Strategies,” was recently webcast on March 1st. Did you miss it? Not to worry, you won’t be punished for your dedication to that experiment or project meeting. ACS Webinars can be attended by anyone. Webinars are routinely made available soon after the scheduled webcast for your viewing pleasure, whether on the ACS Webinars website or on YouTube, and the slides are also made available as a downloadable resource. An archive of past webinars (dating back to the fall of 2008) is available here.
This most recent webinar is particularly appropriate for the theme of Just Another Electron Pusher. The presenter, Lisa Balbes, is a consultant and the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas in Chemistry. Lisa and her book were highlighted here last summer in an overview of available resources, well worth revisiting, for those considering – wait for it – nontraditional careers in chemistry.
If you’ve never attended an ACS Webinar, you’re missing out. The topics are diverse and relevant, and the sessions are very well organized. The webinars typically last an hour, with roughly 30-40 minutes of presentation and the remaining time devoted to answering attendee’s questions. What’s more, questions can be submitted during the webinar in two formats – there’s a side panel that allows text entry, and you can also ask questions via Twitter by including the hashtag #acswebinars. By golly, the ACS is riding the crest of the social media wave.
The second webinar in the series, “Resume Writing for Scientists,” is scheduled for Tuesday, March 8th at 2:00 PM Eastern Time, and you can preregister here. But, as was mentioned before, if you can’t make it, don’t sweat it. You can catch it later, take copious notes, and rest easy knowing the ACS has your back.
Just a quick note to remind you that next week, Aug 22-26 is the ACS fall meeting in Boston. The ACS Career Fair is Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. If you’re planning on participating, here’s a pdf list of the workshops being held. Some of the grad students in my department have attended a few of these before, and say that the preparing a resume and mock interview sessions were the most helpful.
I personally have never been to an ACS Career Fair, but I will be attending this one. So I’m going to try to cover a few of these too, and give you the run-down. Look for that next week.
Also if you’re going, be sure to participate in the C&E News blog t-shirt contest thing. You could win a $50 VISA gift card for wearing your nifty shirt in the exhibit hall next Monday and Tuesday. Plus after the meeting, you can wear it out hiking in the woods and not be shot by hunters! It’s a win-win.
I already posted my key word (coughcoughRIGHTHEREcough), so that leaves you with only five more to find. Happy word-searching!
If you’re in the chemistry job market, I really hope you’ve heard of Chemjobber. Yin to my yang, he blogs about the job outlook for industry and academic jobs in chemistry, basically all the stuff that this blog skips. He does quite a bit of analysis of the positions that show up in the back of C&E News, as well as charting and discussing long-term trends in the market. So the well-informed job seeker would do well to follow his activity, even if it’s to watch what you’re missing by not going into one of these more well-worn careers.
CJ personally is from the dark side (industry). He’s a synthetic organic chemist at a small company, with a wife and kids at home. So what really made me curious was, he’s not looking for a job himself, and he definitely has a full life of his own—so why the heck does he blog about chemistry jobs?
“I think the real reason is that I don’t quite understand the chemistry job market, where the supply is and where the demand is. I figure that if I do enough of an amateur sleuthing job and reach out to enough people, I might be able to come up with some statistics to show where we have been, where we are and where we might be headed,” he said.
CJ compared the chemistry job market to the NFL draft, which was somewhat lost on me, but apparently he’s a big Colts fan so there you are.
In the draft, “there are 32 teams; they each have a 53 player roster. Usually, there are about five to ten positions in each team that they’re looking to replace. What are the odds that any one graduating senior college football player is going to get a job in the NFL through the draft? Not high, but at least he knows the odds. Furthermore, we know the general statistics about life in the NFL. You can be cut at any time, the average career is about three years right now, and after 30 years old the typical running back can’t do their job anymore.”
Sadly, he said we don’t have a similar idea about the statistics for the chemistry job market. “We’re all playing a game of musical chairs (to switch metaphors) where we have no idea to the number of chairs, the number of players and the length of time the music plays. That’s not good for anyone,” CJ said.
He also just enjoys the chemical blogosphere, and has been reading and commenting since finding Derek Lowe’s site, around 2002 or so. He tried his own fingers at the blogging thing and started two others of his own. His current blog is the only one that had some staying power, though.
“I love contributing and being part of an online community, it makes me happy when I learn things I didn’t know about chemistry (like the Kilomentor blog — it’s great!), and I really like applying statistical and economic thinking to an area of chemistry that could really use some.”
It’s a hobby he said, but apparently one that sucks him in from time to time. “I try to remind myself that I’m a husband and a father and a chemist before I’m a blogger. Some days, it’s easier than others.”
I think, when trying to decide what you want to do when you grow up (aka finish your PhD), the most important choice to make is whether or not you want to stay in the lab. It’s something that I think about a lot. Do I want to say adieu to the bench just because my project is really hard/I’m tired of it/I need a change of scenery? Or is it something beyond that? Do I really want to leave because I just don’t enjoy doing research? For me, I’m fairly certain it’s the latter. But I have this little twinge as I get ready to graduate and get the heck outta here. Will I rue the day I walked out of the lab?
This is enough on my mind that I always ask my profile subjects if they miss lab work. Of the people I’ve talked to so far, Ben Owens said he doesn’t, because he’s still sort of in the lab. And staying in a lab environment is one of the reasons he went with EH&S, because “there are opportunities to conduct original research and work on applied projects in the area of environmental health and safety, and I have done some of this.”
Raven Hanna said she does miss it a bit, especially growing bacteria, and is contemplating setting up some Petri dishes in her fridge.
I think part of it is the fear of the big dark open pit of uncertainty. We know what lab work is like. But we don’t know what life sans glassware is. Is it a screaming pile of awesome? Or is it a walk through Satan’s armpit? Couldn’t tell you.
But I did find some people that can, or at least give their own takes on it. Hopefully, it may help you at least narrow down the types of career options you want to look at.
So, the results are in from the 2009 ACS salary survey, and they can be summarized in one word: ouch. Median salaries for all chemists fell 3.2%, and the unemployment rate jumped to 3.9%, the highest rate for chemists in 20 years.
Okay, so things aren’t that bad. The overall unemployment rate for the same time was 8.6%, according to the report and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So at least chemists had it better than the general population. But keep in mind that the numbers in the salary survey are from March 2009, and things may have gotten better (unlikely) or worse (probably) since then. For June 2010, the national unemployment rate was 9.5%. So use that to normalize your thinking as you read it. Also note that this survey focuses on the Big Three* types of employers: academia, industry, and government. But even if you don’t want to go into one of those areas, I do suggest you go read it, as well as C&EN editor-in-chief Rudy Baum’s take on it. I’m just talking highs and lows here.
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.
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:
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.
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?)
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.
Nature jobs has published their first ever International Salary Survey, tracking things like salary level, job satisfaction, happiness, and gender bias for over 10,500 scientists over 16 countries, including those working in non-traditional jobs, although the article did not elaborate on that point. The goal of this survey was “to track contentment with one’s job by region or by job attributes such as health care, the degree of independence or mentoring potential,” says Gene Russo in the analysis, something hard to come by previously.
The results are pretty interesting. In short, if you want to be a happy scientist, live in Denmark. Avoid Japan. Also, expect to take a pay cut for having ovaries in every country they charted. Surprisingly enough, the gender salary difference was the lowest in India. But overall salaries are also the lowest in India, which may explain the smaller difference. (Although it IS possible that they really are less sexist in India. Right? A girl can dream.)
In other news, I got turned down for another science writing internship yesterday. I’ve honestly lost count, so I don’t know if it’s my 11th or 12th rejection. What did I say before about persistence and not giving up? I think I need to go read that again.
Since I’ve started this gig, I’ve been amassing information sources about alternative careers in chem, both mentally and bookmarking-ly. I thought I’d do a brain dump here, so my six devoted readers (hi, Dad!) could maybe use some of this stuff, too.
First, the books.
A word about books in this context: old. Well, maybe. The trouble with putting something in print and then binding it is that the info can quickly become dated (the newest book in my list is from 2007). I’m not saying this is always the case, but sometimes. Anyway, you know that, so why am I blathering on so?
Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas in Chemistry by Lisa M. Balbes. The book lists a bunch of different fields a PhD chemist can go into, and talks to several people in each field with varying types of jobs. Here’s a review of the book. Balbes also does technical writing/editing and career consulting through Balbes Consultants. She does a lot of writing for ACS careers too. Here’s her blog, although of late it just seems to be links to her ACS career articles.
Alternative Careers in Science, Second Edition: Leaving the Ivory Tower by Cynthia Robbins-Roth. Okay, so I did not actually read this one, since the library doesn’t own a copy. According to one of those amazon reviews, this is geared more toward biotech-y type jobs. But for those of you in biochem or with undergrad degrees in biology, this might be useful. (That would be me. I actually have two undergrad degrees–one in biology and one in chemistry that I got concurrently. It’s a long kind of stupid story, but the gist is that the university wouldn’t let me get two BS’s at the same time. It was too hard, they said. Whatever, they’ll let you do it now. So I have one BA and one BS. Gosh, how interesting! Back to books.)
Guide to Non-Traditional Careers in Science: A Resource Guide for Pursuing a Non-Traditional Path by Karen Y. Kreeger. My library also did not have this one, but here’s a pretty dang positive review, but remember that this book was published in 1998. Things may be just a smidge different in the work force now.
Career Transitions for Chemists: Making it Happen by Dorothy Rodmann et al. This was published in 1995 by the ACS. And though it’s 15 years old, and despite the overly perky sounding subtitle, there is actually some useful information in there. The first part of the book talks about things like what skills you have as a chemist and how they can be used. (Although it lists “honest” under personal characteristics chemists have. I’m a bit confused by that.) It also has tips for writing resumes/CVs, interviewing, and networking. Again, these may not be up to technological speed, but the basic info is there, and it is still relevant. There are a few chapters at the end that deal with non-lab careers, and other careers. It lists “self-employment” under other, which turned out to be starting your own chemistry business or being a consultant. All in all, worth a flip-through.
Some other useful links:
A C&E News article from last year about organic chem careers away from the bench.
A Science webinar on nontraditional careers.
Did you know that the ACS offers personal career counseling for members?
And lastly, theACS Career Fair! You can sign up for the Boston meeting one starting next Monday, June 28th.