I know. Enough with the bad news, already.
Feb24

I know. Enough with the bad news, already.

Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news? The bad news, you say? Okay, here it is. The bad news—wait for it—is that there is no good news. Cue the trombone. The surplus of scientists at the bachelor’s and doctoral levels has been a hot discussion topic recently, as well as in the past. Last week, there was an appearance of even more articles focused on how badly the Great Recession has hurt new college graduates, at all levels. The scope of this phenomenon appears to extend beyond science, and beyond North America or the EU. What follows is a quick overview of three articles on various aspects of this topic. A devalued bachelor's degree First, there’s the provocatively titled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk,” a New York Times article by Catherine Rampell. The opening statement provides a startling and depressing premise: The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job. An Atlanta law office is presented as a microcosm of what’s being seen more broadly. At this firm, the minimum prerequisite for employment, regardless of position, is a bachelor’s degree. This includes office administrators, file clerks and even their in-office courier. Evidence is provided that this situation is not unique to this one law firm: Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites. The shortage of scientists is nonexistent Returning to the sciences—in spite of the data supporting the premise of a glut of newly graduated scientists, there has been chatter bemoaning the opposite. The Atlantic associate editor Jordan Weissman had apparently heard enough talk of a shortage of scientists, and presents data that flies in the face of that notion in “The Ph.D Bust: America's Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts.” Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America's scientist shortage -- the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it's time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead. Weissman makes his case by providing graphs based on data from the National Science Foundation, broken down by broad disciplinary...

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Work, Coworkers, and Love
Feb14

Work, Coworkers, and Love

This is, of course, an appropriate day to talk about love. I feel fortunate that I still love chemistry, and love being in the lab. But what if find you have a different kind of chemistry with a coworker? This is not uncommon, in any workplace. You work closely alongside people with whom you have common interests—a nice starting point for a relationship. But if you find romance in a laboratory setting, how should the two of you behave on the job? Such lab relationships are the topic of “Love in the Lab,” a recent article at Science Careers. The focus is primarily on academic laboratories, but many of the concerns could readily apply in other science workplace settings. Apart from mutual understanding and moral support, a scientist couple can collaborate and help each other scientifically. But living a romance in the laboratory, as in any other workplace, is complicated. To say the least. Workplace couples often find themselves often under intense scrutiny from their colleagues if they divulge their relationship: Some laboratory couples may be inclined to keep their romance a secret, especially at first. But whether your relationship is public knowledge in the lab or kept private, it's important to remain discreet and professional. Regardless of the quality of the science performed by each individual, the couple can find their career progression viewed by others through a lens of suspicion: One issue that can be especially damaging to young scientists is the perception by peers that career success is a result of a relationship and not scientific achievements. The article continues with good advice regarding quite serious concerns of conflict of interest, abuse of trust, sexual harassment, and avoiding fallout after breakups. In my career, I've know a few couples who have worked together in the lab, and all seemed to employ strategies to separate their relationship from their work. One colleague in such a relationship told me that “we never talk about chemistry at home.” After my initial surprise this made sense, because there have been times, at home, when I’ve tried to describe some chemistry I’d been working on in detail. My wife—not a chemist—would listen attentively until her eyes glazed over a bit. This was, of course, my cue to change the subject. Now I try to keep things on a high level, like “I was able to get some tough chemistry to work today.” Or, more often, sadly, I’m venting about things that didn't work. But that’s science for you. Did I mention I love chemistry? Happy Valentine’s...

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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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The ACS provides a variety of career information for you
Nov02

The ACS provides a variety of career information for you

Periodically, we’ve pointed out some of the available resources and information provided by the ACS Careers to help you with career decisions. Well, that crisp autumn chill in the air reminds me that it’s time to do it again. Recently, the ACS Careers Blog has profiled two categories of nontraditional chemistry careers. First is science and technical writers, a topic also covered by JAEP in past posts (here, here and here). Another is supply-chain manager and contract manager, (with some similarities to a project manager). For those of you interested in more traditional chemistry careers (depending on what “traditional” means to you), many profiles have been compiled by ACS Careers and can be found here. These are provided as part of ACS Careers Programs, accessible through the online ACS Member Handbook, or via the ACS portal. Remember, too, that overviews of career opportunities and discussions of factors affecting the broader employment outlook are available through the ACS Webinars Careers Channel. Check out this page for a list of past webinars covered by JAEP. Upcoming: Next week, there will be a webinar with the provocative title of Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions? This webinar will broadcast next Thursday, November 8th at 2:00 PM EST. This one promises to provide all the controversy you can stand. I’m afraid, however, that you’ll have to supply your own popcorn. And, don’t forget, all ACS webinars are available for viewing through their archives (under the Past Webinars tab) or via the acswebinars YouTube channel. View a webinar from The Past! What were ACS members' concerns years ago? How has chemistry fashion has changed over time? (Admittedly a trick question—fashion doesn't exist for chemists, let alone change). The archives only go so far back, though. So there’s no footage of a grad student being reduced to tears by the steely gaze of R.B. Woodward. And if your attention span can’t endure a full-length webinar, there are even webinets! What do you mean, that’s not a word? The ACS says it is, so there. The webinets are given the overarching theme of “2 Minutes to a Smarter Scientist.” Well, count me in. I would also like to be smarterer. Here’s a sample webinet to give you a taste: [youtube TBi7WS95Ejg nolink]   Irresistible, right? So do yourself a favor, and give this bounty of information a thorough perusal. You'll be glad you...

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So many nontraditional chemistry careers…
Oct17

So many nontraditional chemistry careers…

A core topic covered here at Just Another Electron Pusher is careers that are deemed by some to be nontraditional for those with a degree in chemistry—away from the bench, generally speaking. I was thinking it would be appropriate, at this time, to list the various nontraditional (or alternative or whatever adjective you prefer) careers that have been covered by current, former and guest electron pushers since this blog’s inception over two years ago. Yes, this is the blog equivalent of a sitcom clip show, where the characters sit around and reminisce, saying things like, “Remember when such-and-such happened to so-and-so...” Annnd cue the short segment from an earlier season. “Ooh, I hate these clip shows!” you cry, and shake your fist at the TV. But you end up watching them anyway, don’t you? Admit it—they’re addictive, almost inescapable. That’s what I’m trying to do here—lure you in with the promise of nostalgia, which comforts like the aroma of freshly baked bread, until the trap is sprung. Excellent. And, in the spirit of altruism, I’m hoping this JAEP retrospective will provide a handy, and perhaps dandy, one-stop shop so you can browse through professions profiled and topics covered. This list will be updated regularly, and permalinked to the sidebar within the JAEP blogroll. I’ve chosen to list these alphabetically, because, well...I’m a scientist, and we’re anal we prefer order. So, without further ado: Actor profile Book Editor / Publisher profile Career Adviser profile Cartoonist (Piled Higher & Deeper’s Jorge Cham) profile Chemical Safety / Chemical Hygiene Officer profile Chemical Software Marketer profile Chemistry Librarian profile Chemjobber profile Congressional Legislative Assistant profile Conservation Scientist profile Cook part one, part two Cosmetic Chemistry profile Disney Imagineer profile Flavor Chemistry profile K-12 STEM Outreach profile one, profile two Medical Sales (and Cheerleader!) profile Medical Writing profile Molecular Jewelry Designer profile Optometrist profile Patent Attorney profile Project Manager profile Regulatory Affairs profile Science Artist / Illustrator profile Science Policy and Communication profile one, profile two, profile three Science Writing part one, part two Scientific Journal Editor profile Scientific Staffing profile Technology Transfer profile Winemaking profile US Government Jobs overview Video Producer profile Web Entrepreneur (BenchFly’s Alan Marnett) profile So, there you have it. I hope you've enjoyed this recap, and that you'll revisit regularly. This list contains only a small fraction of the careers those with chemistry degrees currently enjoy. I'd like to think there are many others, who have a degree in chemistry, but are currently employed in a profession not typically associated with chemistry. Perhaps they're applying chemistry knowledge and skills in a unique way. If  either description fits you or someone...

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