A glut of chemists with bachelor’s degrees as well?
Jan31

A glut of chemists with bachelor’s degrees as well?

This past November, C&EN ran a cover story on the employment outlook for chemists. The coverage consisted of several simultaneously published stories regarding various aspects of the employment outlook. The main focus shared by many of these stories was on chemists already in the workforce, and the effects that recent or impending layoffs have had on their lives. I offered a few thoughts on the topic as it stirred up fresh memories of having gone through similar experiences myself. The bleak employment outlook for recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry was also described, but in less detail than given for experienced workers. Those details, plus profiles of some recent graduates, were provided earlier this week, in “New Bachelor-Level Chemists Face Grim Job Market,” an excellent article by C&EN Senior Editor Susan J. Ainsworth. Some thoughtful comments on this story have been provided by Chemjobber this week. The first paragraph of the C&EN article sets the tone for what is to follow: The inhospitable employment climate has not spared anyone in the chemical sciences, but many who have recently earned a bachelor’s degree may be in for a particularly tough fight. Some survey data was provided to accompany the previous qualitative assessment: In the most recent American Chemical Society survey of new graduates in chemistry and related fields, in 2011, 14% of recent bachelor’s degree recipients reported that they didn’t have a job but were seeking one, up from 12% in 2010 (C&EN, June 4, 2012, page 36). In contrast, 9% of new Ph.D. grads said they were seeking employment in 2011, up from 6% in 2010. With such limited employment prospects for new graduates, it stands to reason that the bar would be set high to be considered for those opportunities that do exist. However, even as an incremental number of jobs open for new B.S. grads, competition for those opportunities remains fierce. To stand out in a sea of applicants, candidates need to cultivate skills and experience to make their résumés sparkle. Often, it’s not enough to have been an exemplary student or perform undergraduate research: Recruiters also covet students who have exhibited “thought leadership,” which involves more than just serving as president of an on-campus organization, Simpson says. Instead, such students “have taken ownership of a project or come up with a new solution to a problem,” she explains. Several success stories are highlighted—chemists who have gone the extra mile to become attractive candidates for employment and have been rewarded with positions from which to embark upon their careers. The article then returns to those who haven’t been as fortunate, and who are now struggling to...

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Too Many Ph.D.s?
Feb03

Too Many Ph.D.s?

apprentice: 1 a : one bound by indenture to serve another for a prescribed period with a view to learning an art or trade b : one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling This week’s lead Science & Technology Department story by Senior Editor Bethany Halford addresses a question that is on the minds of many people associated with the chemistry enterprise: Is chemistry facing a glut of Ph.D.s? Halford has been working on this major story for several months. It has not been an easy story to report. Not surprisingly, some sources aren’t enthusiastic about being quoted on the topic. Vested interests are involved. Ph.D. students, after all, and the postdoctoral fellows they become are the source of cheap, highly skilled labor in the laboratories of our leading research institutions. Many organizations, the American Chemical Society included, work to encourage young people to go into chemistry. Halford does a fine job of laying out the basics of the issue. As she points out, “The answer to the question—Are we training too many Ph.D.s?—comes down to supply and demand. How many Ph.D.s is the U.S. graduating and how many does it need?” Her article addresses both issues, drawing on data from the National Science Foundation and the ACS Committee on Professional Training for the supply side of the equation and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American Chemistry Council, and a variety of other sources for the demand side. What she finds is that we are producing a lot of chemistry Ph.D.s, and many of those Ph.D. chemists are having trouble finding jobs. That’s not news to many C&EN readers, I know. Several of her sources suggest that the changes in the employment landscape facing chemists may well be permanent. University of Maryland chemistry professor Michael P. Doyle, for example, told Halford: “I think we’re in a serious time of restructuring in the U.S. The people who have been trained in graduate departments in the U.S. have to expect that their employment will not be in the areas that they thought they would be in.” Halford cites a number of recent commentaries in her story, including an essay in Nature by Harvard University chemist George M. Whitesides and Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemist John M. Deutch entitled “Let’s Get Practical” (DOI: 10.1038/469021a) and an essay in The Economist entitled “The Disposable Academic: Why Doing a Ph.D. Is Often a Waste of Time” (Dec. 16, 2010). Interestingly, to me, both essays refer to graduate students as “apprentices” or graduate training as an “apprenticeship.” Among their suggestions for improving the situation chemistry...

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Jobs
Nov01

Jobs

In the lead story of C&EN’s annual employment package, Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth surveys the employment landscape for chemists and finds reasons to believe that bleakness is giving way to a few rays of hope. Even though the outlook is tepid, chemists can take solace that the massive downsizings of the past few years seem to be waning. This year’s survey coincides with the ACS Virtual Career Fair on Nov. 2–3. At this event, Ainsworth and C&EN Editor-in-Chief Rudy Baum will discuss the job prospects for chemists and how to prepare for what’s ahead. You can join them and participate in the rest of the fair by registering at presentations.inxpo.com/Shows/UBM/ACS/HTML. Coincidentally, as we were producing this week’s issue, I attended a career symposium at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on Mole Day, Oct. 23. The event, organized by the Younger Chemists Committee of the ACS Wisconsin Section, attracted 138 postdocs, graduate students, and undergrads, as well as one high school student. They came from Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa. They listened to a mix of speakers, including me, who brought perspectives from industry, academia, government labs, and alternative careers. Speakers emphasized the same themes: A chemistry education can be forged into many career outcomes; the paths to satisfying careers are varied; good communication skills and lifelong learning will open windows when a door shuts. Emily Wixson shared that her fondness for people, language, and communication marries well with her love for problem solving, experimentation, and observation—skills that a chemistry education cultivates—in her role as a senior academic librarian at UW Madison’s chemistry library. Yet she is among many science librarians who don’t have a science degree. Early in her career, she realized that her English degree would not be enough to maintain a science librarianship career so she took various science courses, including chemistry. “A chemistry degree opens the door to most science library positions,” she said. When teaching high school chemistry didn’t work out for Brittland DeKorver, she channeled her B.A. in chemistry into an unusual position at UW Madison’s Institute for Chemical Education. As an outreach specialist, she coordinates after-school science clubs, plans outreach events such as National Chemistry Week, and advises a student organization that is devoted to informal science education. In explaining the challenges of her job, she said, “Imagine explaining chemical concepts to a seven-year-old, who doesn’t have the vocabulary or the ability to think in the abstract.” Steven Sobek, laboratory director for the Bureau of Laboratory Services, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, brought welcome news: “There will be jobs opening for analytical chemists in government labs in the next...

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Please Write And Please Vote
Sep07

Please Write And Please Vote

Derek Lowe is an organic chemist who has worked for several pharmaceutical companies on drug discovery projects for the treatment of a number of diseases. He is the author of the influential blog “In The Pipeline,” which focuses on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general. He is also a member of C&EN’s Advisory Board. Before Lowe attended the advisory board meeting in April, he mentioned it on his blog and he (and we) got an earful of comments about C&EN and ACS (C&EN, May 3, page 3). Some chemists, especially organic chemists employed—or formerly employed—in pharma weren’t happy with the tone of C&EN’s coverage of the industry and job prospects for chemists or with ACS’s activities in support of its members. Fast-forward to August. C&EN Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth is planning to write a story on how chemists are retooling for alternative careers. Ainsworth asked Lowe to mention the project on “In The Pipeline,” which he did on Aug. 20. As of Aug. 31, Lowe had received 30 comments on the post, and once again, a fair number expressed dissatisfaction with C&EN and ACS. I asked Lowe via e-mail whether I could address some of the comments in an editorial, and he said that that would be fine with him. Bear in mind, “In The Pipeline” gets 10,000 to 15,000 page views per day, and as Lowe observed, “I think that the pissed-off section of my readership is smaller than it appears, but it sure is vocal.” Nevertheless, it is a real constituency. Here are a few examples of the comments Lowe received: “And what would the slant of this story be? Would it be the tragedy that in order to earn some kind of salary, intelligent, creative scientists have had to stop doing what they were trained for and enjoy because their profession is disappearing? Or would it be the usual ACS-C&EN palaver of, ‘Oh, look at all the opportunities that can open up for you when you become a chemist! Isn’t it wonderful?’ ” “Oh, that’s just rich! The official organ … for an entire industry only considers writing an article on a truly staggering trend following the post of a … blogger? That’s the best attempt at a trend analysis the officialdom at the world’s largest ‘scientific’ organization can muster?” After one commenter asked why there was so much bitterness in the comments, another replied, “The bitterness is because so many have been laid off and/or unable to find work over the years. And while this has happened, C&E News has taken the role of cheerleader for the outsourcing and downsizing trend. The ACS...

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Chemists’ Salaries
Jul12

Chemists’ Salaries

This week’s issue contains data from the 2009 American Chemical Society salary survey, conducted in March 2009. We received the data in late April from the ACS Department of Member Research & Technology, which conducts the survey each year under the guidance of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. C&EN Senior Correspondent David Hanson prepared C&EN’s report on the survey. The survey doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the employment status of chemists. “Despite holding up fairly well in previous years,” Hanson writes, “chemists in 2009 found that jobs were more difficult to get, and their median salaries were falling pretty much across the board.” When the survey was taken, unemployment among chemists had reached 3.9%, the highest rate of unemployment among chemists in at least the past 20 years. The median salaries among all chemists had declined 3.2% compared with 2008, falling from $93,000 to $90,000, Hanson reports. Salaries dropped in almost all measured categories of the survey. Undoubtedly, the situation for chemists has worsened since the 2009 survey. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall unemployment rate for March 2009 was 8.7%. As you can see from the graph on this page, the overall unemployment rate continued to rise in the following months, peaking at 10.1% in October 2009 and hovering between 9.5% and 10% since then. There is no reason to suppose that chemists have fared any better than workers in general during those months. It is fair to conclude that the 2010 ACS salary survey will paint a picture that is even more negative than we are reporting in this issue. However, there are some bright notes in the ACS survey. Our profession is becoming slightly more diverse. In 2009, 73.5% of survey respondents were men, down from 73.9% in 2008 and 78.5% in 1995. African American chemists increased from 1.8% of the total in 2008 to 2.8% in 2009; Hispanics represented 3.6% of the total in 2009, up from 2.7% in 2008; and Asians increased to 13.9% in 2009, up from 10.8% the year before. The profession—or at least membership in ACS, which is what the survey actually measures—is also becoming marginally younger. The percentage of chemists under the age of 40 rose to 31.3% in 2009, the first time it has been over 30% in three years, Hanson reports. And the average age of chemists in 2009 was 47 years old, about a year younger than the average age in 2008. A quite different sort of salary and career survey was released in late June by Nature. More than 10,500 scientists responded to the survey, which was open to...

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