How far will you go to stay in science? Let C&EN know!
Oct04

How far will you go to stay in science? Let C&EN know!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I went through a job search last year, and had been preparing for the possibility of a career change after 20+ years as a medicinal chemist. I was able to stay surprisingly positive through it all, and managed to land a new position in May of last year as....a medicinal chemist. So much for the career change, right? Well, not so fast. Because much has changed. First, there's the setting. I've gone from an industrial setting in Big Pharma to what is essentially an academic setting at a nonprofit research institute. It's very invigorating here, and I need to wear different hats through a typical day. Translation: Busy. But that's a good thing. Second, and perhaps foremost, is the time spent commuting. At my last position, my round-trip daily commute was about an hour on average. While unemployed, when I began my tenure here as an electron pusher, my commute was zero. Okay, maybe a few seconds walking from one room in my house to another. Now however, I typically spend around three hours a day on the road. The upshot is my days are long, and when I get home, I have at best two good hours before it's time for sleep—and my brain disengages long before that, I'm afraid. And yes, if you’re wondering, there is a discernible difference, thankyouverymuch. And, to make matters worse, there were several articles this past May discussing the results of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine entitled “Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk,” which examined health effects of long-distance commuting. I’m afraid the data doesn't look very good. The data showed statistically significant correlations between commuting distance and increases in blood pressure, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI). The researchers summarized by stating, “Daily commuting represents a source of chronic stress that has been correlated positively with physiologic consequences including high blood pressure, self-reported tension, fatigue, and other negative mental or physical health effects in some studies.” Uh-oh. In other words, Long Distance Commute = Bad For Your Health. I'm striving to be an outlier from this data, but I realize all too well that I’m putting myself at risk, both chronically and acutely, with all the miles I now drive. However, this is a minor complaint—I know I’m very fortunate to be employed. The job market appears little better, if any, than it did a year ago. I'm still monitoring the situation, as a few of my former colleagues are looking for a job, either due to the same site closure that affected me, or a subsequent one after they...

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On the Continually Bleak Chemistry Job Market
Aug14

On the Continually Bleak Chemistry Job Market

You’ve probably seen the numbers. On August 3rd, the July unemployment figures for the US were widely reported. Relatively stagnant, again, with an overall unemployment rate of 8.3% Last month, here at C&EN, Rudy Baum presented his take on unemployment figures for ACS members, which fell from 4.6% in March 2011 to 4.2% for March 2012. He pointed out that this rate was still “well below” the national unemployment rate, which was at 8.2% in March 2012. This was followed by a commentary by Madeleine Jacobs, CEO and Executive Director of the ACS. She expressed concern for her membership by stating that “those unemployed chemists are no longer solving critical challenges and creating jobs to ensure sufficient energy, clean water, and food while protecting the environment and curing diseases. Unemployment has both a human and an economic face.” She was prompted to speak out by Brian Vastag's article in the Washington Post from July 7th, which covered the lack of available jobs in the sciences. Within that article, a chemist, displaced from her position at a pharmaceuticals company, was quoted as advising her high-school aged daughter to avoid pursuing a career in science. “I tell her, ‘Don’t go into science.’ I’ve made that very clear to her,” she said. Ms. Jacobs was particularly disturbed by this advice, and felt compelled to call others to action. This is where her initial expression of concern morphed into something else: “Many people became scientists to fulfill what they saw as their patriotic duty. Let’s not discourage our children who are passionate about chemistry and other sciences by pointing them to other fields.” She then proceeded to quote, as support for her position, a biology undergraduate, who said, among other things: “Anyone who would discourage a child who loves math and chemistry from pursuing a career in science because it might be difficult to find employment might not be a scientist for the right reasons.” I guess there’s room enough for at least two on that particular high horse. Okay, where to begin? Among my coworkers, Madeleine Jacobs’ commentary was viewed with something best described as sputtering disbelief. Her rebuke smacks of “nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” or “hard work is its own reward.” Gee, um, thanks, Mom. That disbelief was wonderfully crystallized in a subsequent post by Chemjobber. He first pointed out that a straight comparison between the unemployment numbers of ACS members and those of the country at large was a bit misleading: “Less than 30% of the United States has a college degree. The ACS membership in 2010 consists of 64% Ph.D.s, 18% M.S. holders and 18% bachelors' degree holders.”...

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Chance favors only the prepared (and clear) mind
Jul05

Chance favors only the prepared (and clear) mind

Last week, there was a terrific post here by Christine on the value of looking deep inside yourself to find what you truly love to do. This caught the notice of David Kroll, fellow blogger on Terra Sigillata here at CENtral Science. There’s a connection here that’s relevant to me, and how I was able to keep my brain engaged while seeking my next position which I landed a few weeks ago. Please bear with me as I explain, as I think there’s a shred of relevance here for anyone who’s currently unemployed. My unemployment began in early January of this year. During my job search, I knew I needed to stay active mentally and physically, be focused, and expand my network. Part of my strategy regarding networking was to use social media, including Twitter. I had an account for over a year, but tweeted seldom, with brilliant witticisms such as “Got new tires for my car today.” It’s a wonder my relatives followed me, let alone anyone else. I got into it more seriously this time around, looking to establish a consistent personal brand, as advised by the social media mavens and jargonistas. I started following science-y folks, including science bloggers, like David Kroll. Then, on February 3rd, I saw this: I answered each bit internally: Hey you! Who, me? Job-seeking in non-traditional chemistry careers? Why, yes, it so happens that I am, if you must pry. Wanna blog with some killer writers? I’m not sure. Sounds dangerous. What or whom did they kill? Oh, wait, I get it. My answer is, um.....yes? Contact @rachelpep http://bit.ly/eeRKOv <click> I checked out the link. I became better acquainted with this blog and the rest of CENtral Science. (Confession: I had visited the blogs here before. Once. I hereby throw myself upon the mercy of the court.) I really enjoyed reading the past posts by Leigh Krietsch Boerner. There was a lot of useful info that really hit home—and funny at the same time. This sounds challenging and fun, I thought. What the heck, give it a shot! So I did, and, well, here I am. I could have dismissed this opportunity out of hand. But in it I saw a chance to get out of my comfort zone and keep my brain active. And, hey, you never know where things will lead. Okay, this blogging opportunity didn’t directly lead to me securing my current position. But I have no doubt it made a difference. It definitely helped me keep a positive frame of mind. I was getting feedback, getting to meet new people, talk science—all good stuff. So, when I...

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In transition again, but in the best possible way
Jun17

In transition again, but in the best possible way

Well, it actually happened, and I can’t believe my good fortune. I have a job! And not just any job, but one in medicinal chemistry, in a similar role to the one I had before my, um, involuntary hiatus. I’ve recently begun work at my new position. I’m now a Senior Research Chemist at The Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, adjacent to Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine. I’m very excited, and couldn’t be happier. Yes, I know, there’s nothing about this job that’s “nontraditional” at all for a chemist. It is a big change going from industry—Big Pharma, no less—to what is primarily an academic setting. It is, of course, an even more drastic change moving from the ranks of the unemployed to the un-unemployed. The only downside, if there is any, about my new job is the commute. Comparatively, though, it is a very minor inconvenience—I mean, I get to go home every night and be with my family. Many of my former colleagues, although employed, are not so fortunate in that regard. To say that I’m extremely lucky is a huge understatement, particularly in this economy. As many of you know all too well, chemistry jobs are few and far between these days. I fully expected to move to a career outside the lab, if not outside chemistry altogether. I had worked on professional development activities, such as project management training, to prepare myself for such a move. Being able to blog about what I’ve been going through has been very therapeutic, no question. It’s forced me to work through my feelings about becoming unemployed in a supportive (and very public) environment. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to contribute this blog, and hope to continue doing so as long as the opportunity remains. While I’m ecstatic about this turn of events, I also feel something bordering on survivor guilt. It’s not that I feel undeserving—I am good at what I do. But many, many other people are, too. The fact that so many good chemists have had to leave the discipline hurts science as a whole. To my former colleagues and other fellow chemists still trying to find a job—although I know all too well how difficult things are, try not to despair. There are positions out there—there’s just an insane amount of competition for each one. I realize this is probably cold comfort to many of you who have been out of work far longer than I had been. What can I offer in the way of advice? Looking back, I cannot understate the value of networking to help secure a...

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Coping with the ups and downs of being in transition
May17

Coping with the ups and downs of being in transition

In the months since my former employer and I parted ways due to the closure of the site where I worked, there have certainly been some highs and lows. My then-colleagues and I were all forewarned of the impending emotional rollercoaster when the fate of our site was announced. Counseling was made available to us, and we’ve supported each other in various ways ever since. Still, it’s been a toll on our collective psyches, unquestionably. The worst part, for me, has been the knowledge that I’m competing with former colleagues for positions. I guess this is really nothing new—we’re always competing against our coworkers. This is especially true around performance review time, and further amplified if there’s a forced distribution for ratings. Now, however, the stakes are particularly high. There’s no perfect outcome, it seems. If they get the job, you’re left in the cold. If you get the job, you’re happy, but there’s still some associated survivor guilt. But maybe that’s just me. We were all put in the same boat. I prefer to think that we’re all wishing the best for everyone, including ourselves. I don’t believe anyone would deliberately sabotage a former colleague’s chance of success to secure their next position. Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m no Pollyanna—although I do bear a striking resemblance to Hayley Mills (…he said, exposing his age demographic—and a need for some form of corrective eyewear). The best part has been the ability to reflect and decompress—to recharge my batteries while trying to decide what I want to do next. I’ve been engaged in professional development activities (like project management training), networking meetings of various kinds, and working with an outplacement agency. I’m just trying to stay active—physically and mentally. I’m having a great time contributing to this blog. As a result, I’ve been able to get to know some terrific and talented people that I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise. If you find yourself in a similar period of transition, I really feel for you. If you have the luxury, some time for self-reflection can be very valuable. Take a mental inventory of what you want to find or avoid in your next position. I hope you’ll rediscover, as I have, that you have an abundance of transferable skills, and you can envision a fulfilling position in many fields. The chorus of advice for people in transition is to use this time to find your dream job. Well, my last job was a dream job. But, really, that’s not a problem. You see, I believe I have more than one dream…and I hope you’ll find that you do,...

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