Today marks the conclusion of a series of excellent blog discussions on the current state of the chemistry job market as led by Prof Matt Hartings at ScienceGeist (well, that’s who sent the press release), Chemjobber (opener and closer), Leigh Krietsch Boerner here at Just Another Electron Pusher, and Paul at ChemBark.
Here’s the quick list with descriptions from Matt:
• Monday, December 13: “We Are The Grist” at Chemjobber — an introduction to the topic and discussion of immediate ways to help clear the backlog of unemployed chemists
• Tuesday, December 14: “Too Many PhDs?” at Just Another Electron Pusher — an in-depth look at whether there are too many chemists on the job market
• Wednesday, December 15: “Time’s Up for Tenure” at Chembark — a critique of the current tenure system and how it influences academic competition
• Thursday, December 16: “How Do We Break This Cycle” at ScienceGeist — an overview of governmental policies related to science and technology and their impact on employment in these fields
• Friday, December 17: “The Future of Chemistry Jobs: Recap and Thanks” at Chemjobber — a summary of discussions initiated by each daily post.
I’ve had a bit of a different slant on the topics because I’m a pharmacologist who works with chemists rather than a card-carrying chemist (well, I do carry a ACS card). Many of the issues are shared across the sciences and an argument still exists as to whether we in the US are doing better or worse with unemployment relative to the national average.
The only place where I felt truly qualified to contribute was with my concern about ChemBark’s willingness to let tenure fall to the wayside. However, a discussion that emerged there and was addressed by Chemjobber was one threat that perhaps was not apparent to him in his R-1 institution: the proliferation of poorly-paid, no-benefit adjunct positions in chemistry departments at teaching-intensive institutions.
Loss of tenure would open the door to institutions that would willingly dump you for lack of extramural research funding and replace you and your teaching load with unemployed chemist educators at a total of 1/4 to 1/3 your salary. As universities have taken an unvarnished business approach over the last two decades, I do not trust higher administration at all institutions to act in the best interest of faculty and the discipline of chemistry when financial pressures come to roost. British contributors to the discussion did not feel this was a problem there where tenure was eliminated in the late 1980s.
As with any discussion about job prospects, particularly by academicians, is what constitutes a “chemistry job.” Not everyone will become a clone of their major professor, nor should they. We in academia need to be frank with our trainees, giving them education about non-academic careers while with us. With all of the talk of alternative careers, it is the tenure-track professor that is now in the minority across the professions of chemistry and the biomedical and physical sciences. Of course, it doesn’t help that non-academic jobs for chemists (i.e., industry, science communication) are facing the same pressures in this economic downturn.
It’s been a busy week for me and I really didn’t have the time to contribute to the discussions as I’d have liked. So, I’d suggest that you do what I’m going to do – tomorrow morning I’m going to go through all five posts in the list I have above and give some thought to what each blogger had to say. We’ll also have the opportunity to go through some very lengthy comment threads but don’t let that stop you from adding your own input. This is the beauty of the blogosphere and it is essential that this week’s efforts have the input from chemists across the spectrum of age and work setting.
Many thanks to all of the bloggers for putting this discussion together. Special thanks also go to our patriarch, Derek Lowe, for deploying his considerable blog muscle at In the Pipeline in support of this project.
Leave a Reply