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Category → The Trainee’s Life

“Suicide Before PhD Defense”

I just received two hits to my PhD defense post using this search phrase.

To the reader: If you are in such dire straits of stress before your defense, please call 911 immediately or get yourself to your local emergency room. The specter of the dissertation defense can amplify self-doubt and if you are considering suicide, you and your family and friends would be better served by you postponing your defense and checking into a hospital for a couple of weeks.

If I can be of any help, please Gmail me at abelpharmboy call me at 919.564.9564. But first call 911.

Screenshot of today's search terms.

Screenshot of today’s search terms.

Thoughts on the “Doctoral Glut Dilemma” Webinar

As I wrote last Thursday, ACS Webinars featured an hour-long discussion on the perceived overabundance of PhD-level chemists and potential solutions to employment challenges. The site should have the entire discussion archived within a week.

I participated in the session and ended up posting my thoughts at the new Forbes.com home of my other blog, Take As Directed. I’m hoping to get comments from a wider group of readers over there who might have impact on hiring of chemistry PhDs.

One of the major points that struck me was the view by Harvard economist, Dr. Richard Freeman, that the chemistry job market might bounce back more quickly than the biosciences. But he views this comeback to occur slowly over the next three to four years.

Freeman attributes chemistry’s upper hand to two factors. First, US doctoral chemistry programs have had a fairly constant PhD supply rate over the last 40 years of approximately 2,000/year. In contrast, the biosciences have exploded from about 3,000 PhDs/year in the 1970s to 15,000 during 2010.

Second, Freeman states that chemistry is far less dependent on federal research funding since 50% to 75% of chemistry PhDs ultimately go on to work in industry. As such, he expects the recovering economy to help chemists far more than those in the biological and biomedical sciences.

I’d love to hear your feedback now or after the webinar is posted later this week. In the meantime, check out my thoughts over at Forbes.com.

Addendum: I’ve since learned that chemistry bloggers Chemjobber and See Arr Oh have posted a podcast discussing this ACS webinar.

 

Today: Solutions to the “Doctoral Glut Dilemma”

Don’t say ACS have their heads in the sand. A webinar this afternoon will face head-on the reality of training to be a doctoral-level chemist in today’s job market.

 Is higher education producing more doctoral scientists than the market can absorb? With the attendance rates at graduate schools increasing, has the private sector’s growth been able to keep up and will there be enough options for tomorrow’s PhDs?   Join our two experts Richard Freeman and Paula Stephan as they share their viewpoints on the state of higher education, the economy and how industry and academia can better prepare current and future graduates.

I’m not privy to any other advance information than what’s on the ACS Webinars™ website but others I’ve viewed have been top-quality.

I obviously encourage viewing by current doctoral trainees in chemistry and postdocs. Giving yourself a competitive edge in this market is information anyone can use.

But I particularly urge undergrads currently interviewing for chemistry doctoral programs to tune in. One of the four primary discussion topics will be assessing graduate programs for their ultimate employment record of their trainees.

Take advantage of what your professional society is offering.

Details:

Doctoral Glut Dilemma: Are There Solutions?

Date: Thursday November 8, 2012 (TODAY!)

Time: 2:00-3:00 pm ET

Fee: Free
 

Lefkowitz Nobel: “There’s a lot of love here”

How many of you could say this about your laboratory group?

In the hall outside the champagne reception for Bob Lefkowitz’s lab on Wednesday at Duke University Medical Center, I had a chance to catch up with Marti Delahunty, PhD. Delahunty is a research scientist in a connecting building but worked in the Lefkowitz group from 1998 until 2006.

This brief chat brings to mind Carmen Drahl’s post about one’s laboratory being your second family.

 

 
PIs, trainees, technicians, and administrators: Tell me if you’d be able to say the same about the environment of your laboratory.

 

Tucson clinical pharmacist does primary diabetes care

Those of you who do chemistry in colleges of pharmacy are used to discussions of how your graduates can truly use their Doctor of Pharmacy training. You’ve probably often wondered why your students spend so much time in clinical pharmacy when more than half of them end up in community pharmacy, a model that has largely kept its sweatshop-like workflow (the “counseling booth” at my local pharmacy has cobwebs for the simple reason that pharmacists cannot be reimbursed for cognitive services.)

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Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD, Associate Research Professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus; Investigator, Eastern Colorado Veterans Hospital

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado’s Dr. Al Malkinson, I’d like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I’ve known Lori since my appointment to Colorado’s faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al’s. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al.

At Al’s memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al’s wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al’s directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years.

My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.

 


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The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?”

Apologies in advance to any readers who might be put off by my writing about the science aspects of the Colorado movie theater tragedy. I was a faculty member at the University of Colorado in Denver from 1992 to 2001 and was in the area during the Columbine High School shooting rampage. I also still have some friends out there and feel a personal connection to the place and people who helped launch my independent research career. Nevertheless, I claim no special knowledge of the current inner workings of the University – all of my sources for this and other posts come from publicly-available information sources.

I write this disclaimer because Marisol Bello (@Marisol_Bello) and Dan Vergano (@dvergano) have an intriguing article today at USA Today on the relative level of specialized intelligence of the Colorado shooting suspect. The suspect was one of six students on a NIH neuroscience training grant – called a T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award, or just T32 or NRSA. The specific grant that supported the suspect for his first year of graduate school at University of Colorado Denver is described here at the publicly-accessible NIH RePORTER database.

An “institutional” training grant?
These are training grants awarded to institutions, not specific students, that are noteworthy for having an excellent and comprehensive training environment for predoctoral students. The institutions awarded these grants then have the discretion to appoint the candidates for grant support.

This NIH notice (NOT-OD-12-033) describes the support given to each student appointed to the training grant: a stipend of $22,032 per year (to which Colorado adds to bump it up to $26,000), “training related expenses” of $4,200/year to cover things like health insurance, another $4,200/year to host laboratories to offset the costs of laboratory supplies, and 60% of the trainee’s tuition and fees up to $16,000/year (to which most schools add to completely cover tuition.)

Being appointed to one of these institutional training grants is generally considered to be less prestigious than winning an individual NRSA. These individual grants are awards given to the student’s mentoring professor based on the individual research project and training environment of the individual host laboratory, in addition to institutional considerations.

Still, institutions are judged on the quality of the students they appoint to institutional NRSAs. So, the Colorado shooting suspect had to meet some minimum undergraduate GPA and standardized GRE test scores.

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Did theater shooter use lab address to procure regulated hazardous substances?

This post probably belongs on The Safety Zone blog but I was struck by a comment just made during a news conference in Aurora, Colorado, this afternoon. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates noted that over the last four months “the suspect had a high volume of packages to both his work and home address.” Oates indicated that these shipments may account for the large amount of ammunition and booby-trap incendiary devices currently being disarmed in the suspect’s apartment.

Work, of course, was the neurosciences PhD program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus. According to The Scientist, the suspect had done at least two laboratory rotations with faculty in the Department of Pharmacology. (Note: The websites for both the interdisciplinary neuroscience program and the pharmacology department are closed to public access to protect personal contact information for faculty.

While we don’t yet know the precise identity of the explosives in the suspect’s Paris Street apartment building in Aurora, I hypothesize that he took shipments at work of the more eyebrow-raising chemicals. As CU laboratory staff are likely questioned about the suspect’s year in the PhD program, I wonder if anyone might have accidentally opened one of his packages and asked who ordered the [flammable and/or explosive compound].

On a personal note, my heart goes out to the victims of the shootings, their families and other loved ones. I also have immense respect for all of the first-responders and medical staff who have been tending to the victims. I spent ten years of my career at the CU Health Sciences Center in its old location in Denver and have several friends and colleagues in basic science and clinical departments at the Aurora campus. My heart aches for all.
 


 

Update 5:12 pm EDT: I just saw a tweet from Matthew Keys, Reuters Deputy Social Media Manager, quoting Chief Oates as saying there was, “[n]o evidence that shooting suspect had access to “dangerous materials” at Colorado medical school.”

Update 12:21 pm EDT, 22 Jul – Gillian Flaccus and Nicholas Riccardi at AP have confirmed my suspicions:

The University of Colorado said Sunday it was investigating whether mass shooting suspect James Holmes used his position as a graduate student to order materials for the potentially deadly booby traps that police said they found in his apartment.

Holmes, 24, got deliveries over four months to his home and school, authorities have said.

The university is looking into what was received at the school to assist police, said spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery.

 

Update 9:00 pm EDT, 23 Jul – Officials from the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus held a press conference earlier today to discuss issues of campus security and some questions about the former student. This is the official summary from the University press office. I’m surprised that no one from the national media asked why the campus is called “Denver” when it is fully in Aurora and in another county.

WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs

Tomorrow’s frontpage of The Washington Post will run an article by Brian Vastag (Twitter, WaPo bio) on the employment challenges facing science PhDs. The difficulties are no secret to our readers – whether you are a freshly-minted PhD or a 50-something subjected to downsizing – but I believe that this is the highest profile treatment of the subject in the US print media.

The article even cites the closure of the Roche campus in Nutley that we discussed two weeks ago and, below, employment numbers from the annual ACS survey.

“Scads and scads and scads of people” have been cut free, [former Sanofi-Aventis scientist Kim] Haas said. “Very good chemists with PhDs from Stanford can’t find jobs.”

Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey.

Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists work outside their chosen field.

What amazes me are the number of comments already. I already followed Vastag on Twitter and when he tweeted about the article at 4:44 this afternoon, it had 22 comments. Right now, at 9:50 on Saturday night, the article has accumulated 504 comments. Some of these are nonsensical or non-sequiturs but the bulk are robust and on-topic. I can imagine that the sober assessment of PhD training vs. job market demands will be discussed far and wide on Sunday and in the coming week.

One thing missing from the article was a discussion of the so-called alternative career paths where one uses PhD training but not in an academic or industrial setting. Even a typical non-lab career of science writing is becoming extremely competitive, both for salaried positions and freelancers.

I hesitate to say this without complete data but we may indeed be reaching a point where more PhDs are being produced than can be absorbed by both academia/industry and non-laboratory positions.

Source:
Vastag, Brian. U.S. pushes for more scientists but the jobs aren’t there. The Washington Post. 8 July 2012.

Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality.

The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)


 

This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata.

For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think.

I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense.

I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?”

My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once.

When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would.

I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall.

How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.?

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