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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Project management as a bridge between roles in science and business
May02

Project management as a bridge between roles in science and business

Project Manager: Becky Urbanek, Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Most chemists, whether in industry, government, academia, or some other setting, have worked on a research project at some point. So, who starts the project, who leads it, and who is responsible for its outcome? In academia, it’s likely to be your advisor. In industry, it turns out, there’s a separate discipline devoted to formulating and sharing best practices in the management of projects. Not unexpectedly, this discipline is called project management, and the people who oversee the day-to-day management of the projects are…(drumroll, please)…project managers. Try a quick search of “project manager” or a closely related query on any job search engine. The results suggest that project managers can be found across a variety of industries: construction, information technology, advertising, and many others. Project management of scientific projects is but a small piece of the larger project management pie. (Mmmm…pie) That said, managing a scientific project is the most common way a chemist is likely to transition into such a role. With enough experience and, yes, street cred, chemists—with their vast array of transferable skills—are often called upon to be research project managers. Such an opportunity was presented to Becky Urbanek, whose chemistry background [B.S., chemistry, Ohio Northern U., 1993; Ph.D., organic chemistry (natural product total synthesis), Univ. of Minnesota, 1998] led to her recent role as a Principal Scientist and medicinal chemist* at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. It became evident that management of projects afforded her some additional transferability. Last year, an announcement was made that all drug discovery activities would cease at her site. Becky was able to transition to another role on the business side of the organization, and is now Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager. “I had been a project manager for drug discovery projects for several years and really loved that role," Becky said.  "I didn’t fully appreciate that project management was a developed profession on its own until the announcement of our site closing and I began to plan for what would come next.” Becky's contacts in other parts of the company were a valuable asset. “I spoke with other project managers that I knew within AstraZeneca and beyond and they recommended courses and that I join the PMI (the Project Management Institute) to further explore project management as a career path," she said.  "I found out about my current job by watching the internal job postings and then networking within the company to learn more about it.” Before proceeding, let’s pause to define what a project is and is not. The definition comes from the PMI, mentioned above,...

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Making a Case for the Overqualified
Apr06

Making a Case for the Overqualified

You think I’m qualified for the job? I’m delighted you think so! When do I start? What’s that? You said overqualified? Really, now, that’s quite a compliment. You’re making me blush. I’m sorry – am I missing something? You say “overqualified” like it’s a bad thing. Oh…I see. I’ll just show myself out, then. In my current combined job search and self-discovery vision quest, I’ve been met on different fronts with the recurring theme that a wealth of experience may, in fact, be a detriment. There is no shortage of “expert” advice, online or otherwise, suggesting that you should hide or neglect to mention years of education and/or employment. If your light is too bright  or its spectrum contains too many wavelengths for the position, hide it under the nearest bushel. Okay, honestly, I do get it – target your resume and cover letter toward a specific position. Focus I understand. However, I can’t completely evade the feeling that this gamesmanship of playing hide-and-seek and cherry-picking facts seems disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. It’s somewhat against the grain of how one is trained to think as a scientist. Even if one hasn’t been met with this particular o-word per se, it lies not too far beneath concerns that are more openly stated. Prospective employers are worried that so-called overqualified candidates might jump ship at the first opportunity for a better position elsewhere. They’re concerned that after going through the interview process, they won’t be able to seal the deal because their budget can’t meet the candidate’s salary requirements. They fear their new hire may soon be bored. This sort of thinking is, well, a bit risk-averse, shall we say. A recent post by Amy Gallo on the Harvard Business Review blog makes a case for taking such a risk. A challenge is posed: “When making hiring decisions, visionary leaders don't just focus on the current needs, but on the future.” So, will the final hiring decision for the position you desire be made by such a visionary leader? Does the future lurch and loom darkly before them, or will they embrace the challenges ahead? I think it's safe to say that most people would prefer to work for someone in the latter category. A perceived benefit for a hiring manager to adopt this mindset is driven home: "Hiring overqualified candidates can help you achieve much higher productivity, grow, and achieve opportunities that you may not even be thinking about pursuing right now." There are other less obvious benefits too: these employees can mentor others, challenge peers to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that are...

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Too many PhDs? That’s anybody’s guess.
Dec14

Too many PhDs? That’s anybody’s guess.

And thank you for kicking things off, Chemjobber! Remember, tomorrow we go to Paul for why tenure is teh suck, and Thursday the Mighty Matt enlightens us on what science policy can do to help us fix the employment mess. So in yesterday’s post, CJ talked about the present and future of industrial jobs in chemistry. “Chemists are facing lower-than-average hiring and an unemployment rate that is the highest in 20 years at 3.9% (according to the 2009/2010 ACS Salary Survey),” CJ said. And it came up in the comments, like it always does: how much of this can be blamed on new PhDs coming into the marketplace? Are we really overproducing chemistry PhDs? Fortunately, the numbers of doctorates produced each year in many fields of study are tracked by the NSF, who puts out a short report in November and a longer one in December. The most recent one says that in 2009, there were 49,562 doctorates awarded in the United States in all science and engineering fields. That’s up 1.6% over 2008, an increase that’s almost totally due to a rise in women getting these degrees. This is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion, but I thought it was interesting. Moving on. The NSF breaks down these numbers into separate fields of study. And look, I took their data and made graphs! As you can see, the number has fluctuated a bit over the last ten years, but the general trend has been up. Last year, there were 2,398 PhDs awarded in chemistry and 859 in biochemistry. The chemistry number is up 6.2% from 2008 (2,247), while the number of new biochemists is down 4.5% from the year before (898). There was a small spike of chemistry PhDs awarded in 2006 (2,362), and biochemists seem to have maxed out (minimally) last year. Overall, the number of fresh new chemists has grown 11.0% since 1999 (2,132) and biochemists are 11.6% more popular than they were ten years ago (759). So, what does this mean? Well, that there are more chemists now than there were 10 years ago, but I think we could have all guessed that. The real question is, how many jobs have there been available in since 1999? There’s a problem with that question. Namely, that there isn’t an answer to it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2008, chemists held 84,300 jobs. But that’s all chemists, BSs, MSs and PhDs together. Besides, that’s people holding jobs. How many chemistry jobs open up each year? We know that CJ tracks the ads in C&E News, but of course not everyone advertises there. And not...

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The future of jobs in chemistry
Dec10

The future of jobs in chemistry

Next week, be prepared to witness the chemistry blog event of the century! Well, maybe not the century, but it should be pretty good. Starting Monday, Chemjobber, ChemBark, ScienceGeist and I are going to hold a blog roundtable about the future of jobs in chemistry. On Monday, Chemjobber will discuss Beryl Lieff Benderly's "The Real Science Gap" and add his own opinions on the future of the job market in industry. .Tuesday, I'll will be jawing on the numbers from the NSF's recent doctoral report to try to answer the question "Are there too many PhDs being awarded in chemistry?" Wednesday, Paul at ChemBark will talk about tenure and why it's not a good system. Thursday, Matt at ScienceGeist will delve into government's role in science employment. And then on Friday, back to Chemjobber who will summarize the week's discussions and comments. Read! Comment! Be astounded! Tell us we're stupid! Whatever, just participate. The best discussions have people talking, after all. See you next...

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Downsized pharma jobs not coming back?
Sep10

Downsized pharma jobs not coming back?

It's pretty well known that the pharmaceutical sector is in a lot of trouble, job-wise. Granted, this is not my area of expertise, so I will leave the thoughtful commentary to people like Derek Lowe, Chemjobber and of course Carmen Drahl and Lisa Jarvis at the Haystack, but I just wanted to bring your attention to something that came past my eyeballs earlier in the week (on twitter, via @carmendrahl) from a place called 24/7 Wall St. The Ten American Industries Which Will Never Recover 5. Pharmaceuticals. This industry has bled workers for three years, and that trend is likely to continue. The largest companies in the sector, such as Pfizer and Merck, have a number of blockbuster drugs that have lost their patent protection in the last decade. They have other pharmaceuticals that will lose that protection in the next decade. Sales of most of these drugs will move to generic companies that will sell them for far less, and erode critical revenue sources for the huge pharma firms. Most companies in the industry admit that they cannot replace the drugs that go “off patent” fast enough to keep their revenue high. The other reason employment in the sector will stay down and may drop further is that big drug companies are merging to save costs and most of those costs are people. Pfizer has cut 30,000 people since the start of the recession. Merck has cut 25,000, and these companies and their peers expect that they will have to bring down costs even more. The whole list can be found here. So. Is this true? Is the trouble in the pharma industry not just due to the recession? Hopefully, this topic will be discussed by more people whose expertise I trust. If it hasn't already and I've just missed it, that is. (I don't know much about 24/7 Wall St, except for what it says on the "About Us" page, and I'm kind of reluctant to trust a news and/or analysis organization that makes multiple grammatical errors. If they're not careful about something simple like that, what else are they not careful about? "About the Editor’s"? Come on. "The Ten American Industries Which Will Never Recover" I'm willing to forgive, since the 'which versus that' decision can be tricksy. But a misplaced apostrophe? Don't they teach that in second grade?) Anyway. I would also like to call attention to a blog post by editor-in-chief Rudy Baum asking for feedback on C&EN's career coverage, and to reiterate the need for reader feedback. If you're unhappy with things you read in CENtral Science or C&E News, please let us...

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