Why women leave science (and what’s being done about it)
Oct14

Why women leave science (and what’s being done about it)

Women in their mid-thirties with careers in science, engineering and technology are twice as likely to quit their jobs as men-- and studies on women and work-life balance suggest that it will take more than surface-level changes to put a dent in this statistic. In 2008, the Harvard Business Review wrote about a research study that explored the reasons why women leave behind STEM careers: "The Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit organization that studies women and work, recently reported that women in science, engineering, and technology fields are likely to leave their positions, in large part 'because the hostility of the workplace culture drives them out. If machismo is on the run in the United States, then this [science, engineering, and technology fields] is its Alamo-- a last holdout of redoubled intensity.'" -Quote from p. 50 of Glass Ceilings & 100-Hour Couples The researchers found five reasons why women leave science: The hostility of the workplace culture A sense of isolation in a male-dominated workplace Disconnect between women’s preferred work rhythms and the types of behaviors rewarded in male-dominated fields Long work weeks and travel combined with household management becomes too much to handle Bemoaned by the "mystery" surrounding career advancement and lack of mentors It’s easy to see how it can become a downward spiral: Women drop out because there aren't many other women who they can relate to—which serves to worsen the situation. But it’s not just that there aren’t more women around. The pressure of juggling responsibilities of work and home, as well as a plethora of other factors, contribute to why more educated women are quitting their jobs recently than ever before. The results of a research study on why women opt out of their careers are chronicled in a book titled Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us About Work and Family. The authors are Karine Moe and Dianna Shandy, professors at Macalester College in Minnesota in labor economics and cultural anthropology, respectively. They spent several years surveying and speaking with hundreds of educated women (with Bachelors degrees or higher) about their careers, how they manage work/life balance, and why they made the career choices they’ve made. Since I got it, I can hardly put it down. I highly recommend listening to this interview with the authors that was on my local public radio station-- the interview pretty much summarizes the entire book and all their major findings. Although their study focused on women in all fields, I think their findings can help shed light on the opt-out phenomenon that is taking place in STEM fields. In more or less words, here’s what...

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What it takes to be a chemistry entrepreneur
Oct07

What it takes to be a chemistry entrepreneur

If you’re a chemist with a great idea, it just might be that some entrepreneurial training and business savvy is all you need to start up a company that could lead to new jobs, according to Harvard University professor George Whitesideds. A few weeks back, Whitesides, along with ACS Immediate Past President Joseph Francisco, co-hosted an ACS Webinar titled “Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs.” If you missed it, you can view the recorded webinar here. The option of taking your idea and starting up a company is something that’s not talked about in much depth in the circles I run in, i.e. in grad school. Whitesides said he believes this is a problem. Students are coming out with advanced chemistry degrees but without the entrepreneurial know-how to turn their ideas into profits for the benefit of themselves and the economy. During the webinar, Whitesides shared his thoughts on this issue and also offered suggestions to the ACS regarding what they can do to help create more jobs for chemists. Read the entire report from the ACS Task Force here. What’s the problem? Whitesides had a thing or two to say about what it will take to get chemists back in the game. To begin, the Task Force asked the question, What is causing the decline in employment for chemists? Is it a problem of declining need for chemists, or chemists’ decline in innovation? The Task Force's conclusion was that “there's no loss in innovation, but there are problems in getting the ideas that are emerging in chemistry into a state where they are recognizable in creating large numbers of jobs,” Whitesides said. In other words, the problem is not that there’s nothing left for chemists to contribute. In fact, the biggest problems facing society now are problems that require chemistry-- so the opportunities are, in principle, unlimited, he said. Okay, it’s not that chemists aren’t needed in society. They are. So, the problems lie more in the arena of turning brilliant ideas into marketable products. But starting up a company is not as simple as we’d like to think. “A bright young person has a good idea, gets some money, starts something in their basement, garage, and they get started, there's a company… it doesn't quite work that way,” he said. Rather, it's a very complicated process. The person with the idea needs to think about what kind of product they will create, apply for patents, and figure out how they’re going to cover the costs. When it all boils down, it takes more than a good idea. You need to have business skills—or find people who do. We need...

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Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011
Aug29

Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011

Hi everyone! Just wanted to draw your attention to several opportunities for learning more about chemistry careers and the job market. As you all know, the ACS National Meeting in Denver, CO kicked off yesterday. Check out these awesome C&EN Picks videos for a sneak peak at what's going on at the meeting this week. Thanks to the wonderful interwebs and ACS Webinars, those of us who are not in attendance at the ACS meeting can still tap into some of the awesome career information, as if we were right there. All you have to do is sign up and then log in for the live webcast and watch the seminar in the comfort of your own home (or office, lab, or wherever you will be at the time). For some of the sessions, you can even have your questions answered by the speakers themselves by submitting them online during the live Q&A. Here's a list of the webinars: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 – Live video streaming from Denver, Colorado Convention Center Navigating the Global Industrial Job Market 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Richard Connell (Pfizer, Inc.), Scott Harbeson (Concert Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), Jos Put (DSM), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs 11:00 AM – 12:00 N (Mountain Standard Time) Keynote speakers George Whitesides (Harvard University) and Joseph Francisco (Purdue University), and moderator,  Madeleine Jacobs (American Chemical Society) Academic Jobs Outlook 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Christine Gaudinski (Aims Community College), Laurel Goj (Rollins College) and Jason Ritchie (University of Mississippi), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Networking 101 — Making Your Contacts Count 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Located in the ACS Village in the ACS Exposition Hall with speaker, Bonnie Coffey (Contacts Count) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Wednesday, August 31, 2011 – Webinars Only Working in the USA — Immigration Update 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Navid Dayzad, Esq. (Dayzad Law Offices, PC) and Kelly McCown (McCown & Evans LLP) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) From Scientist to CEO 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Keynote speaker, Randall Dearth (Lanxess Corporation) and moderator David Harwell (American Chemical Society) What Recruiters Are Looking For — Making the ‘A’ List 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Meredith Dow (PROVEN, Inc.), Alveda Williams (The Dow Chemical Company), Jodi Hutchinson (Dow Corning Corporation),  and moderator, David Harwell (American Chemical Society) A blurb about ACS Webinars: ACS Webinars™ is a free, weekly online event serving to connect ACS members and scientific professionals with subject matter experts and global thought leaders in chemical sciences, management, and business. The ACS Webinars are divided into several series...

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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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Permadocs as an alternative career path— plausible or improbable?
Jun20

Permadocs as an alternative career path— plausible or improbable?

Chemistry currently suffers from unemployment issues that stem from there being too many PhDs and not enough jobs. I’d like to open up a can of worms and ask your thoughts on the creation of professionalized postdoc positions in chemistry to address this problem. This idea was proposed in Nature News back in March by Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist trained at University College London. Speaking from her experiences in the life sciences, she argued that academia is broken and would benefit from the creation of permanent, university-funded, long-term research positions, which she termed professionalized postdocs: "To avoid throwing talent on the scrap heap and to boost prospects, a new type of scientific post for researchers is needed… we should professionalize the postdoc role and turn it into a career rather than a scientific stepping stone… "The scientific enterprise is run on what economists call the 'tournament' model, with practitioners pitted against one another in bitter pursuit of a very rare prize. Given that cheap and disposable trainees — PhD students and postdocs — fuel the entire scientific research enterprise, it is not surprising that few inside the system seem interested in change… "An alternative career structure within science that professionalizes mature postdocs would be better. Permanent research staff positions could be generated and filled with talented and experienced postdocs who do not want to, or cannot, lead a research team — a job that, after all, requires a different skill set." In less than three months, this blog post got more than 3,000 comments, with responses varying from raving support to derision. Many commenters agreed the system is broken and in need of a complete overhaul. Others agree but feel the system is beyond repair and that the changes proposed are too idealistic. Another camp felt that a makeover in academia would only be possible with major infrastructural changes within universities and funding agencies. It would need to be shown that although full-time permanent research positions are more costly, the money would be well spent: long-term scientists would be two to three times more productive than new grad students or postdocs, and the high turnover rate of talent in a lab would be reduced. Wait a sec, I thought. This sounds an awful lot like a technician or research scientist. Commenters who pointed this out said there is nothing to change since such a position already exists. The key difference, Rohn pointed out in her response to such comments, is that the position would be long-term and not be dependent on the renewal of a grant, resulting in greater job security. Additionally, professionalized postdocs would do original research...

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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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