The “10K BA” — Is it possible in chemistry?
Feb08

The “10K BA” — Is it possible in chemistry?

Are you getting the value you expected out of your chemistry education? Earlier this week, Chemjobber blogged about the regrettable employment situation for chemists. The centerpiece of the post was a graphic, which originally appeared in a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on 2012 employment numbers. The figure represented the unemployment numbers, broken down by highest level of education completed and the associated wages for those employed in each group. Chemjobber amended the graphic with both the ACS member unemployment numbers (also by degree), plus the BLS numbers in the category “chemists and material scientists.” The result is powerful. Chemjobber summed it up: As you can note, chemists come out worse in every single apples-to-apples comparison on all equivalent degree holders. Not. Good. A further irony is found in the title of the original graphic, which Chemjobber retained: “Education Pays.” Well, yes, if you’re employed, your salary will generally increase with level of education (except for the slight dropoff from “Professional degree” to “Doctoral degree”). However, if you have the misfortune of being among the unemployed—the numbers are even worse for recent graduates—your return on investment is currently zero. This adds insult to injury, particularly if you attended an expensive private institution and have a seemingly insurmountable student loan debt to pay off. “Education Pays” then sounds derisive. The soaring cost of higher education was the subject of a recent New York Times op-ed piece, entitled "My Valuable, Cheap College Degree," by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and former professor at Syracuse University. The title refers to an effort to provide more affordable higher education opportunities: One idea gaining currency is the $10,000 college degree — the so-called 10K-B.A. — which apparently was inspired by a challenge to educators from Bill Gates, and has recently led to efforts to make it a reality by governors in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as by a state assemblyman in California. To achieve these cost cuts, there is a reliance on distance learning, such as massive online open courses (MOOC) and other formats. Understandably, this goal has been greeted with a fair amount of skepticism: Some critics see it as an invitation to charlatans and diploma mills. Even supporters often suggest that this is just an idea to give poor people marginally better life opportunities. Brooks then strongly disagrees with the notion that this effort will only amount to “awarding degrees that are worthless to people.” As he then points out: I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994. And it was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made. He describes how he was able...

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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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Maintaining your personal infrastructure
Aug17

Maintaining your personal infrastructure

Recently, Christine announced her return to the lab after her internship. She wrote that she found she had a more positive attitude toward completing her graduate research after her much-needed break. I find that I’m similarly energized by my own return to the lab, although my circumstances are quite different. Since my current employer is just getting off the ground, there have been some long days, which haven’t left a great deal of time for much else. But it’s well worth it. The setting for my new position is quite different than my former one within a large chemistry group in Big Pharma. Gone is some of the infrastructure to support the day-to-day functioning of the lab from which I had the luxury of benefiting in my last role. Walk down to a supply room down the hall to get a box of gloves or pipettes? Nope. Place a call to laboratory services to have such-and-such piece of equipment sent out for maintenance? Not so much. Enjoy a leisurely brunch on the deck of my yacht? Not likely. Oh, wait—that never happened. Those of us in this much smaller group will serve as a significant portion of our infrastructure (once our current arrangement of sharing lab space is complete), along with our other duties. Having more to do is also a welcome change after more than four months of unemployment. I bring up the notion of infrastructure, as it has been fairly topical in recent years. In a broader context, it refers to the services, structures, and organizations necessary to support a society. You know, the kind of things one takes for granted every day. Much of the discussion regarding the infrastructure here in the U.S. has the word “crumbling” appearing with unfortunate frequency, particularly with the current condition of the economy. Although the topic in this context is very important, I believe each of us has our own personal infrastructure. Sure, there are the gadgets and conveniences that help us live our lives. I’m more interested in the part that is internal rather than external. It’s what keeps us anchored and helps us weather whatever storms come our way....and there will be storms, often without any warning. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself and build up your infrastructure. But how? Just about anything you do (assuming it’s not to someone else’s detriment) that helps you grow as person and feel positive about yourself can qualify. There are a few somewhat random things, though, that helped me get through my own stormy period, and continue to help me as I continue to acclimate into my new position. One...

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The value of internships for non-traditional science careers
May11

The value of internships for non-traditional science careers

So I want to be a science writer. But I’m a grad student who has been working in a lab doing research for the past four years. Will I be qualified for a job in my non-traditional science career of choice when I graduate? How can I poise myself to be competitive and market myself as a science writer when the reality is that I’m a bench chemist who has been dabbling in writing here and there? Bingo. An internship. A real hands-on experience doing the work I want to do. An opportunity to make connections with people in the field. And last but not least, a little breather and some time away from the lab doing the job I can’t wait to do once I’m out of school. Since the time I started considering science writing as a future career, I have been connecting with science writers—learning about their career paths and asking for advice. I have gleaned all sorts of useful information through these “informational interviews.” Every science writer I’ve talked to seems to have taken a slightly different path to arrive at the same destination. But there was one piece of advice that nearly every science writer gave me: Take an internship. Internship— sounds great! Now just let me go ask my adviser for three months off. Many advisers, I believe, would not be thrilled. My adviser was supportive, perhaps hesitantly. But in the end he wanted me to do what I needed to do. So I applied for science writing internships earlier this year and I landed the science writing internship at a high-energy physics lab. I’ve been working full-time as a science writer for nearly a month now. And I LOVE it. I’m growing as a writer and reporter, I’m learning about all the awesome physics that the lab is up to and I’m exploring the world of web interfaces as I manage the daily news site. One particularly satisfying aspect of taking this internship has been that every day I wake up and my job is to be a science writer. No more late nights spent writing my stories after a long day in the lab (except for when I’m blogging for JAEP!). It’s awesome. I could easily spend the rest of this post gushing about how much I love my internship, and how awesome internships are, and how everyone should do them. But I decided to seek some input from other science writers and hear what they had to say on the topic. After all, everyone’s experience is different. And internships are really competitive—so I wanted to gather advice from different people...

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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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