Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Posts are coming...

...but they are delayed about 4 hours. Apologies.

In the meantime, here's a tidbit from Wired that shows two things, 1) things are better in the tech world, i.e. they're actually hiring lots of people, enough so that they're taking people outside their field and 2) STEM is definitely TE (emphases mine):
“More than anything, an education in the physical sciences teaches you how to think,” says Cloudant co-founder and chief technology officer Adam Kocoloski. “Startups are all about solving new problems. A background in science helps you react quickly to new and unknown situations.”
That’s why Cloudant is bullish on hiring people with a background in science, and they’re not alone. Tech companies are snapping up scientists with backgrounds in fields like physics, mathematics and bioscience — people we might expect to be busy curing cancer, saving the environment or discovering the origin of the universe. It’s easy to be cynical about this. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” former Facebook data scientist Jeff Hammerbacher told Business Week in 2010. But it’s happening for a reason. 
It’s not that tech companies need people with PhDs. Many of the best data scientists in the business only have bachelor’s degrees. It turns out that many scientists are moving into tech because opportunities aren’t as prevalent as you might think. 
The U.S. produced 100,000 PhDs between 2005 and 2009, while creating only 16,000 new professorships, according to data cited by The Economist. Though we’re used to hearing about PhDs in the humanities ending up as low-paid adjunct professors or baristas, we tend to expect another fate for people who major in fields like bioscience or physics. But even the natural sciences produce more PhDs than professorships. 
Donnie Berkholz has a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics from Oregon State University. He’s exactly the sort of guy you’d expect to be working on a cure for cancer. Instead, he works at RedMonk, a technology industry analysis firm. He, like many other jaded PhDs, calls academia a Ponzi scheme.
Of course, this throws darts at my recent eyebrow-raising towards Andre the Chemist and my skepticism that chemists in particular are being hired because of their impressive problem solving abilities. That said, it should be noted that Dr. Kocoloski has a Ph.D. in physics... so maybe he's just patting himself (and me, and you, dear reader) on the back.

[It should be noted that tech is very different from the physical sciences (and manufacturing, for that matter), in that up-front capital costs are relatively low and the educational barrier to entry is also low.]

Monday, April 29, 2013

Podcast: Brandon Findlay, Chemtips

Brandon Findlay writes the Chemtips blog; he's a recently defended Ph.D. chemist from the University of Manitoba. We recently recorded a podcast, where we talked about chemistry at Canadian universities, his blog and his favorite organic chemistry techniques -- hope you enjoy!


1:10: Brandon's educational biography
3:00: Brandon's research
6:00: Canadian universities and their specialities
8:20: Where do Brandon's colleagues end up?
9:17: The geography of Canadian industrial chemistry
12:00: Talking about Brandon's blog, Chemtips
14:00: Brandon on extractions
15:00: Talking column chromatography
20:14: Reverse-phase column chromatography
21:00: Evaporating water off compounds is good clean fun
24:00: Brandon on solid-phase peptide synthesis
25:30: Brandon's favorite organic chemistry technique books
31:00: Concluding thoughts

Thanks to Brandon for a fun conversation, best of luck in his postdoc and happy 1st blog anniversary!

A kindred spirit!

Remember this pretty frustrating article of advice from hiring managers to job seekers? Well, someone else found it frustrating as well:
I suppose that the panelists in the Employment Outlook article thought they were offering helpful advice to those seeking employment in the chemical industry (C&EN, Feb. 18, page 63). However, behind the comments phrased as advice are some clear messages: 
From Aegis Sciences’ Kara Allen: If you don’t have all of the background and skills our listing calls for, don’t bother applying. And it doesn’t matter whether any of the requirements are totally arbitrary or whether you are someone who has shown an ability to learn and adapt quickly. If you can’t start at full speed, we don’t want you. And we don’t care what other experience you have that shows you can adapt. 
And from Genentech’s Bruce Roth: If you didn’t receive your Ph.D. from Stanford or Berkeley, don’t bother applying for a job at Genentech. We don’t want to waste our time looking at your résumé. 
In a nutshell, that’s the problem with trying to find employment today: Employers believe that they are in the driver’s seat, able to get exactly what and whom they want—and they won’t compromise. 
Joel Ackerman
Richmond, Calif.
I don't think I have anything to add to that.

This week's C&EN

In this week's C&EN:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

'Cause I'm in a generous mood

Hey, UCLA administrators! You too, Center for Laboratory Safety. Remember when I said this?
First, please quit calling yourselves "a model for other institutions." It would be a lot more effective to try to quote other people calling you that. It has happened, I think, and it would offer you a little more credibility than repeated self-praise. 
Los Angeles Counry Deputy District Attorney said this today at the preliminary hearing for Professor Patrick Harran (courtesy of Patch.com):
Hum said the agreement with the UC regents that resulted in the dismissal of criminal charges has led to "huge steps" in fixing deficiencies in lab safety throughout the UC system. UC has "become one of the leaders in the country" in terms of laboratory safety and training, he said.
That's a decent step, right? This one's on the house, folks.

[Not saying it's true (how do you rank these things objectively?), but it's a start.] 

Friday, April 26, 2013

BREAKING: Professor Patrick Harran going to trial

From Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice, a tweet from the LA Superior Court on Judge Lisa Lench's ruling in the preliminary hearing for UCLA professor Patrick Harran:
If you told me this was going to happen, close to 4-and-a-half years later, I would have never believed it.

Follow-up tweet and a good reminder from Dr. Kemsley:
"Keep in mind that prelim threshold is not high--"more likely than not" vs "beyond reasonable doubt"
Updates as they happen.

UPDATE 4:24 PM Eastern: C&EN's article by Michael Torrice on today's preliminary hearing decision, including this interesting statement from the trial judge:
In court today, Judge Lisa B. Lench heard brief oral arguments from both sides, first on the issue to dismiss and then on the motion to reduce charges. She commented that the issues presented in the case were interesting and novel. She also said that Harran was unique compared with the usual defendants moving through the criminal justice system.
Dollars to donuts, there's gonna be a plea. But what can the Harran defense team offer? Or do they think they can win in front of a jury?

UPDATE 4:32 PM Eastern: The AP article, no new items there. The Los Angeles Times article, by Kim Christensen* has the quote from Prof. Harran's lawyer, Thomas O'Brien:
"We fully expect to vindicate Professor Harran,” his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, said after the hearing. “This was an accident, a tragic accident. We have always maintained that, as the University of California has, and we expect him to be vindicated.”
The dictionary definition of "vindicate" is worth a look.

UPDATE 8:18 PM Eastern: Patch.com has some rather remarkable quotes from the hearing, including one from Judge Lench:
"This is not the run of the mill case, not the run of the mill crime," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench said, adding that the death of Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji was "an incredibly tragic event." [snip]
..."This was a tragic accident and someone died ... a horrible death," O'Brien said. "But that doesn't make an accident a crime."
Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum countered that Harran acted as both "supervisor and an employer" of Sangji. It was the professor who made the hiring decisions for his lab, and payment for assistants came from his budget, the prosecutor said. 
It was Harran's responsibility to train Sanji and "make sure all appropriate regulations are followed," Hum said. The defendant "doesn't have to know his conduct violates the law" to be held responsible for safety violations, the prosecutor argued. 
"He knew he was supposed to train her ... and he chose not to train her," Hum alleged. 
After Lench refused to dismiss the charges, O'Brien put forward an argument to lower the charges to misdemeanors. 
Harran is "not the typical defendant," the defense attorney said, adding that felony convictions could have a negative effect on his client's work in research. The prosecutor, though, alleged Harran's behavior was felonious. 
"Sheri Sangji died, and she died a horrible death," he said. "And the defendant needs to be punished for that."
*The Los Angeles Times reporter that has covered the issue since the beginning. 

Podcast: Deborah Blum, author of "The Poisoner's Handbook" (part 1 of 2)

This is part 1 of a 2-part podcast of Deborah Blum, author of the excellent and fascinating "The Poisoner's Handbook" talking with See Arr Oh and Chemjobber about her book and being a science writer. Part 2 is where Deborah talks about her life as a science writer and also the future of journalism -- it is hosted at Just Like Cooking.

(Please excuse the change in sound quality at 7:36; we were having some technical difficulties with the phone.)

1:00 What does Deborah's inbox look like after writing a book about poisons?
2:20: Asking Deborah to solve a murder
3:00 "The Poisoner's Handbook" on PBS!
4:40 Did she want to be a chemist?
6:18 How Deborah got to write the book
7:36 Deborah talks about the process of writing it
8:40 The chemist in "The Poisoner's Handbook", Alexander Gettler
11:30 Deborah talks about the research process for the book
13:05 Writing about chemistry for a general audience
13:50 How should chemists best help writers to write about chemistry?
16:50 End of Part 1
17:10 Deborah talks about her father, a chemical ecologist

Go over and listen to part 2 at Just Like Cooking, so that you can hear Deborah talk about her hilarious story about mealworm cookies. (really!) 

Patrick Harran preliminary hearing to be decided today

Drs. Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice of Chemical and Engineering News will be in court today for Los Angeles Superior Judge Lisa Lench's decision in the preliminary hearing on the charges against UCLA professor Patrick Harran. 

Professor Harran has been charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney with 3 felony counts of violating California labor law in connection with the death of his research assistant Ms. Sheri Sangji in December 29, 2008 due to burns from a failed syringe transfer of over 160 milliliters of 1.67 M t-BuLi in pentane. 

Over at The Safety Zone, Dr. Kemsley has posted an analysis of the three new legal documents available that summarize the defense and prosecution's positions after the preliminary hearing:
It is quite good, so you should definitely read it. She notes that the prosecution notes that the defense tends to quote out of context; I agree. I asked prosecution witness Dr. Neal Langerman his opinion of the defense's characterization of the statement; he demurred from commenting. 

After reading all the documents, I think there are a lot of differences in opinion on facts of the case, including Ms. Sangji's experience level. (In its response, the defense moves backward a little and now says that "Ms. Sangji was more experienced and better trained than most chemists at her level." I am glad that they've finally admitted that they're grading on a curve.) It will be interesting to see how Judge Lench rules on the "willful" charges -- to a great extent, the legal arguments rest on whether or not Professor Harran could have been "willful" if he did not know he was violating the law at the time. Believe it or not, the hackneyed phrase "Ignorance of the law..." makes it into the prosecution brief. 

I have further thoughts on the case, but I suspect that any thoughts that I might have will be overtaken by events. I will be monitoring tweets coming out of the courtroom; you can see my Twitter feed. You can also track the #SheriSangji hashtag . 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

EPI's report on STEM immigration numbers

The Economic Policy Institute is a liberal policy think tank; they've decided in recent years to take on H-1B visa and STEM immigration policy. They've come out with a fairly quantitative look at the STEM immigration debate recently and they've concluded three things (emphases by the authors):
Our examination of the IT labor market, guestworker flows, and the STEM education pipeline finds consistent and clear trends suggesting that the United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations:
  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.
  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.
  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.
As you can probably tell, not much time to blog recently, but I wanted to point this out. 

You should probably listen to the audio part of the presentation; it's a little dry, but it really hammers home the point that they're trying to make: that the scientific labor market acts like a market, and the reason that more people (especially domestic students) don't go into STEM fields (ugh, that term) is that the jobs and wages aren't there... and when they are, they do. 

Also, I want to point out the graduate student's comment at the end of the audio presentation (around 19 minutes) where he notes that if a STEM degree holder has a non-STEM job (which a lot of them don't), it represents a form of STEM underemployment -- and that doesn't get taken up in the STEM degree unemployment statistics. 

From the inbox: CSIRO polymer/drug discovery postdoc, Clayton, Victoria, Australia

Pretty interesting postdoc, for a number of reasons:
Postdoctoral Fellow - Antiviral polymer therapeutics via RAFT polymerisation for Hepatitis C treatment
  • Establish the use of high-throughput techniques in the accelerated discovery of antiviral polymer-based prodrugs for the treatment of Hepatitis C 
  • Design, develop and characterise novel functional copolymers
  • Join CSIRO, Australia's leading scientific research organisation
Applications are invited for an Postdoctoral Fellowship in a project that will establish the use of high-throughput techniques (HTT) in the accelerated discovery of antiviral polymer-based prodrugs for the treatment of Hepatitis C. This disease affects over 200 million people worldwide yet the available treatment suffers from poor effectiveness and significant side effects. 
To address this global challenge, there is an opportunity to identify successful polymer carriers for delivery of antiviral drugs to the liver and accomplish this using HTT for polymer synthesis, characterisation and evaluation. 
Location: Clayton, Victoria, Australia 
Salary: $81k - $88k plus up to 15.4% superannuation Reference Number: VIC13/01482
A couple of questions:
  • Is there really more need for Hep C treatments? Do the available treatments really suffer from poor effectiveness? 
  • Are Australian postdocs really paid this much?!? Perhaps I'm wrong, but it appears that they're paying a postdoc $83,000 US. Wow! 

Daily Pump Trap: 4/25/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 23 and April 24, there have been 10 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 3 are academically connected.

"Georgia-Florida": Shimadzu is looking for a mass spectrometry field specialist; B.S. + 3 years experience desired. Company car!

Torrington, WY: The Western States Sugar Cooperative is looking for another assistant QC chemist. I wonder what a sugar plant is like, anyway... (and yes, I've seen the CSB video.)

Middleton, WI: United Suppliers is looking for a M.S. formulation/product development chemist for agricultural chemicals.

Houston, TX: Want an internship at a oil and gas industry supplier? Trelleborg Offshore US, Inc. is looking for the summer:
Participating in Trelleborg Offshore's internship program will provide you with hands-on experience working on various projects along side Sr. Material Scientists and Ph.D. Chemists.  You will also work have an opportunity to interface with Senior Leadership and other stakeholders.  The internship will allow you to develop your skills under the supervision and guidance of experienced professionals. 
Internships are available for both existing University students and recent graduates with a degree concentration in the following: Matieral Science / Chemical Engineering / Mechanical engineering - Materials / Chemistry.
$20/hr, starting. Sounds like a good deal for the right person.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A favorite quote from "The Godfather"

From Chapter 14, before Vito Corleone became a gangster:
The young Vito, however, felt a cold anger for the dreaded Fanucci. He never showed this anger in any way but bided his time. He worked in the railroad for a few months and then, when the war ended, work became slow and he could earn only a few days' pay a month. Also, most of the foremen were Irish and American and abused the workmen in the foulest language, which Vito always bore stone-faced as if he did not comprehend, though he understood English very well despite his accent. 
Mario Puzo, "The Godfather"  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The best paragraphs that I disagree with, written by Andre the Chemist

In the midst of the Schuman/Roiphe no-you-should-NOT-get-a-humanities-PhD/Yes-I-loved-it Slate debate, Andre the Chemist wrote a wonderfully reasoned essay on reasons why you might want to get a Ph.D., and then sets out this gem (not being sarcastic here) in the comments:
You do gain skills with a humanities PhD, that was the point of the pro-PhD piece. The development of serious research skills, critical thinking, and writing is something applicable to a wide number of jobs out there.  
The skills you describe can be gained by job experience, and this is much of what chemistry grad school has become: a substitute for on-the-job training. You can see that there are very few jobs for zero years experience out there because industry is using graduate school as a way to get out of investing in its employees in the form of training. (and please note I'm not saying that graduate schools are not complicit in taking advantage of students in the current system to meet their own ends) 
Call me old fashioned, but I don't think a PhD should equal simply five years of bench experience. It's about the problem solving, writing, and critical thinking skills - the deeper understanding of a subject AND how to develop deep understandings of other subjects.  
Right now someone may go to grad school for organic synthesis and then think they've prepared for a job doing organic chemistry. I think if someone gets a PhD doing organic chemistry, they should be prepared to do a broad range of chemistry (or even some non-chemistry) jobs because their value isn't in their knowledge of organic reactions, but in solving complex problems and teaching herself or himself (learning) the new skills they need to address those problems.
To his comment that you gain skills in a humanities Ph.D., my question is, "At what cost?"

I believe that the main reason that there are relatively few entry-level positions in chemistry right now is that corporations don't see sources of future economic growth in the West. You hire newbie PhDs for research; if you foresee flattish economic growth in the developed world right now and no obvious sources of expansion*, why invest in new workers that will cost you money now and might pay off in the future? It's not a coincidence that pharma was hiring like crazy in the late-90s when the sky was the limit on pharma's stock price and the US (and the world, it seemed) was in the midst of limitless economic growth.

I agree with Andre that a Ph.D. in chemistry should have signaling value to other fields and show that the holder is capable of complex problem solving. I think my problem is this -- other fields have certificates and signals of their own. Even if we all know (and we do, don't we?) that chemists are master ninjas of problem solving, I have yet to see other fields poaching Ph.D. chemists and allowing substitutions of the Ph.D. credential in lieu of their own special credential. (Sure, there's the odd hedge fund and think tank.)

Even within chemistry itself, it seems that we only hire from our unique subfield. While I'm more than prepared to believe this is the old-boy/girl-network doing its thing true, considered meritocracy at work, I suspect that it is representative of our extraordinarily specialized economy. We just don't make generalists anymore, not in graduate school, anyway.

*That should be "no obvious sources of expansion that do not have their own built-in sources of research scientists, i.e. India or China." 

Daily Pump Trap: 4/23/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 18 and April 22, there were 230 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 11 (5%) are academically connected and 203 (88%) are from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Wyandotte, MI: BASF is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. polymer chemist for their High Temperature Polymerization group.

Fort Collins, CO: CHD Biosciences is looking for a formulation chemist for antimicrobial products, looks like. B.S. plus 6 years experience desired.

Warrington, PA: Polysciences is a C&EN Jobs regular -- they're back for more production folks and engineers.

Lexington, MA: Does anyone else feel a little weird when Kelly Scientific is posting an industrial postdoc position? Probably not.

Not Crissy: Titanium Cristal (Glen Burnie, MD) is looking for a sales representative for performance chemicals. 

Andre the Chemist on non-ACS faculty jobs

His latest post. Boy, that assistant professor job in Iraq looks good.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 4/23/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 16 and April 22, there were 13 new academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 13
- Postdocs: 0
- Tenure-track faculty:  10
- Temporary faculty: 1
- Lecturer positions:  1
- Staff positions:  1
- US/non-US: 10/3

Galveston, TX: University of Texas Medical Branch is looking for a senior faculty member in NMR. They're also looking for senior faculty in electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography.

Oxford, MS: The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy desires a professor of medicinal chemistry (any rank.)

Buffalo, NY: D'Youville College is looking for an assistant professor (tenure track) for teaching in general chemistry, etc.

Clinton, SC: Presbyterian College desires 2 adjunct lecturers in chemistry.

Astana, Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev University is looking for professors in chemistry; this time, the positions are unpaid (guessing it's a typo.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

2012 ACS Starting Salary Survey: Unemployment, starting salaries down slightly

The 2012 ACS Starting Salary Survey is out. This survey measures unemployment for 2012 graduates; the survey was sent out in October 2012 and collection ended on January 1, 2013. The headline numbers from the article by Susan Morrissey:
  • Unemployment for 2012 ACS new graduates is down 0.7% from 2011, to a still depressing 12.6%. 
  • Median starting salaries are all flat, or down: 
"The largest change was for new Ph.D.s, who saw starting salaries drop to $75,000 in 2012 from $85,000 the previous year. For those earning master’s degrees, the reported median starting salary fell from $55,000 in 2011 to $49,500 in 2012. Starting salaries for bachelor’s degree earners held flat at $40,000."
(The Eka-silicon caveat: The response rate for this year's survey was 16.6%, which is slightly down from last year's 17%. E-S (and myself) would like to remind folks that this introduces a great deal of imprecision to these numbers, to the point that E-S would probably say these numbers should not be commented on.)

A couple of things that I can see right off the bat: I've always challenged the broadly-held notion that "master's chemists are 'more employable.'" For the most part, you can see that, from an unemployment point-of-view, that is not actually true. The trends for unemployment are consistently with lower unemployment correlating to education level, i.e. Ph.D.s have lower unemployment than M.S., which have lower unemployment than B.S. chemists. You can see this same trend holds true for new grad unemployment above. However, it is interesting to note that starting master's chemists seem to have the highest levels of full-time employment above. So, in that sense, the old saw is partially true.

I think it is interesting how many people get pushed into "more school/more training", across the 3 educational levels. If you believe these numbers (a big if), that means that somewhere around 30% or more of each graduating class decides to spend more time in academia. Also, the "not employed/not seeking" percentages are disappointing. It's sad to see 7-10% of each graduating class fall into that category, which does not do good things for one's career.

Finally, an interesting factlet from the article on the salary gap between men and women new grads:
The gender of graduates with less than a year of experience also affected starting salaries. Male bachelor’s degree recipients indicated that their median salary was $43,000, whereas for women, the median salary was $36,500. Similarly for Ph.D.s, the median salary for men was $81,300, and for women it was $74,000. Women who earned master’s degrees, however, reported earning more than their male counterparts—$48,000 compared with $45,000.
There's a good bit of food for thought there.

Chemistry Movie Carnival

Want some Monday morning fun? Try See Arr Oh's Chemistry Movie Carnival (Act 1 and Act 2). 

Matt Hartings on #ACSGradReport

Friend of the blog Prof. Matt Hartings in this week's C&EN:
The American Chemical Society report “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences” has been the source of much discussion (C&EN, March 4, pages 5 and 51). The report was also one of the highlights of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Boston in February, and it garnered coverage from several media outlets. 
I feel fortunate that I can add my voice to Celia Arnaud’s article and have really enjoyed hearing from others in the chemistry community and from those who care about graduate education in the U.S. 
I commend the committee members for their work and for their observations and insight. But I believe that one of the weakest points of the report is the following: There is no way to convince anyone to change their ways in order to try to develop new practices. This is especially true with respect to funding graduate students. The authors say that they hope that the National Science Foundation pushes these changes.  
However, one official from NSF told Arnaud that they are not going to make any changes without assurances that there is absolute consensus on the change. 
If the issues brought up by the commission are ones that ACS cares about and that we, as ACS members, want to see changed, then ACS should put some of its own money forward to fund “experiments” in graduate education. If ACS is on sound-enough financial ground (which we have been told was the case in the aftermath of the Leadscope trials), then the society should start soliciting proposals for changes to graduate education curricula and fund the first- and second-year graduate students from the departments with the best proposals. 
In short, ACS should put its money where its mouth is. 
Matthew Hartings
Washington, D.C.
I agree with Matt. ACS has no coercive power over the relevant universities. If NSF (which does have coercive power) doesn't want to change things without academic consensus, then it's gonna take a while. It should be interesting to see if ACS can positively incentivize change -- somehow, I'm not holding my breath.

This week's C&EN

In this week's C&EN, a variety of interesting articles:
  • I don't really understand how this Jana Partners/Ashland thing (article by Melody Bomgardner) is going to work out. The perils of being a publicly-owned business, I guess, is dealing with hedge funds and the like. They're not into "increasing shareholder value" -- seems to me that they just want cash, now. (Fair enough, I suppose.) 
  • Sounds like ammonium nitrate was the culprit (article by Jeff Johnson) in the West, Texas explosion. I look forward to hearing about what the facility was up to, and why there was a fire. 
  • Carmen Drahl's always excellent article about drug structure disclosures at ACS NOLA. 

Carbon tax bet update

Just a quick update on my bet with Melody Bomgardner on the possibility of any senior US government elected official talking about a carbon tax. So far, nothing. But we came awful close this past week, with a quote from the Boehner office in the Los Angeles Times:
So who's against it? Republican politicians, led by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner thinks a carbon tax "would raise energy and gas prices and cost American jobs," his spokesman, Michael Steel, told me last week. 
...Even President Obama, who has said he wants to do more about global warming in his second term, has steered carefully around this remedy. "We would never propose a carbon tax," Obama spokesman Jay Carney said last year.
As I recall the terms of the bet, it was if Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner or President Obama (not their staffs) mentioned a carbon tax as a possibility.

So far, nada. But it's a long time to Labor Day, and a lot could happen.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A grace note to end the week: the kindest thing any PI has done for you?

Towards the end of that Mitch Jacoby C&EN article on Professor Stang, a lovely story from a former graduate student:
One student, who completed his Ph.D. work with Stang in 1998, Bogdan Z. Olenyuk, also describes Stang as a dedicated adviser. “Peter always dropped what he was doing to make himself available, including on Saturday and Sunday mornings,” he says. 
But Olenyuk, who is a professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Southern California, relates a personal story that characterizes Stang as an affectionate man who cares about the welfare of his students and their families, even after the students have moved on. 
As a graduate student, Olenyuk sent much of his monthly stipend to his family in Ukraine. His father died shortly before Olenyuk moved to Utah, and his mother was ill with cancer. Her condition worsened, and by 1999, a year after Olenyuk left Utah to do postdoctoral work, she needed a lung operation that was going to cost tens of thousands of dollars, which neither she nor her son could afford. 
“Peter learned about the situation and insisted on loaning me the money to pay for the medical expenses,” Olenyuk says. Stang was adamant about relieving his former student’s financial worries so that he could focus on finding a faculty position. “I’m very grateful to Peter for his help,” Olenyuk says. “This was no small gesture.”
Many, if not most, professors are more than willing to help with money, but I think we can agree that this is going above and beyond.

Looking back (and also, as I felt at the time), I had a great PI in grad school. Can't point to any one particular thing he did, but he was supportive and kind (and still is.)

What's the kindest thing a PI has ever done for you? For that matter, what's the kindest thing a boss has ever done for you?

UPDATE: From Twitter, a pretty cool one from Professor Tonks:

10 chemistry Friday news dumps

A Friday news dump is, according to Taegan Goddard, "Releasing bad news or documents on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny."

With the craziness in Boston, the West, TX fertilizer plant accident and an attempt on the President's life by an Elvis impersonator, nobody is in the mood to watch the news, the news is going to be dominated by distracting things... so I'm guessing nobody is going to notice the following headlines:
  1. Just Like Cooking: "See Arr Oh revealed to be actual talking, Tweeting, blogging dog." 
  2. Chemical and Engineering News: "American Chemical Society news: ACS Board of Directors votes Madeleine Jacobs ACS CEO for Life, quadruples retention bonus just in case." 
  3. Bloomberg Businessweek: "Tech companies: H1-B program Not Actually About 'Best and Brightest.'"
  4. Chemjobber: "Poll Indicates All Chemists Love Being Asked About If Their Work Is Like 'Breaking Bad.'" 
  5. American Chemistry Council morning e-newsletter: "Fracking Environmental Impact Worse than Expected. There, We Said It." 
  6. Nature Chemistry: "We announce we have discovered Editor-In-Chief Stuart Cantrill's unusually fast  paper-reading ability is due to the fact that he is actually a robot." 
  7. ICIS Chemicals and the Economy: "Just Kidding, The Global Economy is Doing Great!" 
  8. Rock Talk blog: "I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted scientific administrator, I could be helpful in rounding up postdoctoral fellows and assistant professors to toil in their underground laboratories."
  9. Fortune: "Poll of Pharma CEOs Shows Ignorance Of, Indifference to Fate of Employees." 
  10. Chemical and Engineering News: "Immediate ACS Past-President Professor Bassam Shakhashiri's name is actually spelled Professor Bassim Shakashiri." 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sarah Cady on #ChemMovieCarnival: Real Genius - Or, revenge is a dish best served popped

Thanks to SeeArOh for putting together the Chem Movie Carnival and thanks to Chemjobber for allowing me to wax poetic about my favorite science movie of all time: Real Genius. Some may argue that Real Genius is a physics movie, but as any spectroscopist can tell you, the line between physics and chemisty in our field is blurry at best. I first watched Real Genius at the end of my second year of graduate school - a time when I was enduring significant struggles in research and in life. I can't say Real Genius is either inspirational or motivational, but it is damn funny and I think it taught me to take both myself and my research a little less seriously. 

For the uninitiated, Real Genius follows the story of two college students (Chris and Mitch) who work for an overbearing, egotistical, megalomanic professor. (The college is for geniuses - maybe it mimics the intensity of a Cal Tech/MIT undergraduate experience, but it seems more like graduate school for us regular folk.) The movie has many great characters that you've probably come across in academia or working in science: professors with infinite egos, reclusive geniuses, competitive brown-nosers, capricious first years, the guy who's always screwing around but is actually the smartest guy in the room, and the movie even has one whole entire lady scientist.

But what about that chemistry? So, the entire point of the movie is for Chris (and his mentee, Mitch) to build an incredibly powerful laser so Chris can graduate. (Plot twist: later, it is revealed that the laser is for NEFARIOUS PURPOSES!) Probably one of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Chris and Mitch finally figure out their research problem and get the laser to work: 

In the scene, Chris reveals the laser works because "it is possible to synthesize excited bromide in an argon matrix." For a long time, I assumed this statement was pure Hollywood fake science, but there's a bit of actual research backing up the statement. In 1986, group at UC Irvine made a solid chloride-doped xenon laser (via Wikipedia), and the paper actually references Martin Gundersen, who acted as the math professor in the film and also served as a scientific consultant. Reading the paper, the quote "amorphous solids are not very useful as amplifier media because of the scattering losses that predominate," seems to indicate that that this system doesn't make for a very good laser, but it does work. The authors go on to say, "[d]espite the poor performance of these amorphous solids as gain media, emission can be effectively stimulated." So in reality, Chris Knight surely would not have obtained the the 5 MW required by Professor Hathaway.

The end of the movie is arguably one of the greatest college pranks in the history of college pranks (real and imaginary). After discovering the evil plan for their laser, Chis and Mitch sneak onto a military base in order to hack into the laser's computer controls and reposition the tracking coordinates for the laser. The goal of the prank is to turn Professor Hathaway's house into a giant Jiffy Pop Stove Top pan of popcorn, using the 5 MW laser to heat the kernels.

Unfortunately, popping several bushels of popcorn with a laser turns out to be the biggest fantasy of this film. The idea was busted by Mythbusters four years ago, however, there are still some neat videos out there of people popping single kernels with much smaller lasers.

Sarah Cady, Ph.D., is an NMR spectroscopist, which makes her uniquely unqualified to discuss laser spectroscopy in any fashion. She spends her days her days teaching NMR and knitting (although not at the same time). She earns many expressions of disgruntled confusion from students of both techniques. Find her on Twitter: @sarahdcady 

Thought for the morning: "Powerpoint makes us stupid.", Gen. James Mattis, USMC

It's perhaps a repeat, but a good one:
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat. 
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
One wonders if you could do a correlating chart between a decline in "real innovation" and the introduction of Powerpoint to US industry.

Job posting: polymer chemist, CooperVision, Pleasanton, CA

From the inbox, a polymer synthesis position for CooperVision (Pleasanton, CA):
Design, synthesis, fabrication, and testing of novel materials for contact lens products. Development of future products is conducted based on in-house capabilities and interfacing with outside suppliers and consultants. This position involves both hands-on and management/coordination of multiple projects. Works in a cross-functional team environment involving R & D, Process Development, Manufacturing, and Marketing. 
Experience: 7+ years experience, depending on degree level 
Education: Bachelor of Science with 9+ years of experience; Masters of Science with 7+ years of experience; or Ph.D.
I can never figure out these positions, and whether or not it seems fair that a Ph.D. gets spotted 9 years of experience on a B.S. Is this a typo? Maybe.

Either way, it looks like a good job for somebody. Best wishes.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/18/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 16 and April 17, there were 9 new positions posted on C&EN Jobs. Of these, 2 (22%) were academically connected.

St. Louis, MO: BASF is looking for a QC chemist; B.S. desired, with 3 years experience. Looks like they want a local candidate, no relo offered.

Zachary, LA: BASF is looking for a QA/QC manager; 10+ years experience desired.

South Park, PA: CONSOL Energy is looking for a B.S. analytical chemist for its Coal Analysis Laboratory; 5 years experience desired. Here's an unfortunate quote:
"Responsibilities of the position include adherence to CONSOL’s Absolute Zero Safety Culture,"
Hmmm, interesting name. No literalists on the safety committee, I see.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) 295, 756, 2585 and  12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 108 positions for the job title "chemist", with 8 for "research chemist", 18 for "analytical chemist" and 3 for "organic chemist." 

Fertilizer plant accident in Waco, Texas

I'm reading reports tonight of a plant accident near Waco, Texas. While I would love to speculate, I don't really have enough relevant expertise. I'll be happy to read the Chemical Safety Board report and learn then. I have a few questions:
  • What caused the fire that seems to have triggered the blast? At what point should the first responders been pulled back from fighting the fire? 
  • Was this a production facility (i.e. anhydrous ammonia to solid ammonium salts?) or a blending/warehousing facility?
  • What was the safe distance between the facility and the town, seeing as how some residences were quite close? 
Finally, I really liked this Reddit comment about chemical plant safety:
A reminder to all fellow engineers, maintenance folk, operators and others working at a large chemical facility around the world: 
Sometimes safety programs can be a little over the top and treated as an afterthought or punchline, but they're there for a reason. If you see a dangerous practice or habit, report it. If it's not being addressed, do your coworkers and community a favor and blow the whistle. It may end your job with that company, but it certainly won't end your career. It's our job to protect everyone from the dangers of chemicals that they know very little about. When we fail to do our job together, people die. And I stress together because as anyone who has worked in a plant will know, when these incidents happen it's because of a systemic failure in management, engineering, safety programs, and operations. 
**And this should be considered a world event as this will likely be another incident to learn from. We don't need another Bhopal, Texas City, Flixborough, or San Juanico.
 Well said. 

#ChemMovieCarnival: The Great Escape, or, an excellent in-process check

SeeArrOh is putting together the Chemistry Movie Carnival, which I am more than happy to participate in. I confess that since I've had kids (and really, since I've started the blog), I don't really watch movies any more. I do a lot of reading and that tends to be my entertainment.

But back in the day, I loved watching movies.* One of my favorite movies of all time has to be "The Great Escape." It has adventure, camaraderie and best of all, it is based on a true story of Allied prisoners tunneling out of a German prisoner of war camp. (My UK readers will accurately note that it is dramatized, and the role of American military personnel in breaking out of Stalag Luft III was wildly exaggerated.)

It also contains a favorite scene of chemistry from the movies. It hass two of the movie's stars, Steve McQueen and James Garner**, hiding away from the other prisoners and doing a bit of fermentation chemistry with some potatoes. Best yet, they're doing a distillation....

What do I love about this scene?
  • The dramatic wait for the forerun from a distillation
  • The in-process check to determine product quality
  • How the successful in-process check inspires them to work harder at starting material preparation (I wish I could bottle the feeling of a first successful in-process check of a pilot run.) 
  • The chirpy, whimsical music throughout (I need this while running TLCs or HPLCs.) 
A little nitpick: I've never brewed moonshine before, but doesn't the mash have to ferment for a while before distillation? If so, why were they still peeling potatoes? Perhaps we were witnessing the pilot batch, and Captain Hilts (McQueen) and friends were working on preparing the full-scale run...

Runners up: "Lorenzo's Oil" (still, I say, the best on-screen portrayal of a research chemist at their craft) and "Chain Reaction" (for Keanu Reeves chopping off the valve of a nitrogen cylinder with an ax to blow a hole in a wall.) 

*My favorite movies, I can watch them again and again. And quote long swaths: "It reminds me of the heady days of Yuri Gagarin and Sputnik, when the world trembles at the sound of our rockets... now, they will tremble at the sound of our silence." 
** FWIW, my favorite characters from the movie are neither Hilts nor Hendley, but the forger Blythe and Velinski, the Polish tunneler. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sex sells rotovaps and pipettes?

IKA has been ramping up the "sex appeal" factor in its advertising, ranging from stupid commercials to booth babes riding motorcycles at ACS National Meetings to this 2013 catalog, noted by @ianatonks. The screenshot at left is taken from it.

Suffice it to say that I personally don't find this to be an effective tactic at selling laboratory equipment. I also can't find a long-term basis to think that this will bring good sales results. Personally, I find it insults my intelligence (not that I have much.)*

I'd love to know what their sales team is thinking -- who the hell thinks this is a good idea?

*I should also note that I have an aesthetic dislike of all image-based marketing attempts, which is why the web design of the blog hasn't changed in 3-and-a-whatever years. 

STEM green card gets into the Senate "Gang of Eight"'s immigration bill summary?

Yesterday, the "Gang of Eight" group of senators released the comprehensive immigration reform bill summary (not the bill itself, but a plain English summary of the bill). Here's an interesting set of tidbits from page 7 of the summary itself (emphases mine):
On the employment green card categories, the bill exempts the following categories from the annual numerical limits on employment-based immigrants: derivative beneficiaries of employment-based immigrants; aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; multinational executives andmanagers; doctoral degree holders in STEM field; and physicians who have completed the foreign residency requirements or have received a waiver. 
The bill then allocates 40 percent of the worldwide level of employment-based visas to : 1) members of the professions holding advanced degrees or their equivalent whose services are sought in the sciences, arts, professions, or business by an employer in the United States(including certain aliens with foreign medical degrees) and 2) aliens who have earned a master’s degree or higher in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics from an accredited U.S. institution of higher education and have an offer of employment in a related field and the qualifying degree was earned in the five years immediately before the petition was filed.
I am not an immigration lawyer, but I think this means that:
  • US based employers can hire and sponsor for green cards as many Ph.D. scientists (from any country) as they desire, without concern about a quota. 
  • Sounds like master's-level and above STEM degree holders get higher priority for employment-based visas. 
Again, I'm not an immigration lawyer, so I could be completely incorrect. Here's the actual bill (in legislative language), as it stands right now. 

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, and who the winners and losers are.

[I'd also like to know how different this is from the status quo? If you listen to the tech companies, DHS is throwing students out on their ears right after they get their diplomas. I don't really think that's true, but that's about all I can gather from the situation.]

[Here's another problem: there is no objective source of expertise on STEM immigration. It's pretty much major corporations and their think tanks against the Ron Hiras of the world. Everyone knowledgeable has an opinion -- and even the non-knowledgeable people (ahem, me) have opinions too. If anyone knows of one, I'm all ears.]

Process Wednesday: charging solids and gases to a reactor

From the second edition of Practical Process Research and Development by our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson, a little tidbit about charging solids and gases:
In general charging liquids and solutions is easier and preferred over charging solids. One concerns with charging solids is that not all of the solids may be transferred to the reactor. Charging of liquids is usually completed by chasing residual liquids with a small charge of solvent; for instance, a solution maybe prepared using 95% of the volume specified in the laboratory process description, with 5% of the latter solvent volume being used to complete the transfer. 
More specialized equipment is used for charging solids on scale; such equipment may be known as alpha-beta valves, butterfly valves, shot valves, star valves or other names.... Glove boxes have also been erected on top of reactors for charging moisture-sensitive or oxygen-sensitive materials. 
Specialized equipment is used to charged gases on scale, with special considerations to minimize any risk of releasing gases. To protect personnel and equipment from leaks of hazardous material such as H2 or F2, the lines used to charge such gases may be encased inside sealed lines or pipe. Charging 37% aqueous HCl is more convenient than charging HCl from cylinders. 
I've had some experience transferring solids into a solvent-filled reactor recently; although the material was as close to ideal as you could possibly imagine (non-toxic, a nice round shape), it was an incredibly painful process. (I fear that I may be waylaid by an operator for suggesting this particular order of addition, but it (I think) will save us a good bit of time.

In general, I think it is to be avoided -- the specialized equipment above is expensive and does not necessarily guarantee that all the solid starting material will actually make it into the reactor. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A terrible crime

I don't have much to add to Derek Lowe's post on the bombing in Boston yesterday. Condolences to and prayers for any and all affected by this terrible crime. 

What's it like to do a chemistry postdoc in Israel?

A couple weeks back, I mentioned a postdoc opportunity in Israel. GG wrote in with a long and detailed description of life in Israel as a chemist and a postdoc. I've put the bulk of it under the jump -- hope you enjoy. 
"Since the discussion of doing a postdoc in Israel started up from cost, I want to assure you that Israel in not as expensive as you think. The most expensive place is the central Tel Aviv area and just a few kilometers outside the official Tel Aviv limits an apartment will cost less. That said, there are quite a few foreign postdocs from the Technion or Weizmann who prefer to live in Tel Aviv for the 'scene' and will pay a lot more for the apartment and the commute for it. 35-40K is more than enough for a single person to enjoy themselves. The average apartment will run you 400-1000 dollars a month depending on where you are and maybe a bit more for a good apartment in Tel Aviv. Food is more expensive than in the USA, which is frustrating. 
Restaurants are twice as expensive and everything in the supermarket seems to be just a bit more. Fresh fruit however, is a lot cheaper when it is in season. A car is much more expensive, and gas as well. But don't worry about the gas because the country is small and the only reason you'll need a car is if you like hiking or travelling, but chances are another foreign postdoc will have one and you can bum rides is you go to places together. Some universities and institutes have housing for foreign students and postdocs so you can save a lot of money that way.

ACS NOLA Career Fair numbers

As reported to the ACS Council for the 2013 Spring ACS National Meeting:

ACS Career Fair (Onsite):
  • Job Seekers: 863
  • Employers: 38
  • Number of Jobs: 131
  • Recruiters Row Booths: 10
Virtual Career Fair (Online):
  • Job Seekers/Attendees: 552    
  • Employers: 11
  • Number of Jobs: 169
Looks like the number of available positions jumped from what was listed on the C&EN Jobs database. Good news, I think. 

Daily Pump Trap: 4/16/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 11 and April 15, there were 12 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. Of these, 6 (50%) were academically connected.

Cleveland, OH: Laird Technologies is looking for a B.S./M.S. chemist with polymer experience; 2-5 years preferred. 48-72k offered.

Pasadena, CA: Steinfl and Bruno LLP is looking for an experienced patent agent, Ph.D. in chemistry needed.

Nimes, France: Proteus S.A. is a company specializing in industrial biocatalysis. They'd like a Ph.D. chemist:
The successful candidate will hold a PhD with qualifications in chemistry and biology. He / She will have a proven record of a ten year experience in biocatalysis. You have the ability in every phases of project management from the design to its implementation (understanding the needs, planning, specifications…). You take into account the economy contributor of the projects. Organized, you have strong abilities in written and oral communications. You also know how to anticipate on potential problems that can disturb the project’s progress. 
Among the requirements, the ideal candidate will demonstrate, excellence in scientific knowledge, perseverance, exceptional inter-personal and management qualities, a certain sense of innovation will be highly appreciated. 
Industrial experience in biotechnology and renewable chemicals will be an additional key success factor.
Telecommuting allowed. All for the princely starting salary of... $50,000! Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!

(Maybe that's some sort of weird typo, or error, or it's a starting place for negotiation, or they were drunk when they wrote the ad. Yeah, that's the ticket.)

Faculty jobs from Andre The Chemist

Andre The Chemist is beginning to blog on non-C&EN Jobs assistant professor positions he's seeing in The Chronicle of Higher Education and at HigherEdJobs. Check it out! 

(Personally, I'd take the position in Fiji.) 

Ivory Filter Flask: 4/16/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 9 and April 15, there have been 6 new academic positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website. The numbers:

Total number of ads: 6
- Postdocs: 0
- Tenure-track faculty:  4
- Temporary faculty: 0
- Lecturer positions:  2
- Staff positions:  0
- US/non-US: 6/0

Houston, TX: The University of St. Thomas is searching for an assistant professor in inorganic/organometallic chemistry.

Philadelphia, PA: Drexel has an autism research institute; they're searching for research faculty in environmental exposure, which is intriguing.

Waukesha, WI: Carroll University is looking for a Ph.D. lecturer in chemistry or biochemistry; biochemistry preferred.

La Crosse, WI: The University of Wisconsin - La Crosse is looking for a Ph.D. general chemistry lecturer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't Trust Anyone Who Thinks Retirement Will Create Job Openings

I was privy to a local official's comment to a group of young people recently that, if everyone who is expected to retire does retire, then half the relevant workforce would be retiring in the next two years.



Look, anyone who's telling you that there are going to be a lot of jobs because there are a lot of old people trying to retire is selling you something. Don't buy it:
  • I think there's plenty of evidence to suggest that baby boomers are stalling retirement because:
    • Their pension/Social Security just isn't enough
    • They don't have enough saved up to retire (or their retirement portfolio took a hit in the crash/they were diversified incorrectly/they thought they were the next Warren Buffet.)
    • They like their jobs a lot, and don't see any reason why they should stop working
    • They have kids in college to support or a mortgage to pay or a beachhouse in Florida to buy or, or, or... 
  • There is not a ton of evidence to support the assertion that because people are retiring, they're going to turn around and hire a lot of young/new people
    • They could close the jobs altogether (um, chemical R&D)
    • They could outsource the position to somewhere else (um, chemical R&D)
I've just made a bunch of unsupported assertions there, so I'll bet that I'm just as full of baloney as the HR lady. But not quite, I'll bet. 

Good luck to chemists working for Thermo Fisher and Life Technologies

From the New York Times: 
The scientific equipment maker Thermo Fisher agreed on Monday to buy a rival, Life Technologies Corporation, for $13.6 billion. 
The deal will help the company expand its market share in the production of genetic sequencing machines, a fast-growing area used by scientists and drug companies to create specialized medicines for patients. 
Thermo Fisher Scientific, based in Waltham, Mass., is offering shareholders $76 for each of their shares in Life Technologies, 12 percent above the company’s closing stock price on Friday. The company said it would also assume about $2.2 billion in debt. Early this year, Life Technologies announced that it was undertaking a strategic review of its operations.
Mergers and acquistions activity is always good for the investment bankers, rarely good for the bench scientists. Good luck, everyone.

Women entrepreneurs in industry

A pretty neat little article by Susan Ainsworth about women entrepreneurs in this week's C&EN. I think my favorite short article is the profile of Beth Bosley (emphasis mine):
After carving out a 20-year career in the specialty and fine chemicals industry, Beth Bosley, 49, identified a market need that matched her technical skills in the specialized area of inorganic boron hydride chemistry—and wasted no time acting on it. 
Three years ago, she launched Ambridge, Pa.-based Boron Specialties, which develops chemicals, materials, and applications that leverage the specific properties of boron. With a product portfolio heavy in high-value boranes and borohydrides, the company commercializes new boron-based technologies for life sciences, electronics, energy, and other applications. It also provides services in product and process development, market development, product safety practices, and regulatory compliance management. 
To be “efficient and agile” from day one, Bosley used personal savings to start the company. She first focused on consulting and managing the production of inorganic boron hydrides for customers that could not find them commercially available from reliable suppliers. She outsourced production in the U.S. through toll manufacturing, an arrangement in which a company that has specialized equipment processes raw materials or semifinished goods for another firm. 
Boron Specialties then began distributing a few fine chemicals for which there is no U.S. manufacturer. Finally, as a way to further the company’s product development goals and continue to drive growth, Bosley made the bold decision to build a lab for small-volume manufacturing and to hire chemists. The company, which is expected to post sales of $1 million to $1.5 million in 2013, now has six employees.
I wonder how much money from your personal savings you need to have, in order to start an actual fine chemicals manufacturing business? It's gotta be like $500k, right?

What I learned from the Bosley article and fine chemicals: You can probably start by becoming a consultant/project manager for someone else's compounds, then you probably move to making the compounds in-house. This probably takes a level of expertise and entrepreneurship I don't have yet...

A letter to the editor that could have written by me

From this week's C&EN:
As an American Chemical Society member for about 30 years, I have been mystified by the continual assertion that the U.S. faces a general shortage of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals. What objective data, such as from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, actually support this assertion? 
Nevertheless, there seems to be limited official response from ACS regarding the present employment situation and how much worse it may become in the near future. For instance, on Feb. 7, the New York Times published “America’s Genius Glut,” a story by Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute. The article indicates that the U.S. has about 9 million people with STEM degrees, but only about 3 million have a job in a STEM field. To better illustrate the real truth about the jobs situation, perhaps C&EN needs to show photographs of newly minted scientists with signs reading, “Unemployed STEM professional—will work for food.” Imagine how much worse things are likely to get for American workers if President Barack Obama gets his stated wish and every foreign STEM graduate gets a green card (Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook section, Jan. 30). 
If ACS really exists to serve its membership—rather than large institutions such as major universities and multinational companies that principally want a bottomless pit of cheap labor—it is time to consult with other scientific societies and learn their views on the current employment outlook. If these organizations also report poor prospects for their members, then it is time to present a common front to the White House and Congress, clearly stating that there is no general shortage of STEM professionals. 
This really should have been done long ago. Dismal job prospects for physical scientists are not new. On April 14, 1993, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Black Hole Opens in Scientist Job Rolls” by G. Pascal Zachary. At roughly the same time, the New York Times published a story by Malcolm W. Browne entitled “Amid ‘Shortage,’ Young Physicists See Few Jobs.” 
The truth needs to be spoken to our masters in Washington, D.C., quickly, before they sell the rank and file of this society down the river so as to further benefit ultra-high-net-worth types in places like Silicon Valley. 
Wm. Charles L. JamisonWarrenton, Va.
I do not believe there is a broad shortage of scientists and engineers -- there are specific areas, certainly, that have very high demand. But our digital masters will not be put off, so we're going to see expansion in the H-1b system and the STEM green card bill will go through. Yay.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Job posting: Huntsman, The Woodlands, Texas

From the inbox (thanks, th!), a variety of postings at Huntsman Chemical, including this senior scientist position:
Huntsman currently has a challenging opportunity for a Senior Scientist - Global CoreScience for our Polyurethanes Division at our Huntsman Advanced Technology Division located in The Woodlands, Texas. 
Education and Work Experience Requirements: A minimum of a PhD in Chemical Engineering, Polymer Engineer, Chemistry, Material or Polymer Science or related science and technology field.  
Associate position also available. Best wishes to those applying!  

Now there's a problem pharma doesn't have: "Do we have to pay taxes on the food we give away?"

What's the problem with giving your employees free food? Well, if you give enough of it to them, it starts to look like non-monetary compensation:
When outsiders visit Silicon Valley, the first thing they often notice is the food: Cafeterias brimming with free gourmet meals and snacks offered to employees of Google Inc and other technology firms. But not all is as it seems in the buffet line. There is growing controversy among tax experts about how to treat these coveted freebies. The Internal Revenue Service also has been focusing on the topic, according to attorneys who practice in the area, examining whether the free food is a fringe benefit on which employees should pay additional tax. 
Tax rules around fringe benefits are complex, but in general they categorize meals regularly provided by an employer as a taxable perk, similar to personal use of a company car. That leads several tax experts to wonder if some companies providing free food may be skirting the rules... 
...Technically, any unpaid back taxes would be owed by individual employees. In practice, tax lawyers say, the IRS tries to dun the employer for failing to withhold taxes on the meals' collective value. 
Yahoo Inc. instituted free meals last year, after new Chief Executive Marissa Mayer took charge. On an investor conference call soon after, the former Google executive twice mentioned the perk in the context of recruiting, at one point saying free food was among the cultural changes intended to make "Yahoo the absolute best place to work. And if you're that, I think attracting talent comes reasonably easily." A Yahoo spokeswoman said in a statement, "We cover all related expenses." She declined to elaborate on how the company handles the tax treatment of its free meals.
I haven't heard about any pharma companies offering free food in the cafeterias (my brief experience being that you had relatively reasonable (subsidized, I assume) prices, but you still had to pay for your own food.)

This is the sort of thing that marks an expanding industry, one that is competing for workers -- as opposed to one that is shrinking in fits and starts.

$20 an hour! Don't spend it all in one place!

Here's a dream job for ya, courtesy of the Boston Craigslist science/biotech section:
seeking organic chemist experienced with organometallic chemistry (Cambridge (MIT)) 
I am seeking an Organic Chemist with at least 5 years of experience with organo-metallic chemistry, in particular familiar with organoiron compounds and strongly magnetic organic compounds with ferromagnetic iron within, capable of binding to proteins, peptides, DNA and RNA. 
This is a short-term assignment involving several meetings to discuss the compounds and their preparation. The aim of this research is to tag peptides, proteins, DNA and RNA with organo-iron ligands/conjugates thus rendering the macromolecules magnetic and susceptible to directed flow in a magnetic field. 
If interested, please reply with a copy of your resume or CV. We will be scheduling interviews for the next 1-2 weeks. We are especially interested in ferrocene-like compounds, polycarbonyl-iron compounds, and other ferro-organo-metallic compounds capable of reacting with the free functional groups present on proteins such as carboxylic, amino, hydroxyl, imido groups to form a covalent bond of the organo-metallic conjugate to the protein.
Hourly rate for this consultation? $20 an hour. Yeeeeeaaaaaahhh, baby.

[Thanks to all my friends, I realize now what a rip-off this is.]

Daily Pump Trap: 4/11/13 edition

Good morning! Between April 9 and April 10, there were 4 new positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website.

Ho-hum: 3 engineering positions, 1 senior analytical director posting. (Nektar, Huntsville, AL)

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) 289, 763, 2555 and 12 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 94 positions for the job title "chemist", with 8 for "research chemist", 13 for "analytical chemist" and 2 for "organic chemist."

Craiglist: I used to look at the San Diego Craigslist biotech/science section a lot, but I never heard back from them. Worth a look on this quiet morning. San Diego has 8 positions with the term "chemist" on the first 100 postings (one of them an operator position, I suspect), Boston has 9, RTP has 10 and the Bay Area has 3. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A view from the #chemjobs front lines, as it were

A good friend (and unemployed Ph.D. chemist) describes a recent scene:
Truly depressing sight on Monday.   I went to a job fair hosted by the BioSpace website.    On line, it said 6 companies were going to be there, but that didn't bother me too much.  I figured it would be like ACS conventions, you never know who going to be there until you show up.  There's a number of biotech companies in the DMV so I couldn't believe only six companies would be there.  How little do I know.   
The job fair was the in the ballroom of a hotel in Rockville.  After driving for over an hour to go 35 miles (oh how I missed rush hour traffic) I show up for a grand total of four companies*.  I'd guess there were between 200-300 of us in that room standing in line to deliver our resumes to HR drones that had no clue what a NMR instrument does. 
What was really frightening was the crowd.  It was a even distribution from grad students ready to graduate to experienced workers in their 50's. No age group dominated.  The mix was heavily slanted towards biologists and biochemists and split about 50/50 between masters and PhD's.  Gallows humor prevailed, I was talking to a guy who joked at least we have it better than new lawyers, we don't have 100K in student debt tied to our necks.
I'm tired of being in the minors waiting for the call to the big show. Life's too short to piss around looking for #chemjobs that don't exist.
 Best wishes to him, and to all of us.

*one of them being Aerotek. 

Job posting: Innocentive Novel Molecule Challenge Program Manager

From the inbox, an interesting position with Innocentive in Boston:
The Innovation Program Manager (NMC) is responsible for helping clients achieve maximal value from the InnoCentive Open Innovation services. A key responsibility includes leading the execution of InnoCentive's Novel Molecule Challenge program. Additionally, driving Challenge posting volumes by providing pre- and post-sales Challenge consultation with InnoCentive clients is essential. The position is extremely rewarding for technically trained individuals with superior communication and project management skills.  The successful candidate will join a team of scientists in the Client Services and Operations Department of InnoCentive, reporting to the Director of Premium Challenges.  This position is based in the InnoCentive headquarters in Waltham, MA.
  • Ph.D. or Master’s degree (Ph.D. preferred) in organic chemistry
  • 2+ years post-academic work experience in a research or external-facing position
  • Chemistry skills:  retrosynthesis, SciFinder, Chemdraw, database software (e.g. ISIS)
  • Superb group presentation skills – professional, dynamic, and poised with senior-level audiences
  • Excellent written, verbal, and interpersonal communication skills
  • Personal attributes:  Self-motivated, entrepreneurial, optimistic and can-do, collaborative, personable, effective at multi-tasking, and excited to explore new disciplines,
  • Willingness to travel
Click through to see the whole role, which sound pretty interesting, really. 

Big Pharma making cannabinoid-like drugs? Been there already, right?

This New York article on the synthetic drug craze was somewhat interesting, if not a bit breathlessly reported.* But here is a statement from a New York-area physician that I felt was wrong:
[Dr. Julie] Holland believes that it’s a foregone conclusion that the next decade will include a new generation of Big Pharma meds based on marijuana. “You’re going to have medicine for inflammation and metabolism tickling the cannabis receptors—they’ll act like cannabinoids, but aren’t going to get you high.” (Harvard Medical School professor John Halpern recently started a company, Entheogen Corp., to develop 2-bromo-LSD, a non-hallucinogenic LSD analog, to treat cluster headaches, one of the most painful conditions in medicine.)
So I'm probably wrong about this, since I'm not a medicinal chemist. But hasn't the ground of CB1/CB2 receptor targeted compounds been plowed pretty thoroughly, with some prominent failures? There are most certainly other receptor systems that haven't yet been investigated, but I suspect that Dr. Holland is incorrect in her prediction that Big Pharma is bringing such things to market.

[Also, Dr. Holland's prediction reminds me of the XKCD column on 'translating researchers.']

Readers, please, prove me wrong.

*I'm so bored with this genre, it's not funny.