Thursday, August 25, 2016

Massachusetts wins, NJ/PA loses

You knew it, I knew it, the scientific community knew it (via the Boston Business Journal's Don Seiffert): 
Recent growth can largely be attributed to Shire plc (Nasdaq: SHPG), which last year added around 1,200 jobs in Massachusetts, establishing its U.S. headquarters in Lexington as well as expanding both research and manufacturing facilities. 
The manufacturing growth is a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture of such jobs in the Bay State. The state has lost about 50,000 manufacturing jobs, or 17 percent, over the past 10 years, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of that decline came between 2008 and 2010, right after the worldwide recession hit. 
The increase in drug manufacturing in Massachusetts also comes despite a declining number of biomanufacturing jobs nationally. The United States lost more than 24,000 biopharma manufacturing jobs, an 8 percent decrease, in the past decade, according to MassBio’s report. Such states as New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been the hardest hit: Those two states alone lost nearly 23,000 drug manufacturing jobs since 2006. (emphasis CJ's)  
MassBio’s 2016 Industry Snapshot shows that the number of biotech research and development jobs grew by nearly 7,000 since 2007, and continues to make up about half the total 63,000 jobs attributed to the biotech industry.
 Well, it's great for Boston, I guess. 

Postdoc side gig: chocolate maker

From a Naturejobs post about non-traditional positions, this rather wonderful tidbit about a chemist:
Even so, scientists who are committed to a side pursuit say that they sacrifice their social life, and sometimes their rest. “I didn't do much else besides my research and making chocolate,” says Adam Kavalier, a chemist who developed the logo and concept for his company, Undone Chocolate, during his postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “I didn't sleep much: I worked weekends and nights. I did not take vacations,” he says. “But I already had a passion for making chocolate, and once I decided to make it a business, that became an obsession.”
From a brief Google search, more about Dr. Kavalier's early experiments:
Adam Kavalier came across cacao, the plant used to make chocolate, while he was studying plant biochemistry and how plants make medicinal compounds in graduate school at the City University of New York. (He then got a post-doctorate degree at Weill Cornell Medical College.) He started making chocolate at home and bringing it into the lab to test its antioxidant levels. He became obsessed with finding beans to craft the most antioxidant-rich chocolate possible. 
“It sort of started as this analytical processing thing,” Adam Kavalier says. “Making chocolate takes several steps and involves making some of your own machinery. I love to build things and love to make things ... So it filled a lot of different passions for me, both on the science side and the artistic side.” 
Adam Kavalier spent about five years experimenting with recipes in their 700-square-foot New York apartment. The couple had to put an acoustic sound barrier wall over their kitchen door because they’d often have two or three noisy chocolate grinders going at once. Then, because they were worrie about the vibrations disturbing their neighbors downstairs, they stacked up yoga mats. The entire space was filled with huge containers of beans, and nibs, ginders, a temperer, a fan, and other equipment. “It just took up the entire apartment,” Kristen Kavalier says. “The only room that never had chocolate in it was the bedroom, and actually at one point I think it did.”
Sounds like a lot of fun. (For those interested, here's Undone Chocolate's website.)

What is it about scientists and starting food manufacturing businesses? The obvious answers are obvious: cooking is chemistry, after all, and all the lab skills we learn port very naturally to the kitchen. It also appears to be a business that has a relatively low barrier to entry, i.e. you have free capital in your kitchen. At the same time, I can't help but note that food manufacturing is a low-margin, high-volume affair (albeit somewhat higher margin in the luxury chocolate business that Dr. Kavalier is in.) If I had a nickel for every chemist who has started a food-related business or talked about starting one, I'd have a lot of nickels...

Daily Pump Trap: 8/25/16 edition

A few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Cambridge, MA: GENEWIZ (there's a new name to C&EN Jobs) is looking for a B.S./M.S. oligonucleotide synthesis chemist.

Woburn, MA: Ahhhh, Organix with its traditional postdoctoral ad. Also, a polymer postdoc position at Nano Terra (Cambridge, MA).

Charleston, TN: Wacker is looking for a senior quality manager; 10 years experience desired.

ACS Philadelphia Career Fair Watch: 17 positions from Monsanto, 33 positions from WuXi. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ACS Philadelphia Career Fair: 172 openings, 710 job seekers

Reported to the ACS Council this morning at the Philadelphia National Meeting:
Job Seekers: 710
Employers: 37
Number of Jobs: 172
Recruiters Row Booths: 17 
Résumé Reviews: 348
Mock Interviews: 194
 4:1 job seeker-to-jobs ratio is better than San Diego this last March, and somewhat better than average for recent years. 

USDA to Purchase Surplus Postdoctoral Fellows for Food Banks and Families in Need, Continue to Assist Ph.D. Producers

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to purchase approximately 10,000 postdoctoral fellows (approximately 2 million pounds of scientists) from university inventories to assist food banks and pantries across the nation, while reducing a Ph.D. surplus that is at its highest level in 30 years. The purchase, valued at $20 million, will be provided to families in need across the country through USDA nutrition assistance programs, while assisting the stalled marketplace for doctoral and postdoctoral producers whose revenues have dropped 35 percent over the past two years.

"We understand that the nation's academics are experiencing challenges due to market conditions and that food banks continue to see strong demand for fresh meat of any variety, even postdocs, which are a little gamy," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a postdoc surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein, science-based and soft-skilled food to the tables of those most in need. USDA will continue to look for ways within its authorities to make tasty meals from underemployed postdocs and provide for added stability in the academic marketplace."

"By supporting a strong academic safety net and growing domestic and foreign markets for well-trained, highly-skilled meat that can solve the toughest problems, USDA is committed to helping America's Ph.D.-producing operations remain successful while expanding the alternatives to tenure-track academic positions to include being ground up for dinner," said Vilsack.

While USDA projects postdoctoral demand to increase throughout the rest of the year, many factors including low world prices for postdoctoral labor, increased Ph.D. supplies and inventories, and slower demand have contributed to the sluggish marketplace for research scientists.

USDA will continue to monitor market conditions in the coming months and evaluate additional actions, if necessary, later this fall.

For the literal-minded, this is satire.
with mild apologies to the Department of Agriculture

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NLRB: Graduate students are employees, can unionize

Via Gary McDowell, the National Labor Relations Board has reversed a 2004 decision on the ability of private universities to bar graduate students from unionizing: 
Board: Student Assistants Covered by the NLRA 
August 23, 2016 
3-1 Columbia Decision Overrules Brown University 
Washington, D.C. — The National Labor Relations Board issued a 3-1 decision in Columbia University that student assistants working at private colleges and universities are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act. The Graduate Workers of Columbia-GWC, UAW filed an election petition seeking to represent both graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, along with graduate and departmental research assistants at the university in December 2014. The majority reversed Brown University (342 NLRB 483) saying it “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the Act without a convincing justification.” 
For 45 years, the National Labor Relations Board has exercised jurisdiction over private, nonprofit universities such as Columbia. In that time, the Board has had frequent cause to apply the Act to faculty in the university setting, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court. 
Federal courts have made clear that the authority to define the term “employee” rests primarily with the Board absent an exception enumerated within the National Labor Relations Act. The Act contains no clear language prohibiting student assistants from its coverage. The majority found no compelling reason to exclude student assistants from the protections of the Act. (emphasis CJ's)
The full decision is linked here. Here's Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik on the decision:
Graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities are entitled to collective bargaining, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday. The NLRB said that a previous ruling by the board -- that these workers were not entitled to collective bargaining because they are students -- was flawed. The NLRB ruling, 3 to 1, came in a case involving a bid by the United Auto Workers to organize graduate students at Columbia University. 
The decision reverses a 2004 decision -- which has been the governing one until today -- about a similar union drive at Brown University. 
Many graduate students at public universities are already unionized, as their right to do so is covered by state law, not federal law. 
The ruling largely rejects the fights of previous boards over whether teaching assistants should be seen primarily as students or employees. They can be both, the majority decision said.
I'll be honest and say that I can't imagine that this will have much of an effect on things - someone still has to organize the union, and I can't imagine that graduate students will want to spend the time to make this happen. I just don't see an organized constituency that will want to go do the work, and that it will be sustained over the years. Nevertheless, there are a fair number of graduate student unions.

That said, it is interesting to me how, if you're a private university assistant professor, the cost of labor (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) have gotten higher than it was 2 years ago. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 8/23/16 edition

A few of the academic positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Houston, TX: Rice University is searching for an assistant professor in organic chemistry.

Santa Cruz, CA: UC Santa Cruz is looking for an assistant professor "in the area of Biomaterials/Bioinorganic/Inorganic Chemistry." Looks like biomaterials is an interest for this position. 

Lausanne, Switzerland: Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is looking for an assistant professor to work on inorganic materials. 

Moraga, CA: Saint Mary's College of California is looking for an assistant professor of organic or analytical chemistry. 

Philadelphia, PA: Drexel University is looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry. 

Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University is searching for an assistant professor of biochemistry.


The List: There are 126 positions on the 2017 Faculty Jobs List.

Postdoc: Ryter lab, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

From the inbox, a postdoc at the University of Montana:
A Post Doctoral Scientist position in synthetic chemistry is available immediately on our interactive multi-disciplinary research team focused on the design, synthesis, and development of novel vaccine adjuvants and immunomodulators at The University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA under the direction of Dr. Kendal Ryter. We are Seeking a highly motivated individual with a strong theoretical background and relevant laboratory experience in organic synthesis and modern purification and characterization techniques (NMR, HPLC, LC-MS, etc) and with a solid understanding of medicinal chemistry and relevant biochemical disciplines. Previous experience with carbohydrate, heterocyclic and phospholipid chemistry is preferred. 
 Full description and contact information here. Best wishes to those interested. 

How to transition from industry to academia for an inorganic chemist?

From the inbox, an interesting question from someone we'll call TG: 
I'm hoping that either you or your readers have some insight into how best to go about transitioning from industry to academia. I have a sort of unusual background ([CJ's redaction: some post-college industry experience], then an inorganic PhD in a strong but not top 5 department, then a polymer/nano postdoc, then back to industry) and after about [redacted (less than 5)] years in R&D with a large international company I've realized that the only part of my job I find rewarding is mentoring interns and junior scientists and that I'd rather be working on fundamental rather than applied questions. 
I was a bit too headstrong (or something like that) and rushed through both grad school and my postdoc [redacted] so while I have [enough] first author papers that seem to check all the quality boxes, I realize I'm publication light overall and didn't take many opportunities to build a network. Do my (filed) patent applications count for anything? Is applying for inorganic positions with my background a fool's errand? Any advice or insight is appreciated.
Part of this question is going to be "does TG want to be a professor at a Ph.D.-producing institution, or do they want to teach at a small college?" I think that TG's background would probably fit both (especially since TG has been productive in industry). Further communication with TG indicates they would like a research university position, as they have less teaching experience. (PUI profs - is lack of instructor experience important?)

Over the years, my observation is that academics are fairly open to odd backgrounds, as long as the "quality boxes" have been checked. Writing a good set of documents (cover letter, research proposals, teaching philosophies, etc.) will be key to explaining your interest in the transition, I'd think.

Readers, your thoughts? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The plight of Venezuelan academic chemists

Also in this week's C&EN, a fascinating (and sad) article by Barbara Fraser about the troubles that Venezuelan chemists have in getting supplies and funds to do research: 
...That’s no minor issue, according to Botello, who depended on the free meals because his scholarship did not even cover the rent for the room where he lived.
His academic adviser, Jorge Mostany, retired a year ago and took his young family to Spain. 
Mostany, who is finishing his term as president of the Venezuelan Chemical Society, was exhausted by scrounging for diapers, milk, and other necessities on a salary that had dropped to the equivalent of about $50 a month. He now lives in an annex to his parents’ home in Alicante, Spain, where he collaborates with University of Alicante colleagues but does not have a position. 
Databases of journals in Venezuelan university libraries are four or five years out of date because of lack of funds. Students pass photocopied books around, and researchers ask friends in other universities or abroad for items they cannot obtain. 
When repeated power outages blew fuses in a laboratory at Metropolitan University and no replacements could be found, Scharifker tweeted his frustration. In response, students in Florida shipped him fuses. 
Theft of computers and lab equipment is common, especially on the Central University’s open campus, where criminals once burst into a classroom and stripped the students of their cell phones and laptops...
Best wishes to them.  

This week's C&EN

A few articles from this week's (double) issue of C&EN:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pretty cool idea at the #ACSPhilly career fair: a fashion show

Just wanted to flag the "Dressing for Success" Fashion Show at the ACS Philadelphia Career Fair at 3 pm on Monday in Hall C in the Career Fair. "Does [insert article of clothing] this make me look dumb?" is a question most scientists ask at some point, especially after I wore a clip-on tie to my first job interview as a chemist (I got the job, but no thanks to the tie, I suspect.) 

Friday, August 19, 2016

The View from Your Hood: St Andrews, Scotland

"From the Biomolecular Sciences Building at St Andrews"
credit: Stephen Thompson
From reader Stephen Thompson:

"I was lucky for this to be the actual view from my hood. Its a view from the labs on the top floor of the Biomolecular Sciences Building at St Andrews, looking out over the fairways of the Old Course, the Hotel, The Cairngorm Mountains off to the left and the North Sea out to the right. It was amazing to be able to watch the Scottish seasons roll by over 4 wonderful years during my PhD."

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption, please) at chemjobber@gmail.com; will run every other Friday.)

TAOC Symposium next Wednesday

For those of you going to the ACS meeting in Philadelphia (starting on Sunday), an invitation to the Division of Organic Chemistry's Technical Achievements in Organic Chemistry Symposium.

It's next Wednesday, August 24, from 8:30 until 5 pm at the Terrace Ballroom II at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Congratulations to all the winners! More details can be found here. 

Illinois economics professor finds lack of skills gap in manufacturing

From a University of Illinois press release (reprinted in the Rock River Times): 
Three-quarters of U.S. manufacturing plants show no sign of hiring difficulties for open positions, says new research from Andrew Weaver, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois. 
“Not a week goes by without someone declaring that a huge skills gap exists in the U.S. workforce,” he said. “A lot of ink has been spilled on this topic, but it’s frequently without evidence. The popular sentiment encourages people to think that employers have high skill demands, but U.S. workers just aren’t up to snuff, and that’s why manufacturing work is being outsourced overseas.” 
However, the results show that U.S. manufacturers are generally able to hire the skilled workers they seek. 
“We estimate an upper bound of job vacancies due to a potential skills gap of 16 to 25 percent of manufacturing establishments – a finding that sharply contrasts with other surveys that have reported figures of more than 60-70 percent,” Weaver said.
This survey was done of 2700 randomly selected manufacturers, yielding 903 responses. The survey was done in 2012 and 2013. From the actual paper ("Skill Demands and Mismatch in U.S. Manufacturing"), an excerpt of the concluding paragraph:
Overall, the results qualify our view of skill mismatch. Three-quarters of U.S. manufacturing plants show no sign of hiring difficulties. We estimate an upper bound on potential skill gaps of 16 to 25% of manufacturing establishments. This finding contrasts sharply with other, nonrandom surveys that have reported figures in excess of 60 or 70% (Deloitte 2011). 
Among the minority of manufacturing establishments that do show potential signs of hiring distress, the relationship between skill demands and hiring problems is not simple or clear-cut. While higher-level math demands are predictive of hiring difficulties, higher-level computer demands are not. Extended reading skills are unexpectedly prominent as predictors of long-term vacancies. Many other skill demands, including those for soft skills and problem-solving/initiative skills, are not associated
with hiring difficulties. 
When we examine the mechanisms that might contribute to hiring difficulties, a mixed picture emerges. High-tech plants, often thought to be hampered by inadequate workforce skills, are not associated with significantly greater hiring difficulties. Beyond higher-level math and reading demands, the two largest and most consistently robust predictors of hiring difficulties are demand for unique skills and membership in an industry cluster. Both of these factors raise questions about the relationship between a manufacturing establishment and other regional actors, including other firms, educational institutions, and training providers. The positive relationship between unique skill demands and long-term vacancies indicates that a number of establishments are unwilling or unable to solve their skill challenges through internal training, even for skills that are highly specific to a particular plant. 
I'm looking forward to reading this paper more thoroughly; I'm also looking forward to the deafening silence on it from all the local business journals and the Manufacturing Institute as they continue to complain about a skills gap, and how local community colleges need to help them out with it. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

This Craig Lindsley op-ed is worth reading, and worth some skepticism

"We can ill afford another Klendathu, and/or the death of basic science."**
credit: wikia
Via Tehshik Yoon's Twitter feed, an interesting op-ed by Professor Craig Lindsley in ACS Chemical Neuroscience on the apparent favoring of translational science over basic science. I take issue with the opening quote from Genentech's Dr. Wendy Young: 
“The pharma and biotech industry has heavily relied on academia to train the next generation of synthetic chemists. Without duly trained synthetic ‘jocks’, our drug discovery efforts and innovation in the United States will dwindle. Without question, innovation has been a core strength of the United States, and this is due to the training in deep basic science.”
Surely there is no other reason for drug discovery efforts in the United States to dwindle. 

(I am in agreement with Dr. Young (and the quotes from Professors Baran, Corey and Buchwald) that academia provides the raw material for industrial drug discoverers i.e. new Ph.D.s in organic chemistry. I don't see that decreasing any time soon, but perhaps I am wrong - only time will tell.) 

I should lay out my priors here and say that I agree with Professor Lindsley's basic point: "We can ill afford the death of basic science." The overall flattening of NIH funding is not A Good Thing in the long run.* Also, I prefer that the federal government bias its funding towards basic science, as opposed to "translational research." The United States has a long history of reaping vast rewards from studying basic science, and it's not clear to me that translational research has nearly the same track record. 

But here's what I want to know, and what I feel is missing from Professor Lindsley's op-ed: what are the numbers surrounding federal academic funding of organic chemistry? Is there evidence that "...in the last 10 years that research funding for basic organic chemistry and/or molecular pharmacology is in rapid decline"? Also, Professor Baran says that the decrease is disproportional. I believe the former, and I could believe the latter, but the trends aren't clear to me. Where can this data be found? 

Finally, if it is true that there has been a disproportionate decrease, who is the audience for these complaints? Who sets funding priorities at NIH? Seems to me it's probably a conversation between the the relevant Congressional committee and senior leadership at NIH? Who should we be yelling at? 

*I could easily imagine altering NIH funding mechanisms to both accommodate an increase in NIH funding, and not generate a surplus of new Ph.D. chemists, but this blog post is too small to contain an explanation of it. 
**reference to Starship Troopers

Physician shortage in 2025?

For those of you (possibly including myself*) who look at medicine as a possible alternative career, an interesting assertion from the 2016 report by the American Association of Medical Colleges, regarding the employment outlook for physicians:
Physician demand continues to grow faster than supply leading to a projected total physician shortfall of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians by 2025. As with the 2015 projections, under every combination of scenarios modeled, an overall physician shortage is projected. Though this total projected shortfall exceeds the 46,100 to 90,400 physician shortfall estimated by the 2015 study (Exhibits ES-1 and ES-2), the 2016 updated projections of a physician shortfall in 2025 are of a similar magnitude to the 2015 projections. Differences between the 2016 update and the 2015 projections largely reflect the use of more recent data and improvements to methods.
Obviously, this is a projection and the world is woefully short on accurate soothsayers. For what it is worth, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also sees a 14% increase in positions for physicians and surgeons for the 2014-2024 time period, which is faster than the 7% growth projected for all jobs.

*Note to my employers: I really like my job, and I like hanging out with my kids. Neither of those things are compatible with going to medical school.

(Other caveats: wage growth, unemployment, difficulty in getting medical education, etc., etc.)

Daily Pump Trap: 8/18/16 edition

A few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Indianapolis, IN: Elanco is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. biochemist for DMPK work.

Cleveland, OH: Lubrizol is searching for a regulatory compliance specialist; B.S., 0-5 years experience.

Indianapolis, IN: Lilly is looking for a senior engineer for its Process Design and Development group.

Bay City, TX: Chemicals Incorporated is looking for a general manager. The website is quite the treat (said the guy with the world's most boring-est blog template).

Boston, MA?: Cabot Chemicals is looking for an experienced B.S. chemist to be a buyer; I find myself more tempted by this career path than I could have imagined 10 years ago.

Wenatchee, WA: AgroFresh is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. analytical chemist; looks to be GC/MS-related.

ACS Philadelphia Career Fair watch: 101 positions.