Monday, September 26, 2016

Is there demand for scientific glassblowers?

Some cutting-edging science today relies on the centuries-old art of glassblowing. When researchers in chemistry, physics and medicine need special glass tools for complex experiments, they sometimes sit down with a glassblower to sketch out designs for customized beakers, flasks and condenser coils. 
New Jersey's Salem Community College is trying to keep that tradition going with the country's only degree program in scientific glassblowing. Housed among corn and soybean fields about an hour south of Philadelphia, the school's Glass Education Center in Alloway, N.J., specializes in one of the most popular materials in a research lab. 
"It's clear. You can see what the experiments are doing. It holds no chemical history. And it can be shaped into any form you like," explains Dennis Briening, the instructional chair of the college's two-year scientific glass technology program. "Whatever your imagination is, it can be made." 
His students learn how to make tools for research universities and glass manufacturers at workbenches across a row of glowing furnaces....
So, here's my question: is there demand for scientific glassblowers? Would you recommend someone become a scientific glassblower as a career? How many openings are there a year for scientific glassblowers? My thoughts:
  • This seems to me a field with a very limited number of standard, benefits-providing full-time positions. You probably have to be a decently large Ph.D.-granting institution to employ one glassblower with their shop. I estimate that there are less than 400 full-time scientific glassblowers in this country.
  • There's not a lot of evidence, one way or another, as to what job growth might be. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is pretty silent, classifying glass workers under "artists". (I could believe there are plenty of amateur glassblowers who are good at making various smoking implements; I don't think they're qualified for scientific glassblowing, but maybe I'm wrong.) 
  • It seems to me that the real requirement for bespoke laboratory glassware is something that the folks at ChemGlass or Ace could easily handle.
That said, some opinion on Twitter and Reddit is suggesting there's a little demand. So, readers, what do you think? I'm probably wrong, but I don't think so. 

Anyone think there's a market for renting lab equipment?

Also in this week's C&EN, an interesting little article by Marc Reisch about a new intermediary for lab equipment rental? 
Up and running for a year and a half, the firm acts as an intermediary between potential renters and instrument suppliers. Robin Salter, Kwipped’s chief marketing officer, calls his firm an “Uber for the equipment space,” referring to the phone app that hooks up drivers with customers who need a ride. 
Like Uber, Kwipped connects manufacturers and refurbishers with prospective renters of electronics testing, environmental testing, medical, and even heavy construction equipment. Kwipped’s staff directs inquiries to potential suppliers, who submit bids that are then passed back to renters. 
Although Kwipped can make rental arrangements for a variety of equipment, laboratory equipment has been the firm’s most active category, Salter says. The bulk of inquiries, many about renting for less than a year, come from contract and clinical research organizations in the pharmaceutical industry, he says. 
...Wallis Blumm, project management vice president at Innovis, a clinical development consulting firm, says that was the reason she helped arrange a freezer rental through Kwipped. Her client, the operator of a clinical research site, didn’t want to invest in a freezer needed for just one short-term project, but the study sponsors would pay for the rental, she says. 
“Most of the sites we work with have all the equipment required for a clinical study,” Blumm says. “In this case, one site was missing a freezer.” Kwipped, she says, saved her the trouble of calling a variety of suppliers for quotes because it acted as a clearinghouse...
This is an interesting idea, but my problem with Kwipped's business model is that it still relies on refurbishers, who have a terrible track record on the Dovebids and LabX's of the world. Selling as-is used equipment with nonexistent customer service seems to be standard; I guess the fact that one would be renting, rather than buying, would be the upside.

I'm probably too down on this. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ask CJ: How should a candidate answer "Why don't you want to do a postdoc?"

From the inbox, a darn good question (lightly edited for grammar, redacted for privacy) from a senior graduate student we'll call EBZ:
During the onsite interviews I've had, I always get asked: Why don't you want to do a post-doc? I feel like my answers for this are never well received (I usually say that during my PhD, I've worked on a variety of different types of chemistry and I'm excited to work in the fast-paced world of drug discovery). Do you know what kinds of answers they are looking for? 
To be frank, I have no idea how to answer this question. My answer, if I were EBZ, would be something like "My understanding is that a postdoc is more training, and demonstrating that I can get started on a new project, and make an impact quickly, and I feel that I have already done that blah blah buzzword synergy disruption BOOM." (To the literal-minded: this would not be a good answer.)

Readers, do you have a good answer to this question? Help EBZ out!

*I would personally never ask such a question, because I wouldn't ask "Why don't you want to saw off your pinky toe?" or "Does this striped shirt make me look fat?" either. (Yes, CJ, it does. -ed. Thanks for the honesty! Anytime. -ed.)

Jin-Quan Yu is a 2016 MacArthur Fellow

Congratulations to Professor Yu and his group! (Someone at the MacArthur Foundation sure likes chemists!) 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Warning Letter of the Week: simultaneous analysis edition

In a friendly note to Hebei Yuxing Bio-Engineering Co., the FDA notes a problem with their analytical methods: 
2.    Failure to follow and document laboratory controls at the time of performance, and failure to document and explain any departures from laboratory procedures.
During the inspection, your firm provided our investigator a chromatogram for an assay analysis of [redacted] batch [redacted] dated August 30, 2014, at 9:46:39 a.m. Your firm later submitted to FDA a different chromatogram corresponding to the same analysis, instrument, date, time, and batch. The second chromatogram appears exactly the same as the one provided during the inspection, but it includes a different method file name, column type and serial number, and system temperature. Both versions of these documents cannot represent the actual assay analysis that you conducted for batch [redacted] on August 30, 2014, at 9:46:39 a.m.
I don't quite understand the circumstances where this could have happened, but perhaps the good folks at Hebei Yuxing have an answer.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Now that's #altchemjobs!

I presume that the good folks at Willamette University (Salem, OR) have made an error. 

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 298 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List has 298 positions. The open thread is here. 

Clever trick w/IP addresses and job searching

Via Twitter, an interesting post from zwitterionique, an anonymous professor with this little interesting tidbit regarding a simple professional website and their job search: 
Data collection: 
I recorded application due dates, application submission dates, requests for letters of recommendation, requests for phone/skype interviews, invitations for on-campus interviews, interview dates, and rejections. 
In addition to formal communication, I maintained a simple professional website with an IP tracker.  The site came up on the first page of results for a search on my name and I included the web address in my application materials.  I checked the hits at least a few times a week and in the case where the IP address mapped to a university, I recorded the first and second visit dates.  If I applied to multiple positions at a university, I assigned the hit to the earliest application date unless there was a good indication of department in the IP (e.g.   
For large geographical areas with only one university, I counted hits from the city where the university was located even if it wasn’t through a university assigned IP address (e.g. for University of Utah, also hits from Salt Lake City).  I did not do this for cities with multiple universities.  Thus, IP tracking data is much more robust for large state universities than it is for universities in areas like Boston, New York and San Francisco.  
It is likewise more accurate for universities with one open position than with multiple open positions.  Finally, it is much more accurate for applications with earlier due dates (say August through November) because later on there started to be too many hits to parse with as much granularity.   The data set suffered a bit because the task grew in complexity as other demands on my time increased and my anxiety over finding a position diminished.
One of the things that all job applicants express is the frustrating with the Great Job Application Cone of Silence that happens. It seems to me that this is one of those small ways to break that Cone - if your website is getting hits from places that you're applying, you're at least making one cut.

Readers, what has your experience been with professional websites (like, etc.) 

Faculty positions: multiple, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL

From the inbox, a variety of positions at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL:
Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Stories of tenure denial

I wanted to highlight Linda Wang's article about tenure denial in this week's C&EN. It's more hopeful than I might have imagined, although there's plenty of sad moments. I suspect Mary Ellen Lane (who was denied tenure at Rice) sums up one of the most painful aspects of it: 
Another consequence of tenure denial is that you can lose your sense of belonging. “It felt like I was being cast out of this place that I had felt a part of,” Lane says. “In addition to the shame that comes with failure, there’s also the social disintegration. That was the biggest surprise to me. I didn’t have a lot of friends outside of science and Rice, and that network was suddenly gone.”
Another hopeful bit of the article was the story of Rebecca Conry, who was denied tenure at University of Nevada-Reno:
Typically, after a tenure denial, faculty are granted a “terminal year,” where they wrap things up and look for another job. “It certainly was an awkward year, but there wasn’t a lot of time to sit around feeling sorry for myself,” says Rebecca Conry, who was denied tenure at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1999. “You have students to educate, job applications to prepare and submit, and you have to fit in job interviews. Just one foot ahead of the other and get through the year.” 
Conry has also found a good fit. She says that one of the things she enjoyed most about her faculty position at Reno was mentoring undergraduate students. So after she was denied tenure, she focused her search on primarily undergraduate institutions. “Many people find out that the negative tenure decision is an indication that the institution is not quite the right fit,” says Conry, who is now a tenured chemistry professor at Colby College. “You can learn from your experiences to figure out what might be a better fit.” 
When Conry interviewed for positions at primarily undergraduate institutions, she highlighted her strengths in teaching and mentoring. She told the hiring committee, “Here’s how this position is a good fit for me, here’s what I’ve learned, and here’s what I bring to the table.” That helped her overcome the stigma of having been denied tenure. 
Read the whole thing.

(This is another place where we are woefully short on statistics. What percentage of assistant professors are denied tenure? Is the rate of tenure denial going up or down in the last ten years, due to shortages of federal funding? Where do tenure-denied chemistry professors go? What percentage of them go to different institutions? What percentage of them go to industry? What percentage of them leave chemistry altogether? What happens to their students - over a ten or twenty-year period, how do their salaries track with students who graduate from the groups of tenured professors?)  

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's C&EN:

Friday, September 16, 2016

The View from Your Hood: snow clouds edition

Credit: Anonymous
From an anonymous reader: "These were taken on top of our building in winter 2014 (November 18th to be exact) in Buffalo when that crazy storm dropped 8 feet of snow on most of the city."

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

They have chemists at the Met?

I have been remiss in failing to note Linda Wang's great profile last week of Eric Brietung, an art conservation scientist (who started as a medic in the National Guard (!)) and then moved on to a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and ended up at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art: 
2006: Changing careers from coatings to conservation
After seven years at GE, Breitung wanted to move to New York City. When he saw an ad in C&EN for an art conservation scientist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), he applied: It was a perfect match for his interests in science and art. Breitung didn’t get the job, but he contacted department head Marco Leona to find out how he could work toward this type of job. “He was willing to offer me a fellowship for a year at a huge pay cut from industry.” Breitung took leave from GE. 
2009: Working his way through Washington
Breitung returned to GE for seven months before moving to Washington, D.C., to take a job as an art conservation scientist at the Smithsonian. In that position, he identified dyes on textiles from Central Asia. In 2010, he got a job as a senior scientist at the Library of Congress, where he examined materials in magnetic tape and other media. Along the way, he kept in touch with Leona, who became a friend and mentor. 
Today: Fulfilling his dream at the Met
In 2015, Leona contacted Breitung when he had an opening at the Met. “He thought I had the right qualifications for the job, and he invited me to apply,” Breitung says....
Do read the whole thing.

(Art conservation science seems to be one of those fields where the positions are relatively few and far between? It's probably these particular fields where patient networking is key.) 

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/15/16 edition

A few of the academic positions from C&EN Jobs:

Champaign-Urbana, IL: UIUC is looking for an assistant professor; "all major areas of chemistry but with a special emphasis on analytical, inorganic, and materials chemistry."

College Park, MD: The University of Maryland is conducting an open rank search. "Bioanalytical, biophysical and environmental chemistry candidates, and others developing innovative measurements and methods for frontier research in the chemical sciences, broadly defined, are particularly encouraged to apply."

Lawrence, KS: The University of Kansas School of Pharmacy is searching for an assistant or associate professor of medicinal chemistry.

Brockport, NY: The College at Brockport, SUNY is looking for an assistant professor of organic chemistry.

Muncie, IN: Ball State University is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Montreal, QC: McGill University is searching for two assistant professors of green chemistry.

The List: The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth) has 264 positions.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Job posting: product manager, Twist Biosciences, San Francisco, CA

Also via Twitter, an interesting position: 
Twist Biosciences is recruiting a Product Manager to support the upcoming launch of its next generation DNA libraries. In the role (s)he will drive an effort that is charged with taking a product from inception to commercialization. (S)he will work on both a strategic and tactical level by owning the entire product life cycle as well as defining a commercialization plan that enables accelerated adoption within the target market, specifically the pharmaceutical market. 
Within this scope, (s)he must be able to analyze the market by identifying trends, assessing the competition, conducting customer voice surveys and identifying opportunities that can be addressed, allowing for the definition of requirements that lead to well-differentiated products with a strategic market fit. The ideal candidate must also possess a keen understanding of the target market and their behavior to ensure a successful commercial roll out.
Minimum Qualifications
  • B.S or greater in Biology, Chemistry, Molecular Biology or related field with at least 5 years of experience in developing nucleic acid based products within a formal process development process
  • At least 3 years of hands on experience with nucleic acid based products
  • Support of 3 nucleic acid product launches from either a product management, R&D lead, FAS or tech transfer role...
Preferred Qualifications 
  • Ph.D. in Biology, Chemistry, Molecular Biology or related field
  • Experience delivering nucleic acid products from new product concept to release
  • Proven track record of concisely reporting VOC information to marketing and development teams...
Sounds like this is something where a phosphoramidite synthesis background would be very useful. Best wishes to those interested. 


Interesting comment about chemist openings at Johnson Matthey over at ItP. 

Job posting: medicinal chemist, Merck, South San Francisco, CA

Via Twitter, 5 openings: 
Merck is currently seeking exceptional Chemists for positions within the Discovery Chemistry Departments located at our South San Francisco, CA site. 
- Bachelor's Degree with a minimum of (7) years experience in Chemistry
- Master's Degree with a minimum of (4) years experience in Chemistry
- Ph.D. in Chemistry 
Required Experience:
- Experience in methodology/catalysis, total synthesis, Chemical Biology, or Physical Organic Chemistry is required, along with a proven track record of solving complex problems.
Here's the link. Best wishes to those interested.