About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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February 5, 2007

A Break, Whether I Felt Like It Or Not

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Posted by Derek

So begins my first week without employment since the late 1980s. And I'm not sure that that period counts, since it was just after my postdoc ended and I was looking for my first real job. I had a Humboldt fellowship in Germany - West Germany at the time, of course - and I'd tried sending letters from there back to potential employers in the US. I should have taken all of them and buried them under a rock by the light of the full moon - it wouldn't have produced any fewer results. I realized what was happening after a while, and prepared another thick pile of envelopes for my return. Once in a US airport, I promptly mailed them out, and then the phone began to ring at last.

I feel rather cut off from things, I have to say, because I'm used to constant SciFinder access and plenty of online journal subscriptions. There's not much I can do about either one of those, though - SciFinder's rates are astronomical for what-you-want when-you-want searching, for example, which makes me glad that I used the service so heavily while I had access to it. And I also feel cut off from doing what I usually do - think up weird research ideas and test them out. The burst of activity I detailed here is the last time I've been in the lab, well, other than to throw an awful lot of stuff away.

What will be interesting will be seeing what kinds of ideas I get after this break. Rather than going rusty, my guess is that I'll have some interesting stuff built up and ready to go. I've written about how one of the things that I disliked about graduate school was the constant, forced attention on one single project and problem. Situations like that have always done me harm when they've gone on too long - here's hoping that this one will do me good.

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Closing Time


1. Anonymous on February 6, 2007 11:00 AM writes...

How will this (lack of SciFinder, etc.) affect your consultant gig?

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2. No name on February 6, 2007 11:24 AM writes...

A good blog is totally from real life. Your article will not touch reader's heart if you lose connection with real Chemistry Life. Therefore, a research position is highly important for Industry Insider as you were.

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3. pc on February 6, 2007 12:40 PM writes...

In terms of SciFinder, many of us know that it's quite expensive to use, though a lot of folks involved in research take it for granted. My question is, any one out there know whether there's a comparable alternative to it with less cost? As a matter of fact, why there is not much competition in this line of business?

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4. Davd L on February 6, 2007 1:01 PM writes...

Hey, maybe you can get a job with Kevin Trudeaus snake oil empire in the time being? I'd fall off my chair if I turned on late night infomercials and saw you interviewing Kevin for his latest overweight "cure" in one of those staged programs that tries to look official. Throw some technical terms and him and see what happens!

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5. Brian on February 6, 2007 1:39 PM writes...

The journal issue might solved by going to your local University library? Our computers don't require a logon and because you're coming from a university IP address, you automatically get the electronic subscription.

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6. ElwoodCity on February 6, 2007 4:09 PM writes...

May your break be shorter than you think, or a more successful digression than you had planned. One think I am learning from my job search this year is that there is a lot more hurry up and wait than I had planned on.

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7. MolecularGeek on February 6, 2007 5:12 PM writes...

Hang in there, Derek. I did an involuntary stint without income a few years back, and I know it can be rough. As for scifinder and electronic journal access, check with your local university library. I know some that allow public access (for non-commercial use, of course). Not quite as nice as right at the bench or from the comfort of one's home, but still better than going looking for the current issues that some grad student hid while they went to get their copy card.


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8. Mark M on February 6, 2007 6:00 PM writes...

As someone who has been through a layoff (5 months)--I say: enjoy the extra time with your kids!

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9. Jordan on February 6, 2007 7:07 PM writes...

Good luck to you, Derek. Do you have something formal lined up?

As for Scifinder and on-line journals -- many universities limit access to students (you have to enter your student number or have a login at a university computer). I myself am also now having to get used to not having instant "free" Scifinder. It's tough.

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10. Echo on February 6, 2007 10:43 PM writes...

I very much understand waht you wrote about SciFinder. I left the academic world a few years ago for the private sector. I am still coming to terms with the fact that I will never, ever have the electronic resources that I had access to in the academic world. I also echo what others wrote here: try to get access through your alma mater, or though any medical library. The rates are cheaper.

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11. Check point Charlie on February 7, 2007 1:33 AM writes...

Please can you share the secret to finding employment that you allude to in this post. What did you do differently that made your second batch of applications successful? Does mailing from the airport have some magical effect that everyone has been hiding from me? If I go to my city's airport and post my 48th application from there will the ending be happier than it was for the first 47 applications?

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12. eugene on February 7, 2007 10:37 AM writes...

I've actually been told recently that it's a bad idea to do a post-doc abroad if you want a job here. Especially an academic job. For an academic job, your application goes to the bottom of the pile since they don't want to bother arranging a flight for you. And you definitely don't want to be looking for an academic job while you are sitting in the US doing nothing.

This sounds highly stupid to me. Perhaps the academics who have been involved on search committees can comment?

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13. The Strider on February 7, 2007 4:21 PM writes...

PubMed can be quite useful for abstract search and a good number of articles can be obtained using Google Scholar (sometimes only a preprint). For the remaining articles - a public library or state university libraries might be helpful.

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14. anon on February 8, 2007 8:11 AM writes...

Tough. Take care, sir.
Would you consider working elsewhere, as in India?
Not quite the wild west, but mostly analogues.

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15. MTK on February 8, 2007 8:18 AM writes...


If you know someone of the faculty at a nearby university you might see of there is some position like "volunteer faculty", "visiting fellow" or something like that with essentially little or no responsibilities, but makes you a member of the university community. You can then access their journals from home through a vpn address. SciFinder and other things may also be available.

BTW, although not in a similar situation to yours, I did take a 3 week break in between jobs and it may have been the best 3 weeks of my adult life. Obviously, we've all got to make a living, so that stress is there, but otherwise, enjoy! You may never get this chance again.

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16. Anonymous BMS Researcher on February 9, 2007 6:15 PM writes...

Dear Derek:

A "townie" can purchase a Yale library card, I forget the exact amount but it *is* fairly affordable and gets you access to various online resources from their libraries -- though if you have no association with the university you will not be able to access resources online so you will have to go in person and use a computer there. A "townie" who has bought a card can check out books.

Another local college, Quinnipiac University, has a far smaller library but unlike Yale there is nobody checking IDs at the door. I don't know their official policy on library access but I can tell you from firsthand observation there is nothing to stop anybody from walking into their library and using one of the computers, or plugging your own laptop into the Ethernet connections at many of the carrels. I got my doctorate at Duke, but have taken a couple of classes at QU and nobody every asked to see my ID. Parking can be a problem -- every day I went to class there I saw them towing people who parked without the appropriate permit -- but you can park several places within walking distance of the campus.

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