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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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 6, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

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Posted by Derek

I've had an e-mail from someone going off to grad school in chemistry. He wants to eventually do drug discovery work, and is wondering which way to go:

I have it narrowed down to two departments. One is a large, well funded and well respected university with a specific research advisor that is actively recruiting me for his lab. He is a leader in his field and my place in the lab would be in the capacity of synthetic chemist (making various inhibitors). Although his lab is in the chemistry dept it is more on the bio-organic side. My other choice is a smaller less well respected school with fewer resources (lots of TAing) but I could do total synthesis. I would like to join the first group but obviously I want to be able to get a job. If I joined the first group, would I be unemployable in pharma? With a post doc heavy in synthesis would I be able to get a job?

My answer to him was that I'd go with the first lab. A larger school with a more well-known advisor is worth more than the chance to do total synthesis for a PhD - and just as he mentioned, he can do a synthesis-heavy postdoc if need be. Connections mean a lot - ask someone who's job hunting! - and a PhD advisor is generally the first major source of them at the start of a career. The work described is definitely not so far afield that it's going to mess up later job-hunting.

I told him, though, to be sure to get a varied chemistry background in whichever group he joins. You don't want to get too specialized - for future med-chem employment, that can be a killer. A seminar full of same reaction (or class of reactions) over and over isn't going to impress anyone later on - you need to show that you can pick up new chemistry and get it to work, and that you've had to deal with the things that didn't.

One of the reasons that we like total synthesis people is because they've had a wide range of experience, as well as practice with overcoming difficulties. Total synthesis is probably the most efficient way of getting a wide background in synthetic problem-solving in the shortest amount of time. Admittedly, it doesn't always seem like the shortest amount of time while you're doing it, but you can't have everything.

Comments (49) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Graduate School | How To Get a Pharma Job


COMMENTS

1. MolecModeler on March 6, 2007 11:36 AM writes...

God am I glad to be out of grad school. Should he consider where he will be less miserable? I know it strokes a students small ego to be actively courted by some big shot prof, but once you're in the group, are you ever going to see him? Or will he be a little orphan shuttled between various senior students and/or postdocs. Then, after 5-6 years of soul breaking work, sweat shop hours, and a host of other denigrations, he is still not guaranteed a job in pharma. Who knows how things will stand then? If head count is frozen, then it's frozen, and you're not getting a job no matter what you've done.

Still, I guess I agree with Derek. At a fancy pants school you will meet lots of people who will do cool things, and they may be able to help you out in the future. By simple statistics this is more likely to happen in a well known school than some smaller podunk University of Nowhere.

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2. BioBrit on March 6, 2007 12:34 PM writes...

I never agreed with Pharma's obsession with the small Total Synthesis clique, not when I was considering jobs, and still not after working in Biotech for some years. My expeience is that too much hard core academia brings strong sythetic skills, but can also bring a host of baggage. Also, a company that employs from a variety of backgrounds gets a variety of skillsets. Creativity often comes from prior experience and the more varied that is....

However, thats not to pretend that that is how the industry works. "Like begets like" and graduates from Prof Superstar #1 often consider only candidates from said calibre are worth considering, and the cycle is perpetuated. Myself, I got a lucky break after a PhD and postdoc in macrocyclic and supramolecular chemistry (hey, its all binding events!) and found a role in a Biotech, which I think I've been good at. Big Pharma completely turned their nose up though.

To any unfortunate souls heading to Grad School, go where you'll be happy. Grad school is a long time, and going somewhere you'll not like because it serves your career well isn't going to get you finished. But if its quits between the two examples given here, go to the big group, contacts help more than anything.

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3. JSinger on March 6, 2007 1:26 PM writes...

I can't speak to the chemistry side, but there's an intangible but invaluable gain you get from going to a much higher-tier school. A commenter on one of the rant-endlessly-about-creationism blogs had the best term for it I've seen: "taste". You pick up a sensibility for being a good researcher, not just a researcher.

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4. Wavefunction on March 6, 2007 2:49 PM writes...

I think it depends a lot on what he means by "small, less respected with fewer resources". Because even in such schools, there are individual faculty members with good funding who are very well known. For example, if you got your PhD. with Al Padwa at Emory, you would not have a problem in the heterocylic or general synthetic field just because you are from a relatively less famous department.
Naturally, if he is undecided about what he exactly wants to do, then he should shoot for the big school and name.

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5. chrispy on March 6, 2007 3:27 PM writes...


To the decision-making student:

Go for the bigger lab. You'll have a wider breadth of experience and your fellow students will be of a higher caliber. Yeah, you won't see much of the Head Honcho but he probably has a bunch of postdocs who will contribute way more to your education than a small lab would. Plus you won't run out of money halfway through your degree.

It is too bad but frankly it is nearly impossible to know what will really interest you when you go into graduate school. You may find enzyme kinetics are way more interesting than synthesis, and the bigger lab would allow you to follow that.

Finally: Enjoy it! The long hours and low pay and all the rest can be a drag if you let it get to you, but the fact is that you're getting paid to get a degree so it isn't too bad. As a side bonus, after living in poverty for 5-6 years you will find a new appreciation for those things which we in America take totally for granted.

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6. Axicon on March 6, 2007 5:05 PM writes...

I agree with Wavefunction.

Also, I take great umbrage at the comments by chrispy about living below the poverty line. The average chemistry graduate student currently makes ~$20k in the US and, from what I can gather, the poverty line is currently set at ~$10k for an individual.

We may be poor(er), but we are a simple and proud folk, us graduate students. Back to you Senator.

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7. Anthony on March 6, 2007 5:37 PM writes...

Answer- None of the above. You should re-apply for schools with a big-name PI's (I.E Evans, Corey, etc) or quit. Only top tier people get hired in pharma today. Think single discipline, with one focus, never broadly educate yourself in chemistry.

"One is a large, well funded and well respected university with a specific research advisor that is actively recruiting me for his lab. He is a leader in his field and my place in the lab would be in the capacity of synthetic chemist (making various inhibitors). Although his lab is in the chemistry dept it is more on the bio-organic side"

READ that- It's my profile! I am a Phd graduate from an IVY school and a big name lab who's specialization wasn't synthesis. I have been between two worlds. The bio people dont think i'm a biologist and the synthesis people don't believe i'm a synth jock (despite 3 JACS papers!).

I'm now teaching full time and have given up ever getting a job in Pharma.

Chemists are simple-minded folk, who are overly impressed with name-recognition (the same can be said of MBA's!). It's far more important than ability. The system weeds out those who are inquisitive or creative long befor they can obtain their synth Phds. Grad school for most synth people is just 'obedience school'.

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8. Derek Lowe on March 6, 2007 7:05 PM writes...

I can't endorse all of Anthony's views above, I have to say. You really can get a job in drug discovery without having worked for one of the top names - look at how many people they turn out each year, how many of them go into the drug industry, and how many chemists are working there. The math doesn't add up if companies were only hiring from the world-class labs.

That said, it's true that working for someone in that league will greatly increase your chances of getting hired somewhere.

Anthony, I don't know your situation, but you sound like someone who's been caught in the downside of all the trendy chemo-bio stuff that's going on these days. Worth another post all by itself.

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9. Stephen on March 6, 2007 10:31 PM writes...

I would go with the total synth experience, because it's more synthetically challenging; because you're not working with a simple stripped down system, as many bio-organic research projects are centered on. You're put up against something more structurally challenging, hopefully full of pretty quaternary stereocenters peeking out at you.

Solving easy questions doesn't make one a better scientist. Solving difficult questions will give you the experience necessary to tackle future ones.

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10. Recent Ph.D. on March 6, 2007 10:39 PM writes...

One thing nobody's mentioned yet is that if this future grad student wants a drug discovery job possibly right out of grad school without a postdoc (at least in the past few years definitely possible with the right school/advisor, who knows with the ever-changing job market) he would be much better off in a top department that attracts a large number of companies for on-campus recruiting.

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11. The Strider on March 7, 2007 12:11 AM writes...

Unfortunately, it sounds that "what group will look better on the CV" seems to weight more than "where will one learn more" in afecting the chances of getting a good job fresh out of grad school. Yet, I suggest giving good considerations to the second point.

Talk with former students of your potential advisor to hear how would it be to work with him and whether he is supportive when you leave the group.

In a strong department you are exposed to a larger collection of groups working in realted topics and via seminars to the state of the art in the field.

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12. A-non-y-mous on March 7, 2007 8:15 AM writes...

None of the above. Don't do it! Go to med school. Law school. MBA. Finance. If you want some seblance of security, or the ability to choose where you live, do anything else.

But if you just have to do it: go to the best school possible (top 10 O-Chem) and work for the best person there (this requires a call from your undergrad research advisor, hopefully a personal friend of your future boss). Prepare for the infighting and backstabbing. It isn't for the faint of heart.

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13. Datadriven on March 7, 2007 9:20 AM writes...

"Recent PhD" made a good point about on-campus recruiting. Each big pharma company has a small and specific list of schools its recruiters visit every year, and each company has a reputation for favoring a specific school and even a specific lab (this can depend on educational background of upper chemistry management and/or from where its consultants come). If the student has a specific company in mind where he/she would like to work post-grad school, a little research into the hiring history of that company would be an invaluable asset. One other point -- when I first read the two possibilities, I thought the larger-known school was a no-brainer; however, the fact that he/she would be synthesizing various "inhibitors" worried me somewhat. If the inhibitors are simple molecules to be made with well-known, already worked-out chemistry, this could also be a disappointing death-trap. I have worked at two large pharma companies, and both preferred candidates who synthesized more complex molecules than the average drug-discovery target.

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14. CET on March 7, 2007 10:38 AM writes...

Two questions: (And a hijacked thread)

1) Is the degree of total synthesis bias different between biotech and pharma?

2) How strong is the above bias? Can it be overcome by designing/making several smaller molecules using a variety of reactions, or is it the kind of thing where you don't make it into the shortlist unless your thesis is the 'total synthesis of sukmicoxin B.'

(The facetious third quesion is 'is total synthesis actually science')

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15. pc on March 7, 2007 11:06 AM writes...

#13 has a point. If he were to become just a cheap labor, which happens all the time nowadays, for churning out series of analogs without doing syn chem with enough diversity, his cv probably won't stand out when applying for a job.

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16. pc on March 7, 2007 11:20 AM writes...

Is it possible to convince prof#1 to allow this grad-student-would-be to take on a (or two) total syn project that both parties agree upon as a side project? My impression is that this prof is eager to have him on board so he might have some negotiating power. That way he would have advantages from both worlds, more or less.

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17. A-non-y-mous on March 7, 2007 11:39 AM writes...

"Is it possible to convince prof#1 to allow this grad-student-would-be to take on a (or two) total syn project that both parties agree upon as a side project? . . . That way he would have advantages from both worlds, more or less."

Good thought, but bad idea, if this is not the prof's forte. #1-there would be a lack of synthesis experience in the lab, which is VITAL for a new grad student, and #2-the Prof. probably doesn't have a niche carved into the area and it will be harder to publish and present.

Generally, the theory from Big Pharma (I've been told this from higher-ups at several of the biggest during interviews) is that you can teach med-chem to synthetic chemists, but not synthesis to med-chemists. There is truth to that, but it assumes med-chemists are synthetic hacks, which we know isn't always true.

When making new hires, companies not only look at what you've done, but your flake factor. How likely are you to be a total flake? Probability tell them that if you come from Overman's group you'll probably do OK, since 9 out of the last 10 people they hired from his group turned out well. If they hire someone from a lesser (or unknown) group, then they are purchasing an unknown commodity, hence a bigger risk. Is it fair or accurate? Not always. But it is what it is.

If your goal is to only go to Big Pharma, get in with the biggest and the best groups, work hard, publish, and network (don't make enemies or be an ass). You'll do OK. But, if you only have Big Pharma on your mind (sounds like a Willie Nelson song), you are really short changing yourself. There are some great mid-sized and smaller companies out there, and you probably have a better chance of standing out (for good or bad work).

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18. Jose on March 7, 2007 1:46 PM writes...

Synthesis gives you lots of great, interesting things to talk about at your interviews, even if most of it didn't work. That's a huge leg up.

Another thing to contemplate is the fact that there are NO secure jobs anywhere in the industry- Big Pharma, Big Biotech, Little Biotech: nowhere. Semi-regular layoffs are now the norm, and trend looks like it will continue.

If you are geographically inclined, think seriously about another career, unless you really want to live in SF, San Diego, Cambridge or NJ. I wish I had known that before contemplating a career....

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19. molecularArchitect on March 7, 2007 2:17 PM writes...

A-non-y-mous' comments regarding Pharma hiring preferences is, in my experience, on the mark. I came from a total synthesis academic background but after 20+ years in the industry do not understand this preference. Most of the synthesis done in drug discovery is straightforward and repetitive. The really creative work is designing the molecule, i.e. med chem.

Pharma and biotec companies don't like to hire med chemists, they prefer newly graduated synthesis jocks. It takes years to really learn med chem, yet the industry doesn't value experience in its hiring practices. Gee, I wonder why new drug introductions are declining?!?

Comments regarding companies favoring people from particular labs is also very true. Monday, I attended a seminar by Chris Lipinski. He made a big point that for success, companies need a DIVERSITY of people and approaches to problems. Yet companies fill up their labs with clones originating from the same academic labs. Clones who have been trained to think and approach problems in the same way. Gee, maybe there is a reason for the decrease in creativity in the industry!?!

At least some of the industry's woes are due to the narrow focus and bias of the so-called scientific leadership.

As to the original question, I have to agree with A-non-y-mous again. The student should do neither option unless he/she truly aspires to an unstable and short career. If he/she reallys wants to do drug research, get a PharmD or MD. That will at least offer alternative paths if the industry remains so unstable. If I could do it over, I would not have pursued a chemitry PhD.

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20. Chrispy on March 7, 2007 3:52 PM writes...


MolecularArchitect and A-non-y-mous:

As cynical as y'all might sound to an outsider, I have to totally agree. Getting a Ph.D. slams many doors shut. Unless you are really driven to do this kind of work, do NOT get a Ph.D.

Career-wise, a far better alternative is the MD/Ph.D. These days, it doesn't take any longer than a Ph.D. to get and someone else typically pays for it. (Well, OK, it might take a little longer to get.) This gives you a backup option as a clinician, and you will probably make twice as much as someone with a Ph.D. at that Big Pharma you have set your sights on.

I have known several people with Ph.D.s and great pedigrees to go on to further schooling -- amazingly. Typically MBA or law. This is because the career options of a Ph.D. are very limited.

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21. Semi-recent MS on March 7, 2007 5:05 PM writes...

I attempted to do a decent sized synthesis project under a biggish name methodology jock. It was a total disaster- he had no real interest, advice, or patience with the project. Not recommended at all. You simply cannot do serious synthesis "on the side" or in a vacuum....

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22. bootsy on March 7, 2007 6:25 PM writes...

I know this is going to sound preachy, but here's a try anyway. Go for the Ph.D. if you are really driven to do it. Pick a course of study that motivates you and jump in. Don't be afraid of the tangents and be willing to change course. Be careful and intelligent in your approach and the rest is details.

The undercurrent running through the comments above is that getting a Ph.D. in chemistry is not something that you should do in order to find gainful employment. If you are looking to make money, get an MBA, go to law school, or find something else. For less work, you can earn much more money.

So, you'd better be passionate about what you're doing. If you're not, you're wasting your time.

So far, if I could do it over, I'd do the same thing, but with more intensity.

molecularArchitect, ask me again in 20 years...I can only hope my answer will be the same.

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23. Reluctant Chemist on March 7, 2007 6:40 PM writes...

bootsy took the words right out of my mouth...good preaching!

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24. Lao on March 7, 2007 8:29 PM writes...

This is the last generation (that's you fellow posters!) who will consider a PhD in chemistry anything more than a form of academic suicide. The country is overproducing the degree because the needs of industry are not the needs of Academia. Academia requires armies of TAs and low cost labor. Industry wants (thinks it wants?) narrowly trained men and women to do largely repetitive work. They also hope you won't care if you're laid off every 24 months.

The prospects outside R&D are bleek. No one will hire a PhD. for any position in any field that can be done by a B.S/M.S. A less educated supervisor will not tolerate a PhD in their midst (he likely fears for his own job!).

So if you're independently wealthy I say go for it, but if not, don't waste your time.

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25. molecularArchitect on March 7, 2007 9:40 PM writes...

Bootsy,

Even 5 years ago, I would have agreed with you. I love the intellectual challenges of chemistry, I love working at the bench, I love running projects at the interface of chemistry and biology. In spite of my enthusiasm, skills, degree, experience and proven results, i can't find a job at the young age of 50. I'm not talking about earning big money, I'm talking about a job in my chosen field. I'm beginning to feel like Goldilocks: too experienced, not experienced enough, ... (too hot, too cold, just right).

Lao is right about the prospects outside of R&D. The skill set, in the eyes of employers, is too narrow and esoteric for most other jobs. I know several chemistry PhDs who are now pursuing certificates or other training in patent law, regulatory affairs or project management - not because they want to do so but because they cannot find chemistry jobs at this point of their careers.

Again, if someone wants a career in pharma/biotech, they will be much better served with a MD/PhD, PharmD or MD, than with a straight PhD.

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26. Jimbo on March 7, 2007 11:50 PM writes...

I just finished getting my PhD in a top total synthesis group and recently started a job in big pharma. I've also been to a few job talks and now have a view from the other side of the fence. The best talks I've seen have a story, complete with a full arc where problems were encountered and overcome...(these people got offers). Many of the bad talks came from pure methods backgrounds and didn't have this arc. They appeared to take good ideas from an adviser and bang through tables of data... which isn't what a PhD is paid to do. That said, we've also had some amazing talks from methods people, and our most attractive candidates did both.

As Trost is fond of saying, medicinal chemists should be making the molecules they want to make, not just the ones they can make. Some of this is just Trost looking down his nose at industrial chemists, forgetting that most of us did PhD's in groups like his. But his sentiments hold true. Chemistry doesn't suddenly get really easy when you're at a company... problems arise, and you don't want synthesis issues to be a bottleneck on your project. Also, remember that in a PhD level position, you're managing other less experienced chemists. You want your mentorship skills to be more than, "I don't know, look it up in SciFinder"

If you really want the PhD and you're willing to give it your all, by all means go for it. If you're not going to work in a top lab, go wherever and around year 3, bail with a MS. Companies will fight over you.

k... I'm done rambling.

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27. Ramon on March 8, 2007 12:00 AM writes...

I work for big pharma and management has made it known that all future growth in chemistry will be in low cost countries (i.e. China and India). We've had inhouse positions "frozen" for >6 months, while being able to increase our external resource in China. It looks like no growth actually means shrinkage by attrition.

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28. CET on March 8, 2007 1:30 AM writes...

I'm not sure what I think of the apocalyptic pessimism about the present and future state of industrial jobs in the US. But I don't really believe the 'everyone is fat and happy' industry reports that C&E puts out. Is there a more reliable source for a quantative analysis of just how bad the problem is?

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29. molecularArchitect on March 8, 2007 3:51 AM writes...

CET - according to the C&EN employment survey last fall, unemployment among ACS members was just under 9%. This is almost double the national unemployment rate and several times the historical ACS rate. So you're right, why in the hell isn't ACS and C&EN more interested in this news? You would never think there was a problem reading the weekly C&EN issue.

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30. eugene on March 8, 2007 10:06 AM writes...

So, I have a strange question I guess. How many people have you known who lied about having a PhD? They just put a Masters on their resume and that's all. Is this easy to do, or are you likely to be outed if you do so?

Also, do you think your old department would be happy to print a Masters certificate for you going by the argument that, "Well, if they did a PhD, then they are qualified for a Masters for sure"?

Or how about just leaving the PhD off the resume? After all, it's your resume and you shouldn't include any information that would hurt your chances. I don't see anything wrong or illegal with that. And the five years at NC State in that methods group? You were just a lab technician of course; your co-operative advisor will say the same thing.

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31. A-non-y-mou on March 8, 2007 10:19 AM writes...

Interesting question. I know of several schools (perhaps all of the UC system) that give a "class masters", which is awarded just on taking x number of classes, which is fulfilled easily during Ph.D. coursework. I know of a lot of Ph.D. students that filled out the form and payed ($20?) to get the MS, mainly just for the heck of it. I can guarantee you no school would print up an MS if you "only" earned a Ph.D.

I know a lot of applications I filled out had a box that asked "highest degree completed", and had a checkbox for Ph.D.

I have heard of Chinese Ph.D.s doing this, when the going got rough, and taking an MS level job. Perhaps it was harder for the company to confirm this? Or maybe it's an urban legend.

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32. datadriven on March 8, 2007 12:02 PM writes...

During my time at both large pharma companies where I have worked, this question (about hiring a PhD for a MS position) has come up. In our search for qualified MS candidates, we uncovered many underqualified PhD candidates who would fit well into the MS positions. Both companies nixed hiring a PhD for a MS position, because once in the position, the PhD could say he/she was being discriminated against for not being paid according to their educational level. I don't know if this would really happen, but I guess you have to consider all possibilities.

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33. Disenchanted on March 8, 2007 6:09 PM writes...

Thanks everyone for all the insightful comments, although I have to admit I am a little saddened by the general theme. I will be starting grad school in the fall, at which school is yet to be determined. The fact of the matter is that I am going to get a chemistry PhD, for better or for worse. Not because I want to make a lot of money (although comfort and security would be nice) but because I love chemistry. At this point in my life I cannot see myself doing anything else. When I pick up a book to take to the beach it’s not the latest Tom Clancy novel its Classic in Total Synthesis, when I sit around and talk with friends were not discussing last nights CSI we are talking about chemistry. This is what I find fascinating and this is what I want to do. The reason I set my sights on pharma is not the job security (ha-ha) or the tons of money I'm sure all you medicinal chemists make ; ) it’s for the chance to use something that I love to make the lives of people better. I realize it is probably the idealism (ignorance) of youth but I truly believe that I can make a positive difference in someone’s life and chemistry seems like a means to that end. So I am going to go off to grad school and in 5 years I will have my PhD. For better or worse this is the path I have chosen. I will probably get laid off and my job may go to someone overseas, if I can get a job at all that is. I guess I will just have to marry someone rich, and sacrifice one love for another.

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34. eugene on March 8, 2007 8:50 PM writes...

Whoah, that does sound a bit idealistic and starry eyed. Maybe instead of taking 'Classics of Total Synthesis' or Tom Clancy to the beach, pick up a copy of Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good and Evil' or Beckett's 'Molloy/Malone/The Unnameable'.

That'll fix you right up. Making positive differences in peoples' lives by going to grad school for five years and then getting a job in pharma... I know that that's why undergrads choose to go on this admirable path, but if that's the only thing driving you when you actually do get a pharma job, you'll be easily disenchanted further. At least you love chemistry, so there is hope. Maybe even a softball like Camus' 'The Outsider' will set you straight. Don't read 'The Plague' though; that's a pick-me-upper.

Not to mention that you sound very optimistic that you'll get your PhD in five years. Or that you might care about marrying anyone at that time or going overseas after five years of grad school. Myabe CSI will be cancelled too at that time. You forget the two obligatory years of detox if you do total synthesis in grad school (a synthesis friend of mine is just about done on his second year and is making great progress at becoming a normal member of society). My reading suggestions might cut that down to one year.

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35. Jose on March 8, 2007 9:58 PM writes...

Just to stick the knife in a little deeper-
a.) for 99% of med chemists, everything we do in our ENTIRE career will never see a patient, let alone help one. The vast, vast majority of people never see anything to market.
b). Loving chemistry isn't enough. That'll get you through to about Christmas your first year; then while running a column on Christmas Eve, and another on Christmas Day, it will evaporate.
c.)

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36. Jose on March 8, 2007 10:13 PM writes...

Just to stick the knife in a little deeper-
a.) for 99% of med chemists, everything we do in our ENTIRE career will never see a patient, let alone help one. The vast, vast majority of people never see anything to market.
b). Loving chemistry isn't enough. That'll get you through to about Christmas your first year; then while running a column on Christmas Eve, and another on Christmas Day, it will evaporate.
c.)

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37. weirdo on March 9, 2007 12:26 AM writes...

Hey Disenchanted --
If you love synthetic chemistry as much as you say you do, and bust your ass to become an absolute top-flight synthetic chemist who not only can make important molecules, but can explain to others how to make important molecules IN A WAY THAT DOES NOT PUT THEM OFF, you will have a long and happy career with plenty of choices.

If you're an average Ph.D., or uninspired, or uninspiring, you will have fewer choices. But, seriously, how different is that from any other career path?

Outsourcing to China cannot and will not last for ever. Prices will rise until it's not value-added. If you can bring REAL value to a company, by both the fruit of your own hands AND your ability to think clearly and MAKE DECISIONS, you will have little difficulty finding terrific positions at a variety of companies.

Are there too many synthetic Ph.D.'s out there looking for jobs? YES. But the top 10-15% are getting MULTIPLE offers across the country, at big companies and small. The next tier are finding offers, just maybe not as many as they hoped for. The lower third are really struggling.

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38. molecularArchitect on March 9, 2007 6:47 PM writes...

Weirdo, if only what you are saying was true. I'd love to see your data supporting your claims for the top tier. Anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you that I'm certainly not in the lower third. I know several top-flight people (and like to think that I'm one of them) who have been looking for a year or more. I know of one person who has moved 4 compounds into Phase II/III clinical trials in his career; he's been looking for almost 2 years. The only ones getting multiple offers are those lucky enough to have the pedigree and contacts it takes in this job market. Just being skilled and able to bring value isn't enough. Once you're over 45, it gets much, much more difficult.

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39. weirdo on March 9, 2007 8:52 PM writes...

MA--
I'm sorry, I wasn't that clear. I was addressing only freshly minted Ph.D.'s. And I can tell you unequivocally that many, many "new to the market" Ph.D.'s and post-docs received multiple job offers, across the country.

But you are absolutely right -- at the 8-15 year experience level it is exceedingly difficult to move around. There are a lot of reasons for that, I suppose, but none all that satisfying. And certainly no consolation to those unfortunate enough to currently be on the market.

It seems odd that fresh Ph.D.'s in need of tons of training have more opportunities than experienced pros. But, again, I don't think chemistry is unique in that fact.

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40. eugene on March 10, 2007 9:02 AM writes...

Of course, there is a way to make sure experience people do get hired, and it's called 'anti age-discrimination legislation'. Speaking as someone who's still young, I have no idea why the American government is not even considering it at this point. A company should offer equal opportunities to all members of society or get fined heavily for discrimination.

A quick look at payrolls should show who's been naughty, provide a quick source of revenue for a few years, and improve the economy by providing jobs for experienced people who want them.

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41. molecularArchitect on March 10, 2007 5:29 PM writes...

Eugene, such laws are on the books. They have little, if any, effect on hiring practices. On ocassion, they are enforced with regards to job terminations. Proving age discrimination is tough.

Actually, the Federal government is one of the worst when it comes to age discrimination. There are age limits for hiring at many government agencies (FBI, CIA, ATF). Also age-related mandatory retirement policies for many government agencies and regulated industries (e.g. airline pilots).

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42. milkshake on March 11, 2007 4:31 AM writes...

Molecula architect: If you did not have a PhD (or if you were an unremarkable chemist and never had your own lab) your job hunt situation would be paradoxicaly much better.

The point is: If I was boss of a lab and hiring people into my group, I would not give you an interview - even if you were the best chemist in the world plus willing to take a step down plus paycut. Nobody likes to hire his own replacement.

I was trying to convince my superiors here to invite for interview Jeff S. (from the 1st floor). I hand-delivered his resume, explained what he worked on - I have a copy of a Tot Synth thesis of a friend who worked on ecteinascidin before - and basicaly gave an enthusiastic endorsment of his qualities as a chemist ans a person.

And the answer was "this is all nice and well but this candidate would not fit into our existing groups and we will not start a new one for him."

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43. kirra on March 11, 2007 11:04 PM writes...

Wow most of you sound so negative about things I can't help but wonder why anybody would consider getting a PhD in chemistry.

Heck I have just started a few weeks ago and already I have doubts.

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44. milkshake on March 11, 2007 11:11 PM writes...

Kirra, you stil have time to switch, to go to business, or to study the corporate law - and one day (if you are good) you can be in charge of mergers, layoffs and asset-striping of the subjugated subsidiaries in a major pharma corporation. Very satisfying and profitable.

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45. kirra on March 11, 2007 11:17 PM writes...

Milkshake, I just find it sad though. Chemistry is something I truely love doing and doing a PhD was something I have aimed for the last two years of my degree.

Unfortunatly coming from New Zealand the job market is already fairly limited and most positions advertised favour Honours (which is have) or MSc.

Heck I would probably be better of being a teacher.

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46. milkshake on March 11, 2007 11:24 PM writes...

well bloody snakes, go to work in Australia, then. Or US, UK, Ireland. Even Switzerland or Germany. There is enough jobs for synthetic chemists in thr industry, especaly for chemists fresh-after-the-school. Here in US (and also in UK) the situation was little tough lately because few companies had layoffs at the same time but things will change by the time you graduate. Derek has it tough because he was pretty high up and there are fewer openings at his level.

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47. kirra on March 11, 2007 11:47 PM writes...

Ok, I can see that you are right.

I think it's just a bit of a shock to the system to read the comments only to get an general air of negativity.

Being a bit isolated in NZ and a little naive I didn't realize the level of uncertainty in this industry.

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48. CET on March 12, 2007 3:56 PM writes...

If industry people don't publish very often, and very few projects result in patents, then how do companies make up their shortlists for open positions?

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49. kayesdee on March 27, 2007 3:41 PM writes...

#48
Many projects turn into patents. And "publish or perish" in industry looks a bit different; especially since other skill sets come into play at higher levels.

But I can't understand why all of you are out for pharma jobs. Chemists can do much more than that.

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