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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Oops | Main | Merck, Vioxx: Seventeen and Three »

June 4, 2008

Tote That Barge, Lift That Bale

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I was talking with a colleague recently about the different cultures that have grown up in different drug companies where lab associates are concerned. For those outside the industry, those are non-PhD-holding scientists, who (for the most part) do not move into managerial positions. There's room for a whole separate blog post on the people who (for one reason or another) never got the PhD degree but are the equal or superior of anyone who has, but for now I'm talking about the rest of the associate population.

As people get more experienced, they become more valuable, or at least they should. An experienced chemistry lab associate is one of the most readily employable people in the industry, under normal conditions. A company may or may not feel a need for another twenty-year middle manager type, but there's always a need for hands at the bench to make compounds, and good associates are the people who make the most. And with some time in the industry, they have a far better understanding of the real world of drug discovery than any PhD coming in fresh out of their post-doc.

Or at least they should. There are, though, some companies that treat their associates more like draft animals, putting them in the position I held in the summer of 1979 when I worked for in a greeting card factory before going to college. I was a "materials transport handler", which meant "See that big pile of stuff here? Haul it over there." It's the only time I've done manual labor for money for more than an afternoon, when I think about it. But I'm told that there are shops in this industry that tell their associates exactly what to do at every turn, up to the point (so I hear) of having them take spectral data and turn it over to their supervisors rather than interpret it themselves.

That's something you associate with the old-style German and Swiss labs, where there's a clear heirarchic division between the PhD holders in their offices and the "laboranten" out in front of the hood. Even there, I don't think this is quite as rigid as it used to be, so the thought of this here in the US is quite odd. But it does seem to go on, so I'm asking the readership: what's the status of the usual lab associate where you work?

Comments (34) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. schinderhannes on June 4, 2008 8:38 AM writes...

Well even in Germany we let our "laboranten" interpret their anayltical data by themselfs up to the point when they fell help is needed. When my technichians crank out a new test compound and it is straight-foreward, I donĀ“t give any input to reaction conditions or control the nmrs afterwards.
So they are quite knowledgeable (and extremely valuable).
BTW: a Germany "laborant" has no academic degree whatsoever simply 3 years of combined training on the job and in special schools for them.
We also have some dipolma chemists hired (equivalent of masters degree, no PhD). The company seems to have ne clue what top do with them. After a couple of years they realize there is no career path for them.

Permalink to Comment

2. TNC on June 4, 2008 8:47 AM writes...

I have always imagined that good associates are like senior non-commissioned officers in the military: essentially, the heart of the organization. As inexperienced as I am, I was surprised to find that wasn't the case where I work.

Permalink to Comment

3. molecular_architect on June 4, 2008 9:55 AM writes...

I've always believed that a degree should determine one's starting point not limit one's career options. At the big Pharma where I started my career in the early 80s, that was true. There were a few non-PhD Group Leaders and above. They were definately the exception but it was good to know that it was possible for those with exceptional ability to rise within the organization. The caveat is that, even for PhDs, the opportunities for promotion were limited due to the trend towards flatter organizational structures.

I've spent most of my career in smaller Biotech/Pharma at the Group Leader/Director level. In general, most of these allowed non-PhDs wide latitude to contribute to the limits of their ability. Those with the ability were given defined goals and the independence to pursue them without close supervision, those of lesser ability were given defined tasks and monitored. Certainly, this is how I managed my own research teams. The opportunities for advancement within the organization, however, were limited by the size of the companies and the need to impress investors with the qualifications of those managing the research.

I'm now with the government. The hierarchy is similar to academia - a PhD is required at the entry level. Here there is no role for non-PhDs beyond a laboratory technician, no opportunity for advancement.

I rather like TNC's analogy that experienced associates should play the same role as senior non-commissioned officers in the military. Wise management would recognize that "battlefield promotions" are sometimes good for the organization. i.e. non-PhDs of exceptional ability should not be limited by their degree.

Permalink to Comment

4. Karen on June 4, 2008 10:05 AM writes...

I've been an MS chemist for 11 years, and the level of responsibility varies a lot. Even within the same company, it can vary depending on your supervisor. I worked for the same company for a number of years, and I had one supervisor who was eager for me to learn more and do more, and another one who just wanted a "pair of hands". An associate chemist is often dependent on the attitude of his or her supervisor.

Then there's the biotech world. A lot of times, small biotechs are started by a few PhD level chemists, and they don't hire any associates for several years. (And often, many of the PhD's are straight out of school and have never worked with an associate chemist.) I interviewed at a couple of biotechs where I would have been the first non-PhD chemist they'd ever hired, and they had no idea what they wanted me to do or what kind of responsibilities I would have. That could have been a great opportunity, but I also feared I'd be stuck in the corner doing everyone else's grunt work.

One of the trickiest things is looking for a new job, especially if you've been stuck in one of those "just a pair of hands" jobs for a while. If you're trying to get into a more interesting job (or if you've been laid off and have no choice), it can be hard to discuss what you've been doing, when in your last job you were hamstrung by a supervisor who expected you to "just do what I tell you".

Permalink to Comment

5. milkshake on June 4, 2008 1:55 PM writes...

I had it rather good in terms of independence at the previous three (small to medium-sized) companies and I ended up with a good offer and have quite respectable staff position at the institute where I am now - but I have never been supervising people and I never had much control over my projects: when I wish to spend few days on some idea I got excited about, I have to play with it either on my free time (such as weekends) or I have to convince my boss about letting me to do it instead of some other asignment. It has allway been like this for me, and the boss management is extremely important. You get advantage if you can work on subproject that you are familiar with - rather than getting "easy reproduction" of a dubious patent procedure. I agree with Karen - the personality of the boss is what makes all the difference and I could go on here on the subject of self-righteous bosses who thing their every idea is a good idea and their every asignment is an easy asignment (and when you run into difficulties its your fault of being, slow, inept and making excuses instead of compounds).

A clear distinguishing sign of functioning medchem is that people are civil one to another - and if you are not too obnoxious in the lab and if you try to be helpful to colleagues, you deserve to be treated humanely. In fact you can have easier life in terms of internal politics becasue since you are not doing much career you are not competing with those that do.

When you come to a new place you may have initial difficulties with some ambitious & insecure type (usually fresh from school) letting you know that *he* has a PhD and you don't - and you should accept this kind of put-down as part of the life and either way it does not have to continue for too long if you are doing you job well. And if you cannot win respect from your colleagues for the work you do, there is something seriously wrong with either with you or with them - and the best way to deal with it is to look for a new boss or new job. Companies and bosses differ great deal and these days it is not too difficult for a bench boy with a green card/citizenship to find a decent medchem job.

Permalink to Comment

6. Still Scared of Dinosaurs on June 4, 2008 2:54 PM writes...

In addition to the degree to which someone is allowed to contribute above their degree I'm interested in how different companies encourage or inhibit contributions outside individuals' areas of expertise. Or even the appearance thereof...

It's a constant challenge for Biostatisticians and other non-MD's in the world of clinical trials. I remember one meeting where a study's Medical Monitor (an MD, working for the company, overseeing a trial) was getting frustrated because we kept asking him where the documentation was for various decisions he had made in response to Investigators' questions about actions in/out of compliance with the protocol. He kept saying "It's medical judgment!" and we tried to get across that we just needed to have records of the information upon which that judgment was based. Fortunately he was a good guy and appreciated the occasional wisecrack so I said, "Look, we're not questionning your judgment. We're questionning your honesty." That drove home the distinction, but so many senior management types can never get past the "It's ... judgment!" statement once uttered, and that attitude contributes a lot to the degree of flexibility up and down an organization.

Permalink to Comment

7. Chrispy on June 4, 2008 3:23 PM writes...

I have, over the years, advised many people NOT to get a Ph.D. as a career move. Ph.D.-level jobs are hard to find and an enormous amount of work is required to get the degree. Put that same amount of work into a law degree or less work into an M.B.A. and you will make more money and be more universally employable.

Now, if you really like messing about in science and don't mind poverty and crazy carer options, by all means go for the Ph.D.

Permalink to Comment

8. CMC guy on June 4, 2008 3:24 PM writes...

Pretty much all places I have been had career ladder with wider rungs or a hard ceiling for associates and unfortunately can be a waste of good talent. Many with good lab skills had to move to other areas (IT, QA, Marketing) so they expand options, sometimes reluctantly/sometimes as logic step. Of course if you want to compare to many paths of engineers and MBA types it can seem really ridiculous how little value is placed on PhDs much less BS/MS scientists.

The NCO analogy (TNC) is a good one and I have seen many new PhDs (fresh lieutenants) taken down a notch when they see/hear work of an experienced associate.

Permalink to Comment

9. milkshake on June 4, 2008 4:55 PM writes...

It depends on how ambitious the person is - in industry the salary difference between an average PhD with 2 years of postdoc and a good MS with the same number of years on the job is not as terrible, it could be something like 10k. MS are just more career-cripled.

Not everybody will succeed at becoming a bigshot and when you see your professional life only as a ladder climbing, the chances are that rather than becoming a famous man and a big operator directing twenty people to work on your brilliant ideas you end up as unhappy mid-management overweight pencil-pusher making flowcharts for your business elk superiors while fending off fellow back-stabbers. I have seen group bosses of this unhappy kind losing their job, in their late 40s or early 50s - and there are almost no job openings available to them and they cannot go back to bench either. So maybe for awhile they were making 50k more than you did and they have more expensive mortgage and now they got no job prospects.

I am not discouraging people from trying to make the best of their career and life, but in industry a merger can do nasty things with your best plans, irrespective how good you were you may not get valued by the new corporate masters - and you may find that all those years of ladder climbing were for nothing and after you gave your company the best part of your life, after you projected your aspirations into your project and spent many weekends to make it a success, you get dropped like worn-out tool.

Permalink to Comment

10. zts on June 4, 2008 5:18 PM writes...

I have seen huge variation in the amount of responsibility given to associate chemists, and this is generally due to the expectations of both the boss and the associate. When these expectations are aligned, things work out well and everyone is happy. When these expectations are not aligned, it becomes a very bad situation for both parties.

Some people are perfectly happy and even prefer a situation where they are just a pair of hands doing what they're told. But I don't know what percentage of people fit that category. When they don't, but that's how their boss treats them, it doesn't work out well. Personally, I am very happy having a large amount of freedom, and my boss pretty much leaves me alone.

Permalink to Comment

11. CMC guy on June 4, 2008 5:40 PM writes...

milkshake I agree a persons ambition has much to do with how far they will go, just as having a good supervisor is important in allowing/promoting growth, however often job "qualifications" only consider degree level rather than individuals (career-crippled as you well stated). As with recent discussions about Big Name School/Group background those things should not matter much at some point yet in many cases/places they still do. Each person has to decide where they want to be and can come to cross roads on occasions that require shifts in plans. To not even be given a chance because of prejudicial factors is sad.

In a Merger/Lay offs associates usually have an easier time finding new situations so there can be advantages the other way.

Permalink to Comment

12. grunt on June 4, 2008 5:47 PM writes...

So long as I continue to work in Biotech as a non-PhD scientist, I will be asked on a regular...."did you mix the samples?".


Permalink to Comment

13. milkshake on June 4, 2008 6:52 PM writes...

There are pharma chemists whose ambition drives them far ahead of their talent and knowledge. A bright underachiever is waste but a slacker causes no direct harm unto others. I contrast this with overambitous talentless hacks - spewing bull at meetings and crawling for promoting like worms in a can. I have seen some unhappy people and paralysed companies because of the excessive concentration of ambitious assholes.

Synthetic chemistry is a quite rational discipline - people are trained in technical manner and the real achievements are quite easy to tell apart, based on their merit. So when you see this kind of interpersonal rivalries driven by unchecked ambitions, and promotion based on servility and knivery, you should not accept it or even respect it - the best way is to update the resume and look for the way out.

Permalink to Comment

14. sally on June 4, 2008 7:32 PM writes...

I agree with the others, your quality of life as a MS chemist does depend alot on who your boss is. I have been relatively lucky in that regard.

As far as "moving up the ladder" goes, the reality of today's economy is that most associates will not be promoted to the equivalent of an entry level PhD. We might be told that there is a possibility of this some day (to get us to work harder, no doubt), but the chance feels almost the same as the likelihood that I would win a significant amount of money in the lottery. The only MS level chemists at my workplace that have attained this level were all promoted about 7 years ago when the industry was in much better shape.

In fact, we are told that we are lucky to even have a job. I have been in industry since 2001. I was laid off from my first employer ("mid sized pharma" company) due to a site closure in early 2007, had to reapply for my job ("big pharma" company) last fall after having less than a year in, and am waiting to see if there is going to be another round of layoffs within our group later this year when the new budget has been annouced. Even if we do manage to get a sufficient budget this time to keep everyone while undoubtedly making some other sacrifices, we have to produce some "valuable" asset within the next three years or we will be out of luck at the next funding cycle. Supposedly this approach is to energize us and make us feel more "entrepenurial."

Another group within the same company is laying off about half of their med chem staff (~40 people at all levels) in a few days, and the reality is that there aren't enough positions available for them to be absorbed by other groups within the company. The other groups within the company that do have positions also seem to be targeting relatively low level MS chemists (1-2 years of experience or so), since they are cheaper to hire and can be molded to fit the group needs.

I hope that some grad students read this blog so that they know the reality of the situation that they will be dealing with in a few years. Chemistry is a stressful and somewhat depressing life. I don't see it improving anytime soon with all of the outside pressures that are placed on the industry as a whole by loss of patents for the blockbuster drugs, increasing demands of payers to produce novel cheap drugs that are substantially better than those currently available (instead of just reformulating the same thing over again to get more patent life), increasing demands of stockholders to pay competitive dividends, among other things.

Permalink to Comment

15. Roxy on June 4, 2008 8:03 PM writes...

I agree with Sally. The career potential for any chemist today is zilch. You will put yourself in a box and be forever labled "that chemistry gal or guy". And yes, you can get an MBA, but you might as well do that from the outset. Mr. Pipeline seems to think that he's not harming people by telling them to get a degree in chemistry.

You educate yourself into poverty!

Permalink to Comment

16. chem grad student on June 4, 2008 9:03 PM writes...

I worked for two years as a BS level chemist at a big pharma company and most associates there had a lot of freedom, and were not "just a pair of hands" but it still depended on who your direct boss was.
But I did see that the most experienced associates were very frustrated with the lack of opportunities for career advancement. So now I'm in grad school, but hating it and wondering whether to leave with a masters, or switch labs, or just stick it out.

Permalink to Comment

17. Anonymous on June 4, 2008 10:35 PM writes...

I worked for around 8 years as a Master's level associate in two Indian CRO companies. Even though not much original SAR or medchem work goes on, customers, typically US Big pharma, or small biotechs expect the synthetic teams to be managed by Phd level chemists and they also prescribe the ratio of Masters to Phds in those teams, usually 2:1.

The synthetic work involves reproducing literature procedures or patent procedures, though customers are also typically interested in all incidental byproducts.A good synthetic skillset is invaluable.

Typically the salary differential between a Masters level associate and a Phd level bench chemist is around 10-20% with the same years of experience after BS. But the salary differential becomes wider around 40% or more after the Phd graduates from the bench to a team leader. A Master's level associate cannot expect this elevation though some sort of informal elevation usually occurs if an associate is really good.

The amount of independence given depends on the team leader. The most successful team leaders are the ones who judge people accurately and manage them accordingly leaving the talented ones alone and babysitting the needy. But this managing ability is pretty rare, with most team leaders wanting to be involved in everything.

Permalink to Comment

18. Merkwurdigliebe on June 5, 2008 7:25 AM writes...

At a large pharmaceutical company in Nutley, NJ things are very egalitarian. "Junior" chemists are treated with respect. They may not exactly conduct their own research but they run their reactions they way they want, they interpret their results and data, they solve problems on their own, and the PhDs are there to help in any way if needed.

However this can depend greatly on who the direct supervisor is (isn't that always the case?).

I have had PhD supervisors who have left me alone to learn and grow quite efficiently. And I have had fresh, Ivy-League-educated PhDs with less industry experience than myself walk me by the hand and not let me succeed or fail on my own. Can you guess which one pisses me off?

Permalink to Comment

19. Jim H on June 5, 2008 10:42 AM writes...

Interesting read.

I'm in my mid 40's, been working in Biotech and academic research since 1985. I left academic research to join the "evil empire", as my PI called it, Industry. When I was 20 something, I just couldn't see working for another 8-10 years to get a PhD. I was a Group Leader in a $300MM/yr biotech before I would've been able to finish a PhD & post-doc and hiring PhD's from places like Brown and Hopkins whom I paid a whole lot less than I was making.

The fact of the matter is that the draconian systems in academia, in terms of compensation, greatly under-value Doctoral degrees. In the mid-90's, we'd hire PhD's with a few years of relevant post-doc experience at about $35-40K/yr, because we knew that would be a good pay bump for them moving out of academia.

In contrast, a Chem E MS would be offended if they weren't started at $70K right out of school, especially if they were at the top of their class from a top school.

In Industry, the value of a PhD in "laboratory" sciences (Chem, Bio) is very low compared to even a MS in any Engineering discipline(Chem, Mech. or Electrical) or an MBA. In 2005 I hired two 30-something PhD's, both with 5 years post-doc at Hopkins (one with BS Cornell, PhD Hopkins, pedigree doesn't get much better) and started them at $60K. This was more than a 20% raise for them coming out of Hopkins, but still less than several BS's with 5-7 years at the company.

Someone once told me that a PhD will "open doors" that will not be available to you if you do not have the degree. It will not exclude you from being successful, but you will have to work harder at it. Absolutely true.

And as a seasoned, Director-level manager, any company that treats their people like a pair of hands, no matter their educational status, will not achieve the results possible if they establish a learning environment and encourage "appropriate" risk taking and experimentation.

I created quite a scene by taking tasks like making buffers and pouring chromatography columns and running gels away from degreed scientists. Like it or not, 90% of what a degreed associate does on a daily basis is simple plumbing, liquid handling. They need to be deployed where they are most needed, in solving problems, explaining outcomes of experiments (which every production run of and enzyme, antibody, fermentation run etc is), not doing the plumbing. They also need to be compensated for their skills.

One system I have never been able to institute, due to cement heads and upper crusties in the organization, has been to incentivize working in the lab your entire career. The best people in the Lab, the best workers, eventually leave because they are not compensated for their ability. Most don't want to be supervisors or managers, because they see the BS these people have to deal with.

So the last time I was laid off in 2006 after our company was sold, I basically decided I am no longer employable. I am fortunate enough to have stashed away enough $$ to start my own company and am now my own boss.

The verdict is still out, though, if this was a wise decision....

Permalink to Comment

20. CMC guy on June 5, 2008 12:18 PM writes...

Jim H interesting observations and story and wish you luck.

BTW I always thought ChemEs are just high paid plumbers, so did you hire a bunch of them to do the tasks restricted from PhDs? I have seen a few ChemEs attempting chromatography and wish I had video to place on YouTube (in How Not To Do catagory).

Permalink to Comment

21. Gelf on June 5, 2008 1:46 PM writes...

Other people have covered the question as asked quite well, and the answer is redundant with my personal experience, so i'll just point out something that has gone unspoken so far:

A lot of attention has been given to "allowing" the non-PhD to advance or be given responsibilities "to the limit of their abilities". That's awesome. We appreciate that.

But does anyone tailor the responsibilities of a PhD based on the "limits of their abilities" or even approach them with this in mind? I've never seen that approach. There is an expectation that just because someone was "able" to finish grad school while others of us chose to leave for any number of reasons, not necessarily related to ability, automatically confers on them innate abilities lacking in the non-PhD.

Obviously, there is something beyond the extra 2-3 years of school that PhD's have that MS carriers lack, but sometimes the expectation that MS/BS Chemists have lowered potential can be a bit chafing. No, we don't expect to be treated equally out of the gate, but there does come a time when our real world chemistry _and management/project management_ skills rival those of the people we work alongside, regardless of what we did for the 4-8 years after undergrad before our first jobs.

Simply nitpicking, and hoping to open the eyes and minds of people.

Permalink to Comment

22. Colorado Chemist on June 5, 2008 2:20 PM writes...

Nobody ever seems to really touch on this, but the somewhat unhappy fact of the matter is this:

While a lot of Ph.Ds generally aren't always as "smart" as they're cracked up to be (arguments about the nature intelligence nonwithstanding), the fact of the matter is that sticking around for the Ph.D - even if you don't end up finishing groundbreaking research - is something that people who can get things done do. Others don't.

"Smart enough" is usually sufficient to make someone a top candidate when coupled with the good work ethic and organization that Ph.Ds absolutely must have.

Permalink to Comment

23. Molecular_architect on June 5, 2008 4:04 PM writes...

Regarding Gelf's comments (#21):

Earlier I said "... allowed non-PhDs wide latitude to contribute to the limits of their ability. Those with the ability were given defined goals and the independence to pursue them without close supervision, those of lesser ability were given defined tasks and monitored. Certainly, this is how I managed my own research teams."

To elaborate, I would have to say that PhDs who reported to me were held to a somewhat higher standard. If they were incapable of independently pursuing defined goals (as opposed to tasks), they didn't remain in my group for long! A PhD shouldn't require mentoring for the two basic med chemistry skill sets, i.e. they should be experts able to design and successfully implement the synthesis of drug candidates; they should soon understand the basics of optimizing molecular properties for PK and PD (a skill that most synthesis chemists do not learn in graduate school). If they can't do this, even with a degree from a top school, I wouldn't keep them around.

Where a PhD's "limits of ability" should be measured is in other non-chemistry skills. These would include: (1) mastering and integrating the relevant biological knowledge to advance projects. (2) Project management. (3) Management of direct reports. (4) The ability to influence/manage non-direct reports (peers, subordinates, upper management, other departments, etc. These limits should be the determinants of whether they advance.

As I said earlier, the degree should determine one's starting point. If a PhD proves to not have the ability to perform to PhD expectations - I won't keep him/her. If a non-PhD performs to PhD expectations, I'll give him/her all the responsibility they can handle. As a manager, I did all I could to see that my people got the responsibilities and rewards they deserved.

Permalink to Comment

24. Jose on June 5, 2008 5:14 PM writes...

Colorado Chemist-

I think the converse of your statement about "getting things done" also holds true- quite a few folks stay for a PhD because they can't think for themselves. They finish up because it is what you are "supposed" to do, and then continue to parrot the party line for the rest of their careers. A broad spectrum of ideas and views can be pretty valuable in a research environment.

Permalink to Comment

25. milkshake on June 5, 2008 10:25 PM writes...

Perkin, Einstein, Dyson and Crick did not get their doctoral degrees.

Permalink to Comment

26. Jim H on June 6, 2008 6:50 AM writes...

One observation to Colorado's point:

My observation has been that actually the vast majority of people "sticking around for the Ph.D" are typically wealthy enough to afford to live of Mom and Dad until they're in their mid-30's.

Many of the "best and brightest" don't pursue this route because of simple economics.

Being a full time student is just something most people cannot afford.

That said, I in no way intend to disrespect the fact that earning a Ph.D is certainly a significant accomplishment. In retrospect, I wish I had the patience to stick it out myself :-)

Permalink to Comment

27. Derek Lowe on June 6, 2008 7:38 AM writes...

Jim H., I don't think that last point of yours holds water. Remember, these folks are getting paid. Not much, but enough to more or less live on. I recall hitting up my parents for $100 in my first year of grad school to pay for a new muffler on my car (which I paid back), but after that I was pretty much on my own. Lots of Ramen noodles were involved, and the occasional jar of peanut butter with a fork stuck into it, but I was self-sufficient.

And it didn't take me until my mid-30s, either, fortunately. I was finished with my PhD and post-doc and employed in industry when I was 27.

Permalink to Comment

28. Devices R Us on June 6, 2008 10:46 AM writes...

Just a nit, but Einstein and Crick both had doctorate degrees, Einstein in 1905 from U. Zurich and Crick in 1953 from Cambridge

Permalink to Comment

29. milkshake on June 6, 2008 11:21 AM writes...

Devices: to nitpick even more Crick received his doctorate only after he made his famous discovery, past age 35. With Einstein it was more complicated because they did not have an exact analog of PhD there, and since he annoyed all his teachers he could not continue and do doctorand work at school so he left with something like MS degree - but you are right, he defended his doctorate four years later while he was working as a patent clerk.

Permalink to Comment

30. Gabriel on June 7, 2008 11:03 PM writes...

As to Dereke's comment #27. When are you going to grow up and realize chemists have to unionize? When did you become such a Larry Kudlow acolyte? Wake up and realize you are not a free agent.

Permalink to Comment

31. vasili on June 8, 2008 6:49 AM writes...

I don't get what this discussion has to do with unionism. Chemists are chemists, it doesn't matter if PhDs or not.

The debate sounds familiar to me. And I think many times this issue comes out, comes from a non-PhD chemist. Some non-PhD continue to blame PhDs of their job situation and recognition. Some keep acusing PhDs of feeling superior and of showing off their title. I just say to them work hard to show that your achivements are better but don't just continue to state that some PhD don't deserve thir positions.

In my opinion, a PhD and a non-PhD + 3-4 years industrial research position should be equal in terms of responsibily taken. This, of course depends on each particular case.

In Spain chemistry PhDs have no big career opportunities in research so imagine non-PhD...
So, if you want to do research pursue a doctorate (the goal of a PhD is to learn how to conduct a novel investigation in a particular subject) and pray. If you don't like research, don't waste your time and look for a job right after finishing BS.

Permalink to Comment

32. Processator on June 9, 2008 6:15 AM writes...

In all honesty, I can see major differences between non-PhD, PhD and even PhD that completed postdoctoral work. In many cases these differences are not related to the way they handle technical assigments, but to they way they face and solve strategic problems that are typically fairly complex in the Process Chemistry environment I am part of.

We offer our best non-PhD workers the possibility to head back to grad school to complete the PhD degree if they want.

Permalink to Comment

33. Moose on April 22, 2009 4:31 PM writes...

I think it depends on the individual. I have seen brilliant MS and PhD degrees that are hard workers, and I have seen MS and PhD degrees that are clueless (probably not hard workers), and the BS degrees out shine these individuals.

I am a chemist with a BS degree that has worked in the pharmaceutical business for many years. I have trained newly PhDs coming out of school. Like I said, there are talented higher degree chemists and there are chemists who are lazy with the PhD. On the other hand, there are talented BS degrees and ones that are not. It depends on the work ethics of the individual. The not so talented chemists are usually gone within 2 years. Plus, I am a BS degree chemist that makes more than some of our PhDs.

Permalink to Comment

34. Silvia on February 19, 2010 8:33 AM writes...

I am always excited to visit this blog in the evenings.Please churning hold the contents. It is very entertaining.,

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry