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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: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 16, 2008

Layoffs. More Layoffs.

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Posted by Derek

I’m told by several people that today Bristol-Myers Squibb is announcing layoffs in research (and perhaps other areas). I don’t know how extensive these are, or how they’re spread across the New Jersey and Connecticut sites. What I do know is that accounting practices make these things especially rough, since a disproportionate number of such cuts take place before year’s end, which doesn’t do much for anyone’s holiday season. (Of course, I suppose it could be even worse – you could be working for Pfizer, and spend the holidays not knowing if your job was going to be there in January or not). In a smaller but deeper cutback, I also note that Entremed, a company that’s been struggling to survive ever since its turn in the spotlight with Judah Folkman’s anti-angiogenic peptides, has announced that sixty per cent of its employees will be let go. Since that includes the CEO and CFO, you have to conclude that the situation there is not good.

Having been through the layoff process myself, I know what the people involved are going through, and I wish them every hope of landing new positions. If anyone out there knows of companies that are hiring now in research, or even planning to, I’d be glad to list such in a separate post in order to provide some leads.

One other related item: I’ve heard from Linda Raber at C&E News who’s working on a "Careers in Pharma" story for them, and wants to write about all the chemistry layoffs this year. She’d like to hear from people who are willing to be quoted on what things have been like. (Update: you don't have to be identified - see the comments section for contact info!) I was quoted in a similar story after the Wonder Drug Factory layoffs, actually; this sort of piece is turning into more of a perennial than anyone would like.

Comments (53) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Current Events


1. T on December 16, 2008 9:49 AM writes...

I have heard this rumor as well. Good luck to everyone involved - the uncertainty can be quite rough.

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2. eugene on December 16, 2008 10:15 AM writes...

Also on another blog, Bethany Halford (or 10% chance it was Carmen Drahl, I forget right now) from C&N News wanted to hear from chemists in their 50s who have trouble finding jobs due to their age, or who don't want to take early retirement but are forced to.

Can the industry afford to be ageist and is that attitude going to impact young researchers who love chemistry but don't want to be told they are going to be forced to retire so that the outfit will save money when they are in their mid 50s?

I wanted to read a story about this particular issue as well, so please contact her if you feel like working until 65, but are shut out of the market since everyone feels like you're too expensive and/or obsolete. (They already wrote three stories about Pharma layoffs this year...)

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3. Petros on December 16, 2008 10:22 AM writes...

And Jazz has just announced another 71 jobs

Apparently the third cut of the year.

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4. AP Chemist on December 16, 2008 10:24 AM writes...

I wonder if their separation folder has a "Happy Holidays" printed in it somewhere. You'd think somewhere, someone in management would actually believe it's a horrible idea to lay folks off a week before Christmas, no? Business is business, I realize, having been laid off once myself, but it just seems that much more heartless.

Does anyone else feel like they are clinging on to their jobs with both hands hoping like hell not to get pulled off? Disheartening.

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5. TSL on December 16, 2008 12:22 PM writes...

My rough guess is that over 20,000 chemists have lost their jobs over the last 3-4 years. I can't see how C&E news can be objective.

They are owned by the very same executives who are transforming a PhD chemist into medievil serf. You see, the ACS cares only about two classes of people.

1. The Pharma or chemical executive
2. The tenured faculty member.

Everyone else is disposable. The ACS exists to bring in new suckers to be exploited then tossed.

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6. Jose on December 16, 2008 12:42 PM writes...

"Heh-heh! If we do it right before the holidays, we also get to crush their will to live! Heh-heh!"

Milkshakes's comparison between between Pravda and C&EN is becoming more and more apt every day. The newest puff piece about the "wonderful opportunities adn challenges" that ex-Pharma employees have found in contract labs is particularly galling.

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7. Hap on December 16, 2008 12:47 PM writes...

Same song, different stanza. At this point, the song appears to be a version of "This Is The Song That Never Ends" that we wouldn't have used at Guantanamo, or outside Noriega's hideout. In addition, the song is usually sung when one has a screaming headache (because profits don't ever get saved for a rainy day - though Pfizer in theory has some saved up, but their savings don't seem to be helping them much - so while sometimes only one company has issues, when the economy goes bad, lots of companies seem to have problems simultaneously).

Diversity in skill set doesn't help so much when everyone is doing badly.

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8. startup on December 16, 2008 1:30 PM writes...

Although I've been laid off this year I see no particular point in talking to C&EN, since in their many editorials they make it abundantly clear that for them, as a white male, I am the least desirable member of the chemical profession.

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9. milkshake on December 16, 2008 1:33 PM writes...

I never made this comparison (C&EN = Pravda) because I never red Pravda in my life and I am not reading C&EN now, either. I stopped paying my dues to ACS; our institute covers the ACS membership dues and we are fairly secure financially but I figured I should rather buy an extra case of acetonitrile bottles with the money...

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10. Anonymous on December 16, 2008 2:07 PM writes...


I have also stopped my membership with ACS. I recently have grown tired of the ACS making political endorsements without any inquiry of the members. I know I am only one chemist, but why pay them to promote causes I can't support.

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11. eugene on December 16, 2008 2:11 PM writes...

If you don't make your voice heard, then there is no way for CEN to write about it. Instead of complaining about them, you could get in contact with them, or post anonymously on their blog to let Rudy know what's up (keeping to good discourse policies that we use here).

I fail to see how anecdotaly complaining that they parrot the party line is true unless you have evidence that they ignore you on purpose and print false information. You'll get that evidence once you contact them to share your story and they ignore you to print something otherwise, so I would encourage you to do that. It's a nice little journal that has gotten better over the years and I get lots of useful info (paper in Science I might have missed, etc) from it.

Although, the project Seed advert I got in my email from ACS and CEN was a bit misplaced. It said 'jobs are going overseas; less Americans interested in Science' and when you click on the link, it's to Project Seed. That just doesn't make any logical sense to me at all. If jobs are disappearing and chemistry is so crap that Americans don't want to do it anymore, why would you encourage minorities who have been held down, to go for these crappy jobs with bad prospects which will only keep them down while the white people get all the lucrative business and managerial jobs? It would just perpetuate inequality, in my mind.

Obviously I disagree and I think that chemistry careers are a worthwhile endeavor for anyone, but they've seriously got to get someone smart on the advertising front; mostly not to piss off whitey like 'startup'. After all, it is true that white people are the majority of their audience at this point. They've also pissed me off with their stupid and illogical advertising for Project Seed. I haven't really noticed that they've been keeping the white man down though.

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12. anon on December 16, 2008 2:34 PM writes...

Sorry, I can't talk to C&E News. It would void my severance agreement. As a white 50+, I can't take that chance.

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13. Dana H. on December 16, 2008 2:41 PM writes...

I long ago stopped paying my ACS dues as well. Some 15 years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of C&EN that was critical of environmentalist doctrine. They refused to publish it because it allegedly "impugned the motives" of those working for environmentalist causes. (It did no such thing. I criticized the ideas, not the people.)

So, eugene, it's hard to make your voice heard by C&EN when they won't listen.

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14. Anonymous on December 16, 2008 2:45 PM writes...


What world do you live in? By the time ACS makes its endorsement (specifically relating to congress voting on issues) it is too late.

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15. Linda Raber on December 16, 2008 3:04 PM writes...

Linda Raber, the reporter from C&EN here. I just want to clarify the request that Derek posted. I will not quote you and promise not to reveal your identity unless you specifically allow me to do so. I understand your concerns about your severance packages, and that's why I'm doing it this way.

I want to help chemists who have been laid off have their concerns known to the wider C&EN audience and also have some informed, pointed questions to ask management---questions that are based on issues raised by those laid off.

If you would prefer not to contact me via my acs e-mail address, please try Let me help you be heard.

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16. Jose on December 16, 2008 4:47 PM writes...

Milkshake- sorry about that; someone made that comparison, and I thought it was you. Mea maxima culpa.

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17. Hap on December 16, 2008 5:33 PM writes...

I'm cynical enough (and perhaps naive enough) to believe that perhaps some would like this sort of piece to be a perennial one - musical chairs works out well for the people running the game if there is always one more player than chairs. Of course, people do eventually decide to stop playing if the game isn't fun or if the risk-reward balance of the game is too far on the side of risk, but long-term thinking seems to be in short supply, either by necessity or by choice.

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18. ACS SUCKS on December 16, 2008 6:23 PM writes...

Eugene is obviously smoking some heavy dope, so I'll forgive him his naive comments. They do that in Oregon, don't you know!

As for "", you'd be insane to give her any info since it's probably just a Pfizer or Bristol Meyer's Human resources rep looking to flush out the trouble makers.

If you are who you say you are, you should post an ACS email. Or as it's now known

ACS = "Society of Asian Chemists"

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19. Linda Raber on December 16, 2008 7:25 PM writes...

My ACS e-mail address is

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20. disorazole on December 16, 2008 8:28 PM writes...

The ACS is full of paradoxes. The ACS continually beats the drum for the environmentalist causes, yet does not question the "carbon footprint" of a weekly edition of CEN (paper, ink, printing, transportation, distribution, etc.). I don't even think I could opt out of receiving the useless CEN if I wanted. The ACS trumpets its alleged good-will towards man with all of its programs, yet it maintains a monopoly on the information that is in its library of publications. I would pay ACS dues if, after one year, all journals were free to access by anyone in the world. Why should I pay the ACS to read a JOC article from 1965? At some point, the information needs to move into the public domain (I should also mention that much of the research was funded by the US taxpayer, not the ACS). So how to pay for the free access? Shut down CEN publication and print distribution (advertisers will shift to online advertising at the open-access ACS publication site).

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21. daen on December 16, 2008 9:06 PM writes...

disorazole, to be fair there's an option to only receive the online version of C&EN when you renew your ACS membership, saving you $50-something a year (sorry I can't remember the exact amount) and removing the "carbon footprint" problem ...

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22. Susan K on December 16, 2008 9:38 PM writes... reported that employers and recruiters use these 3 job sites most to find quality candidates. (good luck to those looking) (professional networking) (agreegated listings) (matches you to jobs)

Whole Top 10 list here:

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23. Chemjobber on December 16, 2008 10:22 PM writes...

Millenium has had a quarter-panel ad in the employment section of C&EN recently, for what that's worth.

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24. anon_o_moose on December 17, 2008 12:36 AM writes...

"Millenium has had a quarter-panel ad in the employment section of C&EN recently, for what that's worth."

I'll tell you what every recruiter in Boston told me. Millenium is collecting resumes so they can tighten the thumb presses on existing workers.

They're not hiring, they're looking for reasons to
cut existing worker salaries based on 'facts' collected from resumes. It is an EVIL company!


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25. Chemjobber on December 17, 2008 1:33 AM writes...

Whoa. As I recall, Gilead and Genentech were also looking recently. (October?)

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26. Anonymous on December 17, 2008 2:15 AM writes...

disorazole, my feeling is that ACS has put a number of progressive issues on its agenda such as environmentalism and diversity simply as a means to combat less than positive, and at times well-deserved, popular opinion of the industry.

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27. anonymouser on December 17, 2008 3:12 AM writes...

Here we have a bunch of trained professionals with highly exotic specialities in a field that is not especially attractive to new entrants in the local job market.

All these people (highly trained and intelligent otherwise) live in fear that their jobs will be shipped off to somewhere else. When the axe comes down, they each fight or flee individually, in their own manner, while every other individual in the same situation looks on passively.

If these people were thinking straight, there'd be a syndicate of pharma workers that'd put the Hollywood writers' guild to shame.

You people have the collective power to say to the big pharma companies: "Pipeline? What pipeline?" but you don't use it. What gives?

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28. aa2 on December 17, 2008 5:08 AM writes...

I believe layoffs will continue for the foreseeable future at the mainline pharma companies. The elephant in the room is that the low hanging juicy fruit has already been gotten from this health technology. Trust me if there was a flood of new drugs treating new unmet health areas there would be overhiring and overpayment of staff. This has happened before, look at when vaccines were the mainstay of health, and researchers were going after the big killers of human beings. But now the vaccine researchers are going after fairly obscure diseases compared to those days. It wouldn't make sense to still be having the majority of researchers in health trying to develop vaccines today.

Look cancer was going to be the next big thing for the drug companies. But I think the way to go after cancer is going to be something like the nano-particles and wave frequencies to activate them. With engineering the nano-particles so they can latch onto the cancer cells.

Then there is the basically endless potential of stem cells in treating health problems, or even an ability to help rejuvinate the system. I can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of man years of research that will need to be done on stem cells to bring rejuvination treatments. Talking about like 230 types of cells in the body, how to isolate them, how to grow millions of copies of healthy adult stem cells of each type, how best to get it into the patient, whether gene therapy can be used on the stem cells etc..

The low hanging fruit is still hanging there in these other fields.

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29. DrSnowboard on December 17, 2008 7:01 AM writes...

At the risk of appearing a Luddite, good luck with those selective wireless activated nanoparticles...

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30. Anon on December 17, 2008 7:02 AM writes...

Sorry to interrupt the ACS-bashing, but has anyone got news on the BMS losses? Are they as serious as feared?

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31. Indy on December 17, 2008 8:49 AM writes...

It's official now: 10% cut.


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32. FormerMolecModeler on December 17, 2008 9:42 AM writes...

I can't say that the ACS and C&EN are totally useless. There was an issue about a year back that featured an alternate career for chemists. That story got me thinking, and now I'm in it and enjoying very much.

So, thanks ACS for getting me out of chemistry!

As for dues, they still think I'm a student after 10 years! Way to optimize your membership fee collecting.

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33. Curious on December 17, 2008 9:55 AM writes...

This is a serious question, folks: Why don't chemists (research scientists in general) organize to form unions? Maybe this is a really stupid question, but I can't help but ask.

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34. EDTA on December 17, 2008 10:48 AM writes...

To "ACS Sucks": I think that you are solely missing the point here; regardless whether you are an American or not, we as chemists are threatened. Are you not going into the race issue?

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35. startup on December 17, 2008 10:57 AM writes...

Curious, I've been wondering the same thing! I mean, every time I look at the thriving state of our unionized industries...

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36. milkshake on December 17, 2008 11:55 AM writes...

An e-mail from our management got once circulated to all our employees - which half-jokingly referred to my repeated harassment by the parking maidens at our university campus. So I also replied to everyone, half-jokingly suggesting that our employees needed to unionize to stop this kind of harassment in the future, and to convince our employer to reimburse us for all those campus parking decals we had to pay to university (as we were not university employees and there was no available free parking within a walking distance).
Needles to say our HR and prez were not delighted, but I got to be a hero for a day.

By the way, unionizing is the last thing I would wish to happen to the industry. What is far more effective is the threat of lawsuit and the black eye with state/federal authorities (should your employer do something sleazy). Give me one greedy lawyer and hope for a "wrongful dismissal based on discrimination or whistle-blower reprisal"

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37. pete on December 17, 2008 12:03 PM writes...

Drug researchers forming a union...

Interesting concept - and one that's probably occurred to anyone who's done > 1 post-doc in modern times.

But what's the bargaining power for the biotech/pharma reseacher ? The uncertainties of Drug Discovery don't really allow for a proposition like: "You save our pension funding and we bust our humps to make sure that Boeing Dreamliner gets built by XXX". Since most biotech/pharmas are used to hiring people from around North America & beyond, there's not much basis for local organizing in order to dissuade scientists from breaking picket lines.

Anyway, I wish it weren't so - especially, when you see non-scientists gutting research departments to the point of self-defeat.

I extend my thoughts to all who've been ousted by recent job cuts. Keep the faith.

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38. abelle on December 17, 2008 12:23 PM writes...

"What is far more effective is the threat of lawsuit and the black eye with state/federal authorities (should your employer do something sleazy)."

That's the ticket. Suing a multinational corporation?

You'll need several years to see that through. I haven't seen a single example of a high profile lawsuit and we know there are abuses.

-I think scientists would be able to form a more reasonable union than, let's say auto workers.

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39. Jose on December 17, 2008 12:25 PM writes...

If people are willing to work at firms like Albany Molecular (aka "serfdom"), there will also always be people who ignore a strike or what-have-you. Given the number of people with families and mortgages, or green cards in play or whatever, firms will always get researchers, union or otherwise. The idea of unionizing chemists is a humourous sidebar that has no basis in reality.

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40. milkshake on December 17, 2008 12:48 PM writes...

Our former co-workers class-sued Pfizer, for the promised severance after our site was closed - and made Pfizer to cough up the full amount plus lawyers fee in the settlement. It took something like 3 years and it wasn't easy.

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41. Hap on December 17, 2008 1:03 PM writes...

I appreciate the contribution of unions to the fact that I don't work six days a week and twelve hours a day, but lately their contribution to well-being has not been unmixed. They probably are more effective when you have standard work processes with knowable outcomes, and where the contribution of individual workers to success or failure is not so large - and even in those you have a fair amount of inequity (because everyone gets protected, no matter how incompetent or lazy, so that the incentive for people to work hard is diminished). If there is another way to improve how employers treat employees, it probably would be preferable.

For chemists (and lots of other people) the outcomes and work processes are a lot harder to measure and more dependent on the efforts of individuals. Probably the barrier of education limited the labor market in the same way that unions do with jobs requiring lower levels of education, and so people saw no reason to form unions (and, in general, unionization comes when people feel screwed by their employers and with little other recourse). Most of the people I knew in grad school didn't believe in unions, and like lots of other jobs, the ability to get labor from elsewhere makes unionization ineffective as a tool to give employees power. People might risk paychecks for the chance to unionize (the original organizers, and current ones in some places, risked/risk their lives for it), but if a union is likely to be ineffective, people aren't likely to risk their paychecks to form one.

For the most part, I think chemists want their success to be theirs and theirs alone because of the work it took for them to get there, and that makes unions difficult to form and unstable once formed. The ability to shift business or labor elsewhere has made unions untenable, and there isn't much reason to assume chemists' unions would be any more effective than those of others.

Milkshake's tactic might work someplaces, but probably not where it might be useful. Good luck winning a wrongful termination suit, for example, in the workers' paradise of OH. If they can find workers, companies will simply shift to where workers have no protections against such. As long as there are more potential employees than jobs, companies have the leverage.

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42. CMC Guy on December 17, 2008 1:09 PM writes...

Several Reasons I can think of why Scientists unlikely to join unions:

Good Positions: Comparatively Degreed people do well in finding High Salary/Strong Benefits (although as Posts show declining in Pharma these days)

Attitude: We are "professionals" so beneath us to act like common workers (which is elitist view).

Fear (along with said attitude): Being Unionized could widen the gap between R&D and Management and make Scientists viewed from above as (even more) disposal components.

Direction: Unions typically need to share core foundations and central themes to join together whereas wide diversity of opinions reinforced by training to explore "out edges" promote independent streaks amongst Scientist (We have hard time working together on tasks we do have).

Leadership: Strong person/group to provide the Direction lacking (based on comments directed toward ACS seems no faith in what might be considered current Chemistry leaders.)

Money: Hey most Scientists are tightwads and paying Union Dues would bug them considerably.

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43. CMC Guy on December 17, 2008 1:12 PM writes...

Several Reasons I can think of why Scientists unlikely to join unions:

Good Positions: Comparatively Degreed people do well in finding High Salary/Strong Benefits (although as Posts show declining in Pharma these days)

Attitude: We are "professionals" so beneath us to act like common workers (which is elitist view).

Fear (along with said attitude): Being Unionized could widen the gap between R&D and Management and make Scientists viewed from above as (even more) disposal components.

Direction: Unions typically need to share core foundations and central themes to join together whereas wide diversity of opinions reinforced by training to explore "out edges" promote independent streaks amongst Scientist (We have hard time working together on tasks we do have).

Leadership: Strong person/group to provide the Direction lacking (based on comments directed toward ACS seems no faith in what might be considered current Chemistry leaders.)

Money: Hey most Scientists are tightwads and paying Union Dues would bug them considerably.

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44. Mitch on December 17, 2008 2:17 PM writes...

What chemists need is something akin to the American Medical Association. An organization which regulates and controls the number of chemists inside, and allowed into the country.

A big problem is academic groups which swell with post-docs for which there are too few jobs. These are usually foreigners, who work cheaply. THey then use the advisor's connections to get a shot at a US job (I don't blame them, I blame the greedy faculty member).

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45. Anonymous on December 17, 2008 8:40 PM writes...

How those guys are doing these days in academics? I knwo they hire cheap postdocs....but are they getting any grants.....are there cuts in academics as well? Any lay offs? Any cuts in the grants? How is the hiring? I think it is equally tough on the other side of the problem as well. But I agree with Mitch that we need to have control on the production of useful no. of degrees.......there got to be a match between the needs of the society and the higher education curriculum.

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46. Another BMSer on December 17, 2008 9:02 PM writes...

Apparently, the rumors of additional 10% at BMS are untrue (for now anyway). The news reports were based on a misquoted reporter. Sadly though, some very good scientists were shown the door this week.

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47. Chemjobber on December 17, 2008 10:47 PM writes...

Anon8:40, I've heard that faculty hiring at the moment consists of lateral moves and no hiring of new assistant professors.

With all due respect to Mitch, I think the AMA's role in restricting doctor amounts is either mythical or minimal. I suggest that it's actually medical school class size that determines the number of physicians, with some help from state licensure boards. The myriad tests (especially USMLEs) undoubtedly help in culling.

Presumably, chemists (especially PhDs) have research summaries; physicians do not. You can't look at a physician's resume and tell if they're a good doctor -- if you look at a chemist's CV/research summary, you should have a pretty good idea if they're bad, average or good.

I've always felt left out, though, in that my wife (an RN) and my father (an engineer) have taken licensure exams, but chemists don't. If that's what it would take to ensure high salaries and job security, I'd be all for it.

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48. CMC Guy on December 17, 2008 11:23 PM writes...

#45 Anon, although I believe you meant to imply it should be this way in statement "there got to be a match between the needs of the society and the higher education curriculum" there rarely seems coordination between universities and what society/industry really needs. Even (especially) after years of grad school most chemists are not always well prepared for industry. Most academics often have little exposure to industry (and sometimes wider society for that matter) so produce replicates of themselves (more academic). I understand the different focus and mission that should be encouraged however it would be nice if the gap at times was not so great so that it would be easier to collaborate to solve problems rather than bicker about who contributes more.

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49. Margarine on December 18, 2008 1:50 AM writes...

All you need to know is that the ACS is evil incarnate. Don't talk to them, any more than you would give your child's soul to Lucifer. Think Satan,
think the most vile of evil when you here the obscenity know as the "American Chemical Society".

They will all burn in the darkest pits of hell. We will all turn our backs on them when they cry out in need. They are the Ken Lay's and dark soul of this nation.

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50. TX Raven on December 18, 2008 6:11 AM writes...

Lundbeck Research USA (Paramus, NJ) has a few openings in Chemistry and Biological Research. If you are interested, you may apply at

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51. startup on December 18, 2008 9:28 AM writes...

Here is the question - if ACS so much cares about well-being of its members, current and potential, why does not it go out of its way to provide more job opportunities through chemjobs? As far as I can tell most employers out there prefer to post open positions elsewhere.

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52. chetan on December 29, 2008 6:12 AM writes...

People always hate to talk about when they are laid off. But as it has become every day's news headline since Yahoo started it with cutting 1500 of its task force last year, now a need of platform has been in demand where people can express their selves in words how they are feeling about their company, whey the got laid off was that justified or not.
And every thing they want to tell anonymously.And is providing you that platform.

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53. Chemjobber on December 29, 2008 1:13 PM writes...

Hey, Startup:

If you were a guy looking for a position in chemistry, where would you go? I like, but I've found Chemjobs to be helpful. What sites do you like?

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