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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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January 13, 2009

More on Pfizer's Layoffs

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Posted by Derek

Pfizer's made an announcement about the dimensions of its research cuts - 5 to 8%, which means about 500 to 800 scientists this year. These are (for the most part, I presume) the "not in our current research areas" people from the company's recent re-work of their therapeutic areas.

What I don't know is if they're finally actually telling these people anything. Now, many biologists with a specialization in an abandoned therapeutic area knew instantly that they had to seek a new job when the earlier news came out. But there are plenty of chemists on the block, too. Chemists are sort of vaguely associated with therapeutic areas, as compared with biologists, so that makes it much harder to guess who's going to go.

So, is Pfizer telling anyone today? Or is this just another bizarre chance to whistle the blade over everyone's heads?

Update: yep, it's today, going on right now.

Comments (71) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Ironman on January 13, 2009 2:30 PM writes...

This is for real...chemistry in La Jolla was notified this morning. Exact numbers are unclear, but cuts appear substantial.

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2. pfiz alum on January 13, 2009 3:53 PM writes...

heard from several at groton today....they have been going through meeting requests all day...quite a few have been let go...don't know if they are giving packages or not...

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3. RandDChemist on January 13, 2009 3:57 PM writes...

Every time these happen, I cross my fingers and hope some good friends are not caught in this mess.

One analyst hammered them for these cuts:

Apparently the people affected are being told today. Happy New Year.

I wonder what Pfizer is doing to improve productivity? From the outside it does not look like an environment I'd want to be in right now.

If there are people who are performing poorly, then if they do not improve they should be let go. However, eliminating people solely on therapeutic area is myopic. The loss of talent is never good. A good scientist can and will learn.

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4. Hap on January 13, 2009 4:15 PM writes...

New Year sucks, but there's almost never a good time to be laid off. In this environment, and with the emphasis on cost-cutting, it seems a particularly bad time to be anyone but a recent graduate.

I am wondering (but don't know if there is an available answer) how this optimizes their discovery capacity. Is there reason to believe that it isn't just cost-cutting/outsourcing and is instead an actual attempt to optimize their drug discovery/production capacities? (The changes in areas of concentration things has been played often enough that it sounds like an evil game of musical chairs with cost-cutting intent, and not an actual productive change).

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5. Linda Raber on January 13, 2009 4:27 PM writes...

The layoffs at Pfizer are going on now. Please, please chemists and other chemical scientists going through layoffs, contact me at Chemical & Engineering News Magazine.

I am looking for readers to share their experiences for inclusion in upcoming stories. I am seeking personal stories of those laid off, the psychological and financial impacts, severance issues, and ideas for helping others to make it through tough times.

Confidentiality is assured; C&EN will not reveal your identity unless you consent. Please contact Assistant Managing Editor Linda Raber at or; phone (202) 872-4506.

I so much want to tell your story. Please help me do so.---Linda Raber

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6. The Pharmacoepidemiologist on January 13, 2009 4:59 PM writes...

Rumor on Wall Street is that this is Round 1 of four rounds this year for the researchers. (And this is supposed to be the smallest of the cuts.) Other cuts coming in other parts of the company, too. Expect a lot of pain, and don't be surprised if many of the researchers employed by PFE now aren't so employed by this time next year. Death by a thousand cuts?

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7. Hap on January 13, 2009 7:21 PM writes...

If #5 is correct then I guess Pfizer is going to try the "let's just do clinical studies and marketing" model of pharmaceutical development, which may answer #4 above. Otherwise, the obvious question would be "where do they think drugs come from exactly, or where do they think they will come from when they're done?"

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8. Todd on January 13, 2009 7:40 PM writes...

Hap, to play devil's advocate, they might be willing to gamble that their huge pile o' cash along with the distressed credit situation may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a lot of prime candidates at cut-rate prices from outside. I'm not sure what they'll do after that, but from a pure business perspective, it just might work. Either way, we're going to see the clinical-trials-and-marketing-big-pharma model get a real-world tryout.

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9. milkshake on January 13, 2009 8:05 PM writes...

I think Pfizer will acquire yet another mid-sized company with a solid pipeline (in bio-area this time so that they have less problems with generic competition later). I suppose the best people from the said company quit, and the rest of the research decays soon, because of imbecility of the new management. Eventually the site gets closed. (Da Capo al fine).

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10. scienceguy on January 13, 2009 10:46 PM writes...

Very sad story. Pfizer still makes good money even with the loss of Lipitor. Maybe not enough to keep shareholders happy I suppose, but Pfizer is not in the dire position of GM or other industry. So now what? Where will all these very talented people get jobs? Is there really enough jobs out there to absorb so many people? Thinking beyond Pfizer and also considering the tens of thousands of job losses in the industry in the last two years I am left to ponder what science in america will look like in ten years. My heart goes out to friends and scientists who are impacted by this decision.

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11. Anonymous BMS Researcher on January 13, 2009 11:47 PM writes...

Anybody know of an equivalent BMS shirt? Some folks I know who WE sacked in December might appreciate such a thing...

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12. LFree on January 13, 2009 11:56 PM writes...

You can envision DL rubbing his hands together in glee warranting 2 blog entries (in contrast to other 2008 company layoffs). Bring 'em on.

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13. procresschemist on January 14, 2009 4:48 AM writes...

"Drug firms have spent the year adopting new business models aimed at igniting innovation, protecting profitability"

That was on the first C&EN of december. No need for comments.
Apart from collecting personal experiences maybe the magazine should dedicate a cover story to this topic, with the correct label: "Biggest research cuts in pharma history"

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14. Kevin Hogan on January 14, 2009 7:30 AM writes...

I live in the shadow of Groton's R&D Center and many of my neighbors are/have been gainfully employed at Pfizer. As a broadcast journalist, it would be interesting to see and hear the other side of the story from a Pfizer scientist getting laid off.

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15. Tot. Syn. on January 14, 2009 8:02 AM writes...

The BBC just announced that 280 of the jobs to go will be at the Sandwich site. I know a few folks there; best of luck to them...

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16. burt on January 14, 2009 8:26 AM writes...

Contest: Write next week's C&EN front cover:

"Economy weak, but exciting opportunities abound in many parts of asia"

"ACS travels to Viet Nam to meet with business leaders"

"More chemist needed to solve 21st century challenges," says new ACS president with bow tie.

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17. Don B. on January 14, 2009 8:41 AM writes...

Please do not blame Derek for reporting the news.

Decades ago this type of event would be buried in a single small article in C&EN. It would usually cover another Dow Chemical 10% firing along with 3 or 4 other smaller firings.

The failings (for non- professorial chemists) of C&EN and the ACS have been detailed by many other writers not just here.

The term "layoffs" is particularly irritating because it usually meant rehiring when times got better.

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18. startup on January 14, 2009 9:18 AM writes...

It seems to me Pfizer has adopted the strategy of the aliens from the Independence Day - acquire an entity, suck it dry, move on, leaving rubble and dead bodies behind. The same holds true, as #17 correctly noted, for Dow.

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19. burt on January 14, 2009 9:53 AM writes...

"It seems to me Pfizer has adopted the strategy of the aliens from the Independence Day"

Where's Jeff Goldblum when you need him?

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20. Lee Howard on January 14, 2009 11:18 AM writes...

Any scientists who want to talk about their situation in the Groton-New London area should contact me at or call (860) 701-4356. Your information will be handled in the strictest of confidence.
-- Lee Howard, business reporter, The Day

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21. Darjeeling on January 14, 2009 11:25 AM writes...

Derek, congratulations! With multiple journos (from mainstream and specialty media outlets) openly trolling your comments section, it's obvious that you and "In the Pipeline" have arrived!


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22. Hap on January 14, 2009 11:34 AM writes...

I don't think people are angry at Dr. Lowe for talking about the layoffs (though some people don't like the free market/free employment response, but YMMV) - it's more of a general frustration with the situation (or a particular frustration, if you're the one laid off), a lack of rational understanding of why layoffs are occurring (or are a beneficial solution to the problems of pharma), and a lack of coherence between the incentives and pay of employees and those of management that seem to make layoffs likely and profitable.

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23. Pfizer Layoffs 2009 on January 14, 2009 11:35 AM writes...

I've had a hard time finding out whether the Pfizer layoffs actually were handed down yesterday, so I've put together a list of the facts we know thus far and included some insider info about how Pfizer's method of picking which scientists to lay off. There are some rumors about heavy layoffs later this month, but so far it looks like 800 researchers, 500 sales reps in Italy, and 1,000 sales reps in France.

Pfizer Layoffs 2009: New Details Emerge and Rumors Abound

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24. Mikey on January 14, 2009 12:07 PM writes...

I hope the youngins reading these comments realize that chemistry has been outsourced (through both Asia as well as the h1b and l-1 visas).

There are no jobs, except for tenured faculty and of course our friends at the American Chemical Society.

I just read in Science how Bruce Alberts is applauding the financial crisis and how it will redirect the Ivy League graduates who pursued careers in finance back to careers in science.

So now we'll have ten times the number of people competing for 1/4 fewer jobs! (Finance is probably 10x larger a field than the sciences.)

It shows you what a disgusting and corrupting influence academic tenure has on the thought process. He's actively blowing the whistle, in the hopes that another crop of young people will throw themselves 'over the top', only to be machine gunned down by greedy executives and manipulative professors.

Waste your youth, get a science degree, head to the unemployment line, re-train as refrigerator repairman.

So let's open the paper and hear again about that shortage of scientists again!

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25. SRC on January 14, 2009 12:53 PM writes...

Kudos to Burt for perfectly capturing the tenor of C&EN headlines.

Am I the only one hoping C&EN itself feels the ax? I'm tired of their smarmy "where will the next generation of chemists come from?" shtick (answer: China and India), their vapid chemistry boosterism, their fairly blatant political slant, and, last but not least, their endless series of articles entitled "Women in Chemistry." Enough already! Get a real job!

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26. Ty on January 14, 2009 1:06 PM writes...

What seems pathetic to me is that Pfizer hasn't learned anything from its own vice and failure. Layoffs may be inevitable (guess 10,000 researchers are a little one too many..), but the way they draw the line, namely focusing on a handful of therapeutic areas, appears purely business-driven, still the blockbuster model. It goes to tell you how big a gap there is between the upper management and the real drug hunters.

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27. Jose on January 14, 2009 1:57 PM writes...

Pfizer 2009- "The Great Leap Forward!"

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28. Conflicted on January 14, 2009 1:59 PM writes...

I'm a recent chemistry program MS graduate (performed mostly organic synthesis - ran some biological assays as well). I did not stay for the PhD because 1)I didn't feel it would make me more marketable and 2)Also for personal and career reasons. I felt I would have a more enjoyable life with a MS degree.

I do not have a job immediately lined up, but, I have some interviews. I would like to do chemistry in some fashion, but, the volatility of it does worry me as of late. I have thought of retraining for another career - as I am relatively young.

In the past - MS folks in industry were in decent demand. Has that gone to the wayside now? I am just wondering if I should stick it out and keep going down this career path, or do something else.....some of the comments here are disheartening, and I wonder if I can still make a go of it in chemistry, or if I should look to other walks of life.

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29. Don B. on January 14, 2009 3:28 PM writes...

To conflicted:

I don't think you "love chemistry". Try something that can't be outsourced like: plumbing/electrician/auto repair etc.

nursing is pretty stable.

Sorry I can't be more positive, but educstion is never wasted (IMO).

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30. burt on January 14, 2009 4:10 PM writes...

"Am I the only one hoping C&EN itself feels the ax?"

Madeline Jacobs made about $ 1 miilion on 2006 working for the ACS. Google "ACS executive salaries". But, I think we would all wholeheartedly concur she is more deserving than, say, Boston Chicken man, who puts his future golden parachute ahead of all other concerns, particularly treating human afflications.

Heart patients take note: all cardiovascular problems have been solved. They must be; the world's largest pharmaceutical company just said as much. I wonder if they've looked at inhalable statins yet.....?

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31. milkshake on January 14, 2009 6:05 PM writes...

Conflicted: I suggest you try patent law - it can be very lucrative, your MS in chemistry + lab experience will be a great asset. But it means for you going back to school.

Also a fellow BS colleague chemist at my previous company took the 6-month severance that Pfizer gave to most us* and he went into wine-making school. Imagine, a summer-internship in Tuscany...

*Note: the rest of employees that did not get the originally promised severance class-action sued Pfizer, and eventually got their money in a settlement

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32. SRC on January 14, 2009 6:39 PM writes...

A million bucks for editing C&EN? Good God! It's People magazine for the pocket protector set.

On Googling this a bit I now realize that the million bucks was for being CEO of ACS, whatever that entails. I also see that her "fields of interest" include employment and gender, which explains the 500 part series of articles on "women in chemistry."

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33. Pete on January 14, 2009 8:17 PM writes...


Hearing Ms: Jacobs make a Million dollars per year at ACS, I have decided not to renew my membership in ACS, after two decades of being a member. $100 is much too valuable to me.


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34. Kenneth on January 14, 2009 9:37 PM writes...

Hearing Ms: Jacobs make a Million dollars per year at ACS, I have decided not to renew my membership in ACS, after two decades of being a member. $100 is much too valuable to me."

She's paid that much to keep her mouth shut! She knows what a load of crap the ACS is. They say they represent all US chemists!! The ACS is one big outsourcing agency.


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35. Dr. Manhattan on January 14, 2009 10:16 PM writes...

Spoke with former colleagues at Pfizer (left 2 years ago myself). It was a blood bath, and many senior and very experienced people were cut. Further, experienced biologists in the new focus areas such as diabetes were let go, and biology scientists from other areas with no background in diabetes were transferred in. Sounds like a great plan for future success...

My tenure at Pfizer was relatively brief, as it became apparent that the senior scientific leaders were extremely light weight. I decided to go elsewhere. The new head of the metabolic area (diabetes) has no experience or publications in the area (in fact, checking PubMed, his expertise in the past was improving meat quality in pigs). It is clear that Kindler has no idea how to run a pharmaceutical company, and is relying on very poor advice from his leadership.

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36. BCP on January 14, 2009 10:38 PM writes...

Conflicted: don't give up all hope. IMHO, there's still a place for talented, inquisitive medicinal chemists, but the landscape has shifted. I'd offer two pieces of advice based on 16+yrs in pharma med chem.

1) Consider a big company to begin with, but only as a stepping stone. Real opportunity will lie with smaller, innovative companies who provide inlicensing opportunities for the big boys.

2) As soon as possible, start learning about the "med" in med chem. Talented synthetic chemists are of course valuable, but readily outsourced. The folks with the ideas and insight can still find a a small company where they are visible and acknowledged (not big pharma).

Good luck.

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37. Jose on January 15, 2009 1:09 AM writes...

Conflicted- give up hope. Expend your time and energy in better directions than biotech or pharma. We are all wishing we had... things WILL turn around, but the time scales for that have very large error bars right now, and many, many careers are being crushed by PFE, LLY and others. 2008 was a bloodbath, and 2009 looks no rosier.

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38. Chemjobber on January 15, 2009 3:52 AM writes...

Assuming that this is the only layoff for the year, I have to agree with the analyst in the NYT who said this is a lot of pain for not much gain.

I was in the same room as the outgoing John LaMattina (mid-2007) when he said that Pfizer is "right-sized" for the Lipitor LOE; I didn't believe it then and I don't believe this is the end. God, their senior management is moronic.

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39. anon on January 15, 2009 7:26 AM writes...

conflicted: If you have the chance to train to get into a more stable field without dealing with the constant anxiety of possible layoffs, then do so.

I am grateful to still be employed, but there is no way in hell that I would have chosen chemistry as a career if I had known what was going to happen with the industry back when I was a student. (I also have a MS in chemistry.)

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40. Thomas McEntee on January 15, 2009 7:33 AM writes...

The ACS isn't the cause of these layoffs and isn't the cause of the decline of the US chemical industry from its halcyon days. It's been many years since I last paid ACS dues so that I could get my weekly C&EN...after my own bout with a layoff in the mid-1980s and the pain associated with the the Jobs sessions at a national ACS meeting in NYC (me, a 45-year old PhD, gets no interviews. Only the cheap newly-minted PhDs get interviews),I pretty much came to accept the fact that the ACS preferred to put a pretty face on whatever aspect of chemistry was 'up' and that it swept under the rug whatever aspect of chemistry was 'down.' So be it.

Pharma and chemistry in general are global enterprises, subject to all the vagaries of supply and demand...and competition. Compounds protected by patents avoid some of the messiness of competition. After that, your ability to be a low-cost producer of pharmaceuticals means attention to cost-cutting. I do not regard it at all surprising that companies are outsourcing R&D and production from the US to other countries. Now, the fact that this leaves US scientists in the lurch is unfortunate for the nation. For the scientists, it's painful and can be traumatic for them and their families. Been there, done that.

Attempts to guarantee lifetime employment have a sorry record. Socialism and communism have tried and we know how well those systems have worked. The 'blood and tooth' of capitalism weeds out weak and inefficient often isn't pretty but it's efficient.

Any organic chemist with an advanced degree has been exposed to lots of flavors of chemistry. Chemistry is the basis for all materials of construction of our world and I believe that a chemist can thrive in the world in fields well-removed from pharma. It probably will mean that people are going to have to uproot their families, climb on board a ship sailing to a new world, and take some chances.

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41. Peter on January 15, 2009 12:16 PM writes...

Conflicted: I was in a similar place as you recently. I left with a MS for the same reasons, and have worked at a big pharma company for a year now. Here's my perspective: people like you and me, who are competent and enjoy our jobs but aren't incredibly talented and/or passionate, will be among the casualties of the relentless quest for efficiency. An honest question: if there's someone out there who will work a lot harder than I do (e.g. by working longer hours) or is simply a better chemist, then why -shouldn't- he have my job?

Practically speaking, if you get a job offer that's reasonable, take it. Live cheaply, save as much as you can (pay off debts if you have them), make a good impression on your bosses, and use the time to figure out what else you can do besides chemistry.

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42. Tyrosine on January 15, 2009 5:28 PM writes...


I would enter the industry and make the most of any opportunities that come your way to grow. Education is never wasted, and the same can be said about work experience. Be focused on growing skills that are transferable to other fields and you'll be fine.

My opinion is that "job stability" in any industry, is a concept of the past. The new reality is that we will be constantly shifting jobs, and shifting fields. Ask around, no one thinks they're job is safe, and picking a "permanent" industry is ludicrous given how fast the world is changing.

The answer is to develop transferable skills and knowledge. I have met many individuals that have adopted this paradigm and you'd be surprised how well they've done for themselves, how much they enjoy their jobs, but most of all, just how easy it is for them to switch fields. People, leadership, learning, problem solving, analysis, communication,...etc. are skills that will ALWAYS be valued.

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43. burt on January 15, 2009 8:44 PM writes...

"My opinion is that "job stability" in any industry, is a concept of the past. "

Maybe so, but the problem is that (the time to market for a drug) >> than (the patience of snotty-nosed, pea-brained MBA's). Drug Discovery is HARD-- and that's part of why we love doing it-- but the economy is in "" time-- idea to product in a few months.

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44. SRC on January 15, 2009 10:05 PM writes...

Tyrosine makes some good points. Scientists, like medics, now face the problem that they've invested so much time and effort to get to their position that they pretty much have to use it, which inhibits their ability/willingness to shift to other fields.

It's a cliche that nimbleness is now the ultimate virtue for survival, but anyone spending 10+ in education has built an economic Maginot Line.

Contrast a chemistry Ph.D. (or an M.D.) with, say, a "communications" major. To take a sanguine view, the latter is equally qualifed (or, more accurately, equally unqualified) to do anything. Opportunities abound. Secretary, regional manager, CEO, nothing is ruled out.

A chemist, on the other hand, will only be considered for a job that involves chemistry, and not just chemistry generally, or even a field of chemistry, but often a subdiscipline of that (e.g., not just chemistry, but organic chemistry, not just organic chemistry, but, say, carbohydrate chemistry).

And that chemist will end up reporting to a communications major, because he's a "generalist."

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45. KT on January 16, 2009 4:56 AM writes...

Folks I have read all of these comments with great interest, and wanted to add my thoughts/experience. Tyrosine, in my opinion you have hit the nail on the head my friend. Industry (with all it's faults, problems, bureaucracy etc) is a FANTASTIC place to develop yourself. I started working for a large pharmaceutical company as a chemist 4 years ago, and much like conflicted (#28) had plenty of doubts. But I see it as the best decision I ever made. Whilst I have worked hard as a chemist, I have looked to develop new tranferable skills for the inevitable day redundancy comes knocking. Face up to it. Expect it to come. BE PREPARED and PROACTIVE. I was under threat at the end of last year, got my CV in order and had great success with interviews in a range of industries because of the skills I have been fortunate enough to develop in my time here. I got lucky and kept my job this time, but next time it might be a different story...

It's very easy to sit and complain, but gets you nowhere fast. Unfortunately if you want to be a chemist, and a chemist alone in the Western world it's going to be a tough few years. However if you're willing to learn some new stuff, polish your communication and management skills and not be intimidated by different industries you will never be out of a job

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