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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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

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

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« Bits And Pieces | Main | Report from C&E News »

April 21, 2010

Two Bad Ideas

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Posted by Derek

I note that one of the biggest topics in the "What To Tell the C&E News People" comment thread is chemical employment. And it should be - there are far fewer med-chem jobs out there today than there were five years ago, and it's getting harder and harder to imagine things coming back to the way that they once were.

In fact, I don't see any way that they can, at least if by "the way they once were", you mean the number of well-paid US-based positions at large pharma companies. I hate to sound like this, but I think there's been too much of a shift in recent years for anything to undo it. Costs have gone up, drug-development success rates have (at best) not increased, and there are cheaper ways to get a good amount of work done which used to cost more. Which of these things are going to change back, and how?

We can argue about how effective some outsourcing is, but it's definitely not worthless. And we can certainly argue about whether companies have cut too far back in the current downturn. But (and I've said this before around here), what I really have trouble with are two solutions that get proposed every time this topic comes up.

The first of these is "Cut back on work visas". Well, that's the milder form of it - this point of view has a way of slipping down to "Ship 'em all back" sometimes. Either way, what people who advocate this seem to believe is that companies will gladly hire American-based scientists if they're just, you know, forced to. I can't see it. And as I've said here before, I'm not particularly focused on bettering the lives of American scientists as opposed to those coming in from other countries. Many of them become Americans themselves, and I'm glad to have them. We can use all the intelligent, resourceful, hard-working people here that we can get.

The second solution that gets aired out is "Form a Union!" And I have to say that I have even less patience for this one. I'm not a big union fan in general, actually, and I think that in this case it's an even worse idea than usual. What leverage do employees have? Here's the problem that sinks many such ideas: the US is not an island nation, in any sense of the word. If you force the cost of doing business here up even higher, the jobs will leave even faster. There are now places for them to go, which is the biggest change of the last ten or twenty years. Those places are often not quite as good in some ways (for now), but they're a lot less expensive, and that's where the money will flow if the deal looks reasonable. The only thing that will slow this down is if things get cheaper here (which isn't too likely), or if they get more expensive over there (which is quite likely indeed, actually - a topic for another day).

So to me, both of these proposals boil down to forcing companies to pay more for what they can get elsewhere. In my opinion, they're both unworkable and likely to make the situation deteriorate even faster than it is already.

Update: fixed typos, I think. Views remain the same! As to the "scientist shortage" talk that keeps popping up, I agree with the people who are ticked off about that one. We clearly have no great shortage of scientists at the moment in the fields that I have personal experience of. But this is (or ideally should be) something of a separate topic from immigration, and will be the topic of a future post. . .

Comments (116) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Drug Industry History


COMMENTS

1. David P on April 21, 2010 4:15 PM writes...

I agree with you on these points, for the most part.

An idle idea I had while reading over this and the comments in the thread was that a Union would not have to be an "Us against Them" organization, but just acts as a representative for the non-management employees. Not leveraging more pay, just working with the company to be more efficient and competative. Being there to point out that a management idea won't work and to give alternatives.

Pipe dream?

I wonder if you are wrong about the difference in prices between here and abroad remaining large though: salaries in China (at least IIRC) are on the rise and, crucially, there are a lot of unemployed chemists here. Seems to me that we are in a period where we have to make do with less and not feel entitled to $100k+ salaries. Maybe we don't want to think about salaries going down, but what is the alternative?

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2. Nat on April 21, 2010 4:38 PM writes...

I agree with both points, but my impression from reading many of the earlier comments was that people aren't particularly angry at foreign guests taking jobs from Americans, they're angry at industry lobbyists claiming that there's a scientist shortage and we need to issue more visas. The immigrants aren't the villains here - they're just being exploited like everyone else. It is even more appalling from the point of view of a biologist: more and more companies are using "industrial postdocs" as an excuse to hire junior scientists at $50,000 per year, and in this economy they'll probably have no trouble filling these positions. Is there any other field where you spend all of your 20s in school in order to make so little money in the private sector?

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3. Nat on April 21, 2010 4:39 PM writes...

I agree with both points, but my impression from reading many of the earlier comments was that people aren't particularly angry at foreign guests taking jobs from Americans, they're angry at industry lobbyists claiming that there's a scientist shortage and we need to issue more visas. The immigrants aren't the villains here - they're just being exploited like everyone else. It is even more appalling from the point of view of a biologist: more and more companies are using "industrial postdocs" as an excuse to hire junior scientists at $50,000 per year, and in this economy they'll probably have no trouble filling these positions. Is there any other field where you spend all of your 20s in school in order to make so little money in the private sector?

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4. chemist on April 21, 2010 4:42 PM writes...

"We can use all the intelligent, resource[sic], hard-working people here that we can get."

If you mean "use" as in "use with compensation" as in "employ" as in "hire to fill a job" then you're wrong. We have a glut of talented people.

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5. here today gone tomorrow on April 21, 2010 5:01 PM writes...

Yep, the jobs are not coming back -- Large US pharmaceutical R&D sites shuttered in past 15 years – Syntex, Searle, Sterling, UpJohn, Park-Davis, Bayer, Berlex, Alza, JNJ – Ortho, Monsanto, Dupont, P&G, Glaxo – RTP (plus 4 R&D sites around the world), Robins, Knoll (Bayer), 3M, Ciba Summit, Burroughs-Wellcome, Rorer, Merrill-Dow, Rhone-Poulenc, Sanofi-Aventis, Wyeth (6 sites), Lederle, Pfizer – New London, AstraZeneca – Delaware (multiple sites in the EU) and more closures are coming in the future, count on it.

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6. Nick on April 21, 2010 5:21 PM writes...

"And as I've said here before, I'm not particularly focused on bettering the lives of American scientists as opposed to those coming in from other countries."


Congrats! You are a true humanitarian. But the ACS...the AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, should be concerned about the US Scientist. It claims to represent my interests. Or didn’t you know the ACS lobbyists are some of the highest paid in Washington?

Now a temp visa in this time of strife and famine is akin to dumping more people onto a crowded lifeboat.

Yes, we'd all like to think the US has infinite resources..give us your hungry and poor...yada yada yada. But I'd humbly point out that the USA is not an open system. Its foremost goal is to protect its citizens welfare.

Would you complain if the local petrochemical plant imported a thousand Zimbabwe residents to kick you out of your home and squat on your land? Why, you'd be straight off to the nearest court screaming for justice.

Likewise those jobs given to foreigners that you blithely dismiss are American jobs! You have a right to those jobs..you have a right to exist.


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7. J-bone on April 21, 2010 5:35 PM writes...

more and more companies are using "industrial postdocs" as an excuse to hire junior scientists at $50,000 per year, and in this economy they'll probably have no trouble filling these positions

This is not much more than I was making as a BS level scientist at my last company (which I left for grad school) and I would happily take a "postdoc" for this amount of money.

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8. bbooooooya on April 21, 2010 5:46 PM writes...

"But the ACS...the AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, should be concerned about the US Scientist."

So what about those darn foreigners whop are also ACS members? Should the ACS not be concerned about them, or should only Americans be permitted to join the ACS?

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9. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on April 21, 2010 5:46 PM writes...

I think what the ACS and other lobbyists for visas are trying to say is that there is a shortage of graduate students to fill all of those empty desks at second-rate and third-rate institutions.

As for biologists having to do industrial post-docs for jobs, there was a shortage of jobs for biologists in the 1980's!

"There's a graduate student born every minute!"

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10. retread on April 21, 2010 6:02 PM writes...

Back in the early 60s in Grad School, Don Voet and I used to say that the universal scientific language was broken English. The country was not noticeably harmed by this in the following half century. Don's parents were Dutch refugees.

Given the upheaval in the middle east, are those of you in academia and/or grad school seeing an influx of talented people from the area?

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11. bbooooooya on April 21, 2010 6:11 PM writes...

"The country was not noticeably harmed by this in the following half century."

WHAT! That is the most ridiculous statement ever. You really should watch more Fox "news"!

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12. retread on April 21, 2010 6:23 PM writes...

By 'this' I meant the influx of foreign born scientific talent. It would be interesting to know how many American Nobelists of the past 50 years were born abroad.

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13. Matt on April 21, 2010 6:45 PM writes...

I am an american and I am concerned about foreign students taking our job too. But the problem comes from the fact there are not enough US TAs to teach the undergraduate students. So they hire internatinal students and once they are here, they just stick in here.

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14. SteveM on April 21, 2010 6:59 PM writes...

This pro immigration argument is phantasmagorical. If a labor sector is saturated, exactly why would more individuals of that labor category be imported? Of course only if the import labor works cheaper. Because the Green Card carrot is dangled in front of them. Right now H-1B is a charade, a sop to Crony Capitalist business sectors who game the immigration system in DC.

There's no "Best and Brightest" from Asia swarming over to the United States to grace us with brilliance. No, the vast majority of the H-1B's are decent technologists, (some not so decent). That's it. They are no more talented than the laid off American scientists and engineers sitting on their hands at home.

The idea that the richest, best educated country in the world with 300 million people in it has to go overseas to secure scientific talent is nuts. Just nuts.

Derek, check out the resumes of the guys pounding the pavement that post here and then come back and tell us it's rational to hand jobs they can do to H-1B imports.

Maybe America will eventually wave sayonora to all its technology development jobs to Asia. But until that time comes, if we got people here who can do it, we gotta let them do it.

P.S. I love the ironic argument that H-1B's pay taxes. Yeah, those taxes are used to pay unemployment, Medicaid, food stamps and section 8 housing subsidies for the displaced Americans dumped out of their jobs by imports.

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15. GreedyCynicalSelfIntereted on April 21, 2010 7:40 PM writes...

SteveM:
You don't understand what the profs and MBA's are saying when they are talking about a shortage of talent. It's a half-truth and they left out a word that would betray their intentions.
What they are really saying is that they want "fresh" talent and no one over 40 need apply.
Plus, some people are just warm bodies that have to baby-sit the freshmen in chemistry at larger universities and babysitters are expensive. Some of these 12-year old kids want $10 per hour for babysitting! It's just not legal to have a 12 year old babysitting 18-20 year old college students and it's too expensive. So, get the overseas talent that's cheaper and can mumble broken English to the college freshman.
The second and third-rate institutions depend on talented foreigners to fill the empty research benches of professors who may happen to have money for their expensive and esoteric hobbies.

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16. maozaho on April 21, 2010 7:48 PM writes...

I am glad to see this topic here. A lot of jealousy going on about foreign workers and I understand that. The fact of the matter is that NO us chemistry department will survive without international TAs who finally finish their study and look for the return of their 5-10 years investment in us .
The other thing I saw in this discussion that international students are not talented. Here is tha fact, the the graduate schools first offer US students and if all the seats are not filled, they offer intl students. When they do so, they pick top of the top. Once admitted, foreign students work their ask off to compete with local students. The result is in a competitive market, one looks for one with better credetials.
There are less jobs and the reason is outsourcing. One pharma company moved to canada in front of my eye because the tax is too high. So if there is real concern about jobs, why do not to tell the government to reduce tax for the pharma companies.
Finally, NO ONE in this discussion is geneticaly american, except the red indians. Your ancestors were just like me who came here for opportunity and finally AMERICANIZED. peace

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17. SteveM on April 21, 2010 7:48 PM writes...

Re: #15

GCSI, agree on your logic. So fine, let the imports staff the lower tier grad school positions. And when they graduate, congratulate them, wish them luck and a nice trip home back to their own countries.

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18. Captain Snark on April 21, 2010 7:53 PM writes...

Is there any other field where you spend all of your 20s in school in order to make so little money in the private sector?

Yes - they're called the humanities!

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19. silicon scientist on April 21, 2010 8:03 PM writes...

Wow, Derek. The U.S. must be run by the most enlightened legislature in the world. Somehow the U.S. Congress has found the perfect number of work visas, and anyone who argues that number should be lower is not to be listened to by rational thinkers.

Snark aside, there are plenty of good reasons to reduce the number of work visas. Ignoring those arguments makes me respect your opinion a whole lot less.

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20. SteveM on April 21, 2010 8:04 PM writes...

Re: #18 Captain Snark

No, the least paid now are unpaid "interns". The NY Times had a story a few months ago about NYU grads living in tents in a field on an organic farm. Their rationalization was that since it was an organic farm it was more than being a farmhand for free. But of course that's all they were - free farmhand labor.

More irony. The farmer found cheaper labor using NYU grads with $100K+ of student loans. Otherwise he would have had to pay Hispanic immigrant labor substandard wages that were still greater than nothing. The American labor model is being totally inverted.

P.S. Maybe out of work American Ph.D.'s should knock on Pfizer's door and "volunteer" as interns.

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21. Chemjobber on April 21, 2010 8:11 PM writes...

Or didn’t you know the ACS lobbyists are some of the highest paid in Washington?

I am highly skeptical of this. Link, please?

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22. barry on April 21, 2010 8:16 PM writes...

It's unlikely that the number of big-pharma research jobs will ever come back--if by "big-pharma" you mean the behemoths of the last decade. They drove the cost of a new drug to $1billion and have little to show for it. Almost all their NCEs come from acquisition, not from their research programs. No small company ever spent that, not least because no small company ever had a billion dollars. There's a vast and growing pool of idle talent and lab space, waiting for an influx of investment. If research jobs come back it won't be at mega-pharma, but it will be at start-ups.

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23. McChemist on April 21, 2010 10:13 PM writes...

The idea that the richest, best educated country in the world with 300 million people in it has to go overseas to secure scientific talent is nuts. Just nuts.

A lot of people are pretending that the relationship between the number of scientists and the number of companies is a one-way street. Not so.

Two factors in why all the new growth in the industry is taking place in China and India: lower costs, and an work force sufficiently educated to do R&D. The U.S. can't do anything about the first, but had control of the second by taking in so much foreign talent. Tightening the inflow of immigrants helped catalyze the outflow of jobs from the U.S. to other countries.

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24. chemist on April 21, 2010 10:30 PM writes...

Re: #14 (SteveM)

"The idea that the richest, best educated country in the world with 300 million people in it has to go overseas to secure scientific talent is nuts. Just nuts."

I totally agree. If Harvard hadn't hired Kishi many years ago they no doubt would have had to eliminate the position for lack of any other qualified candidate, don't you think so? (Not picking on Kishi: I needed a famous example.)

In the places that I've worked, foreign applicants (and eventual co-workers) were no more outstanding than our US born and educated staff. In some cases, they were actually rather abysmal disappointments as PhDs but competent technicians.

There are many foreign students who use a PhD program to enter the US but leave the program with a Masters after one or two years in order to legally enter the US workforce. We hired several of them, too, and some of them were terrible and shouldn't have been admitted to ANY PhD program in the first place.

It is also in my experience that employers use the promise of a green card to guarantee that they have an agreeable and compliant workforce. More than once I asked colleagues why they didn't speak up and support me about problems with various research programs. "I'm scared. I want to get my green card."

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25. stillemployed_fornow on April 21, 2010 10:34 PM writes...

I hate to say it, but the reason why there's an overabundance of PhD's is because the US government funds so much academic research. Pull the research dollars and all those postdoc and grad student slots would fade away. Many countries around the world seem to push for an education in chemistry, even if there's no economic reason for it. I assume the reason is related to national security. Ever wonder why a country like Iran trains so many chemists? If the governments goal is to overstock scientists then we fight an uphill battle to remain gainfully empolyed. What amazes me is that the US govn won't spend a cent to train more medical doctors...MD's must have a powerful lobby.

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26. chemist on April 21, 2010 10:52 PM writes...

Re: #16 maozaho

"Finally, NO ONE in this discussion is geneticaly american, except the red indians."

I, for one, am not talking genetics. I am talking US citizenship with no other options. I have sought employment in foreign countries.

Large Japanese company following favorable interview: "We don't hire foreigners."

French academic institution: "We'd love to have you. Just bring your own funding."

China: "My friend will give you a job in his chemical factory but you will only receive Chinese wages. [Not enough for a non-Chinese to live on in a country with a multi-tiered economy: different prices for Chinese and non-Chinese.]"

Nakanishi (Columbia) has criticized the Japanese system for not accommodating foreign scientists the way that the US system does.

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27. chemist on April 21, 2010 11:01 PM writes...

Re: #25 stillemployed_fornow

"What amazes me is that the US govn won't spend a cent to train more medical doctors...MD's must have a powerful lobby."

There ARE gov programs to take clinical MDs and get them into PhD programs in order to teach them how to do research and thus, it is hoped, enhance the quality of gov funded basic medical research.

There are NO programs to take (unemployed) PhDs and send them to Med School to learn the medicine that would strengthen their already well inculcated research abilities with a better medical education than "Burger's Med Chem."

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28. Anonymous on April 21, 2010 11:41 PM writes...

I agree with Derek about the futility of blocking visas and unionising. The industry is undergoing a major shift towards placing it's wet work in foreign countries like China and India. Where I differ though is around the issues of environmental responsibility on the micro and macro scale. We all know that our CROs are not required to meet the same environmental, health and safety standards as we are and it is a fundamental reason why these companies can beat our internal efforts. But we don't ask any uncomfortable questions. We suggest what best practice might be, but don't chack that it is being followed. I know from making discrete enquiries that a number of our contractors were hospitalised last year in several separate incidents. Is that OK ? Or does it lump me together with the fashion companies making garments and the sports companies making footballs using child labor in these countries ?

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29. bcpmoon on April 22, 2010 12:53 AM writes...

Interesting to see that people are all the same - highly educated or not, in the end its "better you than me".
From a european perspective: We are looking with envy at the dynamic and very productive scientific landscape in the US. I know that there were concerns e.g. in Germany that the DFG was funding the US-Science with its postdoc program and that the best were unfortunately staying in the US. Also my profs always talked about their impression that the hard sciences are mostly populated by asians and the occasional european postdoc while the americans are found in business and law. Is that correct? Perhaps the jobs are simply following the talent, after it has been "shipped back home".
In general the situation is of course similar here, China/India and so on. What we are seeing is the finding of a new equilibrium, but well, life is change.

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30. AlchemX on April 22, 2010 1:06 AM writes...

A look back into the literature would have averted much of this pain:

"Outlook grim for PhD chemists" Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, 1975, 52(6), 346A

Damn, always check the literature, that's what I've found out as a chemist.

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31. bcpmoon on April 22, 2010 1:14 AM writes...

As the saying goes: "A week in the lab can save you an hour in the library"...

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32. drsnowboard on April 22, 2010 1:41 AM writes...

So if US pharma outsources to India and China, then it doesn't need a stream of fresh graduates and PhDs.. Depts should close or merge. That's what happened in the UK, straight chemistry depts became absorbed into faculties and broad divisions, started cloaking chemistry courses as 'forensic science' (the CSI effect) and generally retreating from basic science teraching. My feeling is that this was driven by the applicants.. They saw opportunities elsewhere and voted with their feet. The pharmaceutical industry is dying on its feet in the West, accept it. The visa problem will go away once US living standards or salaries drop.

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33. silicon scientist on April 22, 2010 5:43 AM writes...

#28 "The industry is undergoing a major shift towards placing it's wet work in foreign countries like China and India."

It's not just pharma. There are so many high tech industries doing the same thing. There are no lifeboats...they're all sinking.

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34. RB Woodweird on April 22, 2010 6:41 AM writes...

Summary: Thank you sir! May I have another!?

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35. Mary P on April 22, 2010 8:09 AM writes...

It seems to me that there are more effective ways to do drug discovery than is being done in the US. That's why the pipelines of Big Pharma haven't been very productive, not because it's cheaper to do over seas, not because the Chinese and Indian scientists are smarter, but because the way DD is done and managed in the US is failing.

There are some CEO's who know how to set up lean, efficient drug discovery processes AND make companies profitable... in particular my money follows Fred Hassan, who seems to be able to take an ailing pharma company, turn it around and make it profitable WITHOUT sacrificing scientists and the future to do so. When Pfizer bought Pharmacia, they kept the wrong CEO. When Merck bought Schering Plough, THEY kept the wrong CEO. (But I made money with the stock both times.... my investing friends call it 'Following the bouncing Fred')

(By the way, I worked for Pharmacia AND Pfizer DD and saw the huge difference in culture, thought process and methodology. Also have friends scattered all thru the industry at this point and we often discuss DD culture and what's effective and not.)

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36. SteveM on April 22, 2010 8:20 AM writes...

Re: #35 Mary

Great observations. I have been out of the lab for 25 years (Ag Chem), but I'm an interested observer. At that time I left, QSAR was maturing nicely. And with the increase in computing power, assay selectivity and synthetic techniques since then, I thought that Pharma Discovery would be going like gangbusters.

But even with improved Discovery tools, most Big Pharma claim lame pipelines. Viewing now from a distance, I don't get the incongruity at all.

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37. out of pharma on April 22, 2010 8:20 AM writes...

ACS wants to perpetuate the myth that chemistry is growing. With the layoffs from big and small pharma/biotech where are the 'excess' chemists going to work? schools- budget cuts. Just create a new journal- spare time with chemists. Derek- Josh was critized for his salary but look at your new head and what he's taking home.

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38. bbooooooya on April 22, 2010 8:24 AM writes...

"It's not just pharma. There are so many high tech industries doing the same thing."

Low tech went overseas decades ago: try finding tube socks made in the USA. At some point, Anmericans are going to have to start making producst of value. Our current trade deficit is not sustainable.

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39. john on April 22, 2010 9:47 AM writes...

Please don't use terms like "red indian" it's offensive to some of us and really has no place in what can be an interesting and informative debate. Unfortunately there are some arguments touching on race etc. in these discussions. I'm finishing my PhD in med chem, looking for a job and I've realized that it's not worth it to me and my family to try and stay in science, doing a post doc or two and hoping for that position to show up thats not there.
I think there is a scientist shortage (again please don't bring race into this) it's in american citizens, while in a global sense it seems there isn't one.^60% of scientists funded by the NIH are not American born. The problem is that with the many years (many many many) that we spend in training I guess I personally feel somewhat entitled to a higher salary that what a post doc earns, or if I have to head overseas etc.
There is very little economic incentive at this point to get a PhD. That, I think, is the main reason that there are so few americans in science (comparatively). Why should I do all these years of long hours for crappy pay if it doesn't lead to a good paying job? Why not go to med school, or pharmacy school? That option isn't there in many other countries, a PhD gets you into the US and a chance at the American dream. I think the real problem has been hit on the head above, there are too many grad school and post doc positions. If you want cheap labor in your lab hire it, don't train someone for a position that doesn't exist.

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40. Anonymous on April 22, 2010 9:50 AM writes...

The US has without doubt some of the most talented chemit in the world. And the chances are 99% of them are gainfully employed. While the not so good ones are sitting around and complaining about competing with foreign scientist on this board.

The days of "tenured" positions in big pharma - where you contnued to be employed even if you hadnt done anything in the last 10 years are gone. Now you just have the "crappy" start ups and biotechs without the creature comforts of the big pharma "houses". Dont be fooled, your contempt comes through when you interview at the "crappy" start ups. So maybe it is time for some attitude adjustments and learning to accept that things have become more competitive.

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41. Hap on April 22, 2010 9:53 AM writes...

How do you generate value without either manufacturing or high-tech? If you don't have the hands-on knowledge and experience with making anything, it's hard to improve things, and without either deeper knowledge or better tech, you can't improve things, either. And those are the jobs that have been sent away. So, if you are deciding what to do, why would you spent your time doing something that doesn't appear likely to be employable in the future, and which is obviously not valued by your potential (currently existing) employers?

The people that did these things assumed that the same incentives which applied to them to make more money didn't apply to anyone else, and that the system would somehow fix itself. We did once make things of use, but we decided it was cheaper to make them elsewhere, and assumed that somehow the knowledge to make new things would be preserved without the ability to make the old ones. If you sell the seed corn, or eat it, well, what did you think was going to happen, exactly? If you want people to make things, well, you have to pay for it, and if you aren't willing to do so, those things and the people that would have made them won't be there. If you want things of use, you have to act as if they matter, rather than acting as if the act of managing their manufacture into bankruptcy were the key part of their provision. If money is the arbiter of what's valuable, then expecting a system where doing things that are "valuable" involves inconsistent and (relatively) low-paid employment to be stable is illogical.

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42. John on April 22, 2010 9:53 AM writes...

Derek, I appreciate your concern with being fair. But I think keeping the doors wide open creates more injustice than it prevents. The issue is not Americans vs immigrants, but balancing the needs of those who still can make choices on where to invest their efforts against those who are already committed.

If you reduce the number of H1b visas over a several year time frame, this sends the message that career opportunities in chemistry are limited, and people can make the choice to pursue some other field BEFORE they have invested many years in grad school. Ditto for limiting the number of US born students who are admitted to PhD programs.


From my own experience, I can say that trying to change careers after age 45 is a nightmare that I would not wish on anybody. Even after returning to school at a top ranked program to obtain an MBA (and getting a 4.0 GPA), I was faced with "We can't hire you for a senior level position because you've never done this before, and we can't hire you for a junior level position because you're 'overqualified'". I spent 2 years looking for work while my 28 year old classmates went off to jobs at hedge funds and consulting firms. Its not age discrimination, its that no one knows what to make of a 45 year old career changer. And on a certain level, the hiring manager wants to believe you are a loser so s/he does not have to imagine himself/herself ever ending up in your position.

The situation is an overwhelming waste of human capital, of the money that was spent to train these people, and in my opinion a greater injustice than limiting the opportunities offered to 23 year olds to enter the field of their choice.

Obviously my personal experience colors my opinion on this, but there you have it for whatever it is worth.

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43. Anonymous on April 22, 2010 10:00 AM writes...

#35

I think Hassan's skills extend mainly to putting lipstick on pigs. There's no way that he was at Schering Plough for long enough to make a real difference to the pipeline. That would take far more committment than he's got. He may have been very effective in boosting the returns to the shareholders (and hey that is the CEOs primary job), but I'm not sure that Pfizer or Merck think they've got a great deal. In each case they were deals the companies "had" to do and in each case they've cost the acquiring company big time.

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44. bbooooooya on April 22, 2010 10:22 AM writes...

Are hibs even an issue, or just a convenient way to express dislike for those who are "melatonin challenged"? look at th enumbers: based on 2008 data from US DOL and ACS, abt 2 million worked in biopharm (in 2008).

There are a total of 65,000 h1bs granted each year (though an extra 20,000 can be added with degrees > MS), and can be renewed 2X (i.e., if the holder stays employed it's a 3 year 'stay in US card').

If 100% of H1B holders work in biopharma (clearly impossible) this would be ~8% of the workforce (note, this assumes a total of 255,000 h1b holders in the US). I realize the situation has changed since 2008 (this was the most recent data I could quickly find), but it should be clear that these dam foreigners are not the problem.

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45. Hap on April 22, 2010 10:29 AM writes...

#1: I think I'd feel the "there is no job security" system were fair if it applied to everyone - but it appears that it does not, and that the people most responsible for the difficulties that compelled the disappearance/reduction in job security pay the least in both reductions in pay and in job security. (In addition, the loss of a job for them comes with less of a penalty because of generous severance and retirement benefits not granted to the rank-and-file).

I can't see how unions could help, but I would have figured that pro-union sentiment is motivated by the loss of faith of workers in their employers, and in the idea that their employers find any value in them (or are willing to pay them for the value they create). Unions don't usually form when employers and employees have enough common cause to work together, or when one side views the other as expendable - cattle don't work with the rancher to facilitate their own slaughter.

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46. Anonymous on April 22, 2010 10:43 AM writes...

Re: #45 "Are hibs even an issue, or just a convenient way to express dislike for those who are "melatonin challenged"?

What a bunch of crap. It's a numbers thing, that's it. America has more chemists, than it has jobs.

Frankly, I'm getting really tired of this racist bogeyman and the PC guilt thing. It has nothing to do with that. And I don't care where the H-1B's come from. Using them to displace equally talented American workers is bogus. You should read what the IT guys have to say. They're getting creamed by often mediocre H-1B replacements.

And Re: #42

John, you have it backwards. It was the explosion of H-1B immigration that drove salaries down in the first place. Law of supply and demand. Once the American kids saw the flood, they headed for Law or Marketing.

I know America is toast. We are in the process of a bust out. But I say, if the bust is coming, keep the resources in-house as long as we can.

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47. SteveM on April 22, 2010 10:50 AM writes...

Re: #46 is mine

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48. Hap on April 22, 2010 11:11 AM writes...

#44: I don't think H1B's are the problem, but if they were, there don't have to be many to create a problem - see a recent New Yorker article on black women and their dating prospects, for example. Essentially, if employment is like musical chairs, then you wouldn't have to take out too many chairs to make a substantive change in real or perceived employment security.

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49. Anonymous on April 22, 2010 12:22 PM writes...

#42 right on the money........

I'm a 45+ year old career changer PhD Bio researcher/drug discovery to regulatory affairs. It isn't easy but what are the other options when you have been laid off a number of times during your 40s due to mergers and the like. That gets real old real fast. The new world order is upon us. Either adapt, get out of the way or die. I'm just trying to make a living but the rules have changed considerably. If you are lucky enough to have avoided the middle age layoff you will never understand....it's like explaining to a unmarried and/or childless couple what it is like to have children. You can't...........

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50. Anonymous on April 22, 2010 12:23 PM writes...

#42 right on the money........

I'm a 45+ year old career changer PhD Bio researcher/drug discovery to regulatory affairs. It isn't easy but what are the other options when you have been laid off a number of times during your 40s due to mergers and the like. That gets real old real fast. The new world order is upon us. Either adapt, get out of the way or die. I'm just trying to make a living but the rules have changed considerably. If you are lucky enough to have avoided the middle age layoff you will never understand....it's like explaining to a unmarried and/or childless couple what it is like to have children. You can't...........

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51. RealityCHK on April 22, 2010 1:16 PM writes...

Interesting discussion, I present the following points:
1. Immigrant issues: All are immigrant in this country, some came yesterday some today. This is irrelevant, not because I am US citizen now, and I came 25 years ago, do not forget this is an immigrant country.
2. Chemistry jobs are going out, blame on management trying to save money? Drug discovery progress is slow? etc. is also irrelevant. They will do what they are taught to do.

3. Focus on what can be done in present situation, when thousands of chemists are out of job in US, and there is no hope of job coming back, opening new companies, or ventures being generous to pour money in start ups.

4. Solution? I believe change to some related or non related area for earning jobs. Chemists by nature, have entrepreneurial mind; use it and stop complaining. This is what I am trying, and getting there in a non-chemistry field.

I do not have job for last 2 years; after 6 months starting working on plan B. Do not get me wrong, I have a good track record being a medicinal/process chemist at small and big biotech pharma. I developed viable API processes and had a leading role in discovery programs.

Majority of innovation and big discoveries are made on US soil. Let us continue on that path, and believe me we will be successful. Good luck to you all. Be positive and confident.

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52. RealityCHK on April 22, 2010 1:18 PM writes...

Interesting discussion, I present the following points:
1. Immigrant issues: All are immigrant in this country, some came yesterday some today. This is irrelevant, not because I am US citizen now, and I came 25 years ago, do not forget this is an immigrant country.
2. Chemistry jobs are going out, blame on management trying to save money? Drug discovery progress is slow? etc. is also irrelevant. They will do what they are taught to do.

3. Focus on what can be done in present situation, when thousands of chemists are out of job in US, and there is no hope of job coming back, opening new companies, or ventures being generous to pour money in start ups.

4. Solution? I believe change to some related or non related area for earning jobs. Chemists by nature, have entrepreneurial mind; use it and stop complaining. This is what I am trying, and getting there in a non-chemistry field.

I do not have job for last 2 years; after 6 months starting working on plan B. Do not get me wrong, I have a good track record being a medicinal/process chemist at small and big biotech pharma. I developed viable API processes and had a leading role in discovery programs.

Majority of innovation and big discoveries are made on US soil. Let us continue on that path, and believe me we will be successful. Good luck to you all. Be positive and confident.

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53. BigSky on April 22, 2010 1:46 PM writes...

I'm a late 40's immunologist who was laid off from Pharma two years ago. The resulting job search was brutal, mostly but not exclusively, because I don't have a PhD. So I took a huge reduction in pay in exchange for a return to grad school and the chance to work on an interesting project. Long story short> I competed for admission with overseas applicants and the selection criteria seemed to consist of A) can you pay the full out-of-state freight for tuition? and B) if yes, can you fog this mirror? Granted this wasn't a Chem dept. but for colleges looking to put warm bodies with a checkbook in their lecture halls they are 'successful' if they max out. I don't think they fulfill their public mission by graduating a Poisson distribution selected for their government's ability to pay. Foreign students are a cash savior for your average state university department.

I don't have a problem using public dollars to raise the bar and train better scientists regardless of COA but it makes me really uncomfortable to see a disconnect at every juncture between the academic centers, the students (future workers) and the employers.

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54. Skeptic on April 22, 2010 2:16 PM writes...

Q. Whats the difference between a Farmer and a Chemist?

A. Nothing. Neither has any influence on the consumer or regulatory process.

The chemists need the equivalent of the documentary "Food Inc." which basically asks: "Hey a-hole, do you have any idea what you're swallowing"?

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55. Aspirin on April 22, 2010 2:20 PM writes...

The Chinese and Indian scientists are not smarter as someone rightly mentioned, but unlike most Americans, they are generally willing to struggle much more and work themselves to death for a green card. H C Brown used to fit four Indian postdocs in the salary of three American postdocs. Most of his Nobel Prize winning papers have the names of these Indian postdocs on them. Same thing today with Nicolaou, Corey and others. Go figure.

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56. biologist on April 22, 2010 2:42 PM writes...

RealityCHK et al.,
here is a business plann for an entrepreneurial chemist: invent, market, and produce a set of cheap, easy-to-use test kits for lead, cadmium, melamin, glycol, formaldehyde etc. Now that manufacturing has been offshored we have to cope with the consequences, i.e. contaminated imports. Foreigners living in China would be a good market too.

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57. John on April 22, 2010 2:58 PM writes...

Aspirin, I don't know about that! I have 15 years experience, 40 or so patents and publications, and have not only applied for several $70K/year jobs over the last 3 years, I've actually lain awake at night hoping that I would get an interview.

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58. Larry on April 22, 2010 3:07 PM writes...

"If 100% of H1B holders work in biopharma (clearly impossible) this would be ~8% of the workforce (note, this assumes a total of 255,000 h1b holders in the US).'"

There is no cap on the number of h1-b visas for academic institutions. Those numbers are thus skewed. But all said, given that we produce only a few thousand PhDs in chem each year, even a few thousand competing for industrial positions would make a big difference in employment prospects.

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59. Larry on April 22, 2010 3:10 PM writes...

"If 100% of H1B holders work in biopharma (clearly impossible) this would be ~8% of the workforce (note, this assumes a total of 255,000 h1b holders in the US).'"

There is no cap on the number of h1-b visas for academic institutions. Those numbers are thus skewed. But all said, given that we produce only a few thousand PhDs in chem each year, even a few thousand competing for industrial positions would make a big difference in employment prospects.

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60. Rubidium on April 22, 2010 4:43 PM writes...

Its not about visas or unions its about the US business cycle-- think Eastman Kodak-- who would have thought we no longer need film. So now we no longer need as many trained chemists, biologists, etc. Problem is, what do you advise a college kid to major in for a career in the future--- I haven't a clue.

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61. Rubidium on April 22, 2010 4:44 PM writes...

Its not about visas or unions its about the US business cycle-- think Eastman Kodak-- who would have thought we no longer need film. So now we no longer need as many trained chemists, biologists, etc. Problem is, what do you advise a college kid to major in for a career in the future--- I haven't a clue.

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62. bbooooooya on April 22, 2010 5:26 PM writes...

"what do you advise a college kid to major in for a career in the future"

A major that forces you to learn how to think. I have a PhD in chemistry, and based on it was able to transition into a job in finance a few years ago. I know many others who have done the same.

A good science background gives you more respect (even in business circles) that people who take BA in business, then do it a second time by getting a MBA.

There's always hotel management: i hear there are some universities that grant "degrees" in that.

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63. anon the II on April 22, 2010 6:10 PM writes...

Ha! Ha! I got a PhD in chemistry at the Ivy school famous for it's hotel school. I ate on the meal plan the first year in grad school and would often eat with kids from all over the world whose families sent them learn how to run a hotel so they could take over the business eventually. There was one kid named Hans, from Brazil. Maybe I should have switched degrees but I don't think I could have afforded the tuition.

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64. Skeptic on April 22, 2010 6:24 PM writes...

Sure, a good science background is necessary in Finance to:

1) Produce useless models
2) Gaming

http://home.comcast.net/~lcmgroupe/2010/Article-Sultans_of_Swap-Smoking_Guns.htm

3) Adjust accounting "standards" and raise taxes

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65. bbooooooya on April 22, 2010 7:30 PM writes...

"Sure, a good science background is necessary in Finance to:

1) Produce useless models"

No, our models are quite useful, and help to make investment decisions of up to hundreds of millions. These models are not always correct, however, as it turns out sometimes the models that the chemists develop to design a drug turn out to be wrong.

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66. InfMP on April 22, 2010 11:04 PM writes...

Just joined medchem big pharma (moving to US on work visa).
I have to say, I wasn't actually expecting them to hire me over the competing americans, but every time this topic has come up since, they say that their knowledge of mechanisms wasn't as good in the US. I don't know about that.

I think if the company chooses to bring people to interview from outside US and you can beat the americans fair and square, the company should be allowed to hire on visa. It's not like they pay me a Wuxi salary - in fact, they pay more since it's relocations and I think they have to "buy" the visa from the government (from what ive heard?).

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67. AlchemX on April 23, 2010 1:21 AM writes...

@66

Your situation is not an exception. From the looks of things, labs like to keep a good stock of foreign talent. They are less apt to whine or lose productivity in the face of their increasing obsolescence and disposability in the United States.

I was told that as companies were closing down and auctioning their capital, foreigners were just as diligent as the day they were hired. Americans just sat on their ass, worried about their marriages and over priced mortgages.

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68. China Bonding on April 23, 2010 1:39 AM writes...

One year in china later, I'm convinced this tide is still rising.

When the economy turns around and the industry discovers a Lipitor for oncology, i dont' think all the domestic labs will re-staff to golden age levels. Too expensive.

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69. Skeptic on April 23, 2010 1:40 AM writes...

"models are not always correct, however, as it turns out sometimes the models that the chemists develop to design a drug turn out to be wrong"

And the differences are:

a. the *ridiculous* reduction of complex dynamics in finance so that it is useable (by traders). Chemists must take complex dynamics seriously because they can't fool nature.

b. chemists fail = job loss

finance fail = bailed out by the taxpayer.

The FIAT system works as long as tax collection can be enforced thus the currency will always have some value.

So Mr. ChemistSerf, what do you think about this ripoff scheme?

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70. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on April 23, 2010 1:58 AM writes...

You should always realize that you are just like lightbulbs to these companies. If you get burned out, they replace you with another. Whatever your talents, unless you have a very rare intellect coupled to an almost religious devotion to your job, you are just as unique and valuable to the company as one of the light bulbs in the building.

This needs to be explained to college kids and others before embarking on a scientific career with an uncertain payout.

The next financial crisis will be much worse than this one, so brace yourselves.

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71. crystall ball on April 23, 2010 4:05 AM writes...


"The current economic environment is forcing the industry to adapt and change for the better in order to survive, but I believe this will result in survival of the fittest. I believe that biotech will continue to be a source of pride and innovation in the US for decades to come."

MICHELLE DIPP
VP, Head of Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery, GlaxoSmithKline

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72. out of pharma on April 23, 2010 6:37 AM writes...

So why does NIH, NSF and universities support grad students and postdocs? Cut funding to cut the supply- or redirect the funding to other areas. No more mega groups.

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73. retread on April 23, 2010 6:48 AM writes...

#60 Rubidium

Its not about visas or unions its about the US business cycle-- think Eastman Kodak-- who would have thought we no longer need film. So now we no longer need as many trained chemists, biologists, etc. Problem is, what do you advise a college kid to major in for a career in the future--- I haven't a clue.

Consider my kids, in high school in the mid 80s. They played a few video games (remember PacMan?). Now both are in fields which simply didn't exist then (information and graphic design for web sites, and computer animation). There was no way to train them for what they do now. They make a decent living at it.


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74. bbooooooya on April 23, 2010 7:09 AM writes...

" the *ridiculous* reduction of complex dynamics in finance so that it is useable (by traders). Chemists must take complex dynamics seriously because they can't fool nature."

I agree many of the models we use are flawed (cf. LTCM), but that's ok, we're not competing with Nature, just other mere mortals.

"b. chemists fail = job loss

finance fail = bailed out by the taxpayer."

Yes, unfair. Boo hoo. Automakers got bailed out by Uncle Sam too. Seems to me another inducement not to be a chemist (as if working with potential carcinogens that can bo boom is not enough, though it does add an element of excitment).

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75. bbooooooya on April 23, 2010 7:19 AM writes...

" the *ridiculous* reduction of complex dynamics in finance so that it is useable (by traders). Chemists must take complex dynamics seriously because they can't fool nature."

I agree many of the models we use are flawed (cf. LTCM), but that's ok, we're not competing with Nature, just other mere mortals.

"b. chemists fail = job loss

finance fail = bailed out by the taxpayer."

Yes, unfair. Boo hoo. Automakers got bailed out by Uncle Sam too. Seems to me another inducement not to be a chemist (as if working with potential carcinogens that can bo boom is not enough, though it does add an element of excitment).

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76. Anonymous on April 23, 2010 7:35 AM writes...

@71

MICHELLE DIPP
VP, Head of Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery, GlaxoSmithKline

Former Sirtris! The sirtuins guys are climbing the food chain. This is what you need in the current darwinian context: a well packed bunch of experimental artifacts and some dubious hits.

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77. partial agonist on April 23, 2010 8:42 AM writes...

I have seen several people now say that universities somehow save a whole lot of money with foreign postdocs instead of US postdocs.

I don't know everyone's policies, or how things were in the past, but every institution that I am aware of bases postdoc pay on the NIH guidelines. Therefore a postdoc from Banglore, Boston, Bejing, or Buffalo makes about the same amount, with only minor adjustments based upon any past lab experience in addition to their PhD work.

Some institutions are more willing than others to pay the costs associated with the visa issues. At my institution we have lost several foreign postdocs because we would not support them to the level that they wanted.

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78. partial agonist on April 23, 2010 8:47 AM writes...

I have seen several people now say that universities somehow save a whole lot of money with foreign postdocs instead of US postdocs.

I don't know everyone's policies, or how things were in the past, but every institution that I am aware of bases postdoc pay on the NIH guidelines. Therefore a postdoc from Banglore, Boston, Bejing, or Buffalo makes about the same amount, with only minor adjustments based upon any past lab experience in addition to their PhD work.

Some institutions are more willing than others to pay the costs associated with the visa issues. At my institution we have lost several foreign postdocs because we would not support them to the level that they wanted.

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79. Hap on April 23, 2010 10:02 AM writes...

Outsourcing will probably help companies to survive until they find a better way to discover drugs if they are actually trying to find such a way (and it could be a permanent solution if the scientists in other countries can do things that we can't). It could also help companies do things cheaper when they know what to do, what they need to do more cheaply, and what they need to do here. That would require a knowledge of the productivity issues that seems sorely absent. The people running companies appear to be rewarded for doing the same old things (look! I can lay people off! We're worth more money now!) or have no ideas on how to improve drug development and so have to do something to justify their existence. I don't know how outsourcing (or unionization, for that matter) will solve those problems.

You don't fix a car by replacing parts randomly with cheaper ones until something works better - and if that's how your mechanic works, then no set of parts is going to get your car fixed. In the interim, such a strategy is likely to make the car work worse, if at all. Outsourcing may solve some problems, but if the same people are getting paid exorbitant amounts of money to do the same things while hoping that something different will happen, well, it's reasonable to say that outsourcing and cheaper labor will probably be counterproductive. Just because someone has decided to do something and will not be dissuaded from it does not make the act a good idea.

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80. FMC on April 23, 2010 10:16 AM writes...

Hello,

I have been reading this thread with great interest, and must say that the discussion concerning the use of H1B-visas greatly saddens me. I am a European and have been working a while back as a postdoc in the US for a couple of years, and I must say that scientifically speaking that was the most wonderful experience of my life, as I learned a lot. I also found that the US has got something that Europe is lacking (kind of), and that is a great respect for foreigners coming to the USA who are willing to work hard and do their share. And it saddens me greatly to read some comments made on this topic from individuals that I think are rather educated and should know better. I do not think that the argument presented, i.e. let us not issue those visas any more and all will be good, will hold up to scrutiny. You will find that especially because you give foreigners the possibility to do research in your country, and more often than not world class research at that, that the US as a whole has a major advantage over other countries.

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81. RealityCHK on April 23, 2010 10:59 AM writes...

#62 Bboooya

I am curious what kind of finance career you are in? Did you get some training in that particular finance sector, is it trading?

I will appreciate your details,

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82. Hap on April 23, 2010 11:12 AM writes...

#80: It should probably sadden you, but it shouldn't be surprising - we've had a long record of unhappiness at immigrants, particularly in times of job loss and job deletion. Eventually, we'll get over it. What we'll be doing when we do...well, that I don't know.

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83. SteveM on April 23, 2010 11:15 AM writes...

Re: #80 FMC

Right. And a lot talented displaced American scientists probably wouldn't mind working in Germany. Only the Germans won't let them.

The U.S. is a saturated one way sponge.

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84. Dr. Z on April 23, 2010 11:42 AM writes...

To all of SteveM's etc. above:

You are full of it. You, American Citizens, are given it all with a silver spoon. You don't have to apply for a visa. You don't have to have 3.0 GPA or else your F-1 is voided and you are deported home. You don't have to maintain credits and status to stay in the country. And with all this, in my department there were only 3 Americans doing PhD's. Why? Because you don't want to bust your behinds for N more years, you want to get your B.S. and go get a paycheck. International students are always at the disadvantage and if there are more of us, well, guess who is better and who works harder! Quit whining and get to work! If you were better than me, you would have gotten the job, not me. In my company virtually all Run Plant Engineers are Americans. And virtually all of R&D and high level Tech people are foreigners. Hmmm, I wonder why that might be...

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85. DC on April 23, 2010 11:49 AM writes...

SteveM (and others), while I empathize with your sentiments, your logic appears to amount to protectionism.

Foreign talent can be considered as an import. So should we stop this "trade" in order to save the job of American chemists?

That's like saying we shouldn't import clothes from places like China so that we can keep our own textiles industry afloat. Both you and I know that it's not sustainable.

Competition increases competitiveness. That's why on the whole, Europe's economies are declining while the US still remains a powerhouse - due to its willingness to accept foreign talent. How many American Nobel prize winners were born overseas?

If our scientists are getting beat by foreigners IN THE US, we should really think about how to be gaining a competitive advantage (e.g. through innovation/creativity, which is underdeveloped in Asia), rather than expecting the government to protect us in our complacency.

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86. Anomeric on April 23, 2010 12:19 PM writes...

@DC said-

"Foreign talent can be considered as an import. So should we stop this "trade" in order to save the job of American chemists?

That's like saying we shouldn't import clothes from places like China so that we can keep our own textiles industry afloat"
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

We need fair trade, not free trade. The ENTIRE US financial system has been shown to be a rigged ponzi scheme where we privatize the gains and socialize the losses. It's a selfish system where global corporations that pay no US taxes get what they want over the needs of the US citizen.

So we've been shown all this free trade nonsense is just a scheme to enrich a select few. The bankers and hedge funds would sink the whole US for a short term profit.

Hence it should no surprise to anyone that the job market in the USA is also rigged for the short term gains of the temp visa holder and the CEO's quarterly bonus.

BTW- If a Chinese visa holder get the boot, he's got a fortune in US dollars to take back home (8:1) exchange rate for dollars with the yuan.

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87. juju124 on April 23, 2010 12:31 PM writes...

i think if the industry claims that there are no qualified americans why not hire them and train them ( it s a good investment) . Many employers hire foreigners on H-1 visas and exploit them. they also know that these people will be subservient until they get the green card.

based on my experience with Indian and chinese scientists who get their higher education in india or china these people are good experimentally but lack a good grounding in chemistry

Industry needs clean its act and it is a simple choice to keep jobs at home if they really wanted to do so.


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88. bbooooooya on April 23, 2010 12:51 PM writes...

"Industry needs clean its act"

It is, it's stopping paying the bloated salaries of Americans (which has left the big pharmas with weak pipeline) and will instead pay lower salaries to your contemporaries in Asia and eastern Europe.

There are a lot of very smart American PhDs, but there are also some dunderheads that have a tough time opening a bottle of catsup.

Running a business is pretty simple: hire the best people at the best price. If Americans fit this bill, they get hired. This great conspiracy is a figment of bitter little minds.

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89. Don Corleone on April 23, 2010 1:11 PM writes...

I am 100% in agreement with #88. As a former Ph.D. chemist now owning a pharma software company, we do not care who you are and where you are from: we want the best for best prices. That is the only yardstick. If a monkey can code, then it is my 'man'. I am an immigrant myself. I used to work as a "slave" in the lab at an Ivy-league chem. dept. I knew how I was treated compared to Americans in the program. But I know in this country, if you work hard than anybody else, you will always have a chance to fulfill your dream.
Most of our coding work is outsourced to India. Why, they are VERY VERY good at what they do for the price we pay and they do not complain, end of story.

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90. Skeptic on April 23, 2010 1:41 PM writes...

"You should always realize that you are just like lightbulbs to these companies"

If only they would give me 1 lightbulb instead of the thousands of worthless bank notes.

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91. Larry on April 23, 2010 1:53 PM writes...

Seems the Pharma lobby pays off the most politicians. Oil and gas ranks a distant sixth in payolla. The below link tells you which companies and industries are playing at the capital hill casino.

http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=i

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92. Hap on April 23, 2010 2:09 PM writes...

While employers can outsource or hire people from other countries, US labor can't move for the most part - it can't work locally for foreign wages, can't work in foreign countries at foreign wages (China) or can't work there at at all (India, etc.). The game's great for employers but not so great for anyone else - no one likes playing a game with loaded dice other than the house.

There is still the question of why people would invest lots of time in a career if it can be outsourced at the drop of a hat. If you expect that Charlie Brown is always going to be willing to try to kick the ball from Lucy's hands, you're nuts. If creating useful things is not valued by employers, then it won't be valued by employees either. What exactly you intend to sell when that capability (or any of its derived abilities) is no longer present...well, that's not your bailiwick.

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93. bbooooooya on April 23, 2010 2:27 PM writes...

"There is still the question of why people would invest lots of time in a career if it can be outsourced at the drop of a hat."

A valid point. Maybe go ask someone with a PhD in history, or middle English comparative literature?

"If you expect that Charlie Brown is always going to be willing to try to kick the ball from Lucy's hands, you're nuts."

Wrong there. The clear evidence I have from the literature (cf. Schutlz) tells me that good old Chuck will keep trying to kick that pigskin!

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94. eugene on April 23, 2010 3:44 PM writes...

"But I know in this country, if you work hard than anybody else, you will always have a chance to fulfill your dream."

Well, since you're an immigrant, you obviously missed reading "The Great Gatsby" in high school. To cut a long story short, your statement is most likely not very true in reality. Others will work less than you, and still get to fulfill their more fulfilling dreams. It's all about 'how' you work, as Gatsby realized.

Not advocating anything here...

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95. Foreign Chemist on April 23, 2010 4:02 PM writes...

I totally agree with #80. One reason the US is the powerhouse of technology and pharmaceutical research is because it's openness to immigrants. Just look at Germany, where many pharma started, is lagging in this arena now.
Any US employer has no reason to hire foreigners other than they are the best in the candidates pool, considering just the fact that it's a lot of hassle to apply H-1b visa for them. The truth is foreigners are not paid less, as "being exploited." My starting salary would make my American peers jealous, but hey, I deserve it for the contribution I can make to the company.

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96. Don Corleone on April 23, 2010 4:22 PM writes...

To #94, my point is when you face obstacles (e.g., layoffs), you don't drop dead, whine, or blame something/body,etc. Nothing will be handed over to you on a silver platter. If you want it badly, you will have a way to get it.

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97. Hap on April 23, 2010 4:32 PM writes...

You can win at a casino too. Just not often, and not regularly, but you can win.

Loaded games always work well for the house.

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98. Mutatis Mutandis on April 23, 2010 6:27 PM writes...

Re #92 -- That can't be the entire story. Comparing our US and European labs, in countries with about the same wages and standards of living, there are significantly more Europeans working in US labs than Americans in European labs. Even for scientific conferences, Americans tend to be less willing to travel abroad.

It may be somewhat easier to get into the USA, as the EU has very much stiffened its immigration laws in recent years. Perhaps that accounts for some of the disparity. But not all of it.

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99. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on April 23, 2010 7:52 PM writes...

Re: Dr. Z comments

There are reasons why US students choose to go get jobs after graduation and that is economic necessity. See, there are some things given to American students, but a free college education is not one of them. They have to work to pay off student loans or go to professional school, like Medical or Dental school. These are real professions, unlike science.

I wonder how many of these foreign students would choose to go into a Ph.D. program vs. making real money in the US job market with a lesser degree? They are just doing the best thing available to them just like the American students who work in the real world as opposed to being paid 1/3 their salaries working in some dark, smelly lab in some second or third-rate institution.

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100. AlchemX on April 23, 2010 8:15 PM writes...

#99 has hit the one of the major issues why Americans are so angry about this situation.

Americans gotta pay that big chunk of college debt they have. 4-5 yrs college, 5-6 yrs of grad school, 3-4 yrs post-doc, then facing a very volatile career, hordes of outsourcing and nontransferable skills. Americans want big compensation for that investment and risk.

But it's just not happening. Don't do science, the pay is not worth the risks.

For the old guys that have been at it for 20-30 yrs, they still see things as hopeful in science because they have only the very isolated Cold-War Era as a reference.

This is the global era, your job can be emailed and lost for good.

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101. McChemist on April 24, 2010 12:03 AM writes...

#80,

Also realize that the commenters on this site aren't representative of the U.S. scientific community as a whole. For whatever reason, these threads seem to attract a lot of Tom Tancredo-wannabes.

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102. eugene on April 24, 2010 3:11 AM writes...

"Nothing will be handed over to you on a silver platter. If you want it badly, you will have a way to get it."

Yes, that was my point as well. You should read Fitzgerald. You just have a strange notion of what the most important things in life are. I've come to the conclusion that most scientific progress and discoveries are overrated, especially in light of how science will be done 50 years from now. The only way that you are going to make a difference to society with science in this horribly inefficient system that wastes human talent is through pure chance.

The best way to look out for yourself may be not to work the hardest in a crappy job, but to work the hardest at a good job.

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103. Hap on April 24, 2010 10:26 AM writes...

Yeah, but Tancredo keeps getting elected despite sounding like the possessor of an untreated mental illness. Somebody thinks (if I can use that word) like he does, at least half his district. (Embarrassingly enough, I don't know whether he's a Representative or a Senator - the latter case would imply that half the voters in CO agree with him, a yet larger population).

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104. SteveM on April 24, 2010 12:51 PM writes...

I'm not even in Chemistry any more, so H-1B doesn't affect me personally.

The Tancredo association is more red herring crap. The government rations all kinds of activities in order to manage economic and environmental dislocations.

And policy making by anecdote is another crap argument. We have too many people out of work to justify importing more workers to do the same job. That's it. You can't dance around it.

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105. john on April 25, 2010 9:47 AM writes...

Lots of good points on both sides of this issue. (Excepting those that slam large groups of people as lazy or uncreative).

I agree that we are unavoidably in an international labor market. Given that the world average per capita income is about $1000 per year, this is bad news for most Americans. I expect that as a country we will continue to move toward a highly skewed distribution of wealth. Those with capital, IP, or exceptioal entrepreeurial skills will increasely benefit (as commented on by one entrepreneur above) from the availabiity of skills that take many years to acquire at wages that americans associate with flipping burgers. Not so nice for the remaining 98%,

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106. Smithy on April 25, 2010 4:13 PM writes...

I am a blacksmith. I make horseshoes. Since the invention of that damned motor-car, people don't need me as much. Blacksmiths should form a union, and go on strike if people don't buy more horseshoes. In addition, the government should protect us by levying huge duties on all motor-cars so people will be forced to ride horses, and so keep us blacksmiths in business. It's only fair, because life is fair, right?

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107. ohn on April 25, 2010 5:22 PM writes...

No, life isn"t fair. But the purpose of government is to make life more fair, not less so. And within the context of your analogy I think what we are debating is whether the government is taxing motor cars or subsidizing them.

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108. Smithy on April 25, 2010 6:55 PM writes...

It is debatable whether government can make life fair. Lately it has been making life more fair for certain groups over others.

The solution to this problem lies with the blacksmiths themselves. Instead of thinking of yourself as a maker-of-horseshoes, blacksmiths should think of themselves as being in the transportation-manufacturing business. Now they can make motor-car parts, and make boat-loads of money.

Then, 75 years later, the government can decide that there are too many rich blacksmiths, and tax them to death and distribute their hard-earned money to people who sit on their asses all day and complain that life isn't fair. Then the blacksmiths will file for bankruptcy and the government will take over the blacksmithing business, drive it into the ground, whereby the Chinese will rule the world. The End.

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109. Smithy on April 25, 2010 6:58 PM writes...

Correction:

Blacksmiths are TOO BIG TO FAIL. That is why the Government takes over.

The ending is the same.

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110. Hap on April 26, 2010 9:29 AM writes...

But where is the motorcar equivalent here? Biologics are harder to make than small-molecule drugs, in probably less predictable - the emphasis on their discovery isn't due to inherent superiority, but because of the lack of a generics policy for them which gives them a longer protected sales life than small molecules. Chemistry is going elsewhere not necessarily because chemists elsewhere are more productive (because the US's productivity numbers have been among the world's highest) but because it's cheaper and the people running the drug business (nor, to be fair, anyone else) don't have any idea how to harness the productivity to mean something - to produce more drugs and make more money - and so the only way to make more money is to lower labor costs. We haven't developed a better way to make drugs, and been superceded by it - we've developed a cheaper way, but selling what we have and making it more cheaply and hope that no one who owns the stock notices that there still aren't any new drugs. We aren't trading horses for cars, but Chevys for Kias and Suzukis. Since the problem is not having enough gas, that doesn't seem to be a solution.

The other problem is the complaint that we don't make anything useful. Well, we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training PhD's for their ability to do science, wherever and whenever. That flexibility, however, gets them an expensive place on the unemployment line. If we were interested in making new things and better things, one would have figured that their skills would be valued, but they're not. The people being outsourced are the PhDs, not the masters and BS people, which doesn't fit with a desire to make new and useful things (because if the people who hired the PhDs could have done it without them, well, they wouldn't be here in the first place). Actions speak louder than words - and what they seem to sat is that we don't care what we can make or how useful it is, but whether we can advertise it successfully and con(vince) our shareholders that we're doing great. Why anyone would spend so much of their life making things here if they know that what they do doesn't matter is a mystery no one's yet given a good answer to. (I guess you could ask the comparative lit PhDs, if you can find one - but the NIH didn't have to pay $300K(?) to develop them, either).

All I hear are managers and finance people telling me that selling the seed corn is the best use of our resources, but there's too many of them to have been around to mastermind the Great Leap Forward.

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111. John on April 26, 2010 9:58 AM writes...

There are essentially two markets for "chemistry services". Some buyers of chemistry services are willing to pay premium prices to have at least some work done "onshore" (US or Europe). Other buyers prefer having the work done "offshore", typically at much lower prices.

Why are onshore prices higher? Certainly it is not just supply and demand, as there is a surplus of supply. At this point I believe it is largely cultural. Employers feel that they cannot bring in new workers at salaries below those of their current workers, are worried that it would be too disruptive to reduce salaries across the board, and have concerns about morale. The surplus of chemists is not quite large enough to create a "tipping point" with respect to compensation.

So I would argue that much of the conflict on this board is about competition for jobs that pay above the "true" market rate for chemistry expertise. Are Americans uniquely entitled to these jobs because they had the wisdom and foresight to be born on the correct side of the US border? Hard to defend this position. But I also suspect that if we completely eliminated restrictions on international hiring (in essence, giving a green card to everyone who asked for one), US wages would fall to levels comparable to China and India. I don't know how many current H-1b visa holders would support that, as many left their homes essentially to take advantage of the artificially high wages present in the US market.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts, not intended to offend anyone.

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112. John on April 26, 2010 10:01 AM writes...

There are essentially two markets for "chemistry services". Some buyers of chemistry services are willing to pay premium prices to have at least some work done "onshore" (US or Europe). Other buyers prefer having the work done "offshore", typically at much lower prices.

Why are onshore prices higher? Certainly it is not just supply and demand, as there is a surplus of supply. At this point I believe it is largely cultural. Employers feel that they cannot bring in new workers at salaries below those of their current workers, are worried that it would be too disruptive to reduce salaries across the board, and have concerns about morale. The surplus of chemists is not quite large enough to create a "tipping point" with respect to compensation.

So I would argue that much of the conflict on this board is about competition for jobs that pay above the "true" market rate for chemistry expertise. Are Americans uniquely entitled to these jobs because they had the wisdom and foresight to be born on the correct side of the US border? Hard to defend this position. But I also suspect that if we completely eliminated restrictions on international hiring (in essence, giving a green card to everyone who asked for one), US wages would fall to levels comparable to China and India. I don't know how many current H-1b visa holders would support that, as many left their homes essentially to take advantage of the artificially high wages present in the US market.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts, not intended to offend anyone.

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113. Anonymous on April 26, 2010 10:25 AM writes...

"Why are onshore prices higher? Certainly it is not just supply and demand, as there is a surplus of supply. At this point I believe it is largely cultural. Employers feel that they cannot bring in new workers at salaries below those of their current workers, are worried that it would be too disruptive to reduce salaries across the board, and have concerns about morale."

There are so few employers recruiting that I find this argument largely irrelevant. What companies are doing is replacing permanent staff with contract staff - these may be based in the US/UK or may be based in China/India. In either scenario you push your scientists into temporary contracts with few/no benefits to them, halve their salaries and crucially gain a huge amount of flexibility - they can be gone in a heartbeat if your latest statin-replacement programme takes a dive. Now the Chinese/Indian scientists have two more additional advantages - a lower cost of living leading to lower salaries, and fantastically lax environmental health and safety rules that allow them to do chemistry more cheaply and more quickly than those of us based in the US/UK. This latter advantage is proving to ba a killer - we can contract out work that we simply can't do in the US or if we tried it would take us a month of red tape. So the playing field isn't level, regardless of the salary position.

The only sane response to this, is to walk away. Hard to stomach if you've debt from becoming highly qualified in a chemistry field, but still the best option.

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114. Hap on April 26, 2010 10:38 AM writes...

That assumes, though, first, that the costs for getting the be a chemist are the same in both places. In China and India, I don't think chemists pay for their educations, while here, at least undergraduate education has to be paid for by chemists. (Relative opportunity costs of the time spent going to school could be similar.)

Second, most people aren't chemists, biologists, etc. - thus the cost of goods (of the housing, food, child care, etc. that people are supposed to pay for with salary) is set by other people, and at least part of the gap is explained by the differences in those costs.

Finally, the people who could be scientists could do other things - if the pay isn't high enough to recruit them, at least some (at probably a larger fraction of the qualified ones) will do something else. The presence of other fields for the people that might be scientists might force the pay differential - in other places, higher-paying alternatives may not exist or be harder to access and hence factor less into the pay for scientists.

Another issue (hence my somewhat bitter comments about rigged games) is that, while we could let more chemists in (which would enable us to get better talent), unemployed people have no place to go - they can't work elsewhere for cheaper (even if they wanted to leave) because they either can't work there or can't exist on domestic salaries (because they have to buy goods at foreigner prices). Hence, the benefits of a freer labor market accrue to employers and don't accrue to employees, and since the entry costs are high, is likely to be a significant disincentive to spend a lot of time working towards employment in fields which can be outsourced or insourced.

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115. john on April 26, 2010 12:00 PM writes...

Good point about purchasing power parity being more important than salary and environmental issues. Anybody got any hard data on that?

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116. Anonymous on April 26, 2010 3:00 PM writes...

"Good point about purchasing power parity being more important than salary and environmental issues."

A bit of a one way street this. You move abroad chasing a lower salary with a reduced cost of living and you simply can't move back without crushing your standard of living.

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