About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

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

In the Pipeline

« All Quiet on the Genzyme Front? | Main | MannKind and Seaside 88? »

August 11, 2010

If You're Not A Chemist - What Next?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

So here's an unpleasant but necessary topic: what do you do if you're getting out of chemistry entirely? The pharma layoffs of the last few years have made this all too real a decision for too many people, and I recently heard from a reader here who's facing that exact problem.

My first piece of advice is an obvious one: try, if possible, to do something where your expertise can still be an advantage. Look for fields where knowing organic chemistry or drug discovery could be a selling point, something that an employer would be interested in but can't always find. Work (at one level or another) in patent law or technical writing are options that I know some chemists have been able to find.

Failing that, I'd still try to find something where your general training as a scientist can be used to make you stand out. A lot of us are surrounded by researchers all day long, and we tend to forget that our lives are pretty anomalous. The habits of critical thinking, of asking whether what you think you know is true or not (and being willing to test things to find out) are not as widespread as you'd think (or hope). That's a more nebulous proposition to sell to a potential employer, to be sure, but it's still worth keeping in mind.

I (and a number of people out in the readership) would be interested in hearing from people in the comments who've moved out of the immediate field of chemistry - voluntarily or not. Where have you ended up, and how did it happen?

Comments (198) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. coprolite on August 11, 2010 7:56 AM writes...

those who can't do teach. also, finch fighting is on the rise. and while it may sound unpleasant, one can make a rather lucrative living as a prison snitch. whatever you do you'll probably want to do it quickly, there's about to be another surge in unemployment, at least on the east coast. whatever happened to 'green' companies on the rise?

Permalink to Comment

2. slurk on August 11, 2010 8:23 AM writes...

I feel there was a post like this a couple years ago. I got depressed making endless kinase inhibitors that weren't ever going anywhere. Off to business school, then boutique healthcare consulting in NYC and finally i'm in BD/new product planning for a medium sized pharma. i viewed bschool as a necessary evil in trying to transition from the bench to wearing dress shoes. having the phd and the industry background is absolutely helpful in establishing credibility (though frankly i rarely use specific org chem knowledge in practice).

Permalink to Comment

3. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 8:25 AM writes...

As an upcoming PhD candidate, I always love articles like this.... ugh..

Permalink to Comment

4. BFS on August 11, 2010 8:26 AM writes...

For those considering a career change, consider patent law. I left an active, successful career as a bench chemist (synthetic organic) and never regretted the decision. While the transition required a high degree of personal and professional commitment, the rewards of a more stable, not to mention lucrative, career were worth the temporary discomfort.

Permalink to Comment

5. D on August 11, 2010 8:28 AM writes...

I started my post-grad school job hunt in early 2009 with a degree in chemistry. I spent my Ph.D. years doing proteomic mass spectrometry so graduating right as pharma was shedding a boatload of mass spectrometrists wasn't the best timing.

I had taken many CS classes as an undergrad (almost enough to warrant a second degree) and done a lot of programming in grad school so I moved to a software engineering job. The company I work for is a nonprofit that does scientific software so my job is actually vaguely academic - I go to academic conferences, apply for NSF and NIH grants, etc. It's very similar to being a staff scientist at a national lab. I got really, really lucky to find such an opportunity right in my backyard.

Permalink to Comment

6. SwankySwede on August 11, 2010 8:29 AM writes...

I took the option of getting out of chemistry right out of college - I wasn't excited about pharma, and setting up syntheses all day just didn't sound that fun to me... I took a job as a process engineer at a nanotech company. My skills as a scientist carried over, and I get to do all sorts of cool stuff that's not running columns.

Permalink to Comment

7. Eleanor Howe on August 11, 2010 8:31 AM writes...

The computational biology group I work with has a few chemists the mix. Those critical thinking skills, paired with some new programming skills, make one very hire-able in bioinformatics.

Permalink to Comment

8. chris bose on August 11, 2010 8:32 AM writes...

I used to be a chemist. Then I found that successful web marketing is the same as properly designing experiments: design, test, feedback, new tests. My chemistry background taught me the correct way to test any experiment. Invaluable experience for Google Adwords campaigns.

Permalink to Comment

9. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 8:41 AM writes...

I'm a former synthetic chemist now working as a patent examiner in the area of polymer chemistry. My experience with a less traditional career has, so far, been positive. The schedule is flexible, the benefits are great, and the pay is as good as, if not better than, most private sector jobs (at least for someone with my level of experience). Also, I work from home, which is a huge bonus.

Permalink to Comment

10. Greg Hlatky on August 11, 2010 8:49 AM writes...

After 24 years in R&D, my position in polyolefin catalysis was eliminated in 2008 and there were no other openings with any company.

I had done literature searching as an amateur for a number of years and had some experience as a technical/legal liaison and because of this I was able to get a position with the legal department of a chemical company as a technical information specialist.

Permalink to Comment

11. John Spevacek on August 11, 2010 9:15 AM writes...

I'd would be very cautious about making any such move as it is irreversible. If you try and come back in say 5 or 10 years (even at a lower level position) you will be competing for a position against people who are still active (or very recently were until they were layed off).

Why would anyone take a chance on someone who hadn't done anything in the field for 5 years when they can get an active person instead?

Permalink to Comment

12. Nodz on August 11, 2010 9:22 AM writes...

Good topic, and great blog by the way!

I started making natural wooden chairs from deadfall cedar as a way to combat frustration during my grad school. I got pretty good at it after a while. I quite often get offers for them. Im doing a postdoc now, but if this thing doesnt work out (and Im fully aware that it may not), Im gonna go back and make artsy-fartsy chairs again for sale. Thank god my wife isnt a chemist as well! When Im making chairs, I get the same thrill of creation that I like from doing synthesis. I think that doing chemistry for so long teaches you to have "good hands" and an eye for patterns eg - when youre walking in the woods, see a funky piece of wood, you can envision the part of the chair it can become. Well see how this whole thing works out...

Permalink to Comment

13. Virgil on August 11, 2010 9:28 AM writes...

Judging by the number of comments above in which the individuals moved into the patent/legal area, the consensus would seem to be "when you get fired as a chemist, get a job suing other chemists".

For those not afraid of going back to the bench, there are plenty of jobs which require chemistry skills, for example...

-Chef (ability to follow a recipe/instructions)
-Biodiesel maker (chemistry)
-Open a microbrewery (yay beer!)

Permalink to Comment

14. Jak on August 11, 2010 9:29 AM writes...

This is my 6th year with pharm. 2 sites close down since 04. I am hesitating to leave pharm to work for a small start up LC supply company with 30% pay cut. I like my current compensation, state of the art instruments, talent resources in the big pharm, but I don't know if it is sustainable. Are we following steel industry?

I hate to ask if you guys really believe the biologics are the future? or this is the last straw for desperate big pharms?

Permalink to Comment

15. DC on August 11, 2010 9:34 AM writes...

I used to be a Medicinal Chemist at Big Pharma which also makes a lot of baby products. After a layoff last November, I was unable to find a similar opportunity as chemist. I had an interest in Clinical Develeopment and Regulatory Affairs. In the next 3-4 months following the layoff I talked with people in the above fields asking about the their job and tried to get an idea about what they look for new candidates. At the sametime I completed a certificate in Project Management and Regulatory Affirs. Pretty soon I started getting job offers initially parttime positions followed by fulltime ones. Now I am a Regulatory Medical Writer at a fortune 500 company. I still use knowledge of Chemistry and never a dull moment at work.

Permalink to Comment

16. Anon on August 11, 2010 9:38 AM writes...

Is being a chemistry-focused patent attorney such a good idea if all chemists are being laid off? Surely in a few years the supply of chemical things to patent will proportionally reduce, and so will the number of chemical patent attorneys.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about but the thought just occurred to me.

I would totally go for the microbrewery route - maybe the big pharma lay-offs will bring a golden age of artisan beer!

Permalink to Comment

17. Modeler on August 11, 2010 9:42 AM writes...

Some fields of chemistry can be safer than others. At my company they laid off synthetic chemists as well as computational chemists. The synthetic chemists had a hard time finding jobs, but some of the modelers found programming jobs in bioinformatics and related areas because of their computational skills. As usual, having general skills (like computer programming) rather than very specific ones helps.

Permalink to Comment

18. Hap on August 11, 2010 9:43 AM writes...

I went to work in chemical information out of grad school and like it a lot. I get to read a lot, and analyze what people do in depth. The pay and benefits aren't bad, and I can at least keep up with what people are doing, both people I knew and people whose work interests me. Irreversibility is a problem (at least back to the bench), but I guess I don't have much hope that the recent wave of layoffs is itself reversible - if the jobs aren't coming back, then any transition is irreversible. I also have perceived that jobs are either looking for people with particular skill sets or people who are young and cheap, and if you didn't study in the field, the first is beyond you, while the second is beyond everyone (time doesn't reverse). Anything out of pharma will probably be limiting, and if there's nothing in pharma (unless you can start your own business, of course), then one is inherently limited.

Greg Hlatky's experience seems more problematic to me, because I had heard that there were lots of chemistry jobs outside of pharma, and industrial/oil chemistry would have been one of the first places I would have thought of. If those jobs are going away, well, I don't know whose jobs will be left henceforth. It also makes the push for more scientists sound like a sick joke - if you want people professionally devoted to chemistry, then there have to be jobs somewhere. If there aren't jobs, then people will do research where they can (I don't know where, though, since homes are unlikely), but not in the numbers people claim they want. There are lots of reasons people don't want to work in food service - being cheap and expendable is not a (beneficial) career choice if you have one.

I know someone who used to work at the FDA, and I wonder if that's an option, as well - it might keep one close to pharma, at least.

Permalink to Comment

19. Mark on August 11, 2010 9:46 AM writes...

I did the b-school route.

Many years as a non-PhD bench chemist, saw jobs fleeing overseas and the general lack of productivity in big pharma R&D. The writing was on the wall.

I got a great response when looking for MBA jobs as many on the commercial side of biopharma appreciate people with a science background (BD/strategy/project management/operations).

The work I do now is very interesting and challenging, I still use my science background (not so much org chemistry, but general medical/biology knowledge) and the career options are much better.


Permalink to Comment

20. BFS on August 11, 2010 10:13 AM writes...

Anon on August 11, 2010 9:38 AM writes...

"Is being a chemistry-focused patent attorney such a good idea if all chemists are being laid off? Surely in a few years the supply of chemical things to patent will proportionally reduce...."

Only if one assumes a significant proportion choose to pursue the patent attorney path. For many former chemists, this simply isn’t viable. For starters, there’s the expense. A typical 3-4 year law school course of study runs around $80K. Second, there’s a certain intellectual discontinuity between a heuristically-based discipline, such as chemistry, and the study of law and legal matters. The former derives answers deemed correct and accurate subject to peer review, while the latter reaches conclusions that are mere opinion, subject to broad interpretation depending often on the political bias of others.

Permalink to Comment

21. Vader on August 11, 2010 10:15 AM writes...

Going into some kind of programming is a possibility, but if the only programming you've ever done has been in FORTRAN, beware. There is a feeling in the software development community, not without basis, that folks who learned to program in FORTRAN permanently crippled their latent programming talents. At the very least, learn a more modern language before attempting the jump.

Permalink to Comment

22. FDA on August 11, 2010 10:19 AM writes...

After 12 years working as a bench chemist in pharma, I moved to the FDA. I'm still technically a "chemist" according to my job description, but I review chemistry, biology, manufacturing processes, etc. I was nudged into this by layoffs, but I really enjoy it. I was getting frustrated with bench work, particularly with all of the pressure and upheaval in the industry in the last few years. It's a great job for someone who likes to write.

Permalink to Comment

23. Wavefunction on August 11, 2010 10:25 AM writes...

I agree with the above quip regarding general skills like programming. If you want to try your hand at programming, among other things I would recommend Python/Perl scripting which is widely used in many computational approaches these days. I would also second the point about knowledge of statistics; it's remarkable how many chemists cannot accurately define a p-value.

Permalink to Comment

24. iridium on August 11, 2010 10:31 AM writes...

I have a lab mate who is graduating this fall with his PhD in synthetic organic chemistry. After five full years of developing methodology and workin towards a total synthesis, he decided with the economy the way it is and the poor outlook for jobs he decided to what he had originally planned to do...go to pharmacy school. It seems (from discussions with this person) that the need for pharmacists is remaining steady, and upon completing the Pharm D. there are many options available...such as clinical pharmacy for a hospital/organization or your local grocery store pharmacist. If you are willing to go back to school for three more years (after 5 + years of graduate school) then I believe a PhD in chemistry (especially organic or medicinal) could defeintely give you the upper hand.

Permalink to Comment

25. Brett on August 11, 2010 10:31 AM writes...


80k for law school?

If you plan on going to a good school you can expect to pay 100-150k easily. That said, I just finished my first year at law school and have a slew of interviews for summer positions, my school friends haven't been so lucky. The PhD makes all the difference.

Permalink to Comment

26. Scott on August 11, 2010 10:33 AM writes...

I'd agree with Mark. There are a lot of escapees from the lab who went and got their MBAs, who are now quite happily running things over on the business side. After working on a PhD, an MBA is a snap to get through, and quite a lot of fun. Also, it tends to provide a nice bump to your paycheck, which never hurts.

For any of the regulars on this list who are research scientists and who are going through a transition career-wise, I'd be happy to pass along your resumes to the people I know at one of the top 5 b-schools' admissions department. Good minds are always appreciated.

Permalink to Comment

27. Curt F. on August 11, 2010 10:51 AM writes...

Here's a question: what should the chairs of university chemistry departments conclude from reading this thread? Here are some possibilities.

1. Undergraduate chemistry degree programs should incorporate more coursework related to computer programming, patent law, and the business needs of the pharmaceutical, biochemical, and/or chemical industries.

2. Graduate chemistry degree programs should incorporate more coursework or more research work related to computer programming, patent law, or the business needs of the pharmaceutical, biochemical, and/or chemical industries.

3. Don't worry, everything is fine. Just make sure that prospective students don't read In The Pipeline, keep the grant money coming in, and we can get away with having our students run columns all day long, just like always?

4. ...?

Permalink to Comment

28. anonymous on August 11, 2010 10:57 AM writes...

I married rich.

Permalink to Comment

29. Cloud on August 11, 2010 11:16 AM writes...

Well, I was never an organic chemist, so I'm not really in the group you're asking. But I'll answer anyway. I veered away from "pure" chemistry into biophysical chemistry/structural biology in grad school. And then I got interested in informatics, and went that route after grad school. I got lucky in my timing- it is not nearly so easy to do that now. There are a lot of people with actual bioinformatics training who are competing for those jobs now.

Anyway, I now work in informatics, but I tend more towards the "making systems work in a production environment" than the "designing new algorithms" side of things. There are a lot of different jobs in informatics, and not all of them involve actual coding. (I haven't written real code in years. In fact, my husband- who is a software engineer- would probably say I have never written real code.) I use my science background all the time, but I don't do experiments anymore, and haven't done them in a long time.

Another route to consider is project/program management. I don't know very much about that career path in pharma, though. My impression is that sometimes the work is at the level that would keep a PhD happy, and sometimes it isn't. It depends on the company and how they've organized things.

Permalink to Comment

30. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 11:17 AM writes...

Not a chemist.......but a Ph.D. molecular biologist. Spent over 15 years at the bench doing early stage drug discovery. After 2 layoffs in my middle age and looking at very few, if any research jobs available (yes, even in the bay area) I made the transition into regulatory affairs. I'm paid almost as well as before even though I started at a "lower" level than my research position. The job is fun, different almost everyday and actually satisfying. I should be able to exceed my previous salary/title within a few short years. There are 20 regulatory jobs for every research posision (probably more) and the experience allows you the flexibility to find work in many other divisions within a pharma/biotech company.

I'm never looking back.............

Permalink to Comment

31. silicon scientist on August 11, 2010 11:19 AM writes...

Good to see that no one has suggested the semiconductor industry, the other high-tech mega-industry. It's going down a similar route with talent oversupply (despite what Intel says,) and the cyclical nature of the industry makes a long-term career a long-shot.

I also have to warn people against the patent agent route. Right now, the field is being flooded with out-of-work scientists, so finding a job (even after passing the exam) requires some major networking on the inside.

The only people hiring are the U.S. government and the companies that serve it.

Permalink to Comment

32. Don Corleone on August 11, 2010 11:19 AM writes...

As a former Ph.D. chemist now running a software shop, I am hesitate to recommend computer programming to my fellow chemists unless you plan to start on your own at some point. Computer programming is FAR too easier to be outsourced than chemistry. We do it a lot by using Indian programmers. They are very good and amazingly affordable (1/4 - 1/5 vs. U.S. based programmers with similar skills). All they need is a computer and desk. India (China in that matter) graduates tons of young and eager programmers, with endless supplies of young graduates with latest skills. That means barrier of entry is quite low, which keeps cost low. That is the reality we see.

Permalink to Comment

33. p on August 11, 2010 11:19 AM writes...

Perhaps Big Pharma is failing/has failed because it pays more to marketers, managers and lawyers than to chemists. What is it everyone will market, manage and negotiate when there are no more products?

Curt, I would argue that programming is a valuable skill for any student, in any discipline, from a job skills perspective. It is a skill I dearly wish I had more of.

Permalink to Comment

34. john on August 11, 2010 11:23 AM writes...

After my 6 years of phd I've decided to get out of the bench science/research area. It's just not for me.
This question is a little different but related, science, specifically academic science, is very much a culture. For example in a lab if we're having a discussion and I disagree with someone I can comfortably say "I think you're wrong, if you read paper X you'll see...." but you really can't do that in regular society. When I'm not around scientists I catch myself doing it and offending a lot of people. The idea of taking long vacations or not working on weekends is also something thats very strange to me.
Has anyone who has left science had any trouble adjusting to different work environments, or different social environments? I almost feel like the guy in Shawshank Redemption, I've been institutionalized in a way (although the institution is a lab).
I am however excited to leave the field, I've decided to go on and teach at the highschool level. Taking a salary hit, but I think it has the opportunity to be just as rewarding but give me time to pursue some of my other interests that I just haven't seen in science.

Permalink to Comment

35. Janson on August 11, 2010 11:37 AM writes...

This thread fails to differentiate between PhD and MS, BS chemists. I can assure you that in most positions such as reg affairs no BS or MS manager wants a PhD under them. They all think you want more pay and that 'you'll leave once something better comes along'.

When I was re-training I must have sent out 100 resumes to reg affairs positions.

A PhD has 1/10th the opportunities that a BS or MS chemist has when changing careers. That's because 99.9% of all jobs DO NOT REQUIRE A PHD!

Unless you are heading towards academia a PhD is a liability to anyone from a middle class background. My wealthy friends who escaped the lab did so by spending hundreds of thousands to reinvent themselves.

If you're not wealthy, DO NOT get a PhD.Your trust-fund baby Ivy league professor is lying to you about your prospects.

Permalink to Comment

36. James on August 11, 2010 11:39 AM writes...

I still have a lab job, but I'm increasingly tutoring organic chemistry on the side. Working for myself is something I have more control over than being at the mercy of an employer. Tutoring keeps me sharp, I really like the one-on-one, and running a small business is rewarding. I expect I'll be doing this full time before too long.

Permalink to Comment

37. Wavefunction on August 11, 2010 11:39 AM writes...

I agree with the above quip regarding general skills like programming. If you want to try your hand at programming, among other things I would recommend Python/Perl scripting which is widely used in many computational approaches these days. I would also second the point about knowledge of statistics; it's remarkable how many chemists cannot accurately define a p-value.

Permalink to Comment

38. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 11:39 AM writes...

John Spevacek says, "I'd would be very cautious about making any such move as it is irreversible." Haha, this sounds like the typical dogma that comes from the rite-of-passage, fuedal system school of thought that's found in organic chemistry - in the same vein as the fear mongering that keeps organic chemistry grad students in the lab 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Who, from experience, has ever encountered trouble in going back? I suspect it's very few.

Because, more importantly, who would ever want to?

Permalink to Comment

39. Fries with That? on August 11, 2010 11:50 AM writes...

For BRS, I assume you went to law school, is that correct?
Now you are a patent attorney.
What about becoming a patent agent, is that a quicker and cheaper route to an alternative career? Is it worth it? Any insight would be much appreciated.

Permalink to Comment

40. You're Pfizered on August 11, 2010 11:53 AM writes...

I've spent quite a few hours pondering this very subject, and I'm still gainfully employed (knock on lab-bench slate...)

@39--I'd imagine that a few years off the bench would make you pretty much a non-factor in hiring. As it stands now any company that is doing any sort of hiring, which is very few, seems to be looking for 'new blood' rather than experienced folks.

There are quite a scientists at my company going back to get an MBA right now, and one or two in law school. With law firms laying off left and right, I'm not sure that's a sure investment either. I also wonder what type of job prospects folks with advanced science degrees coupled with an executive MBA also facing out there.

Permalink to Comment

41. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 12:16 PM writes...

Back in the early 70s when hiring prospects for chemists were fairly bleak (see photo on last page of Nov. 1971 Life Magazine), several of my fellow chemistry grad students dropped out of school and headed to med school, dental school, B-school or rejoined their family businesses. However, these guys had little invested in their chemistry careers when they bailed out. Once you have worked in the chemistry profession for a number of years changing careers means starting over at the bottom pay grade in an entry level job no matter what that job is. Also going back to school is very expensive and time consuming. It certainly is not clear to me what professions offer a reasonable return on an educational investment these days.

Since chemists are presumably all fairly bright, ideally with a different professional degree they can land in a career that pays well, but exactly what are those careers and how durable are they today? More importantly no one wants to invest in yet another professional degree for a career that can be off-shored before they even graduate. The one bright spot for chemists back in the 70’s was analytical chemistry, because QC was a job that never went away. I assume measuring all kinds of stuff is still an in-demand job.

My father was a craftsman (and in as sense so was I as a laboratory-based chemist). He always made a better salary (plus was paid overtime) than I did as a chemist, supported his family and because he had a terrific work ethic always had a job. Looking around at career options, if you have the aptitude become a craftsman. Everyone needs a good mechanic or plumber, the pay is better than chemistry pay, and your job can not be off-shored. If you are business oriented, you can even launch a business around your craft something impossible to do as a chemist unless you have the money to deal with the DEA, state and federal EPA, local fire marshal, OSHA and the ATF. I have two nephews both of whom are mechanics, and they have more work than they can do in an eight hour day even in this economy. On the other hand, many of my daughter’s former college classmates are now living at home with mom and dad and working in retail as they struggle to pay off their massive student loans.

I live in the Bay area and am always amazed as I drive through working class neighborhoods with $600K homes only to note most have at least one pick-up truck with a ladder rack parked in the driveway. The other day someone asked me what I was going to do when my unemployment ended. I said maybe try my hand as a cook, the one career that kind of like being a chemist and definitely can not be off-shored.

So unless chemistry is really the love of your life for which you are willing to have the life of a starving chemist, I would definitely not join the chemistry profession.

Permalink to Comment

42. BFS on August 11, 2010 1:09 PM writes...

Fries with That? on August 11, 2010 11:50 AM writes...
"For BRS, I assume you went to law school, is that correct? Now you are a patent attorney.
What about becoming a patent agent, is that a quicker and cheaper route to an alternative career? Is it worth it? Any insight would be much appreciated.

Yes, I went to law school at night and worked at my Big Pharma position during the day. I passed the patent agent’s exam before I left the bench and started law school. I hate to say this because it doesn’t reflect my own personal feelings but, depending on the specific environment in which one works, patent agents can be perceived as little more than glorified paralegals. For true upward mobility, patent attorneys enjoy a distinct advantage over agents.

Permalink to Comment

43. Annette on August 11, 2010 1:11 PM writes...

If I weren't a chemist, I would have been a pharmacist. Of course, that takes additional schooling.

Permalink to Comment

44. Will on August 11, 2010 1:14 PM writes...

@39 re patent agent

I'm a patent agent, previously having been a synthetic organic chemist (MS). My first job was scientific advisor at a law firm, after a few years I took&passed the patent bar.

Depending on the applicant, it can be tough to break into the patent law biz with no prior experience. Going to law school straight away obviously negates this, but then you won't know whether law is necessarily right for you until you've already invested considerable time/expense.

Passing the patent bar and becoming an agent will obviously help land that first job, but the exam would likely be challenging with no first-hand experience in the field. It certainly can be done, and there are plenty of Kaplan-style courses available.

Permalink to Comment

45. Marcus on August 11, 2010 1:18 PM writes...

@26 Scott, I think I'll take you up on the offer.
I am currently in the process of going the MBA route. Maybe Derek could facilitate our email exchange. Thanks

Permalink to Comment

46. Will on August 11, 2010 1:41 PM writes...

Oftentimes, law firms will pay the night school tuition of an advisor/agent while that person is working days at the firm. Upon graduation, the freshly minted lawyer will be considered a 2-4 year associate, with commensurate salary and responsibilities.

Permalink to Comment

47. matt on August 11, 2010 2:07 PM writes...

Another option is doing implementation consulting for scientific software. When I left my chemist position, I went on to doing implementation for LIMS, which requires you to understand the needs of chemists when inputting results into the database and helping to make the process more usable and friendly. Software (like LabWare LIMS, which is what I use now) doesn't always require customization, and many use their own scripting languages or have teams of programmers who can code once you bring home the requirements.

Being support for chemists isn't as glamorous as being a chemist itself, but having the skills and language to talk to them on their level is a big plus, and will help you in the interviews for these kind of jobs. Of course, you could argue that being support for chemists is just at risk of downsizing in chemistry, but if they're going to have to do more with less and work smarter, having friendly, comfortable tools is a real value add and in my experience, more secure.

And, as a kicker, I make more now than I ever did as a chemist, with fewer fume hood headaches.

Permalink to Comment

48. milkshake on August 11, 2010 2:42 PM writes...

Anyone considering career switch to work for law enforcement, or more profitably, to work against it?

Permalink to Comment

49. Evorich on August 11, 2010 2:42 PM writes...

I'm currently doing the B-school route. 1 year in (2 years part-time in total). I haven't been laid off yet! Actually don't think I will be for many years, and still love my job, but just want to have more options.

I'd love to hear/connect with Slurk and Mark to hear their experiences. Slurk's career path sounds very similar to the one I'm planning for - although at the moment several options are possible!

I think the statement about critical thinking is a very good. It's remarkable many seemingly intelligent, well paid people in my MBA class fail to be critical of what's being presented to them.

Permalink to Comment

50. pk on August 11, 2010 2:49 PM writes...

As someone who will graduate next Spring with a BS in Chemistry and plans for grad school I really need to stop reading this blog. Far too depressing.

Am I just completely boned or is there some light at the end of this tunnel?

Permalink to Comment

51. Samantha on August 11, 2010 2:50 PM writes...

Conference planning is another field laid off chemists could go into. One of the women I work with who, in a previous life, was a bench scientist for a big pharma company, started working for a conference planning company. (Think IBC, CHI, Terrapinn, BIO, etc.) It's a way to stay current in the field and apply your knowledge.

Permalink to Comment

52. newnickname on August 11, 2010 2:58 PM writes...

E Grant Gibbons (first total synthesis of pleuromutilin: JACS, 1982, 104, 1767) got elected to Parliament and was a Finance Minister. Not a bad career move. (He was kind of well-to-do to begin with.)

Considering recent headlines and news stories, ANY civil service gov job is better than non-gov chemistry. Gov workers now out-earn the private sector by almost a factor of two. A post office job has more benefits, more security and a better pension than delivering drug candidates. Teacher pensions in New Jersey are on the verge of exceeding actual salaries ... and they just got a $26 billion bailout from the Federal gov.

But getting elected to Congress has got to be the best job recommendation of all. Even if you're convicted of graft and corruption, you can write a book about it and still rake it in.

Permalink to Comment

53. new chemist on August 11, 2010 3:03 PM writes...

pk I'm basically right there with you. I just graduated with a BA in chemistry and will be starting grad school on Monday.

I'm really hoping that the market gets better in the next few years since being a chemist is something I've wanted to do since fourth grade :/. I'm starting to feel like my dream is being crushed.

Permalink to Comment

54. Laura on August 11, 2010 3:06 PM writes...

I went to library school (MLIS) after I finished my MSc. since I knew that it would be fairly easy to get a job in a university as a science librarian. The work is very interesting and never repetitive (you help people with their research), there's job security, you have a lot of freedom, and the pay is good. After a few years as a chemistry librarian, I moved more into managing library collections- a route followed by a number of chemistry librarians that I know.

Folks might want to check out Lisa Balbe's book:
"Nontraditional Careers for Chemists".

The ACS had a webinar on careers in publishing for chemists in May 2010. There's a slide on positions and what degree you need that's particularly interesting.

Permalink to Comment

55. Old Timer on August 11, 2010 3:14 PM writes...

I'm still a chemist, but most of my friends that left chemistry went into consulting - BCG, McKinsey etc. 53 posts and nothing on consulting. Strange.

Permalink to Comment

56. BFS on August 11, 2010 3:19 PM writes...

Evorich on August 11, 2010 2:42 PM writes...It's remarkable many seemingly intelligent, well paid people in my MBA class fail to be critical of what's being presented to them.

The demise of critical thinking skills has become a societal problem, but I guess that's a subject for another blog and another time.

Permalink to Comment

57. Chemist that was let go on August 11, 2010 3:26 PM writes...

I have decided to invest my severance pay on lottery tickets and scratchcards. As soon as I land the big prize I'm gonna buy a house next door to the former CEO and play "The elements song" at full volume every morning at dawn.

Permalink to Comment

58. p on August 11, 2010 3:27 PM writes...

Young students, markets come and go. There are not many areas you can go into that you will be guaranteed a stable, high income complete with challenges and pleasnt co-workers. It's a bad time in pharma/chem but it will come back.

Of course, what it will look like, in detail, when it comes back isn't known. Basically, your working life will be on the order of 35-50 years. There is simply no way to predict what will be needed or what skills will be sought after. Learn as many skills as you can, learn them well and learn to think. Then be ready to be as flexible as you can. Also, figure out what is most important to you: geography, money, type of work, etc. You probably can't have it all and you will almost certainly get screwed a number of times. But that isn't unique to chemistry. Just don't think that your degree (any degree) makes you immune.

Good luck.

Permalink to Comment

59. 007 on August 11, 2010 3:34 PM writes...

Milkshake mentions law enforcement. I would expand that to the realm of US national security, which includes law enforcement, intelligence, defense, and the relatively new and evolving field of "homeland security." I left the world of industrial organic chemistry 25 years ago and joined a company that works in the national security area for the US Government. There are jobs both in the commercial (for-profit and non-profit) and government sectors where chemists can work for decades. In the area I work, US citizenship is mandatory and you've got to be willing to apply for and be granted security clearances by US Government agencies. This can be a nerve-wracking process and for higher levels of security clearances, you will have the joyous opportunity to be subjected to polygraph examinations. This technique is often described as more witchcraft than science but for many intelligence and law enforcement agencies, is a mandatory aspect of the investigative process. Some agencies require that you disclose periodically your financial status, down the level of bank accounts, investments, real estate, personal property, etc., etc.

There are limited but recurring opportunities for scientists in chemistry (analytical, organic, inorganic, physical), biochemistry, materials science, molecular biology, energetics, nanotechnology, and other fields. Molecular biology, materials science, and nanotechnology are particularly "hot" these days. The field of forensics is making strides in becoming more of a true science and less of a FBI Special Agent Black Box & Magic Wand show and there are some very challenging issues for forensics. Emerging technologies are the focus of organizations such as DARPA, the DOD Service laboratories (Army, Navy, and Air Force), the DOE Nationals Labs (Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and others), and the FBI. The intelligence agencies have interests in emerging technologies but 007 knows better than to touch the intelligence community's interests in a public forum.

Permalink to Comment

60. Will on August 11, 2010 3:34 PM writes...

Consulting jobs, have, I think, dried up a little bit. Post-reccession, a lot of companies are thinking twice about paying $400/hr for a 28 year old MBA whose exposure to the client's industry is usually quite cursory.

Still, it's a sweet gig if you can get it

Permalink to Comment

61. Andrew on August 11, 2010 3:39 PM writes...

As a BS chemist for an oil & gas chemical provider, I'm not often worried about my job security considering the magnitude of the O&G industry in these parts (Alberta, Canada). However, this thread has been the most captivating comments section for me on this blog to date, as it's interesting to see what paths others have pursued and what I might aspire to should I ever get tired of this type of work. In a land where there doesn't appear to be many options apart from analytical benchwork outside of O&G, it's great to know that there are other paths out there.

Permalink to Comment

62. molecular architect on August 11, 2010 3:39 PM writes...

#52 As a government scientist formerly in pharma, I can assure you that the rumors that we earn 2X the private sector are bulls**t!! You can verify this by simply searching for the GS salary table.

I took a 30% reduction in pay compared to my pharma salary (including average yearly bonus, something we don't get in government). Furthermore, the organizational structure for scientists in government is very flat. Chances for advancement are slim and (at NIH or FDA) without an MD, almost non-existent beyond the branch/lab chief level. Even getting a government job is difficult, the hiring process is truly byzantine and takes months. If you are already employed during this process, you can negotiate your starting level and salary (within limits) but if unemployed, there is no negotiating - you will start at GS14-1 with a PhD (GS15 if for a branch/lab chief position).

On the plus side, the resources are the best I've ever seen. Any journal is readily available, fantastic seminar programs with top scientists, easy access to equipment and top scientists who also work here, etc. The two biggest advantages are STABILITY and there is no retirement age (helps to make up for lost income during the long unemployment).

The negative side: things move slowly due to the bureaucracy and the institute is heavily biology oriented. Chemists are a distinct minority and the drug discovery process is very different from industry.

I've been at big pharma, mid-size pharma, small biotech and now government. I enjoyed mid-size pharma the most (best combination of resources, science, and excitement). Overall, I consider myself fortunate to have landed here given the current career prospects for chemistry in pharma/biotech.

@pk and new chemist; heed the advice of those who proceeded you down this path - change career!!

Permalink to Comment

63. JAK on August 11, 2010 3:43 PM writes...

Hi All senior pharm scientists,

Are you willing to take a pay cut to do something different? What range of cuts can you tolerate?

I am seriously thinking of leaving the pharm industry, but have to take a big paycut and work as an entry level employee. I don't have the guts now. I am worried the pharm is going to be worse in a few years.

Permalink to Comment

64. g on August 11, 2010 4:14 PM writes...

I just got my PhD in pharmacology. I always intended to go into pharma, but the industry seems like it needs at least 5-10 years to stabilize (and likely become MUCH smaller). I don't want to struggle for that long, and so I am thinking of alternatives.

I'm thinking about trying to get into regulatory affairs or going back to school for a PharmD. I'm not excited about 4 years of school, but a postdoc is that long and at least I'd have a decent paying job (once pharmacy school debts are paid off!).

Permalink to Comment

65. David formerly known as a chemist on August 11, 2010 4:20 PM writes...

I did the MBA route about 10 years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. Having a hard science background, industry experience, and the MBA created a much wider breadth of opportunities for me than my PhD in organic chemistry ever did. I now work in a university, in a scientific/operational/financial management capacity.

Timing is everything. If I hadn't taken the plunge and gone to business school ten years ago, I'm convinced I'd be in pretty tough shape right now, career-wise.

Permalink to Comment

66. Skeptic on August 11, 2010 4:29 PM writes...

VC's for the life sciences don't want careerists, they wan't hard problems solved. Paper university diploma's are like Fiat currencies these days...becoming ever more worthless. The debt slaves going back to school who are chasing the current hot careers are like the fools buying overpriced houses or stocks.

Permalink to Comment

67. Skeptic on August 11, 2010 4:36 PM writes...

" a scientific/operational/financial management capacity" other words, you're riding the credit bubble for all its worth. I think you're debt enablers have a rude awakening for you in the not too distant future.

Permalink to Comment

68. skyywise on August 11, 2010 5:36 PM writes...

To my understanding, a starting Patent Agents can pull down about half of what a starting Patent Attorney does. If you're in a big firm that means only ~$70-$80K instead of ~$145-160K after three years of law school. But having expertise in chemistry is still an important commodity. The patent bar has a low pass rate, but it isn't actually hard, just a lot of learning procedure and learning how to search the index.

That said, for people in the DC area, working at the US Patent Office might be worthwhile. Become an Examiner and grant or deny the "inventions" that come across your desk. Govt work is secure, and the PTO should be hiring.

Permalink to Comment

69. Elizabeth on August 11, 2010 5:44 PM writes...

After walking out of the lab, this MS organic chemist joined a small children's museum. I am now the "science coordinator", and report to the "exhibits manager" who is herself a PhD chemist.

The pay sucks, and it's still basically teaching in a roundabout fashion, but it's a lot of fun.

Permalink to Comment

70. Refluxer on August 11, 2010 5:59 PM writes...

I received my M.Sc. in organic/medicinal chemistry early this spring. The outlook of finding a job in pharma around here (Sweden) is pretty bleak. So now I'm finishing a second M.Sc. in Pharmacy, will take me 2 years. The monopoly on pharmacies was dropped this year, so hopefully I'll be able to find a decent job in pharmacy-business or start my own.

But I must say times are not very encouraging...

Permalink to Comment

71. Fries with That? on August 11, 2010 6:32 PM writes...

Number 9, Anonymous, do you have to live in DC to be a patent examiner?

Permalink to Comment

72. Will on August 11, 2010 6:49 PM writes...

Skywise has it about right for salary differences between agents and attny. Additionally, the difference between the two grows over time. After five to seven years, an agent probably averages 100-150k at a big firm, whereas an attny is probably >250k, also, at that time, the agent has more or less maxed out, whereas the attny can see compensation of 400k and beyond once he/she makes partner

of course, with that additional compensation comes additional expectation wrt work - pulling all-nighters/all weekenders is not uncommon for an associate working a litigation. agents rarely do such things - everyone has to strike their own work/life balance

@70 - you definitely would need to live in or around DC as a "rookie/assistant" examiner, as you move up in rank, you can telecommute, but I would imagine you'd still be close enough to get to the office for interviews with applicants etc

Permalink to Comment

73. Jeff Howbert on August 11, 2010 7:03 PM writes...

The market for medicinal chemists in Seattle, where I live (and intend to stay), has collapsed to almost nothing. The companies here have always been pretty small, so the main problem is that venture capital is no longer willing to take risks on small-molecule discovery work. (Don't get me started on where the h*** innovation in pharma is supposed to come from in the future.) There are zero prospects for experienced, director-level medicinal chemists, and it's not much better for bench scientists. Most of the medicinal chemists I used to work with have left town, switched to process chemistry (only a few), or gone into other fields. My own job over the past four years has had a small component of discovery work, but it's been mostly development - managing process work, manufacturing, and CMC - and the actual work has been 100% outsourced. We have no labs at all, which I dearly miss.

I saw the writing on the wall starting about five years ago, so I went back to school and got a Masters in computer science (evening program for working professionals at Univ. of Washington). As of last month, I finally transitioned to my second career in computational biology. I work at a small company in Seattle, analyzing microarray and mass spec proteomic data, searching for diagnostic biomarkers. The money is mostly NIH grants and SBIRs, which can get tight at times, but at least we have clear goals that we set for ourselves.

So a change to another scientific discipline is very possible, and there's no question that critical analytical skills gained in one field are transferrable and very valuable. On the other hand, don't expect to retain all the earning power you accumulated in your first profession. I took an especially large hit on salary (VP to senior scientist - more than 50% drop). Fortunately, my kids are done with college and my house is paid off, so I'll get by.

I invested a lot in my career as a medicinal chemist, and it makes me ill that the profession is faring so poorly. I think it's still one of the most intellectually challenging, rewarding, and socially valuable professions out there. But I couldn't in good conscience advise a young scientist to pursue Ph.D. training solely for that purpose. I've been lucky to find a path to a new career without having to move to another city - now I can look forward instead of over my shoulder. I hope the others posting on this blog have similar success.

Permalink to Comment

74. San Diego ex medchemist on August 11, 2010 7:12 PM writes...

Great thread.

I've a PhD and postdoc in chemistry, around 9 months bench and leadership experience. 1 year on the street before landing a job in scientific software sales. I'm surprised to not see more responses about moves into sales, pre-sales, applications support etc. Similar to #47 I did come close to scientific software implementation, but the travel would have killed and the salary drop huge.

I was fortunate that I had volunteered to take a leading role in implementing and maintaining the science software I now sell. Stepping up to do the work no-one else wanted to do paid off in the end.

I'd taken a project management course, which I started before getting laid off. It seems that regulatory and PM certificate are the new vogue for out of work chemists, but I don't see that the jobs are there without actual job experience, no matter how well you could actually do the job. Agree with comment about it being easier without a PhD, especially in regulatory.

I wonder if there will be a glut of MBA/law candidates in a few years. Having said that, I'm considering an MBA myself.

@34 re cultural shifts outside the lab. It certainly is different being outside that environment. However, I'm finding that I like working with social people. I love chemistry, but as a community we aren't the most socially able of creatures.

Permalink to Comment

75. Bitter Pill on August 11, 2010 7:15 PM writes...

Moved from Med Chem to Quality Assurance for OTC. The good change is that I get to work on things that are on the market as opposed to pharma.

Permalink to Comment

76. So what now? on August 11, 2010 7:16 PM writes...

As someone who is in the process of finally completing a PhD in organic chemistry, this thread is the most depressing thing I've seen all week. Even more depressing than when I found out I need to re-characterize some late-stage compounds.

I sure wish I had known about this stuff before I wasted 10 years of my life. Maybe I could have done something different - like actually lived instead of spending every waking moment trying to get a piece of paper that will make me unemployable.

Permalink to Comment

77. gmoney on August 11, 2010 7:17 PM writes...

I am a 46 year old medicinal PhD chemist. I got my PhD from a big name prof years ago, and I thought I would be set. however, I was laid off a year ago and am now fortunately working as a temp.
I thought about law school, but if you go to, you will see that the job market for patent lawyers, atleast with no experience, is pretty bad also. Being unemployed and $120,00 in dept does not sound fun. I was leaning to regulatory affairs. However, according to Janson, a PhD may hurt me. I also looked at PharmD, but 3 more years of school and more dept would not be good at my age. Am I too old for an MBA?
I only had 1 interview since I was laid off, so I think my synthesis career is over. To those young chemists getting a PhD, run away as fast as you can, unless you go into academics.

Permalink to Comment

78. Shaky on August 11, 2010 7:41 PM writes...


Please post one encouraging post, please. I am sure there is something positive out there for chemists, please find it and write about it.

Permalink to Comment

79. Blackbox on August 11, 2010 7:47 PM writes...

On a related note, not much has been discussed about finding a faculty position after a few years of industry experience. Is it a totally unreasonable possibility?

I have been working for two years in a medium size company as a medicinal chemist (after a Ph.D and a postdoc in Chemistry from very good schools). I still dream about applying to academic positions at smaller universities with a Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical sciences. Can anyone comment on the possibility? Any suggestions to prepare for such a career change and when would it be appropriate?

Permalink to Comment

80. MIMD on August 11, 2010 8:04 PM writes...

First, as former Director of Merck's science libraries and of The Merck Index, I find it tragic that people with the brains to be chemists have to abandon the field.

Second, with regard to "The habits of critical thinking, of asking whether what you think you know is true or not (and being willing to test things to find out) are not as widespread as you'd think (or hope). That's a more nebulous proposition to sell to a potential employer, to be sure, but it's still worth keeping in mind":

That critical thinking skills and self-reflection might be hard to sell to potential employers should be considered your interview of them (interviews are two-way affairs).

Unless I were really desperate, I would find an employer to whom I could not "sell" critical thinking skills had flunked my interview of them.

Permalink to Comment

81. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 8:08 PM writes...

A PhD in chemistry should give you confidence that you can assimilate and organize large volumes of information, that you have a deep and fundamental understanding of matter and its manipulation, that you have skills that let you plan and complete complex work programs, and that you can apply general principles to specific challenges. You should have learned how to learn. Having that, there should be nothing to stop you from succeeding in life. Is it going to be in big pharma? Probably not, given what's happened in the past 20+ years. So, forget about the past and focus on the future.

The only guarantees are that the sun will rise and fall every day, and that we're born, we live, and we die. How you live will be determined by many things outside your control but also, by some under your control. Chemists today need to be far more attuned to global economic and political trends, things that I know weren't routinely taught to chemistry majors in your undergraduate and graduate school experience. There are 7 billion people in the world now...when I started my undergraduate chemistry studies in the early 1960s, there were 3 billion people. A lot has changed. You're going to have to figure out how you survive; no one is going to do it for you, but you're well-prepared for the job.

Permalink to Comment

82. Shane on August 11, 2010 8:12 PM writes...

This is coming from Australia where we have next to zero industrial chemistry jobs. After a PhD and a brief stint in academia I saw the writing on the wall. I retrained as a teacher but found the stress of herding horrid children too much given the so-so pay. So a few weeks back I threw in the teaching job. Now I tutor high-school and uni science and love it. I get paid as much to tutor one interested student for an hour as I got paid to supervise a whole class, not counting the extra time needed for preparation, marking and endless bureaucracy of teaching.

Three weeks in and the tutoring is all booked out and I am close to my old teaching wage for half the hours.

Better yet I am using my free mornings to do a gardening service in the local area to tap into my other big love. Jobs are rolling in already and my overheads are so low that it is almost pure profit. I'll couple that with starting a small mail order plant catalogue and hit the weekend markets. I can't ever see myself wanting to work exclusively for an employer ever again- it is too much like slavery.

Permalink to Comment

83. Anonymous on August 11, 2010 8:18 PM writes...

All this talk of becoming a lawyer to do patents seems like a big waste of a good law degree. Become a litigator and sue companies, governments and individuals because their products and actions possibly could have damaged someones health or everyones environment. That is where the really big money is. As a chemist-litigator, you should be able construct at will ironclad killer technical arguments supporting your positions and trashing defense arguments. Facing a good fire-breathing chemist-lawyer would definitely throw the fear of God into any non chemist lawyer defending some polluter or drug maker (our former employers). Why spend a life of drudgery writing lame patents when a few multimillion dollar settlements with some evil drug maker or toxic chemical maker can set you up for life? Now that is the reason to go to law school. Just look at John Edwards net worth to get a clear vision of the path to the good life.

Of course as a chemist, you could also consider becoming a professional witness for litigators just to pay the rent.

Permalink to Comment

84. Anon on August 11, 2010 8:21 PM writes...

Former biochem grad student, left the PhD program with a big name school early to get a PharmD. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made, both for compensation and general quality of life. Pharmacy school was a pretty easy transition from chemistry, although it was a bit of a shock to me to realize how little we know about what medications actually do in the human body.

It is four more years of school and debt, plus residency training if you decide to find a more clinical job. The job market for entry-level pharmacists has tightened with the advent of mail-order and the opening of several new schools churning out students, however I think there are opportunities in the field for those who have a strong background in science and research.

Permalink to Comment

85. Tok on August 11, 2010 9:21 PM writes...

#81 anonymous -
That has to be the most vacuous, useless post I've had the displeasure if reading.

If that's the best advice you can give people after 70+ years on this earth, then I feel sorry for you.

Permalink to Comment

86. Jose on August 11, 2010 10:00 PM writes...

"A PhD in chemistry should give you confidence that you can assimilate and organize large volumes of information, that you have a deep and fundamental understanding of matter and its manipulation"

The reality is that no-one cares. A med chem CV is an acronym soup with wholly unparsable titles. Critical thinking/scientific method yes; but beyond that, our skills have no relevance whatsoever in other arenas. It's the sad truth. Do you really think another industry cares that you can use Schlenk-ware or can do a COSY, or know whether to use Chiral OD or OA? Critical thinking skills aren't that rare, and research jobs of any stripe are rarer still. Not to mention the absurd levels of competition these days....

Permalink to Comment

87. Got_QSAR? on August 11, 2010 10:34 PM writes...

Great post Derek! Thank you. I'm a Ph.D. medicinal chemist (med chem degree) with 7-years industrial experience. I was laid-off a year ago and I'm still looking for something, but I'm very close.

I don't completely understand what happened to our industry... Sad and depressing.

Like some above, I've considered going into academia, but the hiring process in academia is very S L O W and you have to jump through a lot of hoops. I don't understand why the academic hiring process is so screwy compared to industry...

Permalink to Comment

88. Skeptic on August 11, 2010 11:31 PM writes...

>>I don't completely understand what happened to
>>our industry

And yet Med Chems supposedly have critical thinking skills.

Here is some common sense: the stocks are going down instead of up. The owners of real money (not the toilet paper Federal Reserve Notes you and I exchange) are kindly asking that the Med Chems either move the productivity bar a tiny bit or else use the exit door. Based on this thread, there is a stampede to get out. I see no reason to refer to med chemists as scientists any longer. They confused Gambling for Science I guess. When someone else picked up the tab for their failed lotto picks it was just fine and dandy. Rather than being extremely excited about the current challenges of mammalian biology, it obviously is terrifying to them. They painted themselves into a narrow skill set and are now marginalized. The physicists are way ahead of them in computational skills and the field is becoming more quantitative by the day.

The Med Chem theme song:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

Permalink to Comment

89. Terrified on August 11, 2010 11:44 PM writes...

So, if I could solicit honest opinions from people experienced in the field:

Would you advise current PhD candidates to drop out now? Are synthetic chemists simply no longer needed?

Permalink to Comment

90. @77 gmoney on August 11, 2010 11:46 PM writes...

After 46 yeara on Earth, one would hope that you had learned how to spell "debt". Or is your mind preoccupied with NMR experiments?

Permalink to Comment

91. John on August 11, 2010 11:59 PM writes...

I'm surprised only one person mentioned marrying rich.

Works best for those of you still studying at tier 1 unis, but a legitimate strategy for anyone making the choice to pursue impoverishing passions. This used to mean art, but now apparently includes the physical sciences.

For folks starting from scratch, I suggest an interest in sailing, dressage, or the like, careful study of The Theory of the Leisure Class & Influence: Science and Practice, then offering to help with their Remedial Calculus..

Permalink to Comment

92. chemdaddy on August 12, 2010 12:18 AM writes...

Yeah - I can relate to this post pretty strongly. I got a phd in organic and then went straight into my first and only biotech position which lasted 5 years before everyone was let go. I honestly had never really thought much about my career until that happened - I guess I had just been going with the flow and enjoying the academic nature of drug discovery without ever really thinking about job security. Well, I got a bunch of interviews right away but nothing really panned out. Then I self studied and passed the patent bar while working at a small firm - how utterly boring after working in a lab. After 6 months of dabbling in law I took a turn towards pharma promotional writing and medical education writing at a creative agency. Much better - the people were spirited, creative, and the environment was intense like biotech. After that I tried pharma market research which has also been very interesting although it lacks much of the creative thinking and playfulness in a career that is so important to me. I think I'm headed back to medical writing for a healthcare communication agency and that this will be a semi-permanent career direction/move for me. I'm mid 30's and while I miss lab tremendously I think that chapter is without a doubt closed.

Permalink to Comment

93. bb on August 12, 2010 12:23 AM writes...

I am grateful to these comments. But there seems to be no real answers to the problem every medicinal chemist is facing now: what should I do if I lose my work? In old days, people never thought the job market would be that bad. This isn't anyone's fault. The low productivity of the whole pharm industry is the key leading to current diseaster for our chemists. With so many blockbusters to be generic within the next couple years, more and more R&D positions will be eliminated especially chemists. We have been blaming the managers a lot. It's not just their faults. As a matter of fact, most of them are also going to lose their job. We as medicinal chemists need to do a much better job in order to keep our job. If you can't make anything meaningful from the business point of view, then basically you are wasting other's money. How to adjust yourself to current situation. As a chemsit with many years' experience, I am also hesitant to switch to other field. That means you need to start over or start from the ground. If you are only 20 years old, then it doesn't matter what you want to do because you will have plenty of time to change yourselves. But when you are already 40s or even 50s, changing career won't be easy at all. The best you can do is to not abandon all your experience. There are still many jobs requiring many years' experience. Sometimes this could be an advantage for you when looking for job. Always keep in mind that you have to have some talents others don't have. I know there are some people still hoping that some day the job market will come back. I can 100 percent
sure that those lost jobs will never come back and more and more jobs will be lost. It's not a good time to do PhD in organic chemistry. 5-7 years of hard work can only get less than 5 years' career as bench chemist.

Permalink to Comment

94. science illustrator on August 12, 2010 1:45 AM writes...

I'm just coming out of a postdoc and heading into a dual career doing part-time adjunct teaching at a small college and freelance science illustration. The latter is not one usually talked about at "careers away from the bench" panel discussions, but I've spent over a year doing research into it in my spare time, seeking out many informational interviews. So, here goes.

Permalink to Comment

95. prcoesschemist on August 12, 2010 3:07 AM writes...

The massive cuts of medicinal chemists in our industry put the world in the ideal position to deal with new emergencies, like NDM-1 expressing, carbapenem resistant bacteria coming from asian medical structures, see Lancet Infectious diseases,
doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(10)70143-2 .

Permalink to Comment

96. Mat Todd on August 12, 2010 4:34 AM writes...

The comments here are fascinating and terrible. Some people have found impressive ways out. I would think readers/contributors to this blog are representative of the sector?

Popping my head above the battlements for a second, are the tales of woe here related to the previous post about the lack of challenges in organic chem? i.e. has a lot of synthesis/medchem become routine, and can therefore be outsourced or tackled by less skilled labour? A scientific factor generating an economic one? I'm an academic, so do not have recent first-hand knowledge of industrial medchem. Hence I'm asking, not saying.

Permalink to Comment

97. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 5:13 AM writes...

#53 "I'm really hoping that the market gets better in the next few years since being a chemist is something I've wanted to do since fourth grade :/. I'm starting to feel like my dream is being crushed."

Surely a good scientist can see the trend and understand where it leads ? This is not a blip or a temporary economic set back, it is a sustained paradigm shift, caused partly by a lack of productivity, partly by globalisation (allowing the outsourcing of industrial R&D and manufacturing) and partly by a rapidly increasing aging population for which we can't afford high-cost innovative healthcare. What's more as a pharma insider, I can tell you that the current pipelines are bare and there are few few game-changing drugs in development right now. Which means that the next 7-10 years have to get worse not better because that's how long it takes for things to chug through development. So hoping that things will be better when you finish your degree/PhD is always going to be a pipe dream. Do yourself a big favor, and find another dream.

Advanced materials and energy are the main sector that I would see growth in, but to be honest, even there I can imagine a scenario where China and India become the R&D powerhouses in the future.

Permalink to Comment

98. Thomas McEntee on August 12, 2010 5:17 AM writes...

Does Derek have any sense as to whether university chemistry professors contribute or read this stuff? We have a serious supply & demand dynamic operating here and it's accepted by many that academia has a serious conflict-of-interest when it comes to recruiting cheap labor... Where does academia stand? As grad students, you're probably reluctant to press your thesis advisor on "So when I'm done. what's next for me?"

Permalink to Comment

99. new chemist on August 12, 2010 5:28 AM writes...

This is so depressing. I have no idea what to do with a chemistry degree now. I wish someone would have told me 4 years ago not to major in chemistry, maybe I would have a major in sociology instead of a minor. Unfortunately I can't afford going back to school right now, except grad school which is paying better than some jobs out there. This thread has made me feel so utterly lost.

Permalink to Comment

100. Ed on August 12, 2010 5:42 AM writes...

To recent or current grads I would say to look at it another way - a PhD in chemistry is a passport to almost any university in the entire world. How many other qualifications can say the same thing?

With the average working lifetime now in the order of 50 years (18-68), give yourself a break, enjoy what you do while it lasts - knowing that it is probably not going to feed you for very long. Try to learn new, relevant and transferable skills all the time.

I wish I had learnt German during my PhD, would have made finding a job in Switzerland/Germany/Austria much easier.

I wish I had started a part-time business degree three years ago - I would be finishing that now.

I wish I had done that project management course last year.

Permalink to Comment

101. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 5:46 AM writes...

Many of my former colleagues, and now me myself, are moving into high school science teaching. Most big companies give you the opportunity to be involved in outreach activities anyway, so it is easy to dip your toe in the water, before committing fully. And while I certainly see the behaviour issues with kids that people talk about, in the right school with the right approach as a teacher, you can minimise the problems. And as an industrial veteran in my forties I've tended to find that both pupils and colleagues treat you with a tremendous amount of respect for having done the job for real. I consider myself fortunate to have been made redundant from an industry that I once loved and was successful in, but which seems to have lost its way. But it gave me a living through my twenties and thirties, I saved hard and am debt and mortgage free, and can contemplate a future doing something else that I can enjoy. I've found it invigorating to be able to broaden out my interests again in lots of different areas of science. And right now the opportunities to innovate and reinvent how things are taught seems almost limitless.

I do worry though about the shift due to globalisation that is occuring the seems to be weakening the power of the US/Europe and what that means for our society.

Permalink to Comment

102. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 5:51 AM writes...

#100 "a PhD in chemistry is a passport to almost any university in the entire world"

You are a numpty aren't you. The pressure for jobs in the academic sector is as bad right now as the industrial sector and we can argue about who has the worst working conditions. A PhD in the wrong field right now is a career death sentence.

Permalink to Comment

103. Will on August 12, 2010 6:12 AM writes...

I surprised I've not seen this mentioned more - what about med school? obviously it's a long slog - 4 yr plus 3 year minimum residency (residents are paid slightly better, though not much, than postdocs), but it's generally a very stable employment field (relative to science).

Compared to a 4-5 year (?) PharmD degree, it doesn't seem like that much more

Permalink to Comment

104. anchor on August 12, 2010 6:27 AM writes...

Being the member of American Chemical Society (25+) was not much help. They should have prepared all those aspiring PhD in organic/medicinal chemist what to expect. Sadly, many of these jobs are not coming back. As the days roll by we will have token representation of organic and medicinal chemists in leading pharmaceutical companies and it will never reach the glory days of the past. ACS must play more pro-active role and they are MIA.

Permalink to Comment

105. Jose on August 12, 2010 7:34 AM writes...

Don't forget the super-duper helpful ACS "Webinar!" this week! Be sure to stay tuned for the snake-oil sales!

"Propel Your Career - Networking Tips and Strategies for Success" Register Now!

Looking to increase your career opportunities? Networking has consistently been cited as one of the most important skills for building a successful career. As a scientist, your talents, abilities, and experience are important but may not amount to much if no one meets you or remembers you.

Yes, the powers that be are truly asshats, busy wasting your dues, while watching the industry circle the drain and doing absolutely nothing other than sending out silly emails and ra-ra sessions for industry. A truly sad state of affairs for an organization with such a storied past.

Permalink to Comment

106. Ed on August 12, 2010 7:42 AM writes...

#102 - a simple search on for "chemistry -lecturer -professor" returns 117 jobs (and that search probably strips out a lot of positions that contain the word professor only in passing)

Hardly a shortage of academic positions (in the UK at least). Numpties obviously need not apply.

Permalink to Comment

107. new chemist on August 12, 2010 7:53 AM writes...

What about pursuing a career in regulatory affairs? Is that a possible path for someone with a degree in chemistry? I don't know if trying to transition to other parts of the pharma industry are possible either, like PD or something like that. Or do people think that just trying for a PharmD is one of the best options (it's the closest I would want to get to medical school) I'm interested in what people think. Even though I'm starting grad school soon, it's good to try and keep my options open.

Permalink to Comment

108. Larry on August 12, 2010 8:07 AM writes...

This is a great thread. Two main points

1) My wife is a retail pharmacist and she has never had any problems getting a job, at good salaries ($50/hr). She can work part time, which is good for her and our kids.

2) I have been at the bench for over 25 years, but in "industrial" chemistry. Our company (small,

Although I have a Ph.D. and postdoc in Organic Chemistry, I have worked on projects involving inorganic, organometallic, polymer and nanotech. In fact, the GC in my lab has been turned off for over a year, since nothing I have done recently can go through it!

There are opportunities out there for companies to offer services like we do. We scale up, improve processes, etc... Look for these smaller companies, they are around and may be looking.

Permalink to Comment

109. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 8:08 AM writes...

Skeptic You are a freaking ass-hat and it is apparent that you have no clue what you are taking about. Exhibit A: "Rather than being extremely excited about the current challenges of mammalian biology, it obviously is terrifying to them."

I'm surprised with all the venting and frustration above no one has mentioned the real problem within our field regarding the lack of jobs. I think Alanis Morisette sang it best: Thank you India!

Permalink to Comment

110. Path on August 12, 2010 8:18 AM writes...

#106 The search count is correct - but there aren't 117 academic positions available - all the PhD positions come up too as well as science teacher jobs and admin jobs that might consider someone with a chemistry degree, most are temporary positions which inevitably only prolong the agony.

UK chemistry (in academia and industry) is hardly in good shape and hasn't benefited from the economic packages seen in the US, Germany etc. Med Chem continues to be hit and it is hard to see things getting better. Just ask the folks at GSK, AZ and Organon who are having their sites shut down or indeed anywhere else where the new round of efficiency measure are just around the corner - no need to give names it is pretty much universal. I'm sure plenty of the people affected will be reading this blog and many are wondering whether it worth trying to keep in the game. I'm presently trying to figure out what to do next and have thought of a few of the options listed above, my advice for the freshly qualified is to get out as soon as possible or at least have a back-up plan in place.

Permalink to Comment

111. Thomas McEntee on August 12, 2010 8:19 AM writes...

@109 -- The lack of jobs has been discussed many times in comments to past posts from Derek. For example, see the 9 July 2009 posting 'Too Many Scientists?' and there are others.

Permalink to Comment

112. Leah on August 12, 2010 8:23 AM writes...

CAS hires scientists to build databases and train their customers. The patent office just got funding and will be hiring again. Different fields, but they definitely call on the background of chemistry.

Permalink to Comment

113. Jose on August 12, 2010 8:40 AM writes...

Everyone just starting grad school etc. should read #97 Anonymous' analysis. It is dead right. Things are going to get much, much worse before they have any chance of getting better. The patent cliffs (no, continental shelves) are not going away, and there is nothing behind them, which means the MBAs are going to do whatever short-term tricks them can muster to keep the stock prices reasonable. The initial stages of that mad bubble are already well underway....

Teaching HS is a pipe dream- total saturation was achieved several years ago; read some of the posts on chemjobber. And CAS? Sheeesh. Have you ever *been* to Columbus? :)

Permalink to Comment

114. Aspirin on August 12, 2010 8:46 AM writes...

@88 Skeptic: "The physicists are way ahead of them in computational skills"

Oh, you mean the ones running the country into the ground from Wall Street? Oh yes, those are definitely the ones we should learn from!

Permalink to Comment

115. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 9:21 AM writes...

My Story:

About a year into grad school I realized (by reading blogs) that the dogma purported by academic institutions was mainly false. If I probed further it was always followed up by "you can always be a professor". If you are thinking about grad school now, try doing a job search and see what turns up.

I decided that it was not worth spending the next 4 years to do my PhD followed by another 2 year post-doc just to work in a highly unstable industry which is shrinking.

I left with my MSc, it was a very difficult decision. I was constantly told I was wrong and I was throwing my life away. I landed a job at big Pharma out of school, worked hard and things were going well for me. I was happy.

Not one year afterward I am being laid off due to site closure. Many of my colleagues have been laid off 3-4 times in the last 5-6 years! We all know that no one hires to retire, but this is just crazy.

Research today is a commodity, going the lowest bidder. I don't have anything against outsourcing, but it is increasingly common now coupled to big organic growth in China that will most likely accelerate in the next 5 years. The prospects in CAN/US/UK seem dismal at best.

Organic/Med Chem. in the western world has(is) imploded, the bubble has burst, and don't listen to anyone that says this is cyclical.

To be honest I am very glad I left grad school; it gives me the flexibility to change careers. We all at one point saw chemistry as a powerful world changing tool and I still believe it is. There are a lot of other industries out there to work in, learn about them. Boning up on material science/ polymer/ oil and gas is not that hard.

I am a little hesitant to go back to school now. If I did go back it would be to pursue a profession that has a society that actually protects themselves (dentists, doctors, pharmacists).

MBA has been tossed around a bit as well; it would be nice to have skills that are transferable to many industries. A lot of people are pursuing the patent thing right now; I personally know I would be unhappy doing that.

I think what scares most people is the idea that they won't be happy doing anything but science or even organic chemistry. Push them aside and try something new, you may be surprised at what you are good at.

Permalink to Comment

116. OldStudent on August 12, 2010 9:27 AM writes...

After working for 12 years as a medicinal chemist in the local biotech scene, I was let go in Jan, 2009. Luckily, I got to stay home and take care of my newborn son while my wife had to go back to work. The availability of new synthesis jobs is next to zilch, so I decided to go back to school and get my degree in comp science. Still currently working at it, but enjoying it. Find that the skills you use as a chemist like creativity and problem-solving are also necessary in areas such as comp.sci.

Permalink to Comment

117. Annette on August 12, 2010 9:32 AM writes...

I plan to teach college when all is said and done. I haven't started applying for jobs yet, but there are quite a few listed on

I guess I should be thankful that a job in pharma was never on my radar.

Permalink to Comment

118. Curt F. on August 12, 2010 10:20 AM writes...

I feel like people (possibly including me in my earlier comment) are starting to overgeneralize.

Synthetic organic chemists have certainly been in a rough spot jobwise for the last few years. I'm not sure the same is true of all Ph.D. degree holders in the physical sciences. Not all scientists work for pharmaceutical companies, and not all industries are as screwed up as big pharma.

Permalink to Comment

119. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 10:51 AM writes...

Fascinating and thoroughly depressing post. Spent a few happy years working in the labs for a big company but by the end the stifling bureaucracy and worse-than-useless middlemanagement drove me to look elsewhere. Got lucky and moved to a smaller organization as a PM, something I really enjoy.

Unfortunately all the time these big organizations are populated by bureaucrats and yes-men just looking to avoid the next round of cuts, nothing will change. Scientists are easy to cut - they are very expensive on paper, and (usually) more interested in actually doing their job than brown-nosing the boss and inventing work. Finally, you have to face facts and say scientists haven't been particularly successful of late in discovering new drugs. All of this combined with the 'patent cliff' (which has only really just started) makes for a pretty toxic situation for all.

I still believe chemistry degrees have value, but maybe with a bit of diversity - eg learn a new language/do a few business modules at the same time most universities offer it. Life is going to be most difficult for those who can't see beyond the chemistry labs that's for sure.

My favourite comment of all the above is Shane's (#82) by a mile - face up to reality, have a think, go and do something you actually enjoy, be good at it and earn a decent living. Sure, can't work for everyone but surely it can for a fair few? Good on ya cobber!

Permalink to Comment

120. Patentability on August 12, 2010 11:27 AM writes...

Patent attorney here (Ph.D. in Organic). I can't encourage you to make the switch to patent law. It will take you years to learn this new trade and it will cost you a lot of time and money to do it. You won't know if you like or if you're any good for five years. Expect to work long hours - post doc long. The patent law industry is no longer growing, at least not quickly, and many firms have grown very conservative about hiring in the last two years. There are underemployed and unemployed patent attorneys out there that you will be competing with.

Permalink to Comment

121. Hap on August 12, 2010 12:24 PM writes...

I'm wondering if the real path to "success" is to have your conscience removed and go to work selling dietary supplements. It seems to work for an awful lot of people, and based on Barnum's aphorism, there's job security in the field, even if not in individual jobs. In addition, considering that pharma seems to be selling their drugs in more cases than is comfortable in the manner of the supplementeers, the experience should be relevant if you wish to reenter pharma. You can't lose.

Permalink to Comment

122. M on August 12, 2010 12:33 PM writes...

Are there any prospects for PhD organic chemists in the field of environmental engineering or environmental sciences?

Permalink to Comment

123. David P on August 12, 2010 1:09 PM writes...

This is a subject I have written about a few times on my blog too.

Patent law, MBA and teacher seem to be the main ways out of chemistry. Each of them has its challenges and you need to be honest with yourself that this is the right thing to do. It is no good having a mid-career change and then 2 or 3 years later finding that you hate the job you now have (and there'll be no going back to synthetic chemistry either). Teacher seemed to be the most straightforward option, but since congress had to pass something to save even teacher jobs, I don't think there is any easy route back to work.

To the folks considering grad school, I say that a MS is a better bet (for finding a job) than a PhD, though it limits your ultimate ceiling in a company. I do think it will pick back up somewhat in a few years (yes, years) but for the foreseeable it is going to be rough to be out of work.

Oh and I did look into microbrewing too. It seemed like a non-starter. One of htose careers that if you really really want to do it, then go for it, but it is not an easy way to get a pay check.

Permalink to Comment

124. Chris on August 12, 2010 2:46 PM writes...

I graduate with a bachelor in chemistry in a few months, it has become clear (more so after spending the day reading these posts) that I won't be making it rich doing chemistry. My question is this: How deep can you go before you can't get out? Is a MSc too far? Personally I'd like to do a MSc just because I will get to live in a new place and do chemistry,which i do still love to do, for two years. On the otherhand, is it only a PhD which can deem you undesirable or will a MSc have the same effect to a degree?

Permalink to Comment

125. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 3:27 PM writes...

@Hap #121 I know of a semiconductor process engineer who's become a homeopathic therapist.

Permalink to Comment

126. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 4:32 PM writes...

@71 - "Number 9, Anonymous, do you have to live in DC to be a patent examiner?" -

You have to put in a 2 year probationary period at the PTO campus in Alexandria, VA. After that (and presuming you've progressed to the GS-12 level), you can enter the "hoteling" program and relocate pretty much anywhere you want. Officially, you're still supposed to report to Alexandria once per biweek, but in practice, most supervisors waive this requirement. There's a guy in my group currently living in TX, and I know for a fact that he hasn't been to the office in a LONG time. I know a lot of people with families in PA, NJ, etc who rented cheap apts in northern VA during the 2-year period, stayed here for a 4-day workweek, and headed back home on the weekends. Probably not pleasant, but you can certainly do it without ever permanently relocating to the NoVA/DC/MD area.

Permalink to Comment

127. J-bone on August 12, 2010 5:06 PM writes...

Chris (#124), I know two people who left my graduate program with their Master's degrees (more people than them left, but these are the two organics who I know about). Both are gainfully employed and are making more money than I am as a postdoc.

Permalink to Comment

128. RealityCHK on August 12, 2010 6:03 PM writes...

Depressive and lot of negativity; but true. My forsight, like most of you, Chemist jobs especially Pharma jobs NOT coming back..period. As few posts suggested, next option is what we like next, after our love with chemistry. Very tough to do, however, doable, whether you like it or not.

Being more than 15 years with pharma industry as med chem, I have following comments.

1. Whatever project you undertake for your future, please think it very this what you want to do for next 15 years of your life?
2. So many good suggestions, patent, regulatory..might last for a while. Patent stuff, now an attorney friend of mine told me that they are not hiring certificate holders, they want people with law degree. Again years in school, may not be viable option for majority of chemists. Regulatory: may be good, however, when the pipeline for drug candidates is drying up, who will need regulatory people?
3. In my opinion, good idea is to leave Pharma industry and go to pure chemical industry, or environmental, or even related fields like biologics. One may need little training, however, chemists are clever to pick up fast.

4. Have faith in yourself and your capabilities. Work hard, things are bound to work.

Permalink to Comment

129. RealityCHK on August 12, 2010 6:04 PM writes...

Depressive and lot of negativity; but true. My forsight, like most of you, Chemist jobs especially Pharma jobs NOT coming back..period. As few posts suggested, next option is what we like next, after our love with chemistry. Very tough to do, however, doable, whether you like it or not.

Being more than 15 years with pharma industry as med chem, I have following comments.

1. Whatever project you undertake for your future, please think it very this what you want to do for next 15 years of your life?
2. So many good suggestions, patent, regulatory..might last for a while. Patent stuff, now an attorney friend of mine told me that they are not hiring certificate holders, they want people with law degree. Again years in school, may not be viable option for majority of chemists. Regulatory: may be good, however, when the pipeline for drug candidates is drying up, who will need regulatory people?
3. In my opinion, good idea is to leave Pharma industry and go to pure chemical industry, or environmental, or even related fields like biologics. One may need little training, however, chemists are clever to pick up fast.

4. Have faith in yourself and your capabilities. Work hard, things are bound to work.

Permalink to Comment

130. moleculartist on August 12, 2010 6:36 PM writes...

A big thanks to all those wonderful mentors who encouraged me to stay in science! Starting the 3rd year of my PhD and I couldn't be more depressed looking at what lies ahead... Working the same crappy grad school hours in a postdoc for sub-40k? 7-11 managers make more than that. Who created the postdoc system where PhD chemists work like slaves and make less money than guys who sell mattresses? I'm not doing a postdoc and am opting out of this career path entirely even though I still want the degree.

I've done some very discreet inquiring and will be applying to the MD/PhD program offered here. It's an internal move that MD-only students sometimes make and it's possible for me to make the same leap. Get a real estate license, who knows? I'm not going to wait around for the job market to improve. Too few of my colleagues make opportunities for themselves, they're waiting for a 100k big pharma job to fall into their lap while they keep cruising along as postdocs. It ain't going to happen and I intend to provide for my family and not be at the mercy of an unstable and capricious industry.

Bottom line: You know any unemployed MD's?! Me neither.

Permalink to Comment

131. Rick G on August 12, 2010 6:49 PM writes...

You might toss some blame towards academia for maintaining the drum-beat of 'shortage of scientists' (which coincidently fills their labs with an excess of cheap labor and fills their pockets with grant-money). This skills shortage is mentioned on a weekly basis in most major journals as a means to actively deceive the politicians who make funding decisions.

There are close parallels between the sociopathic behavior of the "tenured academic" and the tenured vampire CEO of a bank who's sole job is to indebt his customers. In each case you have a small class of people who are indifferent to the destruction of the people they use….abuse…. then discard.

An academic today is no different than a drug dealer pushing dope cut with rat poison. He is the champion of the university as a for-profit enterprise, whose sole goal is to maximize tuition and increase student numbers for the benefit of the faculty.

It is obvious to all now that the education bubble is the latest scam to be inflicted on the US population.

"Student loans now exceed credit card debt"

Permalink to Comment

132. Kyssa on August 12, 2010 6:59 PM writes...

@pk and new chemist
I understand your situation. I wanted to be a chemist since I was 13 and graduated with an MS in organic chemistry (polymer synthesis focus) a few years back. I worked as a synthetic chemist for a materials lab for a few years after graduation and ended up getting quite a bit of experience in materials science in the process. That job lead me to a position at one of the largest defense companies as a chemistry subject matter expert. It's more of an engineering role, but my knowledge of chemistry has been an invaluable tool in root cause analysis, adhesive and resin system selection and understanding the mechanics of inter and intramolecular behavior of our end products. The role uses the same problem solving and creative skills as synthetic chemistry, but also lets me develop and product from start to finish which is extremely gratifying.

My recommendation: if it isn't too late, go to grad school for materials science or engineering. Those skills, paired with a strong background in chemistry is a distinguishing and powerful combination in industry.

Permalink to Comment

133. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 7:03 PM writes...

@91. John - "I'm surprised only one person mentioned marrying rich."

Well, we can't all marry Rich. He's only one guy!

@128. RealityCHK - "4. Have faith in yourself and your capabilities. Work hard, things are bound to work."

Funny. That's exactly what my advisor's been telling me. You know, in order to motivate me to get this useless degree

Permalink to Comment

134. Scott on August 12, 2010 7:27 PM writes...

@49 Marcus, you can reach me at bottlerocketscience (at) gmail {dot} com

Permalink to Comment

135. RPA on August 12, 2010 7:42 PM writes...

I’m a former industrial chemist with a Ph.D. in chemistry, who fortunately was able to find a job in a small consulting firm here in Washington DC, doing contract work mostly for the EPA. I wanted to make a switch out of industrial research – although I enjoyed what I did for the most part at the large chemical company that I worked for, I could see the writing on the wall that layoffs/selloffs would be coming sooner or later.

I was extremely fortunate that at the age of 48 I was able to find this entry level position doing environmental/regulatory work. This work is actually a better fit for me than my industrial position. However, I make 40% less than my previous job, with no hope of ever being able to make much more, beyond getting cost-of-living increases. In inflation-adjusted dollars, I don’t even make as much as I did 21 years ago as a brand new Ph.D. at the chemical company. But, I still manage nicely, can save a little, and have good health insurance, so I’m not complaining. My job is at best only semi-stable, but I’m in the same boat as so many others, so I can’t feel bad for myself.

I’m not exactly certain how easy it is to find a position doing environmental work with a background as a chemist. Most positions out there are for environmental scientists/engineers, who basically are civil engineers who know a lot about water/sewage treatment plants, chemical behavior in rivers, lakes, soil, air, etc. Some of these positions will consider a person with a chemistry background, but you have to also have had some environmental work experience as well.

So, no easy answers from me. What I can say is that the chemical industry has undergone major changes since I first started working nearly 30 years ago. What held true for someone graduating in the 1980’s just doesn’t hold true today. That’s why it’s laughable to me when I hear some 50+ year old chemist [who hasn’t undergone some type of job upheaval] hand out career advice that has been out-dated for 10+ years.

Permalink to Comment

136. Anonymous on August 12, 2010 7:57 PM writes...

Interesting!! Where i work there's a scientist who resigned (yes resigned) to pursue tutoring full time. Look into it. A Ph.D chemist can in principal tutor chemistry, physics, math etc. to college students including premeds. There is even online tutoring where you make $$ by answering specific questions. Humm....

Permalink to Comment

137. new chemist on August 12, 2010 7:57 PM writes...

@ Kyssa

Thank you for your advice. One of the professors at my school does research in nanotechnology, unfortunately when I talked to him it didn't really catch my interest. The two synthetic professors caught my interest a lot more.

How about getting a degree in organic with a specialization in quantitative biology, does anyone think that would open any doors?

Permalink to Comment

138. chymist on August 12, 2010 9:42 PM writes...

Great post - left grad school with my MS. The bench work was killing me!

Most chemists are IR (Holland Code), and there's a bunch of really cool jobs for that type. Unfortunately that means more schooling :(

I'm IE, and thinking about something completely different! We'll see...

Permalink to Comment

139. Skeptic on August 12, 2010 10:55 PM writes...

>>An academic today is no different than a drug
>>dealer pushing dope cut with rat poison

Haha. Its like the university is a...BANK! And what do Banks like to do? Create LOANS! And what are those "critical thinking" med chams doing? Going back to the university and getting another loan. Hey Rick, what do you suppose will be the hot career 4-5 years from now when the former med chems are now unemployed patent lawyers? Could it be CHEMISTRY! Its like herdin cattle.

Permalink to Comment

140. Doglotion on August 13, 2010 12:38 AM writes...

Great post. In my case, I was a PhD medicinal chemist at Biotech X for 8 years until we were acquired by Pharma Y & everyone was fired. Surprisingly, this was framed as a great success - the investors got rich; I got a couple months severance.

So what to do? I decided to team up with a friend and start a biotech. This was an enormously risky move, and the first few years were hand-to-mouth: long hours and huge uncertainty. But it worked out, we raised some capital and now have several programs on the go. Ironically, I now employ several former colleagues (along with a small battalion of chemists in China).

I'm not sure I would recommend this route to anyone else - founding a company is a lot of work, and it stretches you way outside your comfort zone. But I would observe that the primary barriers to doing this (or anything else) are psychological. If you can get past the negativism and doubt that characterize most chemists, you can largely write your own ticket.

Good luck to all.

Permalink to Comment

141. maddog on August 13, 2010 1:01 AM writes...

Funny no one mentioned Starfleet.

Permalink to Comment

142. maddog on August 13, 2010 1:17 AM writes...

Seriously though. Jobs in Chemistry are not dead, especially for those with BS and MS degrees; most of whom seem to have less of a psychological barrier to retraining/repurposing their skill-sets. So for those out there with BS or MS in chemistry, relax a bit, be flexible and don't let these postings get the best of you; there are options in other fields. For the PhD's like me with 10+ pharma years, it's going to be a tough ride. I agree with the post(s) that I can't in good conscience recommend that ANYONE go into medchem in it's current state. If you are just getting your PhD, then think broadly and relax a bit. It will be much easier to diversify now than to be axed 3-5 years into a pharma job with nothing that you have worked on that you can talk about externally. You could broaden your skills by taking a non-traditional post-doc in materials science, pharmacology, computation or other related interests.

Permalink to Comment

143. babybird on August 13, 2010 8:26 AM writes...

I can only speak for the UK, over the last few years there have been a lot of ex-pharma people floating about, floating being the operative word, quite a few are drifting in the same way they drifted in pharma. Some of these people have talent and knowledge that my company would love to have but it is difficult to separate the oxygen wasters from the good ones. One of the reasons why pharma has got itself into such a mess was the number of unproductive lazy people being carried by the few dedicated and bright people. I know firsthand.

If there is an ex pharma synthetic organic chemist out there who is self contained and self managing with a work ethic(do their own paperwork think laterally and don't need to be managed and cajoled to work) then my company would be interested. There is currently a very good market in sorting out process chemistry for the Chindians, who don't seem to be capable of doing it themselves. there is also good money in custom synthesis of the trickier compounds.

There will never be the security of big pharma in the old days, stop swimming and you sink but it is much more interesting and intellectually rewarding.

the chemists and companies that manage to stay in the market will rule when the pendulum swings back the other way, as it surely will. we will still need chemistry in the future and academia and off shoring is not going to deliver.

Permalink to Comment

144. babybird on August 13, 2010 8:30 AM writes...

Chemistry is not dead.
I can only speak for the UK, over the last few years there have been a lot of ex-pharma people floating about, floating being the operative word, quite a few are drifting in the same way they drifted in pharma. Some of these people have talent and knowledge that my company would love to have but it is difficult to separate the oxygen wasters from the good ones. One of the reasons why pharma has got itself into such a mess was the number of unproductive lazy people being carried by the few dedicated and bright people. I know!

If there is an ex pharma synthetic organic chemist out there who is self contained and self managing with a work ethic (do their own paperwork, think laterally and don't need to be managed and cajoled to work) then small companies like mine would be interested. There is currently a very good market in sorting out chemistry for the Chindians, who don't seem to be capable of doing it themselves. there is also money in custom synthesis of trickier compounds.

There will never be the security of big pharma in the old days, stop swimming and you sink but it is much more interesting and intellectually rewarding.

The chemists and companies that manage to stay in the market will rule when the pendulum swings back the other way as it surely will.

Permalink to Comment

145. Leigh Krietsch Boerner on August 13, 2010 8:48 AM writes...

Easy answer: there are a lot of different things someone with a PhD in chemistry can do. This topic is something I try to address over at my CEN alternative chem careers blog, Just Another Electron Pusher. It's aimed at current grad students (and still relatively new), but maybe some of the readers here would find it useful?

Reality sucks answer: from the short while I've been following this, it seems very few people are
hiring chemists, either in pharma or out. It is a bit hard to track though, since the types of jobs are so broad and scattered.

One suggestion for PhDs curious about science policy is the AAAS Science and Technology fellowship. You have to be done with your PhD when you start the application process, but that's about the only requirement. They pay a stipend (~$55K and up, depending on the assignment) and place you in a policy office for a year. A lot of fellows like it and decide to stay in that sector. Don't know much about how many of those type jobs are out there, but it's wouldn't hurt to look. It also wouldn't hurt to have more chemists in the policy realm...

Permalink to Comment

146. MedChem on August 13, 2010 9:48 AM writes...

"One of the reasons why pharma has got itself into such a mess was the number of unproductive lazy people being carried by the few dedicated and bright people. I know firsthand."

You got that so right pal. The kicker is those who do the carrying most often don't get the credit because they tend not to be the talker type who knows how to politic.

Permalink to Comment

147. MedChem on August 13, 2010 9:52 AM writes...


Your story is most interesting. Could you share your experience on where and how to get funding?

Permalink to Comment

148. retread on August 13, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

Very sad to read this. All is not lost. For two entirely new classes of genes (for which of course, chemists will be needed to develop drugs to enhance, inhibit or modify) look at the current post. We know a lot less about what's going on in our cells, then the current zeitgeist implies.

Permalink to Comment

149. Eyes opened on August 13, 2010 10:46 AM writes...

What a terrible revelation.

Thanks to this post, I realized how doomed I was making myself with my education. Just decided to walk out on my PhD - Four months or so left, and about 75% of thesis written, but it looks like a death sentence to complete it. Don't know what I'll do, but it sounds like it's better to figure that out now, rather than later.

Permalink to Comment

150. Anonymous on August 13, 2010 11:01 AM writes...

"Four months or so left, and about 75% of thesis written, but it looks like a death sentence to complete it."

The mistake was going for the PhD, however it would be an even bigger one to not complete it. Employers hate quitters.

Permalink to Comment

151. Skeptic on August 13, 2010 11:28 AM writes...

"...chemists will be needed to develop drugs to enhance, inhibit or modify"

Yawn. Another subsidized 10 year programme of monkeywrenching with the same failure rate. What is this, A Molecular Playground for you people? Hey Investors, I've found some new actors on the cellular stage. Acts 435322-500000 are now playing. Tickets only a $1000 each. The show will run for 10 years straight.

Permalink to Comment

152. Anonymous on August 13, 2010 11:58 AM writes...

To #131 Rick G:
"An academic today is no different than a drug dealer pushing dope cut with rat poison."

Are you f-ing kidding me? Comparing an academic with a drug dealer who cuts the drugs with rat poison?!? Really, that is your comparison? What a f-ing tool.

If someone comes out of their undergraduate degree and goes blindly into a Ph.D. without assessing their future, then they are a flaming idiot right now. The pitiful job market is not a mystery. One can easily read any of a number of blogs/newspaper/etc. and see for themselves. The academics are not all teaming up together to suppress all of the negative job news regarding chemistry only to get more and more students to join their labs. If the student cannot think for themselves and see what is really going on now in their future career choice then that is their fault alone.

Permalink to Comment

153. Cloud on August 13, 2010 11:58 AM writes...

Cripes, @eyes opened, I hope you're joking. I agree with #150- if you're only 4 months way, stick it out.

I have gone through periods in my career when the PhD I have wasn't really relevant, and periods where I wouldn't have gotten the job without it. I've never really bought into the idea that it is a liability, unless what you really want to do is work as a lab technician.

People who are seeing careers that they thought would be secure go up in smoke are understandably a bit angry. But whatever you end up deciding to do, I doubt the PhD will get in your way, and it might help.

Permalink to Comment

154. Aspirin on August 13, 2010 12:05 PM writes...

@retread: All is not lost

It's not what is that matters, it's what people believe. I don't think anyone is arguing here that organic and medicinal chemists are scientifically bankrupt of ideas. I think it's clear from the discussion here that pharmaceutical companies are no longer willing to fund the kind of ideas you are talking about. So even if they exist, from a job perspective it's not going to matter.

Permalink to Comment

155. compchem on August 13, 2010 12:37 PM writes...

how about blogging for the chemistry community?
(oh no, wait...)

Permalink to Comment

156. TLC on August 13, 2010 1:37 PM writes...

I have been reading the comments since yesterday and it's very depressing. I am not feeling like running any more reactions today. I started chem grad school(organic) last year . After little over a year of not leaving lab before it gets dark on weekdays and weekends (except a few times) and not taking any holidays, including Christmas and New Year(like most organic ppl), the reactions are finally working and there will be a paper(need some more time). But is it worthwhile to stick it out in the hope of a paper? Or shall I quit organic and switch to a different group in inorganic/materials/nano/analytical in energy related research?I can't quit chemistry altogether because with my student loans, I don't have much of a choice. At least, for now, I get the stipends.

I can't make up my mind and it's awfully agonizing.

Permalink to Comment

157. A. on August 13, 2010 3:09 PM writes...

After a couple of years as a chemist, I went to law school with the intention of becoming a patent lawyer. But then I realized that lawyers are generalists, and a law degree is sufficient preparation to practice any type of law. Now I do public-company M&A work in NYC. The hours are long, but the pay is definitely worth it (post-doc hours, as an earlier commenter put it, for more than six times a post-doc salary, starting out). And the work, quite frankly, is more interesting.

Permalink to Comment

158. Skeptic on August 13, 2010 3:23 PM writes...

"I don't think anyone is arguing here that organic and medicinal chemists are scientifically bankrupt of ideas"

Thats exactly what I am arguing and I'm an investor. For example, I believe image processing experts are far more valuable in advancing this field than chemists. Industrialization baby! Meanwhile, Milkshake advocates having the management leave the chemists do what they want for 5 years (presumably the date he intends to retire) and if the well is dry, then fire them all. How completely laughable.

Permalink to Comment

159. Aspirin on August 13, 2010 3:31 PM writes...

@158 Skeptic: It's you who is laughable. As retread pointed out, there's no dearth of ideas around. If you think image processing experts are going to solve the problem of finding small molecules for PPIs, you need a brain scan. Milkshake is completely right; we need to give the chemists the freedom to pursue their ideas for a while. You will be surprised how much creativity can be stifled when MBAs don't give a rat's ass about you and want you to pursue unrealistic deadlines using meager resources, all the while dangling the threat of laying you off in front of your eyes.

Permalink to Comment

160. Skeptic on August 13, 2010 3:44 PM writes...

>>I can't quit chemistry altogether because with
>>my student loans, I don't have much of a choice

And with PEAK GOVERNMENT, the opportunities for tenure are shall we say limited and ripe for political shenanigans. What do you suppose all that exchange of foreign goods for worthless US paper is about anyways?

Permalink to Comment

161. Hap on August 13, 2010 3:59 PM writes...

If it's going to be a pissing match between you and Milkshake, I suspect you're going to be dry rather quickly. Other than his chemistry knowledge (which in a one-on-one, would appear to be an incipient beat-down/homicide), if it's a straight up competition between effective business modes, well, what has the "MBA's are great. We really can produce without anyone to develop products." model managed to produce lately (or ever, for that matter)? (No, bankruptcy doesn't count.) Drug companies following MS's model, on the other hand, used to produce these things called drugs, and help people, and make money doing it, but not enough to support the CEO class, I guess.

On the other hand, nobody with money really cares that their asses will not, in fact, produce marketable drugs, so the complaint that your model is incompetent at achieving anything other than moral, intellectual, and financial bankruptcy is sort of irrelevant. You'll get to tour hell, with the rest of us.

Permalink to Comment

162. Chemjobber on August 13, 2010 4:28 PM writes...

I tried to quantify the 35 different career transfers up to comment 160. In order of popularity, they are:

Computer-related work (computational science, programming, etc.): 9 (26%)
Other: 8 (23%)
Business (MBA, business development): 4 (11%)
Intellectual property law (patent attorney, agent): 4 (11%)
Regulatory affairs: 4 (11%)
Pharmacy-related stuff: 3 (9%)
Teaching (high school, tutoring): 3 (9%)

Interesting how most folks are moving "up the value chain", as it were. (Well, duh, what would you do? Move down the value chain?)

Permalink to Comment

163. Anonymous on August 13, 2010 6:53 PM writes...

Be careful with all this loose talk about securing your future by going to law school to become a patent lawyer. The Economist (6-26-10) had an article on the “Passage to India” of legal services in order to get cut rate pricing. It read exactly like all those outsourcing articles on chemistry, drug manufacturing and drug research that we have been reading for the past 5-10 years. The easiest law specialty to off-shore, I think, will be patent law. Yes we will still need US-based patent lawyers just like we will need US-base organic chemists, but far fewer of them in the future.

I heard an interview of Clyde Prestowitz, the author of a book on our foreign competitors in the Orient. He was advocating more education to help us compete. Then he made the mistake of letting his mouth continue run. He suggested that for things done more cheaply offshore, it in fact, might be to this country’s advantage to ship the work to India or China. He pulled the example of reading X-rays as a win-win situation for this country. The US could save on the high costs of reading X-rays, and thus off-shoring could help us reduce our country’s super high medical costs. This kind of work could easily be done offshore at a deep discount by the talent there. That is the same kind of talent we currently import to fill our engineering, science and math schools here. I had an epiphany! It dawned on me that some poor technician/doctor who was trained to read X-rays at some serious expense and training time just had their high tech education and training discounted and their job snuffed out. So much for the value of higher education!

No one in the country really wants to pay our “high” wages to discover drugs, so the pharmaceutical industry is following Prestowitz’s advice and taking advantage of a cheaper labor supply to the ultimate benefit of US drug consumers. This has the added advantage greatly expanding the consumer base for pharmaceuticals in the rest of the world. The super high volume, low cost markets in India, South America and China will be able to afford any new drugs coming from these super low cost drug designers/manufacturers.

I then asked myself the simple question: is there any job that involves higher education where the US can not derive an economic benefit by shipping the work to the Orient or South America? Frankly, I can’t think of many jobs that are done in laboratories, behind computer screens, on the phone or on the factory floor that can not be done cheaper and just as well outside the US. We are all now part of a global labor pool and capital will always migrate to the lowest cost workers. Education is now a global commodity and the asymmetry in wages among educated workers will contract until wages and labor supply are realigned to meet production demand (much lower in the US and EU and a little higher in Asia, South America and East Europe). We are paid way too much and they are not paid enough. The path by which this will happen is obvious in chemistry – very high long term structural unemployment. Chemists are being forced out of the labor pool and those that remain will see their compensation erode either by cutting a deal to get any job or because our national money printing presses will inflate the currency and trash our purchasing power relative to the rest of the world.

This brings me back to my suggestion above. Get a college degree if you want, but become a craftsman, shop keeper, nurse, GP-MD, cosmetic surgeon, Wal-Mart greeter, cook or any other type of worker who must provide a face to face service directly to other US citizens in the US. Another degree will not help you one bit if someone else anywhere in the world has the same degree and can provide your services to the US at a fraction of your costs.

Permalink to Comment

164. Anonymous on August 13, 2010 8:55 PM writes...

Patent law (writing patents and breaking them) will soon be outsourced to India. Why pay a lawyer 250K in US when you can get 5 for that price in India. Crafting patents isn't that difficult anyway.

Permalink to Comment

165. MCC on August 13, 2010 9:04 PM writes...

I have been fortunate so far. I had a job in the pharma and contract industry; loved it but saw where things were headed.

Got a job in the energy industry. The chemistry is not as synthetically challenging in the traditional way of thinking about it but in other ways, the work is actually more complex and challenging than anything I ran up against in pharma.

Permalink to Comment

166. Kirsten on August 13, 2010 9:27 PM writes...

I keep thinking clinical chemistry. People piss in a bottle at their hospital/doctor's office and you take it and analyze it. Or blood samples.

Most of that work needs to be done quickly, so off-shoring shouldn't work.

Permalink to Comment

167. Skeptic skewered on August 13, 2010 11:35 PM writes...

#158 skeptic

If you want to read what really goes on in pharma, in part explaining the lack of productivity of med chem (because of sabotage by moronic higher ups, some of whom know nothing of bio-medicine), read here.

Permalink to Comment

168. Anonymous on August 14, 2010 7:30 AM writes...

#163 "No one in the country really wants to pay our "high" wages to discover drugs, so the pharmaceutical industry is following Prestowitz's advice and taking advantage of a cheaper labor supply to the ultimate benefit of US drug consumers. This has the added advantage greatly expanding the consumer base for pharmaceuticals in the rest of the world. The super high volume, low cost markets in India, South America and China will be able to afford any new drugs coming from these super low cost drug designers/manufacturers."

Well you're getting there but I don't think you've completely grasped the full stupidity of the position. Contracting out manufacturing, R&D and many other functions has lead to a situation where we have high structural unemployment in almost all sectors. Far from being to the benefit of US drug consumers, it is actually destroying the US market - fewer and fewer people can afford best-quality healthcare and this is being echoed across Europe and the rest of the West. While the healthcare markets are increasing in Chindia etc. they are really on increasing access to generic medicines. And what evidence is there that these countries are going to be able to produce novel pharmaceuticals at "super low cost" ? It still takes more than cheap labour.

People are waking up to late to the reality that globalisation means the transfer of wealth from the west to the less developed world. This wasn't supposed to happen of course, it was meant to increase global market sizes and stimulate worldwide economic growth. But it has all been very lucrative for the CEOs and associated "masters of the universe".

Unless we realise that we need to make things that other people want to buy we are finished as an economy. Designing things for other people to make, and selling things to each other paid for with borrowed money, doesn't work as a long term strategy.

Permalink to Comment

169. Anonymous on August 14, 2010 7:46 AM writes...

#158 Skeptic

When I started out in the industry I had to write quarterly reports which then six weekly ones were added, then biweekly manager meetings added on top. Now I need to show evidence that I have consulted with a wide range of colleagues (onsite and at other R&D centres) to get the "best possible" range of targets into my work plans. I never step inside the lab anymore.

In the old days I was allowed to lead my team from the lab, develop a strategy and focus a project where I felt was best. Strangely my strike-rate for programmes was much higher in the old days (judged by progression of compounds into and through development). Go figure !

Permalink to Comment

170. Anonymous on August 14, 2010 7:49 AM writes...

Kirsten - Most of that work needs to be done quickly, so off-shoring shouldn't work.

Unfortunately automation does work in this area.

Permalink to Comment

171. Gonz2Pa on August 14, 2010 2:22 PM writes...


"There is currently a very good market in sorting out process chemistry for the Chindians, who don't seem to be capable of doing it themselves".

If this is the case, then why the hell are companies outsourcing to them? Wow, I guess the bottom line really is king now, isn't it?

Permalink to Comment

172. Anonymous on August 14, 2010 2:23 PM writes...

10 years from now the entire US economy will rest on Walmart. If Walmart doesn't sell your treatment for cancer, well, too bad. The world is overpopulated anyway.
The "masters of the universe" are inexorably lowering the value of human life in the West to match the excremental value in the East. Globalization has NOT increased global health and prosperity, rather, all workers lives have been exploited to a new low. Only a relatively few on both sides of the earth have benefited. We've been sold another, expanded version of trickle-down economics. Only the "masters" do well.
It is time for a revolution!

Permalink to Comment

173. Matt on August 14, 2010 10:15 PM writes...

I don't think it will rest in Walmart, but I think the sad reality is ... the government will have to put the training wheels on the nation and do a new deal for real, ultimately connect the "free market" to what is happening to the real world.

Maybe we will have to wait for the baby boomers to die first though. Chilling as it may be.

Permalink to Comment

174. Matt on August 14, 2010 10:26 PM writes...

Oh things to do with your chemistry degree? I almost sold cars and I almost tried to build clients as a personal trainer.

I know someone who makes infant clothing. I knew someone who tried being a surrogate mother during a horrible horrible unemployment period.

You have to be creative and try to market what few hobbies and interests you have left that you DIDN'T sacrifice to the chemistry gods. I only wish advisers took a more active interest in encouraging individualism in the lab, because ... their slave projects are just not enough to get you work anymore.

Permalink to Comment

175. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on August 15, 2010 3:39 AM writes...

I remember when I started chemistry graduate school the pharmaceutical industry hired people for life. My PhD in organic chemistry was a waste of time and I did not even finish my post-doc as I was so disgusted with preening academics.

I think of professors in this dying field as pimps who try hard to find work for their best "workers" in their stables. The other 85% can just go f*(& themselves. If you were not a star pupil, then I don't think that they really cared about you. With regards to the lower 85%, they ask themselves, is this person more productive than an empty bench? If not, that person is asked to leave, if so, they can stay and twiddle their thumbs for another 5 to 7 years. A lab with lots of empty benches is not good for morale, and you have to fill up most of the benches or the place looks like it was deserted. It's like the professional sitters at the Academy Awards ceremony, the audience should look complete, like the ceremony was sold out. Hence, the need for "dead wood" in the research group. You may have been dead wood, but your boss may not wanted to demoralize you because you were doing such an excellent job sitting at your desk!

Permalink to Comment

176. weird one on August 15, 2010 7:57 PM writes...

A very good topic. As alternatives to chemistry, one should avoid any field that is currently, can be, or will be outourced. These masters of the universe care less about you, than this country. There is a reason why professions like medicine and pharmacy are still well respected, pay well, and have no employment problems, beside the fact that they have societies that actually car about there members. If we outsource all of the middle class jobs, who is going to be the consumer, that drives 70% of the US ecomomy. Just this week, we saw a huge buget deficit, coupled with an uptick in unemployment. I wonder why this is?
The best thing one should do is enjoy life, because it is short, and probably your only one to enjoy. If that involves blowing the best decade of your like working as a slave, working with toxic chemicals, only with an outcome of excluding you from the good things in life, like fame, prestige, fortune, money, or even a job, then so be it. For all the current or future students of this profession, you should think about this long and hard.

Permalink to Comment

177. Anonymous on August 15, 2010 11:40 PM writes...

I have applied for jobs in analytical, formulation, material sciences, teaching, agriculture and food industry. So far no positive responses yet. Haven't figure out what I shall do next. It is very hard for someone working in organic/medicinal chemistry for 20 years and having no other skills/experiences.

Permalink to Comment

178. cliffintokyo on August 16, 2010 9:30 PM writes...

#156 TLC. My advice:
You should finish what you are doing, and then move on. This is probably the *real* message from the people posting on this blog who have shifted gears *since chemistry*.
Self-initiated life-changing action *while still young* was 'good Karma' for me. (Mid-life/career *restructuring* is a totally different, and often intensely negative, experience).
However, showing that you can bring a project to a satisfactory 'conclusion' (which could be a 'SWOT' type strategic analysis, and 'what needs to be done next') is very important and looks good on your CV whatever you decide to do later; not to mention the *brain training* aspect, which is valuable in any future career.
Your research advisor can best explain how to *write-up*, but will not volunteer to help in my experience (perhaps because he is *too busy*?). You have to be prepared to be persistent to get the 'big picture' info. People who complain that they are *lab slaves* are the ones who don't *bother* to ask/find out (anything, ever; its their own fault?). Don't be in awe, and make your advisor do his job. If they can't (dysfunctional comm type) or won't (arrogant comm type) 'advise' you, complain like hell to the admin.

Permalink to Comment

179. Random Atom on August 17, 2010 12:59 AM writes...

@ 66 @ 67 Skeptic -

You need to shut down your pseudo-intellectual horse-pie. Speak up if you have something original, creative, positive to share.

Permalink to Comment

180. undergrad on August 17, 2010 9:10 PM writes...

Hey all; as an undergraduate chem major with grad-school plans, this thread is scaring the pants off me.

One thing that hasn't been given a lot of discussion yet -- what about chemical engineering? A lot of Chem.E. MS/Ph.D. programs admit chem undergrads. People always tout the employability of the engineering fields. Would that job market offer more yield, so to speak?

Permalink to Comment

181. Anonymous on August 17, 2010 10:09 PM writes...

Seems like a degree in chemical dependance is the only path to follow. LOL Just kidding

Permalink to Comment

182. Anonymous on August 17, 2010 10:15 PM writes...

An advanced degree that is!

Permalink to Comment

183. Anonymous on August 18, 2010 3:24 AM writes...

"what about chemical engineering?"

Engineering in any field is still reasonably robust with one big proviso - you will have to be prepared to travel whereever and whenever you are needed. No-one is building serious amounts of chemical plant in the West anymore so you would be based elsewhere.

Permalink to Comment

184. Bucky on August 18, 2010 12:12 PM writes...

Will be very interesting to see how many Med-chemists continue to go to ACS in a week.

I think this kind of topic should be urgently discussed there as much as on a blog like this.
Hey forget all the back slapping and cr@ppy awards.

According to an email from the ACS..
"There will be approximately 8,000 presentations on new discoveries that span the horizon of science on topics ranging from the meeting theme of "Chemistry for Preventing & Combating Disease" to food and the environment" about just one on the future of medicinal chemistry in the Western hemisphere?

I am not a chemist but the biology community will not be far behind in offshoring I started to see this about a decade ago in big pharma with PK and animal studies going to CROs then a certain very big Chinese CRO started to offer Preclinical assays. Before you know it all synthesis and biology will be gone in pharma..all that will be left are people chasing up the studies..and they may as well be telemarketers - now there is a job for you.

The opportunity in drug discovery is doing as much as possible yourself. This may be shift the industry needs because if a company of 50,000 people can barely manage to bring to market 1 drug a year, it deserves to disappear.

Permalink to Comment

185. myma on August 18, 2010 2:00 PM writes...

Learn chinese. Move there.

Permalink to Comment

186. Anonymous on August 19, 2010 12:26 PM writes...

#180 hopefully you are still reading this discussion.

Chemical engineering offers two advantages over chemistry: 1) you can practice your craft with just a Bachelor degree; 2) far fewer chemical engineers graduate each year as compared to chemists. However, a couple years ago there was an article in Businessweek on the plight of the chemistry industry in America, titled: US: failing chemistry. It spoke about the fact that 70 chemical plants were dismantled in 2004 and that another 40 plants were headed to the scrap heap in 2005. It also presented a very interesting number: 50 new one billion dollar plants will be constructed in China for every one such plant slated for construction in the US in 2005. Of course that number doesn't even begin to speak to growth of this industry in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, South America or Singapore. It also mentioned that the jobs are following the plants. Specifically, it listed 200 science and engineering jobs that Dupont was moving to Shanghai from Wilmington DE.

Back in the late 60s when the space race was winding down a lot of my friend's fathers who were engineers lost the careers (jobs) in the aerospace industry. The saddest memory I have of that era was from when I was working at my 1972 summer job at Pepsi. The guy working next to me on the bottling line was a senior telemetry expert who had worked on some of the most important Cold War rocket projects of the 1950's. There he was, a late 40s-something white guy standing in his soiled, tattered white collar clothes struggling to put Pepsi bottles in cartons. It got so bad that a 1972 made-for-TV movie: The Great American Tragedy- staring George Kennedy chronicled this time through the eyes of an aerospace engineer who loses his job, lifestyle and almost everything else in his life at the end of the race to the moon.

A lot of my friends who got engineering degrees had a very hard time finding jobs in the early 70s.

In the early 80s the price of oil collapsed and the oil industry downsized its petroleum engineering staffing so much that the demand for petroleum engineers graduating from college dropped from about 2500 per year to around 200 per year in 2007. Several PE departments around the country have even disappeared. Chemical engineers were just so much collateral damage back then.

Bottom line: engineering is a profession just like chemistry, so buyer beware!

Permalink to Comment

187. Charles Abrams on August 19, 2010 5:34 PM writes...

If you live in the Chicago area and are qualified to teach chemistry (MS or higher degree), we are looking for an adjunct faculty to teach basic chemistry. Please get in touch with me by email.

Permalink to Comment

188. Former precess chemist on August 23, 2010 5:37 AM writes...

I went to CAS. I read chemistry all day, but the job is not that of a chemist. As far as a job goes, it's ok, hours, benefits.

THE PAY ROTS and you won't get a chemist job again, so be careful.

Don't know if it was the best move, but I'm here and making the best of it. Just wanted to mention the possibility because jobs are tight.

Permalink to Comment

189. john pao on November 30, 2010 11:48 PM writes...

im very much interested in the field of chemistry but lately it seems that there is more money to be made in with a B.S. in chemical engineering than B.S. in Chem. From what i've researched, chemistry jobs are more in the manufacturing business like pesticides but there has been a big increase in the outsourcing of jobs to smaller firms that do R&D and other stuff by companies, and at times those outsourced jobs are not within the country itself. I mean it wont be hard for me to switch from chemistry to chamical engineering but would it be harder profession being a chem. engineer? would it give me better job protection?

i dont really know that as of yet, but for now im gonna stick with my major in chemistry and my minor in criminal justice, just to be more diverse in which perhaps i can find myself in forensics, but i really prefer to have a career based on chemistry (and no Teaching is outta of the question)..

Im really excited for my future (fingers crossed), with me entering my sophomore year at a university, i hope that my choice to be a chemist wont disappoint me.

Permalink to Comment

190. khratit on December 2, 2010 9:51 AM writes...

I'm a Pharm Sci graduate from singapore, worked as a chemist in a petrochemical lab before as a part timer. My team consisted of just 1 other chemist. She was hired because she could take the low wages. I just wanted exposure. She wasn't a very bright girl but most companies here don't really need smart asses as much as they need zombies.

I enjoyed working in that petrolchemical lab, no matter how putrid the smell was, how mundane or routine tasks were. This coming from the only guy in med chem class who noticed tautomerism in a benzodiazepine analog and put it in his lab report.

They terminated that girl's contract after a year. The company's product was considered too insignificant to have any effect on yield. Our section was terminated. So was her unborn foetus. She wanted that badly to keep her job.

I got a job in lab animal science 8 months later. The wages are modest, and the only chemistry I do now is mixing up sodium hypochlorite. Still applying for chem lab jobs, no employer wants to touch my resume. They aren't willing to match my wages.

Permalink to Comment

191. Hmmmm on February 6, 2011 12:27 AM writes...

What is a good career change move to make if you are good at math?

Permalink to Comment

192. Anonymous on December 14, 2011 2:54 AM writes...

"Haha, this sounds like the typical dogma that comes from the rite-of-passage, fuedal system school of thought that's found in organic chemistry - in the same vein as the fear mongering that keeps organic chemistry grad students in the lab 12 hours a day, 6 days a week."

Fricking. Thank. you.

Permalink to Comment

193. Ada on June 2, 2012 6:04 AM writes...

I agree with Rick Get, 131 post, that is exactly what is happening today in academia, chemistry schools today have strong business and marketing streak. Re:medicinal chemists, we were not to blame, we can't solve the mysteries of universe at the molecular level, we can only experiment and test. We are not medicinal Einsteins. Anyway new drugs design is a multi-disciplinary field, why blaming only medicinal chemists. The truth is manufacturing is moving overseas, and R&D follows. Where the chemists in Europe and USA have stopped, Chinese and Indian chemists will continue.

Permalink to Comment

194. Anonymous on November 30, 2012 10:58 AM writes...

anyone thinks of becoming a regulatory specialist?

Permalink to Comment

195. Jason on December 18, 2012 9:05 PM writes...

I have two paths to choose from and would appreciate feedback
1 finish my Chemistry degree ( 2 yrs left)
2 take out a business loan and invest in my locksmith company ( 5 yrs experience 3 months of doing it on my own)

Based on these posts the locksmith option seems good. However I wonder what doors could be opened if I finished school. Today I walked into a business called DiaSorin (they build medical devices ) and I asked a women there how many chemists they employed and she said she knew a couple people that had a chemistry degree but that she was a biology major and was hires. Then she asked me if I had a chemistry degree. I lied for whatever reason and said yes. she handed me a card and said that I should put In a resume and that she loves her job and is treated very well. Which gave me hope for finding a job if I did get a degree. I live in Minnesota and attend the U of M.

Permalink to Comment

196. Jason on December 18, 2012 9:06 PM writes...

I have two paths to choose from and would appreciate feedback
1 finish my Chemistry degree ( 2 yrs left)
2 take out a business loan and invest in my locksmith company ( 5 yrs experience 3 months of doing it on my own)

Based on these posts the locksmith option seems good. However I wonder what doors could be opened if I finished school. Today I walked into a business called DiaSorin (they build medical devices ) and I asked a women there how many chemists they employed and she said she knew a couple people that had a chemistry degree but that she was a biology major and was hires. Then she asked me if I had a chemistry degree. I lied for whatever reason and said yes. she handed me a card and said that I should put In a resume and that she loves her job and is treated very well. Which gave me hope for finding a job if I did get a degree. I live in Minnesota and attend the U of M.

Permalink to Comment

197. Laura on December 22, 2013 11:58 AM writes...

Currently starting to write my organic synthetic chemistry thesis and now starting to freakkkk out! I’ve realised I do not want to do bench chemistry for a living and I have no idea what I can do!!! I’m good at analysing data and enjoy to do monotonous tasks that people tend to hate I.e analysing nmrs, organising, typing (not scientific writing). I want a job that has an aspect of science but doesn’t require me to be the sharpest brain around!!! I struggle with synthesis/bench work because my brain is not quick enough and I tend to require a bit of time to “think” about a problem!! I'm really good at communication and presentations Please help xxx

Permalink to Comment

198. walter white on January 14, 2014 8:14 PM writes...

Heisenberg. Blue sky.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

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