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

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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

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

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June 24, 2011

Telling Everyone What It's Like

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Posted by Derek

Here's a op-ed from Josh Bloom (ex-Wyeth) in the New York Post that will resonate with a lot of people out there. A sample:

The folks at Scientific American have launched "1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days" -- a program to bring together scientists, teachers and students to improve America's "dismal" showing among wealthy countries (27th out of 29) in graduating college students with degrees in science or engineering. I'm sure they mean well -- but, at least as it applies to the field of chemistry, "1,000 Unemployed Scientists Living With Their Parents at Age 35 While Working at the Gap" would be a better name.

He goes on to tell the readership what it's been like in drug discovery over the last few years, and it'll probably be news to many of them. I'm glad that people are getting the word out!

Comments (98) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Press Coverage


1. Anonymous on June 24, 2011 11:10 AM writes...

Amem brother....I'm very lucky as I transitioned into regulatory affairs after 15+ years in drug discovery as a Ph.D. Scientist. Many of my peers have not been as lucky.

It wasn't easy but really I had read the tea leaves and created a transition plan after my first layoff. It definitely paid off. I'm making a living and back to enjoying my job. I feel very fortunate but also it is the result of perserverance,working hard to get here and definitely some luck.

I'm afraid with the really poor economic recovery there just aren't that many jobs for PhDs to transfer into.

A quick survey of my old chemistry/biology PhD colleagues:

1. 20 plus years exp - now a luthier making guitars
2. 15 plust years exp - now a realator
3. 16 plus years - opening a small frozen yogurt store.

Ok its a small sample size but I can go on and on. No PhD level jobs and really not that many "other" transitional jobs to move into.

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2. anon on June 24, 2011 11:21 AM writes...

Also saw this over on chemjobber. Have heard chemistry being compared to steel mill jobs in the past by some coworkers, and it is good to have a second career plan in place (but hard to figure out what to do in this bad economy).

One of my (and Derek's) former coworkers started a company to sell disposable plastic filter funnels. Hopefully Derek won't mind the shout out -, products are also sold through Fisher. Ed is developing alot of other products beyond what is on this website, as people ask for items to meet their needs. The funnels are great and inexpensive - nice not to have to deal with palladium or other junk that seems like it's permanently stuck on your glass fritted funnel, and the celite packing materials stay a nice uniform layer throughout the filtration.

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3. SteveM on June 24, 2011 11:25 AM writes...

According to Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, you American born scientists just aren't good enough.

Comment engine blocks comments with web references so to read article search:

Bloomberg AND "Lilly CEO Says Immigration Boosts Innovation".

For C Level Pharma management, H-1B's are like insurance, they can never have enough...

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4. You're Pfizered on June 24, 2011 11:32 AM writes...

Here's the link to the interview #3 mentioned.

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5. Chemist on June 24, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

What advise experienced folks would give to a graduating PhD in organic chemistry who has a job lined up at Intel (Process Engineer though nothing to do with Org. Chem. ) and Postdoc ? What should he choose ?

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6. SteveM on June 24, 2011 11:38 AM writes...

Re: You're Pfizered

Thanks, see the full Bloomberg story at his reference page.

BTW, when I insert a link in a comment, the Comment Engine holds the comment for review and it never shows.

Maybe I'm a dilettante-non-grata...

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7. CR on June 24, 2011 11:46 AM writes...

@#5, Chemist:

No offense, but you should be smart enough with a Ph.D. to know the answer to that question. If you really are asking for an answer, I would have to question your Ph.D. May be harsh, but come on, you cannot really be asking this question for honest answers...

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8. milo on June 24, 2011 11:55 AM writes...


Go back to school for a degree as a medical records speacialist. Or open a frozen yogurt shop.

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9. Chemist on June 24, 2011 12:01 PM writes...

@CR. No Offense taken..The reason I asked is uncertainty of pharmaceutical industry. I like what I do but what after 2/ more years of postdoc. I am just confused if I should run away from this field or wait for things to improve. May be I am dumb to ask this but I need some guidance here.

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10. SteveM on June 24, 2011 12:09 PM writes...

Re: #9 Chemist

You could move to Chindia and apply for a job in the States as an H-1B applicant. Sorta a like pharmaceutical re-importation, only for scientists.

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11. Larry on June 24, 2011 12:12 PM writes...

@9 said "Or open a frozen yogurt shop. "

That is a very price sensitive business. You think its all automated with the customers putting on the grossly over-priced condiments themseleves. But your customers are mostly kids without much dough.

Local yogurt store opened up couple years back. Did well for one year until a more established deli with excess space decided to buy a few of the yogurt machines (~$5000 a pop).

Since it was not deli's core business they under-sold their competitor by 50 cents an ounce. Within six months the once successful yogurt shop was history. Of course now the deli has raised its prices on yogurt.

So be very careful on considering such a business.

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12. Toad on June 24, 2011 12:35 PM writes...

True, Bloom's article gets the word out but I do have a problem with one detail mentioned in the article.

In addition to misspelling BMS, he states they "offered cars as signing bonuses". I was intimately involved with PhD and non-PhD hiring in discovery chemistry there during the mid-'90s and never saw, heard, or heard rumors of such, at any level or in any of the science positions. Without knowing the instance(s) he is referring to, I will give him the benefit of the doubt of second- or third-hand knowledge or exaggeration of a specific instance. At least with chemists, rarely was any "additional" compensation considered or granted.

Either way, this is the type of NY Post-style communication that makes me question whether any reader can feel that they are provided with an objective piece of journalism.

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13. Fries With That? on June 24, 2011 1:16 PM writes...

To Post Number 1, are you afraid of regulatory being outsourced too? Are you European or USA based? Are there any careers anymore in drug discovery that are exempt from outsourcing besides being the CEO? We certainly know anything done at a bench can be shipped out, what about non-bench functions?

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14. anchor on June 24, 2011 1:17 PM writes...

This indeed is very sobering article. Those who are still in the job block can relate to him and those who do have a job out to be worried. I am really pissed off that ACS (you are welcome and am still paying my dues!) that it is sugar coating this issue and is not bringing stories as these more in open for all to see. My question for the general audience is how are the biologists faring? I mean in medicinal chemistry as we know it, biology is the driver. Are these jobs also outsourced to Chindia?

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15. Josh Bloom on June 24, 2011 1:27 PM writes...

So BMS got misspelled. You got me.
But I know for a fact that they were offering signing bonuses for chemists in the 90s. Several of my former colleagues took them. I don't have the license plate numbers of any of the cars mentioned, but I heard this from a number of different people, some quite reliable. Either way, it's a rather small point.
Finally, I don't work for the Post. This was an outside submission. Think what you want about them, but there is nothing in my editorial that I don't stand by. And their sports section is the best, bar none.

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16. Anonymous on June 24, 2011 1:27 PM writes...

"The Royal Society of Chemistry estimated that nearly 6,000 jobs have gone over the last 12 months from UK drugs and science firms."

Maybe the ACS can come up with the US number? Nope, that would not be consistant with their smiley face - what me worry view of the US chemistry world.

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17. Virgil on June 24, 2011 1:30 PM writes...

Of course, what the author fails to recognize, is the entire premise behind the Sci-Am 1000 program!

It's not just about getting more kids to pursue careers in science (although if that happens I disagree it will be a problem), it's actually about improving the scientific literacy of high school graduates. What exactly is the problem with having kids that leave school knowing more science? Maybe they won't get sick so often and put their faith in homeopathy and quack medicines, they will do something about environmental problems, they will be better at math so they won't take out silly mortgages that almost bankrupt the whole planet.

Of course, I expected the "H1-B's are killing us" line to rear its ugly head, as it always does when discussing unemployment. Please go back to your cave. For every US worker whose job was "stolen" by an H1-B, I will show you 10 more who depend on immigrants (who came here as H1-Bs) for their jobs.

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18. CR on June 24, 2011 1:39 PM writes...

@15, Josh Bloom:

"So BMS got misspelled. You got me.
But I know for a fact that they were offering signing bonuses for chemists in the 90s. Several of my former colleagues took them. I don't have the license plate numbers of any of the cars mentioned, but I heard this from a number of different people, some quite reliable."

There is quite a difference between signing bonuses and cars being handed out. There is no doubt that signing bonuses were being given out in the '90s and early 00's (I was one that got a signing bonus, not from BMS but a competitor). However, many of my colleagues compared "bonuses" (some at BMS) and not once were cars being given as signing bonuses. Did your "reliable sources" use their signing bonuses to buy cars, probably more the case.

However, #12, Toad's point is a good one. When there are errors (misspelling) and over-exaggerations, then one has to wonder about the piece as a whole. And, he didn't state you worked for the Post, rather, these overexaggerated sensationalistic pieces are par for the course for the Post (Enquirer).

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19. dichotomous on June 24, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

#9 Chemist: if you don't passionately love organic chemistry, don't do the postdoc. You're facing at best a shrinking market with few opportunities. If you don't have the extreme passion to outwork everyone or can't live with the regret of not trying to make it in academia, you probably won't make it.

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20. Laura on June 24, 2011 1:54 PM writes...

@ 17 said "Of course, I expected the "H1-B's are killing us" line to rear its ugly head, as it always does when discussing unemployment. Please go back to your cave. For every US worker whose job was "stolen" by an H1-B, I will show you 10 more who depend on immigrants (who came here as H1-Bs) for their jobs."

Please go back to your foreign cave Virgil. No real American (beyond a CEO or ACS sycophant) would utter such words. We don't want you here.

You don't belong here since the premise for your presence is a fictitious shortage of scientists.

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21. marmot on June 24, 2011 2:01 PM writes...

@ #11: Fascinating discourse about the yogurt biz, but I think #8 meant that comment to be tongue in cheek. Just saying...

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22. Anon on June 24, 2011 2:04 PM writes...

Oh, I got a car. A nice shiny BMW, fully loaded. Take that '90's...

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23. Anonymous on June 24, 2011 2:13 PM writes...

Too much money was wasted in the 90s. Too few products came to the market. Blame who?

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24. RespiSci on June 24, 2011 2:15 PM writes...

Josh Bloom in his article wrote "We don't need more scientists -- not unless there are jobs for them."

But do we agree that there is a need for more drugs? (let's count the number of unmet medical needs and indications...) So why aren't there the jobs? I'm aware that many jobs have been outsourced to China and India, and there are excellent scientists in those countries, but really how successful has that model been working? Are more drugs being made and approved? Are they getting to NDA more cheaply than before?

Am I the only one pulling my hair in frustration?

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25. SteveM on June 24, 2011 2:18 PM writes...

Re: #20 Laura, Re: #17 Virgil

Thank you Laura. Re: Virgil:

"For every US worker whose job was "stolen" by an H1-B, I will show you 10 more who depend on immigrants (who came here as H1-Bs) for their jobs."

Stupid, sloppy logic. Probably an H-1B recruiter. Like Laura mentions, the focus is "CHEMISTS". Not H-1B's doing anything else.

Let Virgil point out the labor shortfall data of that specific job category to justify importing another glut of H-1B CHEMISTS.

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26. CR on June 24, 2011 2:42 PM writes...

@24, RespiSci:

"But do we agree that there is a need for more drugs? (let's count the number of unmet medical needs and indications...) So why aren't there the jobs? I'm aware that many jobs have been outsourced to China and India, and there are excellent scientists in those countries, but really how successful has that model been working? Are more drugs being made and approved? Are they getting to NDA more cheaply than before?"

The question about how well the outsourcing to China/India is working cannot be asked yet. The answer? Too soon to tell.

Everyone on this board knows that as well (whether they want to admit it or not). One must evaluate the drug discovery process in decade (or 2 decade) increments and I don't believe the true outsourcing model was put into effect until just a few years ago. Yes, there was outsourcing for compounds; but not full-scale outsourcing. If there is someone on this board that wants to say this model has failed given it's short lifetime, then they must admit the American based model has also failed due to the shortage of drugs recently.

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27. CMCguy on June 24, 2011 2:58 PM writes...

#17 Virgil I took the SM-1000 comment as a bit of hyperbolic means to illustrate the plight of chemist today (and Josh could confirm or correct that) and as laudable as improving public awareness is I personally find it difficult to reconcile such education efforts that simultaneously attempt to promote Science & Engineering as good career choices. Although agree there is a dearth of young people being schooled in the fields the constant proclamations of shortages don't seem to match the reality that exists (except in rare areas). The calls for more H1-B immigrants, that formerly I believe was a mechanism to attract the best and brightest in technical areas, now seems more a tool businesses to keep wages suppressed (which creates the cycle of lack of interest).

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28. Hap on June 24, 2011 3:00 PM writes...

I thought H-1Bs had to have a job - if they're being hired, and head count is falling pretty much everywhere, someone's losing their job in order to hire them (if they are being hired at all). They can't come and generate a startup to generate more jobs because I don't think their visas would hold. If they come up with something better than the person they displaced, or the money they helped save (assuming they were hired for less money) was used to find something that generated more jobs, but that's so multifactorial that it'd be tough to claim that the H-1B hiree created X new jobs.

The bigger problem with SA's push for scientific literacy is that it isn't valued. On issues of science, the facts don't seem to matter. If you can only with difficulty make a living doing science and familiarity with it and logical thinking about it aren't respected or valued, why are students going to spend time learning it? We've sent the message loud and clear that money is what matters, and that science probably doesn't. Telling people something matters with words while telling them the opposite in every other way is probably unproductive, unless the hypocrisy of the world is your ultimate lesson.

23: Lots of people. Some of the blame should go to the people who did it. Probably more to the people who led and managed the research. Of course, when the bill came due, who actually got the blame? (And, just like with public-service unions and auto workers before them, when things were good, who got the jack?)

25: OSIL needs to be evaluated overall in the long-term, but the people implementing it will probably not be held accountable if it fails in the long-term and will probably get paid lots in the short term (because it likely cuts costs in that term). That is not a recipe for pharma success, no?

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29. startup on June 24, 2011 3:05 PM writes...

H1-B's are a non-issue really, because although they increase the competition for the available jobs, they are not reducing the actual number of jobs in this country, outsourcing does.

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30. Josh Bloom on June 24, 2011 3:17 PM writes...

12 and 18. Hate to burst your bubble, but I don't work for the Enquirer, People Magazine or Penthouse. If you had bothered to finish the article you would see that I work for the American Council on Science and Health, a non-profit health advocacy group in New York. We write pieces for many different places. Wall St. Journal (is that a rag too?) Investors Business Daily, LA Times, Financial Times of London, National Review, Forbes, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, .......

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31. Jose on June 24, 2011 3:50 PM writes...

Not sure anyone actually got a car as a signing bonus (hard to see how that would even work, tax- and paperwork-wise) but I know *plenty* of people in the 90's and even into early '00s who got such massive signing bonuses that the purchase of a fancy car was the very , very first thing they did....

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32. About Chemistry on June 24, 2011 5:13 PM writes...

Another rant that could've have been placed in the Chemistry Rant Hall of Flaming Chemists:

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33. Daniel on June 24, 2011 6:00 PM writes...

It's only going to get wo