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

« Caring About Yields? | Main | Time For An Election Post »

November 5, 2012

C&E News: No Smiley Face This Time

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

For those who have been complaining that Chemical and Engineering News has been minimizing the employment situation for chemists, try this article. Note before you read: it's about as worrisome and depressing as it can be, and will absolutely give you the shakes whether you're currently employed or not. But for its subjects (and the other people in such situations) it's reality.

Comments (70) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. road on November 5, 2012 9:17 AM writes...

Ugh... what a way to start a Monday morning...

Permalink to Comment

2. Harry on November 5, 2012 9:21 AM writes...

Finally, a bit of enlightenment filters into the cocoon.

I don't really see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel, either. Hopefully, the availablilty of cheap natural gas will lead to some onshoring of petrochemicals. This might lead to some trickle-down effects.

I don't see pharma picking up any of the slack, especially if Obamacare isn't repealed, or at least heavily modified. With basically monopsony buying power, and heavy price controls and rationing coming down the pike there won't be a lot of incentive to drop a few hundred million on a new drug.

Definitely a bleak picture, but if we're to do anything to adress the situation we have to face the facts.

Permalink to Comment

3. Chemjobber on November 5, 2012 9:33 AM writes...

For those who want to get to the other articles in the employment section, click on my handle.

With the exception of the article that handles the statistics (which are none too pretty), every single article has some of the awful, awful, awful human stories that are coming out of the continuing Great Recession in pharma.

Permalink to Comment

4. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 10:03 AM writes...

Should young PhD chemists be focused on getting out of industry and tenure track positions to prevent this from happening when they are more advanced?

Permalink to Comment

5. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 10:05 AM writes...

*sorry, previous comment should read:

Should young PhD chemists be focused on getting out of industry and into tenure track positions to prevent this from happening when they are more advanced?

Permalink to Comment

6. Chemjobber on November 5, 2012 10:16 AM writes...

@5: From ACS' March 2012 Salary Survey data:

Industrial chemist unemployment: 5.4%
Academic chemist unemployment: 2.2%

Permalink to Comment

7. AnotherChemist on November 5, 2012 10:18 AM writes...

The article definitely confirms my observations of fellow chemists. Long periods of unemployment, punctuated by low paying gigs in academia, contracts or just plain low skill part time jobs. Work is work, but does anyone really want to spend 7-9 yrs training for a job that does not exist. These jobs really are leaving the US for good.

Permalink to Comment

8. John Wayne on November 5, 2012 10:22 AM writes...

@5 That is not a bad plan, but the problem with it is (1) everybody can't do that, and (2) then you would be a professor. If that is what you love, that is a good thing. If it is something you would just do, it may be a bad move.

The current job situation encourages each of us in chemistry to ask ourselves what we really want to do when we grow up. Once we understand ourselves enough to be able to answer that, we can hope there is some happiness and stability in our desires. Personally, I love chemistry, so I am a little boned :)

Permalink to Comment

9. Youssef on November 5, 2012 10:31 AM writes...

Well... this is not happening only into U.S., I´m a mexican chemist (with a M. Sc.) working in the field of Chemical and Process R&D but when I lost my job two years ago I need 10 months to get another.
After 35 interviews i got a horrible job ...

The most depressing thing is that I´m 31 years old.
Take care and good luck

Permalink to Comment

10. Thomas McEntee on November 5, 2012 10:33 AM writes...

And how many fresh-faced filled-with-optimism students started graduate school in chemistry this fall? What's happened to middle-aged and older chemists is appalling but someone once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result... Madeleine Jacobs' remarks seem like too little, too late.

Speaking of Ponzi academiae, the Washington Post's Sunday magazine, 11/02/2012, ran a story on the cost of law school and, oh by the way, is it worth the expense? Check out tinyurl-dot-com/angybnp. One snippet gives you a sense of where the legal profession is in the game: "The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 73,600 new lawyer jobs from 2010 to 2020. But just three years into that decade, about 132,757 new lawyers have hit the job market." Unlike chemists, to practice law, you have to be licensed to practice in one state on another and that precludes a lot of jobs being outsourced offshore.

Permalink to Comment

11. Eric on November 5, 2012 11:01 AM writes...

I'm a graduate student looking to graduate within the next year or two, and somehow I can't feel bad for a lot of these people. Oh, you had to sell your boat? Can't get a big screen tv? Had to move out of your affluent neighborhood? Boo hoo. Welcome to the club that the rest of the world belongs to. A lot of these people seem entitled to their novelties. I do feel bad that they lost their jobs and their futures are in the air, and I feel bad for people that had to dig into 401k or can no longer set up college funds for their kids, but to cry over such things like having to sell your boat - I don't feel bad and you should get over it.

Permalink to Comment

12. Seymour on November 5, 2012 11:04 AM writes...

Excellent link Derek. As a formality, when you link to C&EN articles, could you note your relationship to their Editorial Board? Your regular readers are aware of your advisory role, but newbies may not be.

Permalink to Comment

13. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 11:16 AM writes...

I find it to be in poor taste that Madeleine Jacobs' comment gets the final word, effectively trying to negate the theme of the rest of the article by expressing the need to keep drawing people into science education.

Permalink to Comment

14. majavit on November 5, 2012 11:17 AM writes...

@eric congratulations on the observation!!!! When we finished our grad schools or PhDs, nobody promised it would be easy! It does'nt mean that you only have to be smart and work hard and everything else will come along.

Permalink to Comment

15. Chemjobber on November 5, 2012 11:21 AM writes...

11: Eric, don't you think "I used to be affluent, now I am not, and perhaps never will be" is a somewhat more difficult cross to bear than "I have never been affluent"?

I also note that the gentleman in question is 59 years old -- believe it or not, you have much, much, much greater career flexibility than he will have, from here on out.

Permalink to Comment

16. Canageek on November 5, 2012 11:23 AM writes...

Man, every time I read stuff like this my desire to become a spectroscopist rises, as I know there is a shortage of them.

Permalink to Comment

17. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on November 5, 2012 11:28 AM writes...

It's nice to see this reality recognized in C&EN. We've all known this is the new reality for a long time now, and these stories really are heartbreaking. I'm just glad I changed career paths before all this sh*t hit the fan, though I would give anything to be working in a healthy drug discovery environment again.

The component lacking from this article was an explanation of what ACS plans to do about it, if anything. Any policies to advocate for? Or just throw their hands in the air and say "tough times, but we really need more people to go into chemistry and keep feeding the monkey". Other than publish C&EN and some very expensive journals, what exactly does ACS do for its membership?

Permalink to Comment

18. Derek Lowe on November 5, 2012 11:29 AM writes...

#12 Seymour - that's not a bad idea. My term on the editorial board is up this year, though - technically, I'm still on it, but I believe that my duties pretty much ended with the recent board meeting in DC.

Permalink to Comment

19. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 11:40 AM writes...

I'm not keen on the way he expressed it, but Eric has a point. Having people complain about not being able to buy the latest iphone / flat screen TV feels very wrong in the context of such a serious (and depressing) article

Permalink to Comment

20. drug_hunter on November 5, 2012 11:47 AM writes...

A serious question: if someone is truly passionate about chemistry, and wants to go to grad school, and has a lot of energy and drive and is not highly driven by financial reward, who here would still try to talk them out of it? Put another way, how should we titrate down the number of chemistry PhD we produce in this country? I realize that times are tough but are we suggesting that literally no one should go after their PhD ? What's the "right number" ?

Permalink to Comment

21. #5 (conflicted chemist) on November 5, 2012 11:49 AM writes...

The reason I asked the question is that I am a recent hire into industry (not pharma, but chemicals). I had a great grad school and post-doc experience (lots of publications, made good connections) but thought I wanted to give industry a try. Now I find myself missing student interaction, writing papers and I feel like my hands are tied from a research standpoint due to the govt regulations on my specific area of industry as well as limitations on what my company can do from a scale-up standpoint. I know I could succeed in academia, but I figured industry would be fine too and I would make more money, have more free time, etc. Now that I have those things, I'm not so sure if it was a good decision.

Permalink to Comment

22. Glen on November 5, 2012 11:52 AM writes...

I have mixed feelings about the change is the way the unemployment picture for ACS members (and nonmember chemists) is portrayed. I'm glad they're finally listening to their membership and telling it like it is—maybe this will translate to actually offering some tangible help. On the other hand, I can no longer delude myself into thinking that maybe it's just my perception, and things aren't really as bad as they seem.

Permalink to Comment

23. heretic on November 5, 2012 11:52 AM writes...

I wonder what will happen in academia when grant money really shrinks along with universities not doing the tenure track. As for pharma- how many corporations are run by persons who actually had a part of putting a drug on the market? Easy isn't it!

Permalink to Comment

24. anchor on November 5, 2012 11:57 AM writes...

@ 2-Now, don’t get me started. I am referring to your "Obamacare" comments. We could go on and on slice and dice about its merit or lack thereof. At the end of the day, that policy is helping me to enroll my daughter in my insurance (until she turns 26) and for now am sure it is helping others as well. I could have been Eric or Jeff or for that matter Alice in that C&E News profile and I am a middle aged man who was let go from big pharma. But, I was lucky to land on my legs, after 9 months on the job block). It just breaks my heart that many of my fellow chemists were deemed expendable and they are still on the look out!
@ 11-Very insensitive comment dude!

Permalink to Comment

25. RTW on November 5, 2012 12:38 PM writes...

PhD, PhD, PhD - sick of hearing about them. What about the BS, and MS Chemists pushed out the door for no other reason that after 20+ years they cost too much to retain. Industry can hire younger cheaper PhD's outside the country for a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio! Just because you have a PhD doesn't mean you are any greater a researcher than many people displaced with just a BS degree. They likely had much more practical lab experience than the younger PhD that seldom if ever sets up a reactoin anymore and that is directing them. Remember that in the hayday of the industry when drugs were actually making it out the door, there were far more BS/MS chemists to a PhD than today. Many of those BS/MS people were directly responsible for a lot of the work that got done, and some even responsible for major discoveries. Quit minimizing our contribution! How about a bit of commentary about the MANY BS/MS folks that are still looking for jobs now taken by PhD's because a company can get one of them for about what they would have paid someone with an MS not so long ago!

Permalink to Comment

26. anonymous on November 5, 2012 12:47 PM writes...

As a former research chemist who was let go in 2007 from a large health care company who is now teaching as an adjunct at a number of colleges and universities; I too have felt the pain of economic loss. It is truly sad what has happened to the careers of so many chemists in this country. I am now 58 years old and was laid off at 53; it is truly hard at this age to land a job that pays anywhere near to what Ph.D chemists are paid in industry. It is about time C & E News recgonize the depth of this problem and something needs to be done about this. Eventually this can become a national security problem if all our synthetic chemistry is outsourced overseas; what happens in a time of national crisis where the supply of drugs and chemicals could be cut off from shipment to the US? I no longer encourage my children or young people to go into chemistry as a career.

Permalink to Comment

27. anonymous on November 5, 2012 12:48 PM writes...

As a former research chemist who was let go in 2007 from a large health care company who is now teaching as an adjunct at a number of colleges and universities; I too have felt the pain of economic loss. It is truly sad what has happened to the careers of so many chemists in this country. I am now 58 years old and was laid off at 53; it is truly hard at this age to land a job that pays anywhere near to what Ph.D chemists are paid in industry. It is about time C & E News recgonize the depth of this problem and something needs to be done about this. Eventually this can become a national security problem if all our synthetic chemistry is outsourced overseas; what happens in a time of national crisis where the supply of drugs and chemicals could be cut off from shipment to the US? I no longer encourage my children or young people to go into chemistry as a career.

Permalink to Comment

28. anonymous on November 5, 2012 12:51 PM writes...

Per 25 this comment also applies to the wonderful BS and MS chemists I worked with in industry who were also subjected to these layoffs and career terminations they also need to be recognized for their contributions and how they have also struggled

Permalink to Comment

29. Harry on November 5, 2012 1:20 PM writes...

@24 - I never said that the program didn't benefit some people. My opinion is that it will do enormous harm to many more than it benefits. I hope that is not the case, but having studied it in some detail, I don't see much reason for optimism.

Just my $0.02, YMMV.

Permalink to Comment

30. MoMo on November 5, 2012 1:56 PM writes...

The ACS should now be aware of the crisis, as they just pulled their collective heads out of their asses with this article.

Instead of fighting modern publishing evolution, pushing chemistry to high school kids and running a monopoly on information with the 1.1 billion in assets they have, they should be establishing a financial/welfare and benefits section for members in good standing that are unemployed.

The good old days are over ACS, so put that money to good use- the unemployed chemists that supported the ACS and their families.

Permalink to Comment

31. WTF on November 5, 2012 2:20 PM writes...

@ 30. MoM0- Welfare and benefits for unemployed members; do we call it ACScare or even better Jacobscare for the needy chemist?

You're delusional man!

Permalink to Comment

32. newnickname on November 5, 2012 2:29 PM writes...

@25: Quite a few years back, acknowledging that many BS/MS chemists in industry have accumulated more knowledge and know-how than many PhDs, someone suggested the creation of the "Industrial PhD", something to be EARNED, but more honorific than a certified credential.

One of my favorite stories about valuable NON-PhD coworkers is from Max Gergel's "Excuse Me, Sir". Quoting:

[...] I could make a gallon a day, arriving home with skin and lungs saturated with 2,3-dichloropropene. I needed help. An advertisement in the local newspaper resulted in an interview with a former producer of illicit spirits named Preacher who had just done penance tit the local penitentiary.

He listened carefully and approved of my method of production which he said might be improved with copper coils.

Immediately he began to enlarge our production room by removing a wall, putting in an extra table, and increasing the number of washtubs and reaction set-ups. It was amazing to see Preacher in action (I gave him encouragement through the window); he would walk up the aisles from set-up to set-up putting in first the caustic then the water, then fastening on the rubber stoppers and condenser, then using the hose. At this stage the room was a swirling mass of steam and 2,3-dichloropropene. We made a vast amount of material and shipped the complete order to DuPont on schedule.

As a part of our contract with them we had agreed to supply details of the production as well as innovations we might have discovered. I wrote them a complete description, giving credit to my indefatigable co-worker. Two weeks later I received a telegram with only two words. "Ship Preacher!" [...]

(Curiously, it is within a larger story about Gergel having convinced DuPont that they have too many chemists and that they should outsource their needs to him.)

Permalink to Comment

33. SteveM on November 5, 2012 3:04 PM writes...

BTW, Mitt Romney promises to "Staple a Green Card" to EVERY foreign born STEM graduate diploma.

The native born American scientists and engineers now pounding the pavement, can look forward to getting their tattered shoes resoled many times over...

Permalink to Comment

34. Happy Chemist on November 5, 2012 3:42 PM writes...

I am still employed as a chemist and very happy with my work. I've lived through the turmoil and expect more to come but I hope to carry on doing what I do for a long time. I count myself lucky, but being part of the 95% employed majority I'm not that lucky.
I wonder if the figures are better in other profession. I suspect not, I don't think chemists are being singled out.

Permalink to Comment

35. Josh on November 5, 2012 4:05 PM writes...

@Eric- You are an oblivious fool. If you think this is about flat-screen TVs, you will be in for quite a shock when you return to earth from whatever planet on which you currently reside. These are professionals, who spend 10 years of their lives being trained only to find themselves as useful as typewriter repairmen. These unfortunate souls are being RUINED. Their families, their health, their homes--all in jeopardy. Go ahead. Be a chemist. I hope you enjoy bagging groceries at night to supplement your income from your $10/hour job at The Gap.

Permalink to Comment

36. Anon on November 5, 2012 4:34 PM writes...

Yes, this is not about flat screen TVs and I can deeply sympathize with these unemployed chemists, but it does smack a little of elitism to complain that you are in such dire straits that you had to sell your - gasp - boat.

Permalink to Comment

37. MoMo on November 5, 2012 4:38 PM writes...

WTF- Hows working for the ACS? Your days are numbered, too.

The ACS should give back to the community of scientists that built it.

Permalink to Comment

38. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 4:48 PM writes...


Eric, your an idiot. Many of these older folks lived in an environment where if you worked hard and sacraficed to get a PhD, there was a decent job and a decent middle class lifestyle that went along with it. That was before it was decided to lay off thousands of chemists and send the jobs to China. Have fun in the unemployemnt line.

Permalink to Comment

39. MTK on November 5, 2012 5:16 PM writes...


I was thinking the same thing about that boat comment.

I get what they guy is saying, but considering what others have gone through, it's hard to work up real sympathy for someone now deprived of a jaunty sail about the lake.

Permalink to Comment

40. anon on November 5, 2012 5:19 PM writes...



Permalink to Comment

41. hit and run on November 5, 2012 6:12 PM writes...

@34 pretty sure it's unanimous across party lines that STEM jobs are icky and the more foreigners we can get to do them the better

Permalink to Comment

42. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 6:15 PM writes...

It's unfortunate that the promise of a decent lifestyle after getting a PhD did not materialize for many, but what would we do about it? You can't expect the world to change to give you what you think you deserve. None of these articles point out any objective issues; there is only talk about how individuals have been wronged by what is ostensibly rational change in society.

Permalink to Comment

43. H1Bvisa on November 5, 2012 6:31 PM writes...

If you see a job posted over and over again, don't bother applying, it's nothing more than a justification for an H1B visa hire. It's funny, given all the unemployed qualified chemists out there, that companies still prefer to hire an H1B candidate.

Permalink to Comment

44. dearieme on November 5, 2012 6:34 PM writes...

"the pharmaceutical industry, because that’s one of the sectors where the fallout from the Great Recession has been severe": but the problem is secular not cyclical.

Permalink to Comment

45. bbooooooya on November 5, 2012 6:49 PM writes...

"It's unfortunate that the promise of a decent lifestyle after getting a PhD did not materialize for many"

I missed this promise before I started grad school. I was promised a ride on a unicorn.

Permalink to Comment

46. Lee on November 5, 2012 6:58 PM writes...

We are living with the cost of globalization of the labor market pure and simple. The ACS focus needs to be on selling the innovative skills, expertise and training of US chemists to the world market.

Permalink to Comment

47. McChemist on November 5, 2012 7:23 PM writes...

I have to agree with #11 and #36. Unemployment and underemployment bring real problems to many people, but let's keep the focus on the serious problems of people trying to hold their lives and careers together, and those struggling to pay for basic necessities. Had to sell your boat? Can't get the latest iDevice? Can't afford the fancy-pants plasma TV? These are not serious problems. C'mon.

The situation of those who made those particular comments may be genuinely bad, and it could be the writer who chose those things to put down out of a litany of problems those chemists listed. And most of the article really does focus on more serious problems of chemists out of a job. But comments about boats and iPhones detract from the article, rather than adding to it.

Permalink to Comment

48. Anonymous on November 5, 2012 9:07 PM writes...

A boat,I can't believe it. Someone would own a boat after TEN YEARS OF HIGHER EDUCATION. My friend owns a boat, along with a plasma tv, a motorcycle, a vacation home, and a jet ski. The same friend who perfected the art of bong hits in the back of his chemistry class at High School, the one where he never graduated from. Instead of learning a non-marketable skill such as organic chemistry, and wasting ten years of his life, he actually learned a trade and made money during those ten years. He now owns his own business and can retire when he wants to. Not when he is forced out at 50.

Permalink to Comment

49. McChemist on November 5, 2012 10:27 PM writes...

I don't think the guy was really emphasizing how he could not purchase an iphone. I think he was trying to get at the problem of taking on even short term obligations is paralyzing. It is easy for anyone to take for granted that they can splurge on a TV because they will be able to afford the apartment to put it in six months later...

Permalink to Comment

50. cynical1 on November 5, 2012 11:00 PM writes...

With regards to the comments above about what the ACS should do now that they've (gasp) acknowledged that there is a problem, I'd wager good money that they'll be lobbying congress to make sure that the Federal Gov't pays ACS dues (and maybe even a subscription or two) to go along with that Green Card we're going to give out to those STEM students. And here's the thing: they'll get bipartisan support for it. Such is the world we live in.

Permalink to Comment

51. Claire on November 6, 2012 7:41 AM writes...

" 15. Chemjobber on November 5, 2012 11:21 AM writes...
I also note that the gentleman in question is 59 years old -- believe it or not, you have much, much, much greater career flexibility than he will have, from here on out. "

If by 'greater career flexibility' you mean having to move your entire life hundreds or thousands or miles every couple of years for a 1 year contract and no pension rights, then yep, my generation have it made.

Permalink to Comment

52. Chemjobber on November 6, 2012 8:24 AM writes...


Dear Claire:

I have asserted that someone who is in graduate school right now (I assume 24-28) has more career flexibility than someone who is 59, and has been an associate director of chemistry at a pharmaceutical company. Not particularly controversial, I think.

If you're arguing that our generation* has, in some sense, a harder row to hoe regarding job security, I think that's a legitimate argument. But it's my hope that we can all try to understand each other's difficulties.

Cheers, Chemjobber

*I've moved 4 states in the last 5 years, btw.

Permalink to Comment

53. Nathan T on November 6, 2012 12:12 PM writes...

Let's keep this in perspective. I got my PhD about 10 years ago. Over the past 10 years, I have never been unemployed and I have earned (cumulatively) ~$1 million in wages from the pharma/biotech industry. If I get laid off tomorrow and have to switch careers and spend 6-12 months unemployed, it was STILL worth the effort of getting my PhD. Maybe it wasn't as beneficial to me as it has been to others, but it wasn't a wasted effort. I've lived below my means so I have a hefty 401k balance, good equity in my home, and a good 6-12 months of money saved as a safety net. If I have to become a school teacher, a sales rep, or (heaven forbid) a retail manager - well, so be it. I'm still WAY better off than many, many people in this world and even in this country.

My suggestions:
1) Life below your means.
2) Set your expectations low.
3) Do the job because it is fun, not because it pays well.
4) Use the money your earn to gain future financial security, not to gain temporary fun and upper-class frivolities.
5) Try to focus on what the real purpose of life is. A hint: It isn't having fun and earning lots of money.
(if you haven't spent time pondering suggestion #5, then I suggest you do so ASAP!)

Permalink to Comment

54. Anonymous on November 6, 2012 12:39 PM writes...

@25 RTW: Right on!!! I get so sick of that also. I hate that people with phd's seem to think they can do chemistry better than someone with an MS or BS. The only real difference between and MS and phd is about 2 years of research and maybe a grant proposal. When I started my job, I was in awe at the back grounds of some of the people from the heave hitters in chemistry, only to slowly learn that many of them were not that great at this yet they still could attain leadership positions where I could not. In my experience, if I am having a conversation with someone and they ask "do they have a PhD?" when we are talking about someone else, I know all I need to know about their abilities.

Permalink to Comment

55. Claire on November 6, 2012 1:13 PM writes...

'Dear Claire:

I have asserted that someone who is in graduate school right now (I assume 24-28) has more career flexibility than someone who is 59, and has been an associate director of chemistry at a pharmaceutical company. Not particularly controversial, I think.'

I'm not even sure I agree with that. Having struggled since I finished my PhD on temporary contracts, I’ve seen a lot of AD / Directors walk away with several times their salary and a final salary pension during various round of redundancy where I’ve just not had my contract renewed. They then seem to use the network of contacts they’ve made up over the years to go on to get jobs in consultancies, start up their own company or even go off and run a game reserve in SA.

This is mostly in the UK, so may not be directly comparable to the situation older US pharma employees are finding themselves in.

Permalink to Comment

56. Chemjobber on November 6, 2012 1:30 PM writes...

55: If Dr. Nautical Chemist is selling his aquatic conveyance and working temp jobs after 4 years, I don't think he's doing too well. Any chits he could use for consultancies, etc., have long since been called in, I would think.

Sounds like severance packages are fairly generous in the UK, I think. I don't know what the average severance is for US-based pharma managers, but I speculate it's not more than 2X annual salary.

Permalink to Comment

57. anon on November 6, 2012 5:12 PM writes...

While this is a troubling article, it does not show the whole picture. It is a warning that chemistry may not be the path to a rewarding and long career. But I wish we had better numbers on proportions of chemists out of work or laid off and what proportion of them were able to find jobs within their pay and experience grade, even if outside of chemistry.

Permalink to Comment

58. Anonymous on November 6, 2012 5:19 PM writes...

You'd need a lot of years service in the UK to pick up a large redundancy package. 2x salary is pretty unlikely and it would be wacked by the taxes at 40% for sums above $45,000 dollars (unless locked irrecoverably into a pension plan). It is true that a number have formed consultancy firms post-site closures in the UK but really they have very little work coming in as so few have any experience of finding a drug. Really they're only being employed by smaller biotechs who are trying to hold onto investors as the cash is drying up in those sectors too.

Permalink to Comment

59. Anonymous on November 6, 2012 10:49 PM writes...

@56, A generous severance pkg for a long term employee will be 12-16 months including paid out bonus, stocks that immediately vest, and the notification period. For a smaller company its probably half that.

Permalink to Comment

60. MoMo on November 7, 2012 3:28 PM writes...

I shared the article with my sig-other, who knows that I have been complaining about all the deadwood scientists I have hired, worked with and fired over the years--She said "You chemists think you are something special-the economy has hurt all vocations-BESIDES-you always said 80% were worthless as scientists"

Very well said.

Permalink to Comment

61. Whatever on November 7, 2012 6:44 PM writes...

A few points I'd like to add:
1- the ACS should realize that when you loose your job, you cancel your ACS membership before anything else, so there are lot lot more unemployed chemist than we think: they're just not members anymore!!!
2- with all the respect for the 50 years old people in the industry, I'd say they had the good years; cheap houses, big salaries, security for years, good benefits, etc. The younger people cannot afford half of what they had. We now can only hope to pay a house once we're 70 and don't even think about taking vacation or even buying furnitures. It is very insulting to read that the poor guy had to sell his boat. Our generation can barely afford a small car, which is much more essential than a boat...

Permalink to Comment

62. Whatever on November 7, 2012 7:10 PM writes...

We're all talking about if it's worth doing a PhD in chemistry. Let's admit it, if you're going to spend that many years in school and sacrifice your best years (20's), you might as well be a dentist, optometrist, MD, pharmacist, notary or accountant. Ok, it might not be as exiciting to play in someone's mouth as it is to do science, but hey, at least you can pay your house, afford some vacations, send your kids to college and drive a nice car. And we will never get a tooth repair done in China. Otherwise, being an electrician, plumber or roofer is still smarter. People will always have to repair their roof every 15 years and will also pay cash. Ask your plumber or roofer what he drives and how big is his house next time and then ask yourself if the 80 hours a week in the lab for 7 years was worth it.... Pretty obvious answer to me.
Btw, I feel for BSc's too, but there isn't a 7 extra years at shool working 12hours a day and I would say these days, they are more flexible than PhD's. I agree that a PhD doesn't meen your smarted and that they're are a lot of smart BSc's...

Permalink to Comment

63. a13 on November 8, 2012 12:08 AM writes...

I an MS level med chemist working (yes, working) for a pharma company - one of the relatively healthy ones. I am four years into my career, I enjoy my work. I loved studying science in school and I have no regrets about my career choices.

But I'm a realist. Even the "healthy" pharma company I work work for had a few major set backs and I just heard a rumor that they could should down the site. So I'm preparing. My plan is to switch careers when (yes, when) I get laid off.

Two words - software engineering. You can do it without a degree, the field is booming and anyone with the analytical skills for chemistry can handle it no problem. Plus, unlike the human body (and nature in general) computers come with documentation and are designed to be manipulated!

Stay positive everyone. You're all smart and you'll find a way to support your families if you put your mind to it.

Permalink to Comment

64. anonymous on November 8, 2012 4:17 AM writes...

At least the ACS is recognising the problem, talking about it and doing something to help. The UK equivalent (the RSC)which has probably cause to speak about it more (there's virtually nothing left of the pharma industry here) has not mentioned it, nor is it doing anything about it.

Permalink to Comment

65. Of course on November 8, 2012 8:38 AM writes...

The ACS should look at how many people use to go to ACS conferences before and now. Last meeting I went too (Boston), it was not very crowded although it was in the most active area of the US for pharma. To me that's an indication that companies don't send people to ACS meetings anymore and that (more importantly), there are dramatically less people employed in chemistry. These people that are out of the field are not accounted for in the ACS numbers for unemployment. Let's face it, the unemployment rate for chemists cannot be calculated using solely the numbers of ACS memberships. Look around you at all the friends that lost their jobs in chemistry: the numbers must be much higher than what the ACS claims.

Permalink to Comment

66. sciencemonkey on November 8, 2012 11:59 AM writes...

@ #60 MoMo:

I have to partially agree with you. Observing grad students and postdocs during my time in grad school demonstrated that there is a really wide distribution in ability. Some people are terrible, while others are creative and produce results you can trust. As an aside, I've seen little to no correlation between # of publications and trustworthiness of a scientist's work.

This leads me to question why the programs don't fail these idiots out. Like others have mentioned on this site, if we had better control over who and how many people became PhDs, we would be rare and valuable, like MDs. Unfortunately, the system is set up to get bargain student/postdoc labour and this results in an overproduction of graduates.

All that being said, I doubt all the layoffs only apply to the driftwood. This has me concerned for my future and really upset that I didn't stop and critically think about my life path before starting university.

Permalink to Comment

67. Doug Steinman on November 8, 2012 1:15 PM writes...

It is unfortunate that the unemployment situation for chemists is currently so dire. The disappearance of jobs in the pharma industry due to program terminations and outsourcing to India and China is particularly troubling to me. I lost my job as a med chemist almost 2 years ago and, as I was 62 at the time, I didn't even bother to look for another one. However, I was fortunate enough to be in a position that I didn't have to. Still, having my career of 40 years yanked away from me was very painful. It made me feel that, somehow, I had been a failure because I suddenly had become expendable. One thing that has not been mentioned in the comments listed here is the stress that is felt, not only by those who are unemployed and looking for jobs, but also by those who are employed but feel that they could be the next body out the door. I want to add one final thought. The situation will change. As chemists retire and / or change careers, jobs will open up, not only in pharma but in other areas of chemistry as well. When that happens however, we must be vigilant in insisting that the call which will come for vigorously increasing the number of chemists be just as vigorously resisted. This is where ACS should become involved.

Permalink to Comment

68. Anonymous on December 2, 2012 9:53 PM writes...

To make a PhD as valuable as MD ACS must limit the number of graduates just like AMA does to create a deficit.

Permalink to Comment

69. tokenLabWhiteGuy on January 4, 2013 6:52 AM writes...

Derek. Thank you for this has been a wealth of information, real information, amongst the lies perpetuated by Academic profs and "other sources" of information.

As a graduate student you're still quite isolated from what is going on in industry and it's hard to make life decisions like leaving the field that you love so much and have wasted so much of your life on. After a successful graduate career at a top 10 school (I'm defending in a month) I've decided to cut my losses and do something else with my life. I don't know what it will be yet though I have some ideas.

Permalink to Comment

70. Anonymous on January 4, 2013 7:14 AM writes...

@53 (not 59) the real purpose of life isn't having fun? aka being happy...what is it then?

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