Volume 90 Issue 23 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: June 4, 2012

The Right Skill Set

Department: Letters

Dennis Chamot’s ACS Comment did a nice job of pointing out one of the problems with chemists’ unemployment—too much emphasis on research and development (C&EN, April 30, page 40). It served to remind me of the many letters to the editor in C&EN about a decade ago arguing that we were producing too many Ph.D. chemists for the available jobs. At that time it was postulated that academics were employing graduate students and postdocs as slave labor to conduct their research programs without regard for the future employability of these minions.

Is it possible that the unemployment rate we see today is the result of that overproduction? Are we currently in the mode of overpopulating academic research facilities without regard for students’ future employability, or has the economic downturn affected academic research budgets? Chamot points out that there is a world of opportunity outside of academic research and industrial R&D for the willing chemist. But does the newly forged B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. have the tools needed?

For that matter, does that person have the necessary tools for a traditional academic or industrial career? Does that person know the ins and outs of taking a new discovery and commercializing it? Has he or she been subjected to the vagaries of heating a large batch reactor to the necessary operating temperature, or to the methods of efficiently removing heat from an exothermic reaction in commercial-size facilities? Has that person been privy to the methods of determining the means for the necessary financing of a new commercial endeavor?

Courses in engineering, finance, and management were not encouraged when I was being trained for my career. Time could not be taken away from the chemistry laboratory—it was too precious. Yet this background is essential not only for making headway in an industrial career, but also for bringing academic discoveries to commercialization. How much more so will these tools be needed in a nontraditional setting? It’s time that mentors begin to expand the advice given to students to enable future chemists to have fulfilling careers.

By Herbert Golinkin
Naperville, Ill.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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