Focus on Analytical Chemistry Careers | January 22, 2007 Issue - Vol. 85 Issue 4 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 4 | pp. 62-65
Issue Date: January 22, 2007

Focus on Analytical Chemistry Careers

Despite slow hiring, job seekers with top skills and biology background attract recruiters' attention
Department: Career & Employment
Plugged In
Brandon Kern, an analytical sciences technologist at Dow, inserts a sample for surface analysis into a secondary ion mass spectrometer.
Credit: Jeff Glenn/Glenn Photography
Plugged In
Brandon Kern, an analytical sciences technologist at Dow, inserts a sample for surface analysis into a secondary ion mass spectrometer.
Credit: Jeff Glenn/Glenn Photography

ANALYTICAL CHEMISTS, even intrepid problem-solvers armed with great résumés, can have a hard time landing good, well-paying jobs these days. Some companies are stepping up plans to bring them on board, but others are in the midst of hiring freezes or are hiring only to replace scientists who leave or retire. Recruiters say that among the most coveted qualifications for analytical chemists at all degree levels is interdisciplinary training that includes biology, instrumentation savvy, and strong communications skills.

As 2007 unfolds, pockets of opportunity are showing up in companies engaged in small-molecule R&D. Jobs are not as easy to come by as in the past, and candidates who have internship experience or further education have a leg up when recruiters visit. Some jobs are also being created when chemical companies expand outside the U.S.

Solid experience in the life sciences can be a big plus for many analytical chemistry jobs. "A great deal of analytical chemistry is being used to study biological molecules," says Terri Quenzer, a principal scientist in the analytical biology group in Discovery Biology at Pfizer in La Jolla, Calif. She believes that analytical chemists are destined "to play a huge role in the quest to better understand biological systems," so r??sum??s that show some coursework and experience in biology are likely to stand out.

Guy T. Carter, assistant vice president of chemical technologies in discovery at Wyeth Research, agrees. "There's a lot of emphasis on trying to study interactions of small molecules and their targets by using X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry, or even mass spectrometry," he says, noting that analytical chemists need to have an appreciation for likely metabolic routes, or how drugs interact with their targets, to tackle this kind of research. "Knowing the key questions to ask is very important," he says.

Analytical chemists who have some background in absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) testing are also likely to have an edge in hiring. Carter explains that, increasingly, drug companies are trying to assess these properties earlier in the process of going from drug discovery to development.

"In the past, we might have found compounds that were efficacious, but we never paid too much attention to whether they had good permeability properties or were soluble enough or had good metabolic stability. Now we are trying to build that knowledge early on in discovery so we have a higher success rate going forward," Carter says.

TO COORDINATE this effort, in 2003, Wyeth established a preliminary ADME group, known as Pharmaceutical Profiling, staffing it from within the company. Nevertheless, in Carter's group at least, recruiting more analytical chemists is not an option. "We are simply maintaining a steady workforce at this point," he says.

When Carter does get the green light to take on more analytical chemists, he says his top pick would be those with M.S. degrees and strong backgrounds in instrumentation, including high-resolution NMR and mass spectrometry. Carter says he also will be looking for "resilience and good interpersonal skills."

Pfizer's Quenzer predicts that drug companies will increasingly depend on analytical chemists, who are best at comprehending the tools for probing and analyzing molecules, whether they are small molecules or big biological molecules. "Basically, analytical chemists who have a background in mass spectrometry really should have no problem getting a job," she says.

The company's analytical biology group will be able to hire more analytical chemists in 2007 to support its structure-based drug design efforts, Quenzer hopes. But for now, hiring projections are flat, she says. She expects to have a better feel for what the group's needs are after the dust settles from a recent reorganization that split her former analytical chemistry department into chemistry-focused and biology-focused units.

Quenzer's group depends on Ph.D.-level scientists for its work using mass spectrometry and NMR to solve "nonroutine problems through customized assays and a lot of methods development," but she notes that many biology-oriented analytical chemistry jobs don't require that level of education.

Meanwhile, on-campus recruiting of analytical chemists, including those with undergraduate degrees, has picked up, according to some universities. Compared with the past few years, "things are definitely on the upswing," says Isiah M. Warner, professor of analytical and environmental chemistry at Louisiana State University. In particular, "the pharmaceutical industry seems to be making the largest gains in hiring," he says.

Similarly, industrial recruiting of analytical chemists from the University of Michigan is up, according to Robert T. Kennedy, professor of chemistry and pharmacology there. A range of companies have accelerated their recruiting, from start-ups to growing companies to large companies within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical industries, he reports.

A graduate degree is not required to land a job, Warner says, although it "certainly gives a candidate greater flexibility for the job market." Paul L. Edmiston, associate professor of chemistry at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, agrees. He says that his bachelor's students have had success securing positions in local companies and even with temporary agencies, but they have significantly fewer opportunities than their recent predecessors had. Eager to do more of the enticing research reserved for the M.S.- or Ph.D.-level supervisors in their labs, many chemists with only a bachelor's degree are opting to go to grad school, typically within two to five years, he observes.

Lingyang Zhu, a senior research scientist at Array BioPharma, conducts an experiment with an NMR spectrometer.
Credit: Array BioPharma
Lingyang Zhu, a senior research scientist at Array BioPharma, conducts an experiment with an NMR spectrometer.
Credit: Array BioPharma

TO BE COMPETITIVE, aspiring analytical chemists must gain some hands-on laboratory experience through internships. Quenzer says many B.S. chemists in the San Diego area are enrolling in two-year chemical technology programs just to gain practical lab experience tailored to the local industry, something that these programs set out to provide. That experience can be critical to landing a job in a small biotech company that cannot afford to hire specialists for every task, she says.

For example, people hired by Array BioPharma, a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovery, development, and commercialization of small-molecule drugs, must have relevant experience and be flexible. "Unlike employees in large companies, our employees don't have the luxury of specializing in one area such as HPLC; they have to work across multiple areas of projects and multiple techniques, doing chromatography, physical characterization, and impurity work, for example," says Michael Preigh, associate director for analytical development in the company's analytical development group.

Résumé Highlights

    Ten attributes grab recruiters' eyes:

Instrumentation experienceor background

Biology experience or background

Work experience, includinginternships

Communication skills

Interpersonal skills

Collaboration skills

Leadership skills

Problem-solving skills

Talent for innovation

Specific knowledge (for example, ADME testing, manufacturing, regulatory filing)

"As Array has moved more projects forward into development, we've continued to hire analytical chemists both in the quality control area, which supports project stability, and in the analytical development area to support manufacture of supplies for Phase I clinical trials," Preigh says. Now, "we are working on strengthening our support of the medicinal chemistry, process, and formulations groups, so that we can work more as an integrated discipline rather than as a totally separate function."

For Preigh, a great hire would be someone with an undergraduate degree and seven or eight years of lab or instrumentation experience in a pharmaceutical company or a contract research laboratory. "That kind of candidate usually has knowledge of general manufacturing practices and regulatory and filing requirements and can jump into the projects and start producing data almost immediately," he says.

Although Array did enough hiring in 2006 "to attain the critical mass needed to support our current projects," it plans to bring in at least a few more analytical chemists this year. The company's hiring efforts, however, will continue to be limited by what he perceives as a shortage of experienced candidates, something he attributes, in part, to being in Colorado, away from the rich talent pools on both coasts of the U.S.

Despite its ideal California location, Amgen also reports that finding well-qualified, industry-experienced B.S.-, M.S.-, and Ph.D.-level chemists has been a challenge. "Within this already limited pool of talent, chemists with an analytical focus are even more difficult to come by," says Steven Bertram, Amgen's executive director of human resources. And because uniquely skilled workers are few, competition for talent among industry top players has increased. As a result, there seems to be "a reasonable amount of opportunity for people with solid experience."

That said, Amgen expects to hire fewer analytical chemists in 2007 than in other years, Bertram says. The slowdown is partly due to short-term physical space limitations. "We have grown much faster than predicted," and the company is nearing capacity at all sites much sooner than planned.

To ease the pressure, last year Amgen launched a multisite R&D capital expansion project, which will begin to offer more space by mid-to-late 2007, Bertram notes. "We anticipate that this will provide the physical infrastructure to allow us to once again hire analytical chemists at or near our historic pace."

According to Bertram, Amgen's ideal analytical chemistry candidate is someone with a B.S. or M.S. degree and two to six years of pharmaceutical industry experience in the areas of small-molecule separation, purification, and identification and/or characterization in support of early-to-late-phase small-molecule drug development. The demand for analytical chemists experienced with these new technologies will definitely grow as new instrumentation, technologies, and methodologies are developed to optimize and streamline the early drug development processes, he says.

"Furthermore," Bertram adds, "as our small-molecule pipeline expands and more and more molecules move from early discovery to early process development and on from there, we will undoubtedly need to bring in additional talent with the appropriate analytical chemistry experience."

Likewise, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble anticipates increased hiring of analytical chemists a few years from now. One major driving force may be the pending retirement of baby boomers, according to Ray D'Alonzo, manager of doctoral recruiting and university relations for the company.

FOR NOW, he says, the company is focused on integrating the employees it gained through its 2005 acquisition of Gillette. Still, P&G projects its demand for analytical chemists to remain "consistent with historic average annual hiring" within that discipline over the next few years, D'Alonzo reports. Because P&G is one of the largest employers of analytical chemists in the U.S.-the company has more than 200 analytical Ph.D.s on its payroll-"this demand is not insignificant," he says.

Many of P&G's products are applied to or come in contact with surfaces such as fabrics, floors, skin, and hair, so chemists with expertise in instrumental methods of analysis of surface chemistry and morphology have always played a key role in maximizing product performance, D'Alonzo explains. Some companies employ analytical chemists primarily to help them satisfy regulatory requirements, but at P&G they face "significant challenges and opportunities to be highly innovative," he notes.

D'Alonzo says P&G's ideal candidate is a Ph.D. "who has demonstrated the ability to formulate elegant and novel solutions while engaged in cutting-edge research. We look for people who have the ability to look beyond their immediate area of research, or even their field, for information they can reapply to solve a problem in a novel way."

Also, the company values people who have demonstrated an ability to bring closure to projects. For example, company recruiters want to see that a candidate has earned his or her degree in a reasonable amount of time and has been the primary author of several publications in peer-reviewed journals. "Finally, we look for scientists with a high capacity for work and the ability to communicate well and collaborate with teams populated with a diverse set of members," he says.

P&G's teams have become increasingly diverse as the company has expanded its global research facilities, most notably those in Brussels, Beijing, and Kobe, Japan. Over the coming decade, as those facilities grow, so will demand for Ph.D.-level analytical chemists, D'Alonzo notes. On occasion, the company will continue to send U.S. citizens overseas to manage these operations, but it will hire foreign nationals for permanent staffing.

In the chemical industry, too, expansion outside the U.S. will likely fuel demand for analytical chemists. For example, at W.R. Grace, hiring of analytical chemists is up significantly, based on more investment in R&D throughout the world, says Troy L. Vincent, vice president of human resources for the Americas.

"As we establish more R&D centers and application development facilities closer to our customers, we need more chemists of all types, including analytical chemists," Vincent says. In addition, Grace will need to hire extensively to keep pace with the growing emphasis on nanotechnology, biofuels, bioseparations, biocatalysis, and membrane technology, he adds.

In seeking new hires, Grace places a premium on research and work experience, including internships. It also values leadership activities, including those gained throughout the candidate's education, Vincent adds.

Grace expects to hire more Ph.D.-level chemists than those with B.S. or M.S. degrees, but the company has many opportunities for people of all degree levels to develop and grow, Vincent says. This year, Grace plans to launch its R&D Leadership Development Program, a two-year, rotational development program designed to groom employees of all educational levels to become future R&D leaders for the company.

Gearing Up
Using a Raman microscope, Dow Analytical scientist Anne Leugers preps for an analysis.
Credit: Jeff Glenn/Glenn Photography
Gearing Up
Using a Raman microscope, Dow Analytical scientist Anne Leugers preps for an analysis.
Credit: Jeff Glenn/Glenn Photography

THE PROMISE of advancement may be important to attracting and retaining the best analytical chemistry talent in today's market. "We don't feel there is a shortage of candidates; there is a consistent supply within all of our different candidate pools," Vincent explains. "But we do have to compete for the people we want, as they have a larger number of choices right now."

One company that may grab candidates' attention is Dow Chemical, which reports that its hiring of analytical chemists is up, albeit slightly, in all the business and functional areas of R&D. That growth stems from global expansion, the company's focus on innovation, and anticipated retirements, according to David Summers, global R&D director for applied science and technology within Dow Core R&D.

Like Grace, Dow plans to accelerate hiring of technical professionals, including analytical chemists, as it completes R&D centers in other parts of the world. In October, Dow began building its Dow China Center in Shanghai. Dow expects to employ at least 600 scientists there by 2010. In India, Dow is preparing to build a global R&D center in the high-technology Pune business corridor; approximately 600 scientists and engineers will be working there by 2015.

For now, as Dow recruits analytical chemists, its first criterion "is a Ph.D. in our primary area of interest," Summers says. "Next, we look for evidence of high initiative; good communication, interpersonal, decision-making, and problem-solving skills; and the confidence to take risks."

Not surprisingly, those same qualifications are also high on the priority list at Huntsman Corp. "You can be the best scientist in the world, but if you can't share that with anybody, it's going to be difficult to make a significant contribution," says Brian Pellon, vice president of R&D at the company's Advanced Technology Center.

Huntsman looks for analytical chemists with advanced degrees and five to 10 years of experience. "We like to hire people who have some experience working in our industry so that they can make an immediate contribution as we grow our company," Pellon says. However, the company does not anticipate hiring analytical chemists this year except to replace those lost due to attrition. Huntsman's Advanced Technology Center is fully staffed, he adds.

To be sure, industrial job opportunities for analytical chemists depend greatly on the plans and fortunes of the companies that hire them. Still, some new research areas are poised to open up that will buoy demand for this area of specialization.

One such frontier, for example, is chip-based separations. Lab-on-a-chip devices are being made with microfabrication techniques originally developed by the semiconductor industry, according to Susan Lunte, professor of chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Kansas. These new chip-based devices are being used for a wide variety of assays, including high-throughput screening, on-line sample preparation for mass spectrometry, microseparations, cell sorting, and point-of-care clinical tests, among other things, she adds.

At this point, relatively few analytical chemists have earned the doctorate degrees necessary to participate in this new area of research, notes Min Zhong, senior principal scientist within the pharmacokinetics, dynamics, and metabolism department within Pfizer Global Research & Development in Ann Arbor, Mich. And "in general, people with two to five years of experience in the area of chip-based separations are hard to come by," Zhong adds.

But eventually, this technology "will transform the way we do our business in a fundamental way," Zhong says. "And undoubtedly, it will provide a growth area for analytical chemists into the future."

For analytical chemists willing to develop the skills required to tap into growing research areas, the future looks bright. "As technology becomes more automated, microsized, and computerized, the job market for analytical chemists will continue to evolve," Summers predicts. "In addition, I believe there will always be demand for analytical chemists in areas such as environmental analysis, chemical research and production, and pharmaceutical R&D, as their expertise in those areas is critical."

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