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Hint Of Hope

Job outlook for 2011 will likely be similar to 2010's, perhaps even slightly better

by A. Maureen Rouhi
November 1, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 44

Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

The slowly recovering U.S. economy is awakening demand for the products and services of U.S. businesses that employ chemists. After years of slashing chemistry-related positions to cut costs, employers appear ready to hire again, according to a survey of recruiters, university placement officers, and companies by Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth. Ainsworth's reporting on the demand for chemists in 2011 seems to hint that the heartbreaking loss of jobs for chemists must have finally reached rock bottom and that chemists can now begin to hope for a turnaround in their employment prospects. "I do think the employment situation for chemists in 2011 will be the same or slightly better than it was in 2010," Kevin Swift tells Ainsworth. Swift is chief economist and managing director of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group.

Others who talked with Ainsworth echo Swift's demand forecast, which comes, appropriately, with caveats. Hiring is going to be slow and more strategic than ever before; chemists will not see dramatic spikes in permanent positions available. It is unlikely that everyone who lost a job will get one back. Not surprisingly, prospects for jobs in big pharma are slim. Instead, the bright spots for employment are small companies doing contract research and businesses based on green chemistry.

Given the tepid outlook, would-be chemists can't be faulted if they change gears and move away from chemistry. If their passion is really chemistry, however, let's hope they don't give up a chemistry education, because it is eminently translatable into various jobs, as several speakers at a recent career symposium in Madison, Wis., point out (see page 3).

The other two stories in this year's employment package complement Ainsworth's review of the job landscape. Deputy Assistant Managing Editor Stu Borman shines a spotlight on the unsung heroes of chemical laboratories—lab managers, who represent a career option that perhaps is not obvious to many chemists. And Associate Editor Linda Wang reports on the importance of mentorship in achieving one's career goals. Although Wang focuses on women scientists of color, her story could resonate with any chemist, because a good mentoring relationship helps everyone who is lucky enough to have one.



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