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The Irony Of Chemical Unemployment

August 13, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 33

As a retired chemist who is fortunately no longer subject to the vagaries of the employment market, I was still appalled by both the high unemployment figures for chemists and the low starting salaries (C&EN, June 4, page 36).

Chemistry graduates face one of the most daunting curricula at a college or university, one that requires intellectual and practical skills. They now encounter a high unemployment rate, as well as a low starting salary. While “only” 17% are unemployed and 14% actively looking for employment, these figures are warped by the high percentage of those who, whether by choice or necessity, have chosen to go to graduate school, leaving only 23% permanently employed. At the Ph.D. level, the numbers are not much more encouraging.

The irony is that there is a demand from Congress and the executive branch to graduate a larger number of technically trained students. The question to ask is, for what purpose? Is it to increase the already excess numbers of such students? Are we becoming a nation of overeducated and underemployed people?

I hope not, but signs indicate that this is what is occurring.

By Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, Md.

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