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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

January 7, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 1

The Nov. 5, 2012, issue of C&EN contains confusing and contradictory information about the U.S. employment situation. On page 11, the Department of Defense is advised to lobby for more visas for scientists because there’s a shortage. This theme is reiterated on page 26 in “Looking for a Visa Victory.” Yet the cover story consists of three articles about the travails of laid-off scientists in finding work (page 43). The problem as I see it is not a shortage of scientists and engineers, it’s the habit of employers to seek purple squirrels.

For my first job after earning an M.S. in organic chemistry, I worked in industry in a chemical physics lab. I was hired because I was perceived to be bright, well educated, motivated, adaptable. Many years later, my husband interviewed for a job previously held by a past member of our own Ph.D. research group. He had the training and experience that the previous holder of that job had—only with a better record. He wasn’t hired, nor was anyone else.

Recently I looked at the requirements for two positions at a computing center. Both had identical requirements: past record in grant awards and experience with ab initio molecular dynamics calculations and medical imaging software. They’d have had much better success to have advertised two different openings—one for medical imaging and the other for ab initio and molecular dynamics. Why did the company advertise the job that way? If you can’t find someone with precisely the training you need, the answer is not to let the job go vacant and lobby for easing immigration restrictions, but to hire someone with related training and experience who can learn the job in a reasonable amount of time. There are plenty of intelligent, flexible people out there.

I was recently laid off myself and have been applying for various jobs as well. I was not deemed suitable for an interview at the local building supply store at which I recently was asked by clerks, “What’s that?” when I asked for Masonite and a nail set (different trips, different clerks). Does knowing what Masonite is make me overqualified?

Irene Newhouse
Kihei, Hawaii



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