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January 22, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 4


From the web

Re: Great Recession and chemistry

Readers shared their frustrations with job opportunities for chemists.

It’s not as if the picture for chemists looks any rosier today or that the crisis in recruitment suddenly occurred in 2008. In the U.K., go back 25 years and the old ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries] was still in existence, as well as corporate research at companies such as Albright & Wilson, before considering that this was before the consolidation in the pharmaceutical sector. By the time I finished my Ph.D. in 1999, many companies had closed down and pharmaceutical companies were not recruiting due to impending mergers. Indeed, my first job was in software development for an accountancy software company. There are too many chemists chasing too few jobs. In addition, chemistry does a poor job relative to other sciences in equipping graduates with transferable skills for careers outside the laboratory.
Russell Griffiths

I also got nailed in 2008. I have a B.S. [in] chemistry and at the time had 22 years’ experience. I was an associate director of process chemistry at a small company in New Jersey. When I got laid off from that position, it took me 18 months to find a contract position as a technical writer at a big pharma. That lasted one year. After another year of unemployment, plus hundreds of applications, I landed a position in academia as a staff chemist. That ended five years later as the grant I was being paid under expired. Now I am searching again. Over the past six months since I was laid off from academia, hundreds of applications nationwide and one overseas, nothing!!! It is more difficult now for a B.S.-level chemist even with 33 years’ experience to find a position. Going back for a Ph.D. is not an option. It is very frustrating!!!
Steven Johnson

Re: Layoffs and the midcareer chemist

Some readers offered tips for the midcareer job search in chemistry.

For Derek and others I would recommend being open to reinventing yourself when this happens. My career as a Ph.D. chemist sailed along happily until I was 50 years old and was essentially “let go” (long story for another time). Promptly found another job and a second until it was time to break out of my mold and do different things outside of my [organometallic] chemistry home. You know what—it is actually good for you; you have picked up new skills along the way (patent skills? Business development? Leadership?). I am now proudly inventor of 100 or so patents in disparate fields. In your particular case, Derek, the world of cannabis needs you—the world is your oyster!
Brian L

A well-timed article with great comments and apt suggestions. The key takeaway is that uncertainty at the workplace is ubiquitous as well as here to stay. A job layoff is [not] personal; nor does it reflect on one’s performance; [it is] rather a reaction to satisfy a business need (usually financial).

As a veteran of two job-searching adventures (one current and the other 18 years ago), I am intrigued by how little has changed. Résumé writing, job-aggregating sites, robotic résumé searches for keywords still abound. In the search of the holy grail that your résumé is picked by a hiring manager who has a key upcoming project with needs that match your skill set, every tool counts. An updated list of contacts in diverse job functions/areas should be one of those tools in your portfolio.

From my point of view, a good-paying job in a prestigious company can be dangerous, especially if you lull yourself into believing that the status quo will last forever. Easier said than done, but working on topics that are relevant, not being afraid to take on new responsibilities (if available), and constantly updating your skills should be a good recipe [for] making yourself viable in an ever-changing workplace.

And talking about skills, though open innovation has been around for some time now, there is a burgeoning need of “on demand” specialists whose knowledge/skills may be needed by the hour/day/month. This avenue may not suit every expert, but below is a partial list that I have compiled.

Kolabtree, LabMate, Data Detektiv, Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship, Cores Science & Engineering,, NewtonX ...
Naren B

Corrections: Jan. 8, page 13 : The feature story on palytoxin stated that the molecule has the longest continuous chain found in nature outside a protein. It has one of the longest continuous carbon chains found in nature.



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