At long last, 2021 is almost over, so it is time to take a look at what employment for chemists might look like in 2022. This has been an unusual year for many reasons, but a surprising amount has stayed the same. The pandemic is still with us, sadly, and new variants are complicating the picture. Happily, SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and new oral treatments are allowing some return to normalcy.
That return to normalcy extends to the academic chemistry job market. Andrew Spaeth and I continue to curate a list of tenure-track chemistry faculty positions in the United States and Canada. This time last year, the number of open positions for fall 2021 was just 40% of the 4-year average. That was just 210 research-oriented positions and 19 teaching assistant professorships. While many hoped the situation would return to normal as vaccines became widely available, the 2021 academic hiring cycle ended with 343 total professorships posted, only 60% of average.
For fall 2021:
For fall 2022:
as of Nov. 16, 2021
The fall 2022 hiring cycle has, happily, picked up steam, with job openings in September hitting 80% of the 4-year average. By November, the number of faculty jobs was down by just 3% and in December, it was matching the pace seen in the 2 years prior to the pandemic. It is my sincere hope that we see signs of growth in the number of academic positions, rather than just a “return to normal.”
However, that doesn’t mean the academic job hunt will be easier for those searching now. I fear that candidates will face an unusually competitive market for jobs starting fall 2022 and 2023. Because of the unusually low number of fall 2021 faculty positions, an extra 150–200 highly qualified candidates are likely joining this current hiring season, an increase that means an even more competitive field for those vying for these positions. We all know that it is always hard to land a job as a tenure-track assistant professor of chemistry, but I think this year and next will be tougher than normal.
The opposite is true for the industrial chemistry market, especially the pharmaceutical job market. As this magazine pointed out in the Sept. 13 issue, the search for young industrial talent is the most active it has been in a generation. When I hear reports that it’s hard to hang onto postdoctoral fellows because they’re leaving for entry-level medicinal chemistry positions in industry, I think that’s a very good sign. I continue to watch the available positions curated by Organic Chemistry Jobs, and the demand shows no sign of slacking. It’s clear that chemistry is part of the great upheaval in the job world, with chemists trading positions, moving to start-ups, and rising within their organizations.
Will this strong hiring trend end in 2022? I genuinely do not know. Many uncertainties remain. If supply-chain crises continue, it will inevitably impact revenues for large-scale chemical manufacturers, especially those who sell to the automotive and housing sectors. Increasing inflation and corresponding interest-rate increases could also play a role in cooling down the broader economy, resulting in potential slowdowns in hiring.
While I cannot predict the future, I am extremely confident in advising people to apply now. Do not wait until “the right time,” whether it’s next month or next year. Do the work of putting together a résumé and a cover letter as soon as possible. This is an unusually good time to be a job seeker in industrial chemistry. Here’s hoping for a 2022 in which we can be free of this pandemic and we all have that job that we are seeking.
Sadly, this will be my last column for Chemical and Engineering News. Writing this column was a unique labor of love, and I am grateful to all members of C&EN staff who made me look and sound better each month, from artists to copy editors to senior C&EN management. I owe so many thanks to Linda Wang for her gracious editing. I am enthusiastic to read C&EN’s new Opinion section and looking forward to thought-provoking ideas from diverse perspectives across the American Chemical Society and the global chemistry community. You can continue to find my musings at my blog.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.