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Bench & Cubicle

Chemjobber’s mailbag

Chemistry blogger answers reader questions on job hunting, changing grad schools, and more in this edition of Bench & Cubicle

by Chemjobber
May 16, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 21


Do you have a chemistry career question? Join the conversation at

Illustration of a mailbag.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock

For faculty hires, do departments typically send out rejection letters to all candidates or just those that received Skype/phone/in-person interviews? There isn’t a lot out there that demystifies this process.

In my ideal world, all job applicants who are no longer being considered would receive electronic rejection notices within three months of having applied to a job. For faculty positions, my conversations with applicants indicate that the first set of rejection letters are sent within a month or two of the first cull of applicants. That said, far too many stories exist of people who never hear from institutions, even after an in-person interview. Sending applications into the void is never fun, and employers owe candidates who are not selected the courtesy of a prompt rejection.

I’ve only been called once with a rejection after an on-site interview. Rather than feeling irritated, I was grateful that the hiring manager took the time to call me, and I still remember that call almost 10 years later. I think it’s sad that this small favor is not extended to applicants more often, even though I recognize that calling five or 10 people and telling them, “I’m sorry, we’re not hiring you,” would be a difficult and draining activity.

Still, being notified of your rejection by email within some reasonable period of time seems like a reasonable request of employers. I don’t think all universities follow this. If they don’t, they should.

What sorts of industry (or otherwise) jobs are there for bachelor’s-degree-level chemists who are looking for work outside the lab?

Great question! Companies typically have a number of positions for chemists that don’t involve working in the laboratory. Just a few that come to mind are positions in logistics, quality assurance, sales, and environmental health and safety.

My favorite graphic of all time shows U.S. Census data on what graduates work in what fields. It can be found by doing a Google image search for “census STEM.” Only a small percentage of physical-science majors are working as physical scientists. Quite a few become computer workers or go into health care or managerial careers. Check out the graphic, and you’ll see that only a minority of chemistry degree holders actually work as scientists.

A graphic shows where physical-science graduates work.
Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 American Community Survey
Roughly three-quaters of STEM graduates find work outside science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

After having left a bad grad-school situation and having in the process cut all ties with one’s adviser, is there a way forward in chemistry? Is there a polite argument to make when applying to other chem grad programs, or is your stock poisoned?

Of course there is a way forward in chemistry! I have heard many stories about graduate students moving from one laboratory to another, or from one institution to another. Anecdotal stories aside, having some data on the percentage of incoming graduate students who switch Ph.D. advisers within one to three years would be a phenomenal way for graduate students to know that they’re completely normal.


Unless you’ve done something really bad, you can apply to other programs and explain your situation. I would not focus on your grievances; instead, talk about what you learned from your experiences, and emphasize that you want to continue your education toward a Ph.D.

For chemical companies, is it best to jump from company to company to create large increases in salary, like how the tech sector works, or is it best to stick with companies for the long term?

Short answer: No one knows. It’s a shame we don’t have data. Longer answer: It depends on what you want out of your career. Want more pay? I speculate those who gain managerial skills propel themselves into higher salary brackets faster. Want something else? It might be worth sticking around for a while and seeing where that gets you.

I have noticed that larger chemical companies are run by people who are a bit older, and they tend to desire more loyalty and career longevity from their direct reports. Does the organization return that loyalty? See the short answer.

Chemjobber is an industrial chemist who blogs about the chemistry job market at Find all his columns for C&EN and suggest future topics at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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