Monday, May 22, 2017


At the risk of repeating myself, I commend to you Lisa Jarvis' excellent long feature article in Chemical and Engineering News on the 1st year of assistant professors Julia Kalow, Valerie Schmidt and Song Lin. I especially enjoyed this little section from Sunday's installment: 
Another roadblock for new researchers is self-confidence. The interview process, when you’re asked to stand in front of leaders in your field and give a talk outlining the projects you’d like to tackle in your lab, can leave some feeling a bit bruised. You might have gotten a job, but for some, those biting comments remain in their ear, feeding doubts about the merits of their proposals. 
UCLA’s Nelson felt like he was adrift scientifically during his first year. Still stung by criticism that some of his ideas elicited on the job-talk circuit, Nelson lost some trust in his own instincts in the lab. The feedback even made him abandon one particular project altogether. “Scientist Hosea would have just done what I love. But in the context of this job, your mind runs wild and you start doing other stuff,” he says. 
After not feeling happy about how research went his first year, he decided to go back to that project. Six months in, it was working splendidly. So much so that in March it yielded his group’s first publication—in Science. 
Schmidt also felt a bit battered after the job-search process. “It was tough to have people talk about your science and say, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work,’ ” she says. Her strategy has been to work extra hard to get to the paper that shows the harshest critics that she was right after all.
I gotta say, it's very hard for me not to take criticism personally, even as (over the years), I've developed the ability to have a thick skin, or at least a short-ish memory. I imagine that ability to not have one's self-confidence completely broken (while drawing lessons from criticism) is something that distinguishes the very successful from the less-so.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

View From Your Office: New York edition

Credit: @onesleepynerd
From chemTwitter denizen @onesleepynerd, a pretty decent view!

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption and a credit, please) at; will run every other Friday.)

Picking up the phone, adviser-style

I would like to commend to you Lisa Jarvis' story that C&EN is running this week about the life of a new assistant professor at a research university. It focuses on Julia Kalow (Northwestern), Song Lin (Cornell) and Valerie Schmidt (UCSD.) I found this little tidbit rather wonderful from a #chemjobs perspective: 
And a new deadline loomed large. UCSD’s master’s students are generally focused on getting a job in industry, a career aspiration that Schmidt needed to help them achieve sooner rather than later. 
“Usually with a Ph.D. student, you have four or five years to worry about those things—to initiate the type of outreach to get folks employed,” Schmidt says. Now, just a few months into the job, she was already making calls and probing contacts from grad school for leads.
Nice to see Professor Schmidt picking up the phone. I wonder how it went for her students?

Probably one of those questions that new/prospective graduate students should be asking professors of all ranks is not only "where do your graduates go?" but also "how involved are you in the process of aiding me in getting where I want to go next?" 

Do these San Diego biotech average salaries look a little high to you?

From a San Diego Union-Tribune article, a link to a Biocom (the biotech trade association) report and a listing of average salaries in various sectors of San Diego County biotech. (PDF)

Do these numbers look a little high for an average salary within the sector? Am I missing something? Also, why are the comparable numbers so low for the Los Angeles area? (PDF)

Trade association numbers - always suspect. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs List: 94 positions

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs list has 94 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions, but if you want to do the traditional "leave a link in the comments", that works, too.

Want to chat about medchem positions? Try the open thread.

Positions I'm not including: positions outside the United States (this will likely change), computational positions (this will likely change as well), process positions (coming soon....), academic positions (likely never.)

Coming soon: a process chemistry version - I promise! (sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon)

Job posting: product development chemist, Living Proof, Cambridge, MA

From the inbox, a position with Living Proof:
This Product Development Chemist is an on-site position at our Cambridge, MA office.

  • Formulate hair care products and conduct appropriate product performance and stability experiments to meet objectives outlined in project profiles.
  • Ensure product physical stability, efficacy, consumer appeal, processing capabilities, package compatibility, and cost effectiveness.
  • Lead tech transfer of new products to manufacturing for scale-up and production start-up, including identifying and generating appropriate processes and product/process specifications....


  • BS in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Pharmacy or related science.
  • Minimum of 3 years of relevant industry experience or equivalent preferred.
Best wishes to those interested. 

Daily Pump Trap: 5/18/17 edition

A few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Clark, NJ: L'Oreal coming in strong with 4 positions. (Anyone know anyone who works at L'Oreal? What's it like there?)

Watsonville, CA: An interesting position from Driscoll's:
The Research Associate (RA) will facilitate analytical chemistry work within Driscoll's Consumer Lab to address fruit quality attributes for plant breeding, molecular genetics, sensory, and postharvest groups. This role will work with a small creative team to develop and perform metabolite phenotyping experiments for all Driscoll's berry crops. The RA will be responsible for an analytical chemistry platform used to profile fruit metabolites associated with quality and flavor. 
M.S. in analytical chemistry and 2 years experience desired.

Berkeley, CA: "Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry Division has an opening for an Organic and Macromolecular Synthesis Facility Staff Scientist."

Alexandria, VA: This is an unusual title for an intellectual property position, I feel: "Chemical Patent Searcher." Advanced degree, 6 years experience required.

Chicago, IL: Sounds like an interesting postdoc for someone at Abbvie...

Raleigh, NC: I can't quite tell what this Bayer CropScience position is, but I think it's an analytical position?

Albuquerque, NM: Well, this sounds fascinating:
The Materials, Devices, and Energy Technologies Department has an immediate postdoctoral research opening primarily in the area of Synthetic Organic Chemistry/Polymer Chemistry at our Albuquerque, New Mexico facility. The postdoc’s primary responsibilities will be in the development and synthesis of new ion and/or electronic conducting oligomers and polymers for applications in electrical energy storage, catalysis and separations.
"Ability to obtain and maintain a U.S. DOE security clearance" needed.

Ivory Filter Flask: 5/18/17 edition

A few of the academic positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Pittsburgh, PA: The University of Pittsburgh Department of Radiology is searching for a radiochemist. (This position is labeled assistant professor, but it's non-tenure track.)

Springfield, OH: Wittenberg University is searching for a visiting assistant professor; classes include "organic chemistry, general chemistry, and a one-semester introductory chemistry course for nursing students."

Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University is looking for a lecturer for general and physical chemistry. Offered salary: $50-55k.

Buffalo, NY: SUNY-Buffalo is looking for a general and organic chemistry lecturer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Methanol flame incident injures 12 preschool children in Houston

Via Twitter and elsewhere, this bad news, covered by KTRK's Miya Shay and Tom Abrahams:
Several children were injured at a school on the west side after a science experiment gone wrong. 
The accident happened at Yellow School - Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church just after noon. 
According to the Memorial City Fire Department, preschool students at the 240 block of Blalock Road were conducting some type of science experiment outside when a flash blast occurred. 
Of the 12 students who were injured, 11 of them suffered burns, one student was trampled and six of them were taken to the hospital. All of the students are 3 years old, a fire official said.
This quote is basically diagnostic of methanol-related flame incidents in schools:
As parents and grandparents picked up children who were not injured, some of the kids told Eyewitness News that they were involved in some type of color-changing fire experiment. 
"Fire was changing colors and the last one wasn't working, so we put it a little bit more, and then it exploded," said Kate Earnest, a 5-year-old who was part of the group that participated in the experiment. "That's how the other kids got burned, and they were crying."
It's the classic formula for a methanol-flame incident around children, with the combination of:
  • fire
  • methanol being added to the (usually dying/invisible) flames
  • from a bulk methanol container with
  • students being too close 
that has caused injuries and teachers getting fired and lawsuits being filed and settlements being paid in this country time and time again. 

Another reminder that the American Chemical Society's Committee on Chemical Safety specifically asks teachers to "Stop Using the Rainbow Demonstration." 

Is chemistry a profession?

In the midst of longtime defense reporter Thomas Ricks' positive review of Omar El Akkad's novel American War (of a second American Civil War) , this interesting observation of both El Akkad's, followed by Ricks' thoughts:
Another line that gave me pause: “the only true profession is blood work — the work of the surgeon, the soldier, and the butcher.” I’ve been reading and writing about military literature for decades and yet have never seen that thought expressed before, to my knowledge. (Not that I endorse it. My own view is that something is a true profession if its practitioner is governed more by the soul more than by the market. Thus law is not always a profession, but other work, say boatbuilding or cooking, sometimes can be.)'
I thought this was a pretty interesting observation about what constitutes a profession. By contrast, let's look at what Merriam-Webster has to say:
4a :  a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation
4b :  a principal calling, vocation, or employment
4c :  the whole body of persons engaged in a calling
Under the Merriam-Webster definition, chemistry is indeed a profession, something I wholeheartedly agree with. My engineer father (whom I love) would probably point to licensing bodies as a sign of "professionalism", something that chemistry mostly does not possess. Happily, I believe chemistry also meets the Ricks' definition of a profession as well; while much of chemistry (including what I do) is governed by the market, so much of what we do as chemists is also 'governed more by the soul.'

Readers, what do you think? Is chemistry a profession? What is your favorite definition? Are you governed more by your soul than the market? 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The best things about applying for a faculty position

From the 2016-17 Chemistry Faculty Candidate Survey, the answers to the following questions:

What was best about the hiring process?
  • Insight on the efficacy of the proposals, and personal growth likely making me a better person despite no offers.
  • On-Site
  • The application process really helped the  fine tuning of my research proposals and realize exactly what environment I'm looking for.
  • Going on an interview is a really nice event, where you get to meet kind and interesting (potential) future colleagues.
  • The amount and type of positions available
  • It was a learning experience on my end, as I am a 5th year student, mostly applying to primarily undergraduate institutions that were HBCUs. I learned that I had to do a lot of writing to craft a research program that could be funded. 
  • Giving the seminars and meeting faculty and students.
  • shared submission websites to save me time
  • Thinking about the chemistry that I thought would be cool to explore.
  • Meeting faculty and students around the country and visiting their departments.
  • Refining ideas
  • The online application process and job description
  • Interviews were generally quite pleasant
  • The second visit, after the offer (because it was the least stressful).
  • Getting positive feedback in the form of phone or on campus interviews. It adds validity to your application package! Speaking with the faculty who are excited to have you on campus is fun. Getting a job!
  • I've essentially solved the two body problem without working at a masters/phd granting institution like my partner
  • The department I received an offer from and also accepted is a wonderful fit and I am delighted to join. The second site visit (after the offer was already made) was probably my favorite part because it was low stress. 
  • Nothing
  • Being able to get my ideas on paper
  • Getting to talk to lots of people excited about chemistry
  • Hmmmmm
  • Interviews were fun
  • It was a very supportive environment from the interview stage and onward
  • Meeting students during the campus interviews

The worst things about applying for a faculty position

From the 2016-17 Chemistry Faculty Candidate Survey, the answers to the following questions:

What was worst about the hiring process?
  • Inconsistent requirements in different universities, makes things tedious. Also, lack of transparency and knowing what a university is looking for makes it hard to know where to apply sometimes, or where to put more time and effort.
  • Lack of humanity. Sending a rejection takes ~5 seconds (form letter) and is usually done by a secretary. We spend ~30-60 per application AFTER having a template, and for many schools much longer if they require something unique for that application. It's a demoralizing a shitty feeling to toss your application into the circular file when you put so much work into every single submission.
  • All the various complicated systems for submitting materials. I thought interfolio might help that, but strangely the 4 applications I put in through their system were 4 of the 8 applications that I got no phone/Skype follow up. I preferred the option to simply send a pdf directly to the committee, because at least then there's no uncertainty that the materials got through. Also, phone interviews are terrible compared to video interviews. Lots of awkward silences while people take notes, or whatever, and it's so hard to get a feel for how things are being recieved when you can't see any body language.
  • Waiting to hear back from schools
  • recommendation letter
  • Non transparent hiring procedure, high research expectations even from small PUIs
  • The time I committed to the faculty position process with the disappointing realization that I likely will not be able to continue pursuing a faculty position.
  • Late Responses
  • The lack of jobs
  • Everything else, but especially that each University requires a different number and type of documents, with varying page lengths/contents, etc. Of course they are different employers so I will put some effort into each of them, but that makes it stressful and time-consuming.
  • The amount of time it took to hear back after applying, interviewing, etc.
  • Some of the schools had wonky HR websites, that were full of bugs. One school made me mail physical LORs, which was a pain. 
  • The wait between interview and hearing (or not) about an offer.
  • different submission websites that wasted my time
  • Having to ask people for recommendation letters for positions they clearly thought I was overqualified for.
  • Writing proposals and the fear of being judged for your ideas. 
  • Deadlines all over the place
  • No feedback
  • Large amount of time until hearing rejections
  • The uncertainty (of getting interviews, offers, not knowing where I would be)
  • Skype interviews can be very awkward. Coordinating all the support letter submissions, especially for faculty who are doing everything themselves (no administrative assistant). On campus interviews are usually pretty intense, tiring, and require a lot of preparation.
  • Waiting. That's obvious, maybe how each university's application process is ever so slightly different it makes it difficult know how to apply to a specific one. 
  • I could go on and on and on about this. In brief, I think the most frustrating part was that academic merit matters little. What matters most is who you have worked for and how well connected your PhD advisor/Postdoc advisor is to the department you are applying to. I don't have a fancy "academic pedigree".... But I have a very strong publication record and even bring some of my own $... So foolishly I hoped to get more then just 2 interviews. I continue to ponder why I fell short. My field of expertise was not the most popular niche during this hiring cycle it seems, but guessing from the people who ended up getting a lot of interviews, unfortunately, academic pedigree and connections beat publication record and even pre-existing funding any time. 
  • Waiting
  • Not getting a job
  • stupid job application websites; 
  • Mental anguish
  • lack of transparency and poor timing of rejections
  • Juggling timelines for visits and offers

Please fill out the 2016-2017 Faculty Search Survey

In the interests of understanding the results of this year's academic recruiting, I have created an unscientific survey. I will be sharing results as they come in.

If you were a faculty candidate during the 2016-2017 academic year, please fill out this survey so we can get a better picture of the experience of faculty candidates this past year.

Please leave suggestions for improvements for the survey in the comments. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Metal nitrate salts plus wheat equals a half-billion dollars

Also in this week's C&EN,  Jessica Morrison interviews Savannah River National Laboratories chemist David Hobbs, who has been one of the researchers of the 2014 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant runaway reaction problem. I have known a little bit of the story, but it is rather devastating to read it all in one place:
...Hobbs, who doesn’t own a cat, is one of the researchers who studied the nuclear waste mixture that in 2014 led to a drum failure and radiological release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M. The accident shut down the facility for three years... 
...But an April 2014 accident investigation report by the Department of Energy came to a different conclusion. It says the radiological release likely stemmed from a single breached drum. Plus, photographs taken in May 2014 show an open container with heat damage to the surrounding area. This suggests that a thermal event inside the drum caused the container to fail. 
The drum came from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). It contained a reactive mix of radioactive nitrate salt waste, a neutralizing liquid, and organic cat litter, which had been used as a sorbent. 
An October 2014 report from the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General points to a change in the packaging procedure at LANL that specified organic cat litter, when an inorganic sorbent was likely intended. Investigators traced a series of internal communications in which the specifications for “kitty litter/zeolite clay” were transformed into “kitty litter (clay),” the report says. 
Combined with inadequate technical review, this resulted in LANL workers filling waste containers with a mixture of nitrate salts and sWheat Scoop, a cat litter that is 100% wheat, according to its manufacturer. 
“It would have been much clearer if they had said an inorganic zeolite sorbent,” Hobbs says. “It’s been a very expensive mistake, costing at least half a billion dollars.” (emphasis mine) 
...Inside the drum was “a complex, heterogeneous mixture of materials with the potential for multiple reaction sites and reaction chemistries,” Hobbs and his team said in a March 2015 DOE report. 
The contents of the drum, which included metal nitrate salts, the sWheat Scoop litter, and a neutralization reagent, were incompatible, the report says. The mixture likely underwent a series of exothermic reactions, including hydrolysis, oxidation, and nitration of the organic components, the report says. The reactions produced a thermal runaway condition in which increasing internal heat and pressure caused the waste container to break open and release radioactive material. 
Hobbs says questions remain about why only one drum failed. LANL generated nearly 700 drums with a similar waste mixture that includes the organic cat litter. Drums with similar mixtures were isolated and are monitored, DOE says....
As a chemist who works in manufacturing, who works on larger scales and writes specifications, I can only hope beyond hope that I will never be responsible for such a massive, costly failure. Good heavens. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles in this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News

Friday, May 12, 2017

6 mL transfer pipets

A list of small, useful things (links):
Again, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds tens of dollars joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up.

Being there (on time)

I recently heard a really smart piece of advice, regarding being on time for interviews: "Have a commuting disaster plan." In other words, prevent the worst case scenario of being late to an interview. More recently, I saw this suggestion for an e-mail to send in case you were late to an interview by Richard Moy of the website "The Muse": 
Hi [name of interviewer], 
I’m so looking forward to our interview today, but wanted to let you know that [your reason for being late]. In spite of this, I anticipate arriving at [a time based on your best guess for how many minutes behind you’re running]. 
I apologize for the inconvenience and completely understand if this new time does not work with your schedule today. If that’s the case, would you be open to rescheduling? I’m available [provide two or three times and dates] if that would be more convenient for you. 
Thanks so much,
[Your name]
I strongly suspect that most hiring managers won't really respond well to this e-mail, but who knows? Readers, any instances where you managed to make up for the tremendous faux pas of being late to an interview? What do you think of this e-mail? 

Job posting: associate chemist, Arvinas, New Haven, CT

From the inbox, an associate chemist position:
As an associate chemist at Arvinas you will interact with a cross disciplinary research team aimed at the discovery and development of novel small molecule Proteolysis Targeting Chimeras (PROTACs) targeted towards multiple areas of unmet medical need. Your responsibilities will include planning, designing and executing multi-step synthetic sequences towards key molecules followed by purification, gathering of analytical data, and documenting your work in an electronic notebook. Participation in team meetings, internal presentations, contributing to documentation for external publications / presentations, and creative contributions to all areas of our PROTAC platform are essential. 
Job Requirements and Responsibilities include:
  • BS or MS in Organic or Medicinal Chemistry with 5+ years experience in a laboratory setting
  • Extensive hands on experience with modern synthetic organic chemistry, and purification techniques including automated silica gel chromatography, preparative HPLC and crystallization techniques...
Best wishes to those interested.