Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Say, what's the job market for industrial chemical biologists like, anyway?

From the inbox, a good question:
Would you be willing to submit a post for feedback on the outcome of the future job prospects for a chemical biologist verses an organic chemist? Chemical biology is a relatively new graduate path and the difference between this path and biochemistry is vague. 
I asked this question almost 3 years ago and was pretty skeptical about it. I presume that there are more jobs now than there were in 2012 for chemical biologists in industry, but I have no date. 

A brief check of Indeed shows 1 (one) position for a "chemical biologist" and lo-and-behold, it's at Pfizer (or was, anyway.) So maybe there's room for hope?

Readers, what do you think? 

Interview: Ezra Pryor, chair, Cannabis Chemistry Committee

I contacted Ezra Pryor and conducted a brief e-mail interview. It has been formatted for clarity, but is otherwise unedited: 
CJ: What led you to get interested in starting a ACS committee? 
The committee was formed for the purpose of creating a cannabis chemistry Division of the ACS.  it gives us access to resources, demonstrates progress and makes official the work we had already been doing.  another advantage is that we get a chance to learn more about the three technical divisions that are interested in hosting us as a sub-division before moving forward. 
Divisions are almost exclusively formed in this way, giving the group a chance to grow under the wing of an existing technical division and then striking it out on our own when the time is right. 
CJ: How difficult has it been to do so? Have you faced opposition from within ACS? 
It would have been practically impossible except for the fact that this project has been a magnet for some amazing people.  We have all become great friends and worked hard together to move this forward. 
Everyone knows Ezra Pryor, the Chair and founding member and there have been some unsung heroes championing the cause as well. 
Joseph Payack was the first to join the effort and has taken on the role of Secretary, Melissa Wilcox was next and has since become our Treasurer, lastly Dr. Jahan Marcu who has risen to the position of Vice-Chair. 
We did not receive serious opposition from anyone at the ACS.  Those who can see the landscape understand that this is not a flash in the pan but a trend that will carry on into the future.  We did have some people snicker as they walked past the booth, but far fewer than those that enthusiastically signed out petition of volunteered to help. 
Most characteristic of our experience at the national meeting in Denver, in fact, would be the show of enthusiastic support and heartfelt glee for the opportunities that lay ahead. 
CJ: Which cannabis businesses have you found to be most in need of guidance from chemists?  
The entirety of the cannabis industry seems to be in need of qualified chemists.  There are of course the dozens of analytical labs dotted across the country that need technicians and there are also countless extraction laboratories that need full-time staff or just a little help overcoming challenges.  This will come with time as people learn that there are zero legal risk job opportunities for chemists that pay well and present a delightfully low key work environment.  It was easy to see the transition in progress when you see the enthusiasm of college students who see these jobs that didn't exist quite recently. 
What was most surprising to me was the great interest showed by several large companies to access and serve the cannabis industry.  Many companies that offer very useful tools for cannabis purification and analysis are hungry to show how their equipment can be useful and are unsure how to go about exploring this taboo application.  The CCC has already been facilitating these kinds of method development projects.
Thanks to Ezra Pryor for the interview! It will be interesting to see how things develop. Interesting to note that Joseph Payack has quite a few publications during his tenure as a process chemist in industry.

The Cannabis Chemistry committee of the American Chemical Society does not yet have a website, but it does have a Twitter account and a Facebook page. A LinkedIn page is in the works. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ask CJ: Should you hide your PhD? Recruiters say "yes", CJ sez no.

From the inbox, a question that's been asked around here a number of times:
I've actually been told to take the PhD off of my resume by one recruiter. How do I do this? How do I account for the work that I've been doing for the last 8 years after my bachelors? It seems like any company with half a brain in HR would type my name into Google and find out that I'm lying about my background. Not a good way to start when most of these job posting stress that they need someone who will provide reliable data. An addendum to this is the fact that I've applied at a couple of places that are minimum wage jobs (or close to it) and both of the interviews that I got, they knew I had a PhD even when I left it off of the applications.
Seems to me that this is a bad idea, and Derek Lowe agrees and tells a story about this (back in 2014):
I've seen a variant of this situation, one that I most certainly do not recommend. At a company I know of, a person was hired into a Master's level position, and did fine. They eventually revealed, though, that they had had a PhD all along, and applied for a vacant position at that level. This strategy got them fired, though, for having lied on their original application (the company's position, which I can understand, was that if they didn't fire someone for this, how could they fire the next person who lied about something else?) In the end, people found this person a job at another smaller company in the area, so the exit wasn't as hard as it could have been, but it was still a mess.
Personally, I think this is a terrible idea, but I have little experience looking for work while hiding my Ph.D. Readers? 

Job posting: cheminformatics scientist, Schrodinger, New York City

From the inbox:
We are looking for a cheminformatics specialist to join our drug discovery team to help us achieve our mission. 
Play a key role in our drug discovery projects
Provide cheminformatics support to help meet project goals
Work closely with collaborators, other member of the drug discovery group and the company to drive our projects and our technology forward

Essential Qualifications and Experience:
Proven track record of applying informatics-based techniques to solve problems in real world drug discovery projects
Knowledge of key technologies and software within the field of cheminformatics (for example chemical fingerprint methods, SMARTS, chemical toolkits and machine-learning methods)
Development of Python and SQL scripts
Exceptional communication skills
BS Chemistry, Biochemistry or related discipline

Desired Skills:
Structure- and ligand-based design techniques
Advanced training in Computer Science
Link here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Dow planning to lay off 1,500 to 1,750 employees

Unhappy news, via the Wall Street Journal
Dow Chemical Co. expects to reduce its global workforce by roughly 3%, part of an effort to streamline the company ahead of the pending spinoff of a significant portion of its chlorine business. 
In a news release Monday, Dow said “minor footprint adjustments” will be made to certain manufacturing operations, which are expected to represent less than 1% of the company’s net property value. The changes include “minor consolidation and shut downs” in response to a changing market. 
Dow said the streamlining plan, set to be completed over two years, is expected to result in a workforce reduction of 1,500 to 1,750 positions. The company expects to post related charges and write-downs of $330 million to $380 million during the second quarter. With the latest moves, Dow is aiming to save roughly $300 million a year in operating costs....
"Minor footprint adjustments."  

Cannabis Chemistry Committee was established as an official committee

An effort to establish a cannabis chemistry division at the American Chemical Society has been under way since September 2014 (C&EN, Nov. 10, 2014, page 4). Great strides were made at the ACS national meeting in Denver. The Cannabis Chemistry Committee was established as an official committee of the Small Chemical Businesses Division (SCHB). I was elected chair; additional members will be found among many of the individuals who expressed strong interest in active membership. 
The greatest student interest (undergraduate and graduate) comes from schools in the Northwest and Southeast. These will likely be the first locations for networking events that will bring students face-to-face with industry leaders, academic researchers, and like-minded peers. The petition for division formation received more than 300 signatures—50 signatures are needed.
The committee will plan programming at upcoming meetings and will hold networking events. At the 2016 spring ACS national meeting in San Diego, a full-day symposium cohosted by SCHB and the Agricultural & Food Chemistry Division will be organized. The first networking events will take place in June. 
For those who were not able to meet us in Denver but would like to participate, please contact us at Member activities could include mentoring, participating in regional events, or contributing to educational programs. If you would like to see the petition and support us with a signature, please go to 
Ezra M. Pryor
Chair, Cannabis Chemistry Committee
Ontario, Calif.
I will continue to track these developments...  

This week's C&EN

From this week's C&EN, interesting tidbits:

Friday, May 1, 2015

Weird: deaths from hydrocarbons?

What is that plume showing, anyway?
Credit: Wall Street Journal
Busy day today (obviously), but I wanted to note this chemical mystery from the Wall Street Journal from a while back in an article entitled "Why Did These Oil Workers Die?" by Alexandra Berzon:
The deaths of Trent Vigus and at least nine other oil-field workers over the past five years had haunting similarities. Each worker was doing a job that involved climbing on top of a catwalk strung between rows of storage tanks and opening a hatch. 
There were no known witnesses to any of the men’s deaths. Their bodies were all found lying on top of or near the tanks. Medical examiners generally attributed the workers’ deaths primarily or entirely to natural causes, often heart failure. 
But in the past few months, there has been a shift. Though still unsure of the exact cause of the deaths, government agencies and some industry-safety executives are now acknowledging a pattern and are focusing on the possible role played in the deaths by hydrocarbon chemicals, which can lead to quick asphyxiation or heart failure when inhaled in large quantities. 
In the meantime, federal agencies and industry-safety groups are planning to send out a joint alert to the oil industry as early as this week, warning of the potential for imminent danger from inhaling hydrocarbons, according to several people involved in the effort. Much of the industry remains ignorant of the possible risks, they say...
I would think this is about a lack of oxygen, but hey, I could be wrong. Any ideas?

*Can't get to the article? Google the title.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bleg: reactions that show conservation of mass?

I was talking with a middle school teacher that is looking for a reaction that is more interesting than "vinegar plus baking soda" that demonstrates conservation of mass in an interesting fashion. So, we're looking for:
  • A synthetic reaction that demonstrates conservation of mass (yes, they all do.)
  • This will be done in a school, so the ingredients need to be readily available (purchased at a supermarket, not at a lab supply house.)
  • The ingredients need to be relatively non-toxic.
  • Color changes, physical property changes would be better.
  • Can be a demo, doesn't need to have students doing all of them.
Any ideas? Thanks in advance. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Process Wednesday: the dos and don'ts of scale-up

Credit: Dr. Clemens Brechtelsbauer
But hot filtrations are fun! (No, they're not.)

(Found via a random Googling of "minimum stir volume" a good list of "dos and don'ts" for scale-up included in a presentation by Dr. Clemens Bretchelsbauer of Imperial College, London. The list is credited to F.X. McConville, the author of the strongly recommended "The Pilot Plant Real Book.")

Internship opportunity: MedImmune, Gaithersburg, MD

From the inbox:
There are a number of bioorthogonal reactions which remain unexplored in the area of Antibody-Drug Conjugates. Studying a panel of unnatural amino acids will expand our understanding of the structure-activity-relationship (SAR) of these amino acids and their corresponding tRNA synthetase, thereby expanding MedImmune’s capabilities to design the next generation of ADCs or other protein conjugates.

The summer intern will synthesize and purify a library unnatural amino acids and fully characterize them by LC-MS, 1H NMR, and 13C NMR. These amino acids will then be analyzed for their incorporation efficiency during protein expression using a high throughput method developed at MedImmune.

At the end of the internship, the student will prepare and present a poster at the intern science fair. In addition, the student will present his/her research during our group meeting.

This paid internship is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Preferably, the student would have some experience in synthetic chemistry beyond O-Chem lab. 
Interested? E-mail thompsonpam-at-medimmune/dot/com (note spam-proofing)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Now that's #altchemjobs: E-4 radiology specialist

Fascinating post from a B.S. chemistry graduate on the Chemistry Reddit:
So here's what I did. I was in a similar situation as you. I got to my junior and senior years of college, and realized that I should have majored in education. I didn't want to teach English or anything like that. I had started tutoring and helping others with chemistry, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. So I realized that I wanted to teach chemistry. But at that point, I didn't really want to go on for a Masters or PhD immediately; I was tired of school and studying. Also, my GPA was nowhere near competitive enough to get into a decent graduate program. I had worked too much throughout my college career and slacked off too much as an underclassman to make it up in time. 
So what to do. I know this isn't for everyone, but I joined the Army. I was initially going to commission as an officer in the Navy, but as I say, not a competitive GPA, among other things. So I enlisted in the Army as a Radiology Specialist. Since I had my bachelors, I was able to join as an E4; I didn't have to start at the bottom. My chemistry degree gave me a leg up in understanding the physics, chemistry and biology in the training for my job, and that part was all a breeze. Now I'm at my first duty station, and I've got a national registry in Radiography, which not all military techs bother getting. 
Here's the part that made me type all of this out for you. I'm stationed in Washington, and the hospital I work at has us working a Panama schedule, twelve hours at a time. It's a rotating two on, two off kind of schedule, so I have various weekdays off each week. Somebody mentioned to me, when they found out that I wanted to be a teacher, that all Washington requires for its Emergency Substitute Teachers, is that they have a bachelors degree (doesn't matter what field) and pass a background check. So that's what I did. Being military and having a chemistry degree, the people at the school district were very excited to have me, and the interview was a breeze. I got the job no problem, and I can teach whenever I want. I'm always getting calls for schools needing substitutes.
I suspect that this person will have a far more varied, interesting life than most chemistry graduates, They've certainly shown a lot of adaptability.

(Enlisting! Man, is a B.S. in chemistry what it takes to get to E-4? What kind of rating would they give a Ph.D. who wanted to enlist?)

(I'd hope that'd rate E-5 at least? (not a chance, I'll bet.))