Friday, January 23, 2015

"Y": "I am very happy"

Our third submission in this series is by "Y": 
1. Why did you leave?  
Quite frankly, I failed my first committee meeting. I've never felt confident in my background knowledge in chemistry (had to take all 8 cumulative exams to pass - most others finished in 5-6). After failing the committee meeting, I felt deflated. I couldn't imagine going through the process again a couple more times (successfully or not). 
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden? 
After my first committee meeting (in Sept), I avoided talking to my PI about rescheduling another one until he cornered me in January. We sat down in his office and it was right there and then that I decided I didn't want to continue. This was my third year of grad school and I no longer was a TA but I realized that I wasn't satisfied without the teaching component of the job. I was frustrated with research and couldn't get results that I wanted or could make sense of. Teaching those first two years were the most enjoyable part of my time, so I wanted to continue with that. Perhaps I had been thinking about leaving in the back of my head after the failed CM but I didn't actually commit to the idea until my meeting in January with my boss. 
3. Where are you now? 
I left with a master's and worked full-time as a lab instructor at another institution for four years before moving. After my husband finished his PhD (we started at the same time but at different schools), he was offered a job out of state, so I followed him. He had moved for me when I began my prior job, so I felt that I could return the favor. I am now an adjunct at the same university he is employed at. 
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now?  
I am very happy. After deciding to leave, I felt like I had something to look forward to. Even though I could have left with my master's after making the decision, I stayed in the lab to work the rest of the semester (since I was under contract) and of course, my research progress started to go forward. I don't regret my decision - I think it would have be difficult if my husband and I were on the market at the same time. Given that our academic fields are very different from each other, it would have been unlikely that we could have landed jobs in the same university or town. I have been extremely fortunate to be hired at the same school he is fully employed and I think that not having a PhD did not matter in my employment. I'm also lucky that we are able to teach a course together as part of a unique learning experience at our school.
Thanks to "Y" for their story.  

Job posting: safety and facilities coordinator, Newark, DE

From the inbox, a position at the University of Delaware's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry: 
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry invites applications for a safety and facilities coordinator. This individual will provide oversight and management of Departmental space for the safe, reliable conduct of chemical research and instruction.... 
This position requires a Bachelor’s degree in a chemistry related field and four years related experience.  An advanced degree is preferred.  Applicants should have experience handling a wide range of chemical materials in a research setting, including first hand experience handling and quenching pyrophoric materials.  Applicants should have a technical aptitude and basic understanding of building infrastructure, effective communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to organize and coordinate the activities of people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. 
Interested? Apply here (go to the "staff" section, search for job ID 102630, "Safety and Facilities Coordinator in Chemistry and Biochemistry")

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Steve: "I was actually relieved that the slog was over."

Our second story of quitting graduate school comes from Steve: 
I spent five years getting no results.  My supervisor was hired to be the director of a research institute at my university after spending years in industry and government labs in the States, and I was his first grad student.  The first year or so was lost in setting up the lab and waiting through renovations.  Another year was lost chasing a compound that a collaborating group had published (turned out later that the results they got were actually due to the steel walls of the pressure reactor and not the compound - and they got another paper to correct this). 
My difficulties were not entirely due to circumstances.  Synthetic research and I are not a good mix.  I've said in the past that I suck at research, and my supervisor told me not to be so hard on myself, because if the project had involved measurements or anything other than air-free metal complexes I would have had a much easier time. 
After banging my head against the wall for five long years, during which time I tried to write up and discovered my work filled 32 pages, including introduction and literature review, I admitted that it wasn't going to work.  My project was dead and never going to produce results, and while I had some momentum going on a side-project, I was just too burned out to carry on.  An hour after I sent my withdrawal notice, I got an email from the university telling me they were giving me the boot because of an unsatisfactory grade at a presentation six weeks before.  Efficiency has never been this school's strong suit. 
Rather than being crushed, I was actually relieved that the slog was over. The unwritable thesis was no longer hanging over my head, and I was so worn down at that point that I didn't really care my life's ambition had dissolved.  I had a sessional gig at a second-tier regional university, and they didn't seem to care that my promised credentials weren't going to appear.  After that, my current position fell into my lap.  It's a postdoc, but they knew they entire story and hired me anyway.  I've been far luckier than I deserve.
 Thanks to Steve for his story. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"N": "a very blunt conversation with my boss"

From "N", their story of why they quit graduate school in chemistry:
After three and a half years of graduate school, I left the program with a Master of Science degree. I was attending graduate school that had a smaller faculty, lots of equipment, and is located in a beautiful area. To fully understand my dilemma, I wanted to study synthetic chemistry, but I didn't feel comfortable with the available research groups once I was already enrolled at the University. I joined an [redacted by CJ: "non-organic"] group with the understanding I could choose my projects and still be involved with synthesis. 
I decided to leave the program when I realized I was not receiving the mentorship that I was expecting. My boss was not well versed in this area and I was left on my own figuring out how and what to do when I was stuck. This was both my fault for not understanding my boss’ skill set and my boss’ fault for allowing me to join his group. 
My process for leaving was deliberate. I was unhappy and started reducing my research hours in lab. The fewer hours I worked, the less I moved forward. However, I did not realize research was the thing that was making me upset until I had a very blunt conversation with my boss. He informed me I would be in school eight years if I did not increase my hours in lab. Due to that conversation, I was certain I would not be staying for my PhD. 
I was concurrently studying to receive my MBA at the same University, so I continued on with the MBA program while finishing in the Chemistry Department. I am graduating [redacted by CJ: "soon"] with my MBA and plan to apply for full time management jobs in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. 
After one year, I regret that I did not look into transferring to other programs that would fit my research style better. I need a little more structure and guidance and I felt uncomfortable transferring to other groups at my University. I also wish I would have talked to somebody on my committee to ask them for help and guidance. I believe finishing with my PhD would have been beneficial for my career path, but I would rather be happy than stay in a program that was not the right fit. 
"N", thank you for your story and for also being our first submission! Best wishes in your new path. 

Stories wanted: "I Quit Graduate School in Chemistry"

At the end of Vinylogous' recent excellent post on mental health and graduate school in chemistry, he posited questions that people considering leaving graduate school should consider: 
There's a pervasive thought--"I've already put in 2 years, so it would be a waste of time to quit now." (Or however many years). But time already invested is a sunk cost. It doesn't matter how much time you've put in if you're not going to get anything out of the degree. Only three factors should matter when deciding whether to quit grad school: 
1. Am I happy right now? (Am I mentally healthy? Are there variables I can change about my current situation to make myself happier?) 
2. What is the future benefit of me getting this degree in comparison to not getting it? (is it necessary for your career? Is it limiting?)  
3. What am I missing out on by following through with grad school? (This is known as "opportunity cost" and includes the salary you could collect at a different job, time spent with friends, family, and your SO, traveling while young and unencumbered, etc).  
If the answers to those aren't positive, there's no reason to stay.
I don't feel qualified to talk about these questions and answers at all. Because of that, I would really like to hear from people who left graduate school in chemistry. I'd like to hear:
1. Why did you leave?
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden?
3. Where are you now?
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now? 
While you're welcome to put submissions in the comments, I'd be happier to take e-mails for posts later. You know the e-mail address:

UPDATE: Me, being an idiot. Confidentiality guaranteed, of course. Publication not until you say "yes, CJ, it is okay to publish."

(I feel like, someday, the blog should have a phone number and a voicemail box. That'd be awesome.) 

Glassdoor Review of the Week: Moderna Therapeutics

Speaking of Moderna, I am reminded that a couple weeks ago, someone at In the Pipeline posted a pretty awesome-not-awesome Glassdoor review of them (the review was written a year ago): 
Moderna takes advantage of all employees below the executive level- overworked and grossly underpaid, they feel as though they can get away with this type of behavior because of rival companies recently closing their doors. When the bubble bursts, the executives will have handsome rewards while the little guys will be have a place firmly set in the unemployment line. This mentality is not serving them; however. Within the last six months, both the CSO and the VP of Manufacturing quit on short notice. 
Moderna tried to spin it as a shortcoming of those employees; however, both of which worked consistently 100 hours a week only to be on the receiving end of the CEO's wrath and arrogance. I do wish I could give specific instances regarding the CEO; however, that would be telling of my identity- just take it that most of the things that come out of his mouth are positively flabbergasting and without a doubt abusive. He is unjustly paranoid and prone to wild attacks creating an atmosphere of deceit and hostility. He will pit employees against each other, overtly lie, and then find an ideal scapegoat among the lower employees and hang them out to dry. He is a master of creating a very toxic environment and I genuinely pity the people who are still employed there. 
Should you decide that you want to work here, just know what you're getting yourself into. 60 hours a week in the lab is a vacation, that alone, wouldn't be bad. The sophomoric and soap opera-esque drama that unfolds on a daily basis does; however, have a proclivity for making an 80 hour work week feel like eternity.
There was also this little tidbit written in September 2014:
I was the first Director of Chemistry. I helped Moderna setup their chemistry department, negotiate to acquire lab assets from my previous employer. Hire staff and filed first two Chemistry Patents applications. Honestly speaking, I had never experienced such an abusive, manipulative and arrogant CEO and the-then-CSO at any company in my entire life. The behavior from management was to blame every thing on others. Change projects on a fly, then fire some associates for failure if results to their like were not produced over night. Random firing of associates was a common practice. I am speaking facts here. I am not sure Glassdoor will publish it.

Let's make this a routine feature, shall we? If you see a Glassdoor review of a company that you find worthwhile to point out, feel free to e-mail me. 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/20/15 edition

A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs this past week:

Rocky Hill, CT: Henkel is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic polymer chemist; looks to be adhesive-related?

Oak Ridge, TN: Interesting ad for a Ph.D. physical chemist to work on "helium ion spectroscopy." Sounds fancy.

Cambridge, MA: Moderna Therapeutics (recipient of just a little money recently) is hiring an B.S./M.S. bioorganic chemist.

Athens, GA: This ad for a scientist by Argent Diagnostics is a little bit strange and I can't quite put my finger on it:
...Specific Duties and Responsibilities: 1. Project management and leadership of current and future SBIR/STTR funded grants. 2. Spectroscopy testing, data collection and chemometric analysis for ongoing research activities as needed. 3. Develop quality control protocols, new product ideas (hardware and software), and other detection opportunities. 4. Research, prepare and manage future SBIR/STTR grant submissions. 5. Supervise other employees and manage collaborative multidisciplinary research activities...
Will this position mostly be a grant writer? I dunno, but there are about 15 references to SBIRs in the ad.  

Ivory Filter Flask: 1/20/15 edition

A few of the academic positions posted this past week on C&EN Jobs:

Goodbye, assistant professorships: We seem to be transitioning into "visiting assistant professorship" season. 

Sherman, TX: Austin College looking for a visiting assistant professor for fall 2015 to teach general chemistry. 

Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg College looking for two VAPs in biochemistry and physical chemistry. 

Qatar: I can't tell what this "teaching specialist - organic chemist" position in Qatar is about, but hey, maybe you want to do it? 

(Should we think of taking teaching positions in wealthy Gulf oil states like an organic chemist going to work in Shanghai at WuXi, or should we think of it like college kids going to Alaska for a season of crab fishing?) 

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: The Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation is looking for a M.D./Ph.D. director of radiopharmaceutical chemistry -- looks lucrative: $125,000-$175,000. (CAN)

Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College looking for a M.S./Ph.D. instrumentation specialist. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Interested in a LEGO NMR spectrometer?

Credit: LEGO

Mark Lorch has a pretty funny take on this, so I thought I'd mention it here.

If you're a LEGO fan, it appears that you can lend your support to have them make an NMR machine spectrometer kit to purchase.

They need 10,000 folks to support it and they've only got 837 right now. 

Job posting: pilot plant scientist, Louisville, KY

From the inbox, a position at Zeon Chemicals in the Bluegrass State: 
Job Skills/Requirements: 
This position will be responsible for the daily operation of the pilot plant for emulsion polymerization and finishing. This entails safely running polymerization reactions and understanding the chemistry of the polymers. Work will consist of running polymerizations as designed by Research Scientists as well as developing own work to improve processing of existing products and processes. The pilot facility also is responsible for the finishing of polymer latex into solid crumb rubber. Some of these projects will be to support our manufacturing facilities, and new product scale up into the manufacturing plants. This operation will include solving both chemical and mechanical problems.  
With the variety of projects ongoing, the successful candidate will have good organizational skills, keen ability to prioritize effectively and will keep several projects moving simultaneously. The person in this position will spend a significant portion of time in the pilot plant facility. These polymerization reactions can run longer than 12 hours, so some night work is expected. Exposure to noise, fumes, and heat will be a normal part of the work environment.  
An BS in Polymer Science (MS preferred), Chemical Engineering or Chemistry is required. Good Chemical Hygiene practices are critical and demonstrated adherence to safe laboratory practices is a must. Must have a minimum of 2 to 8 years practical experience in industrial environment including, hands-on ability to operate a pilot facility. Excellent hands-on skills and approach are critical for success. 
Link here. Best wishes to those interested.  

Situation wanted: greater Boston, experienced medicinal chemist

If you were, say, an experienced medicinal chemist looking for work in the Boston area, where should you be looking? 

Interesting call for archiving by Jeff Seeman

Also from this week's C&EN, a letter to the editor from chemical historial Jeff Seeman:
The insightful article by Linda Wang titled “Turning Off the Lights” focuses on the difficult process, physically and emotionally, for faculty to close down their laboratories (C&EN, Sept. 8, 2014, page 50). One newly minted emeritus faculty member, Al Padwa of Emory University, describes how “there are some things he just can’t bring himself to throw away yet . . . old photos and correspondence that date back many decades.” 
In fact, perhaps those documents should never be sent to the dumpster. As I said in my guest editorial “Estate Planning,” correspondence including e-mails, drafts, literature searches, notes, and photographs may be important historical resources that should be saved, not thrown away (C&EN, Dec. 3, 2012, page 3). 
Before you dump the underpinnings of your life’s work, speak with your institution’s archivist (or the archivist at the Chemical Heritage Foundation). Every year, chemistry’s heritage disappears in the rush to free up office space with the planned—and sadly, sometimes sudden and unanticipated—departure of senior scientists. I repeat: “As individuals and as a community, we must do estate planning of and for our own heritage.” 
Jeffrey I. SeemanRichmond, Va.
Something tells me that the number of professors whose materials should be archived is different than the number of professors who will volunteer to have their materials archived.

This week's C&EN

Lots of good stuff in this week's C&EN:

Last week's C&EN

Some interesting things in last week's C&EN:
  • Thought it was very interesting that (new editor-in-chief) Bibiana Campos Seijo shared her thoughts on that "gatekeeping" article that we all were discussing a couple weeks back. 
    • (Excited to see what her favorite topic will become.) 
  • Pretty fun infographic by Andy Brunning on chemical deicers.
  • I thought this article by Britt Erickson on inert ingredients in pesticides is one that chemists should try to understand a little better (i.e. it's not just the active ingredient that bothers folks.) 
  • I'm going to guess a payline move from 17% to 19% doesn't make folks in academia feel much better? (by Andrea Widener)
  • Some very odd thoughts by industry folks in this Rick Mullin piece on lab automation -- does a mass spec really need GPS? 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rest in peace, Sheri Sangji

Six years ago today, Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of her injuries sustained while running a reaction with tert-butyl lithium in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Harran at UCLA. My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and her family.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How will these graduate students be made whole?

Via Retraction Watch, a really terrible story of a pharmaceutical sciences laboratory run by Professor Uday B. Kompella at UC-Denver's medical school where one of the graduate students was falsifying LC/MS data and making other students look bad in the process.

To left, a screenshot of the internal UC-Denver report talking about Rajendra Kadam, the "golden boy" referenced in the report.

What do you think the innocent graduate students got out of this process? Do you think the UC-Denver Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences is going to specially shepherd these students into their postdoctoral positions, with letters from the department chair saying "please don't look poorly on this student -- she's a very good worker and this scandal shouldn't reflect poorly on them?" Somehow I doubt it.

Collateral damage doesn't just happen from drone strikes. 

Once again, a note on comments

I've had some longtime, beloved readers who can't post comments on the blog. Have you had this issue? Please let me know by e-mailing me:

It would be helpful to know which device and which browser you were using. At the moment, it seems to be an iPad/iPhone issue, with any browser on those platforms. Anyone else able to comment? If not, please e-mail me. Thanks! 

Goldman sees chemical companies' profits down

This seems relevant to some readers of the blog. Via Bloomberg Businessweek:
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut earnings estimates at seven U.S. chemical makers to reflect a stronger dollar and product prices that are falling with crude oil. 
Goldman lowered 2015 profit estimates 20 percent at Dow Chemical Co. and LyondellBasell Industries NV , 19 percent at Westlake Chemical Corp. and 6 percent at Eastman Chemical Co., analysts led by Robert Koort said in a note yesterday. The changes reflect the impact of falling oil prices on ethylene and related plastics. Estimates for 2016 were also reduced. 
“Despite this cut, we still see downside risk to our 2015 EPS estimates if we use the current spot Brent oil price or our commodities team’s new $50 per barrel Brent oil forecast for 2015,” Koort said in the note.
 That sounds like bad news for R&D hiring at these companies, we'll have to see if that's the case. 

15 undergraduate research positions available this summer

The Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP) is a NSF funded Center for Chemical Innovation whose mission is to transform how plastics are made and unmade through innovative research, engaging education, and diverse partnerships that together foster environmental stewardship. CSP participants aim to design, prepare, and implement polymers derived from renewable resources for a wide range of advanced applications, and to promote future economic development, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability in the emergent area of biobased products. 
The CSP will provide up to 15 undergraduate research positions to undergraduate students during the summer of 2015. Up to nine positions are available at the University of Minnesota and up to three positions each at University of California-Berkeley and Cornell University.  
This program is open to students in science and engineering majors, preferably chemistry, chemical engineering and material science. Underrepresented multicultural students – African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American students, or students with disabilities who have US citizenship or permanent residency status are strongly encouraged to apply.  
This paid research experience requires a full-time commitment to extensive lab work for ten weeks during the summer. All participants will have the opportunity to present their research in a CSP meeting at the end of the summer and in an undergraduate research expo.
Link here. Deadline: February 1, 2015. 

What's your experience buying used equipment online?

I've asked this question before, but I'll ask again:

Anyone want to talk about their experiences buying used equipment on Dovebid and the like?

I've found it to be hit and miss, you? 

Daily Pump Trap: 1/15/15

A few of the positions posted on the C&EN Jobs website:

Oak Ridge, TN: ORNL has an interesting Ph.D. separations chemist position; looks to be nuclear chemistry related, of course.

Colorado Springs, CO: The National Swimming Pool Foundation is back looking for a Ph.D. chemist (ideally) to be a product development manager. The team is still "magically charged." Starts at 70k?

Mapleton, IL: Evonik looking for a quality control manager (5-15 years experience, B.S. desired) Glycerin manufacture, looks like?

Santa Rosa, CA: Thermochem desires a B.S./M.S./Ph.D. LC/GC-MS chemist.

Charlotte, NC: Not everyday you see a "wood technologist" position. "A Master’s Degree in Wood Chemistry is preferred" - credentialism! (M.S./Ph.D. in related position will be considered.)

Rolla, MO: OK, either Brewer Science is growing like crazy, or they have unreal turnover. They'll be interviewing for 8 positions at the Denver ACS.

The Woodlands, TX: Flotek looking for a research chemist towards oil/gas work, varying levels of education/experience desired. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Too late, Professor

From the front page of the Wall Street Journal, a brief celebration of manufacturing "tiptoeing" back from overseas into the United States.* Ironic tidbit from a Harvard Business School professor: 
Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School, is less optimistic. “China has really captured the whole electronic supply chain,” he said, and that is unlikely to return to the U.S. 
Instead of trying to make established products in the U.S., Mr. Shih said, “we’re going to have to focus on next-generation technologies” in, for example, advanced pharmaceuticals.
Oh, if that's all we have to try to capture within the United States!

I suppose Professor Shih could be talking about the United States attempting to corner the market on biomolecule API manufacture. In that sense, yeah, sure, that'd be great.

*Worth noting that the article has a long story about a small US company hemming-and-hawing about where they should manufacture their new car seat, and ultimately staying in China. Thanks, dudes.