Friday, February 12, 2016

New feature: The View From Your Hood

Sometime in the last week.

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

Twelve reasons why it could not be that your sample is not pure enough

So you get your results back from QC or maybe from your friendly local NMR or mass spec person and they don't look like what you want them to look like. OF COURSE, it couldn't be your fault, so here are some handy questions to ask while you're denying reality being thorough :
  1. Uh, did you switch the sample with someone else's? 
  2. When was the last time your instrument was maintained? 
  3. We did have an outage last week.......
  4. Run it again, please. 
  5. Look, I recrystallized this stuff twice. 
  6. I know this is a difficult method.....
  7. Say, do you have a calibration curve for that measurement? 
  8. I knew I shouldn't have taken that left turn at Albuquerque...
  9. Have you power cycled your instrument? 
  10. How does it compare to a standard? 
  11. Is there a different instrument we can run it on? 
  12. Why won't your magic silver god give me the right answers?!?!? 
NB actually saying these things out loud is not a good idea 

Job postings: Nanosyn, Santa Clara, CA

From the inbox, positions at Nanosyn, a Bay Area CRO:
Research Associate, Synthetic Organic or Medicinal Chemist: We are seeking several M.S./B.S. level synthetic organic or medicinal chemists to join our expanding medicinal chemistry department. Candidates must have a M.S./B.S. in synthetic organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, or closely related field with 0-5 years of industrial experience involving drug discovery. Strong organizational, communication and interpersonal skills are critical. The successful candidate must have the ability to work on multiple projects and adapt rapidly to new projects, must be a highly motivated, independent, and productive team player. Candidates with a demonstrated record of expertise in modern synthetic organic chemistry methods or medicinal chemistry are preferred.
Ph.D. Medicinal and Synthetic Chemists: We have multiple openings for organic chemists with a Ph.D. degree in synthetic organic chemistry. Applicants must have 1 or greater years of industrial experience, be highly motivated, with good problem solving skills, good organizational skills, ability to work in a disciplined team, good communication skills, methodical and diligent. The successful candidate must have the ability to work on multiple projects and adapt rapidly to new projects. Applicant will work on early stage drug candidates, advance these to lead candidates and to development candidate selection. The successful candidate must be familiar with techniques in synthetic organic chemistry, including but not limited to laboratory skills, data interpretation from various spectroscopic techniques. Nanosyn offers a very competitive compensation package and the company is dynamic and fast paced.
Best wishes to those interested.  

I wonder if layoffs inspire disloyalty...

In the midst of an absolutely phenomenal read by Del Quentin Wilber in Bloomberg Businessweek about a plot to steal DuPont titanium dioxide processes by a Taiwanese businessman, Walter Liew, (in association with a Chinese chemical firm), something that sounds pretty darn familiar...:
They found Tim Spitler, a 49-year-old former DuPont engineer living in Reno, Nev...  
According to the FBI documents, the relationship between Liew and Spitler lasted for years. Liew flattered Spitler, who was bitter about DuPont’s business strategies and its decision in the ’90s to fire thousands of employees. Spitler also admitted to agents that he felt insecure about not having attended a top university (he got a degree from Tri-State University in Angola, Ind.) and was constantly worried about losing his job. Liew made Spitler feel valued and understood. He sent him a gift basket every Christmas, the FBI reports show, and helped pay for the funeral of Spitler’s daughter, who’d committed suicide in 2006. When Spitler would call to thank Liew for his generosity, the businessman would steer the conversation to business and titanium dioxide. 
Spitler provided Liew with information about DuPont’s processes—even sketches of key components—and allowed him to root through boxes in his house and take whatever records he found. Spitler told federal agents that Liew paid him $15,000 for DuPont-related documents, including a blueprint to a plant in Delaware. The schematics provided details of flow rates, pipeline sizes, temperatures, and chemical compositions. As such, it was considered one of DuPont’s most critical trade secrets, U.S. law enforcement officials contend, and Liew used the documents to prove his bona fides to Chinese executives.
Spitler killed himself after Walter Liew was arrested in 2012.

It seems apparent to me that DuPont's reliance on the law to keep their current and former employees from leaking valuable company secrets was not very effective in the face of someone who was a seemingly talented intelligence officer.*

I wonder if a kindler, gentler approach to layoffs may have inspired a little more fidelity. Maybe some day, some company will run that experiment - I am not holding my breath.

*In case anyone is keeping score, it's apparent that of Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego, it was a combination of Money, Ideology and Ego...

The UT case

I have been remiss in not covering the UT-Austin kerfluffle resulting from a Organic Letters retraction that resulted in UT-Austin's attempted revocation of a Ph.D. Here's a small portion of the Austin American-Statesman article about it: 
A woman who graduated from the University of Texas with a Ph.D. in chemistry has filed suit for the second time in an effort to keep the university from revoking her degree. 
Suvi Orr, who received her doctorate in 2008, first sued UT in February 2014 after school administrators informed her that “scientific misconduct occurred in the production of your dissertation,” including “falsified and misreported data.” 
Now a plaintiff identified as “S.O.” has sued UT in state District Court in Travis County. Although the lawsuit refers to the plaintiff by those initials for privacy protections under federal law, the circumstances of the case leave no doubt that she is Orr. 
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, said UT officials revoked her degree but promptly reinstated it for “a do-over” during the first round of litigation. The suit contends that UT now plans to subject her to a “kangaroo court” whose members include undergraduate students lacking the expertise to interpret scientific data stemming from her research involving synthesis of chemicals.
There's a lot of discussion in the comments, both at Retraction Watch (who has been covering this case for a while) and at In the Pipeline.

It is certainly surprising that UT went to the trouble of revoking a doctorate; I would presume such extraordinary action must have some extraordinary evidence behind it, but beats me, I guess.

What is also surprising to me is the apparent willingness of both of these parties to involve their respective lawyers. I guess that it makes sense from Dr. Orr's perspective - it is the foundation of her career. But why is UT fighting this so hard? Why attempt revocation for a second time? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"How much did you make in your last position?"

I had been meaning to blog about this Wall Street Journal article*, but the ever-productive H1b skeptic Norm Matloff beat me to it. The article (by Lauren Weber) is quite a sad one: 
After more than 20 years as an electronics engineer, Pete Edwards reached the low six-figure pay level. Now, as he looks for a job following a layoff, he finds that salary success a burden. 
Although his experience includes the sought-after field of 3-D printing, the 53-year-old hasn’t been able to land a permanent full-time job. Time and again, he says, employers seem to lose interest after he answers a question that they ask early on: “What was your last salary?” 
That question comes up sooner than ever nowadays. Hiring managers used to broach salary history or requirements only in later stages, after applicants had a chance to make an impression and state their case. 
Today, pay increasingly is mentioned early in the process, either as a required field in online applications—which are used more often—or during initial interviews, say recruiters, compensation consultants and job seekers. 
The shift is vexing applicants, mostly those of a certain age and pay level, who are concerned that a salary they worked to attain now gets in the way of having a job at all. “I’m unemployable now as a result of getting to the top of the tree,” Mr. Edwards lamented....
Until people like this man are hired, you'll have a difficult time convincing me there's a STEM worker shortage.

(And like we've talked about many times before on this blog, the question "what was your last salary" is an invitation for a non-answer or a lie from HR. I wish they knew that.)

Having problems with the WSJ paywall? Search on Google for the title of the article ("High Salaries Haunt Some Job Hunters") and it will give you temporary access.

Daily Pump Trap: 2/11/16 edition

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

Melbourne, FL: Another one of these important-sounding AFTAC positions - this one for a "Lead Nuclear Measurements Scientist." 71,056.00 - 92,372.00 offered.

Opelika, AL: Pharmavite looking for a "manager of technical operations." (What do they do there, I wonder?)

Columbus, OH: Hexion looking for a B.S./M.S. adhesives chemist.

I hear Dharan is nice in the spring: Saudi Aramco looking for an engineering specialist. 15-20 years chemical engineering experience desired (yes, this is the typical ACS member for sure.)

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respectively) "1000+", 471, 10,074, and 19 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 1916 positions for the job title "chemist", with 212 for "analytical chemist", 32 for "research chemist", 25 for "organic chemist", 29 for "medicinal chemist", and 3 for "synthetic chemist".

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bonus Process Wednesday: life tips from Neal Anderson

On page 19 of the second edition of "Practical Process Research and Development", a really smart comment:
"Don't trivialize the work of others, especially if you don't understand their job." 
A temptation that strikes even the best of us; an excellent reminder that it's unwise.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Daily Pump Trap: 2/9/16 edition

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

Cambridge, MA: Novartis, looking for a head of cheminformatics.

Des Moines, IA: Not every day you see an IP law position located in the Hawkeye State.

Dayton, OH: I would really like to know what this position is about:
UES is seeking a Chemical Biologist to lead the toxicology-high content analysis effort in support of USAFSAM at the Air Force Research Laboratory – Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. The successful candidate will focus on automation and cell culture screening for toxicants and genetic/phenotypic markers as well as high-throughput analysis. Some of the primary functions of the role will include:
  • Development of cell culture screening system
  • Development of high-content analysis pipeline
  • Attending and presenting at lab meetings, conferences and workshops
  • Provide broad technical support to the HCA team
  • Write and publish manuscripts
PhD in Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Toxicology or related field of study. Must have experience developing and testing cell culture screening systems, including laboratory automation. Experience working with high content analysis systems is required. Must have excellent interpersonal communication and writing skills. 
USAFSAM is the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, which I did not know existed before today.

(Also, it's not clear to me why this position is posted as a chemical biologist.)

Rolla, MO: Brewer Science, posting a research associate II position.

Racine, WI: S.C. Johnson, looking for an mid-level formulator.

South San Francisco, CA: Genentech, looking for a computational postdoc.

Job posting: NMR facility manager, Texas Tech, Lubbock, TX

From the inbox, a position at Texas Tech:
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry seeks applications for an NMR Spectroscopy Facility Manager. A Ph.D. is required for this position, preferably in the area of organic, inorganic, or polymer chemistry with an emphasis in advanced NMR experimentation. Additional postdoctoral experience is strongly preferred. The manager will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operation of the facility, including: enabling advanced modern analyses, creating written operational protocols for standard 1D and 2D experiments, and providing technical expertise for writing multidisciplinary instrumentation and research grants. Excellent verbal, written and interpersonal communication skills are required. Experience with Varian software and instrumentation is also preferred. 
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 2/9/16 edition

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

"GUACIMO, LIMON":  Not every day you see an ad for a chemistry professor in Costa Rica.

Birmingham, AL: The Department of Radiology is looking for a postdoc for radiotracer synthesis; previous radiosynthesis experience desired, but not required.

Spokane, WA: "The Spokane-based Applied Sciences Laboratory (ASL) of the Institute for Shock Physics (ISP) at Washington State University is looking for a postdoctoral research associate to spectroscopically identify chemical decomposition products under extreme conditions." Sounds interesting. (Never quite figured out what they do there, but they routinely post on C&EN Jobs.)

Berea, KY: Berea College looking for a one-year visiting assistant professor to teach general chemistry and organic chemistry.

Decorah, IA: Luther College is searching for a visiting assistant professor in general and organic chemistry.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Job posting: research associate, Novartis, Emeryville, CA

From the inbox, a position in Emeryville, CA:
The Novartis Infectious Disease Medicinal Chemistry group is seeking a highly motivated scientific associate to join their team in Emeryville, CA to help perform innovative research in the preparation of novel organic molecules to aid in the discovery and development of new therapeutically relevant compounds.  We are looking for candidates with a BS + 3 years of industrial research experience or an MS in organic chemistry.  Must have a strong understanding of organic reactions and mechanism and relevant synthesis experience.  Industry experience a plus.
Apply here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Job posting: B.S./M.S. research associate, South San Francisco, CA

From the inbox:
This is an exciting opportunity for a B.S./M.S. synthetic organic chemist to participate in our innovative drug discovery program. The position is within the Genentech Small Molecule Drug Discovery Chemistry Department, located in our South San Francisco, CA research headquarters.  The position requires an individual with a strong work ethic that is highly motivated and excited to work in a collaborative environment. A successful candidate will be responsible for designing and synthesizing analogs for biological targets of interest.
Two positions available. Apply here; best wishes to those interested.  

Chemists and infertility

Also in this week's C&EN, a heart-rending read by Linda Wang about chemists who experience infertility: 
Still, the pressures of pursuing a scientific career lead many to choose to wait to start trying to have a family. “Richard,” who is in his early 30s and is a faculty member at a midwestern university, says he and his wife, who is a speech therapist, have been trying to have a baby since 2010. “We had both decided to postpone trying to have children until we were done with graduate school,” he says. 
Looking back, he wishes they would have started sooner. “Don’t take fertility for granted,” he says. “Putting off a family for the sake of a career has consequences that you may not be prepared for.” 
But for many chemists, particularly women, it remains taboo to have a baby during graduate school. “When you’re in graduate school, the implicit understanding is, ‘Thou shall not get pregnant,’ ” says “Rebecca,” who, with her husband, waited until they both had jobs before trying to have a baby. Their first child came relatively easily, but Rebecca was diagnosed with secondary infertility and was never able to have a second child. 
Some people simply don’t meet the right person until later in life. “I didn’t meet anybody that I wanted to get married to,” says “Betty,” who is now a chemistry professor at a large research university. “I worked all the time.” 
She got her first faculty appointment at age 34. “I was an assistant professor, and I still hadn’t met anybody. It gets really hard as an assistant professor to meet people because you’re working your butt off to try and get tenure.” She acknowledges that when she was 38, she seriously considered getting a sperm donor and having a baby alone. She also considered freezing her eggs, a procedure with no guarantees of success. 
At age 39, she finally did meet someone, and they got married. “I met him through the personal ads in the local newspaper, and he was widowed with two teenage children,” she says. “We got married four months after we met, and I got pregnant right away at 39 years old.” 
After the birth of their first child, they tried unsuccessfully to have a second one. “We tried artificial insemination for a year, and we did two or three rounds of that.” She then used a donor egg and got pregnant, but that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. 
A second miscarriage followed shortly after. “It was horrible,” she says. Her grief over the loss made it tough to focus on her teaching and research that semester, she says. “My students gave me really bad evaluations, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to hardly anybody about it.” 
Betty estimates she and her husband spent around $40,000 out of pocket for two rounds of in vitro fertilization. “At that point, I was 47, and I just quit trying.”
This is a tough one to read, but it's a good article. The difficulty in talking about this sort of thing is quite understandable; would that we all had more workplaces where we could talk about it more openly.

Manager thinks chemists need to be flexible and are appropriately paid, news at 11

Also in this week's C&EN, some responses to Donna Nelson's presidential address about chemist employment issues. There's an interesting comment about chemical engineers and their salaries; it attempts to transfer some of the quantitative skills of engineers (without, of course, making comments about the relative supply of chemical engineers. (There were 34,000 in 2014, as opposed to 93,500 chemists.) And then there's this gem: 
Nelson is seeking to better understand the demand side of chemical employment, with fewer inquiries into the supply side. From my 37-year career view, most of it on the managerial side, I would suggest that the larger issue is actually on the supply side: the employability of chemists, which stems from their versatility, flexibility, and adaptability. These attributes are derived from both personal characteristics and educational experiences. And the education part is strongly influenced by those same personal characteristics. 
I found early on that chemists were about the most employable specialists in our economy. They weren’t the highest paid, but they had the widest range of possible employment situations, shared with few others. To me, the rate-limiting step in employability comes from the attributes previously mentioned. Anything that enhances those attributes in the selection and training of chemists will transcend any specifics regarding how the job landscape is changing. 
I don’t think that spending a lot of time and effort on the other factors described in Nelson’s article will be anywhere near as productive as the issues mentioned previously. Instead, I suggest that she and her study group focus on the unique qualities that are presented by individuals trained in chemical science and engineering and how that contributes to their employability in a continuously changing marketplace. In short, it’s how readily employees can adapt to changing conditions around them that determines their long-term value to their employers, particularly in an environment with a continuously increasing change rate. 
To begin, one might refer to the academic studies conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management under professor Edward Roberts (I’m most familiar with his group’s work), plus similar work at Northwestern University and others. They collectively published quite a bit about the versatility, flexibility, and adaptability issues, which led chemists to be employable well beyond conventional chemical research, development, and production positions. That describes the capability of a group of people, which allows them to adapt to whatever specifics that may appear in the future. 
Lou Floyd
Independence, Ohio
You peons never mind about what us managers are up to, just make sure to brush up on your transferrable skills!

The inability of some managerial types to express any sort of empathy or have some level of emotional intelligence about their employees is on full display in that letter. There's not a hint of data, or an attempt to grapple with the negative-trending statistics about chemist employment or wage stagnation. 

This week's C&EN

A few of this week's C&EN issue:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

10 microliter pipette tips

Small, useful things (links):
Readers, 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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Red flag? I don't see no red flag

I challenge UC's call. Credit: PFT
You may have heard about this New York Times story by Amy Harmon about Jason Lieb, the University of Chicago molecular biology professor who resigned after the university administration made conclusions about his behavior at an off-campus retreat (this is a longer post, so the rest is after the jump.) 
...The professor, Jason Lieb, 43, made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students at an off-campus retreat of the molecular biosciences division, according to a university investigation letter obtained by The New York Times, and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.” 
Dr. Lieb, who has received millions of dollars in federal grants over the last decade, did not respond to requests for comment.
“In light of the severity and pervasiveness of Professor Lieb’s conduct, and the broad, negative impact the conduct has had on the educational and work environment of students, faculty and staff, I recommend that the university terminate Professor Lieb’s academic appointment,” reads the letter, signed by Sarah Wake, assistant provost and director of the office for equal opportunity programs. 
Dr. Lieb stepped down last month before any action was taken....

Job posting: experienced process chemist, Gilead, Foster City, CA

From the inbox, a position at Gilead in Foster City*:
Specific Responsibilities and skills for Position: 
LEAD and COORDINATE - chemistry project teams.
  • Identify process improvements.
  • Devise novel solutions and strategies to complex synthetic problems and implement in the lab and Pilot Plant.
  • Deliver high quality API requirements on time.
  • Prepare timely documentation (batch records, reports, development reports, etc).
  • Provide technical, problem solving, and scientific leadership.
  • Preparation of documents for regulatory submission (e.g. IND filing / update, NDA filing etc.)
  • Proven track record of significant accomplishment in Process Development
Knowledge, Experience and Skills: 
  • 7+ years of experience and PhD in a relevant scientific discipline.
  • BS or MS degree with extensive industry experience. 
Apply to the opening here. Best wishes to those interested. 

*Hey, Gilead readers: what's it like to live in Foster City? Do you actually live there? or where do you live?

C&EN: Medicinal chemist selling rotovap chilling device

Credit: C&EN/George Adjabeng
Also in this week's C&EN, a really great little story about a chemist who is selling a rotovap
condenser chiller (story by Marc Reisch, registration required):
[George] Adjabeng’s experience with rotovaps started at Ghana’s University of Cape Coast. After graduating in 2001, he received an M.S. degree in organic chemistry from Ontario’s Brock University and went to work for Roche in California. From 2004 to 2011, he worked for GlaxoSmithKline in North Carolina where he was a discoverer of Tafinlar, a drug that treats advanced melanoma. 
“I used rotovaps while I was in school and at work,” Adjabeng says. At times, he says, “I’d spend all day going back and forth getting dry ice to recharge the rotovap condenser.” He left GSK to get a business degree because, he says, “I didn’t want to be in the lab for the rest of my career.” During his studies, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. “I met people who had started up university-research-based spin-outs,” he says. 
Seeking a technology of his own, Adjabeng recalled his experience in the lab and conceived of the EcoChyll. He also sought out people familiar with refrigeration technology and worked with the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University to develop the prototype he is now testing with potential users. Adjabeng and his friend initially funded development of the EcoChyll out of their own pockets. More recently, an angel investor kicked in $100,000. 
Planning to test the EcoChyll in his lab is University of California, Berkeley, chemistry professor Richmond Sarpong. Given California’s water shortage, Sarpong notes, tap water cooling is rarely used. “But we use a lot of dry ice. It’s expensive and not the most sustainable thing,” he says.
The article goes on to say that he plans to charge somewhere in the $9,000-$12,000 range, which is kinda pricey, but hey! I'm not an entrepreneur and George Adjabeng is. Best wishes to him.

(I presume the problem is this: Mr. Adjabeng's product appears to be aimed at the small chemical business and academic market. It would be interesting to know how many chemistry professors care about dry ice consumable usage. (I certainly know that small chemical business do, but how many of those are there?) How many new rotovaps does Buchi sell in a year in the United States, and beyond? How many of those are run by water-based condensers, as opposed to dry ice, or antifreeze-based recirculating chillers?) 

January 2016 numbers show 151,000 new jobs, 4.9% unemployment

The latest from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates somewhat less job growth than seen in previous months. Job growth is getting awfully close to fabled "full employment", with the National Unemployment Rate for January at 4.9%, down 0.1% from December. The broader U6 measurement of unemployment was also flat at 9.9%.

The number of people employed in the chemical manufacturing subsector was 817,100, up 2,100 positions from December's 815,000. I expect this number to trend down as the Dow/DuPont layoffs kick in, as well as all the various oil company perturbations (although that will likely be recorded in the petroleum and coal products subsector.)

The unemployment rate for college graduates, age 25 and up has been flat for a while at 2.5%. The unemployment rate for non-high school graduates, by comparison, is 7.4%, up from December's 6.7%. If we are to have a bagel this year, I suspect we'll see that show up in the non-high school graduate numbers first.

Also, wage news: "Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent. In January, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 6 cents to $21.33." I hope that's good news.