Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Note to Anonymous

this started as a reply to a comment on my last post, but it got so long i figured it deserved a post of its own. paul, excuse the lack of caps. i wrote this in the heat of the moment. i know how to diagram sentences, i swear. :)
i do agree with you that for grads busting their asses to pass quals (or get into a good group, or just getting stuff to work for once), the wining and dining days of recruiting are a distant memory. it's definitely true that fewer and fewer upper year students take part in the festivities, and with good reason...
i think that potential chemgrads need to go in well-informed about precisely what you said, and be open to (gasp!) other options. if you really really really want an industry job, they are tough to get these days. maybe the pendulum will swing back, maybe not.
and you're right, a survey can't be comprehensive if everyone isn't polled or doesn't respond, and they're reporting on survey data, so hopefully people trained as scientists know to take it with a grain of salt.
"The 2006 survey involved mailing questionnaires
to a random sample of 24,000
ACS members who were most likely to be
in the domestic workforce. They all resided
in the U.S., were under 70 years of age, and
were not in the emeritus, retired, or student
member categories." -C&EN 9/18/2006
The ACS has over 150,000 members, and it's been discussed at length in the blogs that many chemists don't join ACS at all, or their employers pay for it, so there's some overrepresentation there.
without real poll data, you risk jumping into that nebulous trend story fad. see here and here. so maybe their hands are tied to some extent. i don't think the stories on the survey data should be portrayed as indicative of anything wider. the question is, how could a good poll be properly conducted? with the status of postdocs being different almost everywhere, to cite one example, it would require extensive red-tape wading to reach everyone. on the other hand, since a lot of the job market stuff comes through word of mouth anyway, we could argue about where the best place is to disseminate this information in the first place. federal labor statistics?
i hear about industrial sites that are only hiring one person or two a year, and everybody has a fantastic pedigree. so, what happens to the others? some people are having to take a risk and take a job at a tiny company where they'd really need to stand out to ever be hired by a big guy.there are probably some success stories there, but i don't know as many working chemists as other bloggers. derek's situation is difficult, as well. it's economics driving that, plus perhaps preferring to train someone with less experience in your company's particular way of doing things?
when i got to grad school, i had blinders on. it's partially due to the fact that i went to a small school and didn't know any grad students, and that i had my "eyes on the prize" and didn't stop to think about the fact that i might be good at more than chemistry. my academic work was inextricably linked to my self-esteem back then. i think you can still go to grad school and work in a lab because you like chemistry. that's perfectly OK, but i think that people in this modern economy have to realize that a ph.d. in chemistry can be useful in plenty of different jobs, despite the traditionalists who regard those careers as "alternatives". i struggled with that idea for some time, but i keep hearing about my friends in the grad program that are going to go into consulting or work as a patent agent, two jobs i didn't know existed till grad school. some of them think that they might miss the lab, but maybe not. i even know someone who returned to the lab from an editorial position. it's tough, and you need to work hard to get back into the groove, but it's possible. reading "the world is flat" made me realize that everyone's going to have to work smarter and be creative in order to stay afloat.
the easiest jobs to look at are the ones for which you are supposedly directly trained. med school-> doctor. business school-> executive. law school-> lawyer. sally struthers school->medical assistant, electrician, business management, or accounting. chemistry grad school-> professor or lab chemist? yes, it's true that the other professions don't have the same kind of supply/demand issue in their job markets, but it's not something individuals have much control over, so i went for something different. maybe that's why when i hear about disgruntled grad students first thinking about other professions, those are often the things they gravitate toward at first. it takes real soul-searching to look beyond that. months and months of it, in my case, and if i'm not happy when i start working, i'm not afraid to start the process all over again.
i think the hardest part of the problem is that it's hard to explain this to the young-uns, because they think they have the answers and it won't happen to them, because we have somehow "failed" as chemists. i doubt i would have listened if "future me" went back in time to warn "young, idealistic, slightly cocky me" about such things.

whew. that's a manifesto-length post. speaking of which, if you haven't read milkshake's post, get thee to org prep daily. i learned a lot from it.


At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marvelous commentary! I thought I was the only person who saw the inconsistencies in the ACS salary survey. Those ACS figures are currently being used by the US BLS (bureau of labor statistics) as being representative of the ‘employment’ situation for all chemists. Goto and look under the chemistry profession and you’ll see the inflated ACS salary statistics from 2004 being used. They assert that the numbers are derived from a survey of ALL 160,000 members! That’s a shame because it highlights the incestuous nature of govt and the ACS. I once had a pie in the sky view of ACS but in recent years it has shown its true face (oh I’ll give them the fact I always had a good time at the meetings). Quite frankly, I haven’t been a member for four years but I still get their mailings and e-mail. It makes me wonder if they ever ‘took me off the books’ . That aside, they’re not very open about their position on the job market as many have noted.
Certainly the majority of their funding comes from corporate sponsors that want the rails greased for further glutting the market with chemists.

- And kudos for picking up on the fact that many major Chem corps pay their worker's ACS dues!


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