Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ivory Filter Flask: 9/2/14 edition

Good morning! A few of the academically-related positions posted on C&EN:

Cambridge, MA: MIT is searching for a professor of chemistry, preferably at the assistant professor level. Focus for the position: "...the areas of inorganic, organic or physical chemistry, broadly defined."

Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University is looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry:
Applicants with experimental or theoretical/computational research interests are encouraged to apply, as are candidates with interdisciplinary interests.
Experiment or theoretical? That about covers it, yes?

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University is searching for an assistant professor of chemistry, preferably in the areas of  inorganic, materials, organic, and theoretical chemistry.

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University desires an assistant professor in organic chemistry or "organic systems chemistry", which is a term I've never heard of before.

Rehovot, Israel: The Weizmann Institute of Science is looking for assistant professors in chemistry.

West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University is looking for a tenured or tenure-track professor of chemical education. Narrow number of those, I'm guessing.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day!



This year, I dedicate this song to adjunct professors of chemistry. Your contributions are appreciated by me.

To my American readers, a very happy Labor Day to you and your family. To people in the rest of the world, happy Monday! 

The full 2014 ACS Salary Survey is out

A brief note on the last day of a holiday weekend, courtesy of Sophie Rovner and this week's C&EN:
Unemployment is easing in the U.S. economy as a whole, and that trend is reflected in the chemical sector, according to the latest figures compiled by the American Chemical Society. “The unemployment rate of our domestic chemistry workforce is once again under 3.0%, as it was prior to the economic downturn of 2008–09,” notes Elizabeth C. McGaha, assistant director of ACS’s Research & Brand Strategy (RBS) department, which collects the data. 
“It’s good news that the drop in unemployment isn’t solely related to people taking part-time or postdoctoral work,” says Steven Meyers, assistant director of ACS’s Career & Professional Advancement department. Instead, the decrease in the fraction of ACS member chemists who are actively seeking work is “attributable to growth in full-time employment, which suggests that positions with at least 35 hours of work per week are absorbing those individuals transitioning into the workforce.” 
Unfortunately, the improving jobs situation hasn’t bolstered wages: “Salaries have still not begun to rebound to prerecession levels,” McGaha says. Even worse, “salaries for ACS member chemists in the U.S. have not kept up with inflation and therefore continue to lose ground in terms of buying power. While this is not unique to the chemical labor market, it is still a concern.”
A brief summary of the article's contents (which should be read in full):

Response rate: 23% (this has dropped significantly, with 35% for 2012 and 28% for 2013)
Full-time employed: 91.9% (highest percentage of full-time workers since 2008)
Postdoctoral percentage: 2.3% for 2014
Unemployment: 2.9%, lowest since 2008

An important caveat in the article about long-term unemployment of chemists:
...“it is certainly possible that small numbers of very long-term unemployed chemical scientists and engineers have given up on the job search or moved into non-chemistry-related fields” and therefore don’t show up in the numbers, Meyers says. “Those who have been out of work for a while and have few resources to receive further education or training will eventually take a nonideal position that at least keeps a paycheck coming in, even if it means being underemployed. Once that happens, it becomes more difficult to reenter the chemistry market. We know that some individuals are unfortunately in this regrettable situation; we just don’t have a way to measure how large their numbers are.”
If I were King of the ACS (and it is a good thing I am not), I would make measuring/finding this number a top priority.

The blue monster is winning: One of the interesting aspects of the ACS Salary Survey in recent years is its focus on how chemist wages losing ground against inflation. This year is no different.
Despite the discrepancy in the extent of unemployment, Ph.D.s are sharing the same fate as their colleagues in terms of wage increases. For all three degree levels, median wages this March were essentially the same as last year. The median salary for chemists with a doctorate was $102,000, for those with a master’s degree was $85,000, and for those with a bachelor’s degree was $72,000 (see salary trends table on page 71). 
But the story gets worse: These findings are stated in so-called current dollars, and therefore don’t account for changes in the cost of living. Calculating salaries in constant dollars—a practice that eliminates the effects of inflation—shows that chemists at all degree levels continue to lose ground with respect to the rising cost of living. 
Between 2013 and 2014, salaries adjusted for inflation fell 1.5% for each of the three degree levels. Looking at the data in the longer term highlights stark trends in chemists’ purchasing power. Compared with a decade ago, median salaries have shrunk 11.7% for Ph.D.s, 6.8% for chemists with M.S. degrees, and 7.9% for those with bachelor’s degrees, in terms of constant dollars.
This is a big problem, I would think. I would love to know which professions' median wages consistently beat inflation.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A dramatic reading of the Org Syn prep for Evans phenylalanine-derived oxazolidinone

As part of the Acts of Whimsy for this year's Geek Girl Con, I decided to make a recording of the synthesis of my favorite Evans chiral auxiliary. I hope you enjoy.



Please, if you can, feel free to donate to the causeJust like last year, if you donate and tell me, I will offer you a handwritten thank you note and for any donation of $20 or more, I will write a post of your choosing.

Have a great Labor Day weekend! 

A little podcast fun

I happened to show up at ACS San Francisco a couple of weeks back and there was a tiny little get-together at a Starbucks near the Moscone Center. This is what happens when you're having fun with an iPad:



Thanks to Philip Skinner, Matt Hartings, See Arr Oh, Jess the Chemist, Rachel Pepling, Chris McCarthy and Stephen Davey for making it fun! 

Hmmmm: BU law school economist says 'skills gap' is real

highskilledwageFrom my weekly dose of pain (a Google alert for "skills gap"), an article worth a close read by me, other skeptics of the 'skills gap' in the Harvard Business Review blog by economist James Bessen:

"To the contrary, there is evidence that select groups of workers have been had sustained wage growth, implying persistent skill shortages. Some specific occupations such as nursing do show sustained wage growth and employment growth over a couple decades. And there is more general evidence of rising pay for skills within many occupations. Because many new skills are learned on the job, not all workers within an occupation acquire them. For example, the average designer, who typically does print design, does not have good web and mobile platform skills. Not surprisingly, the wages of the average designer have not gone up. However, those designers who have acquired the critical skills, often by teaching themselves on the job, command six figure salaries or $90 to $100 per hour rates as freelancers. The wages of the top 10% of designers have risen strongly; the wages of the average designer have not. There is a shortage of skilled designers but it can only be seen in the wages of those designers who have managed to master new technologies. 
This trend is more general. We see it in the high pay that software developers in Silicon Valley receive for their specialized skills. And we see it throughout the workforce. Research shows that since the 1980s, the wages of the top 10% of workers has risen sharply relative to the median wage earner after controlling for observable characteristics such as education and experience. Some workers have indeed benefited from skills that are apparently in short supply; it’s just that these skills are not captured by the crude statistical categories that economists have at hand. 
And these skills appear to be related to new technology, in particular, to information technologies. The chart shows how the wages of the 90th percentile increased relative to the wages of the 50th percentile in different groups of occupations. The occupational groups are organized in order of declining computer use and the changes are measured from 1982 to 2012. Occupations affected by office computing and the Internet (69% of these workers use computers) and healthcare (55% of these workers use computers) show the greatest relative wage growth for the 90th percentile. Millions of workers within these occupations appear to have valuable specialized skills that are in short supply and have seen their wages grow dramatically... 
I'm not an economist, so I don't know if I can critique all of what Professor Bessen has to say. Also, there's not a data set to go along with his blogpost. I think that "it's happening, we just haven't been able to quantify it" is a particularly compelling point. A couple of quick thoughts:
  • Surely his assertions about the relative wages of the 90th versus 50th percentile of graphic designers have been statistically substantiated somewhere. 
  • I think he's completely spitballing when he says that "the occupational groups are organized in order of declining computer use". In what sense? 
Professor Bessen's argument seems to be an application of the "superstar effect" writ large to broader groups of employees. (i.e. top income earners are just better than the rest of us, who have not learned these desired skills.) While I might be convinced of that, I think I've yet to see evidence of it and I think the implication of a "skills gap" is still unfounded. 

(Also, how is his "information technology = wage increases to the 90th percentile" theory legit when the largest wage gap is seen for health care?) 

Anyone heard anything about PPG?

Courtesy of ACC Smartbrief, I see the Pittsburgh Business Times says that PPG is expanding/hiring?: 
...Beyond the Allison Park facility and the company's namesake headquarters located in downtown Pittsburgh, PPG operates additional research centers in Springdale, Monroeville and Harmar, as well as the company's newly established Architectural Coatings North American Headquarters in Cranberry Township. 
Kahle said PPG is adding over 300 technical and non-technical jobs to Pennsylvania in 2014, which includes relocating some employees from Strongsville, Ohio to the new Cranberry facility. In the last three years PPG has hired about 160 new employees to fill technical positions, he said. 
All of the company's labs in Pittsburgh will be approaching 95 percent utilization in the next year and the company is discussing its options for the future. 
"From a technology point of view, I can't imagine a more exciting time," he said. "And that excitement is reflected in our sales." PPG had $15 billion in sales in 2013, up 12 percent from the previous year. Increased sales have also led to an increase in research and development investment, with the company spending $550 million last year on research efforts.
I feel like PPG has been quietly expanding since ~2010 or so, but I don't really track them, other than they seem to be one of the few companies hiring chemists in the Pittsburgh area. My sense is that they put out about one or two entry-level Ph.D. inorganic/organometallic ads a year? Anyone have a better sense? 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

PSA for professors and other supervisors with access to social media

Just in case you didn't know, it's not helpful to call out your direct reports on social media, especially platforms that lend themselves to screen shots and anonymous image sharing sites.

(Should a professor or other boss-type entities friend their direct reports on social media? No, says CJ.) 

August 2014 Chemical Activity Barometer slowing a bit, but still grows

From the American Chemistry Council: 
The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), continued to see moderated upward growth this month, with a 0.2 percent gain over July as measured on a three-month moving average (3MMA). This represented a deceleration from the 0.4 percent gain in July and an average gain of 0.5 percent for the first six months of 2014... 
 “Consistent with other recent economic reports, including the Conference Board and the Chicago Fed National Activity Index, the Chemical Activity Barometer continues to point to a slowly expanding U.S. economy, at least through the first quarter of 2015,” said Dr. Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC."
It would sure be nice to have consistent signs of an expanding economy, but it doesn't look like we're there yet. Sigh.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Well, it had to happen



I see my coauthor Alex Goldberg has challenged me (along with Derek Lowe and Carmen Drahl) to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I am honored to be included among them. Guess I'll get a bucket and a towel. 

This week's C&EN:

Some interesting articles:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A dramatic reading of "A comprehensive overview of chemical-free consumer products"

As part of the Acts of Whimsy for this year's Geek Girl Con, I decided to make a recording of the paper that Alex Goldberg and I submitted to Nature Chemistry. I hope you enjoy. (One more dramatic reading on its way.)



Please, if you can, feel free to donate to the cause. Just like last year, if you donate and tell me, I will offer you a handwritten thank you note and for any donation of $20 or more, I will write a post of your choosing.