Wednesday, October 26, 2016

ACS Presidential Candidate Thomas Gilbert on #chemjobs issues

I recently sent an e-mail to Professor Thomas Gilbert, who is currently running for the ACS President-Elect position to see if he was interested in answering four questions for ACS presidential candidates about chemist employment and unemployment. Here are his unedited answers:
1. Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it? 
Career Navigator (CN) is the ACS one-stop shopping center for helping members advance their careers and land new jobs. Its resources include career counseling; basic guidance on resume writing and interview preparation, and linking job seekers with prospective employers. These are effective tools as long as job seekers have the knowledge, skills, and experience to the fill the jobs that are available. For those who don’t, CN offers a variety of face-to-face and online training courses. These are quality courses, but they have price tags to match: often between $1000 and $2000, which is more than many members can afford, particularly those who have been out of work or who took huge pay cuts to find permanent jobs. On my Presidential to-do list is making these courses and other professional education services available to unemployed and under-employed members at reduced or no cost. 
2. Is it ACS policy to get more students to study in STEM fields, specifically chemistry? If so, how do we reconcile the fact that wages for chemists are stagnant? Does this argue against the idea of a STEM shortage and the need for more STEM students? 
It is true that ACS has major programs designed to improve the quality of K-12 STEM and chemistry education in the US, and to encourage students from under-represented groups to pursue careers in chemistry. The goals of these programs are to create a population that has an understanding of, and appreciation for, how science and scientific inquiry benefits all of us, and to create more diversity among chemistry professionals. I don’t see them significantly increasing the size of the chemistry work force. If others argue that ACS should be restricting enrollments in undergrad and grad chemistry programs, my counter argument is that we should focus on improving the quality of those programs so that they produce graduates who have the knowledge, skills and experience that are in demand in today’s chemical enterprise, recognizing that future job growth will not be within the traditional boundaries of chemistry but in cross-disciplinary areas built on an understanding of how processes work at the molecular level. ACS-certified education programs need to reflect that reality. 
3. In the past decade, what was the one action of any ACS President that has had the greatest influence -good or bad - on members' employment and careers? Other than working groups and reports, what tangible steps would you take to increase the number of chemistry jobs in the US, and is this something you think is really achievable? 
An action that I believe will have an impact on the ability of young MS and PhD chemists to find employment is the work of the 2012 Presidential Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences. Their report made it clear that too many graduate programs are preparing students for jobs that no longer exist, guaranteeing that their students will dwell in the land of the perpetual post-doc for years before they acquire the skills – and not just laboratory skills – that they need to land a decent job. On too many campuses, graduate programs in chemistry are archaic, inefficient and inherently unfair to the students in them. The time has come to address this problem by putting into action the recommendations of the 2012 presidential commission. 
4. One of the chief roles of the ACS to advocate for chemists in the US Congress. Which of the following options would you prioritize, and why? (increased grant funding, more training in entrepreneurship for students, shifting funding from academia to more SBIRs or retraining postdocs?) 
Linked to my answer to the previous question, I believe that ACS should work with NSF, NIH, and other funding agencies to redesign how young chemists are trained. We need national models of cooperative undergraduate and graduate education in the chemical sciences that encourage partnerships between faculty and their colleagues in industry. Programs supported by these partnerships would provide undergrads with experiences they do not get in most college teaching labs, and would engage graduate students in interdisciplinary collaborations focused on solving real-world problems that actually impact peoples’ lives. I believe prospective employers would find considerable value in the knowledge, skills and experience that graduates of these programs would have.
Thanks to Professor Gilbert for his responses.

Process Wednesday: "seasoning"?

In an article titled "Industrial Suzuki chemistry" in the "Special Publication" section of the September 2016 issue of Speciality Chemicals (always a good read), the authors (John C. Parks and Eric L. Williams of Albemarle) mention an interesting technique I have not heard of yet:
Suzuki reactions are prone to catalyst poisoning. This means that it is wise to clean reaction equipment diligently and maintain a dedicated reactor for the Suzuki step. For very high value chemicals, Albemarle will run a reactor seasoning batch before starting the campaign. 
A seasoning batch is typically the desired Suzuki reaction run at one-tenth the normal concentration. If the seasoning batch runs to ~90% completion, we generally consider the reactor seasoned. 
I've never heard of this, has anyone else? I'm not quite sure what they mean by "seasoned." This usually makes me think of "seasoning" a cast-iron pan, i.e. polymerizing a protective oil coating on the surface. In this case, I suspect that it is a test to see whether or not there are catalyst poisons (sulfur compounds, etc) on the reactor wall? It'd be interesting to know if there was a difference between different reactor materials (glass, stainless steel, Hastelloy.) 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dickinson State professor was making and grinding acetone peroxide?

A couple of days ago, there was a brief conversation on Twitter (started by Daniel Horowitz) about a reported explosion at Dickinson State University on October 4. Here's a brief report by Kalsey Stults in the West Fargo Pioneer:
DICKINSON, N.D.—Students at Dickinson State University were back to an unceremonious Wednesday, Oct. 5, 24 hours after Murphy Hall was evacuated and a faculty member was injured in a classroom explosion Tuesday afternoon. 
Chemistry professor Ken Pierce was preparing a classroom demonstration around 3:30 p.m. when an incident occurred resulting in a small explosion. [snip] 
Jack Schulz, DSU's director of security and emergency management, said the classroom showed visible signs of an explosion with parts of the counter being damaged, and blood and debris around the room. Schulz said the second floor of the building was evacuated within minutes and someone aided in helping Pierce with his injuries and giving first aid until paramedics arrived on scene. 
"There was a young lady that had some type of medical training either in the room or in the area, and she provided a little bit of first aid on him (Pierce)," Schulz said.
The professor's hands were bandaged before he was taken by ambulance. 
Schulz said the head of the chemistry department notified him immediately that there was no dangerous airborne chemicals to be concerned about in the lab and there was no fire from the explosion. Schulz said knowing that there was no immediate danger, it was about making sure students didn't panic, and said the evacuation was calm and orderly.
Yesterday, Ms. Stults (published here in the Grand Forks Herald) mentions this set of details about the incident (emphasis CJ's):
On Oct. 4 at 3:25 p.m. Pierce was conducting a chemistry demonstration in room 206 of Murphy Hall when the demonstration went awry. 
He was demonstrating flash powder—a compound made from hydrogen peroxide and acetone—for five students. After the two compounds were mixed and sat for a couple of hours to dry they then become a powder. 
During the first experiment Pierce noticed a small amount of powder in the mixture, and when he ignited the powder it flashed but the clump of powder combusted—which he thought was unusual but continued. 
He then conducted two more experiments without incident, but before the fourth experiment Pierce noted small clumps of powder in the mixture. 
Pierce then poured in mortar and pestle to grind them up, but when he started to grind the mixture, it exploded. 
Pierce suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported to CHI St. Alexius Hospital in Dickinson before being transferred to Bismarck for surgery... 
...Pierce was wearing personal protective equipment including goggles and students had been tested on safety protocol at the beginning of the semester.
So I am open to the possibility that the details of this experiment were incorrectly reported by university officials. However, if the details are accurate (and I have no reason to doubt that they were), here's what we know:
  • Professor Pierce was preparing something that sounds awfully like acetone peroxide. Couple of things:  
    • Acetone peroxide is famously touchy stuff. 
    • I was under the impression that acetone peroxide preparations included some acid? Apparently not needed. 
  • Professor Pierce was wearing some amount of PPE. 
  • The acetone peroxide mixture exploded when ground in a mortar and pestle. (Not a surprise there.) 
A few questions remain: 
  • Was there an appropriate risk assessment done in regards to Professor Pierce's PPE? 
  • How close or far away were the students from the bench when this happened? 
  • What was the scale of the acetone peroxide experiment? 
  • Were there any records of the amounts used for the experiment? 
In general, I think that pops and bangs are an integral part of chemistry demonstrations. That said, the intentional (or unintentional?) preparation of a primary explosive seems unusual at best. 

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 415 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 415 positions.

Have you had a Skype/phone interview with a position on the Faculty Jobs List? Please add the date of the interview to the open thread. The open thread is here.

Ivory Filter Flask: 10/25/16 edition

A few of the academic positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma is looking for an assistant professor of organic geochemistry.

Honolulu, HI: The University of Hawaii at Manoa is looking for 3 assistant or associate professor positions:
The successful candidates will be expected to develop robust research programs at the intersection of Biochemistry with Organic, Inorganic, and Physical Chemistry. Candidates with research interests in traditional areas of Organic Chemistry will also be considered. Research that takes advantage of the unique natural environment and strategic needs of the State of Hawaii will receive special consideration. The successful candidate will also demonstrate an ability to contribute to the teaching mission of the department at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
Sounds interesting.

Clarksville, TN: Austin Peay State University is looking for an assistant professor of physical chemistry.

Duluth, MN: The University of Minnesota Duluth is searching for an assistant or associate professor of chemistry to work on experimental materials chemistry.

Fredonia, NY: SUNY Fredonia is looking for an assistant professor of bioinorganic chemistry (?).

Northampton, MA: Smith College is looking for a two year visiting assistant professor. "Specializations may include but are not limited to: General, Organic, Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, as well as Biochemistry and Environmental Chemistry." Casting a broad net, I see. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Take the penalty

Also in this week's C&EN, a good response in a letter to the editor to a recent article in C&EN about data integrity at overseas API manufacturers: 
The story “Foreign Drug Suppliers Caught in Data Dragnet” has a subtitle that reads, “Critics say FDA’s focus on data integrity is blocking drugs from otherwise good manufacturers” (C&EN, Sept. 19, page 26). 
Apparently, some “proficient drug manufacturers” in India and China are complaining that they have received warning letters from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration or have been banned from the U.S. because they “have failed inspections for undocumented deletions of test results or for not controlling who has access to data history.” 
These active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) companies suggest that it is okay to discard data because of incorrect sampling, incorrect standard preparation, incorrect sample weighing, etc. They want FDA to give them “mulligans” because they believe that “it’s common sense to discard meaningless data.” 
Nonsense! If a manufacturer’s analytical group is making multiple “innocent” errors such as those described on the “mulligan” list and then the group discards the data, it is not only violating current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations, it is avoiding corrective actions for incidents that may be part of a systemic problem. Are the multiple errors because a company’s analysts are not properly trained and/or not following the appropriate standard operating procedures? Do such companies even have SOPs? 
Let’s, for the sake of argument, say that an analytical group for a cGMP manufacturer had only one innocent error and it discarded the data. If, under a “mulligan” approach, a manufacturer is allowed to discard data, how would FDA know whether there was just a single incident or thousands of events? 
The cGMP regulations were established and are enforced to prevent injury and death to the ultimate consumer, the patient. Although there are numerous examples where analytical error and/or outright fraud has led to serious consequences, I’ll cite just one for brevity: 
Between 2007 and 2008, Scientific Protein Laboratories, a manufacturer with facilities in China, substituted oversulfated chondroitin sulfate for heparin, possibly because the cost of chondroitin was one-hundredth the cost of heparin. The “error” went undetected by Scientific Protein Laboratories’ quality-control lab; the company then sold the drug substance to Baxter International. Baxter’s manufacturing analytical group failed to detect the contamination both in the raw material and in the final drug product. This resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries. 
I’ve worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several decades. I don’t believe that cGMP suppliers in China, India, or elsewhere should be given “mulligans” for what they perceive are trivial problems. API suppliers need to have a system to report all analytical problems and, when appropriate, implement and report corrective actions. 
David Allen Marsh
Bonita Springs, Fla.
I couldn't agree more. It's not the fault of FDA inspectors that some companies can't keep their analysts from deleting inconvenient data.  

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's issue of Chemical and Engineering News:

Friday, October 21, 2016

0.1 micron syringe filters

A collection of small, useful things (links):
Again, 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.

Why not a chemistry Cannonball Run?

A successful jerry-rigging
Credit: Benjamin Preston, The Drive
I promise that this isn't turning in to a car blog, but I cannot resist this piece by Benjamin Preston at The Drive, about a Cannonball Run (i.e. a cross-country automobile race.) The stipulation of this particular race is that the vehicle had to have been purchased for less than $3000 and be a vehicle from the 1970s. You should read the whole thing, but I especially enjoyed this part about fixing an alternator that had been problematic the entire trip:
...Perhaps as subliminal compensation for my failure to address the alternator issue back in New York, when it would have made a difference, I had, at the last minute, thrown the Omega's original alternator into the back of the trunk. Covered in oil and grime, it had come with the car's 6-cylinder engine when it had rolled off the assembly line in Flint back in 1974. I had little confidence in this soiled, elderly part, which was why I'd sprung for the remanufactured-in-Mexico Autozone alternator to begin with. 
This stop required more pause for thought, but the headscratching cost us time. After installing the oily original-equipment alternator, Hart and I discussed the heat problems associated with an under-sized alternator. What if, he reasoned, we could find a way to cool the alternator, thereby keeping it from burning out like the others? 
"Can you run without the bonnet?" he asked, suggesting that maybe we could remove the hood and strap it to the roof to allow cool air to flow across the alternator. I wasn't into this one, but then he wondered aloud if we could devise some sort of ducting to cool the overheating part. 
Next to the dead-end parts store we'd stopped at was a Tractor Supply Co., a veritable trove of useable odds and ends. From there, we picked up a length of flexible RV sewage hose, cutting it in half to form two shorter hoses. Zip-tying one end of each into the slots on the car's lower bumper, we routed the hoses between the hood and radiator support, then zip-tied the other ends to the alternator. Hart fixed a bottomless McDonald's cup into one of the hoses to form a sort of intake. The idea was that cold air from outside would, at speed, be forced into the hoses and up onto the alternator to keep it cool. Almost an hour later, we wrapped up our junior high school engineering project and got back on I-40. 
Although the headlights dimmed whenever the fan kicked on, the charge light left us alone for the rest of the trip...
Successful improvisation is really one of those things that has a psychological payoff like no other. It's good for team building (when it works, that is) and it can almost be fun to solve a problem under pressure.

Also, wouldn't it be cool if there was some sort of chemistry-related endurance race? Maybe it could be something where you had to improvise and perform a 4 step synthesis, but each reaction had to be run in a different time zone? I dunno, I'm probably crazy, but I'd enjoy running a recrystallization in the middle of the night while trying to figure out the fastest route to the next fuel stop...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

STEM, computer workers and their degrees

Credit: Census Bureau
Someone asked a really good question about chemists and computer occupations over at the Chemistry Reddit:
It seems to me that a disproportionate number of chemists end up taking up programming to some extent, and sometimes transfer to that field entirely. Does anybody else feel the same way? And why do you think this would be?
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Census Bureau's data about this, where they correlate the various STEM degrees and the occupational fields of their degree holders through the American Community Survey. As you can see, the green/teal line is the number of B.S. physical science degree holders who go into occupations classified as "computer workers." As you can see, it's large, but not especially large compared to those who get engineering degrees or computer science degrees.

To get further into the weeds, I calculated the percentages of computer workers for degree holders for the "STEM" fields:

Computers, mathematics and statistics degrees: 43% computer workers
Engineering degrees: 15% computer workers
Physical science degrees: 7% computer workers
Biological, environmental and agricultural sciences degrees: 3% computer workers
Psychology degrees: 3% computer workers
Social sciences degrees: 4% computer workers

Looking at the data, it seems to me to be equivocal. If you compare to "TEM" workers, no, chemists do not end up disproportionately as programmers. However, the data does suggest that, of the "S" fields, the physical sciences disproportionately end up as computer workers. 

Daily Pump Trap: 10/20/16 edition

A (very) few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs: 

Aliso Viejo, CA: Calhoun Vision is looking for an experienced M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a director of chemical sciences and engineering. They'll be "responsible for the development and implementation for all formulation and automation processes for the fabrication of the silicone polymer lens technology." Also, a principal analytical chemist position from the same company. 

RTP: AgBiome is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to work on formulation for "novel biological pest and disease control products."

Colorado Springs, CO: The Institute for Defense Analyses is looking for a research analyst to work with the Missile Defense Agency. M.S./Ph.D. desired.

Boca Raton, FL: Duane Morris is an IP law firm; they've posted a patent agent/technical advisor position and an intellectual property associate position. 

Ventura, CA: JH Biotech, Inc. is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. organic chemist for a research scientist position; local candidates preferred. 70-80k offered. 

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and show (respective) "1000+", 345, 10,121 and 19 positions for the search term "chemist." LinkedIn shows 2,273 positions for the search term "chemist". I did a little experiment today where I searched the following job titles both without quotes on the job title, and with. The 'without' quotes is the first number. Analytical chemist: 184/216. Research chemist: 49/39. Formulation chemist: 41/35. Synthetic chemist: 405/15. Medicinal chemist: 51/15. Organic chemist: 63/28. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What's more expensive, Boston or San Francisco?

A cherished friend of the blog writes in with the following question; it has been [redacted] for privacy: 
I am trying to gauge the growth of the biotech/pharma sector in the Bay Area over the last few years: as you know, Boston is still the top destination, so my main concern is whether I will find other jobs if [things don't work out].  
[Also], I was wondering what a “good” salary is for the Bay Area. Currently [my spouse] is finishing grad school so we are pretty much a single income family, but [they] are getting [their advanced degree in tech] so we’re hoping that [they] will be making a decent amount of money soon. Any sources which can help me compare, for instance, what the equivalent of say a 120K salary in Boston would be for SF would be immensely helpful.
This is a good question, and one that I don't really have a strong sense of. It seems to me that San Francisco will continue to play "1A" to Boston's "1" for the foreseeable future. Absent some sort of bizarre catastrophe that strikes Silicon Valley, Stanford and UC-Berkeley (a series of huge earthquakes and fires?), it's hard for me to imagine that the science and financial ecosystem of the Bay Area will lose its relative position in the biopharma world, either nationally or internationally.

A brief look at median incomes and household income percentiles may be instructive, regarding pay scales. There are plenty of websites that compare cost of living, and I don't really know if any of them are better than others. I invite reader suggestions on that one.

However, I think one of the main drivers of high cost of living is the relative number of people with high incomes (I note here that I have read exactly none of the relevant social science around this.) So, a comparison of San Francisco County and Suffolk County, Massachusetts (using the Census Bureau's 2014 American Community Survey):

Suffolk County, MA: median income of $54,169, 26.9% earn more than $100,000
San Francisco County, CA: median income of $78,378, 40.9% earn more than $100,000

Nearby counties:

Middlesex County, MA: median income of $83,488, 42% earn more than $100,000
Norfolk County, MA: median income of $86,469, 43.6% earn more than $100,000
San Mateo County, CA: median income of $91,421, 46.2% earn more than $100,000 
Marin County, CA: median income of $91,529, 58.2% earn more than $100,000

This suggests to me that one would have to earn significantly more than $120,000 ($174,000?) in order to keep the same lifestyle.* That is, of course, likely a ridiculous wild guess. Readers, please tell me how wrong I am.

UPDATE: Thanks to Joe Q., I've decided to add some of the adjoining counties. 

*Or, likely, that's how much you would have to earn to stay in the immediate metro area of the city, and not have a longer commute? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 401 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 401 positions. The open thread is here. 

Daily Pump Trap: 10/18/16 edition

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

Plymouth, MN: Cargill, looking for a "Global Bioanalytical Lead". M.S./Ph.D. with experience, looks like. "This position requires strong analytical chemistry skills, especially related to biotechnology field, as well as strong leadership skills. The incumbent will be accountable for overall direction of bioanalytical within the global BioRD, provide leadership in assessing needs of BioRD and making sure those needs are met and coordinated across all BioRD locations."

Kenilworth, NJ: Merck, looking for a M.S./Ph.D. with experience in high-throughput laboratory equipment and biologics testing. 

Los Angeles, CA: Matrix Sensors, Inc. is looking for a B.S. chemist to be a laboratory technician; looks to be something about gas sensors? 2-5 years experience is what they're looking for - I'd be surprised if they can get that.

Virginia Beach, VA: These positions always are eye-catching, especially in their vagueness:
Point One USA, LLC seeks a PhD level Chemist to support advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) courses of instruction specifically designed to train EOD operators assigned to special operations units and to conduct test and evaluation for federal government agencies. Candidates must have verifiable experience working with and synthesizing energetic materials. Candidates must have the ability to teach non-chemist personnel to familiarize and educate them on the hazards associated with chemical warfare agents, terrorist homemade explosives and precursor materials. Willingness to travel both domestically and abroad on a frequent basis is a must. Ability to work in austere, dynamic and diverse environments with multiple professional disciplines is essential. Some lifting, collateral duties and work with hazardous materials is necessary. Candidates with military, biology or radiological training/experience is preferred. 
- Must have a PhD
- Must relocate to Virginia Beach, VA
- Must be willing to travel
- Must be able to teach non-chemist
"....Evaluations for federal government agencies." I like it. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 10/18/16 edition

A few academic positions posted recently at C&EN Jobs:

Los Angeles, CA: UCLA is looking for an assistant professor of computational chemistry. "Expertise in the computational design of catalysts for organic, organometallic, and inorganic reactions is preferred."

Houston, TX: The University of Houston, looking for an assistant professor of bioorganic chemistry.

Montreal, Quebec: The University of Montreal is looking for two assistant professors, one in polymer chemistry and one in inorganic chemistry.

Athens, GA: The University of Georgia is searching for an assistant professor of analytical chemistry.

Lacey, WA: St. Martin's University, looking for two assistant professors:
The Department of Natural Sciences at Saint Martin’s University seeks to fill two full-time, tenure-track, entry-level faculty positions in the Chemistry program. One position is for an expert in the field of Analytical or Biochemistry and the other is for an expert in Environmental, Green, or Geochemistry. The finalist for the latter position will regularly teach Physical Geology, a required part of the curriculum for engineering majors.
I think they're advertising for two positions, but the way that it is worded, it almost seems like 3. It's most likely two.

Baltimore, MD: A postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Professor Andrew Horti in synthetic medicinal chemistry. "Spacious" labs - that's not a detail you see every day.

Colorado Springs, CO: Not every day that you see these types of positions, but I see that Colorado College is looking for a B.S./M.S. medicinal chemist for a research project.

Faculty search: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University invites applications for at least 5 new faculty positions as part of its planned expansion. Targeted areas for the current search include*: 
Chemistry: Chemical Biology; Materials Chemistry (including Polymer Chemistry, Metal-Organic Frameworks)
Life Sciences: Cell Biology; Theoretical Biology; Behavioral Learning Theory
Mathematics: Discrete Mathematics; Computational Sciences; Big Data Analysis
Physics: Quantum Information; Ultracold Physics; Condensed Matter; Cosmology/Gravitational Waves 
We are seeking applicants with excellent scholarship and creativity. Successful candidates are expected to establish an active program of research, supervise student research and teach in the graduate program. Generous research resources are provided which may be supplemented with external grants. Appointments will be Tenure-Track or Tenured. Starting date is flexible.
*Applications from strong candidates in other fields may be considered.
Full job description here. Best wishes to those interested.