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Employment Outlook 2009

This week’s suite of cover stories is C&EN’s annual “Employment Outlook” feature. The stories were coordinated and edited by Senior Editor Corinne Marasco, who also wrote the lead story.

Not surprisingly, Marasco’s interviews with numerous company representatives and university department heads revealed that the economic chaos of recent weeks has turned the outlook for jobs for chemists somewhat cloudy. “Although industrial representatives who spoke with C&EN this year report that their companies are hiring,” Marasco reports, “they are doing so with a ‘wait and see’ attitude toward a possibly weaker job market in 2009. The exception is chemical engineers, who continue to be in high demand at all degree levels.”

Indeed, one hard truth that comes through in Marasco’s story is that, if your passion is chemistry and you want a job in industry, you’d better plan on getting that Ph.D.—or develop a passion for chemical engineering. For example, Cary W. Wilkins, director of recruitment for the Americas at Shell Chemicals, told Marasco that the overall market is very good for chemical engineers at all degree levels and for Ph.D. chemists, groups that Shell is recruiting.

Eastman Chemical workforce planning and staffing manager Sharon Cooper says Eastman is looking to hire B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. chemical engineers and Ph.D. chemists. Sue Sun-LaSovage, global university relations leader for Dow Chemical, calls the competition for engineering graduates in the U.S. and Europe “fierce.” Dow is recruiting for bachelor’s- and master’s-level chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers and Ph.D. chemists with experience.

Marasco also learned that companies are looking for well-rounded candidates, those who possess excellent technical proficiency along with good communication skills and the ability to work in teams.

The importance of being well-rounded to career success was echoed by one of the students interviewed by Assistant Editor Kenneth Moore for his story on international internships. Aanchal Raj, a second-year electrical and computer engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University who participated in Rice University’s NanoJapan internship program, told Moore: “To be a leader in science requires much more than just technical expertise. It requires entrepreneurship and skills in leadership, communication, and, most of all, cultural awareness with the ever-increasing global collaboration.”

Like Moore’s story on international internships, the other two stories in the “Employment Outlook” package emphasize the need for flexibility, daring, and following your passion in building a successful scientific career.

Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth’s story on “Entrepreneurial Trailblazers” profiles nine women scientists who, for a variety of reasons, started their own small businesses. All of the women Ainsworth interviewed stated that starting a business is not always easy, but each also expressed deep satisfaction with their chosen career paths.

Pamela G. Marrone, who founded two companies focused on pest management—AgraQuest and Marrone Organic Innovations—eloquently captured that passion. “I was driven by a vision and a dream of what I wanted to accomplish—to change the world through pesticide products that are safer and effective,” she told Ainsworth. “I didn’t think about the barriers or the problems or challenges. I only thought about the possibilities and visualized the end game and the success.”

Associate Editor Linda Wang’s story, “Extreme Chemistry,” looks at chemists doing research in exotic locales, like the dry valleys of Antarctica, in the deep ocean, and on the rims of volcanoes. George W. Luther, a chemist who is a professor of oceanography at the University of Delaware, told Wang: “Just because you’re a chemist doesn’t mean you’re limited to doing exactly what chemists are supposed to be doing. What’s critical is finding a scientific topic that you’re passionate about.”

The employment outlook for 2009 is, without doubt, unsettled, but passion for your science and flexibility about your career path can make a world of difference in a job search.

Thanks for reading.

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