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WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs

Tomorrow’s frontpage of The Washington Post

will run an article by Brian Vastag (Twitter, WaPo bio) on the employment challenges facing science PhDs. The difficulties are no secret to our readers – whether you are a freshly-minted PhD or a 50-something subjected to downsizing – but I believe that this is the highest profile treatment of the subject in the US print media.

The article even cites the closure of the Roche campus in Nutley that we discussed two weeks ago and, below, employment numbers from the annual ACS survey.

“Scads and scads and scads of people” have been cut free, [former Sanofi-Aventis scientist Kim] Haas said. “Very good chemists with PhDs from Stanford can’t find jobs.”

Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey.

Although the overall unemployment rate of chemists and other scientists is much lower than the national average, those figures mask an open secret: Many scientists work outside their chosen field.

What amazes me are the number of comments already. I already followed Vastag on Twitter and when he tweeted about the article at 4:44 this afternoon, it had 22 comments. Right now, at 9:50 on Saturday night, the article has accumulated 504 comments. Some of these are nonsensical or non-sequiturs but the bulk are robust and on-topic. I can imagine that the sober assessment of PhD training vs. job market demands will be discussed far and wide on Sunday and in the coming week.

One thing missing from the article was a discussion of the so-called alternative career paths where one uses PhD training but not in an academic or industrial setting. Even a typical non-lab career of science writing is becoming extremely competitive, both for salaried positions and freelancers.

I hesitate to say this without complete data but we may indeed be reaching a point where more PhDs are being produced than can be absorbed by both academia/industry and non-laboratory positions.

Source:
Vastag, Brian. U.S. pushes for more scientists but the jobs aren’t there. The Washington Post

. 8 July 2012.

Nutley nostalgia on Roche campus closing

The most-viewed article at C&EN online over the last seven days was news from Lisa M. Jarvis on the announced closing of the venerable Nutley, NJ, campus of Hoffmann-La Roche – better known today as simply Roche. A mere 13 miles from Manhattan’s Times Square, the US headquarters of Swiss company moved to Nutley in 1929.

A total of 1,000 jobs will be lost when the campus closes late in 2013 – Susan Todd at The Star-Ledger has a pair of articles with the details (1, 2). Todd also used the term, “venerable.” The Nutley campus is legendary for the discovery and development of major drugs – isoniazid for tuberculosis, for example – and the manufacture of vitamins. At one time, it was the example of how a pharmaceutical company could run an independent research institute with its Roche Institute of Molecular Biology.

But this week, we lament the sadly unsurprising loss of employment for many of our friends in chemistry and pharmacology, as well as a host of good folks in administration and support services. Despite its contraction from a high of 10,000 employees in its heyday, Roche continued to provide 9-10% of the tax base for the city.

Roche, Building 76, Nutley, NJ following 2010 renovation. Credit: green@worktoday

My nostalgia for Roche extends back to my childhood, growing up on a hill five miles across the Passaic River in the predominantly Polish town of Wallington. From a clearing in the woods on the hill, the major landmark across into Essex County was the Roche tower, built the year before I was born and known by the unglamorous name of Building 76. The route my family took while driving back from the official state pastime of mall shopping invariably took us past the Roche campus on the Route 3 side. This drive past Roche from the west was preceded immediately by a glorious view of the New York City skyline, almost straight on with the Empire State Building. Whenever I see these two landmarks, I know that I’m almost home.

My Uncle Tommy was a facilities maintenance worker at Roche for about 30 years. Readers here are certainly concerned about the loss of scientist jobs – but Roche provided upward mobility for high school and GED graduates like my uncle. He used to buy us our vitamins from the employee purchase plan. My daughter – and much of the internet – absolutely hate the smell of multivitamins. When I stick my nose deep into a bottle, I smell nurturing, love and care. Roche brought the first synthetic vitamin C to market using the combined microbial and organic synthesis method of Nobel laureate Tadeus Reichstein.

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Antibody-drug conjugates: not exactly “smart bombs” for cancer

Antibody-drug conjugates are the cover story in the 18 June 2012 issue of C&EN. Illustration credit: ImmunoGen.


I only have a quick post today because I really want you to spend your reading energy on a superb C&EN cover story by my colleague here, Lisa M. Jarvis.

The media frenzy that normally follows the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting each June focused this year on cancer cell-directed antibodies conjugated to highly-cytotoxic compounds. The most ballyhooed of these is T-DM1, the anti-HER2 trastuzumab antibody (Herceptin) covalently linked to the microtubule-inhibiting maytansine analog, DM1 (meeting abstract, Genentech press release). When the conjugate is internalized by breast cancer cells overexpressing the HER2 protein, the highly-toxic DM1 drug is released intracellularly.

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De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain’t so, Think Geek

Let me state unequivocally at the outset: I LOVE Think Geek.

Love.

This purveyor of hip nerdgear – “Stuff for Smart Masses” – has saved me every Christmas, the occasional birthday, and brought me great personal pleasure with their clever offerings. But most important to me about Think Geek is that I know when giving a gift from them, I am giving someone solid science. A mini Van de Graaff generator. A USB plasma ball. And when my office visitors encounter my LED binary clock, I’m asked, “What the heck is that?”

My next two purchases are likely to be the Pet’s Eye View Digital Camera for the PharmBeagle and the DIY Guitar Pick Punch for me (even though you could buy 80 top-quality guitar picks for the same price).

But I will not be buying Rutaesomn® Sleep Aid – De-caffeinating Chill Pills.

The product is billed as being a pill that speeds metabolism of caffeine from your day-long coffee and energy drink binges. Take it 2-4 hours before you want to go to sleep, “helps get rid of caffeine in your body keeping you awake.”

Well, what is it exactly?

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Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality.

The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)


 

This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata.

For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think.

I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense.

I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?”

My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once.

When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would.

I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall.

How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.?

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Cristy Gelling: Pittsburgh Postdoc, Premier Poet

I just received a nice bit of news from my alumni Facebook page of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop which I took last summer with C&EN colleague, Lauren Wolf.

Turns out that our classmate Cristy Gelling has been recognized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) as the editor’s choice winner of their “Science in Stanzas” poetry competition.

The competition was launched by Angela Hopp, Editor of ASBMB Today, and to recognize the other types of creativity possessed by scientists attending the upcoming Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego starting next weekend (April 21-25). The judges were themselves rather accomplished poets and humorists in science.

Gelling’s lovely poem is entitled, “Consistent with this, cell extracts from the iba57Δ strain showed virtually no aconitase activity (Fig. 2A),” and is only slightly longer than the title.

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NIDA seeks SBIR/STTR apps on Spice, bath salts

C&EN senior business editor Melody Bomgardner dropped me a note yesterday about a new request for applications from NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for small business grants.

Read the text below but here’s what I find interesting as a pharmacologist who plays well with chemists: the call for applications is not for analytical methods for designer drugs. Rather the announcement solicits novel methods for detecting some biochemical or pharmacological endpoint of these agents (a bioassay, in old-speak) that doesn’t require new method development every time a new structural analogue pops onto the market.

Other areas of substance abuse are also fair game but Melody thought the Spice and bath salts angle would be of greatest interest to our readers here at Terra Sig.

Here’s the text directly from NIDA – I can’t find an exact RFA to link to, however: (see update below)

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Bad news for Bionovo and herbal drug development

A pharmacognosy colleague contacted me on Friday morning with word that the botanical drug development company Bionovo was closing its chemistry group.

Well, the news is actually worse as judging from this 8 pm Friday press release:

Bionovo, Inc. (OTC Link Platform: BNVI.PK) today announced that it will need to obtain substantial additional funding to achieve its objectives of internally developing drugs. The Company reduced its workforce by over 90%. The remaining management of the Company will receive reduced cash compensation until either adequate financing can be obtained or the Company is sold.  The Company can not make any assurances about either of these events.  As previously announced, management and the board of directors are continuing to explore strategic options for the Company.  Management is currently reviewing the status of the ongoing clinical trial for Menerba.

The Company does not currently have adequate internal liquidity to meet its cash needs.  If sufficient additional funds are not received in the near term, the Company may not be able to execute its business plan and may need to further curtail or cease operations.

Bionovo has been the rare superb example of a company that’s been trying to develop FDA-approvable drugs based on Chinese traditional medicine. Led by Isaac Cohen, a UCSF guest scientist and Doctoral of Oriental Medicine, and chief medical officer, Mary Tagliaferri, Bionovo took a hard, science-based approach to identifying herbal extracts for cancer and women’s health issues. Cohen and colleagues at UCSF and elsewhere examined Chinese herbal medicines for their biochemical and cellular effects based upon their traditional use.

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