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Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011

Hi everyone! Just wanted to draw your attention to several opportunities for learning more about chemistry careers and the job market.

As you all know, the ACS National Meeting in Denver, CO kicked off yesterday. Check out these awesome C&EN Picks videos for a sneak peak at what’s going on at the meeting this week.

Thanks to the wonderful interwebs and ACS Webinars, those of us who are not in attendance at the ACS meeting can still tap into some of the awesome career information, as if we were right there. All you have to do is sign up and then log in for the live webcast and watch the seminar in the comfort of your own home (or office, lab, or wherever you will be at the time).

For some of the sessions, you can even have your questions answered by the speakers themselves by submitting them online during the live Q&A.

Here’s a list of the webinars:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 – Live video streaming from Denver, Colorado Convention Center

Navigating the Global Industrial Job Market
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time)
Richard Connell (Pfizer, Inc.), Scott Harbeson (Concert Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), Jos Put (DSM), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society)

Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs
11:00 AM – 12:00 N (Mountain Standard Time)
Keynote speakers George Whitesides (Harvard University) and Joseph Francisco (Purdue University), and moderator,  Madeleine Jacobs (American Chemical Society)

Academic Jobs Outlook
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time)
Christine Gaudinski (Aims Community College), Laurel Goj (Rollins College) and Jason Ritchie (University of Mississippi), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society)

Networking 101 — Making Your Contacts Count
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time)
Located in the ACS Village in the ACS Exposition Hall with speaker, Bonnie Coffey (Contacts Count) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 – Webinars Only

Working in the USA — Immigration Update
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time)
Navid Dayzad, Esq. (Dayzad Law Offices, PC) and Kelly McCown (McCown & Evans LLP) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society)

From Scientist to CEO
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time)
Keynote speaker, Randall Dearth (Lanxess Corporation) and moderator David Harwell (American Chemical Society)

What Recruiters Are Looking For — Making the ‘A’ List
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time)
Meredith Dow (PROVEN, Inc.), Alveda Williams (The Dow Chemical Company), Jodi Hutchinson (Dow Corning Corporation),  and moderator, David Harwell (American Chemical Society)

A blurb about ACS Webinars:

ACS Webinars™ is a free, weekly online event serving to connect ACS members and scientific professionals with subject matter experts and global thought leaders in chemical sciences, management, and business. The ACS Webinars are divided into several series that address topics of interest to the chemical and scientific community; these series include career development, professional growth, business & innovation, green chemistry, and joy of science. Each webinar is 60 minutes in length, comprising a short presentation followed by Q&A with the speaker. The live webinars are held on Thursdays (and on some Tuesdays on career topics) from 2-3pm ET.  Recordings of the webinars are available online and upcoming events are posted at http://acswebinars.org/.

I’ll be blogging about a few of the webinars and will also post links to other blog posts that summarize the discussions that take place during these webcasts.

Stay tuned!

The Safe Chemicals Act

Little fanfare accompanied the introduction in April of the Safe Chemicals Act by the US Senate. The Act was designed, according to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), to “upgrade America’s outdated system for managing chemical safety.” Ostensibly, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 is a risk-based bill that modernizes and addresses each of the core failings of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. Under the bill, chemical companies would need to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be required to evaluate safety based on the best available science. Unlike previous efforts to update TSCA, this bill would require chemical companies to develop and submit a minimum data set for each chemical they produce. EPA would then have the full authority to go back to manufacturers and request additional testing if there was any doubt about the safety of a chemical. Chemicals would be prioritized based on criteria intended to identify “immediate risk.”

It was nice that actress Jessica Alba was rolled out to Capitol Hill to support the bill on behalf of consumers, but who is this law designed to protect? Is it household consumers? If so, will the testing be on the regulated components or on finished products? I’m sure many of the “industrial” chemicals that will be targeted by the law are either intermediates that never see a store’s shelves, or are present in low concentrations in consumer goods. And what about mixtures? Additive or synergistic effects?

I’m not questioning the need for TSCA reform, just how to make it effective. If we’re going to open this can of worms again, let’s decide on a real objective before putting an expensive new law in effect.

Chemical Safety Board releases draft report on DuPont accidents

Last week, the Chemical Safety Board released its draft report on its investigation into a spate of three accidents over January 22-23, 2010, at a DuPont plant in Belle, West Virginia. The three incidents involved releases of of methyl chloride, fuming sulfuric acid (oleum), and phosgene; plant worker Carl Daniel Fish was sprayed on the chest and face with phosgene and died the next day. The report is 172 pages long and I haven’t read beyond the executive summary, but here are CSB’s bullet points on the root causes:

Methyl chloride incident (January 22, 2010, 5:02 AM)

  • DuPont management … approved a design for the rupture disc alarm system that lacked sufficient reliability to advise operators of a flammable methyl chloride release. (Jyllian notes: The plant released 2,000 lbs of methyl chloride over five days before the leak was identified.)

Oleum release incident (January 23, 2010, 7:40 AM)

  • Corrosion under the insulation caused a small leak in the oleum pipe.

Phosgene incident (January 23, 2010, 1:45 PM)

  • DuPont’s phosgene hazard awareness program was deficient in ensuring that operating personnel were aware of the hazards associated with trapping liquid phosgene in transfer hoses.
  • DuPont relied on a maintenance software program that was subject to changes without authorization or review and did not automatically initiate a change-out of phosgene hoses at the prescribed interval, nor did they provide a back-up process to ensure timely change-out of aging hoses.
  • DuPont Belle’s near-miss reporting process was not rigorous enough to ensure that the near failure of a similar phosgene transfer hose, just hours prior to the exposure incident would be immediately brought to the attention of plant supervisors and managers.
  • DuPont lacked a dedicated radio/telephone system and emergency notification process to convey the nature of an emergency at the Belle plant, thereby restricting the ability of personnel to provide timely and quality information to emergency responders.

Here’s CSB’s animation of the phosgene release:

Ken Ward Jr covers the chemical industry for West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette and attended last week’s press conference–here are his stories so far on the draft report:

  • CSB: DuPont needs to ‘re-examine’ safety practices
  • Phosgene leak could have crossed river, CSB says (a similar post appears on the paper’s “Sustained Outrage” blog)
  • More from the CSB’s DuPont press conference
  • DuPont responds to Chemical Safety Board report
  • CSB: DuPont ignored safer phosgene plans

The DuPont plant is in the same area as the Bayer CropScience plant where two workers were killed in an explosion and fire in 2008. After the Bayer CropScience incident, CSB recommended that local authorities develop a regional chemical plant safety program. Ward also reports that little progress has been made on implementing such a program.

CSB will accept public comments on the draft DuPont report until 5 p.m. on Aug. 22. “Following the close of the public comment period, the draft report may be modified based on comments received and other staff investigative activities. A final report will then be presented to the Board for its consideration and final vote. Only after the report is approved by the Board will the investigation into the three incidents at the DuPont facility be considered closed,” says a notice in the Federal Register.

Chemist-turned-marketing director in the computer software industry

Profile: Philip Skinner, Field Marketing Director for PerkinElmer, San Diego, CA

Electronic laboratory notebooks are the way of the future for scientific records, and Philip Skinner is helping pave the way for them.

Philip Skinner, Field Marketing Director for PerkinElmer, San Diego, CA. Courtesy photo.

Philip is a field marketing director for PerkinElmer, where his current focus is promoting E-Notebook products to companies and laboratories.

But he wasn’t always in the software industry. He is a trained synthetic organic chemist who received his Ph.D. at the University of Durham in the North East of England and did a postdoc at ETH Zurich before landing a job in med chem.

While working in med chem, Philip helped asses E-Notebooks for his company. This experience helped him develop professional partnerships within the computer software industry. Little did he know that the time and effort invested would eventually develop into a full-time job just when he needed it.

In 2009, the pharmaceutical company where Philip had worked for eight years cut 40 percent of its staff and Philip was left unemployed. He spent nine months actively exploring other career options, including project management and consulting. Finally, the software company developing E-Notebooks decided to expand their sales team, and they offered Philip a job. Shortly after, he moved up in the company into a marketing position and is now a director of field marketing.

Philip said he would not have been so lucky had he not had the training and connections with the folks in the software industry.

“I met a lot of people networking, but I got this job from contacts I had made and nurtured for many years, and people I had actually worked in partnership with,” he said.

For the most part, he works from home, where he spends his time preparing for product demonstrations, participating in conference calls and talking with customers.

“One of my main roles is essentially a translator,” Philip said. “As an experienced lab scientist, I understand the way at least the drug discovery world works. I can speak with the scientists we are working with, but also to our software people.”

Will traditional lab notebooks soon be replaced with electronic lab notebooks? Photo credit: flickr user proteinbiochemist

To expand the company’s client base, Philip demo’s the products at trade shows and visits companies all over the country– so there is a good deal of travel with his job.

Philip said the best and worst part of his job is working from home since he said it makes it very difficult to maintain work/life separation. But he said he is very happy with his career move.

“I enjoy the work, I like the people, it gives me a lot of freedom,” he said. “I feel valued and useful… and I feel that I have somewhere I can actually grow.”

For chemists who may be interested in breaking into the software industry, Philip suggests doing research on both the companies and products, making connections with people in the field, and determining which entry positions into the company are a good place to start. Continue reading →

A chemist employs his analytical skills in the wine industry

To make wine, you start with grape juice, let the fermentation process begin and a few steps (and few months) later, you may have yourself a delicious alcoholic beverage, if you balanced all the flavors just right.

Conceptually, it’s very simple, but in reality, winemaking is an art that some people spend their lifetime perfecting.

Yet when you break it all down, winemaking is chemistry. And sure enough, there are chemists who work at wineries—like Kawaljit Tandon, a research chemist at Constellation Wines U.S., the largest premium wine company in the world.

Kawaljit Tandon, research chemist at Constellation Wines U.S. Courtesy photo.

Kawal’s job isn’t exactly “non-traditional” since it’s essentially an R&D job in a beverage industry. But I thought he’d still be a good fit for this blog since becoming an enologist and working with winemakers isn’t something that comes to mind right away when you’re thinking about what you can do with a chemistry degree.

Kawal received his Bachelors degree in Agriculture Sciences from Bangalore, India, before coming to the U.S. and earning a Masters and Ph.D. in food science from The University of Georgia. In grad school, he studied the flavor chemistry of fresh tomatoes using various sensory techniques and analytical instrumentation.

As a post-doc in food chemistry at Cornell University, Kawal found out about the job at Constellation Wines U.S. and applied. Although he didn’t study wine prior to landing the job, his training in basic plant physiology, food chemistry and analytical instrumentation prepared him well for the position.

“I had too much of the upstate NY snow and could not resist sunny California!” Kawal said. “It has been a learning curve though since this job was my first exposure to grape and wine flavor chemistry.”

Kawal researches the aroma and flavor of grapes and wines, as well as cork and other closures, oak barrels and adjuncts, and packaging materials. When an aroma or flavor issue arises with a wine product, he investigates it to determine the source of the stink, which could come from cork (haloanisoles), or from the yeast (sulfur compounds) or from the grape itself (methoxypyrazines). He is also involved in tracking aroma compounds in grapes and following that through winemaking and storage.

“Wine is a very dynamic medium and there is chemistry happening all the way from the vineyard to fermentation to barrel ageing to bottling and post-bottling storage,” Kawal said. Continue reading →

Project management as a bridge between roles in science and business

Project Manager: Becky Urbanek, Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager

, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals

Most chemists, whether in industry, government, academia, or some other setting, have worked on a research project at some point. So, who starts the project, who leads it, and who is responsible for its outcome?

In academia, it’s likely to be your advisor. In industry, it turns out, there’s a separate discipline devoted to formulating and sharing best practices in the management of projects. Not unexpectedly, this discipline is called project management, and the people who oversee the day-to-day management of the projects are…(drumroll, please)…project managers.

Try a quick search of “project manager” or a closely related query on any job search engine. The results suggest that project managers can be found across a variety of industries: construction, information technology, advertising, and many others. Project management of scientific projects is but a small piece of the larger project management pie. (Mmmm…pie) That said, managing a scientific project is the most common way a chemist is likely to transition into such a role.

Becky Urbanek, Ph.D., Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager. Courtesy Photo

With enough experience and, yes, street cred, chemists—with their vast array of transferable skills—are often called upon to be research project managers. Such an opportunity was presented to Becky Urbanek, whose chemistry background [B.S., chemistry, Ohio Northern U., 1993; Ph.D., organic chemistry (natural product total synthesis), Univ. of Minnesota, 1998] led to her recent role as a Principal Scientist and medicinal chemist* at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals.

It became evident that management of projects afforded her some additional transferability. Last year, an announcement was made that all drug discovery activities would cease at her site. Becky was able to transition to another role on the business side of the organization, and is now Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager.

“I had been a project manager for drug discovery projects for several years and really loved that role,” Becky said.  “I didn’t fully appreciate that project management was a developed profession on its own until the announcement of our site closing and I began to plan for what would come next.”

Becky’s contacts in other parts of the company were a valuable asset.

“I spoke with other project managers that I knew within AstraZeneca and beyond and they recommended courses and that I join the PMI (the Project Management Institute) to further explore project management as a career path,” she said.  “I found out about my current job by watching the internal job postings and then networking within the company to learn more about it.”

Before proceeding, let’s pause to define what a project is and is not.

The definition comes from the PMI, mentioned above, a professional association for project management and globally recognized as one of its leading authorities. A project is defined as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” The key word here is temporary—a project always has an end, or handoff of some kind. Projects are distinct from operations, which are the ongoing efforts an organization must undertake to sustain its core business.

With such a broad definition, projects can be found within any business or function (or in the home—wallpapering a bedroom is a project…and good way to enhance your profanity repertoire). Whether formal project management methods are used is completely up to the individual company. Project management provides a framework for analyzing and planning a project’s lifecycle.

Project management formally divides project activities into categories and more easily managed bits, referred to as processes. The PMI and other professional associations are there to provide guidance, not mandate how projects must be run. It’s somewhat like a menu—choose what works best depending on the project and the people actually doing the work.

Becky’s role involves establishing a project management office (or PMO) to oversee a portfolio of related projects involving compliance with US and foreign government regulations as well as internal practices. The regulations cover diverse areas such as anti-bribery/corruption, data protection and patient privacy.

Not the PMBOK guide – but only slightly scarier, and a tad more bitey. From Flickr user kk99

A useful project management reference can be found the PMI’s main publication, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK Guide. The guide’s goal is to document and standardize generally accepted project management information and practices.

Knowledge of project management processes can also be quite helpful while working within a project, even if you aren’t its manager. It gives you an appreciation of the complexity of managing a project, and can help you understand the context behind certain project-related decisions.

A common adage within the field is that communication takes up 90% of a project manager’s time.

Becky says that much of her day is spent “talking with the various project leaders of the projects in our portfolio to understand their projects—their resource needs, interdependencies with other projects, status of deliverable timelines and budget situation.”

“I also develop or help identify the tools necessary to track the portfolio of projects, resourcing demand, and such—my skills with Excel from my previous career help with that, she said. “A lot of time spent on the phone, since it’s a global role, and the computer.”

Becky says she has no regrets about leaving the bench.

“I had made the decision many years ago to exit the lab, but I do miss being involved in discovery research projects,” she said. “There was such excitement in drug discovery teams when you were making good progress and you believed that you really could positively impact patients’ lives.”

The impending site closure was undoubtedly an impetus to seek a new position internally, but Becky was also attracted to the role because “it sounded interesting!”

“It was a great opportunity to move within AstraZeneca in to another function that I knew nothing about, and also give me visibility across other areas of the business,” she said. “It would give me experience as a project/portfolio manager outside of Pharma R&D, making me more marketable. I believe that project management is a growth area as it spans many sectors.”

*And in the spirit of full disclosure, my former colleague.

Yale death update, plus others

A quick update this morning on what’s coming out about Michele Dufault’s death at Yale–this Yale Daily News story seems to have all the pieces (also see: New Haven Independent, New Haven Register, New York Times, many others). Most interesting to me:

As the University begins its investigation and review, OSHA will also investigate whether the lab is in compliance with federal safety regulations, said OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald. OSHA sent an investigator to the scene Wednesday. Fitzgerald said the investigation could last a matter of weeks, or continue for as long as six months, but he added that it is too early to establish a timetable.

Initially, Fitzgerald said, OSHA investigators were unsure whether the incident fell under the agency’s jurisdiction because Dufault was a student, not a paid employee. But because both students and University employees use the machine shop, he said, OSHA decided to investigate.

“If there was a possibility there was hazard that might affect employees, then we would want to look into it,” he said.

I’d also like to note that, although Dufault’s death is horrifying, she is not alone. Although this is not a full round-up (I haven’t gone through the DCHAS pinboard or the CSB feed), here are some of the headlines I’ve collected in the past few weeks:

  • Chemical plant blast kills at least nine in China
  • Worker dies in tanker truck explosion–toluene, in Georgia
  • 1 dead, 3 hurt in blast at SE Texas chemical plant

Our thoughts are with the families of all who have lost their lives.

More effects of the Japan earthquake and tsunami

“CR” left a comment earlier today on my last post, criticizing me for not having updated since Friday. Mea culpa. Over the weekend, it became clear that simply updating was not going to be enough, and I felt that there was little I could say that wasn’t already being widely reported elsewhere.

I was also busy reporting on the effects of the quake on Japanese universities and research institutions. That story just went live, Heavy Damage To Japan Research, and complements Jean-François Tremblay‘s story yesterday on Earthquake Rocks Japan’s Chemical Industry. We’ll both be updating those pieces as appropriate for C&EN’s March 21 print issue. Jeff Johnson is covering the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

There are two other things I’d like to highlight today about the disaster in Japan. One is this set of photos on the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog. It really hit home the human element of the tragedy for me.

The other is Chemjobber‘s post Fukushima Daiichi: on the skyline. CJ highlights the undoubtedly valiant effort put in by a small group of people–the New York Times says 50–to try to regain control of the nuclear reactors. They are heroes.

Update: The NYT has a bit more on the dangers faced by the remaining plant workers.