Archive for the ‘university professor’ Category

Turns out that as a PhD chemist your chances are better than as a biosciences PhD.  Seems that 15,000 bioscience PhDs are produced each year versus 2000 chemistry ones!

The ACS recently had a webinar on this topic : http://acswebinars.org/doctoral-glut  (soon available as an archived broadcast)

Forbes wrote an article based on the the webinar: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2012/11/12/chemistry-job-market-likely-to-rebound-before-biosciences/

And some bloggers also had a podcast discussion on the same topic after the webinar: http://chemjobber.blogspot.ca/2012/11/podcast-doctoral-glut-see-arr-oh-and.html

Well worth pondering if you are in a PhD or postdoc position. One remark that stands out is that it is the student’s responsibility to pay attention to job prospects and make sure that they know all the possibilities that are out there.  Not getting a professorship is not a failure -there are many more types of careers for PhDs that you think!


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The 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was just awarded to researchers who identified the compound that makes jellyfish glow and used that info to make mice glow!

Martin Chalfie, Roger Tsien and Osamu Shimomura made it possible to exploit the genetic mechanism responsible for luminosity in the marine creatures.

Today, countless scientists use this knowledge to tag biological systems.

Glowing markers will show, for example, how brain cells develop or how cancer cells spread through tissue.

But their uses really have become legion: they are now even incorporated into bacteria to act as environmental biosensors in the presence of toxic materials.

Chemistry comes in all sizes and shapes…and colours!

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University of Wisconsin at Madison is changing the way they teach – some computer science classes are losing lectures in favour of online-tutorials and more labs, some biomed courses are using problem based teaching styles. The chem dept is trying something new – blogging:

Tehshik Yoon: A new formula for classroom blogging

Yoon, a chemistry professor, says he has always been concerned about the communication gap between scientists and the general public, especially in his own field. So he decided to borrow a page from colleagues in English and other humanities fields, who are using classroom blogs more and more to encourage the daily habit of writing.

So what’s the initial student reaction to the Chemistry 346 Blog Project? “They hate it,” Yoon says with a chuckle. “They go in thinking it’s just another task they need to accomplish. By semester’s end, they get it and start to appreciate it.”

Yoon uses the LiveJournal blogging platform based on its popularity among younger users. In the first half of the course, students use it to kick around ideas and naturally work their way through some of the tougher organic chemistry challenges. Its value really becomes evident during the second half of the semester, when each student is assigned to an independent project in chemistry department labs. The course and the blog are great bridges into further undergraduate research, since they push students to convey the value of their work.

“One of the things I really like about the blog is students are encouraged to write at a level where their friends and family can read it,” he says. “I thought at this point in their careers, if I can get students who aren’t already enmeshed in the jargon of chemistry to talk about why what they’re doing is cool, it will have long-term professional value.”

Yoon says he benefits equally from the blog project, which is based on “just in time” teaching concepts that provide real-time snapshots of the learning process. “If I find that I’m teaching something poorly,” he says, “it’s always reflected in the blog.”

Sounds like they are creating a student body that can do the research and also explain it to their parents!!! That is certainly a transferable skill to many many other types of careers….

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Another option for getting out of the lab is to start researching it!

Chemical education is a growing field and this month C&EN wrote two articles on it.
What it is:

March 31, 2008
Volume 86, Number 13
Web Exclusive

Professional Tools
Resources For Chemical Educators
Doctoral programs, networking organizations, and a variety of publications cater to the field

Sophie L. Rovner

The field of chemical education research has changed tremendously in the past two decades. Even though challenges still exist for practitioners, more resources are available now than in years past.

For example, many professors currently conducting chem ed research came into the field after completing degrees in other subdisciplines. That’s partially because formal training in the subject was rare until a dozen or so years ago. But it’s now becoming more common for graduate students to take degrees in chemical education and for postdocs to obtain fellowships, according to Renée S. Cole, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg.

and who it is:

March 31, 2008
Volume 86, Number 13
pp. 37-41

Chemical Educators Overcome Obstacles
Professors who research chemical education surmount early skepticism to pursue a career they love

Sophie L. Rovner

It’s not easy being a professor of chemical education. Colleagues in traditional chemistry disciplines sometimes discount the value of research about teaching and learning chemistry. Chem ed professors can feel isolated because they’re often the sole representatives of the field in their departments. Furthermore, grants can be hard to come by, and experiments can take months, if not years.

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John Polanyi just won the Herzberg Gold Medal in Canada! (For all you non-Canadians, this is the highest award in science and engineering you can get in this country.) But in addition to doing great science (a Nobel prize winner in 1986), he is also has spoken out for peace and just lately for doing the sensible thing

His career has also included a long-time focus on political and social issues, particularly those related to science. Over the years he has written many articles on subjects such as arms control, peace and science policy. He was the co-founder and first Chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group, part of an international movement dedicated to understanding the social impact of science and preventing its misuse.

He feels it is incumbent on scientists to get involved in order to ensure that science is not misused. Discoveries themselves are not good or evil, only the purposes they are put to. “It’s up to scientists, in the other half of their lives as citizens, to try to tilt the balance,” he says. “What I try to do is get involved in the political process so that foolish or dangerous applications are not the ones that are pursued.”

“I would hate not to be involved in public affairs. It’s a privilege to be part of the political process.”

He also gave an interesting speech in 2004, in part:

Is security to be found, in this 21st century, by walling oneself off from the world at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, or is it better achieved by using the same money to reach out to the people in the direst need and thereby decrease the number of the desperate? I opt for the latter.

So he is still a chemist but uses his super-power for good!

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February 22, 2008
Indian Chemist Is Found to Have Plagiarized and Falsified Articles

A professor at Sri Venkateswara University, in Tirupati, India, has been found to have plagiarized or falsified more than 70 research papers, according to an article in the magazine Chemical & Engineering News.

Wow! 70 papers in four years (2004-2007) – that is quite the body of work to have completed – I am surprised no one was suspicious before…but with the number of journals out there and the amount of work it is to just keep up with one’s own narrow subject area, fraud is hard to identify for reviewers.
The original C&E NEWS item describes the tough work reviewers and editors have:

CHIRANJEEVI’S PLAGIARISM of other scientists’ work was discovered by Purnendu K. (Sandy) Dasgupta, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas, Arlington, and U.S. editor of Analytica Chimica Acta. He says a reviewer, a former student of his, pointed out that a Chiranjeevi submission on measurement of arsenic(III) was similar to a published paper from a Japanese group on chromium(III). In fact, Dasgupta says, but for the change in the name of the chemical being measured, the papers were identical.[emphasis added! ed.]

Dasgupta also says editors and reviewers are overwhelmed and reliant on the honor system at the heart of scientific publishing. “Plagiarism can be guarded against,” he says, “but out-and-out fraud is hard to guard against.”

ONE TOOL that Dasgupta has used to find reviewers—and that might be useful in discovering plagiarism—is a Web-based tool called eTBlast. Developed by computational biologists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, the free service does a similarity search of text that someone inputs with papers in Medline or other online databases. Dasgupta and others say it could be a powerful tool for weeding out plagiarism in journal manuscript submissions.

The developers of eTBlast have now developed a duplicate submission database called Deja vu. Both are available for free, eTBlast at invention.swmed.edu/ and Deja vu at spore.swmed.edu/dejavu.

So, boys and girls, as I said at the start – this is not the way to do research and if you are tempted – it IS the time to look for another job!!!

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The Independent just published an article about the job prospects of postdocs:
Caught in a lab rat race: What can be done to improve conditions for academic researchers?
Suzanne Lynch, Januray 17, 2008

It discusses the benefits and pitfalls of doing postdoc appointments.

Rachel McLoughlin is another postdoctorate who is very positive about her experience. She finished a PhD in immunology at Cardiff in 2002, and continued as a researcher in her lab, and embarked on a three-year contract.
“I fell into a postdoc but it turned out to be a great decision for me,” she explains. “By continuing my research in the same laboratory, I capitalised on the research I had done during my PhD. During my postdoc, I produced three first-author papers and was involved in five other publications. I doubt whether this would have been achievable had I undertaken my postdoc in a new field.”
In 2005, Rachel left Cardiff to take up her second postdoctorate, this time at Harvard Medical School, an experience she has found equally rewarding. “It was the right time for me to move and it has been great to gain research experience in a different academic environment.”


Claire had always wanted to be an academic. After finishing a PhD in engineering in 2001, she was thrilled to secure a three-year postdoctoral position at a top university. But as her contract came to an end, things started to go downhill. “As I came to the end of my postdoc, I realised that securing my next post wasn’t going to be that easy. I applied for lots of research jobs but got nowhere.”

Claire’s department finally offered her a six-month contract that was renewed on a month-by-month basis. “It got to the point where I literally did not know until the last day of my contract whether it would be renewed the following day,” she says.

Things got worse for her when she became pregnant. “My department simply did not want to know,” she says. “I had no entitlements and no rights in terms of job security. I felt so let down by my supervisor. Now I’m really disillusioned. I can’t see myself making it as an academic, but I’ve gone so far down this road it’s difficult to see how I can succeed in any other career at this stage.”

After graduating with a DPhil in biochemistry from Oxford University, John Bothwell took up a postdoctoral position at the Marine Biological Association. But after two short-term contracts, he became disillusioned. “The more specialised my research, the more limited I was in where I could work – there are about three places in the world.”

What can we learn from these examples? Career development is important even if you really really really know what you want to do (e.g. academics) because the job just may not be out there when you are ready for it! Make sure you have alternatives and know your strengths and skills that can move you in another direction if necessary.

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