musings on music and life

September 9, 2015

Career Advice

Filed under: Chemistry Jobs — Tags: , , — sankirnam @ 8:16 pm

During the last 9 months, I’ve been on a seemingly futile job search, having applied to around 650 positions, amassing 600+ rejections, and not a single interview. I’m now convinced that the job market for PhD’s in chemistry is completely saturated, and that it is going to only get worse as time passes. The problem is that the number of jobs in chemistry (both in industry and academia!) has stayed relatively flat, while there is an increase year after year in the number of PhD graduates. Immigration also plays a big role. Unlike MD’s, we chemists do not have an organization like the AMA that protects our rights, jobs, and salaries – the ACS is an incredibly effete organization in this regard. I have talked to several recruiters who happened to be the hiring managers at some of the positions I had applied for, and they said the problem is twofold. One is that they actually told me that they preferentially hire H1 workers over US citizens due to their lower salary requirements! Unfortunately, I did not get this in writing, so for all purposes one can still consider this pretty much unsubstantiated. The other issue is that due to oversaturation of the job market and the large number of laid-off mid-career organic chemists, entry-level jobs (which require 0-x years of experience) are being flooded with applications from people with 4-12 years of experience, and those folks are often hired, even if they are not a perfect fit, due to their experience.

I’m still applying every day for positions, but hope is gradually wearing thin…

So, this brings me to the topic of today’s post. After being crushed by the brutal chemistry job market, I want to switch to computer science. Why CS? There are two reasons, which I know that readers will immediately judge as being shallow. One is that jobs in CS are simply orders of magnitude easier to obtain! I have friends working as coders/computer scientists (I use the terms interchangeably because I am currently ignorant of the difference), and their callback rate for interviews after applying for a position was 6 interviews for 20 applications or so. Now, that figure is not amazing by any means, but where is that, and where is 0/650? There is simply no comparison. The other reason for choosing CS is that salaries are much, much higher than what is attainable in the chemical industry. Most BS computer scientists get 50-70k entry level, which is double what most chemistry postdocs (PhD’s in chemistry) make (approx. 30-35k before tax).

I know, I know, people always say “money isn’t everything”. But I’ve noticed the people who say that are the people who have plenty of money in the first place. I hope people will see my motivations for switching are purely practical; I mean, I do need to put food on the table and a roof over my head, right?

So now this is where I need advice and help from readers. I unfortunately do not have a substantial background in computer science or coding, apart from a few courses on Codecademy and other websites. As a result, I really do feel like I need to get a degree in computer science in order to get a strong fundamental knowledge base as well as some credibility. However, due to my lack of knowledge in this field, I don’t think I would be a strong candidate for master’s programs at a decent university. Thus, I feel like I need to get a bachelor’s in computer science first in order to become a competitive candidate for master’s programs.

Also, I am aware of the growing demand for “data scientists”, but even they require substantial computer science skills. Unfortunately, organic chemistry, while being a science, is not a very quantitative one, and so I did not develop transferable skills for these fields (I can synthesize small molecules like nobody’s business, perform characterizations by a number of physical and chemical methods, and handle air-sensitive, pyrophoric, or highly corrosive compounds (including HF)…but these skills are not as highly in demand as statistical modeling/analysis, R/Python/JavaScript programming, web development, Full stack development, or a knowledge of machine learning algorithms).

So, does anyone have any advice for someone like me? I have a PhD in chemistry, but need to get a bachelor’s degree in a completely unrelated field. Is it necessary, or is there an easier way around this? Also, I would really like to be proven wrong about how dismal the job market is for chemists – if anyone knows of any openings, let me know. I can provide my resume if necessary.


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