Monday, September 17, 2012

Chemistry Bumper Cars

By now, most folks on the chemblogosphere have heard the rumbles about K.C. Nicolaou's possible departure from Scripps. His landing spot looks to be Rice University, in Houston, aided by a generous multi-million dollar "golden parachute." Followup comments posted on Chemjobber and In the Pipeline saw speculation run rampant regarding other Scripps synthetic chemists, including M.G. Finn, Jin-Quan Yu, Phil Baran, and Dale Boger.

Wow. Does everyone have the moving bug?

I seem to recall Kyle over at The Chem Blog drawing us a convenient map a few years back, during another busy moving season (2005, I believe?). The past two years have proven quite busy as well, with no less than an entire ChemBark post entitled "Nocera to Harvard!" (vide infra).

Without further ado, I present my highly-researched, but definitely not-to-scale, map of synthetic faculty moves, 2011-2012.

Legend (Updated 9/20):
1.  Keith (purple) Woerpel, Irvine to NYU
2.  John (Berkeley blue) Hartwig, UIUC to Berkeley
3.  Vy (green) Dong, Toronto to Irvine
4.  Dan (crimson) Nocera, MIT to Harvard
5.  O(maroon) Yaghi, UCLA to Berkeley
6.  M.(Goldenrod) Finn, Scripps to Georgia Tech
7.  K.(Cyprus orange) Nicolaou, Scripps to Rice (confirmed!)
8.  Greg Fu(schia), MIT to Caltech
9.  (Rust)em Ismagilov, Chicago to Caltech
10. Paul (cyan) Chirik, Cornell to Princeton

I've been searching for a chemistry faculty movement metaphor. At the end of the NFL season, reporters write about the "coaching carousel," where coaches switch jobs circuitously, trapped on an employment merry-go-round. Well, that's not quite right here. Chemists usually move away for good, and there's clearly a directionality to the moves: towards more money, higher prestige, or warmer climes. Perhaps a Ferris wheel? Nah: it implies "up" or "down," a good view of the situation...and far too smooth a ride. Negative on the Gravitron, though grads and postdocs might feel like they're smashed by the pressing gravity* of an upcoming move.

I've got it: Bumper cars! Everyone starts out hesitantly, driving around in circles, hesitant to make first contact. After a few minutes, though, it's a free-for-all, everyone bouncing off each other, crashing, laughing, sparks flying off the ceiling. In the end, no one ends up where they started, and everyone has headaches. (Bear with me, it's a work in progress, doesn't yet have the oomph of a "Manifest Destiny" or "fiscal cliff.")

Faculty jostle for top spots like, well, you get it...
Credit: UK Telegraph

Are faculty moves unavoidable? It's true that the grass is always greener. But, if you're already a professor at a Top 20 institution, you likely receive the lion's share of grant monies, decent media coverage, and your pick from top-shelf graduate students. So why go? Some moves are nostalgia-driven - the Prof. wants to return home to a welcoming parade, having "done good." Some moves try to fix the two-body problem. Some happen because of missed tenure, or a feeling that it's "just time." Maybe in today's uncertain economy, it's just best to assume you won't be in any job longer than ten years...with a handful of exceptions.

Readers: Know of any more high-profile U-Hauls being loaded this academic season? If the "Chemistry Bumper Cars" trend persists, this might yet become an annual post.

P.S. Heard about a move I missed? Email me at seearroh_AT_gmail, and I'll add it here!

*I completely understand, having been involved with two moves in grad and postdoc.


  1. Fu (MIT to Caltech); Ismagilov (Chicago to Caltech)

    1. Nuts! I totally forgot Fu! I'll have to make a second map...

  2. Yaghi's moving again? Yikes, he must have a 5 year timer on his itchy feet!

  3. Since many U-Hauls have images of arrow poison frogs, sponges and salamanders (and by implication the exotic natural products that they make) festooned on their sides, they would fit right in with KCN's agenda to hoard the world supply of maitotoxin.

  4. Love all the color/name matches. Very clever.

  5. Ellman and Phillips to Yale. (I think it's been a couple of years now) Any ideas why everyone at Scrips is jumping ship? I know they have to raise their own salary, maybe the grants are getting a little tight?

    1. Yeah, I didn't include them because they both moved in 2010. RE: Scripps, I've heard the same, regarding raising all your own lab funds and salary.

  6. Paul Cremer from Texas A&M to Penn State
    Sharon Hammes-Schiffer from Penn State to Illinois

  7. How many junior faculty positions are these superstars gobbling up with their moves? Anyone looking for a position shouldn't be celebrating these guys.

    And if I were someone interested in the future of scientific innovation, I would be seriously worried about concentrating so much on rainmakers who in the end do little science on their own.

    1. I agree that these moves likely displace their share of junior positions. That said, there's another side to it - sometimes, after a big move, schools double down on Asst Profs. This year, following the departure of Hartwig, UIUC hired 5 new asst. profs.

    2. Thanks for the reply.

      Perhaps I am being very cynical, but I wonder if this means that Hartwig's scientific worth as equivalent to 5 professors? If so, then Berkeley got a great deal because he is only filling part of 7th floor Tan Hall.

  8. (bio)chemistry: Marletta is moving from Berkeley to be president of Scripps

    1. Far as I can tell, was announced in 2010. And, like you've said, he's not really a synthetic chemist.

    2. It was announced in February 2011. Anyways, I just thought it'd be good to include someone moving /to/ TSRI. But yes, while his lab usually synthesizes their own probes and cofactors, it's always with the eventual goal of using them in biochemical studies

  9. For all of the budget problems that have eroded the CA education system it's interesting to see that heading west is still an attractive option.


  11. Guy Bertrand - UCR to UCSD. He's still listed on the UCR website, but now its the "UCSD/CNRS Joint Research Chemsitry Laboratory"!!

  12. John Wood to Baylor.

  13. I have heard of some potentially interesting moves:

    Corey Stephenson to UMichigan (solving the two-body problem)
    Scott Snyder to Scripps (I have conflicting information about whether it’s Jupiter or La Jolla)
    Brian Stoltz to Germany (I don’t know a definite school, but I hear that his Caltech days may be numbered)

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