Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Open Letter to Recruiters

Dear Biotech Recruiters:

Good morning! It's me, early-to-mid-career synthetic chemist with multiple first-author papers, Ph.D. / post-doc from a Top 10 program, and pharma job experience.

How's things?

I'm a bit worried that my emails and phone calls to you have gone unanswered since we'd last spoken. See, my (tiny) chemistry company could go bust at any moment, and I'd really like to have one of your jobs in my back pocket, y'know, just in case...

I'm not entirely sure who you're looking for, but I'm starting to think it's not me. I do apologize for having not been born 10 years earlier, when I could have taken full advantage of the '90s Biotech Boom.

Back then, doctoral degrees only took 4 years, and then you could jump out into a six-figure job designing drugs straightaway - no post-doc required! Project teams swelled up, thus you got listed on more patents and papers, and probably got all sorts of crazy performance incentives. (I won't even bring up stock options and signing bonuses, since they've mostly gone the way of the dodo). Those lucky folks are now eminently qualified, experienced, and well-connected. They're shoo-ins for any job you have listed.

Well, what about me? I'm young, hungry, internet-savvy and have pretty low salary expectations. I don't yet have a family, and I work tons of unpaid overtime.

I feel like I'm playing against a stacked deck, where everyone has Aces and Kings, but I'm stuck with Crazy Eights. Can I ever catch up?

Looking forward to your call,


  1. Sounds like you're squeezed at both ends. As this article from NYT a couple of weeks ago suggests, mid 20s grads from 2008-10 are losing out to the fresher-faced new crop...


  2. This is exactly how I feel. I have a Ivy League Ph.D, post-doc from a top lab in my field, and joined pharma in 2001. I missed the 90s and I have been laid off twice. It's not just the early-mid, but fully mid level people that have these issues. I can't get bench level jobs because I am too experienced, and I have never been a manager, so those jobs aren't forthcoming.

  3. Well said! I'm in the exact same boat, and expect to be for the foreseeable future. Not a good time to be in the 3-6 years experience range (or in synthetic chemistry).

  4. I recognize the experience from my native Sweden. Here, Ph.D.s are a dime a dozen and unemployment is lower for those with a masters. I have a hard time accepting that I would be TOO good at my job to get a job at all.

  5. Not exactly a good time for me to be graduating with a PhD.

  6. Hey folks, hang in there and network, network, network. Apply your scientific rigor and discipline to your job search and, while time my creep along, I'm quite confident you'll find that dream job - or even A job.

    1. Ooops...my-->may
      Not enough coffee in the brain yet.

  7. you write well. do you like to teach? - kids, middle/high school, tutor? 2-yr community college? The fact is that at least for the foreseeable future, unless you are willing to move to Asia, medchem/pharma research jobs will be hard to come by for you. That does not mean one should not try hard to land one as indeed you are, or give up on that dream. However, part of career development is to make pragmatic choices, of which finding alternate ways to contribute and pay bills could be one. I hear all this talk of "Top-10" this and that "elite" something or the other, PhD .. (an yes I have all of those epaulets too); I wonder if we are not all so wrapped up in ourselves (as in self, I, me), we are unable to seek and work towards (with not insignificant pain) an alternative reality that may work as well towards a fulfilling life.

    1. Anon: I do, indeed, like to teach. I've applied for multiple adjunct and visiting positions, hearing favorable (albeit not highly remunerative) replies.

      I like that you use the word "dream." Yes, this *is* my dream - to develop medications to cure diseases. That's really the long and the short of it, right there. Honestly, I don't need the big salary, the bonuses, or anything - I used those as satiric writing devices to drive the point. Mostly, like anyone, I want enough money to live on, with some saved, and an interesting, important project to work on.

      If that's not pragmatism, I don't know what is.

  8. [hrm,blogger seems to have eaten my first comment... I will try again. Apologies if this generates a dupe.]

    It was interesting to see this post referenced on "In the Pipeline".

    As the industry changes, it's also creating problems for those of us looking to hire people into non-traditional roles.

    I lead the Chemical Information Systems group at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and have a position open for a co-lead in Cambridge (the Boston one) that is proving tough to fill. I'm looking for someone with med-chem project experience. They ought to be "IT savvy" and comfortable with new technologies, but they don't need previous IT experience. We can teach the IT stuff, it's important to me to have someone in the role who understands what our chemists are actually doing with the software and data.

    Our jobs site is "less than optimal" so this URL may not work:
    but googling for "NIBR jobs co-lead" ought to get the right thing fairly highly ranked.

    Crossing my fingers,

    1. NIBR, snicker.
      Word got out about that place so fast.

  9. I couldn't have said this any better myself... we are in the same boat except that when you wrote this I myself had my dream job, and now... it's gone! Layoffs, UGH!