Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#Chemjobs: Fellowship Freefall

Back in graduate school (*cough* ages ago), I distinctly recall looking forward to the annual announcement of the Division of Organic Chemistry (DOC) Graduate Fellowships. The competitive awards, which require advisor recommendations, essays, and a pretty slick research record, granted the lucky few a full year's stipend along with travel funds to attend the National Organic Symposium.

When I clicked for the 2012-2013 crew, I felt something was missing...where's all the fellowships? I counted only eight grantees. Not to condemn them; their research certainly merits the award, but didn't the DOC used to give out a whole pile more?

In a word: yes. Here's the historical data for the grantees, taken from this website

Talking points:

1. Lines, lines: It's not an accident that the trend mirrors the overall economy generally, and employment in Big Pharma specifically. Note the huge uptick in awards between 1997 and 2001, when the average was ~18 per year. Boom times. It's since settled down to just about 8 annually, around the average of the recession-era '80s.

2. Visits: Those last seven years (2006-2012) match the corresponding decline in corporate recruiting (see MIT, Harvard graphs via Chemjobber).

3. Strange birds: Since graduate school enrollment has dramatically increased, at the same time as fellowships have decreased, these awards become even more prestigious, if only by dint of rarity.

4. Peak Perfection: Let's look at the top year: 1997, when 19 fellows were named. Who sponsored the awards? Take a trip down memory lane...

DuPont Merck
Hoescht-Marion Roussel
Org Syn (x 3)
Organic Reactions
Boehringer Ingelheim
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Procter and Gamble
Eli Lilly
Smithkline Beecham
Merck Research
Rohm and Haas

Wow, how many of those guys even exist anymore? Contrast this list with the 2012 crop:

Merck / Division of Organic Chemistry
Org Reactions / Org Syn
Boehringer Ingelheim
Org Syn (x 2)
Troyansky (family endowment)

Pretty slim pickins.

5. Winners? Losers? Some auspicious names have been missing from the DOC Fellows' list in recent years: Harvard, MIT, Scripps? Actually, the trend improves for state schools, with 5/8 in 2012 going to the public universities. Compare this to 1995 ("boom times"), when the list included Harvard (x 2), Stanford (x 2), Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, MIT, Yale, USC, Chicago, and the publics represented by Berkeley (x 2), Wisconsin (x 2) and Utah.

Note: Thanks to Chemjobber for the inspiration.
Update (11/8/12) - Fixed USC, not a public uni! Thanks, Anon commenter...also Chicago..


  1. It's even rougher north of the border. Last year the government issued NSERC postdoctoral fellowship success rate was 7.8%. 98 awards were given out, 40% of the 2008 total.

  2. Minor note: USC is not a public state school, it's private.

  3. Chicago is not a public school either.

    1. Zounds! Gadzooks! Good thing I have you guys...

  4. The author has highlighted an issue that affects us all - the
    decrease in available funding to support students, symposia and
    research programs. The Division of Organic Chemistry is respoding to
    this challenge in the financial support of such fellowships as the
    Graduate Student Fellowship and Summer Undergraduate Research
    Fellowship (SURF) by identifying more sources of funding and utilizing
    our connections in the community. Please encourage your organizations
    to continue to support these valuable fellowships and programs.

    The Division of Organic Chemistry Executive Committee.

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