Tuesday, October 29, 2013


A few days ago, I made a sardonic comment on Twitter about the never-ending scientific job quest:
So, was I just being over-the-top? Let's do some math.

In the past 4 years, I've held 3 different jobs; I'm currently looking for Job #4.

Jobs Applied To, by cycle: 184, 43, 126 (so far!) = 353 jobs
@ 1 hour per job (discovery, cover letter, emails, recommendations, etc.) = 353 hours

Phone Interviews, by cycle: 13, 3, 10 (so far!) = 26 phone calls
(Just 15 minutes? In my experience, they last 45): 26 * 0.75 hour = 20 hours

On-Site Interviews, by cycle: 7, 2, 3 (so far!) = 12 on-sites
@ 8 hours per interview + avg. 4 hours travel = 144 hours

Miscellaneous: Job fairs, reformatting CV, career events, webinars, networking events, ACS meetings, cold-calls, personal development, continuing education = 100 hours

Grand Total: 617 hours spent on some aspect of job-hunting.

Let's put that number into perspective. 617 hours is 25.7 days. Not working days, mind you. Actual 24-hour days. Many U.S. companies start entry-level employees at 2 weeks' vacation, or 80 hours of earned time. That's 320 hours over 4 years.

I have spent nearly twice as long applying for jobs as I have taking vacation in the last 4 years.

(Bonus irony: Several of those vacation days were taken to attend on-site interviews.)

If we measure a "standard" industrial chemist working week at ~50 hours, then I've spent 12.3 working weeks looking for jobs. That's 3 weeks' time, annually.

How much science could you do with an extra 3 weeks? Or if you actually used your vacation to relax, as opposed to looking for work?

Final thought: I'll bet you good money that I'm underestimating the time I've spent searching.

Any leads? I'm willing to listen. Drop me a line, seearroh_AT_gmail

~ Still no new job. Resume radio silence ~


  1. I have to say I'm impressed with your results, I've been applying for about 7 months now an I haven't even got a phone interview. Either it's because I'm a fresh Ph.D. with "only" 1 year postdoc, or I'm doing something horribly, horribly, wrong.

    1. If nothing else, this long job purgatory has taught me that it's almost never your personal skills or traits that get you noticed. It's often personal connections, chance timing, or fortuitous keyword searches.

      Perhaps not what you'd want to hear, but true nonetheless.

    2. In an odd way that makes me feel better, I rather be not getting interviews because of stupid luck rather than because I've been messing up. Unfortunately I don't have enough connection because people are either still in academia trying to wait out the storm or have given up on chemistry entirely. Since _someone_ is getting interviews and the like it shows it's possible (just so you know I have got interviews in the past, about a year ago when I was still postdocing, so it does happen)

  2. I don't think you are being over-the-top at all. I've also been applying now for about 7 months with very little response. As a PhD chemist with a postdoc from a well known PI and 2 years experience in a small company (company shutting down), I've become highly discouraged with the job market. I have people tell me "oh, you can get a job anywhere with all your other skills" but those "other" jobs tend to require prior experience (ca. 5 yrs) in that career path in order for them to consider you. Science has (is) become (becoming) a highly regimented field and treated by the powers that be as a commodity which results in, as you said, many scientists spending a large chunk of their time in a state of worry and stressing about whether or not they are going to have a job a few months down the road. This is not a supportive environment for creative thinking. Today's chemist's should consider themselves lucky if they are able to remain in their job for 2-5 years or more since moving around has become the norm rather than the exception. I wish you all the best!

    1. Thanks, Anon, for your full-throated (and very true) commentary.
      Best of luck to both of us...it seems like we're in very similar situations : (

  3. You are lucky. I am a NMR spectroscopist and there are ZERO jobs out there in DD. I am lucky that I have saleable expertise in a "hot" area of pharma (fragments). This is a tough market and only going to get worse.

  4. Here at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where I work as a researcher, we get a lot of pressure to get human resources out there when in fact there isn't a suitable work market for so many phd's! of course the bottom line are the number of theses that our Uni needs in order to keep a decent ranking, but the cost of having hundreds of overqualified depressed professionals must be quite high! And those of us already in the circle don't have a secure job either so we could easily join the work search pretty soon. A friend of mine said: Had I been half as smart as I thought I was, I wouldn't have gone for a PhD. yikes!

  5. Where are you based? I know of some jobs which will be advertised soon, in Cambridge UK.

  6. I've been looking and applying for the last 12 months or so as well, without so much as an interview. At least I have a permanent job in the meantime but it gets pretty disconcerting after a while

  7. Anon @ 1:43pm - do tell more!

    1. mail me at my semi-anonymized address; silversinglespeedATyahooDOTcom

  8. Difficult to measure, but important, is the time and energy absorbed by discouragement, depression and anger during the job hunt. I retired from an engineering field, retrained for another, and upon graduation spent three years trying to find full time work in my field. By the second year of rare, unproductive interviews, no income and a vanishing savings account, I had come to respond to the job hunt itself as an aversive stimulus, and sometimes a week or two would go by before I could bring myself to log on and scroll through job banks and other listings. It would be interesting to study job-hunters in microscopic detail and follow their emotional progress through the ordeal. Meanwhile, i think we can agree that "what does not kill us, makes us bitchy."

    Noni Mausa

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