Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Aren't Correction Articles Free?

Update (1/31/14) - Tweet from ACS Publications:
This morning, a friend pointed out an interesting bit of data in a recent Organometallics Correction article. I clicked on over, only to find myself stuck behind the ACS Pubs paywall:

$35.00! This left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and an obvious follow-on question: Why aren't Correction articles free? Are they peer-reviewed? (Don't think so). Do they contain amazing scientific advances? (Not usually).

Here's the correction process at a few other publishers, for comparison:

Angewandte Chemie Int'l Edition

Nature Publishing
What's the deal, ACS?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Help Wanted: The Chemical Names Project

I have a bit of down time whilst waiting for Big New Job to start. After writing about the confusing naming for the aromatic compound nootkatone over at SciAm, I became curious: How do we learn chemical names? Is there some sort of definitive reference point for how to pronounce tricky compounds?

To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to
I propose a fun little experiment: Send me names of strange-looking chemicals, and I'll record myself attempting to pronounce them. Where possible, I'll consult NIST, the Merck Index, the dictionary, and the IPA system to try and provide the best possible answer.*

Ground Rules: The name should be no more than a few syllables long; I'm not looking to pronounce the full IUPAC name for maitotoxin! Regional differences (aluminum / aluminium) won't be accepted. Where possible, try to give me some sort of feel for the origin or etymology of the compound, so I can make a quality recording.

Here's my (short) list of contenders: nootkatone, phenolphthalein, azide, linalool, geissoschizine

Don't Delay! Submit your unpronounceable compounds in the comments today!

*For those who've never heard me speak, I pride myself on clear diction and a relatively flat American accent

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2014 State of the (Scientific) Union

(Adapted from last year's post, with updated data for 2014)

Did you watch President Barack Obama present the 2014 State of the Union address?

Once again, I downloaded the text to the 2014 S.o.T.U. (Opportunity for All), and compared it against the text from 2011 (Winning the Future), 2012 (An America Built to Last), and 2013 (Unfinished Tasks / Next Chapter)

I’m not a political pundit or a news analyst - I’m a scientist. So let's see how certain scientific themes grew or shrunk over the past 365 days.

Breakdown (# of each word in full text):

Energy – 2011: 9, 2012: 23, 2013: 18, 2014: 8
Oil – 2011: 2, 2012: 10, 2013: 5, 2014: 6
Gas - 2011: 1, 2012: 9, 2013: 7, 2014: 4
Wind / Solar - 2011: 4, 2012: 3, 2013: 4, 2014: 2
Nuclear – 2011: 5, 2012: 3, 2013: 3, 2014: 5
Batteries - 2011: 0, 2012: 2, 2013: 1, 2014: 0
Biotech / Biomed / Biofuel – 2011: 3, 2012: 0, 2013: 0, 2014: 0
Chemical – 2011: 0, 2012: 1, 2013: 0, 2014: 1
Tech / technology – 2011: 12, 2012: 9, 2013: 8, 2014: 6
Science / scientist – 2011: 7, 2012: 2, 2013: 4, 2014: 1
Engineering – 2011: 3, 2012: 1, 2013: 3, 2014: 1
Math – 2011: 3, 2012: 0, 2013: 2, 2014: 1
Research – 2011: 9, 2012: 4, 2013: 4, 2014: 4
Development – 2011: 1, 2012: 2, 2013: 1, 2014: 0
Carbon – 2011: 0, 2012: 0, 2013: 1, 2014: 3
College / Universities– 2011: 12, 2012: 15, 2013: 8, 2014: 12
Health – 2011: 8, 2012: 5, 2013: 5, 2014: 8
Internet  2011: 6, 2012: 1, 2013: 1, 2014: 0
Cyber  2011: 0, 2012: 1, 2013: 2, 2014: 1
Jobs  2011: 25, 2012: 33, 2013: 32, 2014: 23

Fun 2014 one-offs - "Let's Move!", in-sourcing, "vaccines against drug-resistant bacteria, and paper-thin material stronger than steel," unemployment insurance, STEM!, gender pay inequality, "MyRA," student loan debt, minimum wage, military drones, Iran, Mad Men.

Is there a take-home message here? Does word count relate to the overall direction of the country? Probably not. Each speech is different: 2014 spoke to middle-class unemployment, higher ed, and equality issues, while 2013 spent serious time on fiscal reform, job creation, foreign affairs, and domestic mass shooting incidents.

We've got Obama shilling for more jobs, which is great. It's a bit disheartening, though, to see that, in an era of STEM politics, we're seeing a steady year-to-year decrease for scientific terms in the SoTU. The excitement I once felt about a President who would speak about solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells has substantially dampened. 

Readers: Did I miss anything? Let's discuss it in the comments!

WWWTP? Goes to the Movies

Source: Samuel Goldwyn Pictures
Better Living Through Chemistry, an upcoming indie film, has garnered a bit of buzz for its all-star cast (Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Ray Liotta, Jane Fonda) and its somewhat unconventional focus: the leading man plays a drug-addled pharmacist. Apparently, in a post-Breaking Bad world, we chemists can claim top billing only when we're busily breaking the law.

I'm sure that the title alone causes old DuPont ad execs to roll over in their marbled graves.

For you chemists in the audience, there's yet a better treat. Check out the promo poster (right). Credit, I suppose, goes to some graphical artist at Samuel Goldwyn for sticking the actors' faces inside modified Haworth projections, and for attempting to use wedges and dashed lines to lend some stereochemical flavor.

But yikes, the doodles! There's random "CH2" and "N2O" groups hanging out in space, a scrawled-out "atom" with a heart as a valence electron (cute), and even some sort of equation at the bottom, in which, apparently, (CH2 + CH3) / (CH2 + CH3) = LOVE.

The tagline for this wild pharmaceutical romp?
"Happiness Has No Formula."

Grab your popcorn, kids.

Monday, January 27, 2014

State of Scientific Hiring, 2014

The question I've been asked the most lately isn't "How's your family?" or "Did you have a nice Christmas?" Nor was it " How was your weekend?" or even the mundane "How's things?"

Nope. "How's the job search going?"

Well, truth be told, it's been a very busy few months. I've logged 1100 round-trip miles (1770 km) by car and train from Dec-Jan. I've spent a mint out-of-pocket (vide infra) and been privy to more "follow-up calls" than I can count.

Here are a few truths I've uncovered about the science job hunt along the way:

1. It's Going to Take Awhile: If you're a grad student thinking about looking for jobs in June, start now. I've noticed a significant lengthening between application submission and invitation to an on-site interview: in many cases, it's two or three months before they decide to stage your visit. If money's tight, you might have to line up a temporary gig (postdoc, consulting, Kelly Services) to fill in the gap time.

Update: Chemjobber recommends this NYT Economix blog entry, showing the ever-increasing interview cycle.

2. Jumping Through Hoops: Know the hiring stages? Application, phone interview, on-site, decision, right? Wrong. For this cycle, my interview process has gone through more hands than ever before. Take this example from one recent campaign:
  • Application [start clock]
  • Initial email survey to gauge interest [+two weeks]
  • Follow-up screening email, set phone interview [+one week]
  • Phone interview #1 (HR) [+one week]
  • Phone interview #2 (hiring manager) [+one week]
  • Emails to arrange on-site [+one week]
  • Full Day On-Site [+three weeks]
  • Telephone debrief #1 [+one week]
  • Followup emails [+two weeks]
  • Telephone debrief #2 [+one week]
  • Decision [+two weeks]
(If you're keeping score, that's 15 weeks from start to finish - nearly 4 months!)

3. Tweak that CV: With so many applicants for so few chemistry positions, companies screen your CV even more intensively. They're not just looking for keywords now; some recruiters have told me that certain phrases could hurt your chances. For instance, if your current job title (Senior? Lead? Fellow? Head?) doesn't translate over to the next organization, it may be best to transmute it to "Researcher" or "Chemist." This time around, I've found myself making almost as many curricula as cover letters - different professional "versions" of the same candidate!

4. Bankrolling: Have some cash squirreled away to meet expenses. Depending on the company's policy, you may receive a check up front, or it may take 4-6 weeks to return your investment. My average expenses in 2013 (mileage, meals, parking, flights, taxi, hotel, etc.) ran $168 per interview. Importantly, confirm with the recruiter that they will cover you; some companies (shockingly) do not cover interview expenses. 

5. Adventures in Dialogue: Nothing's sacred anymore, folks. Here's some bon mots I've been asked and told during this interview cycle:
  • "You aren't going to tell me your current salary?"
  • "How do you account for having so many jobs in such a short time?" (grad school, pdoc, job 1, job 2)
  • "We were waiting to hear from the other candidate before we told you no."
  • "We're worried that, if we offer you this position, you might leave for something better."
Best of Luck for Job-Searching in 2014,
See Arr Oh

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ladies, Gentlemen, Children of All Ages!

My "gray area" of pseudo-employment has finally ended: I've accepted an offer!

Metaphoric? Literal?

Look forward to new posts starting next week.

Thanks to all my regular readers for your job leads, pep talks, and kind words of encouragement.

See Arr Oh

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Soapy Situation

Life has funny ways of surprising you. While analyzing my latest batch of a functionalized sugar, I noticed that the NMR sample foamed upon sonication. Fearing surfactant (read: soap) contamination, I found myself back at the instrument facility with a D2O sample of...Contrex, the orange-labeled glassware rinse I've used ever since I started working at the bench.

Source: Decon Labs
Never thought I'd be taking a soapy NMR...
Unsurprisingly, Decon Labs doesn't list its trade-secret formulation on the MSDS or their website. However, this doesn't seem like something I'm going to investigate a la What's In Lemi-Shine? Seems to be to be a typical mono-aromatic tetraalkylammonium salt, probably containing some KOH, phosphate, or bicarb for good measure.

Best part? It's not a contaminant in my material. On to the next project!