Recession + Job Growth = Nail Salon

Mani = Money Photo: Quinn Dombrowski,

Mani = Money
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski,

The New York Times featured an interactive article that compared the job growth of different industries during the recession.  There were some unsurprising trends, such as the sharp decline of the housing industry and manufacturing, and the rise in online shopping outlets.

From a unemployed chemist’s point-of-view, the market is theoretically good.

  • The Biotech sector is steadily growing;
  • The oil and gas industries are booming;
  • “Physical, engineering and life sciences research” has remained steady.  (Is that laughter I hear?)

However, like a reaction that looks feasible on paper, but turns into brown, inseparable sludge in a round-bottom flask, these statistics don’t translate into feasible job postings or offers.

Recessions usually result in decreased spending on inessential goods and services, such as mani-pedis.  However, the opposite has happened–nail salons are booming, and the number of jobs has skyrocketed.  Of course, I can’t imagine anyone with a college degree jumping at an offer to sniff nail polish fumes all day.  On the other hand, a nail salon worker makes the same salary as an adjunct chemistry professor.  Another industry that has seen growth is the pet services industry.  Whether you groom, train or walk a pet, there’s a demand for it.

If you want to transition into a career without investing in re-training (to break into software development), or moving to North Dakota (or any other oil-rich region), there’s always this:

Pig manicures. Photo: Natalie Maynor,

Pig manicures.
Photo: Natalie Maynor,

This is a Job: Science Canvasser Edition

Do you care about science? Photo: Bernard Pollack,

Do you care about science?
Photo: Bernard Pollack,

You spot them in the distance; well-meaning university students holding binders and wearing bright t-shirts, asking passers-by if they care about <fill-in-the-issue>.  City streets and areas around university campuses are filled with non-profit and political canvassers, especially during the summer.  You can’t really fault the students–they’re trying to make some cash while supporting a cause they care about.*  However, it’s hard to approach them without diverting eye contact, in hopes of avoiding an awkward conversation.

Now, imagine canvassing…for science!  Endeavorist, a collaborative, online science-sharing platform has recently launched, and they are looking for graduate level “Research Ambassadors“:

If you’d like to be part of disruptive approach to accelerating science, please apply and tell us why you might fit with our team and cause. Location is not critical provided you are within a reasonable proximity of several research universities and are an accomplished communicator.  We will be selecting 4-5 candidates who will carry the Endeavorist flag in their region to help spread the word about joining in the quest for a new way of collaborating and driving breakthrough discoveries for the world.

On a positive note, you probably won’t be standing on a sidewalk with a binder.  However, you will probably have to find creative ways to convince scientists to sign up and share their work.  Open Science is definitely an emerging field, and there are numerous benefits to accessible research (says the person who has to beg grad school and post doc friends for article PDFs).  However, if a site provides scientific information for free, and the “KickStarter” portion of the site is still in its infancy, you have to wonder where the revenue stream is coming from and how you will get paid for your hours of canvassing.

*I question the efficacy of this type of solicitation, but that is a conversation for another day.

This is a Job: CSI Edition

Take off those glasses & solve that crime, Horatio!

Take off those sunglasses and solve that crime, Horatio!

Bench work can be boring, unless you’re using your chemistry talents to solve crimes!  (Cue CSI: Miami theme song).

If you would like transition into forensic science, the Department of State Police in Massachusetts is hiring a Drug Unit Forensic Scientist:

Applicants must have a Bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, including Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, Forensic Science, Pharmacology or Physics and (A) at least three years of full-time, or equivalent part-time, professional experience as a bench chemist or forensic scientist in a crime laboratory or comparable setting and (B) full competence as a forensic analyst within an accredited laboratory in a relevant forensic science specialization, and documented experience in providing testimony as both an expert and material witness in legal proceedings, or (C) any equivalent combination of the required experience and the substitutions below.

While you brush up your resume and crank out a convincing cover letter, make sure you highlight the following:

1. You actually have a chemistry (or equivalent) degree;

2. You promise you will not tamper with or falsify evidence.

You would think I wouldn’t have to mention these things, but last year there was a huge scandal; a forensic chemist working for the state of Massachusetts falsified her academic credentials and evidence.

Also, the job ad states:

The final candidate for this position will undergo an extensive background investigation and drug screening.

You’ve been warned, just in case it might pose a problem.

(Photo credit:

This Week’s Job Tips from Twitter

Inspired by Twitter, here is your two part job-search “mission”, if you choose to accept it.

The first, from Paige of @FromTheLabBench:

Twitter is a good way to network without the awkward face-to-face interaction that usually requires the help of a beer (or five).

The second mission involves the hashtag, #8yothesis, and revolves around this post by @HopeJahren:

In less than 140 characters, explain your research in a way an 8-year old can understand.  This can really help form your elevator pitch, and can be used to re-word your research statement on resumes and cover letters (because trust me, recruiters will glaze over multiple acronyms or complicated chemical names).


This is a Job: MacGyver Chemist Edition

Ingenuity AND that hair. Now I see why MacGyver was unstoppable.

Ingenuity AND that hair. Now I see why MacGyver was unstoppable.

Technically this is a renewable energy start-up job for a Chemical Engineer, but the “hard skills” description of this post from the SF Bay Area craigslist suits many chemists as well:

* broad, hands-on background in chemistry, equipment/apparatus, flow & process control, electronics, sensors, etc.
* skills (& interests) in: catalysis, inorganic, petrochemistry, fuels, high-regime rxns, rxr design. Very helpful: LabView (big plus), also modeling (MATLAB/Mathematica, COMSOL, Aspen, etc.)
* Secondary but interesting: Materials Science, process intensification, microscale / microprocess / microreactors, photo-/sono-/electro-chemistry, MEMS, lab-on-chip, fluid dynamics, fabrication methods

However, there was one aspect of the “soft skills” description that caught my attention.

* own the MacGyver DVD box set (or are now wondering why you don’t ;-)

Two things:

1. At one point, every scientist goes through at least one MacGyver moment.

2. As refreshing as this job post format is, I am not a fan of the emoticons.

If you want to work in a start-up involving renewable energy, and like the idea of learning about the different aspects of a business, this sounds like a good opportunity, EXCEPT for one thing:

We are pre-funding, with all that implies. In particular: compensation at the moment, for everyone, is sweat equity. However, we have invested considerable personal money, do have a good track record of getting funded, and are in-process with interested investors. We are much further along – by a lot – than most pre-funding companies.

Unfortunately, equity does not pay the bills (at least not immediately), so unless you have a secondary source of funding or you are extremely skilled at procuring free food, you might want to look elsewhere.

(Photo credit: By Themightyquill (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons)

This is a Job: Phone Survey Edition

Would you like to take a survey..about science?

Would you like to take a survey..about science?

My visceral reaction to “phone survey” is to hang up the phone.  However, if you are able to call random strangers to talk about science, here is the job for you.  Here’s a job description for a Science and Technology Market Research Manager, courtesy of Boston’s Biotech/Science section in craigslist (although it’s a telecommuting position):

Science and technology market research company in Silicon Valley seeks an associate to conduct telephone based business-to-business science and technology market research in North America and Europe. This is NOT sales, but basic research work. You would conduct telephone interviews and related for science and technology studies using our proprietary methodology. Work can be done from a home office in the U.S. at your convenience.

Master’s degree or higher in a science or engineering field or equivalent is necessary. Experience with and theoretical knowledge of chemical analysis and/or life sciences laboratory instrumentation such as chromatography or mass spectroscopy highly desirable.

While I’m slightly wary because I’m not sure what you would be asking people, I appreciate two things from this ad:

MBAs without strong science or technical background need not apply.

I apologize for the MBA-ribbing, but I get a small sense of satisfaction when I see a business job that specifically looks for scientists.

…typically excellent pay for outstanding work. It is challenging work, so do not think of it as easy money…

That is perhaps one of the most honest job sentences I have ever seen.  Telemarketing (or, telemarketing research in this case) ads are generally peppered with the promise of high earnings, forgetting that you will only get paid if you sell something.  So this was refreshing.

If the idea of commuting to your home desk, dining table or local coffee shop is your idea of happy, and you like having phone conversations with random strangers, go for it!

(Photo: By Universalashic (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Make Friends, Take Action & Step It Up: 3 Lessons from the Naturejobs Career Expo

Today, I  live-tweeted the Naturejobs Career Expo, which means you were treated to fun tidbits like this:

That was one of the many gems from Joanne Kamens, who talked about “Not Networking” (Hint: it still involves networking).  According to Peter Thomson, PRI’s Environmental Editor, sometimes you have to “distill information to its essence”.  In that light, here are the top 3 tips from the Expo.

1. MAKE FRIENDS (Joanne Kamens, Executive Director of Addgene)

Build lasting relationships, because that can lead to a job connection one day.  To do that takes work, like anything else in this world.  For example, have lunch with a different person twice a week, and:

2. TAKE ACTION (Julie Gould, Web Editor of Naturejobs)

Just go out there and do it.  If you want to be a science writer, start a blog or find other ways to get involved.  Once you figure out what your role in science should be, take steps to get there.
3. STEP IT UP (Robin Lloyd, News Editor of Scientific American)

There is a huge gap between scientific information and the interest and/or knowledge of the average non-scientist. Be the bridge.  Find a way to communicate science (your own findings or someone else’s) in a way that is interesting and accessible to the general public.

Take-home message: Go for it.  

Another take-home message: Free expos are even better when free ice cream and alcoholic drinks are involved.

This is a Job: Chemical Inventory Blogger Edition

Inventory time (shudder). Photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Inventory time (shudder).

In graduate school, I remember the inevitable collection of groans and mumbles that came out when my PI scheduled “Inventory Day”.  Remember that one chemical that you kept on your bench because you were the only one who used it?  Well, now you have to put it in the database, and return it to the common chemical shelf, even though you (and everyone else in your lab) know that it will return to your bench a few days later.  Our only solace was the free pizza (free food!) that would be our reward after a day of collecting and cataloguing random bottles and jars.

However, if you enjoy the process of managing chemicals, and it gives you a secret thrill to figure out how chemicals are catalogued in industrial settings, then here is a job for you!

Here’s a post for a remote blogging position, from the Biotech/Science section of Seattle’s craigslist:

Are you an expert in how an efficient, well-run lab should be organized? Are you fascinated by the way large-scale organizations- petrochemical, agro-chemical, industrial laboratories- keep themsleves safe, clean, well-regulated, and well-run? Are you looking to write about the cutting edge of inventory management? If so, we’re looking for you to write for our blog. We need someone experienced in the field, someone with a curious mind about new developments and the ability to understand and explain them. 

At $150/week, you can’t exactly quit your day job, but you can add the extra income to your beer fund savings.

Photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons 

This is a Job: Wine Chemist Edition

Just leave the bottle here please.

Just leave the bottle here please.

Don’t mind me; I’m just packing my bags and moving to Napa Valley, because this is a LEGITIMATE JOB that was posted 3 days ago on the San Francisco Bay Area craigslist Science/Biotech jobs page:

Treasury Wine Estates is seeking a Senior Wine Chemist to join the Winemaking Laboratory team at Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena, California. In this role you’ll perform advanced analytical testing of wines in a high throughput production laboratory. This is a senior position requiring a minimum of 3 years of working experience in a lab environment in food/beverage/wine, environmental or pharmaceutical industries. Qualified candidates will also have a BS or MS in Chemistry or related field as well as advanced skills in analytical chemistry and excellent communication skills. This is a 2nd shift position but will require flexibility to work varying shifts.

The winery also has the job posting on their website.  I can guess what high throughput testing would be like in an analytical chemistry lab.  However, in a winery, is that a fancy term for “swish-and-spit rapidly”?

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons:

#AltChemJob: Science Journalist

If you’re interested in science journalism, I highly recommend Star Talk Radio’s interview with Miles O’Brien.  He is the former science correspondent for CNN and the current science correspondent for PBS NewsHour:



[On a side note, I’m finding it hard to believe that CNN once had a science correspondent, especially after Don Lemon’s missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 theories.]

Miles O’Brien was a history major (gasp!), but attributes his success as a science correspondent to his natural curiosity, fearlessness and the CNN science editor, who was a molecular biologist.

During the interview, O’Brien and Neil DeGrasse Tyson point out many useful tips for aspiring science journalists.

Qualities of a good science journalist

  • A good journalist has an overriding sense of curiosity.
  • You need to communicate complex things in a simple way.  At CNN, O’Brien was told to gear his reports to an audience with  “a 5th to 8th grade education”.
  • Scientists risk “compartmentalizing” their reporting based on their areas of expertise; remember there is a broad audience and a wide array of scientific topics worth covering.

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