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Unemployment Day #1

I woke up this morning to go to a Biotech recruitment fair at a local community college.  My “professional” clothes fit me nicely now after over a year of feeling like I had a target on my back and finding out I wasn’t imagining it.  My actual professional clothes are denim jeans and professional chef’s clogs.  Panty hose feels weird.

The day did not start off well.  I couldn’t find my CV folder with my neatly formatted story of my life (in .doc and .pdf format with strategically placed key words).  I needed to get new copies from the stick that has all my presentation slides on it. The bright young thing at OfficeMax couldn’t operate the printers, couldn’t figure out how to send files to them and when I told her, forget it, I’m in a hurry, I’ll just do it somewhere else, pulled the usb stick out of the computer without unmounting.  {{GASP!!  Heart stopped, face blanched}}  “What did you do??  Those files are the only ones I have.  If you screwed up my presentation stick, I’ll kill you” (not really meaning to kill her. )  She jumped up from her stool and started to yell that I was threatening her.  Jeez, do I have time for this nonsense?  Went to the Staples up the road, did it myself.  It took 5 minutes.  Let that be a lesson.  Organize your boxes.

The recruitment fair was set up for pharmaceutical workers whose jobs has been eliminated and who had been out of work since January 2010.  There were recruiters and contracting companies and odd little services.  There was advice on how to optimize your LinkedIn experience (get at least three references and *complete* the profile).  One service that I had never heard of is called Encore.  Encore sets up professionals with companies that need their services for very short term projects.  I offered my CV to the Encore rep but she told me I wasn’t old enough.  ???

This recruitment fair was aimed at older workers in the pharmaceutical industry who had been displaced.  If they qualified, they were eligible for a $5000 retraining grant.  To learn…what, exactly?  I mean, they’re already about as high tech as you can get.  They’re all very well qualified, many have PhDs, some of them wrote the “How To Do It” books and papers on pharmaceutical sciences.  These are not the mythical mortgage brokers who need to be retrained to do computer programming.  These are the chemists and biologists who wrote the first protocols on how to make new drugs. Just because the whole pharmaceutical industry has decided to follow each other off a cliff pursuing biologicals doesn’t mean these people are suddenly unskilled.  Motivated, intelligent people don’t need a lot of retraining.  They just need opportunities.  And opportunities are the things in very short supply.

What I’ve heard from my former colleagues at Wyeth who were Pfizered last year (Pfizered- what happens to you when Pfizer buys your company’s pipeline but not the people who actually discovered the blockbuster drugs), is that employers actually *want* people with 15+ years of experience.  They really need the expertise.  But when they see a CV that has that many years of experience, the potential employee is “overqualified”, which is another way of saying, too expensive.  But expertise should have some kind of value.  Look, I understand that companies are trying to cut costs as the whole industry heads over the “patent cliff”.  But if you know you need the expertise, don’t try to cut corners with your talent.  After all, most of them didn’t choose to live here in the Northeast where it’s as expensive as all get out to support a family.  Pharma relocated many of these people in the 1990’s from places like Kalamazoo and Cinncinnatti.  At that point in time, their knowledge and skills were valuable and companies needed them.  They still need them, but they don’t want to pay for it.  The Wharton grad restructuring the research unit he knows nothing about , they’ll pay for.  The borglike IT drone who’s still stuck on Windows XP, they’ll pay for.  The guy who invented modern pharmaceutical science?  Unemployable.

This is what your 10,000 hours of experience will get you in the northeast:  Your company will be bought or restructured.  You’ll be worried about layoffs in the year following the big announcement.  After that year, the company will either offer you a job, maybe in another state, or lay you off.  If you accept the job in the new location, there’s a good chance your spouse will have to a.) give up his/her job and find a new one in the new location to keep the family together   or b.) accept that the family will have to live apart for much of the week.  The employee will have to rent a small apartment, sometimes with other relocated employees and travel back to the family on the weekends.  Besides adding stress to the family unit when one parent has to do the work of two throughout much of the week, there is the burden of additional cost of maintaining two residences, not to mention the blow to the quality of life.  It reminds me of the black men in South Africa who had to leave their families behind when they went to work in the mines during the apartheid era.

Or, the employee can get hired by a contracting company who plays the middle man between the company and employee.  The contracting company takes a cut of the wages; the employee pays everything himself out of the rest . There’s no job security, no benefits, no ties between employee and company.  That’s the whole point.

This is not a good thing to do with your best and brightest.  The reason they went into science in the first place is because it’s interesting.  They like the challenge.  They like to solve hard problems.  Treating them like swappable technicians that can be reduced to performing routine tasks is wasting their talents and discouraging their children from going anywhere near a lab bench when they get older.

It’s not like I expect these companies to suddenly grow consciences and become more sympathetic towards their work force.  No, the powers that be are so far removed from their research staff that such a thing is probably unrealistic.  But it doesn’t make good business sense to get rid of so much knowledge, or beat the spirits of the talent you need so that they’re not as engaged as they should be because their connection to the company is temporary and tangential.  The unemployable biotech worker will become walking warnings to anyone who dares to entertain the notion that science is a field worth pursuing.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Especially when there is 20 years of knowledge bottled up in it with no place to go.

It’s not good for the nation’s scientific infrastructure.


32 Responses

  1. But expertise should have some kind of value.

    I think that when Democrats decided in 2008 that experience didn’t count, they were simply echoing what’s been happening in the workplace for years. It’s more visible now, but I know it was part of the 80s, the leveraged buyout with the junk bond frenzy. That was the first time I saw many of the older workers pushed out of their jobs. Companies had to meet the interest from the bonds the new owners had put in their balance sheet, and high paid, well qualified employees had to go. The shareholders got a very nice price for each share, and the company was left an empty shell with few resources and a mountain of debt.

  2. The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City is seeking designation as a National Cancer Center – doing a lot of hiring:

  3. Next time, set up your own booth, collect the CVs from the talent there and call a meeting with all those who look like they would fill a needed spot in your own company. You all put your heads together and find the funding you need to get your own startup underway 🙂

    • Know what? I have absolutely zero desire to handle the business side of research. Science is hard enough without having to schmooze venture capitalists. I’m exhausted by the last year when I only had to worry about my lab work.
      I don’t think people realize how much work it would be to start a company from scratch. And with research, one decision by the FDA can bankrupt you and wipe out all of your hard earned efforts.

  4. Hey, I wanted to let you know that Bio-Rad is hiring a number of scientists – especially in Research & Development. However, the positions are West Coast and California (Hercules, Benicia, Irvine) as well as Redwond, WA. If you are interested and fortunate enough to land a position in Hercules, CA (Bio-Rad’s home office) there are some nice homes that are within walking/biking distance. You can thank our lovely banksters for that! Let me know if this helps.

    • RD would like Irvine a bunch! xxoo! Other places too! Irvine is suburb (beachy) of LA? so next to the citiy like she is used to, except we have our weather — no joke on ol’ San Onfre plant and the earthquakes but Irvine is very fab. Also? Living expenses here are less and so are houses right now!

  5. Superb posting, RD. Best of luck on your job search. My thoughts are with you.


  6. It’s not UNemployment, like a fact of nature.

    It’s DISemployment, like somebody threw you under the bus.

    That said, superb post.

    • Lambert, when you first coined “Dis-employment” I thought, man what a brain. You know Lambert? How many robots do you think are causing diemployment because a luddite movement is in order. virtual hug.


  7. damn! Love your posts – you have such a way with words even describing a dismal day.

    “They” don’t want to pay for any senior level talent anywhere in the company and THAT is why the IT department is locked down to only vanilla installations and nobody *knows* anything. You get what you pay for.


    • I am working with an uncertified IT genius. He is absolutely lethal. We are local in the Ozarks and making antennas that will give you a 5 to 10 mile radius of locked and unlocked wifi to piggy back onto. Like McDonald’s or pulling over on the road or using in your home or anywhere. Decades ago this happened to me for different reasons and I decided then to never depend on a job job again no matter how much I loved it. Now I am writing on post modernism through Twilight and De Lillo and everything I ever knew or studied is now relevant. Amazing time for me. You will look back on this crisis and bless it someday, I know you will.

  8. As an “…IT drone who’s still stuck on Windows XP…” I can confidently say it’s the Wharton puke who’s refusing to upgrade from XP.

  9. I think it was Joe Cannon (my second daily stop after Confluence) who said that Robert McNamara’s GREATEST unforgivable sin was elevating the MBA to such prominence in business & govt’t.

  10. Blame Milton Friedman.

    When I got my MBA in the 70s, investors were just one of the parts of a company. The customers, the workers, and even the community where employees were located needed to be taken care of for the long term.

    Thanks to Friedman these investors who are unlikely to stay more than two years and management are all that counts. “Results” based means the next quarter or the next year’s profits. Most research is only going to pay off in five or ten years, well beyond the timeline of Wall Street wolves. The easy way to jack up short term profits is to cut back on research, machinery, and US employees.

    I don’t know but you might to better with a European pharmaceutical company, They aren’t under the stock market pressures as much. The Swiss historically don’t even report real earnings although they may do it now. Hoffman La Roche has a big plant in Nutley. Others are scattered around Jersey.

    • Lololol! I worked for a european company. They’re the ones who laid me off. It is much easier to get rid of a worker in america than anywhere in Europe.

  11. Also, if you want to go lateral, bio-fuels (like microbes making oil) seem to be getting a lot of attention from VC types….

  12. ” If they qualified, they were eligible for a $5000 retraining grant. To learn…what, exactly?” Spot on!!!

    We’re asking some of our most qualified people to go back to school to learn what? I have a friend who was laid off in 2008. She immediately enrolled in school and got a Masters degree. She is presently working on her second Masters; which begs the question: if the first one didn’t do the trick in transitioning her into a new field, how much more helpful will the second one be.

    Here’s what I find scary about her scenario: she’s a fifty-something looking to go into a new area of work, which means entry-level pay, with a pile of new debt from financing two Masters degrees in addition to whatever debt she already had before things went south and with (maybe) fifteen years of working life left. How is this supposed to work out?

    • Yeah, I don’t know what it is they expect us to learn. I’ve found out from the past year that I can learn just about anything very quickly. Just do it, read a shitload of papers, ask a lot of questions, drive a lot of people crazy and practice, practice, practice. But I’m guessing that its a lot easier for a chemist to become an MBA than the other way around. Which begs the question, why do we need MBAs who have never done research in pharma? Aren’t they ultimately more replaceable than the biologist project team leader who actually understands where the bottlenecks are?
      I’m very lucky that I have no debt besides my house. And if I need to, I have other places to go where I won’t have to worry about starving or foreclosure. But other than learning some programming, I have no plans to go back to school for another degree. I put in my 10000 hours.

    • Yeah I agree with you. She’s bought into the schtick and you won’t be able to change her belief system.

  13. it will get better right??PLEASE say yes !!!!!

    • What did Gandalf say when frodo said he wish he didn’t have to experience so many troubles?
      So do all people who live to see such times. But it’s not for us to decide. All we can do is do the best with the time we have.
      If you’re looking for inspiration, turn to the middle east.
      If you don’t use your vote wisely, that’s what it will take to put things right again. Every system takes energy to maintain.
      Do your own little part.

  14. RD, I want to wish you all the best, as one who absolutely knows what you are now going through. The hardest part for me was the 20 years of doing a thing at a paper while I was building career two as a therapist. So. What was hard was that you do not realize how much going to a place everyday and doing a thing, the same thing, the thing you are expert at matters. In terms of a sense of self-esteem.

    Now, I know it is not much of a consolation, and the next months will be emotionally difficult. I just know this because for our generation of women all that education and then WTF? With companies, grants screwed up non-caring MBAs assorted efftards for managers and personell heads well I could go on.

    Be okay, okay?

    Know that you have some new friends who care about you? Even though we are just web page peeps!

    Keep checking in. Wish I’d had this 10 years ago.

    Also RD please go get Facebook and Scribd.com and twitter attached? You can start writing a book right here with this post? My book Heart of Clouds for kids is in there?

    It’s really easy, really easy, and you will be read around the world, K?

    & virtual hug


  15. When my resume got to 3 pages I quit showing it. After losing many, many jobs and skating the 87 mile Athens to Atlanta marathon 7 times, I learned to relish exhilaration, read being fired as the imprimatur on my readiness to publish and see life as a changing vignette in which I must stay pretty:)

  16. My actual professional clothes are denim jeans and professional chef’s clogs. Panty hose feels weird

    This is like dating again after a long time relationship break up and having to dress up etc. …. 😦

  17. It’s like Wall Street hates brains. Who can blame them — their scams rely on lack of critical thinking.


  18. It is so sad that the first to go in economic layoffs are the creative talent and innovators, they are undervalued because they don’t fit the current idea of ‘productive’, even though the people who do fit that idea aren’t really producing anything real!

    Good luck with your own hunt.

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