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The Chemist’s Predicament

Yes, we really have conversations like this.  Before I was laid off, I thought I might open a Bobo Tea stand on a beach somewhere.  Just think of what I could do with a liquor license.

The other night, I had dinner with one of my application vendors.  They came to Philly to give courses on their new version and I like to keep fresh.  It helps that they lent me a license so I can practice at home.  Anyway, they told me that they have met with a lot of drug design chemists who are completely disgusted with the lay offs and are getting out. They’re getting out of pharma altogether.  None of them want to do the work anymore.  It’s a thankless job.  It’s very difficult to do the work, difficult to get medicinal chemists to follow up on designs, difficult to navigate the changing political landscape within the companies and difficult to have to keep selling yourself in order to keep your job. What really sucks are the multiple layoffs and the constant downgrading of your livelihood.  Some people have to leave their families behind in one state while they live like black diamond miners in Soweto for most of the week in another state.  And even those jobs are not stable.

At the dinner, I met a currently employed modeler/crystallographer who is living a day to day existence in a big pharma company that underwent a merger a couple of years ago.  He’s having the same experience I did.  The Shadow Man is stalking the corridors and it’s only a matter of time before he catches up with his group.  They’re all on pins and needles while the managers take away their resources one by one, leaving them to do the work of other departments so they can keep up productivity.  It’s just a matter of time.  When it comes, he tells me, he’s getting out of NJ and leaving pharma behind permanently.  It’s just not worth the constant anxiety and stress.  He’s going to downsize, move to a different state and do something that won’t require the brains of a small planet but gets all the respect of a burger flipper.  If that’s the way you’re going to get treated, you might as well flip burgers and enjoy life.

Too bad for all of us who need people like him to solve problems in drug discovery.  And it’s very curious that the Obama Administration has paid zero attention to the devastation of the American scientific infrastructure by finance people who equate scientists with swappable industrial workers on an as needed, just-in-time basis.  I think that’s going to come back to bite him in the ass in November because those of us in NJ who are being tossed out of our jobs in the middle of our careers were making decent middle class salaries.  Now, we’re not.  When was the last time Obama invited laid off scientists to the White House instead of their self-serving MBA class managers?  Has he ever heard what’s really going on in the labs from the people who used to work there and can clear the bullsh^&?  If anyone out there knows of any such meeting, I’d like to hear about it.  Because from where I sit, it looks like he just doesn’t give a f^&*.

9 Responses

  1. Yep, welcome to my world. As a software developer I haven’t had a gig that’s lasted more than 2 years in the 20+ years I’ve been doing this. I’ve been tossed around so much…Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Houston, Scotland, Canada, New Mexico…I don’t know which end is up and my life and finances are in perpetual chaos. Sometimes I work on a W-2, sometimes a 1099, and sometimes I don’t work for months on end (that’s where I am right now). Try keeping up with ordinary things like filing your income tax, routine dental and medical care. Hell, I’m never anywhere long enough to even find a dentist or primary doc. If I have health insurance, I rarely have it long enough to get through the waiting period before it goes into effect. To put the tin hat on it, Katrina destroyed my house outside New Orleans in 2005 and the insurance company just didn’t pay. How could they get away with that? They know a bunch of economic nomads…there are thousands of us…don’t have the luxury of devoting 40 hours a week playing games and jumping through hoops to go after them. Any American who’s held a job with benefits for more than 10 years has led a sheltered life. The American working stiff is as disposeable as Kleenex and no one gives a flying fuck. Sorry to be so depressing. I suppose you can tell I’m in a real anxiety spiral at the moment. You’ve been good company and a great help to me these last few years. Sorry I can’t cheer you up.

    • Sorry to hear that, Sharon. You have a lot of friends these days. The thing that keeps me going is the idea that one of these days politicians will be afraid of us. We’re not stupid and we don’t swallow bullshit.

      • Thanks, RD. Your tip jar makes me feel guilty, but right now, I’m buying groceries on my daughter’s Discover card. Yikes!

        • Don’t feel guilty. The tip jar is for those extremely generous donations from people who have more money than they know what to do with and want to keep me in the style to which I intend to become accustomed.
          Actually, I use the tip jar contributions to fund my trips to occupy events and stuff like the reason rally. I do appreciate every penny I get but it’s not something I rely on.

  2. MBA. Bah, humbug. Forget the lawyers, kill the MBAs!

  3. Pharma appears to have failed to learn from the mistakes of Texas Instruments. TI was the orignal power house in computers and high end calculators in the early 70’s. When the recession hit they laid off their research staff. When it ended it was too late. They had lost their position in the market to other companies who had kept their research staff.

  4. Interesting article in the latest issue of Genetic Engineering News (http://www.genengnews.com/#): “Doing Business in China” (David Jiang). The “Myth 3” section really puts the American Chemist’s Predicament in a disturbingly clear light. Some excerpts:

    “In the next five to ten years, we will see a major paradigm shift from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Discovered in China’. The government has committed $308 billion to invest in science and technology over the next five years, with a focus on biotechnology…”

    “I predict there will be a surge of Sino-US life science partnerships in the coming years…Chinese companies are actively seeking partners in the West to develop innovative medicines [Viehbacher, call your office–NK]…”

    “In the US, many groundbreaking products are currently shelved due to lack of resources for further development [!]…This environment creates an excellent opportunity for win-win partnerships. A common model is for a US company to find a Chinese partner that will share the R&D costs and risks to co-develop a new product. The Chinese partner earns the commercial rights in China, while the US company retains the global rights outside of China.”


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