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Pharma can’t find post-doc STEM graduates to do incredibly boring paperwork jobs, hiring managers say

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline asked for an eye catching headline to summarize a new labor report on the dismal fate of STEM graduates so I thought I’d give it a shot:

The knowledge-intensive pharmaceutical industry had the highest reported difficulty in hiring top talent of the 19 industries featured in PwC’s 2012 Global CEO Survey. CEOs identified talent gaps as one of the biggest threats to future growth prospects.

Research conducted by HRI, including a survey of human resource and R&D executives at U.S. biopharmaceutical companies found (that) fifty-one percent of industry executives report that hiring has become increasingly difficult and only 28 percent feel very confident they will have access to top talent.

Of course, the workplace is not stagnant and the demand for certain skills is always evolving. Seen this way, the data suggest that pharma execs may want the sort of talent that is not on the sidelines or simply clamoring for a different opportunity. For instance, 34 percent say that developing and managing outside partnerships is the most important skill being sought among scientists. . .

Well, it all makes sense to me.  What pharma wants is not scientists, they want lawyers to negotiate contracts and efficiency experts to break down each experiment into a set of easily digestible tasks.  That’s not really science anymore because the ability to think for oneself, analyze procedures and take advantage of serendipity is lacking but nevermind the counterintuitiveness of it all. Chemists and molecular biologists didn’t spent 12 extra years doing lab work in order to push papers around.  They planned to actually work in a lab, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Funny how you have to tack that apology onto the end of the sentence when you are referring to people who actually get their hands dirty.  We’re working with someone else’s values when it is assumed that the thing scientists would prefer above all things is to work their way out of the lab and never have to touch a chemical or wear a labcoat again.  Well, anyway, they said they don’t want people like that anymore.  You know, those scientific malingerers who hide out in university corridors waiting for a hit of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry or whiff of stewing e.coli.

This is what happens to an industry that gets taken over by the brain trusts on Wall Street.  They think that any industry that’s not finance can be outsourced and managed by people a little bit like them but who simply have more experience in the lab.  I hope they’re not counting on fresh out of school Harvard PhDs to this work because even they need about a decade’s worth of seasoning before they even know who to manage or what to do to make a project work.

Come to think of it, you don’t need PhDs to do this stuff.  Why not just hire any science type sucker who needs to make ends meet?  We all know how to use Excel and PowerPoint and we’ve all got experience slogging through the badly implemented SAP systems that the executive branch is so proud of.  You don’t need to go to an Ivy League university for 12 years to be a scientifically literate corporate drone.  A BS level employee with a 2 month crash course in drug discovery could probably do it.  I mean, that’s how it’s done on Wall Street, right?  You take some overprivileged  23 year old recent graduates from Princeton and teach them how to do finance in 2 months before they’re set loose on the world.  What could possibly go wrong?

Flee from science majors, little children!  Flee!

In another sign of the times, Derek posts on yet another company that’s had to lay off early stage discovery staff in order to move their two lead projects into development and clinical trials.  That means, the dedicated chemists, drug designers, biologists, pharmacologists, etc will have to pack up their pipettes and find another job.  They probably *won’t* be able to work on the same kind of project again and use their expertise. There goes the mortgage on the house, the car payments, the college funds.  Imagine having to do this every couple of years- if you’re lucky enough to actually work in a lab and not tied to a chair in Massachusetts managing people in Shanghai.

I hope it’s not to much longer before our nation’s leaders realize they’ve been lied to about the promise of “entrepreneurship” in biotech.  The initial overhead costs are among the highest of any industry and a payoff is unlikely.  The big pharmas that are preying like vultures on the promising tidbits on the skeletons of little start ups are the same companies that couldn’t get blockbusters to market after several rounds of M&A and sinking billions of dollars into very badly managed R&D departments.

Believe it or not, there are lot of scientists who are not dying to relocate to Cambridge to work in the offices of big pharma.  The ones who do go to Cambridge and South San Francisco are just postponing the inevitable.  The rest of us would rather take pay cuts for some modicum of stability or get out of science altogether.

Whatever.  What the world needs now is a good plague to wipe out the aristocrats and middle men and let the scientists get on with it without any further interference.


Zombie Symmetry shows what’s involved in drug discovery these days:

11 Responses

  1. Since it would be immoral of me to suggest that scientists figure out how to invent a 100 per cent lethal disease germ that only infects wall street financialists and pro-financialist managers, I will not suggest any such of a thing.

  2. This kind of thinking is not just in pharma. I was chatting with a colleague about her work in satellite instrumentation. She has several patents, a couple of decades of experience and a doctorate.
    Her new boss, an MBA person who knows nothing of the field, told
    her that her work could be done by anyone with a physics B.S. degree.
    I said that it sounds like time to look for another job and she agreed.

    • MBA = Mendacious Bull$#!tting @$$hole. 😈

    • In a way, the MBA is right. A BS physicist probably *could* do it- after he/she had worked in the area for 2 decades. What the MBA is not seeing is the years of experience that are necessary. A PhD is no more prepared to do that research right out of school than a BS person. Maybe the BS person will never be ready or willing but I’ve seen plenty of PhDs who weren’t either.
      It takes years of long hard slogging to get the knack for it. And these days, as soon as that knack kicks in, you’re “too old” and expensive to be able to apply it.

    • Hopefully she will drop zero hints that she is looking . . . until she has found. Then she can give the briefest possible notice needed to get the best departure deal while preserving all of her vested benefits that she can. . . and depart. Mr./Ms. MBA can then fill the spot with anyone with a physics B.S. degree.

      One is tempted to say “what company does she work for? I want to divest from any fund I am in that might be infected with stock in that company.” But then one realizes that most companies are run according to such MBA philosophy. Best to divest from any and all stock infested funds especially if they are 401ks, and invest the money (if one has any) in reality instead.

      • actually, as the mother of a son who will graduate soon with a physics bs, i’d like to know the company’s name so he could apply for work there.

        the newly minted science graduates aren’t having an easy time of it, either–and they’re preloaded with tons of debt. you know that the mba’s are all eager to import science grads from india and china to undercut their wages and job security.

        if i were an ambitious person, i would write a book about how the rise of the mba program has been detrimental to our society. since the mid 70’s we’ve been on this kick of short-termism and cost cutting and dog-eat-dog ruthlessness. there’s no sense of collectivism or planning for the future. i always associate it with the oil shock of the 70’s.

        on second thought, i might encourage my son to stay in school, get a phd if he has a fellowship and stipend, and hope that sanity will prevail by the time he finishes.

        • Ahhhh . . . . good point there in those first two paragraphs. If the name of that particular company were to be revealed, your son could indeed apply to that very company or at least submit his resume’ there to be ready.
          As to these companies returning to some sort of sanity . . . which would be the longer term view of corporate organized and paid-for effort exemplified by the old pre-breakup AT&T’s Bell Labs and Western Electric, I don’t see that ever returning unless a whole bunch of 1950s-era conditions and policies can be forcibly restored, beginning with the Abolition of Free Trade and the restoration of all Eisenhower-era tax rates and laws.

          I can’t imagine a BS in any science being fully subsidized and supported through a PhD program. I can only imagine such a person being teaser-stipended just enough to trick them into taking out huge loans to pay for the bulk of the PhD related expenses. Such loans would push the new PhD even deeper into debt-cropper peonage and desperation.

  3. Looked up the afflicted company, Addex Therapeutics. The CEO is a PhD but also a lawyer experienced in selling off projects to bigger companies. The CFO is not an MBA but, far worse,a British version of a CPA (called a chartered accountant). The company says they are not hiring and claims they have enough money to last through 2013.

    In my experience, the CPAs are worse and more short-term than the MBAs. Add in a lawyer and the sky is the limit.

  4. I remember reading somewhere ( when? where?) that the whole theory of “MBA” is that certain bussiness/financial management principles and tools and methods are the very same across all bussinesses. It is not necessary and not even helpful to know something about the particulars of a particular bussiness in a particular thingmaking or thingdoing area. The MBA is thought to be and sold to be able to apply the transcendental all-bussiness principles where the experts in a particular bussiness are blinded to the forest by all the particular trees they see and know.

    The “MBA” was first invented at the Harvard School of Bussiness I believe.

    • If RUR describes the alleged thinking behind the MBA concept accurately, then MBA theory may be THE most outstandingly stupid idea on the planet Earth. 😛

      MBAs, and the upper classes whom they serve, serve the same function on a society which fleas serve on a dog. 👿

      • I am hopefully open to an comments pointing to a higher and better origin of the MBA, and a better conceptual reason for its existence. Because if I am right, then much of American bussiness now has brainworms in its leadership levels and it would be very hard to find a bussiness to seek work at which is not MBA infested. Perhaps some of the middlesized thingmaking bussinesses not dead yet in the Rustbelt?

        And of course single owner/ single family operated bussinesses where even if the owner-leader does have an MBA, the owner-leader is still forced to interact with reality many times per day.

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