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: