November 24, 2003
Volume 81, Number 47
CENEAR 81 47 pp. 33-34
ISSN 0009-2347

Unemployment is at a record high, but opportunities exist for the well prepared


These are difficult times for the U.S. economy, and chemical scientists have not been spared the fallout. Unemployment for chemists--as measured by unemployment of American Chemical Society members--is at a record high. C&EN Editor-at-Large Michael Heylin reports that the jobless rate of 3.5% that the most recent ACS Salary Survey reveals as of March 1 this year is up from 3.3% a year earlier. It also exceeds the earlier all-time high of 3.2% set in 1972, the first year of this annual survey.

Industrial chemists have been hit particularly hard. For those in manufacturing, unemployment is at 4.9%. For those with nonmanufacturing firms, it is 4.8%. However, among academic chemists, unemployment remains negligible at 1.1%, and government-employed chemists are essentially fully employed with an unemployment level of 1.0%.

Chemists over 45 years old have been hit especially hard because unemployment among chemists increases with age: This year, the survey found an unemployment rate of 2.0% for those younger than 44 and 4.7% for those over 45. This pattern is not encouraging news for recently unemployed scientists expecting these to be their prime earnings years.

Despite the gloom, Heylin notes that salaries of ACS-surveyed chemists with full-time jobs have held up reasonably well. The median annual salary increase for individual chemists of 4.2% is slightly down from 4.8% last year, but it is still well ahead of inflation, which is running at about 2%.

When asked by C&EN Assistant Editor Aalok Mehta to evaluate their 2003–04 hiring plans, many recruiters said that the demand outlook for chemists is essentially unchanged from last year. As always, companies are looking for chemists with top credentials, and competition is stiff. Mehta reports that they would be hiring to fill vacancies occasioned by retirements and maybe a few additional positions.

For those applicants seeking their first industrial position, C&EN Associate Editor Susan Morrissey reports that to really stand out to employers, job candidates need to have the appropriate combination of scientific and communications skills.

One area that may well be attractive to chemical scientists--particularly those with advanced degrees who are starting second (or third) careers--is teaching at the high school level. C&EN Associate Editor Celia Henry reports that the most important characteristic of scientists turning to teaching is that they like students in their teens. Demand for well-qualified chemistry teachers at the secondary level is expected to soar over the next few years as many current teachers reach retirement age.

C&EN Online Editor Melody Voith has compiled the magazine's annual listing of resources for job seekers. Voith concentrates on online resources that aim to help scientists find jobs. Prominent among these is, the C&EN full-service recruiting site. She reports that ACS stands ready to help its members and student affiliates hone their interviewing skills and polish their résumés. At national and regional meetings, employment clearinghouses bring recruiters and job seekers together for one-on-one interviews.

An online exclusive, written by former Procter & Gamble recruiter Joel I. Shulman, aims to help foreign chemical scientists navigate the often difficult process of getting a job in the U.S.


With the slow economy persisting yet another year, unemployment for chemical scientists is high and demand is soft. New graduates can expect a long job search and fewer offers, but some companies are hiring.

Unemployment among American Chemical Society members in the domestic workforce is 3.5%. This is a record high since the society started measuring the employment status of its members annually more than 30 years ago. Salaries continue to make steady gains.

Becoming a high school chemistry teacher is a great choice for a chemist with an advanced degree, and a few are taking that option, sometimes as a second career. These workers can help fill a need for qualified science teachers that is expected to skyrocket with impending retirements.

Graduate students, freshly minted Ph.D.s, and postdoctoral fellows are all vying for the few open positions in industry. Find out what industrial employers are looking for and how applicants can get noticed.

A guide to sources of job and career information designed for those in chemical and related sciences who are seeking industrial, academic, or government positions or looking to change careers. Online resources for scientists are highlighted, as are American Chemical Society career services.


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Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society