How To Reach C&ENACS Membership Number


January 6, 2003
Volume 81, Number 1
CENEAR 81 1 pp. 51-52, 54, 57
ISSN 0009-2347

It may take time and effort, but B.S. and M.S. chemists have options for advancement


Chemists without Ph.D. degrees sometimes are referred to as technicians or as just a pair of hands. Does that mean that B.S.- and M.S.-level chemists in industry are necessarily stuck in dead-end jobs? They may face challenges, but chemists at this level can—and do—advance. Advancement opportunities for bachelor’s- and master’s-level chemists depend on the individual, according to company representatives.

When freshly minted B.S.-level chemists are put in the lab,they are generally given a great deal of guidance on the synthetic routes or analytical methods to use and how to find literature references. They are likely to find themselves doing routine tasks under lots of supervision, especially when they first start out.

"At an entry level, they're pretty much following procedures that have been established," says Jennifer A. Troia, director of human resources at Sunesis Pharmaceuticals in South San Francisco. "As they grow, they're going to be making suggestions on how to do an experimental procedure, maybe making improvements to what's being done. They become a little more independent."

At Roche Bioscience in Palo Alto, Calif., "their initial job will probably be to make compounds designed by someone else," says Hans Maag, vice president and deputy head of chemistry. As the bachelor's-level chemists become more experienced, they start contributing to the design of target compounds. "In some people this develops quickly, and others are happy making what other people tell them to make."

Kenneth R. Pederson, workforce planning design director at Dow Chemical, says initially there is a large difference between what chemists with bachelor's and those with doctoral degrees are able to do in terms of research. However, he notes, that doesn't mean that bachelor's-level chemists can't acquire experience and expertise with particular technologies. "We have technologists and bachelor's-level chemists working in our customers' plants who are indistinguishable from Ph.D.-level people when solving problems," he says. "They have great depth of knowledge in a particular area, acquired more through experience than through education."


AT WORK Albany Molecular tries not to differentiate between those with and those without a Ph.D. Here, Crystal A. Cicchino, a bachelor's-level scientist at the company, is acquiring mass spectrometry data.

OBSTACLES to advancement may be fewer at smaller companies, Troia points out. "It seems in the smaller companies there is more visibility for that level of employee to have those opportunities. There are fewer people working on a project together, and non-Ph.D.-level chemists are sometimes given more responsibility." In larger companies, research associates are more often viewed as "a pair of hands," she says. "Every company needs people like that, but if somebody is looking for more, I think there absolutely are ways they can find it."

Some companies have separate career ladders for B.S./M.S.-level and Ph.D.-level chemists. Although not impossible, jumping from one career ladder to the other without a Ph.D. is extremely difficult. Alza, a Mountain View, Calif.-based drug delivery company that is now part of Johnson & Johnson, and Sunesis are examples of companies with such separate career ladders.

"It's typical for someone without a Ph.D. to be called a research associate or some form of that title and for those with the Ph.D. to have earned the title of scientist," Troia says. "It has not precluded certain people from being able to become a scientist without the [Ph.D.] degree, but that doesn't come without a lot of hard work." People who succeed in making the transition typically have many years of experience and have proven themselves able to publish in the scientific literature, she says.

"In this industry, it really is a matter of status to be a 'scientist' and have your Ph.D. You've worked hard on it. We wouldn't want to undermine that by having people just put in that role," Troia says. "It's taken very seriously when someone without the Ph.D. is given the title [of scientist]."

At Alza, bachelor's-level chemists can hold the title of chemist I, II, or III or senior chemist. As at Sunesis, it takes a doctorate to earn an individual the title of scientist. "It's hard for people at the bachelor's or master's level to jump into the scientist ladder. It does happen, but they need to have that extra level of scientific expertise that Ph.D. people generally have," says Gail Stanley, an Alza human resources representative. "It's frustrating for some of the chemists who get as far as the senior chemist title" and then realize they are at the top of their track.

Such obstacles mainly confront individuals working in the research track. If they want to move into managerial roles, however, opportunities exist for individuals with bachelor's degrees. For example, they can take on responsibility for project management.

"For most of Alza's products, we work with client companies," Stanley says. "There needs to be someone internally to manage that process. They're not necessarily the technical experts on the project, but they're the ones who get all the departments together, coordinate [the project], and are in liaison with the representative at the other company and Alza people."

Project management is also an option for bachelor's-level scientists at Sunesis. "We like someone who can prepare Gantt charts and communicate what's going on with the project at all levels," Troia says. (Gantt charts are a standard format for graphically displaying a schedule.) "I've seen people in jobs like that who didn't have a technical background but had a knack for understanding all the roles. They didn't have to have the technical background in order to drive the project, but it certainly helps."

In contrast, Albany Molecular Research--a drug discovery company that focuses on contract research and has several locations in New York state; Bothell, Wash.; and Mount Prospect, Ill.--tries not to differentiate between researchers with and without a Ph.D. degree.

"They're all scientists within our organization and contributing members," says Michael P. Trova, senior vice president for medicinal chemistry at Albany Molecular. "In our company, the types of positions that B.S.- and M.S.-level people might have are quite various and in several locations." Such areas include medicinal, process, combinatorial, analytical, computational, natural product, and biocatalytic chemistry.

At Albany Molecular, all scientists--regardless of their degree level--are expected to contribute to the creative process of devising syntheses. "We believe that all people have good ideas, and all ideas are put on the table for discussion and prioritized appropriately," Trova says.

MOVING ON UP Talented chemists at Roche Bioscience have advancement opportunities, with or without a Ph.D.
FOR EXAMPLE, in medicinal chemistry at Albany Molecular, individuals are "involved in the actual design and synthesis and SAR [structure-activity relationship] development of lead compounds toward the discovery of new medicines," Trova says. In process research, the chemists "would be responsible at a minimum for helping to come up with new ways of making compounds and providing ideas and creative input on how to do these things," he says.

As a contract research organization, Albany Molecular performs research for other companies, and bachelor's-level chemists report their own results in customer presentations. "No one else is reporting their results for them," Trova says.

"We believe that the team is greater than the sum of the individuals. Consequently, every member of the team is an important part of that team," Trova says. "The people at the B.S. and M.S. level are absolutely included in that group. They're colleagues, and one of the benefits of a person with a B.S.- or M.S.-level degree working with us is the ability to work with a widely diverse and motivated team of other individuals at their level or the Ph.D. level. I think people at this level find that working at Albany Molecular Research is challenging. They have an ability to make a significant impact on project teams and the company."

There are no glass ceilings or preconceived limits about how far people can advance at Albany Molecular, Trova asserts. The company has individuals with B.S. and M.S. chemistry degrees in nonscientific leadership roles, and in the past has had individuals without a Ph.D. degree reach the levels of section head and even director. "We believe that your degree helps you get in the door and provides you initial opportunities, but after that it's your performance and your aptitude and skill set that will dictate where you can go in our company," he says.

Roche Bioscience also has people without a Ph.D. degree who serve as department heads or project leaders, Maag says. "The final position in somebody's career is really very much up to the individual," he says.

However, Maag notes that a person without a Ph.D. may need extra time to advance. "They need to acquire the experience, and they need to do it on the job, which is a less direct route than pursuing a Ph.D. directly after a B.S. or M.S. degree," he says. "They have to demonstrate that they have independent thinking, that they have ideas in terms of novel synthesis targets. Then they can develop a certain independence."

Eventually, people may even forget that some individuals don't have a Ph.D., Maag says. "It's not something that is important in discussions and exchanges. It's what the person brings to the table [that is important]."

In large pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing is among the areas where bachelor's-level chemists find positions. They are likely to be hired as analytical chemists performing quality control analyses, says Michael McCarthy, director of global staffing and diversity in the technical operations and worldwide quality division at Schering-Plough.

Even at large pharmaceutical companies, bachelor's-level chemists can advance. "It comes down to technical performance and leadership and the right opportunities being available," McCarthy says. "If someone doesn't have a Ph.D., they're not necessarily going to get sidetracked, but they've got to be very technically competent with solid leadership skills, teamwork, and a strong customer focus. In our most senior-level positions, having a Ph.D. is definitely viewed as a positive."

McCarthy points out that how one defines advancement is also important. People can take on more responsibilities without acquiring a new position. "You get to a certain point, and there's not an endless amount of director, senior director, and vice president positions," he says.

At chemical manufacturing companies such as Dow Chemical, bachelor's-level candidates are as likely to be hired as part of the sales force as into research and development, according to Pederson.

"They go through the sales and marketing training program and basically do our version of industrial sales," Pederson says. "They understand the technology more easily than their business counterparts, but they have to struggle a bit to learn the marketing and sales skills that colleagues who went through a business degree swing to more easily. We try to blend both technical and business and marketing graduates into our marketing and sales function."

Technical service and development is another area where bachelor's-level chemists can fit in at Dow. "These jobs involve working directly with the customer in conjunction with a sales person to troubleshoot and solve problems that the customer may be having," Pederson says.

Recruiting for bachelor's- and master's-level positions is done on more of a local and regional basis than Ph.D. recruiting. "We are fortunate in the Bay Area to have a lot of biotech companies and good universities to recruit from," Alza's Stanley says.

In trying to find experienced employees in the San Francisco area, Stanley says that pharmaceutical experience is tough to find but that much biotech experience is relevant. She would hire a chemist from a biotech company before she would consider one from the semiconductor industry, which she says is not a good match for Alza.

Sunesis also does mostly local recruiting for research associates. "When we were a two-year-old company, hiring lots of people to get going, then we were hiring from all over," Troia says. "Now as we've really ramped up and the level of recruiting has been able to slow down a little bit, it makes sense for us to look locally before we look farther away. There's also the whole issue of relocation, especially to this area. Before we have somebody come and interview from the East Coast, we want to make sure they have an interest in living in this area and that they understand a little bit about this area."

However, as the Internet plays a larger role in recruitment, such distinctions between local and national recruitment may become irrelevant. "As the Internet opens up and we start looking at doing more and more talent acquisition through the Internet, folks with chemistry backgrounds will be able to see those jobs where a chemistry background would be an advantage and apply accordingly," Pederson says.

Several people note that talented chemists hired straight out of undergraduate school tend to go back to graduate school within a few years.

"Some people come with the expectation that they're going to work for a couple of years, expand their technical abilities, get some real-world experience, pay off some student loans, and then go back to graduate school," Trova says. "We don't view that as a negative. These people many times have reapplied after their degree for employment with us. We think they are great ambassadors for our company, going out into the academic world."

Troia agrees. "We [hire B.S.-level chemists] knowing that this may be about a two-year gig for them," she says. "The really good ones are the ones going back to school, and that's always tough to deal with."

However, Troia doesn't consider the desire to go back to grad school a strike against hiring a bachelor's-level chemist. "Those people have a certain energy and drive that we need," she says.

BACHELOR'S-LEVEL candidates can take action to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. For students, "undergraduate research gives a person a leg up in terms of relevant experience," Trova says.

Stanley and McCarthy both recommend that undergraduates participate in relevant internships or cooperative educational experiences. "They can come in and hit the ground running," McCarthy says. "They have an understanding of how a lab works in a corporation."

For people looking to switch from one job to another, "we look at what they've done in their industrial careers," Trova says. "Have they published papers? Have they been named as inventors on patents? Essentially we look at their experience level and evaluate that against our current needs."

Bachelor's-level chemists have a long road ahead of them in finding advancement opportunities, but their final destination depends more on their goals than on their education. "People need to think broadly in terms of what they want to do," Pederson says. "A degree doesn't define them."


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Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society

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