This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scary Times, Indeed

Tomorrow -- the 27th day of the 11th month of the 8th year of the 3rd millennium -- is my last day at work.

It's been one hell of a ride. Layoffs, buyouts, spinoffs, promotions, bankruptcy, blue sky research, product development projects. I've seen good times and bad times. And soon, hopefully, I'll be starting it all over again somewhere else.

One of the things you have to deal with in these situations is understanding why YOU had to be (one of) the sacrificial goats. I know WHY the company had to make deep cuts to survive (at least for a while longer), but as I look around at the people who made it past this round of cuts, I'm not sure why I was one of the chosen. For example, one of my coworkers, who was part of my group before a reorganization in January, is now coordinating projects with the national labs. Those were MY projects before the reorganization. Now I'm not trying to take anything away from her, but these projects simply are not in her area of expertise -- they're in mine. They were given to her simply because they needed to find something for her to do. Had I still been working those projects, I might have survived this rounds of cuts. In fact, I can think of several projects I was working on last year which turned out to be safe harbors. Unfortunately, it was my new project assignment which got axed, and me along with it. Apparently it was a matter of being involved on the wrong project at the wrong time. Ironically, the assignment which got me axed involved more chemistry than I had seen in years.

It's also easy to look around and see people just going through the motions, waiting for retirement to come, and wonder why they weren't approached. Part of that is due to having been in their respective business units for a long time. I was originally a part of the R&D labs, which was broken up about 2 years ago and distributed to various parts of the company. Of the 100 of us originally in the R&D labs, only about 5 of us are now left in the company. I had been warned this summer (by someone with connections inside the company) that we R&Ders had targets painted on our backs, and I guess they were right. Needless to say, the company is going to have a difficult time developing new products in the future.

Low level managers also appeared to be particularly immune to the layoffs, even if the product lines in which they were in charge were being dropped, leaving them with no real purpose in the company. Some of these managers are now spending all their time desperately trying to come up with project areas to justify their continued existence. It's not going to be easy.

All this may sound as though I'm somewhat bitter about the whole mess, and a week or two ago, I probably was. But I've come to realize that I was missing the point. As the company has continued to shrink due to a decline in the automotive sector (and unfortunately that target is still continuing to move downwards), it has been forced to shed many of the product areas in which an inorganic chemist (or any kind of chemist for that matter) would be useful. I look over what's left of the company and realize the company didn't really dump me. It's just that the company I joined many years ago no longer exists.

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