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).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on Job Hunting

Well, it's been exactly 2 weeks since I first got the word about my job status. Since then, I've been sending out resumes, talking to headhunters, scouring the web for job openings in the Detroit area, and networking with people I know. If I didn't have to worry about the future of my family, this would be a pretty exciting time. Surprisingly, I'm fairly upbeat about the whole thing although that might change in a few months if nothing happens. If you've read the intro to this blog, you'll know that I wasn't very happy with the way work had been going. Very little science and even less chemistry. If I land a new job and I'm doing real chemistry again, at roughly the same salary, and without having to move -- it's quite possible this will all have been a blessing. But that's just the optimist in me talking. Or the beer. Not sure which.

Even more surprising is the lack of bitterness over my situation. If the company had been doing well and had just decided to let me go, I'm sure it would be different. But the company is in trouble. Deep trouble. I've never mentioned this before, but my company has been in chapter 11 bankruptcy for about 2 years now. Now originally this was done to allow the company a chance to reorganize itself and shed itself of some money losing contracts and business units. At the time, the future of the company was looking pretty rosy, assuming you were one of the employees who made it through the transition. However, negotiations with labor and the parent company took too long and my company didn't make it out of bankruptcy before the credit crunch hit, and things started going downhill.

As a result, the company was forced to make another round of cuts, much more drastic this time. In this last purge, a lot of really good people were cut. Some of them high performance types who I never would have thought would be released. So my ego didn't take a huge hit. It had nothing to do with performance, but with the job description. Had I started working in the electrochemical sensor group a few months earlier, it might have been someone else in our group who got tapped. So knowing that helps a little.

For that matter, I may still be one of the lucky ones. The severance package is good and I'll be okay for a while. It's generally assumed that the next round of cuts, which might occur early next year based on the company's financials and the general financial state of the country, will have significantly smaller severance packages. At least I have a head start looking for a job in this area.

I was planning on actually discussing chemistry now, but it's late and I'd rather blow up some video game aliens before going to bed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Enough is Enough!

OK, I think I've spent long enough away from this blog. Between the big lab move at work and working on my resume at night, I've managed to avoid updating this blog for far too long. Yes, the company still wants me to be responsible for making sure the move to our new labs (as well as various aspects of its construction) goes without a hitch, even though I will probably not be around long enough to actually occupy the new lab site. It's tempting to just say "the hell with it" and let someone else work out all the kinks after I'm gone, but I am good friends with some of the people who are going to be occupying the lab and I have no desire to leave them in the lurch. (I'm sure I will never use the work "lurch" again in my lifetime). It is kind of strange though. I'm one of the few chemists they have left in the division and so it's hard to say how much of the new lab will actually be utilized once I'm gone. But the company has much bigger problems to solve, so I suspect this is a rather minor concern for upper management.

I've begun the process of networking, which means meeting people I haven't talked to for a while and letting them know my situation. For example, on Tuesday, I attended my first Michigan Catalysis Society meeting in over a year. I had stopped going to them when I realized I wasn't really performing much science at work anymore. I had forgotten how much fun it can be to talk to other researchers in my field.

I talked to my first headhunter on Friday, and it was an interesting experience. When I finished my doctorate at Illinois, all I needed to do to find a job was to interview with the recruiters who came to the campus, so I've never had to go out and look for a job before. When you talk to a headhunter, you feel obligated to try and sell yourself to them even though they won't be the one to actually hire you and I found that to be a bit surreal. During the course of the interview, I also began to realize I really wasn't ready to describe myself to potential employers in a coherent fashion yet. I'm working on that now.

So besides being a place to discuss aspects of chemistry, this blog will also be an record of my attempts to find new employment. I hope that part of the blog ends rather quickly.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A New Beginning

When I started this blog back in January, one of my reasons for doing so was to compensate for the lack of chemistry in my current job. Well, this will soon not be a problem since, as of December 1st, I will no longer be employed at my current job. The severance package is fairly generous, especially considering the financial condition of the company, so I'll be all right in the near term. But I'm not necessarily looking forward to the prospect of finding another job with similar pay at my current location. Life sure is interesting.

The headcount reduction was pretty severe, and a lot of good people were let go. In our group, it came down to a choice between myself and another guy, and we were both fighting over the same position. In its original incarnation, that spot was tailor-made for my skills and experience, but for reasons I'll probably never know, that position was redefined at the last minute and the other guy was chosen, much to the surprise of the rest of the group.

In any case, I should now have more time to devote to this blog. And if anyone is looking for an inorganic chemist in the general Detroit area, be sure to let me know.

Chemist Ken