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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:27 pm

Hi TF,

I can tell you from much experience that companies will tend to hire people when they hit 60% of what they are looking for. They are sincere (and a bit naive) when the hiring manager lists ten items he wants from the experience bank of the candidates. Then, they can't find that, and they "settle" for 60% IF THAT PERSON can sell themselves well in the interview.

As you know, self-promotion at the time of an interview is absolutely critical. It can't be phoney or contrived, or greasy like some salesperson in a used car lot. Self-promotion is simply stating what it is that you do well.

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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Kevin Foley » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:01 pm

"The question I think boils down to what kind of people industry/biotech/etc is actually hiring in relation to layout of the job posting. Anyone have an idea? Does industry actually hire the "jack of all trades, expert in everything"?"

Well, I can give you my personal perspective, based on having been a hiring manager at 3 different biotech companies.

When I write a job description (usually the hiring manager initially writes something up and then it is massaged by HR), I put down exactly what I am looking for in the ?perfect? candidate, with skills ?A, B and C? and ?X-Y? years of experience. Since it can take several months and many hours of interviewing to fill a position, I don't want to waste time looking at candidates that lack the key skills we need.

However, I also know that it is very difficult to find that ?perfect? candidate. Good microbiologist/architects are few and far between! Or if they do exist, Genentech is going to grab them (like in academia, there are a few select places where everyone wants to work).

But I also know from experience that we will get plenty of applicants that meet some but not all of the skills that we are looking for. And the less experienced candidates will apply, no matter what the job ad says. But the really experienced ones won?t apply if the job description doesn?t measure up to their level.

So by aiming for the high end, I cover all my bases. I hopefully attract those rare ?perfect? candidates that I want, plus the ?less than perfect? candidates I might accept (Dave?s 60% number). And, of course, I?ll also get a ton of ?shot in the dark? CV?s as well.

Of course, the specific need we are trying to fill may very well disappear in a few months or next year (such is life in industry), so at the same time I?m looking for candidates that have diverse skills, flexibility, and desire to work on a variety of different projects.

So hopefully the above answers your question. I?m not looking to hire a ?jack of all trades?, but it doesn?t hurt to be one as long as you have some of the specific skills we are looking for in the first place.

Cheers,
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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Emil Chuck » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:09 pm

DJ brings up a very good point, and something that no one tells anyone on the job track (that one could match about 60-80% of the description and have a good chance). Consequently, anything you can do with your resume and cover to convince anyone that you can span that gap could be critical.

To the original question: Dave brings this question up in many of the talks he does around the country, and it's certainly one where I have to give myself some time to think about it. Ph.D. science is so specialized nowadays that "cell biologist" for industry really is too broad. I will agree that perhaps the job ads themselves are written in a way that people self-select out of applying. That's good if you have to screen the applications, but it wreaks havoc on one's confidence in finding the "real job."

Obviously what is not written into many of the job positions is the ability to "be flexible" and change with new initiatives and programs from the powers that be. There's not really a great way to measure one's "flexibility" without it looking like someone isn't "serious". Honestly, if I had a resume in which an applicant bounced around from a PCR project to mouse husbandry to respiratory physiology to behavioral analyses (which is certainly possible for analyzing a transgenic in a particular area), I would say that this person is a great scientist because he/she is forced to think differently and go with the questions. But how many people are we training to do this all by themselves with lots of papers to go with this? Science is becoming more "team oriented", and it thus becomes much more difficult to find the ideal scientist who can be the "handyman".

The Ph.D. confers an expectation of being an expert in a field, and what my "physiology" work won't fly in certain cases where physiology experience is expected.

As a complete aside: The Chronicle for Higher Education has an article up online: "College Graduates Aren't Ready for the Real World." It's certainly worth a look. If you have a subscription: http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v51/i24/24b01101.htm is the link.
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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby AR » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:38 pm

The scientists shortage in the US is second to the Super Model shortage. I\'ve been trying to find a Super Model to date for like 6 months now and no luck. If this shortage continues I\'ll have to settle for a catalog model with little or no runway experience!

Seriously, where did you hear of this new \"talk\" of a scientist shortage? I always like to get my hands on these articles. I have a 10th year post doc friend with 2 kids who lives in the ghetto... I like to send these to him on his birthday.

My guess is that this talk comes from a few possible sources. The first possible source (as was mentioned previously) the business community. I think we all know how a perception of a scientist shortage helps the business community.

Secondly, I think academic institutions play a large role in this. Imagine you are a university who has sunk millions in your science department. Now imagine the whispers among the undergrads that hear of the pitiful salaries and zero job security in the sciences. Wouldn?t you have to do something quell this talk? I think a baseless press release once every six months screaming of the impending scientist shortage would do the trick. It worked on me when I was an undergrad.

Isn?t this an old topic? Wasn?t it covered here 3 years ago?

http://nextwave.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2002/10/23/7

Doesn?t the simple fact that businesses have the gall to request such specific job qualifications and low salaries prove that No shortage exists?

Am I missing something here?

AR
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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Doug » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:38 pm

One more point I'd like to make, from the perspective of the job searcher. I'v seen it written in several places that one shouldn't apply for a job if he/she already has all of the skills descrbed in the job posting, because then there may be little chance for further skills development, or, at the very least, that person might get quickly bored in that position.
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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Feb 14, 2005 3:57 pm

Hi AR:

Nope, couldn't have been discussed here three years ago, because we've only been open for business since October.

However, I agree with you that the topic keeps coming up. Frankly, I don't think that industry is making this stuff up. To them, they sincerely believe that they will be facing a shortage.

Take the meeting that I just came back from in San Francisco. . . There were about fifty people sitting around a conference table, some from businesses (local biotech co's), some from colleges (community colleges through universities), and some from state/local workforce boards. One of the key guys is a consultant whose company runs the well-respected national survey of HR practices, jobs and compensation. (The survey bears his name). He commented that there are about 85,000 people at work in biotech in the bay area right now, and that each of these companies reports a minimum of 10% increase in staff in the next 12 months.

Then, for 90 minutes, the group discussed where in the world they are going to find 10,000 more biotech employees in the next year. Sure, not all of those jobs are scientists -- some are in technician jobs, salespeople, etc. But the point is, they didn't feel that they have them in SFO. This contributes to a feeling, often seen in every major region, that there just isn't enough existing talent to supply the industry demand.

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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby AR » Mon Feb 14, 2005 6:16 pm

I took economics years ago and I learned a thing or two in that class. The one that really stuck with me was that capital always finds its highest return. I took this to be that if investments in X were hot that year, everyone would invest in X.

My /hilarious/ joke about the super models was meant to illustrate this aspect about the biotech business. I can not attract a super model caliber of mate, why? It?s because the rate of return (as far as they would be concerned) is so low that they are simply not interested. It?s sad I know :)

Likewise, it appears that the life science industries have the same insane expectations. They offer jobs with a painfully low rate of return on you hard earned human capital and are so risky most prudent people won?t touch them.

To further illustrate my point, there are people banging down the door trying to get into medicine. Why? High returns low risk.

So what ultimately happens to folks in the life sciences? People begin look to invest their capital elsewhere. Can you blame them? I knew a Biochemist a few years back. He and his wife were getting into their 30?s and wanted to start a family. He decided to quit his post doc to start a job fixing broken electronics (making much more money/ didn?t have to live the migrant lifestyle). His job as a scientist just seemed like a luxury he couldn?t afford anymore.

But I don?t think that I am a cleaver business analyst who has stumbled upon this little nugget of wisdom about the life science industries. Everyone knows this.

So I will have to politely disagree with you Dave when you say your colleagues legitimately believe in LS labor shortages. Don?t believe the hype.

Labor shortages are a normal part of every business cycle. Once they occur they typically provide either increase wages or better working conditions for the labor force.

Is either of these two things occurring? No.

So this begs the question, what is their motivation for this propaganda?

I have my own ideas but I?d like to hear from the group as to what they think.

I also wouldn?t mind to hear what the group thinks about my analysis of the problem.

AR
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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Feb 14, 2005 6:29 pm

AR, don't paint me as a promoter of skills-shortage hype. As I said, I participated in a meeting in which real people were discussing real problems.

In fact, I'd love to hear your analysis of what San Francisco should do to find 10,000 new biotech workers in the next 12 months. Keep in mind, it's hard to "import" people into high cost-of-living regions. You have to grow your own workforce.

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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby A. Sam » Mon Feb 14, 2005 7:14 pm

I've lashed out at the education system recently (see my posts under the Community College thread, one of them might have actually prompted Dave to start this thread). Anyone who sees TV ads for trade schools and community colleges would have to hold them at least a little culpable for inflating people's expectations. But it's probably true that there are a mix of things going on with biotech employment. Yes, the biggest half dozen or so biotechs in the country are flush with cash (for now) and sopping up workers (for now). But the vast majority of the would-be life science workers that graduate in the world will be nowhere near SF or Thousand Oaks. One of my biggest hopes is that we can figure out how to start a biotech company that doesn't require 10 years to achieve profitability. There would be no better way to bring the industry to the Midwest and South than that.
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Is there a shortage of scientists - or too many subspecialties?

Postby Lora » Mon Feb 14, 2005 7:24 pm

This might seem like a stupid question, but...Where do these companies plan to put 10,000 more lab benches and cubicles? Last I checked, all real estate in that area, not just housing, was pretty tough. Why don't they move to Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana or Pennsylvania (home to UWisc-Madison, UMich-AA, UIlli-UC, Purdue, Penn State and UofPenn--all decent science and engineering schools) where real estate is not impossible to contend with? Or North Carolina if snow is an issue; Wake Forest and Duke certainly can supply decent science grads. Failing that, Austin, Texas is a happening place to live with very warm weather, and they have Texas A&M nearby (at least, "nearby" by Texas standards). It would probably be cheaper to build a new facility elsewhere and hire another exec to manage it, and fly other managers back and forth as needed rather than attempt to expand in the SF area. Just looking at the housing ads in that area gives me the shivvers, and I live in Massachusetts!
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