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Not long ago, you could often see a scene like this in a Legend Square restaurant near the metro of Zhangjiang High Tech Park (Zhangjiang): A table of “sea turtle” (returnees) and “earth turtle” (natives) drug discovery scientists arguing over the key mechanism of a specific GPCR while enjoying their beers.  Someone in the group suggests asking a friend from across the street, who is an expert in that area, to comment on their discussion; when they realized the person they are looking for is seated in the same restaurant.

 

However, lately it is becoming less likely to have these interesting chance encounters. Where did the people go? Is Zhangjiang suffering from a lack of talents?  Absolutely not.  Over the last six months, the French franchise supermarket Auchan, Chamtime Square, and Huizhi International Business Center have all started to operate in the area.  Zhangjiang scientists now have more dining choices so the chances for them to bump into each other have decreased.

 

I am gradually becoming familiar with Zhangjiang, a nearly square piece of land that is about forty square kilometers in size.  It is the so-called “Chinese Silicon and Medicine Valley”.  Besides the pillar industries such as microelectronic engineering, software engineering and pharmaceutical/biotech, a few high-tech focused consulting firms and financial services have begun to crop up. Many Fortune 500 companies have their R&D sites here and a number of large domestic private and government-run companies have tapped into the talents of the Zhangjiang area as well.  Not to mention that these giant pharmaceutical companies are surrounded by more than five hundred smaller biotechs in the surrounding area of “medicine valley.”   It is no less impressive than the US biotech hubs of Boston and San Diego where I studied and worked.  It’s not hard to see Zhangjiang’s important strategic position in the near future of global drug discovery. A senior colleague told me that there was farm land everywhere in Zhangjiang just ten years ago.  I have long since heard about the “China speed”, but it was still hard for me to imagine how all these changes happened so quickly until I witnessed the opening of these three new shopping centers.

 

Several months ago, Legend Square was the only good choice for a business dinner around the whole Zhangjiang area. It’s no wonder drug discovery experts often bumped into each other there, but the newly opened shopping centers break the old monopoly.  In the open-air Chamtime Square, you can find Subway and Starbucks, and even the rarely seen California Pizza Kitchen and Dunkin Donuts. Japanese BBQ and Sushi, Korean bibimbap and American steak houses have also begun to appear. Across the street in Huizhi, you can choose between Vietnamese pho, Thai noodles, and Italian spaghetti, not to mention all kinds of Chinese cuisine. All of these restaurants opened in less than one year!  As it happens, all three shopping centers are located around my company.  When I joined the company one year ago, there were only two floors of exposed iron framework outside.  I watched them grow higher and bigger every day; soon surpassing the height of my fifth floor office.  After another three months there was a Spanish style building complex standing right in front of me.  Within the next two months I saw the arrival of H&M, Levi’s, Sephora and Clarks. Then came the fitness center, early learning center similar to Gymboree, English training institutes and, of course, all the restaurants.  Everything happened so quietly and so efficiently.

 

After ten years of high speed, centralized development, Zhangjiang is now dense with global R&D centers, top Chinese Universities and research institutes, and thousands of start-ups.  As you can see, even Zhangjiang’s shopping malls kept up with the pace of development. So to the scientists and industry talents, even if you think you don’t like Chinese food or fear that Chinese shoes won’t fit your feet; please do not hesitate to come to Zhangjiang. You will witness the growth of the drug discovery and IT technology fields and you won’t even have to give up your familiar comforts from home

 

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Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.

不久之前在张江科技园区传奇广场的餐馆里常出现这样一幅场景,一群“海归”与“土鳖”的药物研发科学家们边喝啤酒边比试着药物研发的内功,争论得面红耳赤。有人提到你们两方派系高下不分,难决胜负,还是去请教一下你们楼后另外那家公司的 高手,他可是这个领域的专家。突然一转头,这位高手正好在邻桌就餐。近来这样的情景出现的机率已经大大减小。不是因为张江药物研发人才变少了,而是不到半年时间,法国大型 连锁超市欧尚,长泰广场和汇智国际商业中心在园区中心的开张大大增加了张江人的就餐选择,偶遇的机会自然降低了。

 

在张江园区里工作的一年让我熟悉了这个被誉为中国硅谷和药谷的四十几平方公里的土地。除了微电子、软件和生物医药被定为园区重点发展方向以外,一些专业咨询公司和高科技相 关的细分金融行业也在这里生根发芽。一些耳熟能详的跨国企业随处可见,许多土豪的国企民企当然也不忘把自己的研发中心设在张江,更不用说药谷那几平方公里的四方之地,就有 五六百家企业围绕着全球几大药厂群星璀璨。比起我在美国学习和工作过多年的波士顿和圣地亚哥,张江药谷医药产业林立的繁盛景象毫不逊色,可遇见的未来其在全球医药界的战略 地位更是不可小觑。资深的同事告诉我现在现代化十足的张江十年前到处是农田。回国之前我对中国速度早有耳闻,但是对张江曾经巨大的变化难有直观的想象。直到我见证了欧尚超 市,长泰广场和汇智国际商业中心这些国际化商业中心的出现。

 

几个月前,偌大的一个张江高科园区,传奇广场是方圆几公里内能够举办工作聚餐的唯一场所。也难怪那些药物研发高手在传奇广场的对决总能意外碰到行业内更顶尖的高手。过去两 个月内在张江的核心区域,三个巨大的购物休闲中心的相继开张彻底颠覆了传奇广场在张江娱乐休闲的垄断地位。在开放式的长泰购物广场内,你不光能够找到那熟悉的赛百味和星巴 克,还可以品尝到国内不常见到的小众连锁加州披萨厨房和Dunkin&Donuts。日本的烧烤和寿司,韩国的拌饭和美国的牛排等各国美食也争奇斗艳。就在对面的汇智国际商业中心里,你还可以享用越南的牛肉米粉(pho),泰 国的炒河粉(pad thai),意大利的通心粉和中国各地佳肴。所有这些的发生只花了不到一年时间。这三个新建休闲购物中心正好围绕着我的公司。一年前我来到公司报道,对面仅有一些两三层 楼高的铁架,眼见这些铁架越来越高,直到超过我第五层楼的办公桌。然后就是外墙的修葺,三个月下来,一片西班牙风格的高低建筑群就基本完成了。接下来的两个月,我又见证了 H&M, Levi’s, Sephora, Clarks等商家入驻。然后就是健身中心,早教中心,英语培训机构和琳琅满目的餐馆。一切的发生都是那么悄无声息又迅猛高效。

 

十年高速且集中的发展,令张江拥有了高密度的世界级研发中心,顶级的中国科研院校和星罗棋布的初创公司。就连张江的购物娱乐休闲,也秉承张江建设快和密的特点。世界各国的 科学家们,不管中国菜是否和你胃口,不管中国的服装是否合身,都请大胆考虑张江吧,在这里见证中国药物研发飞跃的同时,你的胃口和身体也不需要妥协。

 

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Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.

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Becoming a chemist may not be many women’s childhood dream, but it was Jeannette Elizabeth Brown’s. Inspired by her family doctor, at 5 years old Ms. Brown decided to study science. Her goal was to help others using scientific knowledge, like her doctor did.

 

It was 1939. The year was marked as the beginning of Ms. Brown’s lifelong dedication to helping others through research and education.

 

A Budding Chemist

Ms. Brown was born in Bronx, New Year, in 1934. The time was not ideal for African American females like her to study science. But Ms. Brown’s parents supported their only child the best they could. To provide for his family, Ms. Brown’s father, Freddie Brown, worked multiple jobs. And the family moved from place to place as his job changed. When Ms. Brown was 5, her father got a superintendent job at a residential building in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. It was in that building that Ms. Brown met Doctor Arthur Logan, the doctor who later inspired and encouraged her to study science.

 

In middle and high school, Ms. Brown excelled at all science subjects, especially chemistry. In New Dorp High School in Staten Island, where her family eventually ended up living, she scored 98 out of 100 on the New York State Regents chemistry exam. When she graduated from high school in 1952, her school placed her name on its permanent honor roll.

 

After high school, Ms. Brown continued studying chemistry in college and graduate school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry field in 1956 from Hunter College in New York and a master’s degree in organic chemistry in 1958 from the University of Minnesota. She was the first African American woman who received a degree in chemistry from the University.

     

Armed with her solid scientific education, Ms. Brown embarked on multiple careers in the following decades, all with the same goal of making a positive difference to the world using her scientific knowledge but with growing impact.

 

Making Lifesaving Compounds

Lacking money needed to attend medical school, Ms. Brown pursued a career in the pharmaceutical industry, first at CIBA Pharmaceuticals (now Novartis) and then Merck. Instead of treating patients as she originally planned, she synthesized novel medicinal compounds. During those years, Ms. Brown worked on multiple research projects and synthesized and purified scores of novel compounds. One of the lifesaving compounds she helped make was Cilastatin Sodium, a component of the widely used antibiotic Primaxin. At Merck, she coauthored 15 publications, contributed to 5 patents, and obtained one patent of her own. 

 

To succeed in the industry, Ms. Brown believes one needs

  • ● Solid scientific knowledge,
  • ● Strong teamwork skills,
  • ● Effective communication skills, and
  • ● Continuing education to keep up with advancements in the field.

 

Mentoring Chemistry Teachers

Helping others is in Ms. Brown’s blood. At Merck, when not synthesizing and purifying compounds, Ms. Brown worked on various committees, helping black universities improve their chemistry education and research, and mentoring students along the way.

 

After having successfully worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 36 years, Ms. Brown switched her career from research to education to make a bigger impact. This time, she decided to mentor middle- and high-school chemistry teachers, and she chose the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) as her home base. At NJIT, Ms. Brown designed, developed, and coordinated multiple statewide programs, including a National Science Foundation Statewide Systemic Initiative designed to improve teaching and learning for science and math. She also helped secure a grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. With the grant, she and her colleagues provided numerous workshops to middle- and high-school chemistry teachers.

 

Inspiring a Broad Audience

In 2002, Ms. Brown retired from NJIT, only to tackle an even more challenging task. As an African American chemist, Ms. Brown understands the challenges facing minority women scientists like her. She admires those African American women chemists who have succeeded against all odds. She considers them her role models and she wants to share their stories through books.

 

However, many people, including some colleagues, doubted her because so little information about those pioneer chemists was available. But with the support of Chemical Heritage Foundation, Ms. Brown dug out enough information and finished her book after several years of hard work. In 2008, Oxford University Press published her book titled “African American Women Chemists.” The book immediately received positive reviews from a broad audience and has sold hundreds of copies thus far.

 

Ms. Brown attributes her success to perseverance. Her colleagues agree. “Determined, determined, and determined” are indeed the words Sharon Neal, chemistry professor at Delaware University, uses to describe Ms. Brown.

 

Ms. Brown will turn 81 this year. But she is yet ready to slow down. Will she ever stop working? Not a chance. “I think working hard and learning new things keep you young,” she declares. Ms. Brown is currently working on the second edition of her book, and she continues mentoring middle- and high-school students through the Freddie and Ada Brown Award, which she established in 2010 to honor her parents.

 

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Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.

 

Photo Credit: Olivia Holmes Photography, Hillsborough, NJ

I realize I’m not going to get a lot of pity, but starting a blog is just tough.  In the old days, we used to say that getting started meant you just sit over the typewriter until droplets of blood form on your forehead and then drop onto the paper.

 

Well, all that sweating blood does now is short out the keyboard, so a different method is called for.


First, let me introduce myself.


My name is Bill Carroll, and I’ve worked in industry for coming up on 37 years; virtually all of that with Occidental Chemical Corporation, known as OxyChem.  In that time, I’ve had jobs working in and managing research and customer service; had a startup business in the company; spent time in Washington DC as an industry advocate; and have been involved in numerous multi-stakeholder environmental policy groups, housed at the UN, EPA and various state and consensus organizations.


I came to ACS governance late in life, but made up for it in recent years.  I was President in 2005, on the Board of Directors 2004-2006 and 2009 to the present.  I was Chair of the Board 2012-2014.  There’s more incriminating material on my website, www.billcarroll.org.


I tell you this so you can understand the context of my comments over the next few months.  I’ve had one of those “nontraditional” careers that seem to be getting more and more common.  Maybe you’d like to talk about that sort of thing.  My goal for this blog is to tell a few arcane stories—everyone loves to pontificate--but maybe also to engage you in conversation about getting a job, starting a career, managing a transition, handling challenging people and circumstances, and staying in the game until you decide it’s time to hang ‘em up.  Or other stuff if it strikes your fancy or mine.


I wanted to start by talking about how my career started, in Bristol PA at Rohm and Haas Company, now part of Dow.  I wanted to work in a consumer-facing product area so I could talk about it with friends. (When I talked about my grad school work, it gave people concussions.) Even though I didn’t study polymers in grad school, I decided that’s what I wanted to do, and I signed on for what I thought was a very sexy job at R&H, developing a new high-performance material.


I spent the summer teaching myself the basics, and when I moved from Indiana University to Philadelphia, I was raring to go.  Just one little thing…..


When I got there, my assignment had been changed from the sexy new polymer to working with impact modifiers for poly(vinyl chloride)—PVC, or vinyl.  Impact modifiers made the material hard to break, and in my case the product would be used in bottles.  But PVC was a commodity polymer, and the whole thing was nowhere near as sexy as I had hoped.  The sexy job went to a new PhD from Berkeley.  I felt like I’d been sent to pull a plow.


OK, so maybe I was a little upset, I don’t remember exactly.  But I did feel I had to show the company that the Heartland was fully the equivalent of the Left Coast.  I wanted to make a difference in a hurry.


The chemistry was well-characterized and we needed product improvements in the color of the material and how evenly it dispersed in the PVC matrix.  I got into the literature as best I could, and started out learning to synthesize a cross-linked styrene-butadiene rubber latex, grafted with acrylic and particle size about a tenth of a micron. Here is where my first career mentor enters the picture, and this is really what I wanted to tell you about.


Tom Loughlin was a technician—a guy who ran the plastic processing equipment in the lab; educated in high school and the military.  After I synthesized the candidate impact modifiers, it was his job to mix my samples in with the standard PVC compound, thermally process them in the extruder and see if I made a difference in color or dispersion.


Based on what I read, I thought I had a raft of winners. Confidence, they say, is that warm feeling you get just before you screw up.


Tom processed the samples, and as he put it “Every one was worse than the one before it. And you died a thousand deaths.  I couldn’t help but laugh.”  He was right.   He was also right about this: “I seen a million of you young doctors come in here all full of p**s and vinegar, and it takes you a while to get the sharp corners knocked off you. “

 

So here’s the truth. If you’re going into industry in an area that’s even reasonably mature, there’s a pretty good chance that finding the answer to a problem is going to take time because the obvious answers have been found already, and there is a large canon of stuff that doesn’t work. Give yourself a little time to learn about what’s going on and make incremental progress.  No one expects you to be a game changer on day 1.  Get to know the people you work with and absorb everything you can.  The rest of the team has had years to come up to speed.


Actually, two truths. Don’t limit yourself to the professionals.  Sometimes the most valuable relationships you’ll develop in industry are with the other people who really make the place work.  Tom became like a father to me for the time I was at Rohm and Haas.  He’s in his mid-80s now and we still correspond.


He gave me a piece of advice that served me well when I left at the ripe old age of 27 for a manager’s position at what was then Firestone Plastics Company.  Yes, making PVC.  A commodity and not a sexy new polymer.  Turns out, commodities can be sexy, but that’s another blog post.


Tom said, “When you’re the new boss, someone who’s there already and didn’t get the job will challenge you from day 1.  Go right for him.”  There was, and I did.


My e-mail address is bill_carroll@oxy.com.  I’d love to hear from you.


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Dr. William F. Carroll, Jr. holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.   He received an M.S. from Tulane University in New Orleans, and a B.A. in chemistry and physics from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. He holds two patents, and has over sixty-five publications in the fields of organic electrochemistry, polymer chemistry, combustion chemistry, incineration and plastics recycling.

 


 

Chocolate Science: An Introduction; is it Cacao or Cocoa?

 

This is the first installment….I have over 30 years of experience in the analysis of chocolate and thought that with all that time and experience, I should have something useful to say. The topics may be rather eclectic, which will be a reflection of my interests, and could range from a specific chemical to archaeological related information. With all the interest about health effects related to cocoa, I also will be including some historical uses and anecdotes about cocoa or cacao.

 

The topic of cacao or cocoa seems like a good place to start. Until I became involved in archaeological pursuits, I called everything cocoa. Then at a meeting several years ago I was taken to task by an archaeological colleague who informed me about the differences between cacao and cocoa. It is deceptively simple; Cocoa is the brown material that usually we buy in the can and cacao is everything before that, including what grows on the trees.

 

To further confuse the issue, many manufacturers are labeling product with a percentage of cacao. The percent cacao is the sum of the cocoa solids and cocoa butter, so a product labeled 65% cacao has a combination of cocoa butter and cocoa that adds up the 65%. Although, it is worth noting that this number is no indication about the quality of the cacao.  In fact, if you are familiar with cocoa butter soap, it could be said that since it is composed primarily of cocoa butter it approaches 100% cacao.  A final comment on the confusion surround these two words is that, for whatever reason, sometimes there is also confusion of cacao with coca. However there is no connection what-so-ever since cacao produces cocoa and coca becomes cocaine.

 

My plan is to have new material once a month. Since, I don’t know who might be reading this; any comments would be welcomed for content, topics and other points of interest.

 

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William (W.J.) Hurst is a principal scientist with the Hershey Company coming up on his 40 year anniversary. He has had the honor to spend his career working on a number of interesting projects, including dabbling in archaeology.

 

Sir Harry Kroto, co-discoverer of the fullerenes told an interviewer once that, “Scientists are undervalued by a society that does not understand how outstanding someone has to be to become a full-time researcher.” Maybe the measure of science is in its beauty rather than its assessment scores.

 

The views in this document are personal and not representative or reflecting views of The Hershey Company

The classic startup-to-blockbuster-success story goes something like this: initial idea; months of working in the lab and writing groundbreaking ideas on whiteboards in the basement at 3am; CUE MOVIE MONTAGE; wild success and a trendy office with Elektra Belle Epoque espresso machines at every desk.

 

This narrative is good for motivating aspiring entrepreneurs, but glosses over an important part of the early stage startup process - supporting yourself while you develop your dream. I’m calling it the “montage phase.” This is the hustle you don’t hear about, but it’s a very challenging, stressful, and potentially lethal part of the startup process.

 

CB Insights recently did a survey of why 101 startups failed. Three of the attributions to failure stood out to me:

 

  • Lose focus: 13%
  • Lack passion: 9%
  • Burn out: 8%

 

To me, this means about 30% of the primary reasons why startups fail are related to founders not being able to sort out the “montage phase”. Moonlighting and dropping out of school is romanticized in startup lore, but in practice, it is extremely difficult to effectively work any other job (or study) while trying to build a startup. As long as you’re doing both, both with inevitably suffer.

 

And unless you have a ridiculous amount of personal savings, you will have to either moonlight or work part time gigs to keep yourself alive in your startup’s early stages. All founders get to a point where they must decide to end this overlap, by either folding the startup, or quitting their day job and going full-time on the startup. Knowing when to go from part-time to full-time and how to survive before that jump is not easy.  

 

Startup demi-god Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple while working as an engineer for Hewlett Packard. After about a year of moonlighting at Apple, he and Steve Jobs were selling about 1,000 computers per month and managed to raise $250,000 from a venture capitalist. Wozniak made the jump to full time at Apple when their first investor made it a requirement of investment.

 

Most founders of failed startups hadn’t quit their day jobs, and most successful founders had - it’s why investors and accelerators require their entrepreneurs to go full time. In the words of Y Combinator founder Paul Graham: “If startup failure were a disease, the CDC would be issuing bulletins warning people to avoid day jobs.”

 

But again, easier said than done. Developing your startup while you hustle to stay alive requires extraordinary grit and focus. Wozniak is literally a genius, who was also borderline obsessive when it came to building computers, and possibly also allergic to sleeping. 

 

My business partner and I are now part of a startup accelerator program - a significant step for any startup - which gave us our clear jump-off point. For the past couple of years though, my partner was working a full time job and moonlighting on our business. I worked an almost comical number of part time jobs in order to stay alive and keep my schedule flexible enough to travel for business development (and then scramble like crazy when I got back).

 

I lived on couches and in guest bedrooms of my friends parents’ houses and worked almost every weekend. Some weeks, I barely worked on our startup at all, because I was so low on funds. I never had more than $2,000 in my bank account, and often had less than $200.

 

I don’t say this to solicit sympathy or respect, but simply to point out that during the “montage phase,” life is very difficult, uncertain, stressful, and never glamorous. The excitement of building something you are passionate about provides some of the necessary energy to keep it up, but there are so many challenges and setbacks and frankly depressing days that you need more than simply excitement to go from having an idea, to a functioning startup. (An honest look at how hard it can be).

 

There is a ton of advice out there on how to progress from the idea phase to blockbuster success status (here’s one good place to start). Most of it applies to what to do about your business, but you can’t forget about yourself. You have to stay alive and give yourself enough time to use all that good advice. Which is to say, don’t neglect the “montage phase,” when your day job will infringe on your startup, the rest of your life will be completely unbalanced, and everything about your future is uncertain. Know that it’s coming and make a plan to get through it. Figure out how you and your founders are going to support yourselves during your startup’s early days. Then identify which milestone will force/allow you to make the jump to full time and figure out how to get there.

 

It’s tempting to look at classic startup stories and think only about the exciting beginning and the glamorous ending. It is unreasonable however, to assume that while starting a company, your personal life will sort itself out. So make a plan for that “montage phase” in the middle. It isn’t glamorous, and you probably won’t talk about it much when you’re being interviewed by TechCrunch or Fast Company, but on the days when the excitement just isn’t there, you can fall back on your plan and take another step closer to having a $20,000 espresso machine at every desk.

 

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Jack Fischl is a co-founder at Keteka.com - a website that connects travelers with authentic tours and activities in Latin America and allows them to book their experiences online.

I never intended to be a researcher in industry. Like many graduate students, I assumed I would finish my time in graduate school, hop on the postdoctoral fellow merry-go-round, and after an undetermined number of years, fly off into the coveted tenure track faculty position. After landing my dream job in academia, I could study the intricacies of how proteins fold into their three dimensional structures until they dragged me kicking and screaming out of the lab and into the funeral parlor.

 

As best I can tell, my dream was shared with several hundred other postdocs on the research track carousel, judging by the number of applicants for those coveted faculty positions advertised in the mid-1990s. As the fourth year of my postdoctoral studies came around, the renewal of funding of my fellowship became less certain. Having no desire to do a third postdoctoral fellowship, I kept applying for faculty positions while also expanding my search to pharmaceutical jobs.

 

Then one day I ran across the most unlikely job ad in the back pages of Science Magazine - a Research Scientist position at Monsanto in protein engineering. Having heard of Monsanto during my first postdoctoral position at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, I had no idea they would have need for someone with my research skills and interests. But in the mid-1990s the agricultural biotechnology boom was just about to explode and the scientific leaders in the company understood that having scientists who understood how to manipulate protein function would be critical for creating improved crop plants. I applied for the role, interviewed, and successfully landed a job in agricultural biotechnology - nothing remotely resembling my plans in graduate school.

 

Starting in industry, as with grad school, I had an idea of what my new career would look like. My goal was to be the best protein engineer in the company, building a nice research career in the lab. For the first nine years of my time that is exactly what happened. I worked on both discovery and product development projects and did important work across the product pipeline. But then I was asked to lead a small functional team focusing on my expertise in protein design. I essentially began to leave the lab bench, but not because a hearse had pulled up to the entrance.

 

Over the last nine years the teams that I have led have grown in size and changed in specialization. I started off as a protein engineer but now am responsible for leading a team that focuses on cell biology and analytical chemistry. My daily work no longer revolves around the design and function of proteins, but instead asks questions about basic cell biology. It is not the career path I imagined almost twenty years ago, but my early training across all areas of chemistry gave me a wonderful foundation and curiosity for investigating science questions across many disciplines.

 

I never intended to be a researcher in industry or a team leader, but looking back over the past eighteen years, I have no regret that my plans in graduate school did not come to fruition as I had imagined. Life in industry has provided me with an incredible adventure and I have learned much about science and about life. I hope to share my experiences with you over the next year and welcome suggestions for things you’d love to hear about a biotechnology career from a chemistry perspective.

 

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Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign.

Paul Hodges looks at the likely longer-term implications of the fall in oil prices

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Oil prices have collapsed since August, when I first forecast they would return to historical levels and usher in a New Normal world of lower growth and deflation.

 

The chart shows this process taking place in respect of the US benchmark oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI, blue line).  Its price has been divided by 6, to take account of its relative energy value versus natural gas (red).  And as I have discussed in my ACS Chemistry & the Economy webinars, the chart also highlights developments since 2002.  This was when oil and natural gas markets first began to be impacted by the US Federal Reserve’s aim of creating a ‘wealth effect’ that would lead to increased consumer spending, and so support economic recovery:

 

  • The first impact was seen post 2002 as the Fed cut interest rates to create a ‘wealth effect’ in the housing market.  This created the phenomenon of mortgage equity withdrawal, and an average $564bn/year of additional consumption.  In turn, this artificially raised demand for both oil and gas, causing prices for both to rise, before ending with the sub-prime disaster of 2008
  • The second impact since 2009 has involved the Fed in directly boosting stock market prices via the printing of electronic money, or “quantitative easing”. As then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explained in November 2010:

                    “Higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also

                    spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle,  

                    will further support economic expansion”

 

But fewer Americans own stocks (52%) than own houses (65%).  And so, predictably, oil markets are confirming, as in H2 2008, that a Great Unwinding of this second stimulus program is now well underway.  It has helped to create an energy glut, with the International Energy Agency warning recently that oil markets are seeing an “historic shift”.

 

What does this mean for ACS members?  One obvious impact is lower gasoline prices.  Another, less favourable, is that a wide range of companies connected to the oil sector are laying-off workers.  Research by the Manhattan Institute and the Wall Street Journal has highlighted how the US oil/gas boom has been central to the recovery in US employment levels since 2009.  Housing starts will likely also decline, as the flow of job migrants reverses.

 

I do not expect another 2008-style Lehman Brothers collapse. As Mark Twain wisely noted, “history repeats itself, but it doesn’t rhyme”.  Instead, I believe the oil price collapse itself, and its wider impacts in financial markets, will trigger sustained deflation.  This will effectively reverse the oil price inflation shock of 1973, when rising BabyBoomer demand created massive supply shortages.

 

Demographics, of course, have been the underlying cause of both developments.  Today’s ageing Boomers no longer need, or can afford, to maintain their previous levels of demand.  Cash will no longer be “trash”, as we came to believe after 1973.  Instead, its value will rise day-by-day, as will the cost of debt. I will analyse other likely impacts of this historic development in future blog posts.    

 

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Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community.  He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars.