Researchers Beware of Fake Journal and Conference Companies

Posted in BioBusiness, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

Fake news seems to be de rigueur these days and apparently academia is not immune. In fact, increased competition for grants, publications and exposure may make academic researchers more susceptible to fake journals and dishonest conference organizers.  This is according to an article in today’s New York Times entitled ‘Fake Academe, Looking Much Like the Real Thing’

One of the leading fake purveyors of fake journals and bogus conferences is a Hyderabad, India -based company called OMICS International. I’m sure may BioJobBlog readers have been contacted or solicited by the company to attend a conference or submit a paper to one of its journals. This year, the Federal Trade Commission formally charged OMICs with “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.”

According to the Times article, fake journals and bogus conference schemes;

…exploit a fundamental weakness of modern higher education: Academics need to publish in order to advance professionally, get better jobs or secure tenure. Even within the halls of respectable academia, the difference between legitimate and fake publications and conferences is far blurrier than scholars would like to admit

Another fake or close to fake organization is a British company called Infonomics Society which publishes 17 journals and organizes conferences. Interestingly, all 17 journals and conference organized by the company are run and managed by a single individual from a modest home in one of London’s outer suburbs. Other companies and several universities that have been scammed by these companies are also mentioned in the article.  

It is becoming increasingly important in the digital age to carefully vet websites and organization you do business with.  While the pressure for grant monies and publication in high impact journals continue to grow, it is important to remember that there are no shortcuts that can be taken to expedite a successful academic career.  The only things that will ensure success are commitment, hard work and some blood sweat and tears.

Until next time…..

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting

Trouble in Big Pharma Land: Lilly Freezes Employee Salaries

Posted in BioEducation

The Pharmalot blog reported today that Eli Lilly & Co one of the more progressive big pharma companies to experiment with crowdsourcing and social media to generate new R&D opportunities today announced that it most company employees and executives will not receive base pay increases this year. The company did not announce a freeze in bonuses, however.

In a sign of solidarity with the 99 %, John Lechleiter, PhD Lilly’s outspoken and sometimes controversial CEO, requested that he not receive an increase to his $1.5 million annual salary and incentives. Interesting, as Ed Silverman cogently points out in the Pharmalot post, Lechleiter’s bonus target is 140% of his base salary which put his total compensation for the upcoming year at around $16.4 million!

Last week, the company disclosed that it missed analyst’s stock price estimates and its leading product Zyprexa (antipsychotic) yielded lower than expected sales revenues because of generic competition. Zyprexa sales dropped 44 percent in the fourth-quarter to $749.6 million.

Don’t be surprised if layoffs are next. It may be time for Lilly employees to dust off those CVs and resumes.

Until next time…

 

AstraZeneca Sheds 7,300 Jobs

Posted in BioEducation

After announcing its quarterly earnings and a 24 percent increase in 2011 profits, AstraZeneca (AZ) today made public its decision to eliminate another 7,300 jobs. Earlier this week there was speculation that job cuts were likely but the exact numbers were not disclosed. 

The reasons given for the layoffs despite increased annual profits? Government spending cuts for healthcare and stiff generic competition for several of its blockbuster drugs including Seroquel XR (depression), Atacand (hypertension) Crestor (cholesterol-lowering) and Symbicort (asthma); all of which have lost or will be losing patent protection in the near future. According to a company press release generic competition cut revenues by $2.0 billion in 2011 whereas government price interventions cost the company another $1.0 billion. The announced job cuts are expected to save AZ $1.6 billion by 2014—great news for shareholders but not so much for the employees who are losing their jobs!

Most of the cuts will take place in R&D. To that end, the company will close its facility in Montreal and layoff staff at its Soedertaelje site in Sweden. Interestingly, the company plans on focusing more on neuroscience and intends to hire 40 to 50 scientists in its new Innovative Medicine unit which is partly based in Boston, MA and Cambridge in England.

While layoffs at AZ were expected, the size of the current layoff does not bode well for other pharmaceutical employees. It is becoming increasingly clear that big pharma companies are getting out of R&D and focusing their efforts on M&A and licensing deals to fill their thinning pipelines. Also, while shedding R&D and sales jobs in developed markets, big pharma companies are investing heavily in building facilities and hiring thousands of R&D and sales personnel in emerging markets. From my perspective, it appears that big pharma has consciously decided to abandon developed Western markets where sales growth is in the single digits in favor of emerging ones where double digit growth is expected for the next decade.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!

 

Why American Students Have Given Up On Science

Posted in BioEducation

A fascinating article entitled “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)” that appeared in the NY Times this past Sunday asserts that the decline in American science, technology engineering and math (STEM) majors can be mainly attributed to the difficulty of the subject matter as compared with non-science majors. While I agree that STEM courses may be a bit more challenging their non-science counterparts and the way that they are taught can be improved, the decline in STEM majors can be directly attributed to the length of training and earning potential for STEM jobs as compared with non-STEM ones. Put simply, persons who pursue non-STEM careers generally require less training and have a much higher earning potential than those who choose STEM career paths. And, the reason why foreign students from emerging are flocking to STEM careers is that these jobs are highly regarded in their home countries and those who pursue these career paths are well compensated for their efforts.

Rather than try and enunciate my feelings on this topic, I think a Letter to the Editor from Stuart Firestein, PhD, Chairman of the department of biological sciences at Columbia University that appeared in today’s NY Times nicely capture my sentiments:

To the Editor:

Why do science majors change their mind? They wise up.

Your article makes it sound as if American science students are stupid or lazy, unlike their workaholic Chinese and Indian counterparts. This is glib and insulting.

It is in their second year that students typically join laboratories and see firsthand that their dreams of a scientific career include low-paying and highly competitive professorial jobs, that getting grants for scientific research is increasingly difficult and unpredictable, that they are facing many years of postgraduate work at ridiculously low salaries and that they would have a hard time supporting a family.

Compare this future with that of the economics major (lots of math) who goes to business school and can look forward to million-dollar yearly bonuses.

American students change their majors because they recognize that this country has stopped providing a reasonable future for scientists, with slashed budgets for the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Institutes of Health.

For Chinese and Indian students, science remains a way out of poverty. For American students, it’s becoming the path into it.

In addition to Dr. Firestein’s comments, it is important to note that outsourcing and consolidation in the life sciences industry that has occurred over the past decade has all but eliminated the option of industry jobs for those who were unable to secure academic positions. Put simply, there are no longer enough jobs in the US to support the numbers of sciences students that we annually train.

Although I have never taken an economic course, simple supply side economic theory suggests that training fewer scientists—thereby reducing competition for a dwindling number of jobs—may partially help to solve the STEM job problem. Further, changing the way in which we train STEM students, to provide them with the requisite skill sets for non-academic career would also help. Finally, eliminating tenure, which would force increased turnover among research faculty members and regularly infuse new ideas into extant STEM curricula would help to increase the overall number of available STEM jobs and also improve America’s global competitiveness in the sciences.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!

 

The 2011 Summer Pharmaceutical Jobs Layoff Report

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Layoffs at big pharma tend to slow during the summer as most people are on vacation and nobody wants to fire folks when the kids are out of school. However, the failing economy has prompted several companies to abandon tradition and fire people during the summer anyway.

According to the Pharmalot Blog, previously announced layoffs at Merck have been accelerated and approximately 8,000 more employees will lose their jobs in early August. While the layoffs were not unexpected, those affected likely thought that they had more time before being shown the door.

In other news, Elan announced that it was laying off 104 employees at its King of Prussia, PA facility. The layoffs resulted from the sale of Élan’s manufacturing facility to Alkermes for $960 million. The acquisition gives Alkermes a chemical formulation and manufacturing business and a stake in two recently approved drugs; Ampyra for multiple sclerosis and Invega Sustenna a treatment for schizophrenia. The layoffs will occur next month and the facility will be closed in September.

Finally, a recent KPMG LLP survey of top executives of US drug makers indicates that M&A activity will continue to increase over the next several years as pharma companies attempt to offset rising generic competition and waning drug revenues. At present, roughly 70 percent of all medications sold in the US are generics. 

Eighty-three percent of the executives believe that their companies will be buyers or sellers in deals over the next two years. Further, just over half believe that it will take more than two years for the US economy to fully recover.

While M&A activity isn’t a bad thing for some companies, it is typically followed by reorganizations and massive job layoffs which are obviously not good for rank and file employees. Consequently, if I worked for a major pharma or biotechnology company, I would definitely make sure that my CV was up-to-date!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

Why Big Mergers Are Never Good For Pharmaceutical Company Employees

Posted in BioJobBuzz

The Pharmalot Blog today reported that a Wall Street Journal article indicated that Pfizer is planning to cut $1.0 billion from its operating budget by 2012. As many of you may recall (especially those who lost their jobs) the world’s largest pharmaceutical company cut 1,100 earlier this year at its research facilities in Groton CT. The new cuts are aimed at reducing Pfizer’s R&D expenses by up to $2.9 billion annually.

The $1.0 billion in cuts is primarily aimed at reducing administrative and management duplications at Pfizer’s headquarters in NYC and worldwide. Other expenses to be trimmed include those related to promotions, travel, entertainment, consultants, print materials and supplies and electronic equipment. While there is no doubt that these cuts will help to control costs, I suspect that substantially more money could be saved if pharma executive salaries and bonuses were also trimmed.

While it is unclear what the additional $1.0 billion in cuts will have on scientists, I suspect it won’t be good. In case you have not noticed by now, Pfizer like many of its competitors are getting out of the R&D business. This means that R&D jobs will continue to dwindle and scientists will continue to struggle to find jobs in a highly competitive job market.

Since Pfizer purchased rival Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in 2009, the company has shed over 20,000 jobs. The reason for the job cuts and massive cost cutting measures at Pfizer is the loss of patent protection in 2012 for its top selling cholesterol medication Lipitor ($10.7 billion in sales) and its ED drug Viagra ($1.9 billion in sales). Last year Pfizer lost patent protection the antidepressant Effexor (peak sales of $3.8 billion) and the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept ($417 million in sales). Also, when mergers take place there is much overlap and duplication of effort that takes several years to sort out.

Don’t be surprised if new Pfizer job cuts are announced late next fall! Now, would be a good time for Pfizer scientists to remove the dust from their CVs; if it is not already too late!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

Is There a Glut of Life Sciences PhDs? A Commentary

Posted in BioEducation

Last week’s special issue of Nature Magazine “The Future of PhDs” contains no fewer than six independently written articles assessing the value, importance worth etc of a PhD degree in the life sciences. All of the articles are extremely well written and insightful. The opinions of the authors range from maintaining the status quo to questioning whether a PhD degree is important for life scientists to completely revamping the requirements to obtain the degree. While I think that Nature’s decision to devote an entire special issue to problems facing PhD students and postdoctoral fellows is courageous and laudable, I can not help but ask “What took you so long?” That said, there is no questions that the proverbial “cat is out of the bag”—there was an article in last Friday’s USA Today

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which means that the American public (maybe) is now aware of the “problem.” Rather than immediately react to the plethora of posts, LinkedIn discussions and comments from bloggers and recruiters, I decided to take some time to organize my thoughts and offer some of my own insights and ideas about the issue.

For the past seven years, I, along with a few fellow career development experts, have been outspoken about the diminishing career and job prospects for PhD-trained life scientists. Like the authors of the recent Nature papers, we had determined in the early 2000s that career opportunities and job prospects for life sciences PhDs and postdoctoral fellows were rapidly declining in both academia and industry. And, more important, that there was an emerging “glut” of life sciences PhDs (mainly basic researchers) on the job market. Not surprisingly, many of the hundreds of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists—who we counseled during career development sessions at various national scientific meetings—were finding it increasingly difficult or nearly impossible to find jobs in their chosen fields of endeavors. While we were able to advise them on how to write a better resume/CV or provide them with alternate career options, we all knew that their prospects for gainful employment were severely limited. I cannot tell you how difficult and emotionally-wrenching it is to tell extremely talented graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that their prospects for gainful employment are bleak.

Yet, despite a rapidly deteriorating job market and our best efforts to alert those “in charge,” graduate training programs recklessly continue to annually “mint” as many new PhDs as possible. While the reasons for this are obvious—graduate students and postdoctoral scientists are sources of “cheap and reliable labor”— the conscious decision to continue to produce as many PhDs as possible flies in the face of basic supply and demand economics. While I can go on and on with finger pointing and assessing blame, it is not productive or helpful; nor will it help to solve the bleak employment prospects facing many PhD-trained life scientists. However, there are a few strategies that, if appropriately implemented, can help to improve the job prospects for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists.

First, graduate and postdoctoral programs could create career development programs and experiences for their students and postdocs. These programs could include seminars on alternate career options, job counseling, resume writing and interviewing clinics, internship opportunities and even annual career fairs at attended by local or national prospective employers. While many PIs will complain that this will take graduate students and postdocs out of the laboratory and impede their progress, I submit that career development activities will reduce stress and anxiety and allow persons to develop a career plan or roadmap. This, in turn, will allow them to establish goals better budget/manage their time and be more productive in the lab. Moreover, it will likely shorten the time to earn a PhD degree which will provide PIs with more employee turnover and allow them to take larger numbers of new students into their labs.

Second, training programs ought to develop and formalize alternate career tracks for their graduate students and postdocs. For example, if a student is interested in medical writing rather than a traditional academic research career he/she ought to be encouraged to take some medical writing courses or be allowed to do a medical writing internship as part of their training. If a student is interested in business, then it may make sense for the student to be able to take business courses or enroll in an online biotechnology training programs. In fact, several institutions now offer a joint PhD/MBA degree option. The bottom line here is that providing students and postdocs with alternate exit strategies will incentivize them to be more productive so that they can “get on with their careers.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, graduate training programs need to limit the number of PhDs that they train and produce. This means, admitting fewer graduate students each year until the demand for PhDs begins to rise again. While this is the easiest and most cost effective solution to the problem, I suspect that it is the one that will meet with most resistance and objections. After all, fewer graduate students means fewer postdoctoral scientists which translates into fewer bodies to do the research necessary to win grants and publish peer-reviewed papers. However, it is important to note that the increasingly competitive and challenging job market for life scientists has already taken a toll on US preparedness in science and engineering. To that end, fewer American undergraduate students are majoring in the life sciences than ever before. In fact, the most popular undergraduate major in the US today is business. Further, over the past 20 years or so, fewer American students have entered graduate school in the life sciences. A quick perusal of the rosters of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists at almost any major US research institution will reveal that a majority are foreign born nationals! New research reveals that many US-trained foreign nationals are going back to their home countries to work and in many instances, compete with American life sciences companies.

There is no longer any question that “something” must be done to improve the career and employment prospects for American life scientists. Regardless of the solution, it will likely be painful. However, this is no longer a problem that can easily be “swept under the rug” or consciously ignored by the “powers at be.” Failure to adequately and seriously address the issue may not only have serious consequences for the current American life sciences training paradigm (don’t be surprised when academic tenure is eliminated) but also may affect the future competitiveness and economic well-being of the US.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

Competition for Pharma Talent Is Heating Up in Emerging Markets

Posted in BioJobBuzz

While R&D scientists and sales representatives continue to struggle to find jobs in the US at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, the competition is fierce to hire and retain pharma employees in emerging markets like China and India. Earlier this week, I posted a piece on big pharma’s continuing expansion of its R&D activities in Asia and the growing need for US-trained PhDs in this region. However, it appears that hiring and retaining pharma sales reps is a bigger problem in China and India for big pharma companies like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Sanofi-Aventis (SA) and Pfizer.

According to a recent article in Bloomberg News about 20 percent of GSK’s sales forces in both countries quits each year in favor of better offers from its rivals including Pfizer and SA. One GSK executive quipped “There’s a huge war for talent. It’s hard to do anything about. If you have a good person, they could find someone else willing to pay twice as much.” This is in marked contrast with the US where almost 100,000 pharma sales reps may have lost jobs over the past five years.

Emerging Asia Pacific markets accounted for roughly 17 percent of GSK’s sales in 2010 as compared with 18 percent for Pfizer and 30 percent for SA. Sales revenues for most major pharmaceutical companies declined in both the US and Europe last year. There is no question that big pharma is turning to emerging markets as a means to maintain and increase sales of drugs after patents expire and generic competition cuts into revenue. Sales in emerging markets are predicted to reach about $400 billion by 2020 which is equivalent to the current size of the US and the five biggest European markets combined!

By its own admission, GSK was “fairly late” in their investments in China and may explain why the company may be experiencing trouble with competing for talent in that market. Employment opportunities in emerging markets will likely resemble those in the late 1990s in the US and Europe, when there was a dearth of talents life sciences professionals and companies were willing to pay large salaries (regardless of whether or not job candidates were qualified) to employees to maintain operations. This trend is driving up labor costs in China and interestingly, China is beginning to outsource work to Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore where labor and raw materials costs are less expensive.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (Go East Young Man and Woman)

 

The "Thing" About Scientists

Posted in BioBusiness

Let’s face it; most scientists are lousy communicators. While this is not an inherited defect, the poor communication skills exhibited by most scientists are a direct result of a lack of emphasis placed on oral and written communication skills during their training. In fact, being a “good communicator” may actually hinder a scientist’s success as a world class researcher. After all, prematurely divulging information or breakthroughs may result in being “scooped by the competition” both in terms of winning grant monies and publishing first. Consequently, from a Darwinian standpoint, good communications skills are a trait that may actually be selected against because they more than likely will reduce the overall competitiveness and “fitness” of most research scientists.

Deborah Blum a Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer and journalist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of the blog Speakeasy Science nicely summed up the consequences of poor communication skills among scientists in a blog post entitled “The Trouble with Scientists:”

“Real” scientists share their work only with each other and do not attempt to become “popularizers” because that would lead to “dumbing down” the research.

She further asserts that this attitude has seriously compromised the lay public’s understanding of science.

"Scientists won’t talk to journalists; they don’t want to waste their time “dumbing it down”; they don’t see it as “making us smarter.” So, many of the good stories in science don’t get covered at all. Or the stories get covered only for an already science-literate audience – explored in publications like Discover or Science News – rather than for that far larger group, the science disenfranchised."

And, while many politicians and scientists loudly complain about the lack of science awareness and literacy in America Blum astutely asserts:

“Science writers, journalists, broadcasters and bloggers became the voice of science during a time during which too many scientists simply refused to engage. Scientists have ceded that position of power amazingly readily; ask yourselves how many research associations offer awards to journalists for communicating about science but none to their own members for doing the same. Ask yourself how the culture of science responds even today to researchers who become popular authors or bloggers, public figures. Whether young scientists are rewarding for spending time on public communication? And ask yourself how hypocritical this is, to complain that the general public doesn’t understand science while refusing to participate in changing that problem?”

Not withstanding the negative impact that poor communication skills have on the public’s understanding of science, good oral and written communication skills are now critically important for those scientists seeking jobs outside of academia. Poor communication skills are no longer tolerated outside of the ivory tower! A quick perusal of ads for non-academic science jobs reveals that “outstanding oral and written communication skills” are second only to technical skills for prospective new hires. Finally, the meteoric rise of social media suggests that communication—whether virtual or real —is critically important to most human beings (Facebook and Twitter as selective pressures?—go figure!). For those scientists who disagree with me, think about what I just said the next time that you are perusing your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile or getting ready to send your next tweet!

Unfortunately, I was trained by a generation of scientists who—as Blum put it—“hate-to-share!” Somehow, I managed to overcome it. Nevertheless, despite changing attitudes about the importance of good communication skills, the hate-to-share attitude is still pervasive in most graduate and postdoctoral training programs today. Sadly, this attitude is no longer sustainable in a world of diminishing grant monies, lousy job markets and increasing global competition. Unless this attitude changes, fewer and fewer scientists will be successful in their chosen field of endeavor!

Hat tip to Deborah Blum @ for the insights and words!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Communicating

 

Science, Innovation and the Future of the America

Posted in Career Advice

I know that I have been blogging a lot lately about science and it importance in American innovation and global competitiveness. And, not surprisingly, some of you may be sick of hearing me drone on about it! But, if you want to get another perspective on the critical role that science plays in the lives of everyday Americans, you absolutely must read Tyler Cowen’s article in this Sunday’s NY Times Business Section entitled “Innovation Is Doing Little for Incomes.”

Cowen, a Professor of economics at George Mason University and a regular contributor to the NY Times, astutely points out the impact scientific innovations have had on economic growth and perhaps, more importantly on the median incomes of Americans over the past 65 years. He points out that from 1947 to 1973—a period of just 26 years—inflation-adjusted median income for Americans more than doubled. But, in the 31 years from 1973 to 2004, median income grew only 22 percent. And, over the last 7 years it actually declined! 

In the article, Cowen asserts that the lack of income growth in recent years can be attributed to the ongoing dearth of truly game-changing technological innovations. Sure, there are computer, the Internet and wireless technologies but as Cowen points out these innovations have not markedly changed the lives of Americans as much as “electricity, the automobile, flush toilets, antibiotics and small household appliances.” While the latter advances impacted ALL Americans, the former have mostly had an effect on the well-educated, curious and often more economically well off. And, while these technologies have yielded measurable monetary gains, they often have been concentrated among a small number of company founders. Put simply, recent innovations have not been “game changers” for the economic well being of most Americans!

So what are we to do about this troubling trend? Cowen rightly suggests that:

“Science should be encouraged with subsidies for basic research, as well as private charity, educational reform, a business culture geared toward commercializing inventions, and greater public appreciation for the scientific endeavor. A lighter legal and regulatory hand could ease the path of future innovations.”

Further, he contends that:

“Sooner or later, new technological revolutions will occur, perhaps in the biosciences, through genome sequencing, or in energy production, through viable solar power, for example. But these transformations won’t come overnight, and we’ll have to make do in the meantime. Instead of facing up to this scarcity, politicians promote tax cuts and income redistribution policies to benefit favored constituencies. Yet these are one-off adjustments and, over time, they cannot undo the slower rate of growth in average living standards.” In other words, it is time for the US to seriously address its waning proficiency in science technology, engineering and math. "

To that end, he states that:

“Until science has a greater impact again on average daily living standards, the political problem will be in learning to live within our means. Because neither major party seems to support a plausible path to fiscal balance, or to acknowledge how little control politicians actually have over future income growth, we unscientifically keep living in an age of denial.”

Call me crazy, but what Cowen says makes complete sense to me!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!