Archive for the ‘Employment’ Category

We’re Hiring a NTT Asst Prof at SLU

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

solarseal_150Hello, friends. Long time, no speak. I’m just checking in to say…

Our department is looking to hire a non-tenure-track Assistant Professor to start in August. Before getting into the behind-the-scenes details, here’s the official ad:

Saint Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, research, health care, and service seeks applicants for a non-tenure track Assistant Professor of Chemistry that is to start in the Fall of 2016. A Ph.D. is required.  While applicants from all areas of chemistry will be considered, the candidate is expected to teach undergraduate courses in a variety of areas including general chemistry, organic chemistry, and upper level courses such as biochemistry.  Review of applications begins immediately and will continue until the position is filled. Previous teaching experience in a large lecture setting is desired.  Applicants should send a CV, transcripts, statement of teaching interest/experience and 3 reference letters to the attention of Prof. Scott Martin at Saint Louis University is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer, and encourages nominations and applications of women and underrepresented minorities.

As I did before when we advertised and hired a tenure-track position last year, allow me to provide some context that cannot be communicated within the word limit of a typical job posting.

First off, this is not a “visiting professor” position. As part of an ongoing evaluation of how resources are deployed within our College, teaching workloads are being adjusted and our department, in particular, is looking to hire more teaching faculty. While these positions at SLU are non-tenure-track and contracts are renewed on a yearly basis, the intention is for this position is to be renewed (subject to satisfactory performance).

Next, we take teaching here seriously—it is not viewed as a chore or distraction from research or other priorities. Our graduate program is of modest size, so our undergraduate program gets relatively more attention than at most bigger schools I’ve seen. Our faculty prides itself on the rigor and quality of teaching and mentoring offered to students in our programs.

Candidates with a background in organic or bioorganic chemistry—and experience teaching these subjects—are probably in the best position as far as this position goes. We are looking for someone with the ability to teach our organic offerings and the flexibility to step in for general chemistry or biochem lab, when needed. The organic course offerings at the undergraduate level in our department include: Organic Chemistry I/II for non-majors (250-300 students/year), Organic Chemistry I/II for majors (~35 students/year), Organic Chemistry for nursing/health students (150 students/year), and Organic Spectroscopy. At the graduate level, the organic faculty is primarily responsible for teaching courses in physical-organic/advanced mechanisms, organic synthesis, and bioorganic chemistry.

Whether you have lots of experience or lots of energy, we’d love for you to apply. Please tell your friends and colleagues, and tell them to act fast—we are reviewing packages as they come in.

And I’m not sure if this will be viewed as an advantage or disadvantage, but the successful candidate and I will probably be co-teaching the big organic class (300 students) in Fall 2016. What could be more exciting than the ability to serve as co-quizmaster for Orgo Bingo with its proud inventor?

The 2015-16 Chemistry Faculty Movement List

Monday, August 31st, 2015

ed_academic_bigTwo major poaches were announced on Friday, so it’s a good time to start a poach list for the 2015-16 academic year. The first time I tried this was 2012-13, and See Arr Oh had one for 2014-15 and maintains one for 2015-16.

The criteria for inclusion on the list below will be: (i) a chemist or chemistry-rich scientist moving from one academic institution to another, (ii) with at least one of the institutions in the United States or Canada, and (iii) the move is announced between August 1st, 2015 and July 31st, 2016.

I’ll limit anything more than the basic facts to the comments section and keep the post itself uncluttered. Please share news of moves in the comments or e-mail me. Thanks!


Malika Jeffries-El (Iowa State to Boston University) – 8/28
John Rogers (Illinois to Northwestern) – 8/27


Last updated: 31 August 2015

The 2016 Chemistry Faculty Openings List

Monday, August 17th, 2015

ed_academic_bigThe end of summer means that the start of the academic hiring cycle is upon us. In celebration of this fact, Chemjobber and I are curating a list of all of the tenure-track faculty openings in chemistry. Well, not all of the openings. The list is limited to those that meet the following criteria:

(i) tenure-track faculty positions with anticipated start dates in 2016

(ii) in chemistry departments or with a focus on chemistry

(iii) at institutions in the United States or Canada

We’ll deal with jobs in gray areas—e.g., a pharmacology department posting for a medicinal chemist at a medical school—as they come up, but engineering jobs are out. Go to ChemEngBark or EngineeringJobber for that.

The jobs are sorted by their ‘full-consideration’ deadlines. Please leave a comment or e-mail me (paul at or Chemjobber (chemjobber -at- if you find an unlisted position or catch an error or broken link. Please send a link to the job posting as well, preferably one that is hosted on the institution’s server.

The full list, with expanded data, may be downloaded as a spreadsheet here. This spreadsheet includes columns for city, state/province, and department (in addition to the columns shown below).

The 2016 Chemistry Faculty Openings List

Downloadable Spreadsheet

Pri. Date School Specialization Rank
8/10/2015 Rhodes College Organic Asst
8/24/2015 Dalhousie University Analytical or Inorganic Asst
8/24/2015 Dalhousie University Computational/Theory Asst
8/24/2015 Memorial University of Newfoundland Organic Asst
8/25/2015 St. Bonaventure University Physical Asst
8/31/2015 Rochester Institute of Technology Biochemistry Asst
9/1/2015 University of Alabama Materials Asst/Assoc
9/1/2015 St. Olaf College Organic or Inorganic Asst?
9/1/2015 North Carolina State University Organic All
9/1/2015 North Carolina State University Analytical All
9/1/2015 Illinois College Inorganic / Organometallic Asst?
9/2/2015 California State U. – Channel Islands Physical Asst
9/5/2015 Creighton University Analytical Asst
9/9/2015 University of Houston – Clear Lake Physical Asst
9/11/2015 Emory & Henry College Organic / Biochemistry Asst
9/12/2015 Lake Forest College Organic Synthesis Asst
9/14/2015 Northwestern University Open Asst
9/14/2015 Whitworth University Interdisciplinary All
9/15/2015 Wheaton College Biochemistry or Organic Asst
9/15/2015 Mills College Analytical or Environmental Asst
9/15/2015 Georgia Tech Open All
9/15/2015 Georgia Tech Open All
9/15/2015 Georgia Tech Open All
9/15/2015 State University of New York – Oswego Organic Asst
9/15/2015 Cal Poly Pomona Biochemistry Asst
9/15/2015 State University of New York – Oswego Analytical Forensics Asst
9/15/2015 Butler University Inorganic Asst
9/15/2015 College of Charleston Inorganic or Biophys., Bioanal., Comput. Asst
9/15/2015 Rockhurst University Biochemistry Asst
9/15/2015 Emory University Open Asst
9/16/2015 Lawrence University Inorganic / General Asst
9/18/2015 California State U. – Chico Organic Asst
9/18/2015 Austin College Physical Asst
9/18/2015 University of San Diego Biochemistry Asst
9/24/2015 Hope College Biochemistry Asst
9/25/2015 San Jose State University Organic Asst
9/25/2015 Fort Lewis College Physical Asst
9/25/2015 San Diego City College Analytical Asst
9/25/2015 University of Virginia Energy All
9/27/2015 University of Rhode Island Open Asst
9/28/2015 Salisbury University Analytical Asst
9/28/2015 Florida Institute of Technology Analytical/Inorganic Asst/Assoc
9/28/2015 Florida Institute of Technology Physical Asst/Assoc
9/28/2015 Florida Institute of Technology Organic Asst/Assoc
9/28/2015 Swarthmore College Inorganic + Environmental Asst
9/28/2015 Brown University Inorganic or Computational Asst
9/28/2015 California State U. – Bakersfield Organic/Bioorganic Asst
9/28/2015 Stanford University Open Asst
9/28/2015 El Camino College Teaching General & Organic Asst?
9/28/2015 Dixie State University Biochemistry Asst/Assoc
9/28/2015 University of California – San Diego Biochemistry Asst
9/28/2015 University of California – San Diego Synthetic Assoc/Full
9/28/2015 University of California – San Diego Molecular Biophysics Asst
9/28/2015 University of California – San Diego Open Asst
9/30/2015 The College of Saint Rose Organic Asst
9/30/2015 California State U. – East Bay Analytical, Physical, or Biophysical Asst
9/30/2015 Hamilton College Biochemistry Asst
9/30/2015 University of Central Oklahoma Inorganic, Materials, Environmental Asst
9/30/2015 Morehead State University Organic Asst
9/30/2015 University of Central Oklahoma Open, expertise in NMR Asst
10/1/2015 College of Wooster Analytical (MS, Environmental) Asst
10/1/2015 College of Wooster Inorganic (Polymers, Organometallics) Asst
10/1/2015 Humboldt State University Analytical Asst
10/1/2015 Hillsdale College Biochemistry Not Spec.
10/1/2015 University of Miami Materials/Energy Asst/Assoc
10/1/2015 University of Richmond Inorganic Asst
10/1/2015 University of California – Irvine Atmospheric Asst
10/1/2015 University of California – Irvine Atmospheric Full
10/1/2015 Western Washington University Analytical Asst
10/1/2015 San Francisco State University Analytical or Inorganic Asst/Assoc
10/1/2015 Providence College Inorganic Asst
10/1/2015 Oklahoma State University Organic or Open? Asst
10/1/2015 Northeastern State University Physical/Analytical? Asst
10/1/2015 California State U. – Fresno Computational – Biochem or Organic Asst
10/1/2015 University of Toronto Experimental Physical Chemistry Asst/Assoc
10/1/2015 University of Maryland – College Park Organic Asst
10/1/2015 Brigham Young University Open Asst
10/1/2015 Susquehanna University Organic Asst
10/1/2015 Loyola Marymount University Organic Asst
10/1/2015 Loyola Marymount University Biochemistry Asst
10/1/2015 University of the Pacific Biochemistry (Anal., Phys., or Expt.) Asst
10/1/2015 University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Open Asst
10/1/2015 University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Open Assoc/Full
10/1/2015 University of Michigan Open Asst+
10/1/2015 Cornell University Organic Asst
10/1/2015 Columbus State University Organic Asst
10/1/2015 Sam Houston State University Chemical Education Asst
10/1/2015 Sam Houston State University Inorganic Asst
10/2/2015 DePaul University Organic / Polymers Asst
10/2/2015 Washington State University Inorganic Asst
10/2/2015 San Jose State University Analytical and/or Inorganic Asst
10/4/2015 University of the Sciences Organic and/or Inorganic Asst
10/5/2015 University of the South Organic Asst
10/5/2015 Penn State Erie, The Behrend College Organic / Bioorganic / Biochemistry Asst
10/5/2015 Lafayette College Organic Asst
10/5/2015 Penn State Inorganic/Materials All
10/5/2015 Penn State Organic All
10/5/2015 Penn State Experimental Physical or Analytical All
10/5/2015 Texas Tech University Soft Matter Asst+
10/5/2015 Ursinus College Organic Asst
10/5/2015 University of Colorado – Boulder Physical Organic Asst
10/5/2015 Bates College Organic (Neuroscience slant?) Asst
10/5/2015 Univ. of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Organic (Chem. Bio. or Polymers) Asst
10/5/2015 Univ. of North Carolina – Pembroke Analytical, Forensic, or Physical Asst+
10/5/2015 Marshall University Organic Asst
10/6/2015 MIT Open Asst
10/7/2015 Christopher Newport University Biochemistry Asst
10/7/2015 Christopher Newport University Analytical Asst+
10/8/2015 Tufts University Interface with Life Sciences Asst
10/9/2015 Skidmore College Computational Asst/Assoc
10/9/2015 Hobart and William Smith Colleges Phys./Inorg./Anal./Environ./Materials Asst
10/10/2015 Davidson College Inorganic Asst
10/12/2015 Duquesne University Organic Asst
10/12/2015 Bucknell University Materials All
10/12/2015 California Lutheran University Organic Asst
10/12/2015 California State U. – Long Beach Materials, Inorganic or Physical Asst/Assoc
10/12/2015 Wabash College Analytical Asst+
10/12/2015 University of Pittsburgh Physical Asst
10/12/2015 University of Pittsburgh Organic Asst
10/12/2015 University of Pittsburgh Inorganic/Materials Asst
10/14/2015 Spring Hill College Physical Asst
10/14/2015 University of Kentucky Biochemistry / Mol. Bio. Asst
10/14/2015 University of Kentucky Synthetic Biology Asst
10/15/2015 Harvard University Open Asst
10/15/2015 Washburn University Forensics Any level
10/15/2015 University of Toronto – Mississauga Bioorganic Asst
10/15/2015 York University Materials Asst/Assoc
10/15/2015 York University Materials Full
10/15/2015 University of Texas Organic Asst
10/15/2015 Nevada State College Physical / Biophysical Asst
10/15/2015 University of Delaware Inorganic Asst
10/15/2015 Washington University Organic Asst
10/15/2015 The Scripps Research Institute Organic, Medicinal, Chemical Biology Asst
10/15/2015 The Scripps Research Institute Organic, Medicinal, Chemical Biology Assoc/Full
10/15/2015 University of Pennsylvania Biological Asst
10/15/2015 University of California – Santa Cruz Computational/Theoretical Asst
10/15/2015 University of Louisville Organic All
10/15/2015 University of Utah Organic All
10/15/2015 University of Utah Experimental Physical All
10/15/2015 University of Texas Experimental Analytical/Physical Asst
10/15/2015 Texas A&M University Open Asst+
10/15/2015 Texas A&M University Organic Asst+
10/15/2015 Virginia Tech Energy and the Environment Asst
10/15/2015 New York University Synthetic Organic Asst+
10/15/2015 New York University Experimental Physical or Biophysical Asst+
10/15/2015 New York University Materials / Polymers Asst
10/15/2015 Lawrence Technological University Inorganic, Materials Asst
10/15/2015 Purdue University Analytical Assoc/Full
10/15/2015 Lehigh University Bioanalytical Asst
10/15/2015 University of California – Merced Open (Experimental) Asst
10/15/2015 University of California – Merced Theoretical/Computational Asst
10/15/2015 Xavier University of Louisiana Biochemistry Open
10/15/2015 Earlham College Analytical Asst
10/15/2015 Virginia Tech Open / Interdisciplinary Asst
10/15/2015 Barnard College Inorganic Asst
10/15/2015 Boston College Chemical Biology Asst
10/15/2015 Southwest Baptist University Experimental Physical or Inorganic Asst/Assoc
10/15/2015 University of California – Davis Materials Asst
10/15/2015 Notre Dame Open All
10/15/2015 University of Central Florida Biochemistry Asst/Assoc
10/15/2015 Georgia Tech Renewable Feedstocks All
10/15/2015 Vanderbilt University Exp. Physical (at Interface…) Asst
10/15/2015 Emporia State University Analytical / Forensic Asst?
10/15/2015 Marquette University Analytical Asst
10/15/2015 Colorado State University Chem. Bio., Physical, or Soft Mater. Asst/Assoc
10/15/2015 Colorado State University Chem. Bio., Physical, or Soft Mater. Asst/Assoc
10/15/2015 University of Utah Chemical Biology Asst
10/15/2015 Converse College Physical Asst
10/15/2015 Johns Hopkins University Biological All
10/16/2015 Cal Poly Pomona Organic Asst
10/16/2015 Reed College Inorganic Asst
10/16/2015 University of San Francisco Biochemistry Asst
10/16/2015 Carthage College Analytical Asst?
10/16/2015 College of William and Mary Physical Asst
10/18/2015 University of Illinois Open Asst
10/19/2015 University of Kansas Medicinal All
10/19/2015 East Central University Open Asst
10/21/2015 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Organic All
10/21/2015 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Biochemistry All
10/22/2015 Univ. of Texas – San Antonio Mass Spectrometry (Bio) Asst
10/23/2015 University of Windsor Environmental All
10/23/2015 St. Ambrose University Biochemistry Asst
10/23/2015 San Diego State University Inorganic Asst
10/26/2015 Westminster College Inorganic Asst
10/30/2015 Temple University Analytical, Organic, Chemical Bio. All
10/30/2015 UCLA Inorganic Asst
10/30/2015 Northern Illinois University Open Chair
10/31/2015 University of Louisiana – Lafayette Polymers Asst
10/31/2015 California State U. – San Bernardino Bioanal., Biomat., or Environmental Asst
10/31/2015 University of California – Davis Organic “LPSOE”
10/31/2015 Augsburg College Physical Asst
10/31/2015 Auburn University Computational Asst
10/31/2015 Auburn University Energy Asst
10/31/2015 Auburn University Small Molecule Synthesis Asst/Assoc
11/1/2015 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Organic or Chemical Biology All
11/1/2015 University of Maryland – Baltimore County Chemical Biology Asst
11/1/2015 West Virginia University Analytical Asst
11/1/2015 Rowan University Analytical/Bioanalytical Asst
11/1/2015 University of Central Arkansas Analytical Asst
11/1/2015 Harvard Medical School Chemical Biology Asst/Assoc
11/1/2015 University of Colorado – Boulder Theoretical Asst
11/1/2015 University of Colorado Chemical Biology Asst+
11/2/2015 University of California – Berkeley Experimental Physical Assoc/Full
11/2/2015 Univ. of Massachusetts – Amherst Polymers Asst+
11/9/2015 University of Denver Biochemistry/Biophysical Chemistry Asst
11/10/2015 University of Colorado – Denver Theoretical / Computational Asst
11/13/2015 Georgia Tech Polymers All
11/15/2015 Murray State University Synthetic Organic Asst
11/15/2015 Murray State University Polymers or Materials Asst
11/15/2015 University of Connecticut Open All
11/15/2015 University of Connecticut Open All
11/15/2015 Montclair State University Analytical Asst
11/15/2015 Georgetown University Synthetic Macromolecular Asst
11/15/2015 California State U. – Los Angeles Analytical Asst
11/15/2015 Boise State University Inorganic Asst
11/15/2015 University of Minnesota – Morris Open Asst
11/16/2015 California State U. – Stanislaus Analytical, Biochemistry, or Food Asst
11/25/2015 University of Florida Soil and Water Chemistry Asst
12/1/2015 Suffolk University Physical? Asst
12/1/2015 California State U. – Fullerton Theoretical Physical Asst+
12/11/2015 University of Arkansas – Little Rock Analytical Asst
Not spec. University of Chicago Inorganic Asst
Not spec. University of Chicago Organic Asst
Not spec. University of Chicago Physical Asst
Not spec. Stetson University Environmental / Sustainability Asst
Not spec. Northwestern University Organic Systems Assoc/Full
Not spec. Concordia University Wisconsin Medicinal All
Not spec. California State U. – Los Angeles Inorganic Materials Asst
Not spec. Georgetown College Biochemistry Asst/Assoc
Not spec. St. John’s University Medicinal Asst
Not spec. Princeton University Open Asst
Not spec. Radford University Biochemistry Asst
Not spec. Radford University Organic Asst
Not spec. SUNY Polytechnic Institute Nanoscale Science All
Not spec. Louisiana State University – Alexandria Open Asst/Assoc
Not spec. Moffitt Cancer Center/U. South Florida Medicinal / Synthetic Organic All
Not spec. Moffitt Cancer Center/U. South Florida Medicinal / Synthetic Organic All
Not spec. Colorado College Bioorganic Asst
Not spec. Purdue University Drug Discovery & Development Full?
Not spec. University of Tennessee – Martin Analytical Asst
Not spec. University of Tennessee – Martin Open (Organic or Physical) Asst
Not spec. Biola University Analytical Asst
Not spec. Clarke University Analytical / Instrumental All
Not spec. Liberty University General / Inorganic Asst
Not spec. Marshall University Medicinal Asst/Assoc
Not spec. Southwestern Oklahoma State Univ. Medicinal Asst/Assoc
Not spec. The College of St. Scholastica Biochemistry Asst
Not spec. Wayne State University Open All
Not spec. UT Southwestern Medical Center Open Chair
Not spec. Bridgewater State University Biochemistry Asst
Not spec. University of Florida Anal./Inorg./Mater./Phys./Theo. Full
Not spec. University of Houston Biophysical Asst
Not spec. Bowie State University Analytical Asst
Not spec. Columbia University Organic All
Not spec. St. Peter’s University Biochemistry Asst
Not spec. Houghton College Biochemistry Asst/Assoc


This post will be updated periodically through the rest of 2015. Last updated: 11 September 2015. Total number of positions: 255. New positions added today: 7 (marked in red).

Our Faculty Position Ad: Behind the Scenes

Monday, October 13th, 2014

ed_academic_bigOur department is running its first tenure-track faculty search since I was hired last year, so it is my first chance to get a behind-the-scenes view of the process from the other side. Having experienced the joy and frustration of dealing with the academic job market from the side of an applicant, I figured our search is a good opportunity to pull back the curtain on what would otherwise be an opaque process. At the same time, such a post could be used to broadcast our position to as wide an audience as possible. That’s a win–win, baby.

You may have seen our official announcement, which ran in the August 18th edition of C&EN:

Saint Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, research, health care, and service seeks applicants for a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in Chemistry starting Fall 2015. A Ph.D. is required and post-doctoral experience is preferred. Successful candidates will develop an independent research program and be committed to excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching in the areas of both organic chemistry and biochemistry. Successful applicants will have an expertise in bioorganic chemistry, chemical biology or organic chemistry. The Department offers BA/BS degrees in chemistry and biochemistry and MS and PhD degrees in chemistry. Review of applications begins October 15th and will continue until the position is filled. All applications must be made online at; also send CV, research plans, teaching philosophy, transcripts, and 3 reference letters to: Saint Louis University is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer, and encourages nominations and applications of women and underrepresented minorities.

These adverts have always struck me as stuffy, vague, and minimally informative, and ours is no exception. There are actually a couple of reasons for the brevity and stuffiness. First, magazines like C&EN charge handsomely per line—over $1 per character, with a $650 minimum—so you generally want these ads to be concise. Second, all of these announcements have to get cleared by the administration, and HR demands that certain information be included in any job posting. After placement of that information, there is little space for elaboration—just the basic facts.

So, allow me to read between the lines by providing some context and background about our posting. Our department began offering a biochemistry degree a few years ago, and it has become very popular. So popular that it is putting strain on the teaching assignments for our department. We need more professors able to teach biochemistry, and just as importantly, able to provide research opportunities for these majors. Bolstering our biological side will also allow us to offer more graduate courses in this area, which now is essentially impossible due to the scheduling demands of the undergraduate curriculum.

At the same time, the departure of one professor and the promotion of another into an administrative position have created a strain on the organic faculty. As far as organic goes, we offer a sophomore sequence for majors (with ~35 students), a sophomore sequence for non-majors (with ~250 students), a single-semester course for nursing students, an advanced course on organic spectroscopy, and usually two graduate organic courses each year (e.g., synthesis, physical organic, and medicinal). As a result, we are hoping that we can find a candidate who can not only teach biochemistry, but who also has the flexibility to teach organic.

So, that is what we mean when we say “committed to excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching in the areas of both organic chemistry and biochemistry”. You have probably heard that many candidates get rejected from academic searches not because they lack talent, but because they do not fit the department’s current needs. We are undoubtedly going to be doling out some of those rejections, because we mean it when we say we want to hire someone with expertise in both biochemistry and organic chemistry. We are not simply throwing out these terms to try to cast as wide a net as possible. If you are strongly physical-organic (with no focus on a biological problem), it’s probably not going to work out. But if bioorganic chemistry is your bag, please apply! And the rest of you should be pals and tell your bioorganic/chembio friends about our listing.

The terseness of these job advertisements also prevents our providing more information about the school and our department. The advertisement says that we are a Catholic, Jesuit institution, and I imagine this could lead many applicants to develop preconceptions about the way things work at SLU. Having been here a year, I’d say that the Jesuit influence has more of an effect on the model the college uses for education (e.g., a broad core program weighed towards courses in philosophy and theology) rather than any particular influence on our department. When I was applying, I was concerned that my proposed research on origin-of-life chemistry would disqualify me due to conflict with Catholic beliefs. Obviously, it did not—I was hired—and I have encountered absolutely zero resistance with regard to this issue.

The school is governed by a board of trustees with a layperson majority. In fact, the school itself has argued (in public court records) that it is not a religious institution. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, stating “The university is not a religious institution simply because it is affiliated with the Jesuits or the Roman Catholic Church. A university’s motivation or aspiration to follow certain teachings does not indicate that it is ‘controlled by a religious creed’ such that religion dictates the corporate management of the university.” While the university takes great pride in its Catholic heritage and affiliation, it does not dominate the politics of the school or our department.

As far as our department goes, it reminds me of the chemistry department at NYU when I was an undergraduate. When I was at NYU, the graduate program was small-to-medium-sized and undergrads were given a lot of leeway in research. At SLU, we have 13 research faculty and we matriculate about 10 new graduate students each year. The most active labs have about 3-6 graduate students each—a very manageable size. This is also an exciting time for the department. We are converting the building adjacent to ours into laboratories, and we will expand into that space in March. Furthermore, the school just inaugurated a new president and we are set to have a major capital campaign to mark our bicentennial in 2018.

As far as people go, the faculty here gets along better than at any other department I’ve seen. I believe that most of the votes we’ve had in faculty meeting during my time here have been unanimous decisions. The graduate students get along with each other, and there is a lot of interaction among groups. This completely contradicts my experience in graduate school, where research groups were massive, faculty were absent for long stretches of time, professors talked incredible smack about each other behind their backs, and each lab was essentially its own island. While such a work environment is tolerable as a graduate student for a limited amount of time, I think my general preference is for something a little less caustic. Of course, the tradeoff is that we lack the resources of a powerhouse department. We have one NMR instrument, not nine. We have two administrative assistants for the department, whereas my graduate advisor had four just for himself.

But I like the balance of SLU. Balance in terms of size—we have a Ph.D. program, but not one so big that you lose touch of students or the lab. Balance in terms of effort—both research and teaching are valued. Balance in terms of students—both undergraduate and graduate students make meaningful contributions to research. Balance in terms of location—St. Louis is a medium-sized Metro area with plenty of culture, but not a megalopolis with an overwhelming cost of living.

And, that’s the whole story, more or less. It is not something any applicant would be expected to glean from our advert alone, but that’s how the system works. I am sure there are similar stories for many other departments who are looking to fill a specific need. While the information may trickle out in the form of personal communication and gossip, social media and the Internet allow free publication of the complete story. And, as longtime readers will know, that is one of the big reasons I love blogs: because they democratize information, making it accessible to everyone instead of people in the Old Boys’ Club who are in the know.

If you think you’d be a good fit for our department, please apply! If you think your labmate would be a good fit, tell her about our opening! And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

UCLA Professor Patrick Harran Strikes Deal with Prosecutors

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

BulldoodyPatrick Harran, the UCLA professor who faced four felony counts in connection with the death of Sheri Sangji in a laboratory fire, has struck a deal with prosecutors that allows him to avoid charges in exchange for a $10,000 fine, 800 hours of community service, and running a lab free of safety violations. So long as Harran completes his end of the terms of the agreement, he will avoid trial and have an untarnished criminal record.

What a relief!

As an assistant professor in charge of a research lab, I could not be happier with this outcome. I have a lot of stuff to worry about, and ensuring the safety of my students cannot be allowed to get in the way of important things like finding consulting gigs, collecting awards, traveling to international conferences, and stealing ideas for grants. All of those OSHA rules are meant for industry, not academia. The bar for what passes as safe in academic labs is clear, and people who want to work under moderately safe conditions know better than to go to graduate school. The government simply can’t expect me to be responsible for what happens in my lab, which is well over 50 feet from my office and not even the same direction as the restroom. I’m happy to buy enough safety goggles and almost enough lab coats to outfit my students, but the rest is up to them. If Aldrich has written a technical note on their hazardous experiment, my students know not to bother me.

The most important aspect of the Harran deal is how it extends the long, proud tradition of excusing PIs of any professional responsibility for their work. Society recognizes that professors are only supposed to have good things happen to them. We get the lion’s share of credit for papers, not the students or postdocs. We get the big salaries, not the students or postdocs. We get the awards, not the students or postdocs. On the flip side, professors must be protected from negative consequences at all costs. If an accident happens in one of our labs, that’s the students’ fault. If multiple papers from one of our labs contain fabricated data, that’s the students’ fault as well. Clearly, professors are not responsible for supervising their groups for integrity or safety. We know this because Dalibor Sames and Patrick Harran are still in charge of their labs. I applaud Columbia and UCLA for recognizing that you can’t discriminate against professors for trivial things like irresponsibility and incompetence. Anyway, it’s the competent professors you need to watch—lightning never strikes twice, right?

Of course, I realize that there should be some consequences when something truly horrible happens. In these situations, professors must arrange for perfunctory punishments that allow all of the parties charged with oversight to save face. That’s what we saw here: UCLA threw some money at a scholarship in the victim’s name and at establishing a safety program it should have had in the first place. Personally, Harran was forced to donate money to the hospital where his student died. Incidentally, I think $10,000 was way too much; the man only earns $301,000 a year. How is he going to make ends meet with just $291,000? At least Harran’s lawyers were clever in how they disguised the 800 hours of community service as a major inconvenience instead of court-mandated preparation for the Broader Impacts section of Harran’s next NSF proposal. Killing two birds with one stone is exactly why good lawyers get paid the big bucks.

In all seriousness, I think the deal agreed to by prosecutors is a grave injustice, but one that comes as no surprise in today’s legal system. Without any changes to the material facts of the case, how does the DA go from charging someone with four felony counts to striking a deal that allows Harran to have a spotless record with a payment, community service, and actually doing his job of running a lab free of safety violations? Note that this was not a plea bargain; Harran pleaded guilty to nothing—not a misdemeanor, or even an infraction.

The game plan of Harran’s legal defense was quite effective: delay, delay, and delay. They gummed up the works with continuance after continuance and motion after motion. In the end, it appeared the prosecutors were willing to do anything just to clear the case. I mean, was this deal what the prosecutors were holding out for all of these years? What makes it all the more worse is that the original deal called for 400 rather than 800 hours of community service. The judge had to step in and double it.

My heart goes out to Sheri’s family for their loss. While I think our legal system has denied them justice, my hope is that the field of chemistry does not forget what happened to her. I hope UCLA’s reported new-and-improved safety culture persists, and I hope the rest of the world of academic chemistry also strives to do a much better job regarding safety than it has in the past. At the very least, I can guarantee you that Sheri’s death has had an indelible, positive effect my approach to safety and how I manage my lab and students.


For more coverage: C&EN’s Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice have done a fantastic service for the community in covering the case, and Chemjobber has been curating links to coverage on his site.