Chemistry job seekers face tough outlook during pandemic

14 May 2020
Even though it’s been over a decade, the 2008 recession and its effects still loom over the chemistry enterprise. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down labs and universities across the world, chemistry students and professionals are again facing hiring freezes, reduced pay and other career obstacles. Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, spoke with chemists about how they’re navigating the current economic downturn.

With more than 30 million unemployment claims filed by the end of April, the novel coronavirus has disrupted almost every industry as a result of lost revenue and closures. Chemistry students set to graduate this spring are seeing a lot of uncertainty in their job prospects, particularly in academia. Many schools have frozen hiring for the foreseeable future in an effort to cut costs, and some are even furloughing staff. In addition, many public universities haven’t recovered from funding cuts made during the last recession. With the expectation to be productive and find jobs, graduate students and postdocs are considered particularly vulnerable right now, Senior Correspondent Linda Wang and Senior Editor Andrea Widener write. Because research funding is dwindling and hiring is on hold, these chemists are beginning to look outside of academia for opportunities. 

Off campus, the chemical industry is also feeling the pandemic’s effects. Hiring has ground to a near-halt in some areas, while the petrochemical sector is bracing for a major setback that could take years to recover from. The American Chemistry Council has estimated that industry job losses could total 28,000 over the course of the year, or 5.1% of the workforce. Unsurprisingly, an area that has remained strong during this time is the pharmaceutical sector, which is experiencing increased demand and is hiring accordingly. The biotechnology sector is also recruiting chemists, and certain “hot” fields like CRISPR and tumor immunology are doing as well as ever. While the outlook is relatively positive for some areas of industry, experts warn that many sectors will need to adapt to a new normal, including bringing manufacturing and research back to the U.S. to rebalance the global supply chain. Veterans of the 2008 recession advise current chemistry job-seekers to be flexible in their search, to use this time at home to grow their networks and broaden their skill sets, and most importantly, to not give up, despite the murky road ahead.


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