New chemistry students pry galloping job market – University of Copenhagen

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28 August 2015

New chemistry students pry galloping job market

Bachelor introduction 15

“We are expanding our research departments so much that finding enough space for all of our staff is among our major challenges,” says Novo Nordisk Scientific Director Thomas Høegh Jensen, about the future job market for chemists. The comment came during an event for new UCPH chemistry bachelor students held at Novo Nordisk’s research HQ in Copenhagen suburb Måløv.

Growth postponed till market shapes up

First year chemistry students have gone to visit chemist employers since 2013. The 2015 group is the largest ever. As such, they were divided into two groups. Each visited a different company, and potentially, their future employer. At Haldor Topsøe, a catalysis company, the message was a bit more subdued than at Novo. Topsøe still has plans to markedly expand its research capacity in years to come, but their growth plans are being realized at a more careful tempo due to the economic and political situation in some of Haldor Topsøes important markets such as Russia and China.

High employment continues

Despite the slightly divergent signals from these visits, the job market for chemists looks just as bright in the years to come, as it has of late. Even during the years of financial crisis between 2008-2014, unemployment among chemists held steady at less than two-per cent. This rate of unemployment falls under what economists consider, full employment, as the rate includes the weeks of temporary unemployment from between when one leaves a job until they begin a new one.

Chemists getting creative in drug development

Back at Novo Nordisk, Høegh Jensen spoke to attendees about how the Danish diabetes giant deploys its chemists. All of the company’s pharmaceutical products are produced using peptides, typically produced using genetically modified yeast cells. The peptides are large, complex and unstable molecules. The task of chemists is to alter the chemical structures of the peptides so they can handle being stored on pharmacy shelves, and work with greater stability and predictability in patients. This is a job that requires enormous creativity on the part of the chemists who conduct the research.

“For years, people have said that it was impossible to optimize insulin any more. But at Novo Nordisk, we have always made medicine better, and we have heaps of ideas for future developments,” ensured Thomas Høegh Jensen.

Research expansion with focus on foreign offices 

With 40,000 employees globally and 17.000 in Denmark, Novo Nordisk is one of Denmark’s largest employers. The scientific staff has grown substantially over the past years. Therefore, the company is a worthwhile place to visit for incoming chemists. Gerd Scluckebier, who’s title is Principal Scientist said that the company has needed to open research division in both Beijing and Seattle.

“Not every top tier researcher dreams about moving to Denmark. Therefore, we need to establish centres globally if we are to attract the greatest talents,” explains Schluckebier.

Research applied as well as fundamental

Chemists are predominantly hired to conduct fundamental research, or something within that vein, according to Novo Nordisk’s Principal Researcher. Nevertheless, Novo Nordisk’s insulin pens, Novopens, are under constant development. As their development evolves, Novo Nordisk deploys chemists to ensure that medications don’t react adversely with, for example, the types of plastic being used.

Different hiring policies

The main difference between hiring practices at these employers of scientists is that Novo has roughly 5.000 researchers, and around 1.000 of these are equipped with a PhD. At Haldor Topsøe, the catalysis giant, the composition of personnel is somewhat different. Only about 16 per cent of researchers at Topsøe have a PhD, while 16 per cent hold MSc’s or the equivalent. And, 38 per cent of Topsøe’s research division staff only have bachelor’s degrees.

Need for speed

A catalyst can accelerate a chemical process by a million to a billion times. Haldor Topsøe delivers catalysts to every industry in which chemistry plays a part. They do so in a wide variety of areas including:

  • Oil refineries - that must remove sulphur, metals and nitrogen from crude oil.
  • Ammonia producers - that produce chemicals necessary for fertiliser production.
  • Sulphur producers – that also produce chemicals for fertiliser production.
  • Hydrogen producers – that deliver important raw materials for everything ranging from ammonia to margarine.

Use your heart to find that dream job

At Topsøe, one of the most important messages communicated to the students, and potential Topsøe employees, was that students should select courses and specialisations in chemistry according to what interests them – not according to what they think that they may work with down the road. Because, as a chemist, one can always shift gears and try something new.

“If you are having fun, you can pull it off. Remember, you are educating yourself for your own sake, not for someone else. Everything that you are required to learn today, will be used the day you begin working”, says Ole Stahl, who facilitates collaborations with Schools for Haldor Topsøe.