Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Self Selection of a Polymer Career

One brief line in last week's post on a career in polymer science/engineering needs further comment. I said
"Just the fact that you are interested in polymers will offset you from everyone else."
but I'm wondering if this is still as true as it was 20 years ago. At that point in time, polymers were considered this dirty little, problematic area. The fact that a polymer didn't have a precisely defined molecular weight certainly put off many people to start with, and then add in the non-Newtonian fluid mechanics and you pretty much had huge walls around the subject, and so that is why I reached the conclusion that I stated above. If you were interested in polymers, you could do it because few others would express the interest.

An example: One of my contemporaries in grad school did his work in surface science, but was able to garner a job for a large polymer company because 1) he had taken an undergraduate class in polymers and 2) told the recruiters he was interested in returning to the field. I was amazed that they took him in (and even more so since I had interview for the same job. Ouch!).

So my question is this: have things changed? Does polymer science/engineering still have the skull-and-crossbones signs labeled "KEEP OUT (THIS MEANS YOU)!" at the entrance? Do people look at you weird and shake their heads when they find out your career choice? Or have things gotten better?


Chemjobber said...

Boy, if I had a nickel for every polymer chemistry position I've seen posted in the last six months...

Lucas Burgan said...

At my school, I can just add a polymer option to my undergrad. Its nice.

Daniel said...

We are heavily recruiting every year into polymer research, and many of our new colleagues have no polymer background whatsoever. What we are looking for is good thinking skills, personality and of course, solid fundamentals in whatever your specialization is. Diversity of minds, if you'd like to call it a name. So, yes, it may help to be a polymer chemist, but just a tickmark on some list: no way. It's the full package that must fit.

Anonymous said...

I would add that there's still a misunderstanding of polymer chemistry vs. polymer science.

While the vast majority of programs are run out engineering/fiber schools, there is greater need for monomer modification and polymeric material characterization.

Sort of a mismatch here, b/c "real" polymer people don't like to work under 80k Da, but a lot of the polymeric materials property needs top out closer 25k-40k Da.

Thiophenes, PAN, PEG, PGA, acetylenes can't reach the 100k regime where the polymer science people work.

and a good synthetic polymer chemist can make a huge impact in polypeptides, modified starches, or certain proteins.

John said...


I've never heard of the 100k barrier before. Even at that, I've never thought of the distinction of polymer vs. non-polymer as being based on molecular weight but rather on degree of polymerization. Because the mass of the repeat units can vary so much, you can hit big masses with very few monomers.