Wanted in Europe: U.S.-Trained Chemists


Face it, for many Americans, globalization is a four letter word, and while the U.S. research enterprise has largely been immune to the adverse impacts of globalization, there are growing concerns that science jobs may soon follow the path of information technology jobs.

I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. As in, join the flow of jobs overseas and grab one for yourself, especially if you’re at all interested in a biotech job.

European biotechnology companies are actively recruiting U.S. Ph.Ds to join what has become a fast-growing industry. Although the United States is still the unquestioned world leader in biotechnology, the past decade or so has seen Europe develop a nascent biotechnology industry.

However, the one thing that almost everyone involved in European biotech agrees is restraining the continent’s growth is a serious shortage entrepreneurially-minded scientists – and they see the U.S. as providing the solution to that problem.

Wolfgang Renner, chief executive officer and founder of the Zurich-based biotech firm, Cytos, told me that entrepreneurism seems to be ingrained in the minds of our American counterparts in a way that’s missing from students trained in Europe.

“Some people, like myself, go to the States for graduate school or do a postdoc in large part to get exposed to that culture, but we need to have more American-trained Ph.D.s here. It’s essential,” Renner said.

European industry leaders and governments alike have recognized the dearth of entrepreneurs and they are starting to take action to promote the development of home-grown talent. For example, universities across the continent are following America’s lead by setting up offices to foster the movement of research discoveries into startup biotechnology firms. Nevertheless, the effect has been less than startling. Herbert Reutimann, managing director of Unitectra, the technology transfer arm of the Universities of Berne and Zurich, told me, “Culturally, we’re fighting an uphill battle. Entrepreneur is still a dirty word among many professors in the chemical and biochemical sciences. Europe is still a couple decades behind the U.S. in that regard.”

The result, say many who are close to the industry, is that investors remain reluctant to provide budding entrepreneurs with the necessary capital to get their young companies off the ground. This tight-fistedness is a major reason why opportunity exists for U.S.-trained chemists. As one venture capitalist told me recently, “When you think of entrepreneurs, you think American.”

This article was written by Joe Alper, a freelance science writer and technology analyst in Louisville, CO, who writes frequently for the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.

One Response to Wanted in Europe: U.S.-Trained Chemists

  1. roamingcatholic says:

    time to start looking for a job abroad if you ask me!

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