The January 5th issue of Chemical and Engineering News includes an article about the University of Michigan buying the recently closed Pfizer research facility in Ann Arbor, MI. The property formerly housed about 2,000 pharmaceutical researchers, and includes 30 buildings over 174 acres, and decades ago belonged to U of Michigan, who sold it to Parke-Davis, which eventually became part of Pfizer. The university plans to use the acquisition to provide opportunities for industrial partners, and to that end has already hired 13 former Pfizer researchers. They “expect to create at least 2,000 jobs over the next 10 years”. The specific uses of the site will be worked out over the next year or so, but possibilities include expansion space for university researchers, partnering with or providing space for private sector businesses in pharmaceutical, biotech, energy, nanotech, and so on.
This will not be an overnight process. In 2007, Yale University made a similar move and purchased 136 acres housing 17 buildings that formerly housed the Bayer HealthCare complex. So far, they have appointed Michael Donoghue as Vice President of Planning and Program Development. Over the next three years he will develop the plan for use of the space, and add neighbors for the Institute for High Throughput Cell Biology which is currently located in the facility. Current plans include a mixture of high tech companies, research, and art.
This is an interesting trend, especially in light of other workplace trends. We know most chemists are now working for small companies, where they used to work for large companies. We also know that since the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, universities are patenting their ideas, and collaborating with industry to commercialize them much more than they used to. And now we see that universities are buying formerly commercial labs and using them to house their own research institutes, and to serve as incubators for new, small, high-tech companies.
This is both good and bad news. There is still lots of good work being done, it’s just being done in different places. It’s no longer enough to just look at large chemical companies when looking for a job. Though they’re easy to find, they’re not where most of the jobs are. There are more places to look for work, so finding just the right fit will take more research on your part. You’ll need to look at small companies, new technology areas, and maybe even academic institutions to find your ideal position.
As an interesting aside, when I viewed the article on Pfizer selling the site, right next to it was a sponsored ad from Pfizer, advertising their positions available. So even within a single company, opportunities are moving around – changing location, specialty, area of study, and so on. Keeping abreast of, and hopefully ahead of, these changes is crucial to the long-term success of your career.
After all, we all know the only thing that is constant is change.
This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006)