Monday, September 30, 2013

Chemistry salaries and the ACS Survey

So I woke up this morning to two emails from chemical industry-related reporters asking me my thoughts about the salaries of chemists. Why me? I really had no clue, until about an hour later, when I realized that a throw-away comment I made at the popular chemistry blog Chemjobber last week had turned into a full post by its anonymous author.

So what was my point? Basically I was mildly critiquing the annual salary survey of the American Chemical Society. ACS is a great organization, which I have been a member of since I was an undergrad, and I have filled out their survey every year I can remember. However, I have always felt it was biased a bit high for industrial chemists, for several reasons.

1: Chemists who choose to be members of ACS are not random. It is not uncommon for companies, especially larger corporate ones, to pay membership dues for their workers. This, of course, is more likely for better paid or higher ranking employees.

2: For chemists who don't work for such generous companies, those with higher level jobs, better connections to academia (which is the bread and butter of ACS), and higher pay are more likely to choose to pay their dues out-of-pocket

3: There is likely to be some non-random factors in the response rate as well. With only a quarter or so members responding, there is ample chance for bias to creep in. Perhaps better paid workers like to brag a bit, even if it is anonymous? Or exaggeration?

Overall, I have the feeling, based on my personal experience with several companies, that ACS is biased 5-10% high with respect to industrial pay as a result of these cumulative errors. As I mentioned over at Chemjobber, those interested in chemical industry pay may want to look at the data at, which is more HR-centric and in my opinion a little more accurate. Roughly,

Chemist I = Senior technicians
Chemist II = BS/BA
Chemist III = Master's
Chemist IV = PhD
Chemist V = Front-line manager, team leader, or senior individual contributors with strong track records

Of course, individual mileage varies a lot, and people might start one slot lower and can finish anywhere if they are good (I've seen former technicians rise all the way to management), but I think that looking at both the ACS data and the data is a prudent thing to do when trying to figure out if chemistry is the career for you, or if you are trying to benchmark your pay relative your peers. The two data sets are nicely complementary, with showing distributions, while ACS doing demographic breakdowns based on age, geography, etc, giving you more opportunities for understanding than either data set alone.

Update: I was quoted by Chemistry World on an article related to this topic.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Immigration, Foreign Family Members, and the Globally Mobile

There are a number of gaping holes in our immigration system. One is that their is no non-Kafkaesque solution for foreign-citizen family members of globally mobile American citizens. This is particularly ironic precisely because such mobile citizens are much more likely than average to have foreign family members in the first place.

When it comes to family members immigrating to the US, our system is permanent residency (a green card), or nothing. A would-be resident applies for a visa based on a family status such as marriage, and after receiving it generally has six months to arrive in the US and another ninety days to apply for a green card once he or she arrives. Assuming everything is in order, they get a green card a few months later, and everything is great - unless they ever want to live outside the US. In this case, USCIS throws a hissy.

If you want to live outside the US while holding a green card, you need to obtain a special travel document before you leave, and periodically come back to the US in a pair of closely-spaced trips or one extended trip in order to replace your travel permit if it is about to expire. USCIS also refuses to grant serial travel permits. While there is no fixed standard, spending more than half one's time outside the US as a permanent resident is likely impossible. If a permanent resident fails to maintain their travel permits, USCIS will strip their residency and green card upon entry to the US. This ends up creating tremendous headaches for the foreign family members of US citizens, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars in filing and legal fees, not to mention the cost and time of repeated trips back to the US from abroad at USCIS's whim.

Is there a solution to this costly, pointless issue? In fact, there are at least two, as exemplified by Canada and Japan.

The Canadian system simply allows its permanent residents to live abroad if they are living with their Canadian citizen family member, or if their Canadian employer moved them abroad. From the Canadian perspective, the maintenance of one's Canadian work or family ties is sufficient to protect one's residency, even if abroad for years at a time.

Japan is also very relaxed about its "permanent residents" living abroad. However, it has an additional feature - long-term family visas. In Japan, one does not jump straight to permanent residency. Instead, family members, like workers and students, start with 1-5 year visas that provide residency and work rights. These generally are indefinitely renewable unless there is a cause to deny them, and in many cases, Japanese foreign residents never bother to obtain their "permanent" residency and are content to remain in Japan on a series of family visas. If such people want to leave Japan for a few years, it is no big deal at all. Just leave. If your visa expires while abroad, apply for a new one before you come back. Or even after you come back, as unlike the US, you can apply for visas in Japan while in the country as a tourist. Given that Japan's visa applications require half the documentation, cost five times less, and are adjudicated in less than half the time than the US, it is perfectly possible to land as a tourist and get your visa after the fact.

It's a globally mobile modern world, yet our immigration policy is still based on archaic rules set in an area where coming to or departing from the US was a long, expensive one-in-a-lifetime event. It's time we moved our immigration policy out of the stone age and made it simple for our permanent residents to move in and out of the country.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

South Korea vs Japan, FIGHT!

Having spent a few days in South Korea for the first time, after having lived years in Japan, I couldn't help but to compare the two while I was traipsing around Seoul. Here are my thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of each

Advantage South Korea:

Beef > fish
Know how to bury power lines
Newer, more modern high rises
Incheon > Narita
Trains are not completely cluttered with ads
Food quantity/price
Cheaper booze
Can speak English better
More foreigners in general
Friendlier with said foreigners due to three items above
Economy is growing rather than stuck in the mud
Has food vending machines
Extremely high butterfly to flower ratio
Hostesses give more ppo-ppo and chu-chu
Korean hangul may well be the most rational written script on earth
Better TVs and video billboards
More street food stalls
Big, cheap hotel rooms
Overall cheaper in almost all respects
Less ossified politically
Better city hall
Not quite as crowded
No crazy old guys riding around in black trucks blaring right-wing racist propaganda

Advantage Japan:

No crazy next-door neighbor with nukes
Better temples
Better trains
Better mountains
Much more bike and pedestrian friendly
Much better urban underground
Better convenience stores
More and better vending machines for drinks
Fewer extraneous zeros on the currency
Food quality
Most of the boorish US troops are cooped up in a little island rather than in the capital
Kimono > hanbok
Better maintenance of traditional arts and crafts
Women remain hot longer
More than a billion foreign people can at least guess at the meaning of written Japanese
Fewer (or better hidden) homeless people
Better cars
Better service
Smells better
Sky Tree > N. Seoul Tower


jgirls vs kgirls
jpop vs kpop
presence of American military