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Phil Baran Takes on the Crowd

This should be interesting – Phil Baran of Scripps will be going on Reddit at 2 PM EST (update: looks like he’s already at it) to do one of their “Ask Me Anything” conversations. My own experiences taking questions there is colored by working in the pharma industry; as you’d imagine, a good number of questions come it things from that angle, rather than chemistry (or medicinal chemistry) per se. I have gotten some interesting, thoughtful questions when I’ve done these, but I’ve also gotten some live-the-stereotype ones along the lines of “How come you greedy @#$! don’t release your secret cancer cures” and “Hey, why don’t you guys read the newspaper ’cause cannabis, like, treats everything”.

Here’s the link for Baran’s session, if you want to look in (or ask him something!)


28 comments on “Phil Baran Takes on the Crowd”

  1. Nate says:

    When can we get you on for another AMA, Derek?

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Hey, most any time. Drop me a note and we’ll figure something out!

  2. R says:

    How about right now?

  3. hn says:

    “How come you greedy @#$! don’t release your secret cancer cures” and “Hey, why don’t you guys read the newspaper ’cause cannabis, like, treats everything”.

    I feel like punching people who ask me these kinds of questions.

    1. David Antonini says:

      I usually ignore, but I see a lot of claims about cannabis/cannabis products. I’d like to see some of these claims evaluated, although I don’t hold my breath either for such evaluation, or exciting outside-placebo results…but I don’t see the unreasonableness in that desire.
      Sometimes it’s all in the tone 😉 the drug industry doesn’t help negative attitudes when such claims are only meant with “ugh, potheads/quacks” or similarly derogatory attitudes. We want to hear that the industry is more excited about finding innovative new cures and treatments, rather than excited about minimally effective, side effect heavy drugs that are heavily marketed/profitable. <= I know this isn't true, but that's the perception, not assisted by the attitudes to more outlandish claims, or to people like Dr Oz who seem to take strange/unproven ideas more seriously.

      1. cannabis run amok says:

        synthetic chemistry and the zombie apocalypse:

        “On 12 July 2016, emergency responders were dispatched to the borough of Brooklyn, New York, to confront at least 33 individuals who were exhibiting “zombie-like” symptoms, including groaning and an eerie blank stare. Adams et al. obtained blood and urine samples from eight of the affected individuals and identified a metabolite of the synthetic cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA (aka AK-47 24 Karat Gold,), as the likely culprit for these physiological effects.”

        1. tangent says:

          May I just say, legalize it and you wouldn’t have the incentive for this horrifying zoo of cannabinoid ligands. The psychopharmacological territory being explored by Chinese CROs and unconsented guinea pigs is honestly kind of fascinating, but people are dying.

      2. Isidore says:

        It’s not always easy to differentiate between well-meaning, well-intentioned people who are simply uninformed or misinformed on the one hand and the paranoid, the weirdoes and the idiots on the other. The former deserve to be treated with consideration, respect and forbearance, the latter do not.

        1. Kent G. Budge says:

          Because it’s not always easy to differentiate between the two, the best starting course is probably to extend the consideration, respect, and forbearance. If they aren’t deserved, the person will let you know soon enough.

  4. Chrispy says:

    It is funny to hear the perspective of someone who has had such an illustrious academic career — it is very much to opposite of most of what I see on this blog. Honestly, I would not recommend a synthetic chemistry PhD to people interested in drug discovery. Meteoric success stories like Baran’s lure people in, but I know very few chemist PhDs who are still doing chemistry — a lot are patent agents, etc. It is very hard to stay employed. On the other hand, there are jobs on the biology side, making antibodies or engineered proteins, developing assays, etc. It’s a pity — synthetic chemistry is such a fascinating discipline. But unless you are a gifted (and fortunate) genius like Baran you’d be better off in another field.

    1. PUI Prof says:

      There are a whole lot of biologists who will dispute whether there are biology jobs available. There may be some jobs, but the pool of biologists is so much larger,; I’m thinking about 12x the number of bio grads than chem. The grass just doesn’t seem to be green anywhere to me right now.

      1. Chrispy says:

        I agree with you to point, PUI Prof. The thing is that there are a few forces at work here: first, biologics are becoming more and more dominant in drug discovery, second, chemistry has proven relatively easy to outsource, while biology has not. Third, even a small molecule drug requires an enormous amount of assay support. My personal experience is that the biologists tend to have to move for a job, perhaps to another state, while the chemists can find no jobs at all. However, your point is well taken that the entire industry is imploding. It will not take much (price controls, perhaps?) to make the whole thing simply vanish under the waves.

  5. abc says:

    Great idea–i wish every well-known professor would man up and do this kind of thing. Scientists suffer from a huge lack of internet and media attention, and professors failing to hold these kinds of discussions is only making it hard for their collegues and students to help the world.

  6. anoano says:

    Also showing that apparently without working 70/80 hours a week one can’t get a good career.
    Telling that there is no track of time and holidays (so people can take less that entitled), and telling people that he does not ask his PhD or postdoc to work overtime, but they need to work hard and a lot! (“I used to sleep in my lab”, which is another way to say: “I assume every one does if they want to be successful”)
    Now that he is a great/genius chemist he can have his own slavery factory with young people lure for the outcome of a paper with his name.
    Quite sad and does not help getting women staying in science (see Canadian government trying to attract women in science and twitter feed running yesterday).
    Not all supervisors in US are like this though, mine was discouraging people to stay too long!

    1. kriggy says:

      “Also showing that apparently without working 70/80 hours a week one can’t get a good career.”
      Well you CAN get good career but its same in any other area: the guys working more hours will have more results than a guy who works less hours. Maybe not always but most of the time.
      If you work 8 hrs/Day and get two products/day and I work 12 hrs/Day and get three/day then well I get faster publications -> more publications in the end and my CV will look better (if our publications are of the same quality)
      Im not saying its right but this is the way it is.

      1. Bla says:

        I couldn’t disagree more with this. 1) It depends on the field. My cells aren’t going to grow faster if I sleep next to them, and 2) The longer you work the more likely you’re to screw up. Very much law of diminishing returns. We don’t get such ridiculous working hours in the UK, and we seem to be pretty good at producing tons of high quality science.

        1. Dionysius Rex says:

          But scientist salaries are totally shit in comparison to US/DE/CH!

        2. kriggy says:

          I agree that you cant force your cells to grow faster and with the diminishing returns but on the other side. Im not advocating 70/80 hrs per week but doing something extra is always worth. I probably didnt explain myself correctly in the previous post

    2. Morten G says:

      Yeah I noticed that too. One place Prof. Baran says that he nevers works at home, he’s all about his kids and wife at home, and another he says that he shows up 5:45am and leaves at 6:15pm. He doesn’t mention if he works weekends or how much time he spends away on conferences and such.
      I would imagine that his employees work quite a lot (yes, I’m aware that a number of them probably are on their own grants).

      1. Biotechtoreador says:

        Ok, so he leaves home at 530 (I assume he lives in La Jolla) before his kids get up and gets home at 645 (traffic in the pm is tough on Torrey pines Mesa) with, what, an hour or two before his kids go for a bath (unsure how old they are). Sorry, this isn’t spending time at home with his kids. Nothing wrong with it, but don’t claim to be a good family man working these hours.

    3. anon says:

      I am glad someone mentioned this. Someone asked him about the challenges women face in chemistry. He is “not sure about this.” I just looked at his group photo. 3 women out of a group of 30.

      1. anon says:

        More diversity is coming to the Baran lab soon, from what I’ve heard.

    4. Line Cook says:

      Yeah, we have a group like that here. There are no ‘set’ hours, but the people that don’t show up at 9 and leave at 11 have a funny habit of disappearing after a semester or two, something about, “not fitting the culture.” Well, I guess if all you do is mindlessly screen anyway then it doesn’t matter if you’re tired or awake when setting up reactions, just follow the formula.

  7. Sans sheriff says:

    If I worked for baran I would have had 10 papers in my PhD instead of just one

  8. Ibraam Gaunt says:

    I am an organic synthetic chemist. I failed getting a big pharma job after graduation and fate sent me to a small CRO. There I was trained more on how to deal with customers, big scale reactions, production and timelines. During this time, I learned that there are many opportunities in material chemistry, something that these “great” professors never mention. Now I moved on to a company producing compounds for screens. Just remember folks, pharma companies is not panacea to our profession. They were disrespectful to our trade and easily fired us without further notice. We live in a world were new materials are really needed and organic synthetic chemists need to step up and take the role they deserve. Our trade is very hard to conquer and our specialization makes us unique. Lets show them who runs the show

    1. JC says:

      Ibraam, can you please provide me more info about the type of jobs in materials science for somebody with org chem background.

      1. ibraam says:

        some examples from my cro experiences : 1. batteries, we can make the ligands and the complexes, 2. dyes, 3. polymeric compounds, 4. screen-monitor tech compounds.
        and this is just on top of my head.

    2. Mister B. says:

      Well, that is a great experience I will be curious to know more about !

      With a previous amazing experience in a big pharma (Hi people from Stevenage 😉 ),I strongly desire to work in this one or another. But considering the state of the job market, I have come to realize that my dream maybe a bit compromised.

      The work within a CRO looks to me quite fun too. Lot of chemistry. Lot of different project.
      I’ll find some more later, but your testmony is encouraging. Thank you !

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