Disclaimer – I went to University of Minnesota for chemistry graduate school.
This trend will only accelerate in the future. In older days, say – the 1970’s, there was more parity in chemistry. Funding was easier to get and students from second & third tier graduate schools might not become professors at R1 universities, but they were likely to find a industry job somewhere – even without a postdoc. With the contraction of pharma in the United States, one essentially needs a PhD/postdoc from an top-tier, elite institution to find an industry job, let alone even consider a tenure track job. When funding at second and third tier universities dries up, the New York Yankees (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Scripps) of the academic world can use their deep pockets to poach away the top tier professors. Top tier professors will want groups the size of Phil Baran or Barry Trost – they don’t want to be limited to 3-10 graduate students at a Midwestern university.
Assume for a moment that academic funding was stable or even growing to support Midwestern schools. Disregard being a tenure-track professor at the University of Minnesota, Northwestern, or University of Kansas (if you’re an assistant TT professor there, you came from Harvard/Stanford/Scripps). Where are you going to work? Pfizer destroyed the pharma employment scene in the Midwest. Essentially all that remains is Eli Lilly in Indy & AbbVie in Chicago. Eli Lilly isn’t doing too well & while AbbVie isn’t tanking – it can’t absorb all of the chemistry grads in the Midwest. The top tier & even the second & third tier students will flee for the coasts because that is where the jobs are and the best schools. There are some places to work in the Midwest for chemists, but not nearly as many as the coasts.
The Midwest (sadly) is a second tier place for chemists work and go to graduate school in chemistry. This just exacerbates & accelerates the trend.This is mostly a cri-de-coeur about pharma (i.e. the fate of industrial medicinal/process chemistry in the Midwest), which I mostly agree with and have been emphasizing on this blog for a while.
(At the same time, I can point out a very small countervailing trend. Specifically, the state of Texas has seemed to manage to be able to pull away from top-tier older professors away from the coasts. That said, I don't think K.C. Nicolaou or John Wood represent a trend, and for some reason, it seems that Texas seems to have access to different funding structures than Ohio, Wisconsin or Illinois. I don't think it's really germane to FC's overall point.)
If I were to come up with a program to try to reverse this trend, here's what I would do:
- I'd begin funding life science research (both biology and chemistry) towards antibiotics to the tune of $30 billion a year, for 20 years
- Yes, yes, only some of it would be oriented towards graduate students, and it would be mostly portable training grants (i.e. giving the money to the student, not the PI)
- All of this money would be for institutions outside the coasts.
- The development of clinical compounds, etc. would be required to also be done in the Midwest, including all manufacturing.