Where are the Lab Research Jobs: What We Learned at Pittcon

The 64th annual Pittcon Conference, more formally known as the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, has evolved far beyond its roots as a small technical conference first held in 1950 in the William Penn Hotel. So much has changed since that time. For example, it wasn’t until 1953 that James Watson and Francis Crick made the startling announcement that DNA molecules exist in the form of a three-dimensional double helix.

And we can’t forget that back in 1950, Pittsburgh was at its peak as the home of “Big Steel”, a true wonder of the industrialized economy. Like its namesake home city of Pittsburgh, which has reinvented itself as a high-tech center for leading healthcare and genetics research, the Pittcon Conference has successfully stayed current with leading edge developments in laboratory science. That’s what makes the conference such an interesting bellwether for understanding the current mix of laboratory research jobs and where future laboratory research job growth lies.


Pittcon 2014, image by biosurfa.com
Pittcon 2014, image by biosurfa.com


Laboratory Research Jobs Grown Trend: Quantitative Proteomics

Director of Proteomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Dr. Steven Carr, image by Pittcon Web Archives
Director of Proteomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Dr. Steven Carr, image by Pittcon Web Archives

Dr. Steven A. Carr, Director of Proteomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, kicked off the conference with his presentation “Quantitative Proteomics in Biology, Chemistry and Medicine.” What is proteomics? That’s a great question, which we’ll answer in a minute. But first let’s answer a different question: What is the the Broad Institute? Here is a clue. If the name Eric S. Lander seems familiar, you may recall his leading role in the Human Genome Project, which sequenced the human genome in a race against privately held Celera Genomics.

That work was completed in 2003, and in 2004 Lander founded the Broad Institute to create teams of scientists focused on developing high-tech tools to analyze the massive amount of genomic-related data unleashed by the Humane Genome Project. (note: The institute is named after the Broad family who endowed the institution. Broad is pronounced with a long O to rhyme with ‘code’). Now with that background information, we can return back to Dr. Steven Carr at Pittcon and his talk about Quantitative Proteomics. Carr began by defining the difference between genomics and proteomics. The full set of proteins created by the genome is know as proteomes. Thus the study of proteomes, such as which ones are present, their relative amounts and their overall state of development, is known as proteomics. Got it?

Carr explains it this way: we should think of genomics as the blueprint of what proteins are intended to be like in your body. In other words, genomics is ‘what could happen’ to your proteins. Proteomics on the other hand is more like “what is happening” to the proteins in your body. (For you English majors out there familiar with Nature vs. Nurture, genomics is like Nature and proteomics is like Nurture.)

Once proteins are created they can be modified by a multitude of different processes, such as sugarization. Protein modifications are normal but certain modifications can signal onset of disease. Dr. Carr states that new laboratory research technologies in development at the Broad Institute are on track to identify protein biomarkers associated with these individual diseases. It is hoped this will help us understand the underlying mechanisms of protein interactions that cause disease and ultimately lead us to develop dramatic new disease prevention measures.

Jobs of the Future: $5.9 Billion Genomic Disease Testing Will Expand to Include Proteomic Testing

The human genome project has already led to significant economic growth in laboratory research jobs. If you have been following healthcare marketing at all, you’ve probably felt bombarded by the barrage of announcements of the availability of new consumer tests for various genetic conditions. This new sector, called Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) genetic testing has grown dramatically.

According to a Booz | Allen | Hamilton report, the market for genetic and genomic clinical testing in the United States was estimated to be $5.9 billion in 2011. This study also indicates the number of available tests has grown rapidly as well. In 2008, the number of available genomic tests was 1,680; four years later 2,886 tests were available. Other economic researchers confirm the strong economic impact of genetic testing. In 2012, the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice prepared a study for the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which revealed that genetic and genomic testing industry is responsible for generating more than 116,000 US jobs, nearly $6 billion in personal income for US workers, 9.2 billion in value-added activity and 16.5 billion in national economic output.

So the big economic headline from Dr. Carr’s talk at Pittcon for laboratory research job hunters is that Laboratory research jobs in genenomic testing will continue rapid growth as new proteomic tests (now in the research laboratory stage) become available. In time, the promise of individual disease testing and prevention now being developed in the laboratory will become widely available in the consumer healthcare market.

Other Industry Trends We Observed at Pittcon

Chris Andrews offers up several other observations he made while attending Pittcon. The first trend he noticed is that laboratories are using more ‘flexible’ furniture configurations. This is good news for Formaspace as we are a leading manufacturer of flexible, modular laboratory workbenches, fume hood stands and other customized technical furniture. Speaking of fume hoods, Chris notes that the newer style fume hoods with built-in filtration systems (as opposed to the traditional hoods vented to the atmosphere) are starting to take root in laboratory installations.

If you are in the market for a fume hood, Chris wants to remind you that Formspace offers mobile (as well as fixed) fume hood stands for your research lab facility. The third insight is that international sales in the laboratory research market are on the upswing. This information matches our own results: Formaspace is seeing steady growth in exporting our high-quality, American-made furniture to Canada and Mexico as well as overseas, including (perhaps surprisingly) to China. We’ll discuss this important trend in a future article.


Pittcon Industry Participation Breakdown

Let’s shift gears now and try to get additional industry insights from the Pittcon Conference attendee surveys. As an international trade event, it’s useful to look at three sets of statistics among attendees to understand where the laboratory research market stands today. First, we’ll look at the different industries represented at Pittcon. We don’t yet have the attendance breakdown for 2014, but we analyzed the attendees from Pittcon 2013. The top three industries represented were: 1. Analytical Chemistry, Equipment and Instrumentation.  2. Pharmaceutical and 3. Process and Manufacturing. Further down the list at number 10 was Biotechnology, Biochem and Genetics. We expect this number to rise over time.


Pittcon 2014, image by Laboratory Journal
Pittcon 2014, image by Laboratory Journal


Pittcon Attendee Primary Job Function Category Breakdown

The second statistic is job categories represented at Pittcon. When we looked at the survey results from Pittcon 2013, we found that the top three job categories were evenly split between:  1. Bench Chemist / Scientist / Researcher, 2. Sales and Marketing and 3. Management roles at the President / Vice President / General Manager or Director Level.


Pittcon Attendee Job Specialization Breakdown

The final statistic is quite interesting; it’s the breakdown of the specific job functions represented at Pittcon 2013. Given the conference’s roots in Applied Spectroscopy, it’s not surprising that the top four are: 1. Chromotography (liquid), 2. Chromotography (gas), 3. Mass Spectroscopy and 4. UV/Visible Spectroscopy.  Numbers 8, 9 and 10 are related job functions, which indicates that (despite a wide range of Primary job functions presented), Pittcon attendence seems to be  strongly represented by those in chromotography and spectroscopy job functions and less by attendees in other areas of research, process management or manufacturing.

Need Laboratory Furniture? Contact Us at Formaspace

Want to learn how to make your laboratory workflow more efficient? Is it time to invest in facility upgrades? Contact us here at Formaspace and we can provide you with valuable insights and recommendations to get the most out of your research laboratory. Whether you need new workbenches, lab benches, wet labs or fume hood bases, we can create the perfect fit for your facility. Join us next week as we visit Modex 2014, the Supply Chain and Manufacturing exhibition in Atlanta.


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