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In transition again, but in the best possible way

Well, it actually happened, and I can’t believe my good fortune.

I have a job! And not just any job, but one in medicinal chemistry, in a similar role to the one I had before my, um, involuntary hiatus.

Vegas, baby! No, wait, that's wrong. Baltimore, baby! Photo credit: flickr user Union-Square

I’ve recently begun work at my new position. I’m now a Senior Research Chemist at The Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, adjacent to Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine. I’m very excited, and couldn’t be happier.

Yes, I know, there’s nothing about this job that’s “nontraditional” at all for a chemist. It is a big change going from industry—Big Pharma, no less—to what is primarily an academic setting.

It is, of course, an even more drastic change moving from the ranks of the unemployed to the un-unemployed.

The only downside, if there is any, about my new job is the commute. Comparatively, though, it is a very minor inconvenience—I mean, I get to go home every night and be with my family. Many of my former colleagues, although employed, are not so fortunate in that regard.

To say that I’m extremely lucky is a huge understatement, particularly in this economy. As many of you know all too well, chemistry jobs are few and far between these days. I fully expected to move to a career outside the lab, if not outside chemistry altogether. I had worked on professional development activities, such as project management training, to prepare myself for such a move.

Being able to blog about what I’ve been going through has been very therapeutic, no question. It’s forced me to work through my feelings about becoming unemployed in a supportive (and very public) environment. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to contribute this blog, and hope to continue doing so as long as the opportunity remains.

While I’m ecstatic about this turn of events, I also feel something bordering on survivor guilt.

It’s not that I feel undeserving—I am good at what I do. But many, many other people are, too. The fact that so many good chemists have had to leave the discipline hurts science as a whole.

To my former colleagues and other fellow chemists still trying to find a job—although I know all too well how difficult things are, try not to despair. There are positions out there—there’s just an insane amount of competition for each one.

I realize this is probably cold comfort to many of you who have been out of work far longer than I had been.

What can I offer in the way of advice? Looking back, I cannot understate the value of networking to help secure a position. Yes, this was a publicly posted position, but networking was instrumental in helping everything all come together.

As chemists, we often become immersed in our work, and as a result, our world becomes somewhat insular. Take some risk, and put yourself out there.

Networking is not as mysterious as some job search gurus would like to have you think. It’s simply talking, and more importantly, listening to people. Anyone you talk to, and I do mean anyone, has the potential of being only one or two degrees of separation away from a hiring manager. Even when not looking for a new position, it’s an opportunity to be a spokesperson for chemistry in general.

Hey, don't we all? Photo credit: flickr user hanjabanja

It also helps to find some way to accept the fact that your employer decided to let you go, whether it was a downsizing or a site closure. Move on, and don’t look back. Yes, you and your former colleagues were like family. You can, and should, still keep in touch and stay connected.

But you need to cut the tether to your former employer. If your drank heavily from the corporate kool-aid, purge yourself in some fashion—and realize that science is a separate entity.

It was a love of science that brought us all to where we now find ourselves, right? It wasn’t devotion to a corporation.

So, what can I do to earn what I now have?

I think it’s pretty simple, really. I will make a promise.

I pledge to not take this lightly in any way. Since chemistry positions are so scarce, I feel duty-bound to do my absolute best, do good science, keep learning, and enjoy every minute of it.

I would hope that all other chemists who currently find themselves employed feel a similar obligation.

10 Comments

  • Jun 17th 201108:06
    by Rachel Pepling

    Congratulations, Glen! I’ve no doubt you’ll live up to your promise.

  • Jun 17th 201109:06
    by Curious Wavefunction

    Congratulations and good luck! You are absolutely right that networking is crucial. It’s also about being able to find the right fit. I just got an industrial job last month and there was no networking involved. I applied online and within 10 days I had an offer. Why? Only because the requirements for the job were an almost perfect fit to my background.

  • Jun 17th 201111:06
    by Jyllian Kemsley

    Congratulations!

  • Jun 17th 201112:06
    by robin

    Congratulations!

  • Jun 17th 201116:06
    by Lauren Wolf

    Congrats, Glen!!

  • Jun 17th 201117:06
    by Chemjobber

    Congrats, Glen!

  • Jun 18th 201109:06
    by G0OS3

    Congrats, Glen!

  • Jun 20th 201116:06
    by Linda Wang

    Glen, that is fantastic, well-deserved. Networking is a great way to stay connected, but it’s also important to continue to stay active to keep your skills sharp, whether it’s blogging, doing some consulting, or volunteering ion your community. For more on this topic, see http://pubs.acs.org/isubscribe/journals/cen/89/i16/html/8916employment.html

  • Jun 20th 201121:06
    by David Kroll

    Glen, this is absolutely fantastic news! Congratulations!

    But, yes, I certainly know a bit of what you mean by survivor guilt. I recall feeling this at the other end of my career when I luckily got a tenure-track faculty position while several friends who had done longer postdocs had not. I attribute a lot of that “luck” with networking and keeping my options as open as possible.

    I pledge to not take this lightly in any way. Since chemistry positions are so scarce, I feel duty-bound to do my absolute best, do good science, keep learning, and enjoy every minute of it.

    You’re a good man. I’m sure you will. And I hope you keep writing about it.

  • Jun 28th 201108:06
    by Glen Ernst

    Thanks, everyone, for all the kind words and support!

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