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.
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.
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.