ACS Webinars: The Road Less Traveled– Nontraditional Careers for PhD Chemists, Part Two

As promised, here’s Part Two of my recap of Steven Carlo’s presentation with ACS Webinars entitled, The Road Less Traveled—Alternative Careers for PhD Chemists. If you missed it, you can watch the video on the ACS Webinars YouTube channel or here.

To PhD or not to PhD?—that is the question. And it varies among the different nontraditional career options. Photo courtesy: flickr user dan & emily.

In the last post, I compiled a list of both traditional and nontraditional career options for chemists, some of which Steven highlighted during the webinar. For your convenience, I’ve linked back to previous profile posts where we highlighted a person with that career. Steven’s lecture was full of all kinds of career advice, ranging from how to prepare your resume to tips on networking. I’ve arranged his words of wisdom in a Q&A format and arranged the questions by topic: General advice for job applicants Q: The job market isn’t looking so hot. What advice do you have for job applicants to increase their chances of landing a job? A: Right now the odds are against you to find a job. So, be sure to take advantage of the resources at your disposal: talk to your adviser, people who work in career services on your campus, peruse the internet.  Some recommended websites for finding job postings: ACS Careers,,,,, Science. Education and Experience Q: Is a PhD required for all these jobs? A: It varies. If you are someone who is considering a nontraditional career for yourself, part of your research on careers should involve talking to people who work in the field to find out what types of educational background are common for people in those fields. Conversations with people in the field, known as informational interviews, are a crucial component of networking, which we all have heard over and over is such an important part of your career advancement. Q: Should I do a postdoc if I’m not sure what else to do? A: Doing a postdoc probably isn’t necessary or helpful unless you’re serious about academia—then it’s essential that you find a postdoc adviser who will help train you and prepare you for an independent research career. Lots of publications and a big-name postdoc adviser is always good is you’re shooting for academia. Q: How can people who are thinking about non-traditional careers and have little to no experience in those areas compete with those who do have experience in those fields? A: If you lack formal educational training, go take a course at a community college, or find some other ways to get skills of experiences that will make you more qualified for the job. Consider if there are any skills that are transferrable from one field to another. You just need "some kind of hook that can get you in," Steven said. If you're a researcher wanting to get into, say, editing, you will have to justify it in your cover letter: “I’m interested in this type of career because…”  Networking Q: Can you give me some practical advice on how to network effectively? A: It’s important to network: Use LinkedIn to keep track of people, schmooze at conferences, use Glass Door to review companies. When applying for a job, look for people who work for that company that you’re connected to, and see if they can connect you with someone who can help you find a job. Also check out two of my previous posts on networking.

It's important to master the art of negotiating job offers-- unlike this guy. Image credit: "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham,

Applications, interviews and offers Q: What advice do you have for preparing resumes? A: When writing your resume, consider the questions: Why you want the job, why should I believe you can do the job, and what have you achieved that qualifies you for the job? Also, quantify your contributions and be specific; use multiple words for the same thing to make sure your resume gets pulled up in key word searchers. For more information, check out the ACS Webinar entitled "Resume Writing for Scientists." Here I would also add: You need to sell yourself for the position you’re applying for. I’ve been told that if I want to land a science writing job, I need to put my science writing experiences up top and bury the details of my graduate research at the bottom somewhere. My resume needs to say “I’m a science writer” and not “I’m a grad student and I dabble in science writing here and there." At least that’s what I’ve been told! Q: What about government job applications—I heard they’re a completely different beast than standard job applications? A: That’s true—government job applications are on the order of 14 pages long and include information that goes back to high school… yipes! Check out this article from that's all about how to find a federal government job.

Life can take you places you never expected. Steven Carlo's advice is: Never say never. Photo credit: flickr user Amal ALMurfadi I أمل المرفدي.

Q: Many companies use recruiters to find job candidates-- any advice for how to work with them? A: Check out an ACS Webinar from earlier this year entitled "Successfully Working with Recruiters – Do’s and Don’ts." Q: How can I prepare myself for an interview? A: Research the companies you’re applying to: know their mission statement and prepare questions you have for them about the company. Send thank you notes for interviews. Also, check out this ACS Webinar entitled "Sharpening Your Interview Skills." I would also add: Do mock interviews and practice answering all those silly questions like “What’s your greatest weakness?” and “Tell me about a time you demonstrated X (leadership skills, problem solving, time management, etc).” Check out for a list of 100 potential job interview questions. Q: Any advice for how to handle job offers? A: Get them in writing, and compare your offer to others to see if it’s competitive (check out the ACS Salary Guide for help). Prepare to negotiate. Prepare to walk away, if necessary. Here's an article from with 32 tips for negotiating job offers. Closing Remarks To close, Steven reflected on his career path, which was full of twists and unexpected turns. “Life is a journey, not an event,” Steven said. “Never say never. I always say I never thought I’d want to leave the bench, but I left it and I’m happy.”

Author: Christine Herman

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