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Cheering for Science—A Chemist (and former professional cheerleader) in Medical Sales

It’s not every day you meet a chemist who works in surgical sales and used to be a professional cheerleader. But that’s what Allison Grosso is.

Allison received a double major in biology and chemistry from North Carolina State University, where she was also a cheerleader. After college, she worked for four years as a biology researcher at Merck, and also cheered for the Philadelphia Eagles for four years, serving as captain for two years.

Allison eventually realized that she wanted a job with more interaction with people. She transferred into a sales rep position at Merck, where she learned the ins and outs of the business of pharmaceutical sales.

After a few years, Allison says she felt she “needed a bit more of a challenge.” So she applied for a competitive position in surgical sales and landed the job. Now she is a Territory Manager for a surgical device company, which she finds both challenging and satisfying.

“I work with surgeons in the operating room, and my knowledge of our technology, anatomy and specific disease states is essential to my success,” Allison says.

A typical day for Allison starts at 7:30 am in any one of the many hospitals she covers in eastern Pennsylvania. Her job is to be present while the surgical procedure is taking place to ensure the equipment is functioning correctly.

After a few surgeries, Allison takes care of office calls and spends time talking to doctors and operating staff, informing them about new products and training them to use surgical equipment.

The best part of the job for Allison is working with surgeons and operating room staff.

“I sell a great product that is loved by so many people, and it is so wonderful to hear the success stories from them about how great the patients are doing after the operation,” Allison says.

“The most challenging part of the job is trying to convince some surgeons to try something new,” Allison says. “It is my job to simply get them to try it, and let the success of the product speak for itself.”

Allison says having a background in chemistry and biology has helped her immensely with her current job. She feels confident in being able to understand exactly how the company’s products work and compare to their competition’s products.

In her spare time, Allison is part of a science outreach organization—Science Cheerleaders—comprised of current and former professional cheerleaders who are also scientists.

In addition to performances, such as (posted above) at the 2010 Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C., the cheerleading scientists also visit schools and do science experiments with kids—all while dressed in their cheerleading garb.

Through her involvement with Science Cheerleaders, Allison hopes to encourage kids to pursue their dreams and do what they love—even if it’s outside of the box.

“I know a lot of people think you can’t do both [cheerleading and science], but I want to help spread the word that you can!” Allison says.

“To most people, science and cheerleading seem like two totally different worlds,” Allison says. But she says she never felt like she had to choose between the two. And she hopes to be a role model for young girls and women who may think that you can’t be a scientist if you’re into cheerleading and dance, or vice versa.

To people out there who are interested in a career in medical sales, Allison says that it’s definitely helpful to have a science background but also demonstrate that you understand the business side of the job.

Once you’re on the job, you have to always be learning as much as you can, “about not only your product, but every other competitive product out there,” Allison says. You also need to stay current on the research related to the diseases and surgical procedures that your products are used for, and be an excellent communicator.

Out of curiosity, I asked Allison if she has ever encountered hostility or stereotyping resulting from being a cheerleader in a scientific field.

Sometimes when people have found out she is a cheerleader before they got to work with her, “I could tell they assumed I had no idea what I was doing,” Allison says. In these situations, Allison has tried to focus on her job and keep the conversation at a professional level.

“Once I convinced them I wasn’t just a dumb cheerleader, and I truly knew my products, then I would let them ask questions about cheering,” Allison explains. “It can be somewhat exhilarating to see a person change their impression of you right before your eyes.”

Is Grad School Really a Stupid, Stupid Decision?

This book seemed like a good read. Turns out, it wasn’t. Credit: amazon.com

Hello JAEP readers! I have to apologize for things being pretty quiet around here recently. I, and my co-pusher Glen, will be picking up the pace again with electron pusher goodness in the weeks to come.

But to start, I wanted to let you all know about a book I recently finished. The title caught my eye, so I had to check it out:

Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to go to Grad School, by Adam Ruben (PhD!).

In a nutshell, this book is not worth your time. If you want to know more, keep reading!

I can summarize each chapter in a single sentence and spare you from having to read the entire book yourself.

Chapter One walks the reader through the decision process: Do you want to ruin your life? If so, go to grad school.

Chapter Two explains how to choose the right grad program. There are tradeoffs based on geographic location, cost of living, academic rank, but no matter what you choose it will be a bad decision.

Chapter Three is all about grad student life: You will live in squalor with no time to sleep or tend to personal hygiene, and will need to depend on the free seminar donuts for daily sustenance.

Chapter Four gives you awful advice on how to fudge your way through your research: Tips for choosing an adviser, writing grants, and how to cherry-pick your data to look more impressive than it actually is. Continue reading →

Highlights from Pittcon 2012 Chemistry Careers Networking Session, Part II

As promised, here’s the second blog post with more of the highlights from the Pittcon 2012 networking session I organized titled Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench. Part I can be found here.

After panelist introductions, we dove straight into the Q&A portion. Panelists were seated at the front of the room, and the rest of the attendees took seats around the room, which was organized in a U-shape to help facilitate conversation.

Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

Q: Did you choose a nontraditional career from the get-go, or did you end up in one by default (i.e., lost your job, etc.)?

A: Joanne Thomson looked for jobs outside of pharma for more stability, and found the Royal Society of Chemistry graduate development programme that helped her see what day-to-day life in the publishing world is like and that led to her current job as Deputy Editor.

Richard Skubish left the bench because he didn’t love the job anymore, and discovered the world of sales and marketing, where he is happy to still be a part of advancing science without being the one doing the science.

Celia Arnaud said she always thought she’d like to write for C&EN, but still tried the grad school research thing only to find out she didn’t like it. “I knew I was in it for the long haul [as a science writer] because I wasn’t bored out of my mind by the end of the first year,” she explained.

To be competitive for jobs, it helps to demonstrate a unique skill set that sets you apart from the crowd. Photo credit: flickr user TheColorBee.

Q: Any advice for international students who are interested in nontraditional chemistry careers?

A: Joseph Jolson, who owns his own consulting business, Custom Client Solutions, tackled this question. Many international students have circumstances that work against them when it comes to landing a job (i.e. language difficulties, different social expectations, visa problems). To get around these problems his advice is: “Come up with skills sets that will create a demand for you.” In other words, international students will need to make themselves stand out from other job candidates.

Richard added on to Joseph’s answer by saying that many companies have gone global, and having foreign language skills can make job candidates more marketable to these companies.

Q: What kind of work-life balance does your job allow you?

A: Merlin and Joanne, who both work for the Royal Society of Chemistry, said the RSC requirement is 35 hours/week, although occasionally extra hours are required to get everything done.

Celia said she works from 7 am to 4 pm, if all goes well. But her days can go much longer than that especially when she has multiple deadlines for assignments.

Richard, who has three kids, said he has had to force himself to make some non-negotiable rules about the line between his work life and home life to make that he stays involved in his kids’ lives. He said it was easy at first but then got harder as additional responsibilities got added onto his plate. But he says you have to be careful about how you got about doing this because a good work-life balance “is respected in some circles, but not in others.”

Joseph said one of the best and worst things about his job is that he can work anytime and from anywhere in the world. This is fantastic because of the flexibility, but it can also make it difficult to turn off when the work day is over. Continue reading →

Electron Pusher, PhD: Reflections on the Final Defense

The final defense is the last hoop you have to jump through in grad school! Photo credit: flick user Palma Co Test.

It is finished. My final defense was last Wednesday—and I passed!

This is a milestone, and milestones are to be blogged about, right? The thing is, I don’t know exactly what I have to say about it. Perhaps it just hasn’t been long enough for it to sink in yet.

It’s interesting, this whole final defense thing. For years, you’re going, going, jumping through each hoop that’s presented along the way. From the very start, you’re anticipating the end, which will one day come. You survive classes, give numerous presentations, pass your prelim. Years pass by, then the long-awaited final defense comes… and goes.

And then… you’re done.

Done? Huh… Okay, awesome, I’m done! That’s it, I guess… I have a Ph.D.

Meanwhile, you proceed to announce on facebook that you passed your final defense and everyone can call you doctor now. Friends and family shower you with congratulatory remarks. It’s wonderful.

But somehow it still hasn’t quite hit that I really do have a Ph.D. For real. I guess I thought I would feel a greater sense of relief and finality. Of course, I’m happy. But it’s a bit anti-climactic when all is said and done.

Overall, I’ve had a wonderful time in grad school. Perhaps this is easy to say now that it’s all over. But really… I’ve lucked out. Sure, I’ve worked hard, but anyone who’s gone through grad school knows that there are a number of factors that are just outside of your control. Many of those things fell into place really nicely for me. I’m really thankful for that. Continue reading →

Highlights from Pittcon 2012 Chemistry Careers Networking Session, Part I

As promised, here’s a blog post with some of the highlights from the Pittcon 2012 networking session I organized! More to come later this week.

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of organizing a networking session at Pittcon titled “Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench.”

The room filled up with 29 people, including five panel members who came to share about their nontraditional career experiences.

We started off with a short ice breaker activity that helped everyone get a better idea of who else was in the room, and to introduce themselves to each other.

We found out that about half of the attendees were still in school, and the majority of those in school were undergraduates. This made me happy, because I feel like especially as an undergrad I had very little idea what I could do with a chemistry degree besides teach or do bench work. This fact about my past is what motivates me to blog about nontraditional careers today for JAEP today!

The majority of all attendees were primarily interested in pursuing traditional chemistry careers, but said they came out to learn more about what other options are out there. Given the shaky job climate, it never hurts to know what else you can do with a chemistry degree, one attendee said.

I wanted to also get a sense about how people in the room felt about the job market for chemists? Were they optimistic? Or not so much?

Well, it turns out the room was pretty much split three ways: optimistic, not sure, and not optimistic. Those who were not optimistic said it’s because they know too many chemists that have been laid off or are unable to find a job. On the optimistic side, several attendees felt confident they’d receive a job out of school since they’ve seen many of their peers get “plucked out of the lab” to work for companies in the area.

The last question I asked for the ice breaker was: Do you typically enjoy or dread formal networking session? I asked this because I know sometimes networking gets a bad rap, since it’s often described as being so important to landing a job, but people often feel uncertain about how to actually do it.

The room was pretty much split three ways again. Those who said they enjoyed networking sessions said it’s because they like getting to meet new people. One brave person from the “dread networking” side of the fence explained that for her, networking is scary because you never know how someone will receive you when you approach them to make an introduction. I can totally see why networking would be scary for that reason, especially if you are not naturally a social butterfly/extrovert type!

Each of the panelists introduced themselves and talked a little bit about who they are, what they do, and how they got to where they are today. Here’s a bit of information about each of the lovely panelists:

  • Joseph Jolson, consultant and owner of Custom Client Solutions.
    • Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, State University of New York at Buffalo.
    • B.S. in Chemistry, Brooklyn College.
    • Hobbies: baking, gardening, home restoration, financial management.
    • “I love the flexibility & portability that my job provides.”
  • Merlin Fox, Books Commissioning Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry.
    • Biology (B.Sc.), applied environmental science (M.Sc.), and agricultural sciences (Ph.D.).
    • Graduate and postdoc research focused on Environmental/Analytical Chemistry and Biogeochemistry.
    • Hobbies: conservation, gardening, photography, woodwork, cycling.
    • “I love learning about new science everyday, seeing one of ‘my’ books in a store or library.”
  • Joanne Thomson, Deputy Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry.
    • Masters degree in Chemistry, University of Edinburgh.
    • Hobbies: running, karate, cooking.
    • “I love that I get to interact with world-leading scientists and keep up-to-date with the latest ‘hot’ science.”
  • Celia Arnaud, Senior Editor, Chemical & Engineering News.
    • Ph.D. course work in Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
    • B.S. degree in Chemistry and a B.A. degree in English and Economics, University of Richmond.
    • Hobbies: choir, theater, reading.
    • “I love that I get to learn new things by talking to scientists about the cool research they do.”
  • Richard Skubish, Sales Development Manager, Sigma-Aldrich.
    • B.S., Chemistry, Trinity College.
    • Hobbies: father of 3, weekend-warrior home remodeler, very bad golfer.
    • “I love the fact that, although I do not do science on a daily basis, my science training and experience is still useful every single day… I still feel like I’m assisting advancement by supplying researchers with the tools that they need.”

Keep your eyes peeled in the next few days for Part II of the highlights from the session!

Networking in the hot tub

Here at JAEP, we regularly harp on the importance of networking. We’ve previously blogged about it here, here and here.

A hot tub is the place to go to relax, unwind, and… network? Photo credit: flick user artesianspas.

But it can start to sound very theoretical when you only hear about tips, techniques and advice on how to network, but don’t get a glimpse at what a real networking interaction looks like.

So, I’m here today to tell you a little story about a neat networking opportunity I had in a place you might least expect— a hot tub!

The story

My labmates and I (six of us total who were attending Pittcon in Orlando, FL) spent the week in a 3-bedroom condo at a resort near the convention center.

After a long day of attending meetings, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with information. My labmates twisted my arm and convinced me to take a walk down to the pool and relax and unwind in the hot tub.

Okay, that’s a slight twist of the truth. In reality, the pool was calling out to me and I had to go.

Ahhhh, I can still recall the wonderful carefree feeling that came over me as I slipped into complete and utter relaxation mode…

But it apparently was difficult for me to turn off my networking impulses that were firing all day long at Pittcon. Yaknow, that feeling that I should introduce myself to the people around me, ask about what they do and tell them a little bit about myself.

Networking, specifically, wasn’t on my mind when I said hello to a man in the hot tub, as I stepped in and fully immersed myself in the hot, bubbly waters. I was just being cordial.

The next thing I know, we’re in an in-depth discussion about all kinds of neat things—starting off with our careers. It turns out he’s a consultant and was attending Pittcon to teach a short course and also connect with several of his clients at the Exposition.

If you plan on doing a lot of networking in pools and hot tubs, you may want to invest in some plastic business cards like these. Photo credit: flickr user Pinkard Shop.

Then the conversation turned to me and my interests. I told him I’m a graduate student and a science writer, and that I plan on completely switching gears into science writing after I graduate this May.

The cool part

Little did I know that this consultant happened to have a client who was in need of some technical writing assistance. He invited me to come by their booth at the Expo the next morning so that he could introduce me to the owners of the company and talk about the assignment.

I showed up, not knowing much about the company, and about 20 minutes later, I was signed up to write a document that highlights the features and benefits of their software.

I have my first freelance technical writing assignment lined up now—all thanks to a casual hot tub conversation.

Sweet deal!

Still to come—highlights from Pittcon 2012 networking session

If you’re a regular JAEP reader, you may know that I organized a networking session at Pittcon called “Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench.” As promised, I’ll be writing about some the highlights from that session soon—so stay tuned!

 

Pittcon 2012 Networking Session: Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench

Attention Pittcon attendees– Here’s a shameless plug for a networking session that I’m organizing.

Come one, come all to the networking session titled “Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench,” featuring a panel of chemists with nontraditional careers.

When: 1:30-3:30 pm on Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Where: Room 311H, Orange County Convention Center

Who will be on the panel?

All of the panelists have degrees in chemistry, and some of them worked for several years in research positions before transitioning into their current jobs.

What’s on the agenda?

This won’t be just another boring meeting. I’m hoping to get people out of their seats and moving around the room, where they will get to meet each of the panelists, as well as all the other attendees who are curious about nontraditional career options for chemists.

Once we’ve all gotten to meet each other, we will transition to the Q&A portion of the session. The panelists will introduce themselves and talk about how they got to where they are today. They will also offer advice and will field questions from the audience, such as:

  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • Why did you decide to leave the bench? Why not academia or industry?
  • What do you love about your job? What aspects could you do without?
  • What advice do you have for chemists out there aspiring to similar careers?
  • How hard is it to break into your field? Is there room for growth?
So if you’ll be at Pittcon, I hope you’ll consider attending the networking session and I look forward to meeting you! And if you won’t be attending Pittcon, no worries– I’m planning on blogging about some of the highlights from the session, so stay tuned for that!

A chemist at the intersection of science and policy

Profile: Stefanie Bumpus (Ph.D., 2010), AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow

Today I’d like to introduce you to a Ph.D. chemist who is currently a Science & Technology (S&T) Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—Stefanie Bumpus.

Stefanie has been working for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as an S&T Fellow since September 2010.

Day to day, Stefanie’s work varies considerably—it all depends on what assignment she has at the time.

Some days she is working on building good working relationships with U.S. Government and international partners and collaborators. “This includes things such as conducting meetings to discuss planned or ongoing projects, or working to develop strategic documents for the program,” Stefanie says.

Stefanie Bumpus: Ph.D. chemist and AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. Courtesy photo.

There are four different concentration areas of the fellowship:

  1. Congressional
  2. Health, Education, and Human Services
  3. Diplomacy, Security, and Development
  4. Energy, Environment, and Agriculture.

As an S&T policy fellow on the Diplomacy, Security, and Development track at the DoD, Stefanie supports the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs (NCB).

Within the NCB, Stefanie is currently doing a rotation in the Office of Threat Reduction and Arms Control (TRAC). As a part of this rotation, she supports a program that “works to ensure international partner governments have the capacity to detect, report, and respond to biological incidents as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Stefanie says.

At the TRAC office, one of Stefanie’s roles is to work with the partner governments to “ensure laboratories and other facilities maintain the highest sustainable levels of biosafety and biosecurity,” she explains.

One of Stefanie’s favorite parts of her job thus far is being able to travel the world. Continue reading →

Opportunities for chemists in science policy

A science policy fellowship might be the first step to making the move from the bench toward Capitol Hill. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons User Elliot P.

Here at JAEP we’ve been on the topic of government jobs for chemists.

Glen wrote a post about a website, INSPIRE, that is full of information about government jobs for scientists. It is being piloted for a short time, so if you haven’t yet, check it out here and take the survey to help them improve the site. And earlier this week, I introduced you to Olen Stephens, a Ph.D. chemist who works for the FDA in regulatory affairs.

Today, we will segue a bit and discuss the field of science policy.

What is science policy?

Science policy is a field that is difficult to define because it encompasses lots of different types of work at the intersection of science and public policy. I’ll use an excerpt from an article I found by Geoffrey Hunt to break the common misconceptions about science policy:

Most people assume policymakers spend all of their time furtively hammering out laws in back rooms. In reality, those working in science policy have the opposite job: They take what is happening on the bench and bring it to the light of day… Science policy experts …[use] their talents to find ways to translate esoteric, often highly technical scientific issues into something that can be sold as good policy.”

For more information on science policy careers, check out the following Science Careers articles: Continue reading →

Ensuring drug safety: A chemist in regulatory affairs

Profile: Olen Stephens, Ph.D. chemist, chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer at the Food and Drug Administration.

Olen Stephens (center), with his two sons, Sean (left) and Coby (right). Courtesy photo.

A few weeks back, Glen wrote a post about a website, INSPIRE, which is chock-full of information about government jobs for scientists. If you haven’t yet, check it out here. There’s still time to take the survey that will help them improve their site.

As promised, here is the first of two profile posts about chemists currently working for the federal government. Today I’d like you to meet Olen Stephens, a Ph.D. chemist who works in regulatory affairs.

From academia into government

Olen Stephens always thought he wanted to be a college professor, but after giving it a try, he realized it wasn’t the job for him.

Now he works in regulatory affairs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and says he loves his job and the work-life balance it allows him.

I should also mention that Olen and I share a family connection. He’s my mother-in-law’s sister’s son, a.k.a. my husband’s cousin!

Olen was a double major in chemistry and biology at Earlham College and went on to get a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from the University of Utah (2004). After a postdoc in biophysical chemistry at Yale University, he landed a tenure-track professorship position at his alma mater, Earlham College.

As a chemistry professor, Olen taught organic chemistry, biochemistry and general chemistry. But the job was “not a good fit on either side,” he says.

“Teaching wasn’t what I thought it was,” Olen says. The combination of teaching, grant writing, and conducting research left little time to spend with his wife and newborn son.

At the same time, Olen says he wasn’t interested in working in industry either.

In his first year teaching at Earlham, Olen met another Earlham alumnus who worked at the FDA.  Later, when Olen was looking for a career change, she told him about a position they were looking to fill. Five months later, Olen had landed the job and his family moved to the Washington, D.C. area, and the rest is history.

Regulatory affairs– What’s that all about?

Olen has been working as a chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer since 2008 and finds his career both challenging and rewarding.

At the FDA, Olen works as part of a team to review drug applications and identify safety issues that need to be addressed before drugs can be administered to humans. Continue reading →