Category → alternative careers
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.”
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.
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 →
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!
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.
There are four different concentration areas of the fellowship:
- Health, Education, and Human Services
- Diplomacy, Security, and Development
- 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 →
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 →
Profile: Olen Stephens, Ph.D. chemist, chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer at the Food and Drug Administration.
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 →
As an individual currently employed in the private sector, I must admit to a wide breadth of ignorance regarding what employment opportunities may exist for a scientist within a Federal government agency.
It would I appear that my own personal lack of knowledge regarding government science positions is shared by many others, and this has not gone unnoticed by the very Federal agencies who are in need of top scientists to fill these roles.
Seeking to bring attention to the variety of science and technology (S&T) opportunities available, a pilot website, INSPIREST (careers.science.gov) has been created.
The website was developed through a collaboration of six Federal agencies—the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of State (DOS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—along with the Partnership for Public Service—and they would like your help in directing its mission to provide useful information to prospective employees at all stages of their careers.
INSPIREST was created in response to a perceived lack of general awareness and understanding of the opportunities in the Federal government for scientists and engineers, but this was not the only factor. Other challenges to nurturing a vital S&T workforce include: increased vacancies of key positions due to growing retirements within the “baby boomer” generation, and competition with the private sector for top talent.
The website’s creators also recognized that USAJOBS.gov—the primary avenue for applying to science and engineering positions for most Federal agencies—had a limited ability to communicate what jobs are available and what these jobs are really like.
I, for one, am grateful that a need was recognized to create a site like this. When I was going through my job search last year, government positions were definitely on my radar, and a few emerged from job search engine queries. I found that gathering information on and applying for these position were long, convoluted ordeals. INSPIREST seeks to demystify that process.
The INSPIREST website currently consists of three main sections. The Profiles section contains interviews with scientists, engineers, and technology specialists (actual people—including chemists and chemical engineers! Here, here and, yes, here) who currently have jobs “related to National priorities such as energy, discovery science, space exploration, national security, international diplomacy, and U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century,” according to the website.
The Resources section contains, not unexpectedly, resources. Okay, about what? Well, you can find information extolling the benefits of public service and the Federal employment experience. There is also key information and resources for finding Federal positions and applying for them.
There is also a section highlighting the six participating Federal agencies. Information is provided regarding the agencies’ respective missions, needs for a highly skilled S&T workforce, and direct links to current employment opportunities.
I mentioned that the creators of INSPIRESTwould like your help. To guide the development of the website, they are requesting your feedback through the completion of a brief survey.
This beta site and the opportunity to provide feedback on this pilot will only be available through February 15, 2012. Links to the survey are liberally distributed through all sections of the INSPIREST site, or you can follow this link.
I have taken the survey – it is simple, straightforward and doesn’t take much time to complete. I would urge others to do the same, whether one is considering government S&T positions or not.
This is a chance to influence the creation of what could become a valuable resource for job-seekers. I commend the site’s creators for the transparency of this effort, and hope it continues as the site grows. So, remember, please try to complete the survey by February 15th!
Stay tuned to Just Another Electron Pusher as well over the next few days, as Christine has two upcoming posts, each about individuals with chemistry backgrounds, and who are now in science roles within the Federal government.
If you haven’t seen it yet, like me, I know you’re dying to get your chance. I just found out my campus is screening it in February—I’m super psyched about this!
Well, did you know that one of the graduate students starring in the film is a chemist?*
That’s right. Meet Evans Boney. He’s a chemistry grad student at CalTech, where his research efforts focus on astrophysics, surface vibrational transfer, novel photovoltaic designs, evolutionary theory, and statistical econophysics.
But in his spare time, such as on weekends and in the wee hours of the night, Evans enjoys writing, acting and producing.
Film + science = dream job
After graduating from MIT (B.S. Chemistry and Physics, Math Minor, 2006), Evans’s long-term plan was to… well, he didn’t have one. That’s why he came to grad school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and it seemed like a conveniently long number of years to delay the decision,” he says.
In the past two years, Evans got into acting and film production with the help of his wife, Susanna Boney, who works in the film and television industry.
“My wife started working her way up the ladder in Hollywood… so I started looking on the other side of the fence at her workplace and the grass seemed a lot greener,” he says.
When he was finally honest with himself about his dream career, he realized he really wanted to be someone like Bill Nye the Science Guy: a writer, actor and producer of science-related content.
His biggest break has been with The PhD Movie, where he plays the part of Mike Slackenerny, a wizened nth year graduate student mentor to the Nameless protagonist. Continue reading →
For the past four years, I’ve kicked off the New Year knowing more or less what the next year was going to hold: I’ll be in the lab, working on my project, hoping for good data that will lead to papers that will lead me one step closer to graduation.
But this year is different. My defense date is almost scheduled in March (waiting for one last professor to confirm), and in May, I will walk across a stage and receive my Ph.D. diploma.
While this makes me extremely excited, it’s also bittersweet.
It’s exciting, well, because the end of grad school means the start of something new—finally!
But it’s also a tiny bit sad because, as much as I’ve complained about it, I’ve enjoyed being a grad student and have made some really great friends who I’m going to miss.
I know those who are in the thick of grad school will beg to differ, but it’s a pretty sweet deal, being paid to get a degree and all. I’ve learned a ton, and although day to day I haven’t noticed it, I’ve grown a lot in five years.
It can also be a bit frightening, if I let it be. When several years of your life are spent doing one thing, and one thing only (or mostly), it’s a little unsettling to not know what you’ll be doing in five months time. Continue reading →
Profile: Bethany Hausch, chemist, food scientist and technologist at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours
We are quickly approaching the holidays and it only seems appropriate that I blog about food, since it’s such a crucial component of the season.
More specifically, this blog post is about food science, and about how a good friend of mine, Bethany Hausch, took her chemistry skills into the world of flavor science. We met when Bethany was studying at the University of Illinois, and I’m so happy that I get to blog about her journey!
Bethany is a technologist at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours in Beloit, WI. She works in the Analytical Lab at Kerry where she uses various instrumentation to analyze flavors and study the composition of foods.
“Each day is different and depends on the tests requested from R&D scientists,” Bethany says. “Most days I work on three or four projects. This could include identifying the source of an off-flavor in rejected product or comparing the flavor of samples in a storage study. I might also spend part of my day determining the sugar profile of anything from coffee syrups to baby cereal.”
In undergrad, Bethany majored in chemistry (B.S., 2008), but when she looked at the traditional career options available to chemists, none seemed to be the right fit. Food science seemed to have more direct applications to everyday life, so she went on to earn her Master’s degree in Food Science & Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois in 2010 and immediately landed her job at Kerry.
What Bethany loves most about her job is the element of discovery and the fact that she’s learning new things all the time. Since the Analytical Lab provides support to all divisions of the company, Bethany learns about a lot of different types of foods and about the compounds that give them their flavor.
“I enjoy this field because I see the beauty of science while working on projects that are practical and have direct consumer applications,” she says. Continue reading →