Chemists in Career Services
Sep26

Chemists in Career Services

Profile: Alexis Thompson, Ph.D. (Chemistry, 2007), Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Illinois   When Alexis Thompson was in grad school studying physical chemistry, she discovered that her passion was helping other people discover their passions. After she got her Ph.D., she landed her first job as a career adviser– more specifically, as the assistant director of career services in the Graduate College at the University of Illinois. As a career adviser, Alexis spent her time meeting with students to answer questions, help them prepare job applications and perform mock interviews. She also created and hosted professional development programs that addressed students’ needs. Side note: What’s cool is I actually met Alexis in the first year of my Ph.D. program, right around when she was wrapping up her degree. In my first year, I attended one of her career workshops and got to hear about her nontraditional career path. I’m pretty sure this is what first got me thinking about how a Ph.D. qualifies you for more than just academia or industry. Not surprisingly, most university career advisers don’t have doctorates in chemistry. Many come from a background in education or counseling. But Alexis’s background in science makes her uniquely suited for her current position. If you’ve been through grad school, you have tasted and seen the academic world from the inside and can relate to the struggles that science students are going through, in a way that non-science people can’t.­ And though it’s not always apparent, many of the skills you acquire through toiling in the lab and facing research ups and downs—well, they can carry over into your seemingly unrelated career. Alexis can certainly attest to the power of transferable skills. She had quite a learning curve when she started her first job in career services. But she felt confident diving into an entirely new field, thanks to her Ph.D. training. So, how exactly did Alexis take her chemistry Ph.D. and break into career services? Well, without realizing it, several experiences during grad school helped prepare her to make a case for why she was the ideal candidate for the job. Alexis held leadership positions for the chemistry grad student advisory committee and assisted with the planning of session on work/life balance at an ACS national meeting. She also had gotten acquainted with the university’s Graduate College by going there for their services and also serving on a student advisory committee. Those leadership and volunteer experiences made Alexis realize that while she enjoyed research, her real passion was working with people and planning events. Also, as she was seeking out career options for herself, she talked...

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ACS Webinars: Academic Jobs Outlook
Sep09

ACS Webinars: Academic Jobs Outlook

You may be wondering why I’m blogging about academic careers on a blog which is supposed to be all about nontraditional careers for chemists. Well, I attended the ACS Webinar titled “Academic Jobs Outlook” that was videostreamed live from the ACS National Meeting in Denver last week. If you missed it, you can still sign up and view it here. While watching, it dawned on me that many chemists get turned off from academia because they realize that they wouldn’t want their PI’s job. But there’s more to academia than R1, and that’s what I hope to highlight in this post. The webinar hosted a panel of three faculty members who shared about their experiences at three different types of academic institutions: an R1 institution, a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) and a community college. Meet the members of the panel (modified from the ACS Webinars website): Here is a table that summarizes the topics that were discussed by the panelists, highlighting the differences between the three types of academic positions. Note: The panelists spoke from their individual experiences, so it may differ from school to school— I suggest you talk to faculty members who work at the university or college you’re interested in applying to, in order to get a clearer idea of what it would be like to work at that school. Breaking it down If you love teaching undergrads but could do without writing grants and managing a lab, you’re probably most cut out for a faculty position at a community college. If you like the balance of teaching undergrads and research/managing a lab, a professorship position at a primarily undergraduate institution may be a good fit. If you are really passionate about research, and you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) writing grant proposals, and could see yourself managing a lab with grad students and postdocs, and also do some teaching at various levels, then the professorship path at an R1 university would be a good choice. The question of work-life balance During the Q&A portion of the webcast, I took advantage of the “submit a question online” function and asked if the panelists could talk about work-life balance. My question was selected! I got really excited in a nerdy kinda way. Anyways, their answers weren’t surprising, and were pretty consistent with what I’ve heard from other professors. The pre-tenure years are busy because of all the expectations and pressures to build your tenure portfolio (different components depending on the institution). You should expect to work long days and weekends during the academic year. During the summer months, you may get to have a more 8-to-5...

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Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011
Aug29

Upcoming ACS Webinars: Virtual Career Fair 2011

Hi everyone! Just wanted to draw your attention to several opportunities for learning more about chemistry careers and the job market. As you all know, the ACS National Meeting in Denver, CO kicked off yesterday. Check out these awesome C&EN Picks videos for a sneak peak at what’s going on at the meeting this week. Thanks to the wonderful interwebs and ACS Webinars, those of us who are not in attendance at the ACS meeting can still tap into some of the awesome career information, as if we were right there. All you have to do is sign up and then log in for the live webcast and watch the seminar in the comfort of your own home (or office, lab, or wherever you will be at the time). For some of the sessions, you can even have your questions answered by the speakers themselves by submitting them online during the live Q&A. Here’s a list of the webinars: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 – Live video streaming from Denver, Colorado Convention Center Navigating the Global Industrial Job Market 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Richard Connell (Pfizer, Inc.), Scott Harbeson (Concert Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), Jos Put (DSM), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs 11:00 AM – 12:00 N (Mountain Standard Time) Keynote speakers George Whitesides (Harvard University) and Joseph Francisco (Purdue University), and moderator,  Madeleine Jacobs (American Chemical Society) Academic Jobs Outlook 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Christine Gaudinski (Aims Community College), Laurel Goj (Rollins College) and Jason Ritchie (University of Mississippi), and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Networking 101 — Making Your Contacts Count 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Located in the ACS Village in the ACS Exposition Hall with speaker, Bonnie Coffey (Contacts Count) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) Wednesday, August 31, 2011 – Webinars Only Working in the USA — Immigration Update 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Navid Dayzad, Esq. (Dayzad Law Offices, PC) and Kelly McCown (McCown & Evans LLP) and moderator,  David Harwell (American Chemical Society) From Scientist to CEO 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Keynote speaker, Randall Dearth (Lanxess Corporation) and moderator David Harwell (American Chemical Society) What Recruiters Are Looking For — Making the ‘A’ List 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Mountain Standard Time) Meredith Dow (PROVEN, Inc.), Alveda Williams (The Dow Chemical Company), Jodi Hutchinson (Dow Corning Corporation),  and moderator, David Harwell (American Chemical Society) A blurb about ACS Webinars: ACS Webinars™ is a free, weekly online event serving to connect ACS members and scientific professionals with subject matter experts and global thought leaders in chemical sciences, management, and business. The ACS Webinars are divided into several series...

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Take what you can from where you are
Jul26

Take what you can from where you are

I’m back in the lab! I just got back from a 3-month science writing internship and am back to my research gig as a fifth-year chemistry graduate student (yikes!). It actually feels good to be back. Don’t get me wrong: I loved my internship. It was a fantastic experience and I learned a ton. And I’m still looking forward to moving onto a career that doesn’t involve working at the bench. But I’m excited about finishing what I started here in grad school, and finishing strong. A much-needed break The internship came at a really good time. Earlier this year I felt I was on the verge of burning out. My relationship with my research project was feeling pretty strained. The internship provided a much-needed break from research, while giving me some really valuable training for my future career. Having some time away from research helped me step back and breathe a little. Now I feel refreshed and ready to push through the last leg of my graduate training before moving on to becoming a full-fledged science writer. While I was away from the lab, I even worked a bit on my dissertation, which I’m really proud of myself for. Looking at a document with more than 90 pages of text and figures assures me that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer! A new attitude As I look ahead to what will hopefully be my last year in grad school, I’m realizing that I could really use an attitude adjustment. Formerly, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much longer I would have to endure being dissatisfied with my job. And that made every day feel like drudgery. This sentiment led me to go on several rants in the past few months all centered around the idea that people should never feel like they need to settle for a job they don’t love. While I still am on-par with this line of thinking, I’m becoming more aware that there is another side to that coin: There is something that can be taken away from every experience you have, even (and perhaps especially) the most challenging and difficult ones. That’s the attitude I’ve decided to hold onto as I brace myself for another year of research. It’s been about a week, and so far, so good. To give myself little reminders of my new approach to grad school, I’ve put post-its around my desk. One of them reads, Make the most of every opportunity. I’ve also taped up a Dove chocolate wrapper, you know, the ones with those cutesy messages on the inside. It reads: Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. I resolve to make the most...

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Jump in and discover what you love
Jul20

Jump in and discover what you love

A few close friends expressed their concerns to me after reading my post about finding your dream job. They said it’s easy to figure out what you want to do when you know who you are. But many people feel stuck trying to figure out who they are. I totally agree. Choosing a career has many parallels to romantic relationship— it helps to know who you are and what you’re looking for in a partner. It’s okay to not know yet. It takes time and life experience to discover what you love. But there are practical steps to take to help you along on the road to discovering what you were made for. Mostly, you’ve got to just jump in and start trying different things. I love how Stephanie Chasteen, also known as sciencegeekgirl on her blog, describes how she “felt” her way into her alternative science career: I tell this to all people who ask me about my career, which defines the word “alternative.” “I’m like bacteria,” I tell them. Bacteria… do not “know” that the hot spot or acidic island is “over there.” They have no overall map of their surroundings to direct their movement in a straight line towards what they seek. What they sense instead is a local gradient — a small change, right next to them. It’s a little warmer that way. They move slightly. They feel it out again. Move. Feel. Move. And feel. The resulting path is a somewhat jagged, but non-random, path toward the thing that they love. And so is mine. Here are the practical steps I took that led me to discover my passion. Until about a year ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career. Research was okay, but I wasn’t convinced it was my passion. Then I stumbled across science writing and my ears perked up. After a bit of googling, I found a ton of information and realized there were many possible paths. To narrow down the options, I started testing the waters. I had some experience writing research proposals, so I thought maybe I could become a grant writer. I bought a book that offered tips for writing grants and attended seminars on the topic. I volunteered to help my PI write a grant proposal for my project. All along, I made mental notes to myself about what I liked and didn’t like. I also thought about journal editing. I found an opportunity to be an English editor for an international chemistry journal. It was free labor, but a good experience, nonetheless. I was most intrigued at the thought of doing science journalism, since...

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Chemist-turned-marketing director in the computer software industry
Jun30

Chemist-turned-marketing director in the computer software industry

Profile: Philip Skinner, Field Marketing Director for PerkinElmer, San Diego, CA Electronic laboratory notebooks are the way of the future for scientific records, and Philip Skinner is helping pave the way for them. Philip is a field marketing director for PerkinElmer, where his current focus is promoting E-Notebook products to companies and laboratories. But he wasn’t always in the software industry. He is a trained synthetic organic chemist who received his Ph.D. at the University of Durham in the North East of England and did a postdoc at ETH Zurich before landing a job in med chem. While working in med chem, Philip helped asses E-Notebooks for his company. This experience helped him develop professional partnerships within the computer software industry. Little did he know that the time and effort invested would eventually develop into a full-time job just when he needed it. In 2009, the pharmaceutical company where Philip had worked for eight years cut 40 percent of its staff and Philip was left unemployed. He spent nine months actively exploring other career options, including project management and consulting. Finally, the software company developing E-Notebooks decided to expand their sales team, and they offered Philip a job. Shortly after, he moved up in the company into a marketing position and is now a director of field marketing. Philip said he would not have been so lucky had he not had the training and connections with the folks in the software industry. “I met a lot of people networking, but I got this job from contacts I had made and nurtured for many years, and people I had actually worked in partnership with,” he said. For the most part, he works from home, where he spends his time preparing for product demonstrations, participating in conference calls and talking with customers. “One of my main roles is essentially a translator,” Philip said. “As an experienced lab scientist, I understand the way at least the drug discovery world works. I can speak with the scientists we are working with, but also to our software people.” To expand the company’s client base, Philip demo’s the products at trade shows and visits companies all over the country– so there is a good deal of travel with his job. Philip said the best and worst part of his job is working from home since he said it makes it very difficult to maintain work/life separation. But he said he is very happy with his career move. “I enjoy the work, I like the people, it gives me a lot of freedom,” he said. “I feel valued and useful… and I feel that I have somewhere I can actually grow.” For chemists who may be interested in breaking into the software industry, Philip suggests doing research on both the companies and...

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