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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 →

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!

ACS Webinars: Networking 101—Make your contacts count

Bonnie Coffey from "Contacts Count" gave a seminar at the ACS National Meeting on Tuesday about face-to-face networking. View a recording of the webcast at http://acswebinars.org/vcf2011

Networking is an art that requires practice to develop.

On Tuesday, ACS Webinars hosted Bonnie Coffey, a speaker from an organization called Contacts Count. Bonnie spoke to audience members at the ACS National Meeting in Denver about professional networking.

Thanks to ACS webinars, folks like myself who are not in Denver right now could watch the live webcast. If you missed it on Tuesday, you can watch the recorded webcast online.

In my previous post on networking, I presented several tips for making connections with other professionals, namely those pursuing careers you’re interested in. I mentioned how professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, or even a simple google search, can be used to find people you want to talk to, then you can follow up with emails, conversations, or informational interviews.

Bonnie’s talk  focused on the face-to-face networking that takes place during events, such as at conferences like ACS National Meetings.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss the advice Bonnie has for up-and-coming scientists for building their network and getting into meaningful face-to-face conversations with other professionals.

So, you’re at a networking event and you see someone you might want to talk to. You go up to them and say “Hi!”

What’s next? Bonnie describe three key moments, or things that happen when you meet somebody:

A few tips on networking can help you thrive in face-to-face networking at events like scientific meetings. Photo credit: flickr user cfj@cpan

  1. You exchange names
  2. You ask: “What do you do?”
  3. You ask: “What’s new?” or “What’s going on?”

The Name Exchange

We can all empathize with this situation: You introduced yourself to someone, they told you their name, then 30 seconds into the conversation you realize you’ve already forgotten their name. How embarrassing!

To better ensure that you’ll remember someone’s name after they’ve shared it with you, Bonnie offered the following tips: repeat that person’s name, ask about their last name (if they didn’t offer it), then look at the person’s nametag (if they have one) so that you have the visual to imprint that person’s name in your memory.

Then when you share your name, go slowly and break it down. Take a breath between the first and last name. This is what Bonnie calls this the Forrest Gump rule: “My name is Forrest, Forrest Gump.”

My name is Christine, Christine Herman. Got it.

You can also use business cards during the name exchange portion of a conversation. Bonnie recommends wearing a jacket that has two pockets: one for holding your business cards, the other for holding the cards you get from others.

But what if you tried your bestest and you still forgot the person’s name? Continue reading →

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 that address topics of interest to the chemical and scientific community; these series include career development, professional growth, business & innovation, green chemistry, and joy of science. Each webinar is 60 minutes in length, comprising a short presentation followed by Q&A with the speaker. The live webinars are held on Thursdays (and on some Tuesdays on career topics) from 2-3pm ET.  Recordings of the webinars are available online and upcoming events are posted at http://acswebinars.org/.

I’ll be blogging about a few of the webinars and will also post links to other blog posts that summarize the discussions that take place during these webcasts.

Stay tuned!

Maintaining your personal infrastructure

Recently, Christine announced her return to the lab after her internship. She wrote that she found she had a more positive attitude toward completing her graduate research after her much-needed break.

I find that I’m similarly energized by my own return to the lab, although my circumstances are quite different. Since my current employer is just getting off the ground, there have been some long days, which haven’t left a great deal of time for much else. But it’s well worth it.

The setting for my new position is quite different than my former one within a large chemistry group in Big Pharma. Gone is some of the infrastructure to support the day-to-day functioning of the lab from which I had the luxury of benefiting in my last role.

Walk down to a supply room down the hall to get a box of gloves or pipettes? Nope.

Place a call to laboratory services to have such-and-such piece of equipment sent out for maintenance? Not so much.

Enjoy a leisurely brunch on the deck of my yacht? Not likely. Oh, wait—that never happened.

Those of us in this much smaller group will serve as a significant portion of our infrastructure (once our current arrangement of sharing lab space is complete), along with our other duties. Having more to do is also a welcome change after more than four months of unemployment.

I bring up the notion of infrastructure, as it has been fairly topical in recent years.

In a broader context, it refers to the services, structures, and organizations necessary to support a society. You know, the kind of things one takes for granted every day.

Much of the discussion regarding the infrastructure here in the U.S. has the word “crumbling” appearing with unfortunate frequency, particularly with the current condition of the economy.

Although the topic in this context is very important, I believe each of us has our own personal infrastructure.

Sure, there are the gadgets and conveniences that help us live our lives. I’m more interested in the part that is internal rather than external.

Don’t let this happen to you, within or without.

It’s what keeps us anchored and helps us weather whatever storms come our way….and there will be storms, often without any warning. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself and build up your infrastructure. But how?

Just about anything you do (assuming it’s not to someone else’s detriment) that helps you grow as person and feel positive about yourself can qualify. There are a few somewhat random things, though, that helped me get through my own stormy period, and continue to help me as I continue to acclimate into my new position.

One component is remaining calm if you can help it. Having a hair trigger on your panic button is not terribly conducive to rational thought.

The broader your foundation, the more stable it’s likely to be. You can increase the breadth of your foundation by adding to your transferable skillset.

I should note that, although you are responsible for much of your personal infrastructure, I’m not suggesting some sort of you-versus-everyone-else rugged individualism. Far from it.

I mention that because an essential component is your network, or, as it used to be called, your friends and colleagues. Remember them? And, please, you don’t always have to be “working” your network. Just get together with people and listen.

And, much like our society’s various infrastructures, yours requires maintenance. Keeping it sound and stable can strengthen your ability to focus and be productive

So, keep busy. Go for a walk. Read something. Organize your stuff. Do volunteer work. Write short imperative sentences. Hide Easter eggs.

So, what do you think? What’s the most important component of your personal infrastructure, and how do you keep it from falling apart?

Chance favors only the prepared (and clear) mind

Last week, there was a terrific post here by Christine on the value of looking deep inside yourself to find what you truly love to do. This caught the notice of David Kroll, fellow blogger on Terra Sigillata here at CENtral Science.

There’s a connection here that’s relevant to me, and how I was able to keep my brain engaged while seeking my next position which I landed a few weeks ago.

Please bear with me as I explain, as I think there’s a shred of relevance here for anyone who’s currently unemployed.

My unemployment began in early January of this year. During my job search, I knew I needed to stay active mentally and physically, be focused, and expand my network.

Part of my strategy regarding networking was to use social media, including Twitter. I had an account for over a year, but tweeted seldom, with brilliant witticisms such as “Got new tires for my car today.” It’s a wonder my relatives followed me, let alone anyone else.

I got into it more seriously this time around, looking to establish a consistent personal brand, as advised by the social media mavens and jargonistas. I started following science-y folks, including science bloggers, like David Kroll.

Then, on February 3rd, I saw this:

Opportunity tweets but once. (Well, not counting retweets)

I answered each bit internally:

Hey you! Who, me?

Job-seeking in non-traditional chemistry careers? Why, yes, it so happens that I am, if you must pry.

Wanna blog with some killer writers? I’m not sure. Sounds dangerous. What or whom did they kill? Oh, wait, I get it. My answer is, um…..yes?

Contact @rachelpep http://bit.ly/eeRKOv <click>

I checked out the link. I became better acquainted with this blog and the rest of CENtral Science. (Confession: I had visited the blogs here before. Once. I hereby throw myself upon the mercy of the court.)

I really enjoyed reading the past posts by Leigh Krietsch Boerner. There was a lot of useful info that really hit home—and funny at the same time.

This sounds challenging and fun, I thought. What the heck, give it a shot! So I did, and, well, here I am.

I could have dismissed this opportunity out of hand. But in it I saw a chance to get out of my comfort zone and keep my brain active. And, hey, you never know where things will lead.

Okay, this blogging opportunity didn’t directly lead to me securing my current position. But I have no doubt it made a difference. It definitely helped me keep a positive frame of mind. I was getting feedback, getting to meet new people, talk science—all good stuff.

So, when I scored a couple of interviews for chemistry positions, I was ready. I was psyched, not scared. I was able to interview without appearing desperate or downtrodden.

Okay, now for the broader relevance part.

The one facet of my job search strategy that I intentionally omitted above was giving myself a break when necessary.

That’s right—cut yourself some slack once in a while. Photo credit: flickr user szlove

If you go at this 24/7, it’s easy to get burned out. In that fatigued frame of mind, it can be difficult to recognize opportunities and stay mentally engaged. Don’t forget to step away from the job search when you need to. And you will need to.

I don’t think it matters all that much what you do, within reason of course, as long as it makes you feel like you’re productive and making some sort of contribution, even towards your own edification.

You can do volunteer work, take a class, gain a certification—expanding the breadth of your transferable skills—to further (or change) your career. Do whatever makes you feel useful and that you’re advancing in some direction—even if you’re not completely sure what direction that is sometimes.

I think the key is in striving to keep an objective, open mind. If you can, avoid job search tunnel-vision. If an activity doesn’t appear directly related to your job search, it still might be well worth doing.

Yes, you need to find a job, but you’re only human. Breaking up your routine will help your mind stay clear. Searching for a job is a job. In any job, some time away every now and then is valuable and can improve your performance.

Many companies like to tout a focus on their employees’ “work-life balance.” When you’re unemployed, your work and your life can become almost inextricably intertwined. During your job search, you need to achieve some separation. If you can find something to do that gives you enjoyment, all the better.

So, if you’re dealing with the stresses of being unemployed, or feeling overworked while employed—please remember to give yourself a break now and then. You deserve it, and it will likely pay off.

And one more thing: Thanks, David. Thanks, Rachel. I owe you one.

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.

Vegas, baby! No, wait, that's wrong. Baltimore, baby! Photo credit: flickr user Union-Square

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.

Hey, don't we all? Photo credit: flickr user hanjabanja

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.

Networking: Getting connected is not such a scary thing

My first impression of networking, gleaned from a workshop in college, was: “Get to know people so that you can use them to advance your career.” It came across as very… selfish, sleazy almost. Schmooze with people in high places, then leverage those relationships to reap benefits for yourself. I could never take that approach, I thought to myself.

But that’s not what networking is all about. Professional networking is about getting to know people and having people get to know you. Yes, it may lead to job offers (in fact, an estimated 80% of jobs are landed through networking), but that’s not the ultimate motivation or even the end goal. The goal is to gather information by talking to people who have a wealth of knowledge about your field and can help you break into the field.

There are so many people out there to be found, you’ve just got to take the initiative connect with them. Image credit: flickr user ricki888c.

For non-traditional science careers, you’re taking the road less traveled, so networking is particularly important. If you’re in grad school, there are a plethora of resources out there to help you break into academia or industry. But what if you want to do something your adviser or career counselor has never heard of before, like be a science writer, science librarian, or get into publishing, or molecular jewelry making? You’re a bit more on your own in navigating those paths, so getting to know other people who have gone ahead of you is all the more vital to your success.

Here are a few of the networking basics I have gathered through reading about networking and trying it out myself. I link to lots of very useful articles that delve into each topic in much more detail than I could cover here.

Take initiative.

Networking isn’t something that just happens. If you don’t send that email, make that phone call, set up that in-person meeting, you will not get to know people who are in your field (see: Networking: how to get a good connection). If you prefer email, that’s fine for the opener. Introduce yourself and ask if you can set up a time to talk on the phone, or in person if they live in the same city.

Be curious and ask honest questions.

When preparing for that first conversation or informational interview (see: Tooling up: the informational interview), don’t think about what you’re going to say as much as what you’re going to ask. What do you want to know? (See this list of sample questions for an informational interview). They’ll want to know about you as well, so have that elevator speech prepared and tell them why you wanted to talk to them and what career options you’re exploring. If you run out of things to say about yourself, ask them another question. Remember, people love talking about themselves. :)

If a professional you’d like to get to know lives in your area, ask if you can meet over coffee for a chat. Photo credit: flickr user sweetpeabicycles.

DO gather information, DON’T ask for a job.

Informational interviews and networking is for the purpose of getting you connected with people in your field, which could very well lead to job opportunities down the road. But it is not intended to be for job hunting. Do the work of building relationships, find out about what opportunities are available in the field, but don’t flat out ask someone you’re getting to know for a job.

Follow up.

At a minimum, send a simple email thanking the person for taking the time to meet/talk with you. Better yet, take advantage of online networking websites (see: Five tips for better online networking) connect with them on LinkedIn and follow up every now and then to keep the connection going. For example, if you’ll be attending a professional conference, email that person and find out if they’ll be there and if they’d be available to meet with you.

Make the most of every opportunity.

Don’t go to a professional meeting and then just hang out with the people you know from your lab. Meet new people! Mingle at poster sessions and social events and stick around to chat with presenters after lectures. Do your research before the conference to find out who you might want to meet, and then schedule a time to get coffee during one of the breaks. Talk, chit-chat, schmooze (see: Schmoozing 101), or whatever you want to call it— the point is: be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Continue reading →