Web roundup: Nontraditional careers—they’re not just for chemists anymore

There are many reasons for a person to seek out a career that’s seen as nontraditional within their particular field of study. With the current state of the job market within chemistry, a lack of employment prospects has been one reason focused upon here. Another motivator may simply be choice, based on a change in personal values, a need to escape a career that has become stressful, or a desire to convert a lifelong avocation into a career…among other considerations. For example, many chemists have left the bench after becoming disenchanted with laboratory work, and then seek something else, often because of a perceived lack of opportunities for career progression in a lab-based position. And then there are those who are forced to seek a career change because their position, which may have been considered traditional, no longer exists, nor does any real prospect of future opportunities in their field. Over the past few weeks, I’ve come across blog posts about people in other disciplines seeking alternatives to their “traditional” career options. This should come as no surprise—the circumstances described above for seeking a career change are by no means experienced by chemists alone. A couple of random examples include a profile within the field of sports psychology and speculation on career possibilities for boxer Manny Pacquiao (okay, that latter example is pretty specific). One career, in particular, seemed to stand out by its prevalence—Lawyers seeking nontraditional or alternative careers. Nontraditional careers are a recurring topic on the law blog Above the Law. Some recent examples include yoga instructor, comedian, and screenwriter. Another law blog, Legal Nomads, has a series entitled Thrillable Hours with examples such as fashion entrepreneur, marketing director, and wildlife journalist. The profiles describe reasons for career changes that are eerily similar to ones that have been described here. An example: It is simple really: I was just never cut out for a life of 9-5 traipsing into work every day and doing something I really didn’t care about. Unfortunately for me, legal work was something I really didn’t care about. Not too different than a research chemist losing interest in research. One reason why the notion of lawyers in nontraditional careers caught my attention is because, as you may remember, the law—specifically patent law—was highlighted as a nontraditional chemistry career option in a profile here a couple of years ago. The possibility seems somewhat unlikely, but I’m anxious to see if it comes full circle—are there examples of a lawyer (or someone from another career covered here) seeking out chemistry as their nontraditional career of choice? I’ll keep...

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So many nontraditional chemistry careers…
Oct17

So many nontraditional chemistry careers…

A core topic covered here at Just Another Electron Pusher is careers that are deemed by some to be nontraditional for those with a degree in chemistry—away from the bench, generally speaking. I was thinking it would be appropriate, at this time, to list the various nontraditional (or alternative or whatever adjective you prefer) careers that have been covered by current, former and guest electron pushers since this blog’s inception over two years ago. Yes, this is the blog equivalent of a sitcom clip show, where the characters sit around and reminisce, saying things like, “Remember when such-and-such happened to so-and-so…” Annnd cue the short segment from an earlier season. “Ooh, I hate these clip shows!” you cry, and shake your fist at the TV. But you end up watching them anyway, don’t you? Admit it—they’re addictive, almost inescapable. That’s what I’m trying to do here—lure you in with the promise of nostalgia, which comforts like the aroma of freshly baked bread, until the trap is sprung. Excellent. And, in the spirit of altruism, I’m hoping this JAEP retrospective will provide a handy, and perhaps dandy, one-stop shop so you can browse through professions profiled and topics covered. This list will be updated regularly, and permalinked to the sidebar within the JAEP blogroll. I’ve chosen to list these alphabetically, because, well…I’m a scientist, and we’re anal we prefer order. So, without further ado: Actor profile Book Editor / Publisher profile Career Adviser profile Cartoonist (Piled Higher & Deeper’s Jorge Cham) profile Chemical Safety / Chemical Hygiene Officer profile Chemical Software Marketer profile Chemistry Librarian profile Chemjobber profile Congressional Legislative Assistant profile Conservation Scientist profile Cook part one, part two Cosmetic Chemistry profile Disney Imagineer profile Flavor Chemistry profile K-12 STEM Outreach profile one, profile two Medical Sales (and Cheerleader!) profile Medical Writing profile Molecular Jewelry Designer profile Optometrist profile Patent Attorney profile Project Manager profile Regulatory Affairs profile Science Artist / Illustrator profile Science Policy and Communication profile one, profile two, profile three Science Writing part one, part two Scientific Journal Editor profile Scientific Staffing profile Technology Transfer profile Winemaking profile US Government Jobs overview Video Producer profile Web Entrepreneur (BenchFly’s Alan Marnett) profile So, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this recap, and that you’ll revisit regularly. This list contains only a small fraction of the careers those with chemistry degrees currently enjoy. I’d like to think there are many others, who have a degree in chemistry, but are currently employed in a profession not typically associated with chemistry. Perhaps they’re applying chemistry knowledge and skills in a unique way. If  either description fits you or someone...

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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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Project management as a bridge between roles in science and business
May02

Project management as a bridge between roles in science and business

Project Manager: Becky Urbanek, Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Most chemists, whether in industry, government, academia, or some other setting, have worked on a research project at some point. So, who starts the project, who leads it, and who is responsible for its outcome? In academia, it’s likely to be your advisor. In industry, it turns out, there’s a separate discipline devoted to formulating and sharing best practices in the management of projects. Not unexpectedly, this discipline is called project management, and the people who oversee the day-to-day management of the projects are…(drumroll, please)…project managers. Try a quick search of “project manager” or a closely related query on any job search engine. The results suggest that project managers can be found across a variety of industries: construction, information technology, advertising, and many others. Project management of scientific projects is but a small piece of the larger project management pie. (Mmmm…pie) That said, managing a scientific project is the most common way a chemist is likely to transition into such a role. With enough experience and, yes, street cred, chemists—with their vast array of transferable skills—are often called upon to be research project managers. Such an opportunity was presented to Becky Urbanek, whose chemistry background [B.S., chemistry, Ohio Northern U., 1993; Ph.D., organic chemistry (natural product total synthesis), Univ. of Minnesota, 1998] led to her recent role as a Principal Scientist and medicinal chemist* at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. It became evident that management of projects afforded her some additional transferability. Last year, an announcement was made that all drug discovery activities would cease at her site. Becky was able to transition to another role on the business side of the organization, and is now Global Compliance Resource & Project Sr. Manager. “I had been a project manager for drug discovery projects for several years and really loved that role,” Becky said.  “I didn’t fully appreciate that project management was a developed profession on its own until the announcement of our site closing and I began to plan for what would come next.” Becky’s contacts in other parts of the company were a valuable asset. “I spoke with other project managers that I knew within AstraZeneca and beyond and they recommended courses and that I join the PMI (the Project Management Institute) to further explore project management as a career path,” she said.  “I found out about my current job by watching the internal job postings and then networking within the company to learn more about it.” Before proceeding, let’s pause to define what a project is and is not. The definition comes from the PMI, mentioned above,...

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A chemist’s journey through academia, government, industry, and into medical writing
Apr25

A chemist’s journey through academia, government, industry, and into medical writing

You may have been told at some point in your life that if you want to get a steady job in the future you should go into science, because that’s where the money is. With this line of thinking, Kelly Keating, who was just as interested in creative writing as she was science and math, opted for the “sure thing” in college and chose to major in chemistry. After a B.S., Ph.D., and several jobs that took her through academia, government and industry, she is now an Editor and Medical Writer for the Pharmaceutical Research Institute (PRI), a non-profit organization within the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, NY. Go figure, huh? While you couldn’t call Kelly’s path into medical writing “traditional”, I think all the twists and turns along the way make her story so interesting. And it turns out that it wasn’t a waste to have taken the long windy road to where she has ended up, because along the way she was picking up all kinds of skills, the transferrable kind I wrote about in my last post. Some people know what they want to do from the get-go and go after that. But most of us, I think, navigate and jump around from one thing to another until we figure out what we want. And that’s perfectly okay. So, as I was saying, Kelly’s story just goes to show that there’s no one way to break into a non-traditional science career. In a nutshell, here’s her career path leading up to medical writing: B.S. in chemistry (U.W. Madison, 1983) A few years of basic research Ph.D. in chemistry (U.C. Davis, 1991) Post-doc in NMR spectroscopy One year at small biotech company Visiting Scientist in an NMR group at a national lab NMR spectroscopist and lab manager for a larger pharmaceutical company Then, when she and her husband moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for his job, she started a freelance medical writing business and taught part-time at a local college. The toughest thing for Kelly initially was having no medical writing experience. It’s one of those Catch-22 things: you can’t get hired if you don’t have experience, but you can’t get experience if you never get a job! By being willing to be flexible, Kelly got the experience she needed by doing some freelance grant and manuscript editing for the science departments at UIUC. When her husband received a great job opportunity in Albany, NY, they moved. Shortly after, she landed her current medical writing job. “And simply by luck the month we moved here the job I have...

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Show me the money: How a Ph.D. chemist is helping corporate America team  up with K-12 STEM education programs
Mar31

Show me the money: How a Ph.D. chemist is helping corporate America team up with K-12 STEM education programs

We hope this blog is making it abundantly clear that a chemistry degree qualifies you for a lot more than you might think. I mean, who knew a chemist could land a job at a Disney theme park where he could use his chemical knowledge to help make, for example, a more corrosion-resistant artificial skin? It seems, therefore, that a reasonable approach to discovering your chemistry dream job is this: Figure out what you’re passionate about and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Then find a job that lets you do that. (Word of caution: Not every job you can dream up will be able to pay the rent, so that’s something important to keep in mind). This seems to be the approach Zakiah Pierre is taking in pursuing her career. Although she started grad school thinking she’d go into forensic science, along the way she discovered she was really passionate about “mentoring and paving the way for our future engineers and scientists.” The more she got more involved in mentoring students, the more she became convinced that a science career that allowed her to have an immediate impact on students was the right path for her. That line of thinking has led her to where she is today with Change the Equation, an organization focused on improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for every child, with a particular focus on girls and students of color. One of the ways CTEq strives to accomplish its goals is by identifying innovative programs to advance STEM literary in the United States, measuring the success of these programs through research and analysis and replicating them in communities that need them most. This is where Zakiah comes in. As a research associate, she gathers data regarding the condition of STEM learning state-by-state and nationwide and assesses the impact of STEM learning programs that receive corporate support. By evaluating the success of various programs, she helps CTEq make a solid case for why companies should continue funding them—and expanding them to new, underserved sites. She also writes reports that let their partners know about the needs in STEM learning, with the hope that changes in policy will be made to address those needs. In addition to research and writing reports, Zakiah also blogs about science education news and programs and occasionally represents the organization at meetings around D.C. on a variety of STEM education topics. In the future, Zakiah hopes to expand her role to writing short briefs for peer-reviewed journals on current issues in K-12 STEM learning. It may be apparent by now that Zakiah has had to...

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