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Networking Tips

At the WCC breakfast today, I learned some valuable lessons about networking that everyone interested in looking for a job or advancing in their positions should heed.

Kelly M. George, principal scientist at Hoffmann-La Roche and terrific moderator of WCC breakfast on Monday, Mar. 22, 2010. Credit Linda Wang/C&EN

Courtesy of slides from Kelly M. George, a principal scientist at Hoffmann-La Roche Discovery Chemistry and the dynamic moderator of the networking session during the breakfast, here are some take-home points:

Networking is one of five key factors for success for women scientists in industry. Networking is essential to exchange expertise, build valuable contacts, learn about other organizations (their culture and politics), develop communication and leadership skills, gain visibility, and increase one’s personal effectiveness.

Networking Tips

  • Get involved with existing networks
  • Seek new connections
  • Take a stretch assignment or geographic change
  • Use social networking toolks (ACS network, LinkedIn)
  • Seek out people and groups you don’t know
  • Exchange business cards
  • Have your elevator speech ready to go
  • Follow up

And here’s the WCC’s template for an elevator speech:

Your name, your employer/university, role/expertise, interest/goals, what you would like as an outcome of an interaction, something different, exchange business cards.

Translated to my own circumstances, this template becomes:

Hi, I’m Maureen Rouhi, deputy editor-in-chief of C&EN. My expertise is communicating science to the public and managing a news operation. I’d like to use skills to advance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, and I’m hoping to find volunteer opportunities to do so. I have lived in the Middle East and am familiar with Islam and Muslim culture. Here’s my business card. May I have yours? I’d like to keep in touch.

Finally, Kelly exhorted us to use COFFEE to connect and network:

  • Connect with others
  • Offer your business card
  • Find something common to discuss
  • Find a mentor
  • Engage in a two-way conversation
  • Elevator speech

Although the networking session was targeted to young professional women, the lessons apply to any professional, male or female and at any stage of one’s career. Thanks to the WCC and to Kelly for an invigorating morning.


Chemistry: There’s An App For That

Hello Newscripts readers! Each week, we will be posting the Newscripts column of the week as well as additional content and musings.

This week’s column was written by Marc S. Reisch:

I must admit that I’m one of those people who are both annoyed by and addicted to those pervasive little smartphone software programs called “apps” that keep you connected to someone or something at all times.

iPhone: Now connected to chemistry apps. Linda Wang/C&EN

Newer apps go way beyond the games, weather predictions, stock market updates, and social-networking programs that simultaneously delight and frustrate me. Now I can stay connected to the chemical enterprise in ways that are intriguing and a little frightening at the same time.

Continue reading →


Breakfast Surprise

For the first time, I attended the Women Chemists Committee’s breakfast. I was not expecting anything memorable. Was I ever so wrong! It was the most effective miniworkshop on networking I’ve been to. Every participant received a sheet on which to compose an “elevator speech,” that two-minute promotional spiel that every professional, especially those in search of jobs, need to have on hand to maximize the opportunities presented by chance encounters with people who could provide jobs or job leads.

Then each participant was asked to sit on either side of tables such that all students sit on side facing all professionals on the other side. After we had dispatched breakfast and formalities, we proceeded to a networking blitz, with students practicing their elevator speech with the professional in front of them for three minutes. At the sound of a very zenlike bell from Chinatown, students moved to the next professional.

Professionals on one side, students on the other during the networking blitz. Credit Linda Wang/C&EN

In the span of 15 minutes, I met five bright, young women, who I hope benefited from the brief interaction. Amanda J. Albrecht, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame was first. I suggested that she focus on why a listener should care about what she’s doing. Next was Clara Delhomme, a French and German-speaking, biochemical engineering Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Munich who came all the way from Germany to attend the ACS national meeting. I suggested that she start making contacts with companies in Europe who are keen in using biotechnological processes in manufacturing.

Bernadette V. Marquez is a Ph.D. student at UC Davis. She hopes to help cure cancer and work in cancer research. We had something else in common: Both of us are originally from the Philippines. Tolulope A. Aweda, or Tolu for short, is a Nigerian doing a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry at UC Davis. She struck me immediately as a savvy woman: At the back of her business card is a summary of qualifications. She also told me that she had taken business classes, because she wanted to have something more to offer prospective employers than the litany of skills common to chemists.

Tolulope A. Aweda practicing her elevator speech. Credit Linda Wang/C&EN

My last networking encounter was with Polina Borisova Smith. She noted that we had met before, at the ACS Leadership Institute in Fort Worth, TX, last January. She participated in Collaborating Across Boundaries, a leadership workshop that I moderated. Another savvy woman: In addition to taking part in ACS’s leadership development program, she has a degree in business management, she organized a Young Chemists Committee in her local section, she speaks Russian, and she hopes that the combination of her management/leadership skills and chemistry skills will be attractive to prospective employers.

I picked up a lot of tips that I should start practicing myself. More on those in the next post.


The Chemical Notebook Launches From Houston

This week is an opportune time to launch The Chemical Notebook–not only because of the ACS National Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco, which other C&EN blogs will cover this week. It is also the week of the Houston petrochemical conferences.

Two major petrochemical consulting firms, Chemical Market Associates Inc. (CMAI) and DeWitt & Co., have traditionally held meetings in Houston the week before the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association annual petrochemical meeting gets underway in San Antonio. The idea is that attendees get the lowdown on the petrochemical industry from consultants in Houston and then migrate to San Antonio for meetings with customers and suppliers.

Until 2003, CMAI and DeWitt held their conferences simultaneously at hotels in the Galleria area of Houston. Back then, it was possible for someone to attend both conferences, sprinting through the Galleria Mall to catch speeches at each event. As the CMAI conference became an increasingly large draw, it grew out of the Westin Galleria and moved to the Hilton Americas downtown. The DeWitt conference has since seen a few different venues. For instance, a couple of times it was held at a conference center adjacent to Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play. This year, DeWitt is holding it at the ZaZa Hotel in the museum district.

I will likely spend one day at CMAI and another at DeWitt. This will be my 11th time attending the conferences, so I have a good idea of what to expect.

Me and my 10 years of petrochemical proceedings


CMAI builds it analysis on a strong quantitative foundation and its presentations reflect that. If you want to know what polyethylene capacity is globally, how many projects are coming online, and how that will influence operating rates, the CMAI conference is a good place to go. CMAI also tends to draw more attendees than DeWitt and you are certainly more likely to run into chemical financial analysts and the like there.

DeWitt is smaller and shoots from the hip. The presentations at the conference are more qualitative. If you want to find out why Iranian petrochemical projects are languishing, you might hear about it there. It is also more intimate. The Q&A sessions at the end of talks turn into discussions between the presenters and the audience. As a reporter, I always pick up good tidbits at DeWitt.


Happy World Water Day

It seems rather auspicious that the first day of this blog is also World Water Day (thanks United Nations!).

Anyone who has done much traveling has probably found himself or herself with a new appreciation of being able to drink and wash with abundant clean water right from the tap. But on March 22nd, we are reminded of the 2.5 billion citizens of the world who do not have regular access to clean water and sanitation.

More and more academics are studying the intersection between water use and world trade. In the developed world, many of the products we use everyday represent a vast investment of clean water. I wrote about the consumer’s water footprint back in the fall of 2008.

The opportunities in clean water are like catnip these days for technology start-ups. One theme that I mentioned in this cleantech water piece is the tight coupling between water and energy resources. To get clean water requires energy – especially in places like the Middle East where water has to be desalinated. On the other hand, many schemes for renewable energy (think about growing crops for energy) require boatloads of water. Can we increase our supplies of energy and clean water at the same time or will one always come at the expense of the other?

Keep an eye out this week for announcements about companies that are making commitments to increase the world’s access to clean water. Nalco, a firm I featured in a cover story about water, has announced a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to develop best practices to protect and conserve water, and will provide financial support to the Global Water Roundtable.


Welcome to Cleantech Chemistry

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by.

Welcome to C&EN’s Cleantech Chemistry blog. With your help, I will use this forum to explore the science and business of the many new industries that meet at the intersection of innovation, chemistry, and sustainability.

What types of emerging green technologies do you find most intriguing? Troubling? If you’d like to see this blog address particular topics, please leave a note in the comments section.

Though I often write about purely technology-driven cleantech start-ups for the magazine, since C&EN spans the full chemical enterprise, I will also look into the ways traditional chemical firms are navigating the new “green” markets.

Today’s issue of C&EN includes a profile of FMC (subscription required), a chemical company founded way back in the 1920s. I was able to speak at length with the firm’s new CEO, Pierre Brondeau. I noticed two sustainability “mini case studies” happening at the company. The first is a common risk-mitigation story. The second one shows the other side: a new market driven by consumer demand for sustainable products.

FMC makes the lion’s share of its earnings from agricultural chemicals including pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Governments around the world frequently prohibit sale or use of particular agricultural products due to risk to human health or the environment. For example, the EPA is revisiting the issue of possible health effects of Atrazine, marketed by Syngenta. (see C&EN story – subscription required).

Brondeau says that a large part of FMC’s agricultural portfolio is given over to insuring that there are replacements available and ready to go if any of its products have to be taken off the shelf. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, he says that FMC is weighing an evolution towards green agricultural products.

But its FMC’s algae business that shows the other side of the coin. Currently the company derives biopolymer ingredients like carrageenan and alginates from seaweed for food and pharmaceutical applications. But the firm now has a small toehold in the personal care business and is hoping that it will become a high growth area. Companies like Avon, L’Oreal, and Procter and Gamble are interested in using sustainably harvested algal oil in their products in response to demand from consumers for plant-derived ingredients.

In a C&EN cover story about research at L’Oreal, Lisa Jarvis explored the firm’s sustainability efforts.

FMC is not the only algae firm hoping to move into the high margin personal care business. Solazyme recently announced that it will work with Unilever to develop oil derived from algae for use in soaps and other personal care products.


Welcome To The Haystack!

Welcome to The Haystack! We’re very excited to be bringing you our take on the pharma world.

Carmen and I hope that by mixing our science and business knowledge, we’ll be able to provide well-rounded context to breaking news in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology area. If a compound fails a Phase III clinical trial, we want to help readers understand the science behind how the drug worked and the consequences for the company developing the product. If there’s an acquisition, we want to flesh out why it does (or does not) make sense, and what it could mean for the researchers working at both companies. If basic research covered in C&EN and elsewhere holds particular promise for the drug industry, we’ll keep you in the loop. You get the idea.

A preview of what’s to come: This week, check out highlights of the American Chemical Society’s spring national meeting, where medicinal chemists of all flavors will flock to San Francisco to hear the latest developments in their field. In coming months, expect to see highlights from BIO and ASCO. And, of course, look for ongoing coverage of the always-in-flux pharma pipeline.


Twas the night before #acs_sf

I’m spending this evening packing up to head into San Francisco tomorrow for the ACS spring meeting but wanted to take a moment to put up an inaugural blog post and welcome our initial readers! We at C&EN are pretty excited about our new set of blogs, and my co-blogger Jeff and I about The Safety Zone in particular.

Breazeale and Kaufman have the stories and photos to scare anyone into compliance. (Credit: Jyllian Kemsley)

I actually got a bit of a head start on the meeting and headed into Moscone on Friday to attend a day-long laboratory safety workshop sponsored by the Division of Chemical Health & Safety and led by Jim Kaufman and Jack Breazeale of The Laboratory Safety Institute. They covered everything from eyewear to electricity and I’ll undoubtedly be bringing some of what I learned back to the blog (I already brought some of it home–after Jim’s electrical demonstration, I finally addressed the one poorly childproofed electrical outlet in my sons’ room).

In the meantime, though, there’s a meeting to prepare for! For those of you attending, I’ll note that the CHAS sessions are not sequestered way off behind some hotel kitchen this time. Instead, they’re in Moscone West, room 3018, so should be pretty easy to get to if there’s something in the program (pdf) that interests you.

I’m also covering the physical and nuclear chemistry divisions, so I can’t attend everything CHAS has to offer, but I’m eyeing the Teaching Safety sessions on pyrophoric and reactive materials–in particular, I’m told that Sunday afternoon will involve a comparative discussion of the pyrophorics handling videos from UCLA and UCSD. My colleague Linda Wang plans to check out the laboratory design talks. But there are also sessions on safety in undergraduate classrooms and biofuel development, plus an “Ask Dr. Safety” discussion on reproductive toxicity hazards.

I’ll be blogging from the meeting as time and topics allow, but undoubtedly will be outshined by Carmen’s efforts. For now, however, I must go throw another couple of notebooks into my bag.