In the lead story of C&EN’s annual employment package, Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth surveys the employment landscape for chemists and finds reasons to believe that bleakness is giving way to a few rays of hope. Even though the outlook is tepid, chemists can take solace that the massive downsizings of the past few years seem to be waning.
This year’s survey coincides with the ACS Virtual Career Fair on Nov. 2–3. At this event, Ainsworth and C&EN Editor-in-Chief Rudy Baum will discuss the job prospects for chemists and how to prepare for what’s ahead. You can join them and participate in the rest of the fair by registering at presentations.inxpo.com/Shows/UBM/ACS/HTML.
Coincidentally, as we were producing this week’s issue, I attended a career symposium at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on Mole Day, Oct. 23. The event, organized by the Younger Chemists Committee of the ACS Wisconsin Section, attracted 138 postdocs, graduate students, and undergrads, as well as one high school student. They came from Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa. They listened to a mix of speakers, including me, who brought perspectives from industry, academia, government labs, and alternative careers.
Speakers emphasized the same themes: A chemistry education can be forged into many career outcomes; the paths to satisfying careers are varied; good communication skills and lifelong learning will open windows when a door shuts.
Emily Wixson shared that her fondness for people, language, and communication marries well with her love for problem solving, experimentation, and observation—skills that a chemistry education cultivates—in her role as a senior academic librarian at UW Madison’s chemistry library. Yet she is among many science librarians who don’t have a science degree. Early in her career, she realized that her English degree would not be enough to maintain a science librarianship career so she took various science courses, including chemistry. “A chemistry degree opens the door to most science library positions,” she said.
When teaching high school chemistry didn’t work out for Brittland DeKorver, she channeled her B.A. in chemistry into an unusual position at UW Madison’s Institute for Chemical Education. As an outreach specialist, she coordinates after-school science clubs, plans outreach events such as National Chemistry Week, and advises a student organization that is devoted to informal science education. In explaining the challenges of her job, she said, “Imagine explaining chemical concepts to a seven-year-old, who doesn’t have the vocabulary or the ability to think in the abstract.”
Steven Sobek, laboratory director for the Bureau of Laboratory Services, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, brought welcome news: “There will be jobs opening for analytical chemists in government labs in the next four to six years because of many staff retiring.” Offering encouragement in the midst of the difficult job market, Sobek said, “Skills learned in the sciences—mathematical reasoning, problem solving, logic, and understanding the complex—are transferable” to numerous positions. But to compete effectively, he added, job seekers “must also develop the soft skills of communicating and collaborating.”
And Victoria Sutton, an intellectual property associate at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, emphasized that federal internship programs, such as the Emerging Leaders Program of the Department of Health & Human Services and the Presidential Management Fellows Program, can lead to government careers.
The students I spoke with said they appreciated hearing about the many ways chemistry-educated people work. The different perspectives, they said, will help them plan the next step in their education. They praised the symposium organizers—UW Madison chemistry graduate students Benjamin Bratton, Michelle Cooperrider, Christine McInnis, Danielle Stacy, Eugenia Turov, and Gene Wong—for an informative and engaging symposium. For everyone, participating in the symposium was a good way to spend Mole Day in Madison.