In transition again, but in the best possible way
Jun17

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. 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...

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Coping with the ups and downs of being in transition
May17

Coping with the ups and downs of being in transition

In the months since my former employer and I parted ways due to the closure of the site where I worked, there have certainly been some highs and lows. My then-colleagues and I were all forewarned of the impending emotional rollercoaster when the fate of our site was announced. Counseling was made available to us, and we’ve supported each other in various ways ever since. Still, it’s been a toll on our collective psyches, unquestionably. The worst part, for me, has been the knowledge that I’m competing with former colleagues for positions. I guess this is really nothing new—we’re always competing against our coworkers. This is especially true around performance review time, and further amplified if there’s a forced distribution for ratings. Now, however, the stakes are particularly high. There’s no perfect outcome, it seems. If they get the job, you’re left in the cold. If you get the job, you’re happy, but there’s still some associated survivor guilt. But maybe that’s just me. We were all put in the same boat. I prefer to think that we’re all wishing the best for everyone, including ourselves. I don’t believe anyone would deliberately sabotage a former colleague’s chance of success to secure their next position. Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m no Pollyanna—although I do bear a striking resemblance to Hayley Mills (…he said, exposing his age demographic—and a need for some form of corrective eyewear). The best part has been the ability to reflect and decompress—to recharge my batteries while trying to decide what I want to do next. I’ve been engaged in professional development activities (like project management training), networking meetings of various kinds, and working with an outplacement agency. I’m just trying to stay active—physically and mentally. I’m having a great time contributing to this blog. As a result, I’ve been able to get to know some terrific and talented people that I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise. If you find yourself in a similar period of transition, I really feel for you. If you have the luxury, some time for self-reflection can be very valuable. Take a mental inventory of what you want to find or avoid in your next position. I hope you’ll rediscover, as I have, that you have an abundance of transferable skills, and you can envision a fulfilling position in many fields. The chorus of advice for people in transition is to use this time to find your dream job. Well, my last job was a dream job. But, really, that’s not a problem. You see, I believe I have more than one dream…and I hope you’ll find that you do,...

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Making a Case for the Overqualified
Apr06

Making a Case for the Overqualified

You think I’m qualified for the job? I’m delighted you think so! When do I start? What’s that? You said overqualified? Really, now, that’s quite a compliment. You’re making me blush. I’m sorry – am I missing something? You say “overqualified” like it’s a bad thing. Oh…I see. I’ll just show myself out, then. In my current combined job search and self-discovery vision quest, I’ve been met on different fronts with the recurring theme that a wealth of experience may, in fact, be a detriment. There is no shortage of “expert” advice, online or otherwise, suggesting that you should hide or neglect to mention years of education and/or employment. If your light is too bright  or its spectrum contains too many wavelengths for the position, hide it under the nearest bushel. Okay, honestly, I do get it – target your resume and cover letter toward a specific position. Focus I understand. However, I can’t completely evade the feeling that this gamesmanship of playing hide-and-seek and cherry-picking facts seems disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. It’s somewhat against the grain of how one is trained to think as a scientist. Even if one hasn’t been met with this particular o-word per se, it lies not too far beneath concerns that are more openly stated. Prospective employers are worried that so-called overqualified candidates might jump ship at the first opportunity for a better position elsewhere. They’re concerned that after going through the interview process, they won’t be able to seal the deal because their budget can’t meet the candidate’s salary requirements. They fear their new hire may soon be bored. This sort of thinking is, well, a bit risk-averse, shall we say. A recent post by Amy Gallo on the Harvard Business Review blog makes a case for taking such a risk. A challenge is posed: “When making hiring decisions, visionary leaders don't just focus on the current needs, but on the future.” So, will the final hiring decision for the position you desire be made by such a visionary leader? Does the future lurch and loom darkly before them, or will they embrace the challenges ahead? I think it's safe to say that most people would prefer to work for someone in the latter category. A perceived benefit for a hiring manager to adopt this mindset is driven home: "Hiring overqualified candidates can help you achieve much higher productivity, grow, and achieve opportunities that you may not even be thinking about pursuing right now." There are other less obvious benefits too: these employees can mentor others, challenge peers to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that are...

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When Your Employer Wants to Break Off the Relationship
Mar21

When Your Employer Wants to Break Off the Relationship

Last week, Christine posted a very heartfelt assessment of her struggle to continue on with graduate research although she has lost the fuzzy feelings she once had for it. She convincingly described her relationship with her graduate research project as being similar to one with a person, and how she felt she may be falling out of love with research. Well, what if you’re on the receiving end? It occurred to me that what I and my (now former) colleagues have experienced is more akin to having someone, or rather, something, fall out of love with you. The situation was handled very professionally, and some of us have ended up in better roles (i.e., relationships) as a result. Yes, it’s business, not personal, but you can’t completely avoid the feeling that you’ve been dumped. Not the most positive emotional state to be in when you begin your job search. You need to let go of that, and quick. Don’t cry into your beer. (That’ll just dilute your beer. You’re a scientist, remember? Hello!) If it requires some sort of ritual ceremony to purge yourself of these negative feelings – do it. It is here that I, much as Christine did, feel compelled to point out that this analogy in no way reflects my own relationship status. To illustrate, I will now go into game show contestant mode: “Hi Alex, I’d like to say hi to my beautiful wife of twenty-three years, and my two awesome children, my terrific son and my outstanding daughter, not to mention our three phenomenal cats. Hi everyone, I love you!!” There, I made nice. Okay, I don’t know how valuable my advice might be currently, since I am still "in transition" and have yet to “land” in my next position, but I’m confident that it will all pay off in the end. So, here are things, drawn from various resources and my own thoughts, which keep me sane. Okay, sane-ish. Don’t bad-mouth your ex. You need to take the high road – yes, you can “just be friends.” It’s your choice, though – but just see what happens if you trash talk your past employer in a job interview with another company. Yeah, that will help. They’ll see your baggage the minute you walk in the door. You might as well walk in naked and speaking in tongues. The end result will be the same. No job…and possibly some jail time. Don’t be a stalker. Seriously, what do you have to gain by looking at job postings at your former employer? Yes, they will begin hiring again, for different disciplines and/or in other locations...

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ACS Webinar Series a Useful Resource for Chemistry Job Seekers
Mar07

ACS Webinar Series a Useful Resource for Chemistry Job Seekers

Are you a chemistry student about to embark on a new career? Perhaps you’re an experienced professional seeking the next step (whether voluntary or otherwise) in your career development? You have to appreciate the career resources, in all their awesomeness, which are available to you as an ACS member. But ACS membership is not a prerequisite for many resources. Currently, in advance of this month’s ACS National Meeting in Anaheim, there is a series of ACS Webinars entitled “Your Career GPS” designed to help you in your chemistry career journey. The first of these, “Today’s Job Search Strategies,” was recently webcast on March 1st.  Did you miss it? Not to worry, you won’t be punished for your dedication to that experiment or project meeting. ACS Webinars can be attended by anyone. Webinars are routinely made available soon after the scheduled webcast for your viewing pleasure, whether on the ACS Webinars website or on YouTube, and the slides are also made available as a downloadable resource. An archive of past webinars (dating back to the fall of 2008) is available here. This most recent webinar is particularly appropriate for the theme of Just Another Electron Pusher. The presenter, Lisa Balbes, is a consultant and the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas in Chemistry.  Lisa and her book were highlighted here last summer in an overview of available resources, well worth revisiting, for those considering – wait for it – nontraditional careers in chemistry. If you’ve never attended an ACS Webinar, you’re missing out. The topics are diverse and relevant, and the sessions are very well organized. The webinars typically last an hour, with roughly 30-40 minutes of presentation and the remaining time devoted to answering attendee's questions. What’s more, questions can be submitted during the webinar in two formats – there’s a side panel that allows text entry, and you can also ask questions via Twitter by including the hashtag #acswebinars. By golly, the ACS is riding the crest of the social media wave. The second webinar in the series, “Resume Writing for Scientists,” is scheduled for Tuesday, March 8th at 2:00 PM Eastern Time, and you can preregister here. But, as was mentioned before, if you can’t make it, don’t sweat it. You can catch it later, take copious notes, and rest easy knowing the ACS has your...

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In Search Of Another Electron Pusher
Feb03

In Search Of Another Electron Pusher

You may have noticed that JAEP's been dark for the last month since Leigh pushed on to bigger and better things. So it's high time we get a new electron pusher to share his or her tales of jobseeking in the world of nontraditional chemistry careers, however you define that in today's market. I’m looking for someone (perhaps a student or a poor unemployed soul or a poor employed discontented soul with a boss who doesn’t read blogs) who isn't quite convinced that the traditional academic or industry route is the one for her or him to take and who has an entertaining writing voice.  Profiles of the nontraditional careers that pop up as part of your search will be a big part of JAEP, but so are the more reflective, personal ones (think Leigh's rejection post). In exchange, I can offer a monthly pittance and access to some great mentors. If you're interested in the gig or in guestposting during this interim period, leave a comment or email me at r_pepling at acs dot org. Finally, a horribly overdue "Thank you, Leigh!" to Leigh for getting JAEP off and...

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