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ACS Webinars: The Road Less Traveled– Nontraditional Careers for PhD Chemists, Part Two

As promised, here’s Part Two of my recap of Steven Carlo’s presentation with ACS Webinars entitled, The Road Less Traveled—Alternative Careers for PhD Chemists.

If you missed it, you can watch the video on the ACS Webinars YouTube channel or here.

To PhD or not to PhD?—that is the question. And it varies among the different nontraditional career options. Photo courtesy: flickr user dan & emily.

In the last post, I compiled a list of both traditional and nontraditional career options for chemists, some of which Steven highlighted during the webinar. For your convenience, I’ve linked back to previous profile posts where we highlighted a person with that career.

Steven’s lecture was full of all kinds of career advice, ranging from how to prepare your resume to tips on networking. I’ve arranged his words of wisdom in a Q&A format and arranged the questions by topic:

General advice for job applicants

Q: The job market isn’t looking so hot. What advice do you have for job applicants to increase their chances of landing a job?

A: Right now the odds are against you to find a job. So, be sure to take advantage of the resources at your disposal: talk to your adviser, people who work in career services on your campus, peruse the internet.  Some recommended websites for finding job postings: ACS Careers, Monster.com, careerbuilder.com, chemistryjobs.com, USAjobs.com, Science.

Education and Experience

Q: Is a PhD required for all these jobs?

A: It varies. If you are someone who is considering a nontraditional career for yourself, part of your research on careers should involve talking to people who work in the field to find out what types of educational background are common for people in those fields. Conversations with people in the field, known as informational interviews, are a crucial component of networking, which we all have heard over and over is such an important part of your career advancement.

Q: Should I do a postdoc if I’m not sure what else to do?

A: Doing a postdoc probably isn’t necessary or helpful unless you’re serious about academia—then it’s essential that you find a postdoc adviser who will help train you and prepare you for an independent research career. Lots of publications and a big-name postdoc adviser is always good is you’re shooting for academia.

Q: How can people who are thinking about non-traditional careers and have little to no experience in those areas compete with those who do have experience in those fields?

A: If you lack formal educational training, go take a course at a community college, or find some other ways to get skills of experiences that will make you more qualified for the job. Consider if there are any skills that are transferrable from one field to another. You just need “some kind of hook that can get you in,” Steven said. If you’re a researcher wanting to get into, say, editing, you will have to justify it in your cover letter: “I’m interested in this type of career because…”  Continue reading →

ACS Webinars: The Road Less Traveled—Alternative Careers for PhD Chemists, Part One

If you're exploring nontraditional chemistry careers, be prepared for life on the road less traveled. Photo credit: flickr user Horia Varlan.

A few weeks ago, ACS Webinars hosted Steven Carlo, a PhD physical chemist who worked for more than 10 years in R&D, consulting and technology transfer before taking on his current job as a technical manager for the federal government.

The topic: Alternative careers for PhD chemists.

If that’s not a topic appropriate for this blog, I don’t know what is! If you missed it, you can watch the video on the ACS Webinars YouTube channel or here.

You may recognize Steven from previous ACS Webinars, such as this one about the science behind paper money. Neat stuff!

In the first half of the webinar, Steven presented an overview of the various career paths that are available to PhD chemists, touching on both traditional careers as well as careers beyond the bench.

Steven identified and briefly described the four common career paths for PhD chemists, which include:

  • Academia: Become a chemistry professor at a university or college. As a professor, your starting pay is going to be less than if you went into industry and you have to write grant proposals to acquire funding for your research ideas. However, professors can work on whatever research they want, assuming they can convince agencies to provide the funds.
  • Industry: Work for a large company or for a start-up where you can learn about entrepreneurship. In industry, you make a decent salary and don’t have to worry about grants, but you may not have the freedom to decide what you work on, since those choices are made by higher-ups in the company.
  • Government: Work for a national lab or a federally funded R&D center (FFRDC). Many government agencies hire contractors whose employment is contingent on the continuation of the contract. Federal employees receive a competitive salary, and pension and benefits that are comparable to industry. You are a civil servant and there’s a lot of bureaucracy.
  • Consulting: “Can be absolutely awesome only when the dollars are flowing,” Steven says. Consultants work to provide solutions to problems or validate client observations. A huge variety of projects are possible, and you can work for a company or for yourself.

Other less-common “nontraditional” career options available to PhD chemists (with links to previous blog posts that highlight such careers, where applicable) include: Continue reading →

What it takes to be a chemistry entrepreneur

If you’re a chemist with a great idea, it just might be that some entrepreneurial training and business savvy is all you need to start up a company that could lead to new jobs, according to Harvard University professor George Whitesideds.

George Whitesides, professor at Harvard University, talked about what it takes to start up a small company. If you missed the ACS Webinar, check it out here: http://acswebinars.org/vcf2011-innovation

A few weeks back, Whitesides, along with ACS Immediate Past President Joseph Francisco, co-hosted an ACS Webinar titled “Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs.” If you missed it, you can view the recorded webinar here.

The option of taking your idea and starting up a company is something that’s not talked about in much depth in the circles I run in, i.e. in grad school.

Whitesides said he believes this is a problem. Students are coming out with advanced chemistry degrees but without the entrepreneurial know-how to turn their ideas into profits for the benefit of themselves and the economy.

During the webinar, Whitesides shared his thoughts on this issue and also offered suggestions to the ACS regarding what they can do to help create more jobs for chemists.

Read the entire report from the ACS Task Force here.

What’s the problem?

Whitesides had a thing or two to say about what it will take to get chemists back in the game.

To begin, the Task Force asked the question, What is causing the decline in employment for chemists? Is it a problem of declining need for chemists, or chemists’ decline in innovation?

The Task Force’s conclusion was that “there’s no loss in innovation, but there are problems in getting the ideas that are emerging in chemistry into a state where they are recognizable in creating large numbers of jobs,” Whitesides said.

In other words, the problem is not that there’s nothing left for chemists to contribute. In fact, the biggest problems facing society now are problems that require chemistry– so the opportunities are, in principle, unlimited, he said.

Okay, it’s not that chemists aren’t needed in society. They are. So, the problems lie more in the arena of turning brilliant ideas into marketable products.

But starting up a company is not as simple as we’d like to think. Continue reading →

ACS Webinars: Academic Jobs Outlook

You may be wondering why I’m blogging about academic careers on a blog which is supposed to be all about nontraditional careers for chemists.

Well, I attended the ACS Webinar titled “Academic Jobs Outlook” that was videostreamed live from the ACS National Meeting in Denver last week. If you missed it, you can still sign up and view it here.

While watching, it dawned on me that many chemists get turned off from academia because they realize that they wouldn’t want their PI’s job.

But there’s more to academia than R1, and that’s what I hope to highlight in this post.

The webinar hosted a panel of three faculty members who shared about their experiences at three different types of academic institutions: an R1 institution, a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) and a community college.

Meet the members of the panel (modified from the ACS Webinars website):

Here is a table that summarizes the topics that were discussed by the panelists, highlighting the differences between the three types of academic positions. Continue reading →

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!