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Highlights from Pittcon 2012 Chemistry Careers Networking Session, Part II

As promised, here’s the second blog post with more of the highlights from the Pittcon 2012 networking session I organized titled Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench. Part I can be found here.

After panelist introductions, we dove straight into the Q&A portion. Panelists were seated at the front of the room, and the rest of the attendees took seats around the room, which was organized in a U-shape to help facilitate conversation.

Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

Q: Did you choose a nontraditional career from the get-go, or did you end up in one by default (i.e., lost your job, etc.)?

A: Joanne Thomson looked for jobs outside of pharma for more stability, and found the Royal Society of Chemistry graduate development programme that helped her see what day-to-day life in the publishing world is like and that led to her current job as Deputy Editor.

Richard Skubish left the bench because he didn’t love the job anymore, and discovered the world of sales and marketing, where he is happy to still be a part of advancing science without being the one doing the science.

Celia Arnaud said she always thought she’d like to write for C&EN,

but still tried the grad school research thing only to find out she didn’t like it. “I knew I was in it for the long haul [as a science writer] because I wasn’t bored out of my mind by the end of the first year,” she explained.

To be competitive for jobs, it helps to demonstrate a unique skill set that sets you apart from the crowd. Photo credit: flickr user TheColorBee.

Q: Any advice for international students who are interested in nontraditional chemistry careers?

A: Joseph Jolson, who owns his own consulting business, Custom Client Solutions, tackled this question. Many international students have circumstances that work against them when it comes to landing a job (i.e. language difficulties, different social expectations, visa problems). To get around these problems his advice is: “Come up with skills sets that will create a demand for you.” In other words, international students will need to make themselves stand out from other job candidates.

Richard added on to Joseph’s answer by saying that many companies have gone global, and having foreign language skills can make job candidates more marketable to these companies.

Q: What kind of work-life balance does your job allow you?

A: Merlin and Joanne, who both work for the Royal Society of Chemistry, said the RSC requirement is 35 hours/week, although occasionally extra hours are required to get everything done.

Celia said she works from 7 am to 4 pm, if all goes well. But her days can go much longer than that especially when she has multiple deadlines for assignments.

Richard, who has three kids, said he has had to force himself to make some non-negotiable rules about the line between his work life and home life to make that he stays involved in his kids’ lives. He said it was easy at first but then got harder as additional responsibilities got added onto his plate. But he says you have to be careful about how you got about doing this because a good work-life balance “is respected in some circles, but not in others.”

Joseph said one of the best and worst things about his job is that he can work anytime and from anywhere in the world. This is fantastic because of the flexibility, but it can also make it difficult to turn off when the work day is over. Continue reading →

Highlights from Pittcon 2012 Chemistry Careers Networking Session, Part I

As promised, here’s a blog post with some of the highlights from the Pittcon 2012 networking session I organized! More to come later this week.

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of organizing a networking session at Pittcon titled “Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench.”

The room filled up with 29 people, including five panel members who came to share about their nontraditional career experiences.

We started off with a short ice breaker activity that helped everyone get a better idea of who else was in the room, and to introduce themselves to each other.

We found out that about half of the attendees were still in school, and the majority of those in school were undergraduates. This made me happy, because I feel like especially as an undergrad I had very little idea what I could do with a chemistry degree besides teach or do bench work. This fact about my past is what motivates me to blog about nontraditional careers today for JAEP today!

The majority of all attendees were primarily interested in pursuing traditional chemistry careers, but said they came out to learn more about what other options are out there. Given the shaky job climate, it never hurts to know what else you can do with a chemistry degree, one attendee said.

I wanted to also get a sense about how people in the room felt about the job market for chemists? Were they optimistic? Or not so much?

Well, it turns out the room was pretty much split three ways: optimistic, not sure, and not optimistic. Those who were not optimistic said it’s because they know too many chemists that have been laid off or are unable to find a job. On the optimistic side, several attendees felt confident they’d receive a job out of school since they’ve seen many of their peers get “plucked out of the lab” to work for companies in the area.

The last question I asked for the ice breaker was: Do you typically enjoy or dread formal networking session? I asked this because I know sometimes networking gets a bad rap, since it’s often described as being so important to landing a job, but people often feel uncertain about how to actually do it.

The room was pretty much split three ways again. Those who said they enjoyed networking sessions said it’s because they like getting to meet new people. One brave person from the “dread networking” side of the fence explained that for her, networking is scary because you never know how someone will receive you when you approach them to make an introduction. I can totally see why networking would be scary for that reason, especially if you are not naturally a social butterfly/extrovert type!

Each of the panelists introduced themselves and talked a little bit about who they are, what they do, and how they got to where they are today. Here’s a bit of information about each of the lovely panelists:

  • Joseph Jolson, consultant and owner of Custom Client Solutions.
    • Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, State University of New York at Buffalo.
    • B.S. in Chemistry, Brooklyn College.
    • Hobbies: baking, gardening, home restoration, financial management.
    • “I love the flexibility & portability that my job provides.”
  • Merlin Fox, Books Commissioning Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry.
    • Biology (B.Sc.), applied environmental science (M.Sc.), and agricultural sciences (Ph.D.).
    • Graduate and postdoc research focused on Environmental/Analytical Chemistry and Biogeochemistry.
    • Hobbies: conservation, gardening, photography, woodwork, cycling.
    • “I love learning about new science everyday, seeing one of ‘my’ books in a store or library.”
  • Joanne Thomson, Deputy Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry.
    • Masters degree in Chemistry, University of Edinburgh.
    • Hobbies: running, karate, cooking.
    • “I love that I get to interact with world-leading scientists and keep up-to-date with the latest ‘hot’ science.”
  • Celia Arnaud, Senior Editor, Chemical & Engineering News.
    • Ph.D. course work in Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
    • B.S. degree in Chemistry and a B.A. degree in English and Economics, University of Richmond.
    • Hobbies: choir, theater, reading.
    • “I love that I get to learn new things by talking to scientists about the cool research they do.”
  • Richard Skubish, Sales Development Manager, Sigma-Aldrich.
    • B.S., Chemistry, Trinity College.
    • Hobbies: father of 3, weekend-warrior home remodeler, very bad golfer.
    • “I love the fact that, although I do not do science on a daily basis, my science training and experience is still useful every single day… I still feel like I’m assisting advancement by supplying researchers with the tools that they need.”

Keep your eyes peeled in the next few days for Part II of the highlights from the session!

Networking in the hot tub

Here at JAEP, we regularly harp on the importance of networking. We’ve previously blogged about it here, here and here.

A hot tub is the place to go to relax, unwind, and… network? Photo credit: flick user artesianspas.

But it can start to sound very theoretical when you only hear about tips, techniques and advice on how to network, but don’t get a glimpse at what a real networking interaction looks like.

So, I’m here today to tell you a little story about a neat networking opportunity I had in a place you might least expect— a hot tub!

The story

My labmates and I (six of us total who were attending Pittcon in Orlando, FL) spent the week in a 3-bedroom condo at a resort near the convention center.

After a long day of attending meetings, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with information. My labmates twisted my arm and convinced me to take a walk down to the pool and relax and unwind in the hot tub.

Okay, that’s a slight twist of the truth. In reality, the pool was calling out to me and I had to go.

Ahhhh, I can still recall the wonderful carefree feeling that came over me as I slipped into complete and utter relaxation mode…

But it apparently was difficult for me to turn off my networking impulses that were firing all day long at Pittcon. Yaknow, that feeling that I should introduce myself to the people around me, ask about what they do and tell them a little bit about myself.

Networking, specifically, wasn’t on my mind when I said hello to a man in the hot tub, as I stepped in and fully immersed myself in the hot, bubbly waters. I was just being cordial.

The next thing I know, we’re in an in-depth discussion about all kinds of neat things—starting off with our careers. It turns out he’s a consultant and was attending Pittcon to teach a short course and also connect with several of his clients at the Exposition.

If you plan on doing a lot of networking in pools and hot tubs, you may want to invest in some plastic business cards like these. Photo credit: flickr user Pinkard Shop.

Then the conversation turned to me and my interests. I told him I’m a graduate student and a science writer, and that I plan on completely switching gears into science writing after I graduate this May.

The cool part

Little did I know that this consultant happened to have a client who was in need of some technical writing assistance. He invited me to come by their booth at the Expo the next morning so that he could introduce me to the owners of the company and talk about the assignment.

I showed up, not knowing much about the company, and about 20 minutes later, I was signed up to write a document that highlights the features and benefits of their software.

I have my first freelance technical writing assignment lined up now—all thanks to a casual hot tub conversation.

Sweet deal!

Still to come—highlights from Pittcon 2012 networking session

If you’re a regular JAEP reader, you may know that I organized a networking session at Pittcon called “Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench.” As promised, I’ll be writing about some the highlights from that session soon—so stay tuned!


Pittcon 2012 Networking Session: Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench

Attention Pittcon attendees– Here’s a shameless plug for a networking session that I’m organizing.

Come one, come all to the networking session titled “Chemistry Careers Beyond the Bench,” featuring a panel of chemists with nontraditional careers.

When: 1:30-3:30 pm on Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Where: Room 311H, Orange County Convention Center

Who will be on the panel?

  • Joseph Jolson, consultant and owner of Custom Client Solutions.
  • Merlin Fox, Books Commissioning Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Joanne Thomson, Deputy Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Celia Arnaud, Senior Editor, Chemical & Engineering News.
  • Richard Skubish, Sales Development Manager, Sigma-Aldrich.

All of the panelists have degrees in chemistry, and some of them worked for several years in research positions before transitioning into their current jobs.

What’s on the agenda?

This won’t be just another boring meeting. I’m hoping to get people out of their seats and moving around the room, where they will get to meet each of the panelists, as well as all the other attendees who are curious about nontraditional career options for chemists.

Once we’ve all gotten to meet each other, we will transition to the Q&A portion of the session. The panelists will introduce themselves and talk about how they got to where they are today. They will also offer advice and will field questions from the audience, such as:

  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • Why did you decide to leave the bench? Why not academia or industry?
  • What do you love about your job? What aspects could you do without?
  • What advice do you have for chemists out there aspiring to similar careers?
  • How hard is it to break into your field? Is there room for growth?
So if you’ll be at Pittcon, I hope you’ll consider attending the networking session and I look forward to meeting you! And if you won’t be attending Pittcon, no worries– I’m planning on blogging about some of the highlights from the session, so stay tuned for that!