We’ve Moved!

July 14, 2014

ACS Careers Blog is now the ACS Career Navigator™ Blog. Visit weekly at our new location on the ACS Network for information on ACS Career Services, Professional Education, Leadership Development and Market Intelligence.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

July 7, 2014

Every day, you make the decision as to whether to continue working at the same job, or look for something new. Most days, you don’t even think about it, you just get up and go to work. If you have a really bad day, you may think about seeing what else is out there. But in order to be a good steward of your own professional destiny, you need to stop every once in a while and really consider where you are in your career, and if that is where you want to be. Below are a few questions to help determine if you are on the right path, or if it’s time to start looking for a change.

Have To or Get To

When you wake up in the morning, are you excited about going to work, or do you dread it? Do you find yourself pondering work problems when not at work, and not mind? Do you read books and articles related to work in your spare time? If you truly enjoy what you do, you will look forward to it, and not be bothered when thoughts of work occacionally creep into other parts of your life.

Family and Friends

Does your family think what you do is really cool? Are they proud of you, and anxious to tell others about what you do? Or do they think your job is an endless list of boring chores, and wonder why you do it? Where do they get that opinion, if not from things you have said to them? Your attitude towards your work is reflected in the people who are closest to you.

Meeting Expectations

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. You may have tried something different on a lark, or been forced by into a sub-optimal position by circumstances. After you’ve been there for awhile, you need to take a step back and decide if it was as bad as you thought it was going to be, or if it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Are you where you thought this position would take you? Sometimes, taking a chance puts you in a place you never thought you’d be, but it ends up being a perfect fit.


When you look back over your career history, what are the things of which you are most proud? What do you consider your most significant accomplishments? Can you see more exciting accomplishments on your current path? Are you working towards something you will be proud of? If not, it might be time to move on, into a career path with a future you can be exited about.

You should get into the habit of pausing to evaluate your career situation on a regular basis – once a year, or even once every six months. If you find yourself saying “This is okay, for now” too many times in a row, it might not be “now” anymore.

Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—brought to you by ACS Careers.



Managing Your Day

June 23, 2014

Going from emergency to emergency putting out fires at work is no way to spend your day. Some days there is a crisis or things keeping coming up that do not let you manage your time effectively. Most days, though, you should be able to arrange your work day so you can work efficiently. This will leave you fresher for the inevitable out of control days.


Make your first task of the day to review what needs to happen and when. Prioritize all the tasks you have to do so that you make sure to accomplish the most important things and do not waste time with things that can wait until later.

Schedule time with yourself

Set aside time to think and work on complex problems. Meetings and collaborations will be written in on your schedule but do not neglect solo work or fit it in late in the day. The end of the day is when you are tired and not at your best. Make sure to protect your time to think. It can easily be chipped away by co-worker requests and last minute changes.

Plan on interruptions

Take into account how often you are interrupted throughout the day when planning your schedule. If possible schedule ‘office hours’ when people are welcome to ask you questions and discuss projects. Do not pretend interruptions do not exist when making your schedule; you will still have to deal with problems and issues that come up. Your plan for the day will fall by the apart if you do not anticipate this happening. Try to leave a little extra time in your schedule, knowing it will be eaten up by people dropping by and problems popping up throughout the day.

Block similar tasks together

Make blocks of time to handle the same type of tasks. Make all your phone calls at one time. Take a chunk of time to read and respond to emails. It’s easier on you to be efficient and do tasks that require the same software or equipment at the same time rather than jumping around.


Email, phone calls, and social media are increasingly intrusive and distracting. Disconnect from your electronics for big chunks of the day and stick to your schedule rather than being pulled in multiple directions when possible. Reply to messages when it is convenient for you unless there is an emergency.


Do not multi-task. Give your attention to whatever you are currently working on; stopping and starting projects will slow you down and not let you do your best work. Complete one task before switching to the next one. Logging out of email and turning your phone off will help with this.

Managing your work day will let you be more productive and feel less stressed while working. Prioritizing, scheduling time to think, allowing for interruptions, efficiently grouping tasks, disconnecting from electronics, and focusing on the task at hand are some ways to organize your time. It’s not possible to always stick to a plan but effectively managing your work day will allow you to be more efficient and should make your time more enjoyable.
This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.

When Is It Time To Leave?

June 16, 2014

 Sometimes it’s easy to know when to leave your current job: your manager is a complete jerk, you are being asked to do unethical or illegal things, or you just plain hate what you are doing. Job situations are usually not that extreme, making the decision to leave or stay in your current job complicated. You may not love your job but you do not hate it, your boss can be unpleasant sometimes but isn’t a terrible person, you may not find your career karmically rewarding but you certainly aren’t harming anyone or committing questionable acts. When is dissatisfaction enough to leave and find a new job?


In a perfect world, our jobs would be financially rewarding, intellectually challenging, changing the world for the better, and bring us into contact with interesting kind people. What imperfections are we willing to accept and what ones should push us to leave? What changes can you make to yourself or in your current job before deciding leaving is the best option?


If you find yourself not doing your best work, consider leaving. Some days you do not enough have the time or resources to do your best work. However, if you are consistently not doing good work that you are capable of doing, you need to examine your reasons. Performing poorly when you could be doing well is a sign that you are not engaging in your work. Start looking for ways to invest yourself in your job. Think about what things you enjoy in your job or what you like accomplishing in this field. If you cannot find a way to engage in your work, start looking for a new job or even a new career that you can be passionate about.


Needing some peace and quiet to get things done is understandable. Having to hide out from co-workers to be productive should not be a regular occurrence. Your co-workers may not be harassing you but if they are constantly preventing any real work from getting done, you should change your work environment. Work on time management strategies and try to find ways to manage your co-workers’ intrusions. If after trying different tactics, your co-workers are still a problem consider making a change and start job hunting.


You may not always completely agree with your company’s strategy but if you do not understand how or why decisions are being made, you may not fit into the corporate culture. You should not be left feeling decisions are being made at random, consider making changes if that happens. Look to work in different department or under a different manager if its a problem with management immediately above you. If its your company’s overall strategy, look to make a bigger change.
Job hunting, preparing and submitting resumes, going on interviews, and starting a new job can be a stressful process. You may not want to start it unless you are really ready to leave your current job. Think about your day to day experience at work and how much you are able to engage in what you are doing. If you are not able to, because of yourself, your co workers, or just overall company strategy, let go of this job and start looking for where you should really be.
This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.

Why Should I Hire You?

June 9, 2014

Common interview questions are googled, anticipated, and feared by many an interviewee. People try to prepare for questions as strange as what type of animal best describes you, or what type of ice cream would you be. Answers are carefully thought through and even practiced in mock interviews or in front of the mirror. In all this preparation, people can overlook the question behind every other question during an interview: Why should I hire you?

The interview usually includes multiple rounds with panels of interviewers. It can be conducted over the phone, face-to-face in a conference room, or as all-day event including a presentation or sample work. You can count on all the usual questions, such as those related to your skills and previous experience. There are also the questions regarding “soft skills”, such as how you get along with others or how you handle conflict at the work place. Often, you will even be directly asked “Why should I hire you?” It is important to keep in mind that every question is really an attempt to answer the last one. The hiring manager doesn’t really want to listen to you recite a list of all the techniques you have used since your first lab class in college. That question is asked in order to learn whether you can hone in on your relevant skills for the current position and whether you can speak about those skills in a way that convinces others that you should be hired. Before you answer any interview question, take a second and think about your answer in terms of the real question – why should I hire you?

What type of ice cream would you be? Obviously, there’s a question behind that question. No one cares what you think about ice cream during an interview. Why would such an odd question be asked? It might be to see how well you can formulate spontaneous answers, or how well you perform under pressure. Again, what you really need to focus on with any answer to any question is why should this company hire me for this position? When you realize that is the underlying question, you can use almost every other question as a means of saying what you want to say during the interview.

What kind of ice cream would I be? If I wanted to focus on my broad skill set, I might go with Neapolitan and explain my choice in terms of the variety of experience I have. If I wanted to demonstrate that I am a reliable, consistent worker, I might choose vanilla. The point is that you can take almost any question and formulate the answer in terms of what you want to say about why they should hire you. Instead of practicing answers to questions, plan to turn their questions into opportunities for you to say what you want to say about why you are the best choice for this job.

Undoubtedly, you will never be able to anticipate every question that will be asked, especially as strange interview questions become more popular. Realize that all the hours of questioning are really just an attempt to get an answer to one question. And make sure that every answer you give to every question is ultimately answering that question behind all questions: Why should I hire you?

This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions. 

Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

June 2, 2014

Job interviews are stressful. You’re worried about making a good impression, selling your skills and abilities, and not spilling food on yourself. At the same time, you’re trying to learn all about the company, determine what the job will really be like, and decide if you like your potential future co-workers. However, the last question can be the most stressful – when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. You not only need to have questions prepared, but you should tailor them to the person of whom you are doing the asking.


“No, not really” or “What does your company make?”

These are probably the worst things you can ask. It indicates not only lack of preparation, but a lack of real interest in the company or the job. Other than giving a bad seminar, asking no questions is probably the easiest way to make sure you don’t get an offer.


“Why is this position open?”

The answer to this will most likely be short, but very telling. It could be due to a promotion, a new direction for the company, or something else. They probably won’t tell you the previous person quit because the department was dysfunctional (they may not know). However, seeing how open they are to answering the question can be more telling than the answer itself.


“What is the biggest problem I will face in this position?”

Phrasing the question this way makes the hiring manager think of you as already in that postion. It shows you are involved and planning how best to do the job.


“What do you like best/worst about working for this company?”

This will give you some insight into both the culture of the company, and the values of the specific person who is answering it. This makes it especially useful to ask of your potential future boss.


“How will I be evaluated?” or “In your opinion, what is valued at this company?”

Some companies have a formal review process, others not so much. In some companies technical expertise is rewarded and promoted, in others managerial aptitude is needed to get ahead. This question shows your interest growing with the company, and will help you prioritize your activities once you start work.


“What is the next step?”

Your last question will be a version of this, directed to the human resources person. It shows your continued interest in the process. What you really want to find out is where they are in the hiring process, where you stand relative to the other candidates, and when a decision will be made. This will allow you to know when to contact them again, showing interest and enthusiasm without appearing desperate.


Preparing for questions you know you will be asked is a great way to manage the stress associated with the job interview process. By preparing insightful, probing questions that show you are excited about working for this company and this role, you will end the interview on a positive note, with every chance of a successful outcome.



Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—brought to you by ACS Careers.


Do More When You Have Less

May 26, 2014

I recently read about a group of amazing computer programmers who emigrated to the US. They came out of Russia, in a time when Russia had very few computers. With little knowledge of the English language, they were able to use their superior programming skills to not only survive, but thrive, and build highly lucrative and successful careers.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. If they had extremely limited access to computers, how did they even learn to program, let alone become experts? The solution actually comes from the scarcity – if you have limited access to something, you learn to make the most of what you do have. You spend a lot of time planning, and thinking about the best, most efficient ways to do things. You don’t just try things to see what happens (much), but must really learn how to take advantage of every second you have with the computer.

Similarly, if you have limited access to an NMR, HPLC, or other scientific equipment, you are going to plan your experiments carefully, making sure to get the most information from each minute you do have on the machine. You will most likely spend some of your more copious non-machine time thinking deeply about the science behind how the device works, what is special and unique about your samples, to find clever ways to get the most data in the smallest amount of time. This is often how new techniques are invented, and how existing ones are extended.

You don’t need to move to a country with limited resources to learn how to be efficient. What are the tools and techniques you currently take for granted? Which have you used for so long that you don’t really think about them any more? Can you take a step back, look with a fresh eye, and really think about what you are doing, and why you are doing it?

This philosophy can be extended to other parts of your life as well. What habits have you developed, and do they still make sense? We’ve all heard the joke about the woman who always cut the end off her pot roast and threw it away before cooking it. She always did it because her mother had always done it, and her mother did it because HER mother had always done it. But when the woman finally asked her grandmother why she did that, the answer was because her pan wasn’t big enough to fit the whole thing. This habit had been passed down for three generations – what started out as a practical solution to a current problem turned into an expensive waste when circumstances changed, and no one thought to question why they did things that way.

What office or lab habits have you developed, that you don’t think about anymore? Maybe now is the time to think about those things that you don’t think about, re-examine why you do them that way, and see if there’s a better way, a new tool, or an updated technique that can save you time or effort. Sure, there will be an initial investment to look into the options, examine the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and maybe learn a new tool, but that may be more than made up for by savings in time or additional information obtained in future experiments.

Change is always difficult, and most people avoid it whenever possible. It’s easier just to continue doing things the way they have always been done. But sometimes, investing a little time and effort to really think about what you are doing, and why you are doing it that way, can pay off big in the long run.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC.  Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.



Coping with Job Stress

May 19, 2014

The alarm goes off. Another day in the pressure cooker of work has begun. And there are only 24 hours to get more done today. If your mornings begin with the panic of job-related stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s time to implement some simple strategies for stress reduction. Stress is defined as a state of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium. This definition is vague, and for good reason. Stress is personal. The factors that disrupt one person’s “equilibrium” may be exactly what motivates another person. In other words, stress exists because you perceive it to exist. No one is injecting you with stress or slipping it into your morning coffee – you are fueling it. And that’s great news, because you can learn to manage it.

Take Control

The American Institute of Stress has determined a close connection between perceived stress and perceived control. People feel stressed when they feel a lack of control over a situation. Are there ways that you could gain more control over your job tasks, your work environment, your schedule, etc.? Certain factors of your job may be fixed, with little potential for more control. Look for opportunities to expand your control, and talk to your manager about ways that you could be more independent. Implementing control in your personal life can also reduce job stress. Simple changes like establishing a consistent workout schedule or focusing on eating a healthy diet can provide a sense of control and reduce stress. Look for any goal that you can work toward, whether job-related or not.

Focus on the Positives

There is a reason why people get paid to do their jobs. It is work, and it won’t always be enjoyable. Recognize and accept that there will be aspects of your job that you don’t like. Then stop focusing on those factors! Focus on the positive aspects of your job. This sounds obvious, but when you’re feeling stressed it’s easy to get caught up in the negatives. Start catching yourself when you think about something negative, and then redirect your thoughts back to something positive or encouraging. Over time, positive thoughts will become the default.

Maintain a Realistic Perspective

It’s only a job, after all. You don’t literally have the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you question the previous statement, you have an unrealistic perspective that allows stress to dominate your thoughts. Use stress as it is best used – as motivation. Feel the pressures of your tasks and deadlines, and then get busy and work hard. Don’t validate an unrealistic perspective by worrying about how you will reach impractical goals; instead, focus on what you have accomplished at the end of the day.

Don’t be a Work-aholic

It may seem like working endless hours is the only way to relieve the stress of a demanding job. If you do this, you will never feel “caught up” and stress-free. You will only be allowing job-related stress to enter into your personal time and overtake your life. Working late for an occasional project is one thing, but when long hours become status quo, stress is amplified. For most people, there is a point at which working longer does not correlate to significantly greater productivity. In other words, there is a point of diminishing returns. For me, this happens after about 9 or 10 hours of focused work. If I continue to work another few hours, there is not much to show for it. Recognize when your productivity starts to fade, and take that as your sign to call it a day. Go home, stop working, stop stressing, and enjoy life outside of work. After all, isn’t that why we work – to support and benefit our personal lives?


This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

May 12, 2014

This can be a tough question to answer in an interview or when your manager is talking to you about career development. What they really want is not an in depth look at the future you envision for yourself but to see how well your short and medium term goals match up to what your employer can provide for you and needs from you. Beyond a well crafted reply in interviews and annual reviews, its helpful for you to determine a five year plan for yourself. Before you can answer the question, you need to create a five year plan for yourself.

Five years is a good time frame for planning. Its not too far off into the future where its hard see how you will get there but its a long enough time to accomplish a bigger goal or two. Laying out a concrete plan helps make you accountable to yourself and brainstorming ways to make them happen will you help to actually start accomplishing them.

-Think about where you want to be five years. What will your life look like? Where will you be in your career? What do you want to accomplish?

Make these goals demanding but attainable. If the goals are too demanding you may end up discouraged before you even start. The goals should be challenging, if they are too easy for you to accomplish, you may feel bored with the process and are not moving towards the place you really want to be.

-Sort your goals according to priority. What is really important? What things would be nice to accomplish but do not feel necessary to you?

Label the goals you would most like to meet ‘A’ goals. Goals that you want to accomplish but are less important are ‘B’ goals. ‘C’ goals are things that would be nice to do but not important. Really think about what you care about and what is important when you are prioritizing. Make sure to sincerely rate these goals; this is your list and should reflect your own needs and preferences.

-Think of ways to accomplish each goal. What are different paths you can take to meeting that goal?

Take one goal at a time and write down any way you can think of to make it happen. Do not worry if you end up with a few silly or implausible ideas. Sometimes a silly idea can spark another great idea; do not waste time censoring yourself and just go with it.

-Once you finish your list of ways to meet a goal, rate them from ‘A’ to ‘C’ again. ‘A’ being the most useful or important and ‘C’ being the least helpful. Go through the list of ideas for each goal and sort them this way.

-Rewrite your goals and the ways you plan to accomplish them.

Look over your five year plan to make sure it reflects how you envision your life in the next five years. Make sure to revisit your plan now and then to see if you are working towards you are still working towards your goals. Update or make new plans as things change. Be flexible. As you start accomplishing your goals, you will surely find new things you want to do or change your mind on how important a goal is to you over time. A trusted mentor-it could be someone at work, or a former teacher or a current co-worker-may be able to help you see how realistic your goals are and may help generate new ideas on how to meet them.

Now that you have your own five year plan, you can share the relevant parts of it during an interview or annual review. An interviewer or your manager does not need to know every detail of your 5 year plan. Make sure to discuss the relevant parts of your plan with him or her but feel free to leave out some of your personal goals.

This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.

And Today’s Speaker is….

May 5, 2014

Chemical professionals are used to presenting their work at seminars and conferences. They spend hours preparing content and practicing wording, until everything is perfect. But when it comes to introducing other speakers, many people give very little thought to what they will say until they actually step on stage.

As the host, it is your job to get the attention of the audience, build anticipation, and spark interest in what the speaker has to say. You want to prime the audience, to give the speaker the best possible chance of success. Below are some tips to help you do just that.

Do Your Homework

Start well ahead of time, by asking the speaker for their bio and CV or resume. Visit their professional web page, and learn about their work and institution. Ask them to pronounce their name, and repeat it back. Make sure you have the title of their presentation exactly right, it is has not changed, and that you know how to pronounce everything.

Prepare the Content

If the audience is not familiar with you, briefly state your name and your role, then quickly move to your introduction of the speaker, emphasizing

their connection with this organization or event, their credentials, and their topic. Don’t repeat a laundry list of all their awards, accomplishments and education, just enough to intrigue the audience and convince them that this person is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic to this audience. Don’t give an outline of the talk, or set up unrealistic expectations.

Once you have your introduction written, run it by the speaker. They may have newer information to add, or prefer that something be omitted.

Set the Tone

Your introduction should match the formality and length of the main presentation, generally 1-2 minutes for short presentations. If the speaker is giving an hour-long talk, your introduction can be a little longer, and may include your personal connection to the speaker. Humor is occasionally appropriate, but if you’re not sure, omit it.

As your introduction builds to a climax, you should draw attention to the speaker by looking directly at them, end with “and I am pleased to present Dr. David Tennant”, and get off stage immediately. If you are introducing a series of speakers in a symposium, make sure to use the same level of formality for each – don’t call some “Dr. Thomas Baker” and others “Clara”.

Learn the Material

While it’s okay to use notes, there’s nothing more boring to the audience than a speaker reading directly from a piece of paper – unless it’s reading what is already printed in the program. As when you are the presenter, smile, stand up straight, and speak loudly, clearly, and with enthusiasm.

By the end of your introduction, the audience will know that this is the only speaker who could address their need to know about this topic, and they will be anxious to hear what she has to say. An eager audience is the best gift you can give a guest speaker, and mastering this art will go a long way towards enhancing your professional reputation.

Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator.