Persistence: 2009 Word of the Year

December 31, 2008

In many ways, 2009 will be a challenging year for each of us in terms of career management and development. Persistence will serve as the key to success.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”

~ Calvin Coolidge

There is little that is certain about 2009 except that there will be discord in the financial markets. As a result, the workplace will continue to evolve into a new and more stable configuration. Among other things, the second law of thermodynamics states that energy naturally flows from areas of high to low concentration. Unless countermanded by a persistent external force the system will progress to a greater state of disorder—entropy. The governments of the world are currently amassing a response to the financial entropy that is rampant in global markets, but there will be no quick fix. All parties involved will need to doggedly and consistently pursue subsequent solutions to ensure our recovery and success.

Likewise, we must be persistent in our pursuit of personal success. We must be aware of the opportunities and the challenges looming in our future and we must position our selves to our best advantage. When seemingly insurmountable obstacles present themselves, we must either chip through them, tunnel under them, or jump over them. We must be persistent in our resolve to solve the situation.

Growing up in rural west Texas, most of my afternoons and weekends were spent working with my Dad on various outdoor projects. I credit my Mom for these experiences. Her core philosophy was that we could not mess up the house if we weren’t in it, and the chief weapon in her arsenal was a list of to-do items that was a mile long. As a result, Dad and I were in a state of perpetual motion. As it turned out, most of our projects included digging: digging a post hole, tilling a garden, or simply removing rocks from the soil so that plants would grow. In retrospect, I realize that many of my chores were busy work intended to keep me occupied and out of trouble. I also realize that digging was a free activity that could be accomplished with little supervision. But digging holes also taught me a lot about persistence. In west Texas the soil is poor. It is composed of caliches and gypsum. The only way to dig a hole is to chip your way through the calcite deposits found in the soil. Dogged persistence was the name of the game. At the end of the day, we almost always got what we wanted. Another hole would be dug, another fence pole installed, and for my Mom, the house would remain clean.

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”

~ Frank Lloyd Wright

By committing ourselves to a personal set of goals, we can be successful in the coming year, but there will be challenges. We must resolve to persevere, to find solutions that face our society and to overcome the barriers that we face in our professional lives.

Best wishes to you and yours in the year ahead!

David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Career Management and Diversity Programs at the American Chemical Society.

Hereford Culture

December 29, 2008

During graduate school, I took on many different jobs to make ends meet, but none was as educational as working on a cattle ranch in North Texas. There I was introduced to Hereford culture, and I must conclude that cattle are stupid.

I am very thankful for the financial support I received through teaching and conducting research in graduate school, but there were some days when I needed more. Desperate times called for desperate measures. So when my budget got tight, I would take on an extra job. One such venture involved herding cattle into a stockyard so that they could be dehorned and vaccinated.

This may sound simple, or even romantic, but it wasn’t. Cattle lack the drive and focus necessary to adhere to a strategic plan. Their lives are genuinely centered on gastronomic fulfillment. Cows eat the grass at their feet until it is gone, and then they move on to the next clump of foliage they see. This is not a planned event, nor is thought given to long-term objectives, so it is difficult at times to convince cattle of the need for change.

On the other hand, I was very compelled and my mission was clear. Drive the cattle into the pen, give them their meds, trim their horns, and collect my cash. I dressed appropriately in a baseball cap, an old tee-shirt, jeans and my boots. I was also given the keys to an old pickup truck, so that I could “nudge” the cows along if necessary.

The round-up proceeded smoothly. Yelling, honking the truck horn, or waving my arms wildly was generally enough motivation to ensure buy-in from the herd; however, there were two hold- outs: a cow named Bessie and a bull named Frank. They had recently given birth to a love-child which was hidden in a clump of mesquite trees.

I was told by the lead man, Bubba, to grab the calf and stand in the back of the pickup while he drove slowly toward the pen. This plan was meant to incentivize the herding process for Bessie, who in turn would incentivize the process for Frank. However, Bessie was more concerned about the grass than she was about her calf, so I was told to “twist the calf’s ear a little bit, so that it’ll talk to its mama.” Bubba killed the truck to make the calf’s wail more audible to Bessie. 

As instructed, I twisted the calf’s ear; it simultaneously squealed and became incontinent. Hearing her baby in distress, Bessie sprang to the rescue jumping half-way into the pick-up. The truck lurched and I slipped on the now wet bed of the pickup toward Bessie. Luckily, Bubba restarted the truck and drove it toward the mark. With calf in hand, Bessie in pursuit and Frank trailing along behind, we completed our mission according to plan. I got my money. Bessie was reunited with her calf, and surrounded by a herd of heifers, Frank was also content.

Don’t be like the cattle in this story. Set yourself apart from the herd by planning for your future. Consider where you want to go, what you want to accomplish, what will motivate you to change, and how you will encourage others to help you in your plan. 

This article was written by David Harwell, Assistant Director of the ACS Department of Career Management & Development. Article originally published in the newsletter on July 2, 2007.

MacGyverize Your Career

December 22, 2008

I know it’s shocking, but I’ve never watched a single show of MacGyver—until last month.  I remember hearing about it, and it sounded like a show I’d enjoy.  However, my first child was born six months before the pilot show of MacGyver (September 29, 1985) and my free time suddenly disappeared.  When MacGyver aired its final show (exactly 17 years ago, on January 13, 1992), my third child was eight months old.  Those six years were, for me, a blur of sleep deprivation, disposable diapers, and memorable “firsts” (e.g.. baby’s first step, first word, first trip to the Emergency Room, first use of ipecac syrup, etc.)

With the help of, I recently reclaimed some of those lost years and experienced my first episode of MacGyver.  Now I finally understand how the verb “to MacGyver” and the noun “MacGyverism” found their way into the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

One of the key elements of the show is MacGyver’s inventive use of his Swiss Army Knife to solve every conceivable problem.  ( has a fun list of the problems solved by MacGyver.) [ ]  Every week, he demonstrated that you can meet most challenges successfully, if you have a few basic tools, a storehouse of knowledge, a flash of creativity, and a lot of determination.

That got me thinking about what basic tools (i.e., skills, talents, experiences) I carry with me every day to help me meet my career and professional challenges.  If my metaphorical Swiss Army Career Knife consists of only five tools that I can have constantly at hand, what are they? 

After a good bit of self-reflection, I came up with a list.  My Swiss Army Career Knife includes:

·         The ability to communicate effectively through writing

·         Contacts in the chemistry community (many developed through the ACS)

·         A curiosity that prompts me to ask lots of questions

·         A broad knowledge of chemistry  (As the “central science,” chemistry gives me a ticket to travel freely throughout the world of science and technology.)

·         A love for researching information on the Internet         

You’ll note there are plenty of aptitudes and assets that aren’t found on my Swiss Army Career Knife—either because I don’t possess them at all or they are relative weaknesses for me.  Noticeably lacking are talents and skills such as:

·         physical prowess

·         managerial skills

·         computer programming skills

·         advanced degrees in business or law

·         extroverted personality

Any or all of those assets would be great to have, and I’ve developed some capability in these areas over the years.  But I must admit that these are not my strengths, not my core skills.    When faced with a professional challenge or problem, I know what to do—I MacGyverize and reach for my Swiss Army Career Knife.

What are the five tools on your Swiss Army Career Knife?

Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade
working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science Fellow,
he launched a
freelance science writing business,
Wedin Communications (, in 1992.

Stay Informed: How to Succeed in Today’s Economy

December 15, 2008

How should chemists react to today’s adverse economic news? To protect your career, the first step is to be aware of the economic news and how it could impact your career.  Forewarned is forearmed.


Read your local newspaper’s news and business to learn about events at your employer. “Chemical & Engineering News” and national business publications such as the “Wall Street Journal,” “Business Week,” and “Fortune” can clue you in on broader business news on the chemical industry and other industries employer chemists.


C&EN business news often provides more in depth coverage of the chemical industry than general business publications. For example, a November 24 C&EN article described the adverse effects of the automotive industry slowdown on its chemical suppliers ( The financial crisis at many lending institutions has resulted in a major housing and business construction slowdown reducing demand for many chemical products. Worried people are spending less on consumer items also reducing chemical demand.


Local publications may provide more depth on local developments than national publications. For example, the December 8 issue of “Wall Street Journal” covered the announcement of Dow’s closure of 20 facilities and the loss of 5,000 jobs worldwide at the firm plus elimination of 6,000 contractor jobs ( The same day the “Houston Chronicle” carried a story on cutbacks planned for Dow’s big complex in nearby Freeport, Texas providing information on this huge facility not carried by national publications. This bad economic news comes as chemical companies are still repairing and restarting Texas Gulf Coast plants damaged by Hurricane Ike last September.


DuPont, BASF, BassellLyondell, 3M and other employers of chemists are also eliminating thousands of jobs and closing plants.


Have staff reductions spread to industrial laboratories? As of mid-December, little information is available on this concern.


Okay, so now you’re staying abreast of business news in your industry. What’s next?


Determine how you can quickly improve your job security. Rapidly finish project reports so your manager is aware of your recent accomplishments. Submit invention disclosures on your research. Press your patent attorney to convert your invention disclosures into patent applications. Doing so will make her look good too. Evaluate your projects to determine how you can focus your efforts to make a positive impact in the short term.


Review your recent accomplishments. Doing so is useful in reminding your supervisor of your contributions. Also use this information to update your résumé so it is ready to go should you need to job hunt.


To prepare for possible job hunting, assemble a list of candidate employers. Go beyond your current industry and consider what others may be less negatively impacted by current business conditions. Determine what aspects of your skills and accomplishments are most relevant to these industries.


Assemble a list of contacts working in these industries and for potential future employers with whom you can discuss possible employment opportunities and who could provide useful job-hunting advice. Activate your existing professional network and start making new contacts.


Work through the Careers section of the ACS website to get job hunting advice and obtain advice from ACS career consultants ( on how to improve your resume.


Losing your job is a traumatic experience. Being prepared to get your job hunt off to a fast start and lessen this trauma and put you on the road to career recovery.


Full-time science writer John Borchardt is an ACS Career Consultant and certified Workshop Presenter. As an industrial chemist he holds 30 U.S. patents and written more than 130 peer-reviewed technical articles.

Hydrogen Bonding and Holiday Bonding

December 8, 2008

In her November 24 blog entry, Liane Gould (Manager, Career Services, ACS) highlights the value of networking and recommends a documentary on network science.  I second her recommendation; “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer”  [ can now be found at: ]

is a fascinating documentary.  And I highly endorse the concept of networking as central to career development.


However, I can also feel my body tensing up whenever I say or write the word, “networking.” 


If that word—“networking”—pushes you out of your comfort zone, I can relate.  I’m a bit of an introvert, and I’d rather talk in depth to two or three people at a party than chat superficially with everyone in the room.   To put it in terms that a chemist can understand, I believe in a few strong bonds rather than a lot of weak ones.  I’m a “covalent” type of guy.


But I’m also a protein chemist, and my graduate research involved using NMR to investigate protein structure and understand structural fluctuations in solution. I learned that weak bonds and interactions, especially hydrogen bonds, are absolutely essential to the structure and function of enzymes. (Remember that biochem lecture about primary, secondary, and tertiary structure?) 


So what does this mini-lesson in protein chemistry have to do with your career?   


OK, close your eyes.  Then just envision your career as a complex molecule.  You’re going to need plenty of hydrogen bonds, along with those covalent bonds, to stabilize the structure of your career.  Your secondary and tertiary interactions with those around you—in your research group, department, organization, ACS local section, extended family, neighborhood, or social-networking internet community—can help you shape your career. 


And December is the perfect month to put this hydrogen-bond strategy to work. 

With office holiday parties, departmental outings, local section socials, and family gatherings, you’re going to find yourself floating in a sea of potential interactions.  You don’t have to bond covalently with everyone you meet.  Like a protein molecule, be flexible.  Stay open to brief interactions.  Connect with others, even if for just a few minutes.  Exchange some energy and information (i.e., a smile and a business card).


One of the best writing assignments I ever received developed out of a brief, hydrogen-bond-like interaction at a social gathering at an ACS National Meeting.  While grabbing some crackers and cheese at the reception, I introduced myself to a chemist I had never met before.  It turned out that the science writer at this person’s organization had recently retired, and the organization was looking for a new science writer.   Over the next few months, we exchanged business cards, then e-mails, then resumes, and finally writing samples and references.  Soon, I was flying to their headquarters for interviews and, eventually, a fascinating writing assignment.


Networking works

In the coming weeks, as you mix with colleagues, friends, and neighbors in those holiday gatherings, put your hydrogen-bonding skills to work.  (For more examples of how chemists network, see “Networking: How Chemists Form New Bonds,” published originally in Chemistry, Autumn, 2003.) [ ]


Oh, and here’s one little warning you might want to keep in mind at those office parties.  Carefully monitor your ethanol consumption.  As a protein chemist, I learned that increasing the ethanol concentration of an aqueous solution will destabilize the protein structure. It can even lead to denaturation.  If you’re going to be drinking alcohol at office holiday parties, titrate carefully.

Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science Fellow, he launched a freelance science writing business, Wedin Communications (, in 1992.

New ACS Careers Programs Help Ensure Economic and Professional Success

December 1, 2008

The current economic situation has caused much uncertainty and worry for our members and others within the chemical enterprise. New graduates are experiencing greater difficulty in obtaining full time employment, and many mid- to late-career chemists are transitioning from one job to the next. Mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations are once again reshaping the chemical landscape, and business cycles once measured in years are best calibrated on a much shorter timescale.

As we face uncertain economic times, it is important that each of us positions ourselves as competitively as we can to be successful. Today’s workplace requires ingenuity, flexibility, and continuous professional development from its practitioners. It also requires a practical understanding of current business practices. In order to help ensure the continued prosperity and success of our members, and the companies for which they work, the Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA) is pleased to announce the addition of two new programs to the ACS Careers portfolio.

Through a collaborative partnership with Harvard Business Publishing, ACS is offering a suite of 42 introductory online business and management skills courses through the new ACS Center for Professional Development. The course library includes topics such as Career Management, Negotiating, Leading and Motivating, Presentation Skills, Strategic Thinking, Team Leadership, Time Management, and many other high-quality courses. At $25 per course, this offering is substantially discounted for our members. Even lower rates are available for members who are currently unemployed. To enroll in one of these courses or to find out more about the topics covered, go to

The ACS Careers Industry Forum is a monthly teleconference featuring luminaries from the chemical industry who speak about economic and other trends affecting employment. This is a free service of the Society. The series which debuted in September featured Dr. Magid Abou-Garbia, Senior Vice President and Head of Chemical and Screening Sciences for Wyeth Drug Discovery and Development as the first speaker who discussed strategies for a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. Since then, the forum followed with Dr. Carolyn Ribes of Dow Benelux BV in the Netherlands who spoke about the challenges and opportunities of working abroad, and Dr. Michael Stem of Strem Chemicals Inc. who spoke about the differences between small and large companies. The upcoming forum in January will showcase incoming ACS President Dr. Thomas Lane of Dow Corning Corporation who is the Director of Global Science and Technology Outreach. To sign up for upcoming ACS Careers Industry Forum teleconferences, visit the ACS Careers Blog at

CEPA is also proud to support the ACS Network. The ACS Network is a professional networking tool for the global chemistry community, hosted by the American Chemical Society. Combined with our already successful ACS Careers Jobs Database, the Network promises to be one of the most empowering tools for today’s job seekers. The addition of ACS Global Partners to the ACS Network will make it even more powerful. ACS Global Partners are those with electronic access to ACS journal subscriptions through their library or other institution. To use these tools in concert, simply search and apply for jobs from the jobs database, and then conduct a search within the ACS Network for people working at your potential employer. To join or use the ACS Network follow the link on the ACS homepage,

Healthcare and health insurance were identified as the top workforce concerns of ACS members. In response, CEPA, in conjunction with Office of Public Affairs, developed a public policy statement on the issue, which was subsequently approved by the ACS Board of Directors. The policy advocates removal of barriers to allow national Association Health Care plans. In addition CEPA will be polling members of the Legislative Action Network to help identify other workforce issues and concerns.

These new services complement existing ACS programs that offer ACS members a means to remain competitive in a changing economic environment. For example, ACS members benefit from free weekly issues of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) including the special report “Employment Outlook,” published in the November 3, 2008, issue. To sharpen and increase marketable technical skills, continuing education courses are available both in-person and on the web at a discount to ACS members. Membership in ACS Divisions provides a network of colleagues in your own discipline of chemistry.

CEPA continues to monitor the economic and professional status of our members, and is working to create additional programs, products and services with the chief goal of enabling the professional success of Society members in the U. S. and abroad.

This article originally appeared in the November 17, 2008 edition of C&EN. It was written by Dr. Martin Gorbaty Chair of the ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs.