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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK1Cb9qj3qQ ]
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.
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.) [ http://www.wedincommunications.com/ChemistryAndNetworking.pdf ]
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 (www.wedincommunications.com), in 1992.