Where are the Chemists? And Where Should You Be?


I start each morning by scanning blog headlines, and reading the articles that spark my interest.  One of the chemistry-related blogs I read recently began: “I’m going to write this morning about a question that actually came up among several of us at the train station this morning. I’m on a route that takes a lot of people into Cambridge, so we have a good proportion of pharma/biotech people on board. And today we got to talking about ……” .  

While the technical subject matter of the post was interesting, it was that lead-in that really caught my attention.  I wonder how many professional conversations happen on those trains, and how many connections are made?  Simply by being in a place where chemists are on a regular basis, these commuters are significantly increasing their odds of making valuable professional connections.  

So, what does this mean for you?  Can you put yourself in a place where you can be more easily found, and make connections with others in your profession?  

If you live in an area where mass transit is available, identify stations near centers of high tech or chemical industry. If your regular route takes you through them, start noticing others who ride that route on a regular basis – maybe one of them is carrying a copy of Chemical and Engineering News?  How hard would it be to strike up a conversation by asking if they read the article about ….?  You’ll quickly be able to tell if they’re open to a conversation, by the tone of their voice and their body language as they answer your questions.  The shorter their answers, the shorter your conversation should be. If you both ride on a regular basis, you can build up a relationship slowly over time.

If you don’t take mass transit on a regular basis, can you make other small changes in your routine – for example, work at a coffee shop near a potential employer instead of near your home, or have lunch in a deli near a chemical company?  Especially if you become a “regular” at some of these places, you will become familiar with other regulars, some of whom are bound to work at the nearby chemical companies.  

For example, in my area there is a deli very near a major chemical employer.  During a recent lunch there, a collegue and I were chatting about science, careers, and so on. As we were leaving, a gentleman who had been working at the next table stopped me and said that he couldn’t help overhearing our conversation, and he wondered if I could give him some advice about a project with which he was having trouble.  Of course I was happy to help him out, and gave him some ideas, pointers to some web sites, and my business card. I don’t know if I’ll ever hear from him again, but I’m glad he made the connection.  He got some valuable information, and I got to feel good about helping another person.  

I have also made great professional connections in airport boarding areas, and with people seated next to me on flights to and from national ACS meetings – who very often turn out to be chemists!

Companies do this too.  Check out the company that set up a taco truck across the street from a competitor who was having layoffs to woo potential employees.  

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this whole idea of putting yourself where other professionals are, being open to (and even initiating) is not new.  In fact, it even has a name…….networking.  

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This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of:  “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006)

11 Responses to Where are the Chemists? And Where Should You Be?

  1. The local US Postal Service delivery system is less than perfect and on one occasion recently delivered two copies of C&ENews. One was mine and the other was addressed to a neighbor, just 1/2 mile down the road, who I was unaware was a practicing chemist.

    I took the occasion to hand deliver his copy, made an acquaintance, and in the process developed a new professional friend.

    Sometimes it’s called serendipity.

  2. Lindsey René says:

    I am in complete agreement of this blog but my problem is where are these areas located? I am a 2007 graduate from the University at Buffalo working in an analytical lab at Eastman Kodak Company. Much to my dismay, I will be laid off in two months giving me only a year and a half of experience. This is a hard time period when looking for a professional analytical chemist position. I am willing to move and network but im at a loss of where to go or how to obtain a position when so few chemical companies are hiring. Does ACS offer any help in this matter?

  3. balbes says:

    I love the C&EN comment – I too sometimes get my neighbors C&EN.

    As to where to find these places, I think you have to look around your local area. Obviously if there’s a cafeteria in the company, eating there can expose you to people and projects in other departments. If there are places to eat close to your company, you can bet some people from the company are eating there. Go out to lunch with a friend, and see who else you run into.

    Of course, local ACS section meetings and topical group meetings are full of chemists, and a great place to find out what’s going on in your local area. Our zoo has a science lecture series, and there are a few science cafe’s as well. If you look around in your newspaper and other calendars, I bet you can find some things.

    You might try the ACS Career Consultant program. If you’re a member, you can search a database of other members who have volunteered to help people with career issues. They can review your resume, practice interview questions, and offer advice on your specific situation. You should be able to find them on the Careers tab at chemistry.org.

  4. I love this post. The tips are so strategic and useful. This is the kind of advice that works but that people rarely think about!

  5. Chemjobber says:

    Lindsay:

    Don’t know what your analytical speciality is, but if you’re willing to make the tough transition to the life sciences-oriented field, Boston or New Jersey would be the place to go.

    My blog has links to some places that might be useful to you. If you’re interested, I’d be willing to chat by e-mail.

  6. Diana says:

    Thanks for the tip, it is definitely a good one. Especially with the current situation, where hunting a job is very difficult, the idea of networking is a good option. Health and Pharmaceuticals is a popular career among the Oxbridge student as per one of the latest Oxbridge survey report http://www.topemployers.co.uk/oxbridge-students-graduate-jobs-survey-08-page4.html
    Many companies have few or do not have openings for graduate recruitment in 2009. In such a scenario, I think the idea of networking can increase the chance of employment.

  7. chemistry says:

    I bookmarked your blog, thanks for sharing this very interesting post

  8. It's me says:

    Good post, Lisa.

  9. Thanks for this interesting article.

  10. […] Where are the Chemists? And Where Should You Be? « ACS …Jan 25, 2009 … https://acscareers.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/where-are-the-chemists-and-where- should-you-be/. […] Reply · Philip Rakita says: January 26 … […]

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