Green Opportunities for Your Chemistry Career

May 30, 2010

In a recent webinar, I presented information Green Opportunities for your Chemistry Career.  There is a lot of interest among chemists in greening their careers, and making their processes more sustainable.  There were a number of requests for the resource list, so I thought I’d share some of the information here.

Green jobs can be defined in a number of ways, but the Department of Labor (DOL) says “The green economy encompasses the economic activity related to reducing the use of fossil fuels, decreasing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the efficiency of energy usage, recycling materials, and developing and adopting renewable sources of energy.” The four main sectors of the green economy are Environment (preserving and protecting natural resources, managing their use in a sustainable way; using them more efficiently and productively; reducing or eliminating pollution and toxic waste), Energy (creating, storing, distributing and saving energy), Infrastructure (reducing the impact of human development activities on our world), and Support (government and regulatory administration research, design and consulting services).

Green jobs are also classified into 3 types – Increased Demand Occupations (bus driver), Enhanced Skills Occupations (electrician who learns to install solar panels, and New and Emerging Occupations (N&E) (Biofuels Production Managers).

Probably the areas of most interest to chemists are Green chemistry and sustainability.  Green chemistry is the utilization of a set of principles that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemical products. The classic book on the topic, Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice by Paul T. Anastas and John C. Warner, lists the 12 principles of Green Chemistry.  They are as follows:

  1. Prevent waste.
  2. Design safer chemicals and products- fully effective, yet little or no toxicity.
  3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses.
  4. Use renewable feedstocks.
  5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents.
  6. Avoid chemical derivatives-Avoid blocking or protecting groups.
  7. Maximize atom economy.
  8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions.
  9. Increase energy efficiency: Run chemical reactions at ambient temperature and pressure whenever possible.
  10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use.
  11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution.
  12. Minimize the potential for accidents.

If you’re interested in learning more about this field, check out the following resources.

ACS Green Chemistry Institute -Conferences, Education, Grants, Awards, Industrial Innovation, Resources

America COMPETES and Green Chemistry

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

The American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE)

Clean Edge Market Reports

Earthways Center

American Chemical Council – Responsible Care


State of Green Business – published annually by

Green Job Boards

Careers in Wind (AWEA)

Clean Edge Jobs


CleanTechies – the business voice of the green economy

Green Building Council – non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation

Green Dream Jobs – from – Green jobs including solar and wind

SustainLane: Green Collar Jobs Board

TreeHugger: Job Board

Searching for Green Jobs

When you do a search for “green” on a job board, you’ll find a lot of job descriptions with “green card” in them.  Make sure to remove those ones (usually by putting “-green card” into the search term listing).

Keywords that are related to green jobs:  sustainability, solar, wind, green energy, green construction, environment, recycling, green waste, renewable energy, green transportation, green agriculture, green forestry, green consulting, green research, green design, green regulation, energy efficiency / conservation / power / utility / DSM / demand response / energy audit / energy star / gas / thermostats / electronics / building performance / construction / energy efficient / BPI / electrical / engineer / utility energy efficiency / clean energy /building science/construction/Installation project manager/utility solutions

Additional Resources

3rd IUPAC International Conference in Green Chemistry, Ontario, CA, 2010 Aug 15-18.

The “Sus” Word, C&EN, 2010 April 12, p. 39.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

What American Idol Doesn’t Know About Talent

May 26, 2010

How can that be?  Because talent isn’t the exceptional feats of exceptional people.  Talent is the capacity for excellence, and that is an attribute common to all people.

Talent has two aspects.  It is what a person loves to do—their passion—and what they do best—their area of peak performance.  As American Idol proves every season, a person can be passionate about singing or dancing, but not good enough to earn a living at it.  They can also be very good at their work, but hate every minute they spend on the job.

When a person is working at their talent, in contrast, they are engaged and challenged by the tasks they perform and even the obstacles they face.  They are also able to excel at those tasks and thus feel proud and fulfilled by the outcomes they accomplish.

Talent, however, resides in each person as potential.  It must be activated to be used.  And, that activation involves three distinct steps:

Self-Discovery – A person must first figure out what it is they love to do and do best;

Self-Development – Next, they must pick an occupation where they can effectively use their talent and then acquire the knowledge and skills required to do so;


Self-Improvement – Finally, they must continuously practice the application of their talent so they hone their performance on-the-job to its peak.

Each of these steps is vital, but it’s the first which unlocks a person’s capacity for excellence.  The people who never make it past the tryouts on American Idol don’t lack talent, they just don’t know what talent they have.  Simon Cowell can tell them what their talent isn’t, but only they can figure out what it is.

Sadly, many people never give their talent much thought.  They spend thirty or forty years in a career field, only to figure out at its conclusion that they’ve wasted their chance to excel.  They bought into the silly notion of a work life balance.  They thought they had to endure their work in order to enjoy the rest of their lives.

Happily, exactly the opposite is true.  Each of us deserves work that is every bit as good as the rest of our lives.  All we have to do to ensure that happens is take a simple test.  We need only ask ourselves what kind of reward our work gives us.

We can be acknowledged as an expert at what we do, but if we have to drag themselves out of bed each day to go to work, we aren’t employing our capacity to excel.  Alternatively, we can earn a lot of money in our jobs, but if we never feel satisfied or fulfilled by them, then we aren’t working with our talent.

Those rewards—satisfaction and fulfillment—may sound ephemeral, but their roots are deeply embedded in our culture.  They are precisely the form of compensation the founding fathers had in mind when they declared that every American has a right to “the pursuit of Happiness.”  In this country, we are guaranteed the opportunity to have some of our best moments in the one-third of our lives we spend on-the-job.

So, how do we make that opportunity come true?  How do we figure out just what our talent is?

Some people are lucky; they have a calling and that inner voice leads them to their talent.  For the rest of us, however, the discovery occurs only if we take the initiative. 

And, there are only two ways to do so:

Serial Searching—shifting from one occupation to another in an effort to find the kind of work that satisfies and fulfills us.  This approach is basically a process of elimination so it can be frustrating and difficult to sustain.  With perseverance, however, it can bring a person’s talent into clear relief.


Self-Exploration—investing the time and effort to dig into one’s mind and heart to find that unique intersection of passion and practicality.  This approach requires more candor and honesty than most of us have ever devoted to the appraisal of ourselves.  If we put aside any inclination to be judgmental, however, we can find the truth.

However it’s done, it’s imperative that we do it.  We must find our talent and put that capacity for excellence to work.  The judges on American Idol can’t, but we can.  And, we deserve to experience the self-fulfillment that results.

Thanks for reading,


Visit me at
© Copyright 2010 WEDDLE’s LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

Trends in Interviewing? You Bet!

May 22, 2010

Companies have been hiring people for hundreds of years, they should have the process perfected by now, right?  Unfortunately, hiring involves people, and any interaction between people is necessarily complex and inexact.

Over the years, questions asked during interviews changed.  For example, it was once common to ask a female candidate if she was married, or when she planned to have children.  It is now illegal to do this.

For a long time, companies have been using behavioral based interviewing.  The rationale is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  So, to find out how a potential employee will act when they disagree with their supervisors instructions, they may be asked about the last time they disagreed with their current supervisor.  If they talk about how they researched the literature and presented a case for their idea, or how they requested to explore their plan on their own time, they provide proof of their ability to work constructively with a team.

Other changes in interviews and interview styles are coming as well, as a result of economic and technological changes.  Now that it’s a hiring manager’s market, organizations can be more selective.  They want not only someone who can do the job, and will do the job, but someone who will fit the corporate culture and stay with the company for a long time.   The article  Latest Trends in Interview Questions:  The “It” Factor is the “Fit” Factor” talks about how today’s organizations are more concerned with how well new employees will fit into the existing organization.

A recent article, What Chief Executives Really Want talks about a recent study of 1500 CEOs (conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Values), in which they were asked about the most important leadership competency for the future of their organization.  With the increasing complexity of modern business, CEOs are looking for people who can disrupt the status quo, change existing business models, and break organizational paralysis.  They will be asking interview questions about entrepreneurial experience and outside-the-box thinking.

Employers are getting pickier because they can.  So, potential employees have to interview smarter and be more prepared as well.  Do your homework on the company, and learn what their mission and values are.  Talk to people who work, or did work, at that company to find out what it’s really like.  Prepare answers that address questions about how well your personality and work style match the corporate culture.  If they ask “What kind of work environment would maximize your positive impact on the company overall?”, you need to have done your homework to know if they value teamwork or independence, collaboration or leadership.

The more you prepare, the better you will do in the interview, and the more confident you will be that this is the right company for you.  Win-win!

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

The New Rules of the Game

May 21, 2010

For decades, working men and women have counted on a simple rule of thumb in the job market.  If you matched the advertised requirements and responsibilities for a job, you were qualified, and if you were qualified, you would be hired.  The rule made sense and it worked, so a lot of people came to count on it.

Over the years, however, “qualified” evolved into “good enough.”  If a person was good enough to do a job, they were good enough to be hired.  That approach produced a “normal” distribution in the workforce.  Employers discovered that only a few of those good enough workers would be superior performers; most would be middle of the road contributors, and a few would turn out to be below average or worse on-the-job.

Prior to the Great Recession, such a normal distribution was good enough for employers.  Today, it isn’t.  Today, the threat from global competition and the unrelenting demands of consumers and shareholders are forcing employers to look for people who are better than good enough.  They need to hire a workforce that isn’t normal, but is extraordinary instead.

Nobody told those in job market about this change.  Employers didn’t announce it in the media or advertise it on their corporate Web-sites.  They just started hiring differently, and millions of people have been caught off guard.  The rules of the game changed, but most job seekers are still playing by the old rules.  And, of course, sticking to what’s out-of-date is the surest way to lose out.

How can you protect yourself?

To achieve success in today’s job market, you have to transform yourself from being good enough to being better than that.  You must look so good to employers that they feel they have to hire you.  You need to convince them that you do extraordinary work and will, therefore, make a greater than normal contribution on-the-job.

How can you accomplish that transformation? The following steps will get you started.

Step 1. Be honest with yourself.

Surveys show that we humans seriously overrate how good we really are.  Most people, for example, rank themselves far higher than their supervisors do in their annual performance review.  Now granted, many managers aren’t especially good at making such evaluations either, but that doesn’t mean that we’re right and they’re wrong.

How can you get an accurate assessment of just how good you are (or aren’t)?  Ask one or both of two kinds of people:

  • a former boss with whom you have stayed in contact
  • or a former colleague who was also a very good friend.

Your goal in this interaction is to identify gaps in your qualifications (i.e., your performance, experience or capabilities) that make you look no better than good enough to employers.  So, prepare yourself to listen without getting defensive and to learn from what you hear.

Step 2. Do something about what you learn.

Historically, the most successful people in any field have seen themselves as a work-in-progress.  The all stars in professional sports, for example, never stop practicing their game.  They are always trying to improve.  And that’s exactly what you should do, as well.  The only way to be better than qualified is to be getting better all of the time.

Continuous self-improvement doesn’t work, however, if it’s treated like a New Year’s resolution.  It can’t be something that you start with the best of intentions and then set aside in the press of dealing with other requirements—like a full time job or a job search.  If you’re going to be better than qualified and appear that way to employers, you have to: stick with it, so you truly are a work-in-progress and stick it in your resume, so employers will see your progress.

The new rules of the game are different, to be sure, and like anything else you’re doing for the first time, they will probably take some getting used to.  Once you’re past that initial discomfort, however, those changes will become second nature.  And when that happens, you’ll find yourself always being better than you were and more than qualified for the job you want.

Thanks for reading,
Visit me at

Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including Recognizing Richard Rabbit, a fable of self-discovery for working adults, and Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System.
© Copyright 2010 WEDDLE’s LLC. All Rights Reserved.


May 20, 2010

Some scientists, engineers, and technicians are developing parallel careers. You could be one of them. A parallel career is more than a hobby; it’s a second income-producing activity carried out in addition to a full-time job. Parallel careers provide personal and professional fulfillment, additional income and a sense of independence and control possibly lacking in your job. Should you become unemployed, a parallel career can ease financial concerns and reduce the demoralization associated with job loss.

There are almost as many types of parallel careers as there are chemists practicing them.

Conflicts of interest

Avoiding conflict of interest is essential. This requires an understanding of your employer’s business, sensitivity to the issue, and common sense. Before I began writing and consulting full-time, my parallel career was freelance writing.  My writing involved areas in which, my then full-time employer, had no business interests or operations. I also wrote about non-technical subjects such as career management and job hunting. That means I had no conflict of interest.

Avoiding conflicts of interest was certainly an important concern for physical chemist Geoffrey Dolbear when he began consulting as a parallel career.  He realized that oil industry downsizing was limiting his career opportunities with Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL). Rather than trying to find another job, Dr. Dolbear decided to try part-time consulting.  He comments, “I was just tired of having important decisions about my life made by other people… It was time for me to be in charge of my career.” He worked outside the petroleum refining area to avoid conflicts of interest with his employment at UNOCAL.  After spending two years building a business in his spare time, Dr. Dolbear had more work than he could complete on nights and weekends.  At this point, he resigned his position at UNOCAL and his parallel career became a second career. Only then did he expand his consulting to include petroleum refining technology.

Other parallel careers

I am not the only chemist pursuing writing as a parallel career.  Some of my former coworkers and colleagues at other companies are freelance writers as well. When with Buckman Laboratories, chemist Chris Perry was inspired by the birth of his first child to begin writing children’s books.  Carma Gibler, a chemical engineer and former coworker of mine writes children’s books.

Parallel careers are as varied as the people who engage in them.  For example, chemists Clay Cole and Roger Rensvold sold real estate while working full time.  Microscopist Greg York and his wife ran their own business doing framing and specializing in sports memorabilia.

Being an entrepreneur

As these examples indicate, many parallel careers are entrepreneurial activities. No employer writes you a check – customers or clients do.  Therefore, chemists in these and other parallel careers must develop good business skills.  As self-employed individuals, they gain a sense of independence and control that may be lacking in their full-time jobs.

A famous chemical entrepreneur, Dr. Alfred Bader founded Aldrich Chemical Company as a parallel career before eventually leaving his research job with PPG to devote full-time effort to expanding his business to more than a billion dollars annually. He counsels, “If at all possible, start by moonlighting for a while.  When there is a regular paycheck coming in, you can better decide to become an entrepreneur.”  This advice also applies to many other nontraditional careers.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

Rebounding from Career Setbacks

May 17, 2010

Setbacks occur at some point in most careers. The critical question: can you bounce back from a career setback? How long will it take? Can you rebound 100% or will you fall short in terms of employment, salary, or benefits? Can you turn adversity to your advantage? In considering the situations of many friends and co-workers who have had career reverses in the past few years, I realized that how well these chemical professionals are recovering from their setbacks depends less on technical abilities than on factors such as preparedness and attitude.

Setbacks can include job loss, not getting a coveted promotion or transfer, and seeing your professional opportunities diminish as a result of corporate restructuring such as a merger or divestment. Sometimes these setbacks are completely beyond your control; in other cases, timely modification of your own behavior can lessen their likelihood.

To increase your chances of recovering 100% from a career setback, you need to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Begin by following the advice of former ACS President Helen Free, who has repeatedly counseled chemists, “Always have a Plan B.” This means already having an action plan should a likely career setback occur. For example, suppose your company is merging with another firm and staff reductions are expected. Plan A is maximizing your chances of surviving staff reductions. Plan B can be simultaneously preparing to enter the job market.

Advantages of Plan A are obvious – you retain your current position, don’t have to experience unemployment, and may not have to worry about possible long-distance relocation and its effects on your family.

What measures can your Plan A include?

Identify short-term contributions you can make that provide added sales or reduce costs. Then do the work necessary to make these contributions. If you get a new supervisor as a result of the merger, make that person aware of your contributions and discuss your future plans for additional contributions. Make it your business to get along well with supervisors and co-workers; mend political fences if necessary.

Remember that your fellow employees have the same concerns that you do. Look for ways you can work with them productively. It can be particularly useful to work with sales representatives. Help a sales representative make a sale to a new customer and you will have a new ally happy to sing your praises.

Plan B for bouncing back

What about Plan B? This is preparing for the worst. In our merger example, Plan B is your rebounding strategy should you lose your job or face long-term limitations on career advancement as a result of the merger. Your goal will be to get a new job at least as good as your current one while spending a minimum amount of time in the job market. Identify technology fields and industries for possible future employment. Prepare tailored résumés for each. Assemble a contact list that includes peers at these companies, recruiters (headhunters), former professors, etc. On a personal level, get your family finances in order in case you lose your income.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.”He has had more than 1200 articles publsihed in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

Are Great Networkers Born or Made?

May 9, 2010

A friend of mine told me the other day that I’m a great networker.  She was impressed that while I didn’t know the answer to her question, I knew someone else who probably did.  This is the case more often than not for me – I may not know something, but I know who to ask, and can usually get an answer fairly quickly.

I started wondering if the ability to network is innate, or learned.  I contend that I have learned to network because I had to.  As a freelance technical writer/editor, I am constantly on the lookout for my next job.  Every client I’ve ever gotten has been through networking – either from someone I knew, or someone who knew someone I knew.

I believe that being a freelancer, and always being on the lookout for my next job, has made me more aware of the importance of networking, and of exactly how much of my professional success is due to the people around me.  Over the years, I have learned that is is almost always to my advantage to help others as much as I possibly can.  Besides the short-term satisfaction of helping someone, some of my most lucrative contracts have come from referrals from people I have helped.

Even if I can’t help someone directly, I try to at least provide a pointer or two to someone who might know the answer.  Sometimes it’s something they’ve already tried, but other times it’s something they haven’t thought of.  They may be too close to the problem, or just haven’t come across the same resources as I have.

The ability to make new friends and connect with people is something that we are all born with, but like most things you get better with practice and concerted effort.

Building your own professional network has two parts – meeting new people, and strengthening the connections with those you already know.  Most people find the latter to be much easier.  All you have to do is to pay attention to the people you already know, listen to what they’re talking about, and look for ways to provide information that they will find useful and interesting.  Take the time to drop them an email, have coffee or lunch, or just chat.  You’ll learn what they’re interested in, and will be alert when you come across related information.

Over time, your will find it easier to do, and it will become a habit. You will become known as a valuable resource, and people will start referring others to you.  Thus begins the ‘snowball effect’ – the more you help others, the more people come to you for help, and the more people you have to call on when you need help.

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert.  The sooner you start exercising your innate ability to build connections with others, the longer you will be able to take advantage of your new expertise.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

Is It Time for a Career Checkup?

May 2, 2010

In my work, I come across many chemists who are at a turning point in their career. Some are getting ready to graduate, or coming to the end of a post-doctoral position.  Others have been downsized, sometimes with little or no warning.

In some cases they saw what was coming, and have taken steps to prepare. In other cases, they suspected something might be coming, but figured they’d worry about it “later”, so were caught without their professional house in order.

With the latter in mind, I have created a career checkup.  This is a list of questions that you can ask yourself to make sure you are prepared in case of a sudden change in your professional circumstances.

Remember, “later” usually comes sooner than you think, and it’s critical to be prepared.

Personal Data:

Do you have a resume? Is it current? Does it include information on the most significant accomplishments in your career history, as well as your most recent accomplishments at your current position?

Do you have an up-to-date list of your publications?  Presentations?  Patents?

Do you have a 30 second summary of who you are professionally, to use when introducing yourself to new professional colleagues?  Does it include not your job title, but what you can do, and what you’re passionate about?

Do you have three ready references?  Have you spoken to them recently?  Do they know what your current situation and career goals are?

Current Knowledge:

Do you regularly read scientific and trade journals in your field?

What trends are you tracking for the future of your field?  Your company?  Your industry?

What was the last new skill you learned?  New subject?  Are those on your resume?

Professional Connections:

How strong is your professional network?  If you were to be let go tomorrow, how many people would immediately go out of their way to help you find a new position?

Is your contact database up to date? If you needed to reach someone, could you?

Are you active in your professional society?  When was the last time you attended a meeting?  Served on a committee?  Organized an event?

Do you use social networking tools (LinkedIn, etc.) to remain visible and demonstrate your expertise in your subject?

Do you regularly contribute to discussions in professional forums?

Have you had coffee or lunch with a colleague in the last month, just to catch up?

Future Planning:

Do you have a clear plan for your professional future?  What do you want to be doing a year from now?  5 years from now?

What steps are you taking to prepare yourself for that future?

What new skills/fields do you want to learn?  What steps are you taking to make that happen?

What are you doing to show your expertise in new subject areas?

If you have ideas for other questions that should be added to this list, please suggest them in the comments.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).