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.