Curing the Under-Employment Blues


Are you under-employed? Being so means you are working in a position that doesn’t tap many of your skills and abilities leaving you bored and unsatisfied. Corporate restructuring and downsizing the last two years have left many chemists, engineers, and technicians feeling under-employed.  Many older job hunters have been forced to take jobs below their skill level.  Also, many people cannot afford the financial sacrifices, particularly reduced pension benefits, associated with resigning a position they find unfulfilling. 

However, there are ways you can add challenge and excitement to your current job and your professional life.

How to begin

Analyze your current job assignment.  Determine what aspects offer opportunities to add challenge and interest.  Be as creative in this as you are in solving chemical problems. Questions to ask yourself can include:

  • How can I find a way to do some basic research to better understand the physical and chemical phenomena underlying my current project and complete the project faster or arrive at a clearer conclusion? 
  • What new technology can I apply to my current project that will allow me to complete the project more quickly or satisfactorily? 

Keeping your technical skills up-to-date and having the flexibility to apply new technology to your current assignment can add excitement and interest.  For example, while at Shell Chemical Company I worked with an analytical chemist to use atomic force microscopy to study the basic physics underlying one of my projects. This interest evolved into a National Science Foundation grant jointly awarded to Professor Jan Miller (University of Utah) and me to study another aspect of this problem. This and my involvement in company funded projects at other universities have added a new dimension to my job. Besides the intellectual stimulation of working on basic research problems, I found the energy and enthusiasm of the graduate students and post-docs was catching. The challenge of using these basic research results to design better products was stimulating. 

Job enrichment

If you work as part of a team, look for tasks the team has trouble accomplishing effectively and in a timely way. Take on these tasks on yourself or devise more cost-effective ways to accomplish them.

The World Wide Web is creating additional job enrichment opportunities.  At small firms in particular, computer savvy chemists, engineers, and technicians sometimes participate in designing web pages. While larger firms may hire specialists to create their Internet web pages, they still need web page content to provide information and services to their customers. Laboratory professionals can provide this content by writing technical documents and slide presentations.  

Globalization is offering new job-enriching opportunities for professionals. If your company is developing an overseas market related to your technology area, participate.  Learn the relevant language. If you are fluent in this language, volunteer to prepare or translate technical literature. (Computer translation programs are now available for some languages that take much of the work out of the translation process.) Foreign language editions of Internet home pages are becoming popular. Laboratory professionals with the needed science, language, and computer skills can develop content for these home pages and aid their employers’ marketing efforts.

Don’t wait to be asked. Propose job enrichment opportunities to your supervisor or work team.

As a full-time writer, John Borchardt is the author of the ACS book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” and more than 1,400 articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. He is also an ACS career consultant.

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