Lessons from ACS National Meeting

October 18, 2010

I recently had the opportunity to attend the ACS national meeting in Boston.  Six rain-soaked days of meetings, meals and general merriment with 14,000 fellow chemists.  While exhausting, it also energized me to be around so many other people who are passionate about the same things I am passionate about, including career development for scientists.  Below I share several ideas that occurred while there.

1.  The most important thing you can do for your career is to find a mentor.  You need someone who has been there, who is willing to share their experiences with you.  They can tell you what it’s really like, offer advice when things don’t go as you think they should, and provide encouragement.  A good mentor is invaluable, and they are paid back with your respect, and by you “paying it forward” and mentoring those who come behind you.

2.  If you are a member of a committee, take an active role.  Find some aspect of the subject you can be passionate about, and work on that.  Participate in discussions, take on tasks, and offer opinions. If you truly can’t contribute anything, don’t accept the assignment.  Find something you can care about, and direct your energies in that direction.

3.  The Royal Society of Chemistry has 12 professional attributes one needs to meet in order to become a chartered chemist. Even if you’re not a member, these guidelines can be a good checklist for your own career. Are you meeting all these goals?  If not, which ones do you need to work on, and what can you do to improve your skills in that area?

4.  And speaking of working on your weaknesses…..  Public speaking is one thing a lot of people have trouble with.  They don’t like it, so avoid it, and therefore never get better.  I often recommend people join Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience, and they have local chapters in almost every city.  Another great way to get more experience in public speaking to volunteer at a local science center.  You can make presentations to the general public in a low risk environment, sharing your enthusiasm for chemistry while improving your own soft skills.

Volunteering is also a great way to find a position in a down market.  Especially for students, look for summer positions or internships with an organization you might like to work with professionally.  This will let you get to know people there, and let them see what great skills you have, so when a “real” position opens up you can get them to advocate for you. It also gives you experience in the field, which makes you more attractive to the institution.

And while you are developing those skills that they want, think about what other skills you have, and what other skills you can develop.  You want to develop a unique set of skills that make you ideally qualified for the type of career you want to have.  Once you have that fit, it will be obvious to any employer that you are the right person for the job.

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).

A Chemist By Any Other Name

October 11, 2010

Several recent events have gotten me thinking about how important nomenclature and labels can be.

The first one was a newspaper headline about a local politician who was “almost guilty” of a crime.  Even though the jury found him innocent, the paper choose to report it as “almost guilty”, which of course colored my opinion of his true culpability.  The second event was a series of trash cans at a local university that were labelled “recycling” and “landfill”. Just seeing the word “landfill” made me pause before putting anything in there, in a way the word “trash” never does.

This got me thinking about just how important labels are, and how much they influence our perceptions, and even our actions.  Think about how you describe yourself to others, especially when you first meet them.  What words do you use, and what do you think others assume about you because of the words you choose?  And more importantly, what do those words tell others what you think about yourself?  Would you react differently to someone who described themselves as a “former synthetic organic chemist, now working on regulatory stuff”, versus a “regulatory affairs professional, who helps to ensure new biotechnology products are safe for consumers”?

We all have a number of different roles – professional, child, parent, volunteer, and so on.  How you describe yourself often depends somewhat on the environment in which the question is asked, but it also depends a lot on how you think of yourself.

A related point was made in an old episode of the Bill Cosby Show.  One of the daughters surprises her parents by bringing home a brand new boyfriend, and announcing that she is going to marry him.  The parents are less than thrilled, not so much with the boyfriend (whom they obviously know nothing about), but with the way he was presented.  The father likens it to serving a steak dinner with all the trimmings, but serving it on a garbage can lid.  The contents themselves may be wonderful, but the way in which it is presented completely negates any value.

When you meet someone new, especially in a professional setting, how do you describe yourself?  Do you put your best foot forward, and give not only your job title but a few words about your particular expertise, or why why you do is so important?  Do you speak enthusiastically about your work, and its value, inviting more interest by the listener?  Or do you just give a job title, with no details, indicating your own lack of interest in what you do?  And if you’re not interested, why on earth should anyone else be?

So right now, before you meet anyone else, spend a few minutes thinking about how you are going to answer the question “And what do you do?”  If you don’t like the answer, it just might be time for a change – either in the answer, or on the job.

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).

How to Really Prepare for a Virtual Career Fair

October 8, 2010

As chemists, we all like to experiment.  ACS is no different – they are doing a big experiment of their own.  November 2-3, 2010, ACS is hosting a Virtual Career Fair.  You will be able to attend webinars, interview via text or video chat, and network with professionals worldwide—all from the convenience of your own desktop.  This is a free ACS Careers event co-hosted by Informex and C&EN, and ACS membership is not required to participate.

I’ve written previously on how to prepare for a real-life career fair<https://acscareers.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/preparing-for-a-career-fair/>.  While a lot of that advice still holds for a virtual career fair, there are other factors to consider as well.

Before the Fair

To get the most out of the career fair, register now and post your resume so employers can search your information before the fair begins.

Once you are registered, browse the posted jobs.  Research which companies will be in attendance, and learn as much as you can about them.  You may be surprised where the opportunities are.  Browse the program and make notes of which webinar sessions you will attend, and add them to your calendar – making sure to take time zone differences into account.

Have clear idea of what you want in a new position –  the 1-2 sentences that describe what you really need.  You may use this as an objective on your resume, or may just use it when talking to people who ask “What are you looking for”?

Use the InterviewStream system (ACS members only) to practice answering interview questions.  This system uses your webcam to record you answering standard interview questions.  Not only can you watch yourself answering, but you can send a link to an ACS Career Consultant or a trusted friend, and get their constructive criticism on the recording as well.

Since the virtual career fair may involve live video chats, make sure you have a quiet, private place to conduct video interviews picked out ahead of time, so you’re not scrambling if an employer requests one.  Pay particular attention to things like proper camera angle, distracting or inappropriate backgrounds, your voice level, ambient noise, and so on.

If you’re not a fast typist, this might be a time to do a little practicing for live chat opportnities.  Experiment with different keyboard orientations or desk setups until you find the one that is most comfortable for you. And make sure to remove all texting-type abbreviations from your vocabulary for the duration of any interview, or other professional encounter.

At The Fair

Attend webinars in the auditorium, visit the networking lounge to chat with other attendees, and visit the exhibition floor and employer booths.

The first day of the fair will center on “Outlook for Chemical, Pharma and Biotech Industries”, while the second day will focus more generally on “Career Development.” Each day will begin at 9:00am EST with a keynote session, followed by four additional webinars during the day. From 9:00am EST to 6:00pm EST the event show floor will be open for candidates to visit employer’s booths, and the networking lounge will be open all day for informal chats as well as scheduled topic discussions.

What to Expect

If you are scheduled for a real interview, do much more research on the company.  Make sure to be on time (which means 10 minutes early), and allow for technical problems.  Have a backup plan for how you will connect if your primary system goes down, the power goes out, or other disaster occurs.


Make sure to send a thank you note to anyone you talked to, most likely by email within 48 hours of the conversation. Follow up with the company if you haven’t heard from them in 2-3 weeks, to let them know you’re still interested and find out the status of your application.

You can read more about it at ACS Goes Virtual, which includes images of the virtual environment.

The more prepared you are, the better you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity – and that’s not virtual.

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).

ACS Goes Virtual

October 4, 2010

With the New ACS Virtual Career Fair

 November 2-3, 2010

If you’ve visited Second Life, used a social networking site, or taken an online course, you’ve experienced an environment where people from around the globe can interact and learn through technology. Now, the virtual world comes to ACS with the innovative ACS Virtual Career Fair – November 2-3, 2010 conducted in conjunction with Informex and C&EN.

The ACS Virtual Career Fair offers networking opportunities, interviews with employers, career development workshops and resources – with everything conveniently accessible from the convenience of your own desktop.

Chemical professionals seeking employment can interact with global organizations from a wide range of locations in North America and worldwide. Companies will meet and interview top chemical professionals and other interdisciplinary scientists from across the globe. Employers and job seekers alike will be able to interact real time over the 2 days using text chat, video chat and email. The ACS Virtual Career Fair will also bring together industry and career experts to provide valuable webinars.

Today, technology has reached a level of sophistication that provides ACS Virtual Career Fair attendees with highly interactive, realistic, and personal experiences — all from the comfort of their homes or offices.

The Virtual Career Fair begins when you log in and arrive at the Conference site. You can then chat with employers and recruiters in the exhibit hall, attend expert presentations in the auditorium, network in the networking lounge, and more. Highlights include:

1. Each day begins with a keynote session: Day 1: November 2―Rudy Baum, Editor in Chief, C&EN and Susan Ainsworth, Senior Editor and Employment Outlook Writer for C&EN will discuss “How to Prepare for What’s Ahead.”

Day 2: November 3―Richard N. Bolles, acclaimed author of bestselling book, What Color is Your Parachute and The Job Hunter’s Survival Guide will share “5 Secrets to Career Success for Scientists and Engineers.”

Virtual Auditorium

A virtual auditorium with live webinars

2. Throughout each day, attendees can visit the auditorium to view four practical webinars presented by industry experts, company representatives, and career specialists:

a. Chemical Industry and Employment Outlook―with Pat Confalone, Vice-President, Global R&D, Du Pont; Susan Butts, Senior Director of External Science and Technology Programs, The Dow Chemical Company; and Paul Hodges, Chairman, International eChem.

b. Pharma and Biotech Industry and Employment Outlook―with David Spellmeyer, Chief Informatics Officer, Nodality, Inc. and expert panelists.

c. What Recruiters are Looking For―with Alveda Williams, Strategic Recruitment, The Dow Chemical Company; Patrick Ropella, Chairman & CEO, Ropella Group, executive search and consulting firm specializing in the chemical and allied industries; and Sheila Rosenfield, Senior Scientific Recruiter, Kelley Scientific Resources.

d. Career Transitions: Navigating the Shifting Employment Landscape with Lisa Balbes, author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists; Cheryl Martin. Executive in Residence with Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, a venture capital firm; Joe Stoner, retired, Habitat for Humanity; and Carol Duane, President, D&D Consultants.

3. An interactive exhibit hall with employer booths will be open both days, enabling job seekers to meet with recruiters and employer representatives. The exciting expo floor will be filled with company booths where attendees can learn more about the company, their products and services, and what it’s like to work there. Opportunities are available to have one-on-one conversations with company representatives using text or video chat.

Interactive Virtual Booth

An interactive virtual booth with real-time chat capability

4. A visit to the Networking Lounge provides a venue for mingling with other scientists and employers. Job seekers can also participate in, and learn from, scheduled expert-led discussions on key career topics.

Networking Lounge

The Networking Lounge for private and group chats

5. The Resource Center is a central place to find employer literature, ACS Careers materials to help you with your job search, on-demand access to ACS Webinars™, and more. “By adding a virtual event edition to the current successful physical ACS Career Fairs, ACS is able to provide career services and employment opportunities to a wider and more diverse audience – reaching job seekers and employers around the globe,” according to David Harwell, Ph.D,. Assistant Director, ACS Careers.

Resource Center

The Resource Center is a central repository for documents and websites

“ACS will continue to conduct the live Career Fairs as part of the next ACS National Meeting. The next in-person ACS Career Fair is March 27-31, 2011, Anaheim, CA.” The Virtual Career Fair allows you to attend at no cost and access all the valuable resources anonymously. It is open to members and non-members.

Register now at http://www.acs.org/vcf. For organizations interested in exhibiting in this exciting event, register at http://www.acs.org/vcf or contact Garretta Rollins at +1-202-872-6209 or g_rollins@acs.org.  ACS has gone virtual.  You won’t want to miss the inaugural ACS Virtual Career Fair.  Sign up now.

ACS Virtual Career Fair November 2-3, 2010

Register for the ACS Virtual Career Fair, November 2-3, http://www.acs.org/vcf