Keeping Up with the Trends

One of the most important things you can do to ensure the long-term health of your career is to keep up on trends in your areas of expertise, your field, and your industry.  Only by doing this can you prepare yourself for changes, and ensure that you have the skills that are in demand in a constantly changing work environment.

ACS is helping you out, with a Technology Trends Roadmap recently published on the ACS network.  This document describes trends in information technology and how they apply to ACS itself, but many of the findings can be applied to your professional life as well. The major findings of this report, listed below, probably won’t surprise you. However, you may not have thought about how each affects your career trajectory, and how it might be useful in to you either personally, or to your current employer.

  • An exponential rise in “connectedness”, or the ability to interact with other people in real time.  People expect others to be available in multiple ways (phone, email, text message, social networks) and outside of traditional working hours.
  • Sharp boundaries between work and private life are dissolving.  People no longer need to be in the same physical location to work together (thanks to mobile computing), and both work time and personal time are becoming more flexible.
  • The rate of innovation is increasing.  Companies are encouraging innovation from inside, but also want to bring in proven new ideas from other places.
  • The amount of data currently available is more than at any time in history.  Data mining and analytics are opening up on a whole new scale, and new technologies are needed to process, mine and analyze all the data that is currently available.  We are also seeing a growth in semantic technologies (formal definitions, explicit relations between data and metadata) and increasing emphasis on data accuracy, not just volume.
  • Cloud computing (using hosted services over the internet) is also on the rise, and private clouds are addressing some of the security issues.

A few longer term trends that are called out in the report include the use of display technologies (touch screens), the greening of IT, and 3D printing (or fabrication of 3-dimensional objects by successive layering of materials).  All of these fields involve chemistry, and one of them might be the next stage in your professional evolution.

In addition to information technologies, I’ve noticed many articles in the popular press lately about new materials, for example  Gorilla Glass (scratch-resistant glass used in 280 electronic gadgets) and self-healing plastic (for use in large-scale structures where human intervention is difficult).  I am also seeing growth in biomechanical engineering, and the whole field of engineering solutions being applied to the biomedical field, and people from different fields are learning to work together.  Maybe learning about or collaborating with materials scientists or engineers is in your future?

Take some time to learn a little more about some of these fields – what they can do, and what they can’t.  Could your skills be applied to one of these areas?  Could you expand your knowledge into one of these areas, or apply your existing skills to a new problem area?  Could you learn the terminology of a different field, so you can talk intelligently with people who work in that field?

Make it a habit to skim papers, magazines, blogs, and other sources for interesting (to you) science news, and pay specific attention to trends over time.  Then think about what might change if those trends continue, and how you might adapt now to be ready for that new future.

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

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