The Two-Body Opportunity

April 30, 2012

In many cases, professional advancement requires a new job, very often in a new geographic location. While this can be exciting for the person who is looking forward to a new professional challenge, it can be a challenge for the spouse who “trails” behind, hoping to find their own opportunity. The two-body problem (or for the optimistic among you, the two-body opportunity) is something every dual-career couple faces at a point in their professional lives. By addressing this issue early, planning and preparing, you and your partner can develop strategies that allow both of you to have fulfilling careers.

Even before you begin a job search, you and your spouse need to seriously consider and discuss your values, professional goals, and family goals. What must you have as a couple? What would be nice, but not necessary? What are you willing to do without?

In addition to what you need as a family, you should discuss what each of you individually needs and wants. One partner might need challenging work, while the other needs the security of a steady paycheck. You need to decide on a strategy that will work for both of you – will one person’s career always leads, and the other always follows? Will you take turns getting priority when it’s time for a change? Other factors to consider include:

  • Whose career is more geographically unrestricted? Can one partner develop a more portable career? Will your current company/organization allow for telework or distance telework?
  • What sorts of places are most likely to have positions for both of you? Large cities? Manufacturing centers? Rural universities? Conversely, what other types of jobs are likely to be available near where one of you wants to work?
  • What are the likely next steps and long-term career paths for each of you? How do they mesh?
  • Are you only going to apply only in locations where there are openings for both of you, or if one finds a great opportunity will they apply and assume the partner will find something?
  • In any particular geographic area, what are the other opportunities for future employment? If there’s only one employer in a certain location, changing jobs will almost certainly require relocation. If there are multiple potential employers, one partner may be able to change jobs without requiring the other to relocate.
  • How do you feel about both working for the same company/institution? Does the convenience outweigh the risks?
  • Is job sharing an option? Some universities will allow two people to share the research and teaching responsibilities (and salary) of a single tenure-track position, with the logistics varying significantly by institution and department. Some couples like the idea of trading income for flexibility, for others it’s too much togetherness.
  • At what point in the job search process are you going to disclose your spouse’s existence and employment needs? During the face-to-face interview lets you judge the company’s reaction, but waiting until after you have an offer in hand puts you in a stronger negotiating position.

Starting these discussions early, and continuing them throughout the job search process, will help ensure that both partners are advocating for each other, and working towards the best overall outcome.

Once one of you has a firm job offer, a position for your spouse can become part of the negotiations. Ask about other positions at that institution, spousal relocation programs, or bridging (temporary) positions to support the spouse while they continue looking for permanent work. You can at least ask the hiring manager and human resources personnel for suggestions on where else your spouse might apply.

Whenever you visit the new location, both partners should attend local section meetings of their own professional societies, seminars, and other events to start making professional connections. The earlier you get connected, and the more groups you connect with, the more you’ll find out what’s going on locally.

Once your search has been restricted geographically, you’re going to have to expand it in other ways. Consider an additional post-doc, non-laboratory positions and placement agencies – remain professionally active while you figure out which aspects of employment are really important to you. Checkout the ACS Careers site, LinkedIn and other social media outlets to expand your search parameter.

Once you and your partner have made your decision, accept it and move on. Don’t apologize for your choices, or compare yourself to other couples. Each couple is different, has different constraints, and each person has different talents to offer an employer. Focus on the value you have to offer a potential employer, and be glad you have a supportive partner who understands that science is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

Are You An Entrepreneur?

April 23, 2012

Recently, I encountered several graduate students who were considering starting their own business. While many people dream about being an entrepreneur, a significantly smaller number are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to make their dream a reality. A colleague who has been running his own company for over 20 years said that when people ask for his advice on starting a business, he tries to talk them out of it.  When he started, “the only thing that would have stopped me from doing it was if my wife had told me, No!”  If you have that kind of dedication, you just might be an entrepreneur.

Starting Point 

A great place to begin is by writing a business plan – a document in which you completely describe the business.  Forcing yourself to write it down will make you step back and really plan out the venture.  The living document then serves as a roadmap as you move forward and start to involve other people.


One of the first sections of the business plan will be the executive summary. You should be able to describe your business at several different levels of detail.  Are you going to sell a product or a service? What is your targeted industry? What will make your offerings compelling to potential customers?

Legal Structure

Will you start a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, C or S corporation….?  The form you select will have implications for taxes, liability, staffing, and complexity.  Make sure you understand all the options and implications, and choose what’s right for you.


While you may have an idea of what you’re going to sell, in a written business plan you’ll have to detail your offerings.  How many different products/versions will you have to offer in the beginning?  How is your offering going to be different/better from other things already on the market? Will you offer customization?  How will you protect your intellectual property?  Will you patent your ideas, or keep them trade secrets?

Market Analysis

Describe the industry in which you will be working, including historical, current, and projected future size.  What subsection constitutes your target market?  What is the critical problem your offering is going to solve? What alternatives are they currently using?   What are their geographic and demographic characteristics? Who is your ideal customer?  Are there any seasonal or cyclical purchasing patterns you’ll have to work around?  What market share do you expect, and why?  

Marketing Plan

Once you have your product and target market, you have to get the two together.  What is your marketing plan?  How are those ideal customers going to find out about your offering?  Will you exhibit at trade shows or conferences?  Offer free trials?

Competitive Intelligence

Who exactly is your competition; other companies, or possibly solutions internal to your potential customers?  What are the strengths, weaknesses, and market share of each?  How important is this market to your competitors?  What are barriers to entry to this market?  What other offerings will present to differentiate you from the pack?  What is on the horizon from other companies?

Organization and Management

Who is going to run the company? What is their expertise and experience?   If you are going to hire employees, you become responsible for bringing in enough business to cover their salary, and taxes, while reporting requirements get more complicated.  Depending on the number of employees you have and the state in which you are operating, various other regulations start to apply as headcount numbers increase.  How will you address the various regulatory requirements?


How much is it really going to cost to make your product or service, and how will you price it? Are you going to compete on low cost and high volume?  Or high cost and high quality?  Is your offering a need or a want for your customers, and will that affect what they are willing to pay?


Will you reply on repeat customers, subscriptions, or contracts?  Will you sell over the Internet or are face-to-face sales required? Will you hire your own sales force, or use distributers? Where will start-up money come from?  How will you ensure enough money to cover operating expenses until substantial profits arrive?  Will you seek investors?  If so, how will you attract them and what will you offer them?

There are many more questions your business plan will have to answer, but if you’ve already thought about all these issues, congratulations!  You are well on the way to becoming an entrepreneur.  If not, you now know how to get started.  For more resources, see the US Small Business Administration or SCORE for more ideas, and the new ACS Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI).

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC.  Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

Balancing Your Career and Personal Life

April 16, 2012

By establishing a balance between your career and your personal life that works for you, you can reduce workplace stress while having a more satisfying personal life. There are several strategies you can use; however, they are most effective if you use more than one.

Get a flexible work schedule

Flexible work arrangements can enable you to adjust your schedule to attend family events, share activities with friends and enjoy your hobbies. All of these are great stress reducers. You can begin to do this by looking for companies that allow their employees to maintain flexible work schedules. For example, some companies allow employees to choose a 9/80 work schedule. On this schedule, employees work 9 hours Mondays through Thursdays, 8 hours on a Friday and receive alternate Fridays off. So many companies have allowed this in the Houston area that rush hour traffic is noticeably lighter on Fridays. When I worked for a Wisconsin-based specialty chemicals company, employees could choose to work 9 hours daily Monday through Thursday and 4 hours on Fridays.

Some of my coworkers used their Friday personal time for family activities, household projects, errands, etc. I used most of my Friday personal time to engage in my parallel career of writing magazine articles and books.

Some companies allow flexible starting and completion times. When working full-time, I had a flexible work schedule that allowed me to start any time between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM and go home at the appropriate time 8.5 hours later. This enables some employees to miss the worst of the rush hour traffic and to pick up their kids from their day care center.

Control your communication time

Modern telecommunications mean we never need be out of touch. However, it also means that the telephone, texting, and e-mail can invade our personal time. Limiting these interruptions by simply not responding immediately to them can reduce stress and the interruption of your personal activities.

Hold family meetings 

Family meetings are opportunities to share your activities with family members and learn about what is happening in their lives. These meetings may occur over a leisurely family meal or just relaxing in your living or family room.

If you are single and living a long way from family members, your friends can be a substitute. For example, I meet regularly on Tuesdays at a Chinese restaurant with a retired coworker over lunch. This provides a relaxing break in my workday. I live hundreds of miles from my brothers and some close friends. I carve out evening and weekend time to visit with them over the telephone.

Clubs and professional groups can provide activities that are an enjoyable change of pace from your job and provide opportunities to socialize. My bicycling club, local Toastmasters International club and ACS local section provide these.

Share your interests

Share your interests with your family members and friends. Doing so can let you serve as an ambassador of chemistry. Listen with equal interest when they talk about their jobs, hobbies and other personal interests.

One reason I share a hotel room with a long-time friend during ACS national meetings is that we have plenty of time to bring each other up to date on what is happening in our professional and personal lives. I also get together with friends for meals and meeting social activities.

ACS national and regional meetings are often held in cities with lots of interesting activities outside the meeting. While you’re in technical sessions, your family members could be seeing the local sights. Alternatively, they could travel to the meeting city before or after the conference and you could enjoy sightseeing with them.

Schedule regular vacations

Many hardworking chemists use their vacation time two or three days at a time and don’t take real vacations. I was this way for many years. Then ACS sent me to Fairbanks, Alaska to teach employment workshops at the Northwest Regional Meeting. After the meeting I took a 10 day vacation to travel on the Alaska Railroad around the state and see some of the sights. It was very enjoyable. I took over 900 digital photos. This experience taught me I really needed to use my vacation time to “get away from it all.”

Even a 2 to 4 day break can be enjoyable and stress reducing if you leave town to enter a new environment. I often do this after an ACS national meeting and visit local tourist attractions. I’m a history buff so there is a lot to see in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, all fairly frequent ACS national meeting sites.

Most U.S. companies do not allow new employees any vacation time until they have been employed for at least six months. So these employees may have to wait a bit before being eligible for vacation time. Experienced chemists may be able to negotiate more vacation time before starting work for a new employer.

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.

Job Hunters Should Demonstrate Flexibility and Creativity

April 9, 2012

Employers are expected to add more new jobs in 2012 than they did in 2011 according to CareerBuilder’s annual job forecast based on a Harris Interactive nationwide survey. The survey was performed between November 9 and December 5, 2011 and included more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals from various industries and both large and small companies.

However, competition for jobs will still be fierce. Companies will be looking for employees who can quickly assume new responsibilities as companies respond to changing economic and industry trends according to Lawrence Katz, an Economist at Harvard University.

Job hunters can gain an advantage if they can demonstrate flexibility, adaptability and creativity. How do they do this?

In your résumé and cover letter

Companies want to increase the demand for their products and services despite the current slow economy. Employees, including chemical researchers, need to think about sales and customer service. Job hunters need to identify situations where they’ve done this previously and include these in their résumé and cover letter. This is an area in which job hunters with previous experience have an advantage. However, graduating students and post-docs looking for their first chemistry job outside of academia can look for examples in summer jobs they’ve held. Having done this, job hunters need to use keywords relevant to these situations and examples.  A graduate student who has held a summer or part-time job outside the lab could use key words such as “customer service” or “supervised” when briefly discussing the skills of these jobs. Whether or not an employer is searching for these keywords in their résumé database, those reading your résumé carefully will probably see them.

Helping companies grow their business often requires business acumen – understanding the needs of your firm’s customers and responding to them. This may require you to expand your technical skills. For instance, working for an oil field services company, I and many of my chemist coworkers had to learn a lot about the behavior of fluids in rock, petroleum engineering technology, and geology. This knowledge aided greatly in developing new effective products and in communicating convincingly with customers. I mention keywords relating to this knowledge and technical service work in my résumé.

R&D is increasingly done by multidisciplinary work teams. Cooperating with coworkers and working with customers and suppliers on these teams and during the sales process requires good interpersonal and communication skills. Look for examples of when you demonstrated these skills. Illustrate your communication skills while writing your résumé and cover letter. Cite examples of these skills in these documents and during employment interviews. Again, use relevant key words when preparing your résumé.

To do this requires good interpersonal skills and communication skills. You may be asked to work with suppliers, customers and coworkers who are not chemists. You may need to be able to communicate technical concepts to them in terms they will readily understand.

For help with keywords

Having trouble identifying good key words? As part of information interviews with experts in certain industries or technology fields, ask them to review your résumé and suggest keywords. You may also wish to consult with an ACS career consultant who has worked in one of your target industries.

Willingness to assume new responsibilities

Companies are looking for employees who are eager to learn and willing to undertake new responsibilities. For example, while a bench chemist I was asked to be the technical consultant to my employer’s patent department. This became my primary job responsibility for one year. I undertook the assignment without complaining although I preferred lab work. The assignment was very rewarding. I made a major contribution during an important patent litigation. The litigation brought me to the attention of the company president, vice-president of research and the manager of the patent department. I am convinced that this helped me to survive three later rounds of deep staff reductions. In addition, I gained a lot of practical knowledge about the patent process that was very valuable to me and to my employers later in my career. Include your expanded responsibilities and accomplishments in your résumé and cover letter.


Being willing and able to do all this requires life-long learning. There is always more to know and do!

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.

5 Steps to Successful Networking

April 2, 2012

Welcome to the first ACS Career Tips column.  Each month, this column will provide advice and answers to career-related questions on a variety of topics, from job search to career development and transitions.

If you’re looking for your next job, there’s nothing more important than building your professional network. According to career experts, the best hires come from referrals or word of mouth. Employers rely on employees and trusted colleagues to recommend good candidates. This is why networking is one of the most effective ways of finding a job.

The good news is that you already have a strong foundation of colleagues, classmates, and friends, and social media makes it easy to create professional relationships outside your immediate circle.

Here are 5 practical steps you can take now to develop a valuable professional network:

  1. Reconnect.  Ever wonder where past classmates have landed? Or that favorite boss from your last job? It is likely that these connections can provide insight and access to ideas and opportunities. Between the ACS Network (, LinkedIn and Facebook it is easy to locate them and reconnect. When reconnecting, take the time to catch up and rebuild the relationship, whether you get together online or over a cup of coffee.
  2. Connect.  Add a personal element to your professional relationships. When people have a personal connection, they are more willing to share and lend a hand. Get to know the people you interact with professionally. Ask about their family or their plans for the weekend. Getting to know more about them will strengthen your network and improve your working relationships.
  3. Grow.  Your network can grow exponentially as you build relationships through social media or events such as ACS local section and national meetings. Set a goal to meet two or three new people at an event or every month online. Ask about what they do and what they are interested in, and try to find connections.  Trade contact information with those you’d like to get to know better, then make sure to follow up. 
  4. Respond.  It’s easy to get inundated with e-mail and invitations to connect online, but if you want to build a strong network, it’s important to keep communications flowing. Don’t ignore requests for help from others, and respond to those seeking advice. If you can’t help, refer them to those who can.
  5. Give.  Relationships are built on reciprocity. Provide information to others. To do so, remember what’s important to them. Refer back to your notes–where you met, interests, discussion topics, etc.  Share articles or papers you think would be of interest or reference a sport or hobby they follow. Keeping connected with your contacts builds valuable, lasting relationships.


Networking is one of the most successful ways to find a new job, and you never know when you might need to make a job change.

Get Involved in the Discussion

The Career Tips column will be posted on the ACS Network and the ACS Careers website (, where you’re encouraged to get involved in the discussion.  Tell us what you think about the articles and share your experiences.  Also, let us know what you’d like us to address in future columns to help you and your colleagues reach your career goals.–Brought to you by ACS Careers (