Are You A Professional?

A local group was putting together a career development workshop, and wanted to include a section on professionals.  When asked for a definition, the first thing that came to mind is that a professional is someone who gets paid to do something.  While that may be true, it’s not always.  I have worked with some very professional volunteers, and some very amateur employees. 

What they really wanted to talk about was professionalism.  Professionalism is more a state of mind.  It’s a collection of attitudes and actions that over time demonstrate respect for and dedication to a specific goal, and usually that inspire respect and admiration from their colleagues and coworkers.



A true professional respects their colleagues, responds to them in a timely manner, and has reasonable expectations.  They judge others by the quality of their work and by their actions, with no preconceptions or irrelevant biases.


A true professional knows a lot.  They already know what is needed to do their job, but are always willing, and even eager, to learn more.  They have probably been doing the job for some time, and have a wealth of experience.  However, they realize that technology and circumstances change, so they are constantly evolving and looking for ways to improve both themselves and the way they do things.


A professional is one who is willing to share their knowledge, expertise and experience with others.  They are happy to mentor students and others new to the field, and take pleasure in sharing what they have learned through hard work.  They go out of their way to look for opportunities to help other professionals.


A true professional says what they are going to do, and does what they say they will.  They meet deadlines and quotas, once they have determined that they are reasonable.  If circumstances arise that make that impossible, they will let others know as soon as possible, and have a plan for how to mitigate any damages from the delay.  They look for the best in their coworkers, and do not gossip about the faults of others.


A true professional does whatever is needed to achieve the goal, whether or not it is part of their official job description.  They will come in early or stay late when required, and often find themselves thinking about work issues during their “off” time.  They understand what is needed now, and what can be delayed by a bit, and are committed to ensuring success. This does not mean they work around the clock.  Everyone needs time off and mental breaks, but a professional will make sure their work responsibilities are addressed before they take a break.

There are many other characteristics that could be described as professional.  What characteristics do you admire in the people you work with?  Are there other things that are not on this list?  And even more importantly, how well do your actions compare to what you think a true professional should be?   You can’t change your personality overnight, you can make a conscious effort to make your actions match your attitudes.


Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (—brought to you by ACS Careers.

2 Responses to Are You A Professional?

  1. Bradford says:

    Um… a professional is someone who has professed his/her commitment to a discipline?

    The definitions you have offered are deeply unsatisfying. They rely too much on judgments of a person’s demeanor and too little on what they do when no one is looking.

    True, someone who is committed to his/her discipline shows respect to colleagues, focuses on the quality of work and not who did it, “knows a lot”, and so on. But what if one’s colleagues are engaged in perverting science for the tobacco industry, or using the work to harm humanity? Does respect or quality mean anything in such circumstances?

    I would say that the professional shows respect not for the persons they work with, but for their commitment to the profession. The professional focuses on the quality of the work because of his/her love for the discipline. The professional “knows a lot” because s/he loves the work and reads/learns constantly.

    The word profession is often used to indicate a religious commitment, e.g., a profession of faith. Chemists should be in the profession because they love truth. And that truth should include a commitment not to pervert science to serve the profit motive, harming people and the environment in general to earn a dirty buck.

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