Volunteering for Fun and Profit

December 3, 2012

Volunteering is a great way to pick up new skills and expand your professional network.  However, there are thousands of worthy volunteer causes that could use your time and talents.  How do you decide where to put your time and effort?  Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your volunteer activities.

What do you really care about?

Not everyone is interested in the same things, so make sure that whatever you choose to do it is something you are personally passionate about, and are excited to see through completion.  Obviously you should believe in the organization’s mission, but you should also be excited about the particular project you will be working on.  Knowing the task is beneficial and important will help motivate you to do your absolute best, and persevere when you encounter difficulties.


Will you learn a new skill?

One reason to volunteer is to learn a new skill in a low-risk environment, where mistakes won’t jeopardize your livelihood.  For example, if your current professional position does not require you to manage a budget, maybe you want to become treasurer of a local organization.  This will give you some real hands-on experience with setting a budget, tracking income and expenses, and so on.  Not only will you learn whether or not you can manage finances, you will learn whether or not you enjoy financial responsibility.  When the time comes to do this in your paying job, you will have the experience to do it right.


Will you work with good people?

One of the best reasons to take on a new volunteer position is to get to know new people.  Before you make a large commitment to an organization, spend some time with the other people involved, maybe assisting with a small or one-time event. Are the other volunteers fun to work with?  Do you share a common vision for the organization?  Does the professional staff (if any) treat the volunteers with respect?


Will you be appreciated?

With most volunteer work, your only payment is other’s appreciation of your job well done. Some organizations are better than others at thanking volunteers, and making sure they feel appreciated. Is the sense of accomplishment at the end of the project going to be sufficient reward for your hard work?

Can you get out?

Leaving gracefully can be the hardest part of a volunteer job – especially if you’re doing a great job, and no one wants to see you go. Picking a job with a fixed term limit is a good way to make sure you have a limited commitment.  Even if you have a term limit, you want to think ahead, and have a successor ready to go. Let them take over when it’s time, and resist the temptation to tell them how to do things, or insist they do exactly what you would have done.

Volunteer positions can be extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally.  By carefully selecting the organizations, projects and tasks that are going to benefit from your skills, you can ensure that you get as much, or more, than you give.  ACS offers many opportunities to get involved as a volunteer.  Two of the easiest places to help are in your Local Section and your Technical Division.

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 (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—Brought to you by ACS Careers.

The Globalization of Science

August 1, 2011

Recently I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the globalization of science. Several articles have appeared in my infostream, highlighting various aspects of this complex issue, and how it affects all of our professional lives.   

A recent post on ScienceCareers.org argues that the structure of training, not inadequate funding, is causing young American scientists to look abroad for opportunities (http://blogs.sciencemag.org/sciencecareers/2011/05/matthew-stremla.html).  Beryl Benderly points out that the number of available tenure-track positions remains small relative to the number of people earning PhDs.  Funding increases don’t solve this problem, they instead encourage professors to use more graduate students and post-docs to conduct their research, without considering where those new scientists will find employment.  With increasing numbers of scholars and science students overseas, leaving the United States looks more and more attractive.

“International Experience” in the 2010 November 22 issue of C&EN (http://pubs.acs.org/cen/employment/88/8847employment.html) talks about the rise of western-style research parks and universities in Asia and the Middle East, which are enticing young faculty to move abroad.  Strongly supported with funding, they have state-of-the-art facilities, generous start-up packages and a significant fraction of US expatriates on staff.  In addition to attracting eminent scientists, these institutions can be great places for new graduates (including graduates students and post-docs) to start their careers.  Without an established research group to move, and fewer community ties, it can be easier for young scientists to move and gain international experience.  While the number of European and Asian scientists who work in the US is still much greater than the number who go the other way, Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of going overseas. 

These overseas institutions are doing quality research.  The Royal Society recently reported (http://royalsociety.org/policy/reports/knowledge-networks-nations/?f=1 an increasingly multipolar world, the rise of new scientific powers such as China, India and Brazil, and the emergence of scientific nations in the Middle East, South-East Asia and North Africa. In addition, science is becoming more interconnected, especially internationally. For example, over 35% of papers published in 2009 included international collaboration, up from 25% 15 years ago.  China has now surpassed the United Kingdom as the second largest producer of research publications, and is on track to pass the United States by 2013, and Brazil, India and South Korea have also had significant increases.  In addition, the Nature Publishing Index 2010 (http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/05/the_rapid_rise_of_chinas_resea.html) quantitated the dramatic rise in the number of papers with authors from China being published in Nature research journals.

For those who are considering a career in industry, overseas experience can be valuable as well. “Western Graduates Head to China for Internships” (Wall Street Journal 2011 May 31 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303745304576354963157118104.html) describes how potential employers value “those who can demonstrate a willingness to move out of their comfort zone” and challenge themselves, both of which are evidenced by taking an internship in another country.  Some internships are only a few weeks or months long, but still demonstrate cultural awareness and a willingness to relocate.  Since most companies are now part of the global economy, having first-hand experience with other cultures and other ways of doing things can be valuable information to bring to a new company. 

If all this intrigues you, it’s time to start your own International Job Search, as described in The Chronicle (http://chronicle.com/article/Conducting-the-International/127553/).  They suggest attending conferences overseas, cultivating international contacts, and familiarizing yourself with employment systems in other countries (when positions are advertised, local job titles and terminology, cultural differences in presenting talks, and so on). 

There are a couple of easy ways to get started, no matter where you are.  If you’re going to be at the ACS national meeting, there will be an Onsite Career Fair on Sunday, August 28 through Wednesday, August 31.  And if you’re not going to be in Denver, you can attend virtually (see www.acs.org/vcf for all the details).  Register now and get your resume into employer’s hands. 

In addition to the Career Fair, the ACS meeting in Denver will also host a Groundbreaking Global Networking Opportunity!  in the ACS booth (Expo Hall) on Tuesday, August 30 from 4:00-6:00pm. At 4:150pm Bonnie Coffey, a networking guru, will present “Networking 101—Making Your Contacts Count” to a live audience that will also be webcastvirtually . Immediately following this presentation, the ACS booth and the Virtual Networking Lounge will enable onsite and offsite attendees to interact.  Check and see if your local ACS section is hosting a networking receptions concurrently with the ACS Global Networking Reception – and if not, attend on your own or volunteer to organize one.  All of these local events will be linked together in order to create the ACS’s largest networking event ever.  Don’t miss it!

Opening up the world to science means more competition, but also more opportunity for cooperation.  Even if you don’t want to move to the other side of the world, technology makes it possible for you to find out about, and collaborate with, scientists from all corners of the planet.  Virtually every country in the world is now getting into science –there really is a world of opportunities out there. 

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

Hiring in China – Opportunities in the Asia-Pacific Region

December 7, 2010

For this article, I interviewed two executives from HR Partners, Monicca Yan, CEO and Senior Consulting Director Asia Pacific, and KT Goh, Managing Director for China.  HR Partners is an established executive search company primarily focusing on Asia Pacific, and is the premier partner for the IRC network.  They conduct exclusively retained searches in various industries including industrials, electronics, healthcare, chemicals, supply chain and FMCG/services, and maintain offices in key Asian cities including Singapore (headquarters), Shanghai (China), Hong Kong and Taipei (Taiwan).

Question:  What kinds of positions and people does your company specialize in matching?

Answer:  Generally, as we only do retained searches, most of our clients hire us for Senior Manager, Director and General Manager-level assignments. We also help our clients with niche or specialty jobs where a standard search may not yield results as a more strategic and creative approach may be required.

Often times we engage with our clients as they enter into the high growth Asia Pacific markets (where they may not have any presence or are just starting to build up serious growth centers).

Question:  What sorts of positions are currently available in China?

Answer:  China is obviously a high growth area and attracts all manners of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), so virtually all major companies in any industry are present. In this respect, you will expect vacancies in almost all functions and industries.

Question:  For what type of individual are you looking?  Are there specific skills, or personality characteristics, that make a potential  employee more valuable?

Answer:  In China and probably for all high growth areas in Asia Pacific (arguably similar to anywhere else globally), we look for candidates who have a proven track record of growing businesses profitably, understanding the local markets and their peculiarities / customs, improving operational efficiencies and effectiveness, reducing costs including supply chain and world class purchasing, supporting good HR practices to enable talent growth and replenishment and good governance (Finance, Legal, Compliance, Risk etc).

Also very important, we look for candidates that have superior leadership skills, autonomous in their dealings, able to communicate and present effectively (including in local languages, example Mandarin in China), and possess generally good energy to simply make things happen. In senior positions, of course some trade-offs are considered such as lack of local language capability vs. proven track record of growing business in new countries.

Candidates should also understand very quickly that what could have worked in developed countries may only attain limited success in developing countries, so the ability to marry best practices elsewhere should complement understanding of new market conditions.

For example, a simple suggestion would be for the new global generation to learn Mandarin. These additional skills, in addition of  English would already accord the incumbent a very powerful advantage in the coming years.

Question:  Are jobs primarily for Chinese expatriates returning to  China, or are there possibilities for US citizens?

The possibilities are numerous for various types of candidates. It is not a given that a returning Chinese expatriate is more effective if  they could not adapt to their original countries (simply because they have been away far too long), they carry a larger baggage as they would be viewed even more severely than say an American who has no prior knowledge of the new country, as the former category could be viewed as someone who has ‘lost their roots’. The latter are most often times, ‘forgiven’.

Question:  How would someone in the US find out about these jobs? Should they approach a recruiting firm like yours and indicate their interest in moving overseas?

Answer:  There is no one good and only method. We can offer some suggestions:

1) Do research and approach a few known headhunters, call them and have a discussion if possible. And for those the candidates trust [areas of interest match, they respect confidentiality, no fees to candidates, etc.], they can send their resumes.

2) Note that for retained search, the resume may sit in database until a suitable opportunity arises. The headhunter may call for a cursory understanding of the candidates but this obviously differs from one company to another.

3) Approach country Chamber of Commerce or groupings in the country they wish to look for the next career opportunity like AmCham.

4) Have a  clear career search strategy: identify which industries, which companies and study them and their career websites. Call the HR folks or drop resumes into company websites.

In short, be proactive.  A retained headhunter is useful as they will interview the candidate and would already have done their assessment.

Question:  Is there anything candidates can/should do to make themselves more attractive for these types of positions?

Answer:  Depending on the position that is being applied for, the resume may have to be modified to highlight relevant experience, key achievements and very importantly, how these achievements were gotten and could they be repeated in a new company, new environment, new industry etc ….

Question:  Do you see mainly permanent positions in China, or do candidates work  there for a few years and then return to their home country?

Answer:  For non-Mandarin speaking candidates, it would be highly likely that the position will be replaced by a local, unless there is  some very specific or niche talent and experience. Cost is also a  factor if they expect or are on expatriate package. As in everything else, work experience, relevance and specialty will determine negotiations on how ‘permanent’ a job will be.

Question:  What trends do you see for the future of employment within China, and in the chemistry market overall?

Answer:  China today is probably at only the start of the first wave of their “Industrialization Era” as US and Europe experienced many tens of years ago. This, coupled with a local culture that prizes education and excellence, should stand China in good stead for many years to come, assuming that the political and social environment remains stable. China is also a vast market with 1st tier cities extending to 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th tier cities that could be developed from labor and land standpoint to maintain their competitiveness. These factors are not always available to other countries. So the future is very bright indeed for China.

And as China grows, so will the rest of Asia Pacific and the world as the economies are increasingly inter-dependent, as much as currently Asia Pacific depends so heavily on USA, Europe and Japan today.

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).

What Water Do You Live In?

January 27, 2010

I was recently invited to teach a workshop on Career Management for Scientists at the University of British Columbia.  I was thrilled to add an international aspect to my speaking career, and very much enjoyed the lovely scenery, warm weather, and friendly people there.

However, the most interesting thing to me happened after the workshop was over.  As we were taking a tour of the city, and seeing all the venues at which the Winter Olympics will be held, my host, Liz, was looking for a mailbox.  She had a letter to mail, and mentioned that they had been removing mailboxes in preparation for the Olympics (to prevent terrorist acts), and it was getting harder and harder to find a place to mail a letter.

When I asked her why she didn’t just put it in the mailbox in her house, for the letter carrier to pick up.  It turns out in Canada the letter carrier does not pick up outgoing mail.  It never occurred to me that other places did not have daily mail delivery and pick-up like I do.  I have since learned that in England they deliver twice a day, in Belgium it’s 5 times per week, but in neither of those countries do they have regular home pickup.

For each of us, it’s the way things are done, and we work within the systemic parameters.  Each system has advantages and disadvantages, and I’d love to how the different systems evolved…..

In thinking about this, I realized this was a good example of how different culture have different parameters, and I should not assume everyone else lives in a world like mine.  What is easy for me might be significantly harder for someone else, because of the system in which they live.  I will think about that next time I ask someone else to do something. Is there something in their environment, culture or background that makes this more difficult for them than I think it’s going to be?

Unless you really take the time to understand the other person’s environment, you don’t know what it’s like to be them.  And you may never understand what it’s really like unless you live in it for awhile.  This is why travel and international experience is so valuable – it lets you experience, just for a little while, other ways of doing things.

The flip side of this is what aspects of your life are not fixed by physical laws, but instead by culture, tradition and habit.  Remember, fish don’t know they’re living in water.  It’s just what’s always been around them, and the way things always are.  What is the “water” in your life?  If you open your eyes and look around, can you find new and better ways of doing things, as well as appreciating the differences in the way others do things?

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).