The 5 Goals of a Project Manager

April 8, 2013

Project managers have to manage people, customers and suppliers and coordinate their efforts. They also have to manage a budget and the use of needed resources such as laboratory instruments and supplies. Whether they work in industry, academia, government or for themselves, all project managers have five goals they must meet for their project to be successful.

These goals are to:

  • Finish on time
  • Finish under budget
  • Meet the project requirements
  • Make customers happy
  • Develop a happy project team

Let’s look at each of these goals and why they are important.

Finish on time

This can be difficult because requirements often change during the course of the project. Additional requirements are often added. To minimize “project scope creep,” all parties involved in the project should agree on project requirements and put them in writing. If these requirements change, everyone involved should agree on a revised schedule and put it in writing.

Track progress on all phases of the project recording both planned and actual progress. This will help in identifying deviations from the plan and allow you to correct in a timely way. A useful way to do this is to use a PERT chart ( This is a graphic representation of the project schedule. It helps in identifying which project tasks can be worked on simultaneously and in particular, the critical tasks which must be completed on time for the overall project to remain on schedule.

Another reason the project may not be completed on time is that the project team, particularly the project manager, was overly optimistic in setting the project schedule. It is often a temptation for the project manager to do this in order to obtain approval for the project.

Finish on or under budget

To maintain your credibility with your project stakeholders, you need to set a project budget at the start of the project and stick with int.  Ultimately it is great to finish under budget, but to build a reputable track record, you need to make sure you are on budget each project. Your spending probably won’t be linear with time; therefore, you need to track spending on your PERT chart. Determine how much each task in your project plan will cost to complete and track deviations from the plan.  If you do over-spend on some parts of the project, make sure you underspend on others so you can complete the project on target.

Meet the project requirements

Finishing on time and under budget is not enough if the results of the project do not meet the requirements set forth in the project. These requirements must be sufficiently detailed. Ambiguous goals can result in additional time spent on the project and customer dissatisfaction with the results.

Often it is not sufficient that the project results be good enough. To succeed in the marketplace, the results must provide significant advantages compared to its already commercial competitors. These advantages can include performance, cost, energy efficiency, etc.

Make customers happy

Your customers could be satisfied but that may not be enough. They must be happy with project results and eager to use them. If they are not, it’s usually because customers’ requirements or expectations have changed since the project began or you have fallen behind schedule. Frequent and clear communication is essential so you and the project team stay aware of these changes. In particular, openness and honesty are necessary. Keep customers aware of your progress. If you are falling behind schedule or over budget they need to know. Above all, listen closely to customer concerns as the project proceeds.

Ensure a happy team

High team morale is essential to project success. Recognize and reward your project team members for their successes as often as you can. Assign them work in which they are interested and complements their strengths. They will perform better on the current project and be eager to work with you again on the next project.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

Self-employment: Finding Success in the Gig Economy

January 28, 2013

When starting your own company it’s not enough to have a great new product or service. It’s not enough to have ample financing. What you also need is sound business sense, the “5 M’s” of self-employment. What are the 5 M’s?

Marketing your services

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Develop a diverse client base in terms of industries you sell to and the size of client organizations you target. For example, during the 1980s the bottom dropped out of the oil business for several years. As a result many chemical companies and consultancies, large and small, saw their sales to oilfield service companies decline substantially. Having a diverse client base would have helped lessen the impact of this sort of situation. Having contingency plans to implement would allow you to quickly compensate for the loss of major customers.

I derive much of my income from my freelance technical writing. During the recent recession I saw my income from sales to both companies and magazines drop substantially. To compensate for this I expanded my sales to government agencies and the nonprofit sector. Luckily I did not have to start from ground zero since I already had some sales to these sectors before the economic slump hit in 2008. I also monitored my sales closely and was able to take timely action to expand my client base because I saw my sales to certain sectors begin to decline in the fourth quarter of 2007.

During the 1980s when my technical writing sales to the oil industry slumped, I was able to compensate by recruiting new clients in Europe and marketing to pharmaceutical industry trade publications. However, because most European countries have been harder hit by the recent recession than the U.S., these strategies did not work for me this time around. Instead I increased my marketing to units of the federal government.

Managing money issues

When you are selling services, it is often difficult to decide what to charge. There are several strategies you can adopt. First, you can learn what your competitors are charging for the same or very similar services and adopt a similar price structure. Alternatively you could take the approach of offering a premium service and charging a higher price. This is the approach I usually take and it often works even in competitive bidding situations if you clearly explain what you are selling and why your service is more cost effective at a higher price than competitors. For example, I occasionally charge 25% to 33% more than my competitors in competitive bidding processes and still win the work. Of course, this approach means that I must provide the added value that I promise.

Sometimes it is difficult to obtain a fair price for your service. For instance, in 2011 a major oil company saw freelance writing projects being offered at $25 per hour on Craig’s List. Neglecting the greater difficulty of technical writing, they offered technical writing projects at this fee. I and some other technical writers turned down the work when it was offered at this low hourly rate because it was substantially lower than the going rate for this kind of writing. The oil firm hired people with limited or no technical backgrounds to work on the projects. They got unsatisfactory documents (chapters in a training manual for example) as a result. I don’t know how this situation was eventually resolved. However, I do know they approached another technical writer and me to whom they offered the original low fees to edit and improve these poorly written documents.

The sharp drop in income during the recent recession led some experienced consultants and technical writers desperate for work to reduce their fees. However, now that the U.S. economy is growing again, albeit slowly, these chemists are finding many of their clients are refusing to pay their pre-recession fee levels. Thus they face the unpleasant choice of losing clients or working for lower fees.

Meeting clients’ specifications

When designing projects for clients, it is essential to agree upon the specifications of the project, project budget, the timetable for completion of various parts of the project, schedule of payments and reporting requirements. Having project management skills is often essential in managing projects to the satisfaction of the client as well as yourself.

It is worth spending time up front clearly defining the client’s specifications and agreeing on how you will meet them. These are the biggest factors in determining whether the client will be satisfied with your work and willing to assign you additional projects.

Minimizing scope creep

Scope creep results when new features are added to a project’s scope after work has started. Scope creep is usually caused by inadequate planning at the beginning of the project. Often each change request is small and the entrepreneur accepts them to keep the client happy. However, a point often is reached when the changes become numerous enough that the project requires much more work than originally agreed upon. The additional work can delay project completion and cause the project to go over budget.

Meeting deadlines

To achieve commercial success it is often essential to complete the project on schedule. To help assure this, project managers often adopt project milestones and dates for their completion. Milestones are intermediate goals that clearly indicate progress in achieving final project goals and completing the project. They are also useful in monitoring project spending relative to achieving project goals.

Following these 5Ms helps increase the overall success of your business while increasing customer satisfaction and increasing the chances of obtaining repeat business.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

Non-traditional Chemistry Careers: Science and Technical Writers

October 22, 2012

Traditional science writers work full-time for newspapers, magazines or associations such as the American Chemical Society (ACS). However, these days print publications are employing fewer full-time science writers. Many people blog about science but relatively few earn enough to depend on blog earnings as their primary source of income. Science writing is increasingly becoming a part-time and even unpaid profession. Therefore, one should be well aware of these trends before committing to science writing as a full-time occupation.

Freelance Science Writers

An increasing fraction of science writers are self-employed contractors. Besides writing for magazines, newspapers and websites for these publications, they may also write for companies needing writing services. For example, as a freelance science writer, I have written confidential internal documents for oil companies, oilfield service companies, chemical companies and consumer products companies. Often these “white papers” are proprietary in that the information is confidential and the exclusive property of the organization that commissioned the work. Many magazines, newspapers and websites hold exclusive rights to articles they commission freelance writers to write. So if one writes a document or article, he/she often cannot sell it to more than one organization.

Being self-employed, freelance writers usually do not receive health benefits from the organizations that commission them to write articles. Freelance writers also have to make their own provisions for Social Security Administration payments and other retirement income. Monthly income can vary from month to month depending on the writer’s success in being commissioned to write science articles. Many freelance writers write on a part-time basis in addition to holding a full-time job. Some write solely for the enjoyment of writing about science and not for money.

Some science writers work for agencies. Companies and other organizations approach these agencies when they need writers to prepare documents on specific subjects. These agencies maintain files and recommend writers to organizations needing them. In return for this service, the agency receives a percentage of the writing fee from the hiring organization. Often the agency manages issues such as paying the writer’s income taxes and Social Security fees from his/her income before sending the writer a check.

National Association of Science Writers

The National Association of Science Writers ( is the professional organization for science writers and includes both writers working full-time and freelance writers who work for various clients as they receive assignments to write various documents.

Technical Writers

Technical writers are often put in a separate category from science writers. Many technical writers work for the information technology industry either as professionals employed full-time or as freelancers. They often write operating instructions for IT products such as computers, cell phones and software. This usually pays more than science writing. The relevant professional organization is the Society for Technical Communication (

Many writers are both science writers and technical writers. Some cover other subjects as well. For example, I write job-hunting and career management articles customized for scientists and engineers that are published as ACS Career Blogs (

Finding article topics

Finding gripping article ideas that will interest many readers is no problem. Many news services publish press releases on new developments in science and medicine from universities, companies, government agencies and conferences. My favorite is published daily by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Another site publishing many European science press releases is Many universities publish press releases based on discoveries made in their science departments and labs.

The federal government’s national laboratories publish press releases about discoveries their scientists make. Many scientific organizations such as the American Chemical Society also publish press releases as well as trade organizations such as the Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry.

Incidentally, science writers prepare these press releases. While some are freelancers, most are full-time employees working for organizations such as the ACS.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

Careers in Biotech-based Chemical Products

July 23, 2012

One growing field of chemistry is developing, manufacturing and formulating biotechnology-based chemical products. This area is the most active one in chemistry in terms of the formation of start-up companies and in terms of taking companies public to raise money for business growth. The two best known areas are using biotechnology to develop new drugs and biofuels. However, there are also other types of chemical products that can be based on biotechnology. The job market is better in biotechnology than in most fields of traditional chemistry. So it makes sense to develop expertise or relate the expertise you already have to biotechnology and emphasize this expertise as one of your job-hunting strategies.  How might you do this?

Green chemistry

Today most chemicals are being produced from limited resources such as crude oil or natural gas. However, one could use renewable resources instead. For example, until now, most surfactants have been derived from these limited resources. These biosurfactants can be formulated with other materials to produce green laundry detergents and a wide variety of other cleaning products for household and workplace use. When these formulations work well in customer trials, large-scale production methods need to be developed to produce them commercially. Then if the biosurfactants perform well enough they could replace petroleum-based cleaning products in homes and businesses.

Of course, this type of biotechnology isn’t limited to surfactants. It can be used to develop renewable biofuels, drugs, personal care products, lubricants and polymers – all based on green chemistry.  A key part of green chemistry is using environmentally friendly catalysts such as fungi or bacteria instead of conventional catalysts, which often contain toxic metals. One possible use of these fungi and bacteria is to manufacture the biosurfactants discussed above.

We like to think of biotechnology as new. However, examples of fermentation chemistry abound in the food and beverage industries where fermentation has been used for 6,000 years. Examples include making bread, cheese, beer and wine.

Energy from food processing plant wastes

There is increased interest in producing useful energy from the waste of food processing factories. Consider an agribusiness such as Gills Onions, the largest U.S. fresh-cut onion processor.  Gills produces a growing volume of food waste: onion tops, tails and skins, which account for about 40% of the original onion weight, about 1.5 million pounds weekly. The amount had become too costly and environmentally unsustainable to plow into soil as compost.

University of California Davis researchers demonstrated that one could squeeze the onion wastes and use certain microbes to convert the juice produced into methane, which could be used to generate electricity. Today this electricity powers Gill Onions’ power plant saving $700,000 on power costs and $400,000 on trucking costs annually. The onion pulp remaining after squeezing out the juice is sold as cattle feed as is or mixed with other feed ingredients.

Food waste produced from other types of crop processing facilities can be converted to methane for use in power generation.  For instance, large citrus fruit processing factories produce a mixture of peel, seeds, and segment membranes that could be converted on-site to methane and used to generate electricity. Alternatively these food wastes could be converted to bioethanol or biodiesel. By building the plant waste conversion facility on-site, transportation costs would be near zero.

These are no longer just tomorrow’s jobs. They are today’s jobs and there are a growing number of jobs for chemists in these fields now.

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 1400 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.

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.

Is there really a shortage of STEM workers?

February 6, 2012

Every so often, this question pops up and the debate begins again – do we have too many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers, or not enough?  Some people say that scientists are having difficulty finding jobs, so we must be creating too many scientists.  But there are still lots of places where technical expertise is needed, so obviously we’re not creating enough scientists.  Which is true?  A couple of recent reports have looked into the issue, and added more fuel to the discussion.

The first one, the STEM Report, was released by Georgetown University in October 2011, and argues that there really is a shortage of STEM workers in the United States, but not for the reasons traditionally cited.   These authors concluded that “innovation and technology change have led to the demand for STEM competencies beyond traditional STEM occupations”, and the deeper problem is a broad scarcity of workers with basic STEM competencies across the entire economy.  They postulate that domestic STEM talent is moving into non-STEM occupations because the core cognitive STEM competencies are becoming increasingly valued in non-STEM occupations that are highly-paid, prestigious, and more in line with worker’s interests and values.  Workers leak out of the STEM pipeline at all stages, after they have acquired varying levels of proficiency in STEM competencies.  For example, only 19% of students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree do so in a STEM field, and only about half of those actually work in a STEM field after college.  After 10 years post-graduation, only 8% are still working in a STEM field.  The authors of this report argue that the vacated positions have in recent years been filled by foreign-born STEM students, who are more likely than non-STEM students to remain in this country and become STEM workers.

The second report recent report is entitled “Jobs Americans Can’t Do:  The Myth of a Skilled Worker Shortage”, and was published in November 2011 by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).  This is a group that advocates for immigration policy reform, and not surprisingly their report concludes that “U.S. tech companies are cutting wages by discriminating against qualified American workers”, and that “there is no evidence that there is, or will exist in the foreseeable future, a shortage of qualified native-born scientists and engineers in the United States”.  In fact, they find that the “glut of science and engineering degree holders has caused many S&E graduates to seek work in other fields”, and foreign-born scientists who are willing to “work for smaller wages” are taking jobs away from native-born workers.

Even though the reports come to different overall conclusions, both agree that STEM-trained workers overall are leaving their field in large numbers, at all stages of their careers.  (They also agree that the academic market for PhDs in STEM areas is weak.)

However, the first report believes that the competencies of STEM workers are highly valued in non-STEM occupations, so workers are being pulled into lucrative careers elsewhere, and we should train more workers to fill both the STEM and non-STEM markets with technically trained professionals.  The FAIR report believes that the influx of foreign-born students and scientists has flooded the market, depressing wages and forcing STEM workers out and into other fields.  Specifically, what is it that makes STEM-trained workers so valuable?  The core competencies specifically identified in the Georgetown University report include critical thinking, complex problem solving, deductive and inductive reasoning, problem sensitivity (the ability to tell when something is wrong or likely to go wrong), systems analysis, and many others.  While we may learn these skills in a research lab, or hone them in a manufacturing plant, they are applicable to a wide variety of industries and job fields, both technical and non-technical.  I encourage you to check out the list, and think about which of these competencies particular strengths are for you, and which ones you might be able to add to your resume.

Regardless of which interpretation is you might agree with (and does it really matter?), the bottom line is that STEM-trained workers are valued in non-STEM fields, and that value is increasing over time.  It also means people trained with a STEM background have more options when looking for employment, which I think everyone will agree is a good thing.

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.

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 argues that the structure of training, not inadequate funding, is causing young American scientists to look abroad for opportunities (  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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 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 (  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 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.

You Have to Have Been There

February 21, 2011

The other night I was having a discussion with my 17-year-old son about one of his activities.  He used to be a leader in the group, and has now moved on to other things.  I mentioned some issues that occurred at a recent meeting, and how the current leader seemed to be having some trouble getting people to listen.  My son’s comment was “That sounds about right.  They don’t listen to you when you’re in charge, they listen to the people who used to be in charge.”

As I thought about his comment, I realized I’ve said exactly the same thing about several groups with which I’ve been involved.  While the current president or chair may run the meetings and be up front, the group turns to previous leaders for advice on what should be done, and how things should be implemented.

This does make sense.  While the current leaders is the one up front, giving directions, the ones who really understand what’s going on are those who have already been through the whole process.  We want advice and information from the person who has been there, done that, and brought it to a successful conclusion.  The person who is in the middle of the job may be in charge now, but they obviously don’t know as much as someone who’s been through the whole thing.

If you think about most major life events, you will realize this is true of almost everything.  You may have done some research, and thought you knew what you were getting into, but the reality of living through it is usually quite different from what you thought you were prepared for.  Getting married, having kids, a home repair project, traveling in another country, managing other people… all turn out to be much more complicated than they appear before you’ve experienced them.  Once you’ve been through it once, you understand the issues involved, and are much better prepared for the second round of the same responsibility.

Employers are people too.  When looking for someone to do things for them, they want someone who has been through the process.  They want to know what you have successfully accomplished, what you’ve already done.  They don’t want to know what you think you can do, or are willing to do.  They want proof that you can do that type of work, because you have already done it in another context.

You need to keep this in mind when talking to potential employers (which really means talking to anyone, because you never know where the information will end up).  When asked what you do, provide a couple of recent accomplishments, instead of a job title or a list of “responsible for”s. Talk about what you have done, not what you might do.  It will make you sound more qualified, because you are talking about successful past accomplishments.  It will also make you appear more engaged and active – you actually did something, rather than just watching others do it.

So give it some thought – what are your most significant accomplishments?  What have you successfully done, that would be of interest to a potential employer?  Can you quantify your accomplishment?  Present yourself as someone who has done things, and is therefore highly qualified to do similar things in the future.  Then you will be one of those “been there, done that” former leaders to whom others will come for advice and ideas – and to whom they will bring opportunities.

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.

Keeping Up with the Trends

January 24, 2011

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.

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).