What Have You Learned Lately?

November 9, 2009

I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop, spending the day working on my laptop.  I’m here waiting for several boy scouts who are attending a Merit Badge University, and learning about Leatherwork, Public Speaking, and Reptile and Amphibian Study, among other things.  As I watched them head off to their respective  classes, it occurred to me how eager they were to learn new things, and explore the world around them.  In their case, if they are successful, they will come back with a completed merit badge to prove they now understand and can execute a whole new set of skills.  More than just a piece of cloth on their uniform, they have confidence in their ability to do and share their new knowledge.

For those of us who a are just a little bit older, it’s not quite so easy.  There are lot of things we want to learn about, but the effort and time commitment to sign up for a formal class is often more than we are willing to expend.

Fortunately, we often acquire new skills and knowledge without formal training, and sometimes without fully realizing what we have learned.  I recently taught a workshop to a group of graduate students, and in talking about resumes was asking them about their professional experience and significant accomplishments.  Several of them told me they didn’t have any work experience  – a statement I hope their graduate advisor would take exception to!

When I started probing, they were almost all able to tell me about something they had done of which they were very proud.  Maybe it was a compound they had synthesized, a particularly difficult analysis they had completed, or in some cases a class they had taught where they felt they really made a difference in the life of a particular student.  In every case, once they started talking about the event, they became animated and their excitement and pride was palpable.  As I asked questions about what they did and what they had learned, they started to realize just how much this particular event had meant to them, and how much they had learned in the process.

Sometimes, we need to step back and think about what we’re done lately, and reflect on what we have accomplished, and/or  learned.  New analytical instruments or tools are usually easy to recognize, but new non-technical skills are sometimes harder to spot.

Take a few minutes over your coffee today to think about what you’ve done lately, and what you’ve learned from it.  Have you given a talk, or written a report?  What did you learn, not only about the subject matter, but about the process and perhaps a better way to prepare for the next time?  Did you recently get through a difficult situation with a co-worker, and what did you learn about how you might handle a similar situation the next time?

Think also about what you haven’t learned, that might make your career better.  Is there some new technique or method that you’ve been meaning to learn, but just haven’t gotten to?  Maybe your last performance review pointed out oral presentation skills as an area in which you could improve.  Set aside a few minutes to read a few journal articles, or find and attend a Toastmaster’s meeting.

Too often we wait for a crisis to force us to take action, when we know we should have done it long ago.  Identifying gaps in your knowledge and addressing them is one of the best things you can do for your professional future.  Exploring new areas on your own prepares you for the future, and lets you move your career in the direction of your choosing, not into areas that others select for you.  You may not earn a merit badge (like both of my scouts did), but you will gain the satisfaction of knowing that your career is moving forward, and you are the one directing it.

This article was written by freelance scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007). She blogs on Career Development for Scientists.

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January 22 is “Thank Your Mentor Day”

January 16, 2009

 Out of my high school graduating class of 400 students, three of us went on to get Ph.D. degrees in chemistry—an amazing proportion that’s a factor of 10 greater than expected.  Was it something in the water?

 

No.  It was Mr. Sturtevant, our chemistry teacher.  He was enthusiastic, creative, and passionate about chemistry.  He treated all his students (he called us his “little chemists”) with a respect that let us know we were on the cusp of young adulthood.

 

Thinking back, 35 years later (whoa, has it really been that long?), the memories bubble up to the surface. Learning molecular bonding using gumballs and toothpicks.  Having to stay after school to wash glassware (when I got caught using my squirt bottle inappropriately).  Opening up my copy of “Sienko and Plane (a classic text from that era).

 

And, then, there was Homecoming Day.  Mr. Sturtevant told us he was going to use chemistry to predict the winner of that evening’s Homecoming football game.  He stood at the front of the class, mixed two colorless liquids in a large beaker, and started stirring.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Then, in just a few seconds, the solution turned orange (one of our school colors).  And then, after several more seconds, the solution turned black (our other school color!!).  From that point on, for the rest of the school year, we truly were his “little chemists.” 

 

I was slightly disappointed several years later when I learned that this chemical reaction hadn’t been discovered by my high school teacher. The Old Nassau Reaction” (a version of the iodine clock reaction, also known as the “Halloween Reaction”) was made famous by Professor Hubert Alyea of Princeton.  (Princeton College’s anthem is “Old Nassau,” and its school colors are orange and black.) 

 

As the quintessential mentor, Alyea influenced several generations of students.   His influence extended even further, to an entire generation of young Americans, because he served as the inspiration for the 1961 Disney movie, “The Absent-Minded Professor.”  At the request of Walt Disney, Alyea used his mentoring skills to help Fred MacMurray prepare for his title role in that movie.

 

Here’s a link to a video of Alyea  giving one of his famous chemistry-demonstration lectures.  It’s a great 27-minute video, with his dramatic version of the “Old Nassau” reaction appearing at the very end. 

 

When I watch the Alyea video, it puts me right back in my high school chemistry classroom.  Mr. Sturtevant found ways to engage both our imaginations and our intellects. 

 

A decade after graduating from high school, another science teacher from my high school wrote to me and asked if I’d be willing to write a letter of support describing the impact of Mr. Sturtevant on me and my classmates.  I was honored and delighted to write a letter.  We get so few chances to thank those teachers and mentors who made a difference in our lives.  I was even more delighted, several years later, when I attended the ACS National Meeting and watched Mr. Sturtevant accept the 1981 ACS National Award for High School Teaching.

 

Do you have a mentor who made a difference in your life?     January 22 is your day to remember him or her.  The National Mentoring Month website has a page where you can post your tributes. (If you’re willing to share, please post your tribute here, too.  Just use the “comments” link at the end of this article.)

 

——-
Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science Fellow, he launched a freelance science writing business, Wedin Communications (www.wedincommunications.com), in 1992.


Six Degree of Separation and Social Networking

November 24, 2008

“Six degrees of separation” suggests that everyone on Earth can be connected to everyone else in no more than six steps.  In that vein, the Australian documentary “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer” traces the development of network science.  There are many implications that can be applied to this theory.  The internet, power grids, transportation networks, disease and the human cell all follow the same principles and design as our own networks of people.

 

This documentary is a powerful 60 minutes that should be experienced.  I suggest you take the time to watch the documentary as it make a compelling case that small worlds exist and the world is smaller than we think.  Everyone can reach anyone with just a few steps.  I suggest you take the time to watch the documentary and think about how this can relate to your employment situation. 

 

Networking is instrumental when conducting a job search.  It’s thru the networking process that you will have the most success in securing employment.  As a job seeker, you will want to find that job, that is not advertised or what is called the “hidden job market”.  About 75% percent of available jobs can be found in the hidden job market.  Employers are most likely to hire thru referrals or someone they know.    

 

You can increase the effectiveness of your job search just by reaching out to the people you know and asking for references.  Everyone knows at least 200 people with one degree of separation would allow you to reach 12,000 people and so on.  Networking sites such as LinkedIn and Face book are examples of networking thru association. 

 

A good way to start your job search is by making a list of everyone you know and let them know you are out searching for work.  You never know who those people will know.  By reaching out, people will instinctually want to assist and will make the effort. 

 

Studying networks will help you to understand that events are not isolated but the human race really does depend on each other.  We live in a society that is interrelated on many levels and yet we only notice when something goes wrong.  If you can understand this then you can understand network science is the foundation to the 21st century and our survival. 

 

The bottom line is to get out there, talk to your friends and relatives, and attend networking groups and association events.  Let everyone you know that you are looking for a job and ask for assistance.  Your goal should be to make at least one connection during the event that could be your ticket to a new job.  Remember, all you need is one job. 

This article was written by Liane H. Gould, Manager of Career Services of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.


Pharmaceutical Industry Outlook — International Employment Opportunities

October 13, 2008

ACS Industry Forum Teleconference with Dr. Carolyn Ribes from Dow Chemical in The Netherlands.
Today I listened in on a teleconference, where the featured speaker was Dr. Carolyn Ribes, Technical Leader, Core Research and Development, Dow Benelux BV. Carolyn is from the United States, but has worked in Argentina for a year, and is currently in her third year working in the Netherlands. The tile of her talk was “Working Seemlessly Across Borders”, and much of what she said applies to people who work across cultures, as well as those who want to work across the border. Below are some of the most important ideas I took away from the session.

Some general advice for professional career development:

  1. Be adaptable and flexible
  2. In industry, everyone must be a team player
  3. Continuously learn
  4. Must be well-networked both within the company and outside the company
  5. Use information management tools

Communication is more than just speaking a common language – though that’s important! It includes many other features, most of which run along a continuum. You need to figure out where you are, and where the other person is, in order to communicate effectively and avoid insulting or offending the other person. For example:

  1. how direct people are, being blunt vs. softening the edges
  2. importance of saving face, accepting criticism
  3. task or people oriented – get down to work or get to know each other
  4. context sensitive information – how important is the surrounding information

Cultural Awareness means understanding the background and expectations of other people, and acting in a way that they expect. The golden rule is no longer “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but ““Treat others the way they want to be treated”. A subtle, but real, distinction. Some characteristics you may want to think about when getting to know other people are:

  1. what is other person’s culture, and what do they expect
  2. importance of individual vs. part of a group
  3. time is finite – work stepwise until reach goal, or work on multiple things until they’re done
  4. share power – flat or hierarchical
  5. take on or avoid risk
  6. level of control they feel they have over their own lives

Do you thrive on diversity? Do you want to learn the language and culture of another country? If you decide you want to immerse yourself in another culture by moving to anther country for an extended period of time, start looking for those opportunities. Let your leadership know hat you area available for relocation, and get the skills and training necessary so you are ready to take on an opportunity when it arises.

Before accepting an overseas assignment, carefully it carefully. Will you enjoy the time spent in that position/country? Is this a step up for your career, or will it perhaps allow you to move up in the future?

Once you make the decision to go, there are a host of logistical issues to take care of:

  1. visas and permission to work there
  2. finances and taxes – in both countries, must keep good records
  3. personal aspects – partner’s employment, children’s schooling,
  4. cost of living, but money is not always the most important factor
  5. getting an international driver’s license
  6. Learn how to remain visible to colleagues back in US headquarters

For dual career couples, the odds of both finding jobs in the same place can be vanishingly small. They increase if both work for the same company, since the company will know you want to move together. For couples who don’t work at the same company, the best thing can be for one person to accept a position, then the partner find a job after the relocation has taken place. The partner will have more restricted degrees of freedom, but can do a more intensive search since they will already be in the new location. VISA issues can sometimes be expedited once you are in the new country as well.Working overseas can truly be the experience of a lifetime, if you let it. Even after returning to your home country, you will be looking at things through a new lens. Your old life may look very different to you than it did before you left.

She recommended the Peace Corp Cultural Training for further study in how to fit into a new culture.

For details of future talks in this series, or to download her slides, see the ACS Careers Blog.

Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. Scientific Communication Services since 1992, Balbes Consultants http://www.balbes.com/ http://www.linkedin.com/in/lisabalbes

Author of:  “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006)

Join us for the next ACS Careers Industry Forum:
Title: An Alternate Career Path: Starting and Running Your Own Chemical Company
Speaker: Dr. Michael Strem
President, Strem Chemicals, Inc.

Hear the experience of a successful industrial chemist who founded his own company immediately upon receiving his Ph.D. in chemistry.  Scheduled for 2 – 3 p.m. ET on November 13, 2008, the teleconference will feature Michael Strem, Ph.D., President of Strem Chemicals, Inc.  As an industrial chemist, Dr. Strem will speak on his experiences and lessons learned as the founder of a small chemical company that has grown since its founding in the 1960’s. There will be a 30-minute discussion with Dr. Strem followed by a 25-minute Q & A session.

Don’t miss out, register in advance.  For additional information about upcoming speakers, click on the ACS Careers Industry Forum tab located at the top of the ACS Careers Blog.


Interview with Dr. Abou Gharbia, Sr. VP at Wyeth – Part 2

October 8, 2008

Advancing your Career in Pharma:  Part II

This is a continuation of our discussion with Dr. Abou Gharbia, a recent guest speaker of the ACS Careers Industry Forum.  For a full bio please go to our blog.

Part I provided an overview of Pharma R&D operations and entry-level opportunities at Wyeth.  We will continue talking about key ingredients to advancing your career in pharma.

After a few years, some chemists may want to consider a career change, moving off the bench gaining experience in other functions and moving into management.  Dr. Abou Gharbia pointed out that there are many opportunities in other parts of the company for chemists to explore.  After 5-6 years, employees that become familiar with the business, could be considered for work in other parts of the organization.

“Some of these functions may depend on their writing skills.  If you have strong writing skills you may consider becoming a clinical writer, or [if you have strong] coordinating [and] multitasking [skills consider a role in] project management, or [you may enjoy working in] regulatory affairs.”

Management positions such as director, senior director, and even vice president are available as per departmental needs; however, organizations generally promote from within for these high-level positions.

“… advancement will depend on you: your performance, the quality of work you’re doing, inventive contributions, communication skills, interpersonal skills, which are really important.  You could be a rocket scientist, but nobody [will] want to work with you [in the absence of key interpersonal skills.]”

Dr. Abou Gharbia mentioned that in the beginning of his career as bench chemist, he worked without any technical assistance.  His rise through the ranks took time and effort.  It also took passion.  Dr. Abou Gharbia believes that the reason he excelled in his job, is that he really loves doing chemistry with a purpose.  He goes on to say that he really believes that everyone can excel in their job.if they worked hard on the tasks at hand.

He also points out that some time your most creative chemists are not necessarily your best team players and we need to create the right environment to bring the best out of every one. Transitioning from the lab into management requires you to interact with multiple individuals in various departments.

“interpersonal skills are really important, and to manage and move the program forward [requires] working with not just your chemists, but also biologists, patent attorneys, and multiple organizations within the company.  So it’s important for individuals who wanted to progress into the management ladder [to be able to contribute to working in a multidisciplinary team.]”

When asked about globalization, Dr. Abou Gharbia stressed the opportunities for chemists in the US and abroad.  He cited his experience with outsourcing 150 chemists in India, but stated that this outsourcing initiative did not result in any job losses in US operations—only expanded capacity.  The expansion of operations into India also resulted in opportunities for US chemists to work in India through a rotation program.  These interactions broke down cultural barriers between operational sites and allowed for efficient IP transfer.

To listen to the complete conversation with Dr. Abou Gharbia or to read the interview transcript from the interview, please the ACS Careers Industry Forum page.


Interview with Dr. Abou Gharbia, Sr. VP at Wyeth – Part 1

October 6, 2008

Advancing Your Career in Pharma: Part I

The recent launch of the ACS Careers Industry Forum was a success with over four hundred registrants from all over the world calling in to listen to our guest speaker, Dr. Abou Gharbia, Senior Vice President at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and head of its chemistry and screening discovery research program.  He joined Wyeth in 1982 and rose through the ranks, eventually overseeing a group that included some 500 scientists at four research sites in the United States, as well as an additional 150 chemists at GBK bio in Hyderabad, India.  For a full biography of Dr. Abou Gharbia please go to our website.

Dr. Abou Gharbia discussed trends that can affect your career path in the pharmaceutical industry. He provided a brief overview of Wyeth as a company outlining the organizational structure, mission and goals.  The organization has about 45,000 employees world wide, and ranks in the top 10 global companies.  Wyeth discovers and markets innovative pharmaceuticals in various platforms, such as small molecules, vaccines and proteins.  Research is conducted mainly on the east coast of the U.S., with recent partnerships and collaborations with companies in Dublin, Ireland, and Scotland Chemists at Wyeth are involved in all stages of discovery from initial synthesis to clinical evaluation.  Therefore, they must have a comprehensive view of the process approach utilizing various multidisciplinary skill sets.  For example, medicinal chemists must work with other scientists to design the best possible drug candidate taking into account predictions from computational chemists, results from biological pharmacokinetic and metabolic studies.

Dr. Abou Gharbia suggests “… when try to  treat any illness you try to find out…what causes the disease (called target), and make molecules which actually alleviate or modulate those targets…”

Molecules will have an effect on the human body and vise versa.  Therefore, it is not enough to make a molecule to act on a disease agent.  A chemist must also be aware of what other effects the drug may have on the body, and what alterations to structure of physical properties the body may make on the drug candidate (metabolic pathway).  The daily job of a medicinal chemist is multifaceted.  They not only synthesize molecules but also , interact with colleagues on the team, attend meetings and give presentations.

“That is why you’ll find communication skills, even though we’re talking about just the chemist, it is important.

At Wyeth, approximately 50% of Chemical sciences organization  work on the synthesis of target molecules, and the remainder of the staff vary in their role from those in testing and assay development, to screening, structural elucidation, and purification, to computational chemistry.

There is a high attrition rate for drug candidates in the clinic where almost 100,000 molecules are initially screened.  The list of viable candidates is quickly winnowed to a few hundred through initial testing, and subsequently down to 1-2 of the candidates will make it to the market.  This is a very tedious process, but it ensures that only the best drug candidates make it into the marketplace.

To help reduce attrition,  a chemist will conduct pharmaceutical profiling.  An analytical chemist will look at the drug-like properties and see if the molecule is soluble and whether it will reach the appropriate biological target so that the molecules can reach the target and produce the desired effect.

“If you treat patients with depression, it [is] no good for the patient, [if] you give them a molecule which cannot reach the brain because [it can not] cross blood-brain barrier.  So when we work in the lab, we make sure that the molecule we make will have the properties to reach the brain to treat the patient.”

There are a multitude of job opportunities for chemists in the pharmaceutical sciences.  They can work in drug discovery as medicinal chemists , performing analytical analysis, computational analysis, or biochemistry.  We will continue our discussion with Dr. Abou Gharbia in Part II of our series on our blog.


Global Talent Wars

September 17, 2008

It is perceived that globally there is a skills shortage which is driving countries to ease immigration laws with the hopes of attracting highly skilled workers.  What does this mean for you?  It means increased employment opportunities globally for chemists and chemical engineers whose skills are in high demand. 

Traditionally, the US has been the global leader in attracting and retaining skilled workers.  Work visas have increased in the US but the supply of non-domestic talent is diminishing.  Students from around the world have traditionally come to US to study and have stayed here to work.  Recent tuition applications show that from 2001 to 2003, applications from foreign students to American universities dropped by 26% while they increased in the United Kingdom (36%), France (30%), and Australia (13%).

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over the past five years, the U.S. attracted an average of 73,000 skilled immigrants annually, down from about 107,000.  The US has traditionally attracted 55% of qualified immigrants while Europe attracted only 5%.  The European Union is looking to change those numbers by approving a single work visa.  The Blue Card along with a global advertising campaign will be launched to attract highly skilled workers.  The card will allow skilled foreign workers to work and live in the EU’s 27 member states.  In addition, families can move with them after a 90-day application period as part of a programme designed to meet an estimated short-fall of 20 million skilled and non-skilled workers by 2030.

Other Countries are beginning to ease immigration laws with the goal of attracting high skilled labor.  The Australian government has recently announced its intention to increase immigration by approximately 60% in the next two years.   The emphasis is on skilled immigrants.  New Zealand, recently opened their immigration policies, followed by Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong.  The goals of all these programs are the same: to attract skilled talent and divert some of the talent that flows to the United States.

The supply of talent is simply not adequate to keep up with demand, here in the US or elsewhere. The U.S. produces the highest number of engineers per million residents of any country in the world, but that’s only about 15,000 chemists and chemical engineers with bachelors’ degrees every year.  Those that hold Master or Doctorate degrees with the right combination of skills and work experience may want to look to jobs beyond the US.  With overseas employment restrictions loosening this can give you the opportunity to expand your work experience. 

If you are considering working overseas you should join us for the ACS Careers Industry Forum teleconference on October 9th from 2 to 3 pm EDT.  This series will continue with next month’s presentation by Dr. Carolyn Ribes from Dow Chemical in The Netherlands.  Dr. Ribes will speak on the international work environment and the lessons learned from the perspective of a US industrial chemist.  You should not miss this valuable opportunity to hear from a US chemist working for the world’s second largest chemical company (#1 in the US) on October 9th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.  For more information, please see our website and sign up now to participate.

 

 

This article was written by Liane H. Gould, Manager of Career Services for ACS Department of Career Management & Development..