Persistence: 2009 Word of the Year

December 31, 2008

In many ways, 2009 will be a challenging year for each of us in terms of career management and development. Persistence will serve as the key to success.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”

~ Calvin Coolidge

There is little that is certain about 2009 except that there will be discord in the financial markets. As a result, the workplace will continue to evolve into a new and more stable configuration. Among other things, the second law of thermodynamics states that energy naturally flows from areas of high to low concentration. Unless countermanded by a persistent external force the system will progress to a greater state of disorder—entropy. The governments of the world are currently amassing a response to the financial entropy that is rampant in global markets, but there will be no quick fix. All parties involved will need to doggedly and consistently pursue subsequent solutions to ensure our recovery and success.

Likewise, we must be persistent in our pursuit of personal success. We must be aware of the opportunities and the challenges looming in our future and we must position our selves to our best advantage. When seemingly insurmountable obstacles present themselves, we must either chip through them, tunnel under them, or jump over them. We must be persistent in our resolve to solve the situation.

Growing up in rural west Texas, most of my afternoons and weekends were spent working with my Dad on various outdoor projects. I credit my Mom for these experiences. Her core philosophy was that we could not mess up the house if we weren’t in it, and the chief weapon in her arsenal was a list of to-do items that was a mile long. As a result, Dad and I were in a state of perpetual motion. As it turned out, most of our projects included digging: digging a post hole, tilling a garden, or simply removing rocks from the soil so that plants would grow. In retrospect, I realize that many of my chores were busy work intended to keep me occupied and out of trouble. I also realize that digging was a free activity that could be accomplished with little supervision. But digging holes also taught me a lot about persistence. In west Texas the soil is poor. It is composed of caliches and gypsum. The only way to dig a hole is to chip your way through the calcite deposits found in the soil. Dogged persistence was the name of the game. At the end of the day, we almost always got what we wanted. Another hole would be dug, another fence pole installed, and for my Mom, the house would remain clean.

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”

~ Frank Lloyd Wright

By committing ourselves to a personal set of goals, we can be successful in the coming year, but there will be challenges. We must resolve to persevere, to find solutions that face our society and to overcome the barriers that we face in our professional lives.

Best wishes to you and yours in the year ahead!

David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Career Management and Diversity Programs at the American Chemical Society.

ACS Science Policy Fellow: Barclay Satterfield

October 30, 2008

During her fellowship, Barclay has had the opportunity to work on a number of policy development and advocacy efforts with ACS, ranging from the congressional briefing series to the ACS policy website.  In particular, the fellowship has offered her several excellent avenues to work on environmental policy — an issue that has long been her primary professional and personal interest.

Satterfield Video Interview

Satterfield Video Interview


View a video interview of Barclay

Barclay Satterfield is the Science Policy Fellow in the American Chemical Society’s Office of Legislative & Government Affairs.  She completed a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Yale University in 2002 and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University in 2007.

As a graduate student, she worked with polymer membrane fuel cells, helped run a student organization, Greening Princeton, and completed a certificate in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy through Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute.

The Science Policy Fellowship in the American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs experience offers a broad exposure to the workings of the office, the Society, and the science policy world as a whole.

Barclay’s projects have included staffing an ACS-sponsored workshop on non-technical barriers to sustainability in the chemical industry and helping use the workshop results to craft a viewpoint article that was submitted to the journal Environmental Science & Technology.  In addition, she has contributed to two policy statements for the Society: one on visa policies for visiting students and researchers and the other on sustainability in the chemical enterprise.

Barclay has helped develop and organize three congressional briefings as part of the Society’s Science & the Congress briefings project: one presenting the science, policy, and business perspectives on climate change, one on measurements and impacts of the disappearing Greenland ice sheet, and a third on including nanotechnology in science education.

In addition, Barclay has been in charge of developing the office’s policy webpage —   This has been a chance to learn and share advice and ideas for members to become involved, help organize policy activities at the local section level and ensure successful advocacy meetings with their elected officials.   The web project has also offered an excellent motivation to study the office’s goals, methods, and history of achievements and to grapple with effective ways to communicate these to Society members and the public.

Finally, during her fellowship Barclay has had many chances to promote science policy as a career path for scientists and engineers.  At ACS national meetings, she has staffed the Legislative Action Network booth, both recruiting LAN members and answering questions for those interested in applying for an ACS Public Policy fellowship.  She has also traveled to appear on two career panels in the graduate chemistry departments of Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne.  She has also described her experiences for the internet audience in a recent video and in this blog.

The ACS Office of Public Affairs is now accepting applications for its 2009-2010 public policy fellowships.  The application deadline is December 31.  To learn more about this exciting opportunity click here.

Patience Comes with Time

September 29, 2008

There is no quick and easy way to learn patience. Although the theory behind it can be illustrated and its benefits proven, people are not likely to adopt the concept until they are ready—until it is time.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”
Arnold H Glasgow

When I was a kid, I was always on my way to somewhere. I couldn’t tell you why that way, or the importance of getting there in an instant. However, I knew that I was missing something by not being on my way. It was important to me to find out all those things that others knew, and to see all of the new and exciting things in the world before they faded away.

I have to admit, I am still a little bit like the kid I once was. Now, I am bigger and taller, slower and more gray, but I still have an urge to rush to the front of the line. This propensity, however, seldom works in my favor. Early adopters of technology pay higher prices and suffer through more retrofits and patches than those coming behind.

In negotiations, the first person to loose their cool or to state a price will loose, because in doing so, they have furnished their opponent with a leverage point. In a salary negotiation, you should never state what you would take as your minimum salary, because that is the salary that you are most likely to receive.

In negotiations with vendors, many of you will have had at least one experience with customer service that is more laughable than affable. Where in every iteration of your request for service, you are baited calling your practices into question. Such cases require that you document their responses, perform a gap analysis, demonstrate why a complete fix is necessary, and stipulate why they are legally bound to complete the work. This process is tedious, but it generally results in a superior system.

My experiences with dealing with poor customer service have taught me many things about the people involved both on my side and on the other side. Those times where we were patient and persistent with well conceived processes for change were the times that we won. The times when we lost our cool reacting to our opponents taunts were the times that we lost. For every feature missing from our system or project, I can trace back to an impulsive and impetuous response. In being reactive, we lost our position of authority and in most cases our legitimacy.

People who are reactive are dismissed as irrational. They are not seen as agents for change and are seldom judged as being capable of making a difference. In fact, they are usually seen as damaged in some way — ostracized from their own group and ignored by their opponents.

Patience is one of the most valuable assets that a person can have. This is as true in life as it is in work. Those who lack patience often pay a penance, and those that have it reap the benefits. I am still working on my patience, but admittedly, the process is taking forever. I just hope that the time I’ve got left is greater than or equal to the time required to complete my journey.

“It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”
Elizabeth Taylor

Got to go.

This article was written by David E. Harwell, Ph.D.,Assistant Director for Career Management and Development at the American Chemical Society.

The Ego and the Interview: A Balancing Act for the Accomplished Professional

April 21, 2008

You have had a long distinguished career, having worked in a number of organizations and handled many difficult situations. You are confident in your abilities and proud of your accomplishments. You find that you are longing to explore new opportunities whether it is an increase in job responsibility, a lateral move or a move that allows for an increased work/life balance. Whatever the reason, the best time to prepare is before you start the interviewing process. Your first step should be to list your transferrable skills, accomplishments, published work, awards and any career milestone. Craft a story of your work history.

There are many resources on interviewing and skills assessment but one subject that is least addressed is “The Ego”. This alone can make you or break you. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “The Ego” as:

The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves; In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality; An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit; or Appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem.

After you sit down and start listing your life’s accomplishments, you need to think about how you want to present yourself to others. Walking around with an air of self-importance will only turn interviewees away.

Hiring managers are looking for candidates that they feel are the “Right Fit” in their organization. Most hiring decisions are made on personality and this is where you can really stand out from other candidates. Don’t let your “Ego” stand in the way to getting what you want. Whatever way you look at it interviewing is an art form which must be carefully crafted. One of the most common mistakes jobseekers make is portraying oneself as “Overbearing” or “Un-Manageable”. Is this the impression you want to make? Don’t let you’re “Ego” steal the show!!

Let’s do a little paradigm shift — think of yourself as a product — if you were looking to purchase, what would you want in that product. Hiring managers are looking for candidates that can be a resource, help reach their strategic objectives, and will get along with their co-workers. You may have lots of wins under your belt but use them strategically in the interview. Your experiences are your arsenal, so don’t fire off as you are standing in a firing range discharging at point blank range. That approach will only blow the interviewee away and they will send you packing. Use them with care during your interview, selecting each experience that best enhances your ability and make you the most desirable candidate.

Design your answers as if you were telling a short story with a beginning, middle and end. Talk about how you handled or overcame difficult situations, outcomes, cost saving initiatives, impacted the organization, increased sales, customer satisfaction, follow-ups or anything that puts you in good standing. Discuss how you are an asset to any organization. It’s great that you have this arsenal of skills, accomplishments and experiences. Use them to your advantage, you worked hard to get where you are and interviewees will also recognize a good thing when they see it. Be yourself, tell your story and tell it with pride.

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

Career Renewal: Answering a Call for Teaching

March 17, 2008

Teaching high school chemistry has turned out to be a calling for me. However, if someone had told me ten years ago that I would be teaching today, I probably would have looked at them square in the eyes and laughed.

Upon graduating from college, I had big ideas of making lots and lots of money. I had just received a degree in chemistry—one of hardest and most respected sciences at Tougaloo College. I knew that something was out there, and I was the right person to fulfill that need.

In my first job, I worked as a research and development chemist for Alcoa Industrial Chemicals. This was an exciting career. I had the opportunity to make new products, take part in the building of new processes, and actually see what was going on inside those tall tanks I used to see and wonder about as a child. I was actually doing what I thought I wanted to do. In this position, I gained a vast amount of experience in managing people, finances, and other resources.

Wanting to build on my strengths and broaden my horizons, I made a career transition to Reckitt-Coleman where we specialized in household cleaning agents. I was responsible for making sure that everything we made was doing what it was supposed to be doing. I was also responsible for seeing that the quality lab was being managed in an efficient and effective manner.

As time progressed, I tried my hands in the field of neurophysiology, studying how the brain grows and responds to certain stimuli or lack of stimuli. Nonetheless, a voice inside of me kept saying that I was supposed to do something else with my life and my talents. In all of my experiences, people always saw me as a teacher. I just never saw this in myself. I never wanted to be bothered with anyone else’s children, but I felt that I could no longer ignore this burning desire to see what everybody else was talking about. I kept asking myself, why I couldn’t see the teacher in me that everyone else saw. It was puzzling, but I overlooked those feelings of doubt, prayed about it, took some tests, and applied to become a chemistry teacher.

I also took time to evaluate and partake in the Hach Scientific Foundation’s Second Career Chemistry Teacher Program which furnishes scholarships to talented chemists interested in pursuing either a Masters in education or teachers certificate. As they say, “the rest is history.”

Since I have started teaching, I have never been happier with my career. I now feel as if I am really making a difference. I now see that my life was not supposed to be about me, but about educating a generation of children that needed me. I can now experience the joy of seeing young children move on through life and be successful.

Before getting into education, life was a routine, but now it is exciting and filled with new challenges on a daily basis. I encourage anyone to accept the teaching challenge, and I dare you to change a life for the better.

This article was written by Kevin L. Gaylor, a chemistry teacher at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Mississippi.

Job Searching with Positive Outcomes

March 10, 2008

It is often hard to keep a level head during the job search process; however, those that can do so fare better than those that don’t. Failing to keep your equilibrium can set you up for an emotional roller coaster.

In the childhood story of Chicken Little, a hen is hit on the head by an acorn falling from the sky. Thinking the worst, she jumps to the conclusion that the sky is falling. Her premise is quickly confirmed by the other farm yard animals leading to hysteria.

Optimistic people are generally perceived to be more productive and able. They are also more fun to be around. This second factor should not be underestimated in importance, since a hiring manager and new hire will typically spend extensive amounts of time together during training and orientation sessions. Additionally, people who see a silver lining behind every storm cloud are also more likely to weather rejections by potential employers better than those with a negative outlook.

In today’s economic climate, it is easy to believe that the sky is falling; however, leading and lag indicators for the chemical enterprise remain positive. The unemployment rate for chemists in 2007 was at the lowest level since 2001 at 2.4%. In a telephone call with Rich Pennock of Kelly Scientific Resources he stated, “The demand for chemists and biochemists has remained steady in the U.S. for the past 24 months.” This is significant, because staffing agencies are usually the first to see increases or decreases in employment requests as a result of economic drivers. Multinational chemical companies with global operations are also performing well in today’s dubious markets; although it should be noted that primarily domestic companies are experiencing significant downturns in stock prices.

No one really knows what the coming months will bring, but occasionally pulling away from the job search to refocus your energies in the ways listed below can help you to cope.

  • Social Support. Formal sources of support such as mentoring programs, as well as informal support groups like friends & family, and face-to-face or online discussion groups, can provide you with people with whom you can talk, seek advice, commiserate, and ease perceptions of isolation.
  • Coping Style. You may need to reevaluate your coping style. Try reinterpreting events in a positive light. You may also try breaking down your overall situation into a series of distinct and more solvable problems. It’s a challenge, but adjusting your outlook will change how you react to stressors and help prevent them from harming your health. Sometimes, just finding the humor in a situation can provide the spontaneous relief that you need.
“It’s not the stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye
  • Make Time for You. It sounds like a cliché, but believe it or not, 20 minutes a day of solitude will make a lot of difference in stress relief and mental balance. Read a fun book, meditate, or just stare out the window.
  • Exercise and diet. Exercise and eat a balance diet to release stress and increase your resistance to stress and stress-related health problems.

In the war between psyches a realistic, but positive outlook wins every time. After all, the only real control any of us have is in how we react.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

Preparing for Interview Success

March 3, 2008

When deciding what to wear for an interview trip, it is important to call ahead, or check the weather forecast for the place you are visiting. It is also important to take a few precautions with respect to your presentation materials.

Growing up and going to school in the Southwest, I have to admit that I was ill-prepared for my first interview trip to Kent State several years ago. I did not have an appropriate coat, and I did not know what to wear.

Even thought it was winter, conditions were warm in LA. Since I knew that it would be a long flight, I wore a comfortable T-shirt and a weathered pair of jeans. I grabbed a jacket on my way out the door, but it was hardly enough for the blizzard conditions in Cleveland. It didn’t help that my luggage was lost in transit. I had definitely not made smart decisions with respect to my attire.

When I landed, the Chair of the Chemistry Department met me at the gate. This was pre-911 when it was easier to get around in airports. He was dressed in a suit and tie with a sharp looking trench coat draped over his arm. It was obvious that he was not impressed by my appearance, but he was gracious in his welcoming remarks. My lesson learned was that the interview begins the minute you leave home. Instead of dressing comfortably, I should have dressed respectfully, because you never know who will pick you up at the airport, meet you for dinner, or escort you on a tour of campus. You also don’t know for sure that your luggage will go to the same place that you will.

The ride out to Kent was chilly. When my host dropped me off at the hotel, he gave me a copy of my interview itinerary and said that he would pick me up the next morning at 7:30 a.m. It was 12:30 a.m. and I had no idea where my luggage was. To make things worse I was standing in over a foot of snow, and the wind was blowing fiercely from the north. I made my way inside the shelter of the hotel and up to my room.

It was imposable to sleep, because I had nothing to wear for my interview the next day, and the overheads that I planned to use for my chalk talk were in my suitcase.* I turned to the phone lines to track down my bags.

Luckily for me, my bags arrived at the hotel by 4:30 a.m. giving me time to clean up, dress up and eat prior to my ride to campus that morning. My research presentation and my chalk talk went surprisingly well, and I even managed to look lucid; although I had not had a moment of sleep the night before.

The process could have been disastrous. I now know to be better prepared for interviews, especially those involving travel. Here are the key concepts that I learned:

  • Dress appropriately for your interview.
  • The interview begins the moment you step out of your door.
  • Carry all of your presentation materials with you.
  • Check the weather ahead of time, to ensure that you have clothing that is warm or cool enough for the place you are going.

Interviews are stressful enough. There is really no need for added drama.

In the end, I received an offer from Kent State, but I did not go. I chose to accept an offer from the University of Hawaii instead. It was a better career path for me.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

* Unavoidable reference to ancient technology used prior to LCD projectors and PowerPoint presentations.