Hydrogen Bonding and Holiday Bonding

December 8, 2008

In her November 24 blog entry, Liane Gould (Manager, Career Services, ACS) highlights the value of networking and recommends a documentary on network science.  I second her recommendation; “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer”  [ can now be found at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK1Cb9qj3qQ ]

is a fascinating documentary.  And I highly endorse the concept of networking as central to career development.

 

However, I can also feel my body tensing up whenever I say or write the word, “networking.” 

 

If that word—“networking”—pushes you out of your comfort zone, I can relate.  I’m a bit of an introvert, and I’d rather talk in depth to two or three people at a party than chat superficially with everyone in the room.   To put it in terms that a chemist can understand, I believe in a few strong bonds rather than a lot of weak ones.  I’m a “covalent” type of guy.

 

But I’m also a protein chemist, and my graduate research involved using NMR to investigate protein structure and understand structural fluctuations in solution. I learned that weak bonds and interactions, especially hydrogen bonds, are absolutely essential to the structure and function of enzymes. (Remember that biochem lecture about primary, secondary, and tertiary structure?) 

 

So what does this mini-lesson in protein chemistry have to do with your career?   

 

OK, close your eyes.  Then just envision your career as a complex molecule.  You’re going to need plenty of hydrogen bonds, along with those covalent bonds, to stabilize the structure of your career.  Your secondary and tertiary interactions with those around you—in your research group, department, organization, ACS local section, extended family, neighborhood, or social-networking internet community—can help you shape your career. 

 

And December is the perfect month to put this hydrogen-bond strategy to work. 

With office holiday parties, departmental outings, local section socials, and family gatherings, you’re going to find yourself floating in a sea of potential interactions.  You don’t have to bond covalently with everyone you meet.  Like a protein molecule, be flexible.  Stay open to brief interactions.  Connect with others, even if for just a few minutes.  Exchange some energy and information (i.e., a smile and a business card).

 

One of the best writing assignments I ever received developed out of a brief, hydrogen-bond-like interaction at a social gathering at an ACS National Meeting.  While grabbing some crackers and cheese at the reception, I introduced myself to a chemist I had never met before.  It turned out that the science writer at this person’s organization had recently retired, and the organization was looking for a new science writer.   Over the next few months, we exchanged business cards, then e-mails, then resumes, and finally writing samples and references.  Soon, I was flying to their headquarters for interviews and, eventually, a fascinating writing assignment.

 

Networking works

In the coming weeks, as you mix with colleagues, friends, and neighbors in those holiday gatherings, put your hydrogen-bonding skills to work.  (For more examples of how chemists network, see “Networking: How Chemists Form New Bonds,” published originally in Chemistry, Autumn, 2003.) [ http://www.wedincommunications.com/ChemistryAndNetworking.pdf ]

 

Oh, and here’s one little warning you might want to keep in mind at those office parties.  Carefully monitor your ethanol consumption.  As a protein chemist, I learned that increasing the ethanol concentration of an aqueous solution will destabilize the protein structure. It can even lead to denaturation.  If you’re going to be drinking alcohol at office holiday parties, titrate carefully.

——-
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.

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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.