Friday, December 16, 2011

Behave According to Culture!

By Joe Z. Sostaric, Ph.D., Manager
ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office

Hi all! I hope you enjoyed the December issue of the Bulletin and the feature article. I’ve tried to expand on some ideas below. It is important to note that the article generalizes between academic and industry cultures. It would be wise to recognize that different companies will themselves have differing cultures (the same is true for different academic institutions too!) Although not as extreme as the differences between academia and
industry, you need to be able to research and understand cultural differences at different companies as you start your job search and launch your career. You can gain some insights from annual reports and experience. But investing more time in career preparation and networking NOW should be high on your agenda. The time you spend doing these types of activities can really pale in significance to the years you might spend in endless postdoctoral positions, or in a directionless career.

So, back to the December 2011 feature article, what does it look like when someone behaves appropriately in an industry culture? Take a closer look at three scenarios where the way you behave in academia might lead you to modify your approach in an industrial workplace.

•Would potential industry employers be looking at your ability to work independently? Yes! You have a Ph.D. But distinguish this kind of independent work from pushing your own independent research agenda without informing anyone. If you consider the accountability chain discussed in the article, you can see why that tactic would not get you far.

If the soccer analogy in the article was difficult to follow, maybe listening to a moment of music will clarify the importance of the way each individual works to a successful team in industry:


•Are industry employers interested in your leadership qualities? Sure! Maybe they need to build a pool of scientists to fill future supervision and management roles. Here again, distinguish that scenario from improving the qualities of a new compound on your own, then sending out a memo to the team, and doing it all without discussing any of it with your project manager or the senior scientist that you report to. That could seriously disrupt the research agenda for which your superiors are answerable.

•Is a company interested in your ability to collaborate with other researchers and company units? Of course. Yet once again, distinguish the type of collaboration a company is looking for. For instance, you would be well-advised not to pressure your manager to start collaborating with units on projects and in directions that you personally feel would bring the best scientific outcomes. Remember, there are several senior-level people higher up the chain of command who are paid to make research decisions in a context where the company’s goals might outweigh pure scientific research!

In considering the differences between academic and company culture, how much weight should you give to preparing to respond to behavioral questions when interviewing for industrial positions? I vividly recall the interviews I had for industrial positions: meetings with Marketing, Product Development, and Human Resource managers. Questions commonly included:

• “Can you give me an example of when you communicated research to a nonscientist?”
• “Would one pound of crude compound that sold for $10 or one ounce of high-quality compound that sold for $5 give us a bigger profit margin?”
• “Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult situation with a colleague. How did you deal with it?”

To be honest, I did my homework, and I had expected and trained myself to respond to these types of questions. However, I didn’t feel as prepared to answer questions from the scientific staff at these companies. They asked:

• “Define the word ‘collaboration.’”
• “Give examples of when you were innovative.”
• “Explain how you would work in a lab with all of these junior scientists in your way.”

Clearly, when industry people talk about the type of “fit” that a candidate is for a position, they are not just referring to scientific knowledge, and research and presentation skills!

Have you interviewed for industry jobs? Please share your experiences and tell us the following:

•What types of questions were you asked by the different people you met at the company?
•Was it a big, mid-sized, small or start-up company?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strengthen Your Career Through Networking

By: Stephanie Prosack
Education Assistant, American Chemical Society

Job searching and maintaining a strong career can be stressful. To help lower the strain, networking provides multiple advantageous connections to increase proactivity in your career (Science); building key acquaintances and gaining professional insights. This concept is well-explained by John K. Borchardt, ACS Career Consultant, who highlights major steps you can take to be preemptive about networking for your career in his article, Networking for Graduate Students and Postdocs, featured in the ACS Graduate and Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin, November 2011. Advisors, job coaches, friends, parents, and professors chant the same mantra, “Network! Network! Network! It’s the best way to find a job, build connections and gain insights into your desired discipline.” The next thought you might have is, “well, sure, but HOW (The Washington Post) do I do that. How do I tell someone that I’m looking for a job, without eye contact avoidance and uncomfortable silences?”

I was in this same boat not too long ago, and I remember having similar anxious feelings and thoughts, in addition to, “if I don’t get a job, how will I pay my bills?” and “I have experience from school and internships, but how can I get a job if an entry-level position requires three years of previous work experience?”

Not to fret! The basics of networking are similar to a spider spinning its web. The goal of a spider's web is to provide a solid home and to catch food. Each time you network with a person, you expand your net, making the likelihood that a bug, err, opportunity, will be offered to you (Science).

There are multiple ways you could spin your web to make it stronger. Initially, you could use another web, the internet, to its maximum potential. Social media sites make it much easier to forge a connection with former bosses, family and friends (Science). Twitter allows you to connect, follow and interact with colleagues and organizations to obtain positive communication exchanges and job advice instantaneously. LinkedIn and Facebook are two tools which you can use to check in with these people and send a quick note saying, “How are you doing? I’m interested in your career field. Can you provide me with any pointers to obtaining a position? Would you mind keeping an eye out for any jobs you may see that you think would be useful for me?” A harmless and friendly message goes a long way.

Did you intern or work throughout your academic career? If so, send a quick e-mail or phone call to a former supervisor or colleague saying “hello” (Science). Correspond routinely with your former coworker to exchange polite small talk such as, “hope all is well with you” or “Congratulations on your promotion!” After a few exchanges add into the discussion that you’re interested in a career in their area of expertise, how much you would appreciate it if they could pass along any information they may know.

I contacted two former supervisors with whom I had a positive relationship with from organizations where I interned throughout college. Each supervisor took my information and shared it within their companies. I was called for interviews for two positions which were listed internally in the organization. Although I was not offered a job, it was a positive experience as I was able to practice my interview skills and vastly boosted my confidence in the job search process. I viewed these exchanges as gnats; bugs not sustainable for food, but promising. Bugs were beginning to be stuck in my web.

Another friendly, yet aggressive, approach I took to expand my web was following up with human resources departments. Once I submitted my credentials, I would call the human resources department about ten days after my submission, and inquire about my application. This allowed the recruiter to put a voice to a name, which led to my application being placed aside, and increasing the number of interviews offered.

On a few occasions, I even called the human resources department prior to my application submission to ask what specific traits the hiring manager was searching for, and tweaked my cover letter and resume accordingly. Many times there was one specific skill set that was essential to be hired and was not listed in the job description. On certain occasions, the human resources employee remembered my name and had passed my information to the hiring manager of opportunities not yet listed as vacant, or remembered my qualifications by referring my candidacy for other opportunities. Aggressiveness like this created a more positive outcome of more bugs, and not only gnats—flies, too!—to be stuck in my web, with concrete job offers.

Objectives for spinning a web can go beyond finding employment. Networking is not only useful in the initial phase of your career, but also in making a personal career and web stronger. The connections made while finding a new opportunity can provide new ideas, insights and even a different job further in the future. The benefits between contacts can be helpful to many aspects of your career, and go both ways between links. Your web will be strongest if you provide the same support which you are seeking from others.

The most important aspect of networking is to stay positive. Even when the job market seems gloomy, a position will eventually appear in your web. The contacts made throughout networking can end up being your food supply for your web, offering bugs to increase opportunities, connections and insights of the professional variety. Keep spinning!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thoughts and information about "Science Policy Fellowships: Affecting policy and enhancing the science perspective"

Questions about public policy fellowships
When I was in graduate school, each fall we would receive announcements inviting applications for science policy fellowships, the subject of this month's feature article in the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin. These sounded interesting, but I never knew what these entailed. Who applied for them? What did they do in these fellowships? What did they do after their fellowship were over?

A few years ago, a friend of mine was a AAAS Fellow. When she first considered applying, she turned to others for advice on whether or not this would be a good fit for her and how it would affect her career. She told me that while her research adviser and others were usually helpful mentors, she was disappointed at their lack of knowledge of these programs. They knew that policy fellowships were competitive and prestigious, but did not know how they might fit into the academic or industrial career path she had originally planned.

I think Wendy Hankle's article Science Policy Fellowships: Affecting policy and enhancing the science perspective answers these questions. If you are interested in looking into a science policy fellowship, below is a list I've compiled, some of which are mentioned in the article. I will add to this list if I find any more and please feel free to share other links and public policy fellowships that might be relevant to chemists.

A List of Public Policy Fellowships For or Open to Chemists

  • AAAS Science & Technology Policy FellowshipsMinimum requirements: PhD
    Deadline: December 5, 2011

  • American Chemical Society Policy Fellowship(Part of the AAAS Science Policy Fellowship)
    Minimum requirements: PhD
    Deadline: December 31, 2011
  • National Academies Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship ProgramMinimum requirements: Graduate Student
    Field: Area of study may include any social/behavioral science, medical/health discipline, physical or biological science, any field of engineering, law/business/public administration, or any relevant interdisciplinary fields.
    Deadline: Applications for Fall 2012 will open in late January

  • Presidential Management Fellows ProgramMinimum requirements: Masters or PhD Student
    Field: Any academic field welcome/not science specific)
    Deadline: Closed on September 25, 2011

  • Hellman FellowshipMinimum requirements: PhD/masters may be considered
    Field: Any area of science or engineering.
    Deadline: January 13, 2012

  • Belfer Center, Kennedy School of GovernmentMinimum requirements: PhD
    Field: Engineering, the physical sciences, public policy, economics, political science, or a related field, with a clear focus on environmental, resource, or energy policy.
    Deadline: January 14, 2012

  • California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships(Modeled after the AAAS Fellowships)
  • Minimum requirement: PhD or equivalent level degree or an MS degree in an engineering discipline, plus at least three years post-degree experience.
    Field: Agricultural sciences, biological sciences, chemistry, environmental Sciences, etc. (see website for complete list)
    Deadline: Currently closed for 2011-2012 fellowship year

    Optical Society of America – Congressional Fellows Program(part of the AAAS fellowship program)
    Minimum requirement: PhD
    Field: Must have a record of success in research or scholarship in a field relevant to optical science and technology and/or materials.
    Deadline: January 6, 2012

  • Research!AmericaMinimum requirement: Graduate Student (Internship) PhD (Fellow)
    Field:College seniors, graduate students or recent graduates with a science, political science, public policy or related degree (or degree goal) who seek science policy experience. Those with a PhD, JD or other terminal degree are eligible for the fellowship. All others will be considered for the internship.
    Deadline: November 4, 2011 (closed)
  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyMinimum Requirement: PhD
    Field: Applicant must have a recently awarded doctorate degree and show interest in the relationship between science technology and public policy.
    Deadline: March 30, 2012

    ~C. Y. Kuniyoshi. These views do not necessarily reflect that of ACS or the ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin.

  • Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Thoughts about "Transferring Your Ph.D. Chemist Skills to a Nontraditional Career"

    I am a Ph.D. chemist and have been in a nontraditional career for 5 years. I was impressed by Dr. Lisa Balbes' article "Transferring Your Ph.D. Chemist Skills to a Nontraditional Career, which got me thinking about all the questions I had received from friends and colleagues since embarking on my career path.

    What do Ph.D. chemists do in nontraditional careers?
    As Dr. Balbes points out in her article there are a great number of careers available. There is also an excellent blog that focuses on this called The Road Less Traveled--coincidentally also the title of the upcoming ACS Webinar focused on nontraditional careers for chemists. You often hear about Ph.D. chemists finding jobs in patent law, science writing and policy. What makes this blog special is that it gives examples for a cascade of nontraditional careers where a true chemist can find their passion, including as a chef, regulatory affairs officer, food scientist, forensic scientist, quality inspector, etc.

    Why did you bother getting a Ph.D. in chemistry if you are not "doing" chemistry?
    Aside from having a strong urge to punch the friend that asked me this question in the face (just an urge), I'd have to say, I bothered because I loved science and problem solving. 'Why the chip?' you say. Because there is a common misconception that Ph.D. chemists seek alternative careers because there are so few faculty positions or because they hated the lab. For most of the many Ph.D. chemists in nontraditional careers I have met, the truth is that they simply found a way to do what they loved, utilizing the same analytical skills they learned as a grad student or postdoc. They were not in a nontraditional field because they were running away from the lab or a dismal sub-sector of the job market. As the article points out, it's about knowing your transferable skills and finding what you are most passionate about. For those that are interested in pursuing a nontraditional career I suggest checking out the CENtral Science blog called Just Another Electron Pusher, where Christine Herman shares with heart and candor what it's like to make the transition from a bench chemist to nontraditional career professional. There is also an interesting Science Careers article Careers in Chemistry: Constantly Evolving Choices which focuses on specific Ph.D. scientists (including Lisa Balbes) and shows how leaving the lab or the classroom behind doesn't have to mean leaving chemistry behind.

    Can you go back and forth between traditional and nontraditional careers?
    In my opinion it is best to know who you are, decide what you want, and go for it, whether that be in the classroom, at the bench, or one of the many nontraditional options. Getting to the core of what it is you like to do and what you are best at doing is one of the reasons the self-evaluation advised by Lisa Balbes is so crucial. In the vigorous discussion inspired by Derek Lowe's blog post If You're Not a Chemist - What Next?, one of the commentators urges caution, saying that if you try to go back and forth you'll end up competing against others with a much more focused career path. That said, there are many examples of successful chemists with varied tracks through traditional and nontraditional areas. The key seems to be the deliberation with which they translated the lessons learned in one field to their next endeavor.

    Where can I find information about nontraditional careers?
    When I was a graduate student there were two main fields you were encouraged to pursue, teaching and research. Faculty should be better educated about job opportunities for their students and postdocs, but it is also up to us to take the responsibility in finding mentors and networking opportunities. That doesn't mean (as I learned the hard way) walking up to someone and asking what jobs are available. That means, as we are all used to doing,...going to the stacks and doing the research...connecting with ACS Career Consultant (you can choose one based on what field you are most interested in), reading material (i.e., Nontraditional Careers for Chemists) reading job descriptions, working on our resumes, and networking, networking, networking. Additionally, I think Lisa Balbes' website provides an exceptional resource for those looking into nontraditional careers for chemists. I myself am inspired by the article to probe this material further as I continue to evaluate and work on my own career trajectory.

    If anyone has any additional, thoughts, advice, questions, or comments about the article by Lisa Balbes please post.

    This blogger is a Ph.D. chemist in a nontraditional field. These views do not necessarily reflect that of ACS or the ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin.