Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Job Seekers: What would you like to know from a hiring manager?

Here's your opportunity to ask! Chemical & Engineering News is working on an upcoming employment article seeking to demystify the hiring process. If you have a question you've always wanted to ask a hiring manger but were afraid to, or didn't have an opportunity to, here's your chance. Send your questions to senior editor Linda Wang, and she will pose these questions to a panel of recruiters and hiring managers. Email your questions to:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Things I Wish I Knew 4 years Ago: Reflections on choosing and making the most out of your advisor selection

Author: Your local 5th Year Ph.D. Student

So here I am in the last year of my Ph.D. studies (theoretically!). Graduate school has been long and challenging. I’ve grown in many ways and there is no way I could’ve predicted the person I would become and the things that would interest me. When I started my degree, I was 100% sure that I wanted to become a pharmaceutical researcher. Now I have begun applying for management consulting, pharmaceuticals, chemical manufacturing, and even semiconductor manufacturing jobs! Before I even started at my university, I knew who I wanted my advisor to be. It’s interesting to take a look back now 4 years later and see how things have changed and what I’ve learned. 

How I chose my advisor

Before I started grad school, I wrote to 2-3 professors at each school I was interested in attending, and asked about their research and let them know a little about me. This helped because my department required new graduate students to interview several professors before listing our top 3 choices and being matched. Since I already had a head start, my advisor of interest already knew about me! He introduced me to one of his colleagues and they became my co-advisors. Both advisors had very large lab groups. In speaking to current members of each group, I got the feeling that since the groups were so large that the working style of each advisor was more hands off and that you should be self-motivated and self-directing. I thought this would be fine for me!

Some things I learned

Four years later, I think I may have done better being in a small group with more one-on-one attention from my advisor. This could have provided me with more mentoring and direction in the process. Being in a larger group makes it easier to get lost in the crowd. It’s something I see now, but I don’t think I could’ve really known until it was experienced. Sometimes I feel like my experience was like being thrown in a pool and then having to teach myself to took me a while, but I figured things out. I’m still figuring some things out.

Knowing your work style can really help you. I had participated in several research internships during my undergrad years as well as extracurricular leadership activities so I thought I knew, but it ended up working out differently in the case of my graduate research. However, I eventually figured out a way to “survive”:

  1. Identifying friends in my lab that I could go to with questions
    Even if they couldn’t always solve my problems, I still had people I could ask for suggestions and sometimes point me to literature I hadn’t seen myself. 
  2. Developing a supportive group of friends outside of my lab that I could go to to vent
    This is valuable regardless of whether you are in a small or large group. Even when the outside of the lab group of friends aren’t in your field, I’m sure you’ve noticed many of us go through the same trials and it’s always helpful to be reminded that you’re not the only one. 
  3. Developing relationships with professors outside of my lab as mentors
    I was lucky to have professors I took classes with or met through extracurricular activities that I could check in with once in a while and let them know about my progress and ask questions about proceeding through the Ph.D. in general. They spoke more candidly than my advisors so it was great to be able to hear from others who had already made it through.
  4. Consciously keeping visible within my lab
    I made sure that when it was my turn to present in group meetings that I did my best to communicate effectively both my results and sometimes what obstacles I was facing (something most graduate students are afraid to admit). My advisors would make rounds through the lab at certain parts of the day or week so I would make sure to be in my office or in the lab at those times. I would also arrange meetings with them sometimes to update them on my progress and ask questions. More regular meetings probably would have been even more beneficial.
One thing that could’ve helped was if senior members of my group could’ve let people know their expertise so that they could be available as resources. Choosing a lab group is almost as important as choosing an advisor. They are the people you will be spending the most time with on a daily basis and the ones more closely experiencing what you’re going through! They will be your resources and in some cases your competition. Choose wisely!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Affirmative Action: Friend or Faux?

By Stephanie Prosack

The United States of America, the wonderful land where all men are created equal. Is this sentiment true in higher education? Affirmative action was created to give scholars of all backgrounds an equal chance of obtaining a college degree in an ethnically diverse environment. Presently, the need for affirmative action is debatable, commonly viewed as a process that helps disadvantaged pupils and creates diversity, or an antiquated concept that is academically hindering students and institutions alike.

Affirmative action is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women; also a similar effort to promote the rights or progress of other disadvantaged persons.” Frequently, it is used as one criterion to evaluate candidate application admittance to higher education institutions. People have recently argued that affirmative action is unconstitutional because it allows applicants with lower test scores and grades who are of a minority race to be admitted into institutions when other applicants with higher grades and tests scores of a different race are denied admittance. Yet others feel that affirmative action is essential by allowing campuses to be diverse learning environments.

Although the intentions of affirmative action were initially positive, demographic dynamics have changed in recent years. Racial groups once underrepresented in academic institutions, such as Asian-Americans, for example, are now prevalent in American schools, as stated in this intriguing article. Asian-Americans contribute to 5 percent of the U.S. population and this percentage is increasing. Students born in Asian countries also attend U.S. institutions. However, with affirmative action, the number of admitted applicants of this increasing ethnic group is capped off to keep academic settings diverse.

In addition to monitoring applicant ethnicity, the evaluation of socio-economic factors could make the process more diverse with less of an emphasis on race alone. Jane*, Ph.D. and former chemistry faculty member, believes the admissions process would be fairer to focus on tangibles such as poverty levels or leadership opportunities. To support this theory Jane referred to a recent conference where a representative from a science organization discussed “how some states now have colorblind admission processes, and minority rates at campuses have increased.” “A policy that targets at-need individuals and not groups, would be more effective than broad affirmative action plans,” agrees Tom*, a current chemistry graduate student.

Not only does affirmative action affect higher education admittance, it also influences academic employment. It is common to see institutions to identify as an organization that adheres to affirmative action procedures when filling vacant faculty positions. Try the search terms “chemistry faculty affirmative action” to view institutions that currently follow such protocol. 

If all applicants were admitted based solely on grades and test scores, campuses would potentially be dominated by one ethnic group and lead to fewer ideas and points of view—aspects crucial for a well-rounded education. Fewer applicants from minority ethnic groups would be present on campuses. This begs the question: How much more important is diversity over academic standing?

Please, share your experiences and thoughts!

This post is neither supporting nor repudiating affirmative action, and does not represent the beliefs, ideas or thoughts of the American Chemical Society.
*=Names have been changes to protect identity

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I came to work this morning with an odd feeling. Like much of the East Coast, ACS was closed on Monday and Tuesday. So much has happened in the last few days, and yet everyone seems ready to carry on with work as usual. I was in south Jersey when the storm landed on the Jersey coast. Many people just north and south of me lost power, and many experienced severe damage to their homes and businesses.  I am wondering what happened to all the people we met at the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia who were from the East Coast. On the news I saw portions of the Atlantic City boardwalk ripped to shreds, apartment buildings defaced, homes burned, and businesses destroyed. I am wondering about universities and colleges on the East Coast. In many places classes were canceled and in some students were evacuated.  Today many are returning to see the extent of the damage.

How are they? How are you?

Our thoughts go out to everyone who was affected by Sandy.

Do you have any pictures or stories you would like to share about how Hurricane Sandy affected you? Please feel free to share them with us at (please include your name and university so we can give proper attribution) or on Twitter @ACSGradsPostdoc.
-Corrie K., Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Future Jobs with Your STEM Skills

By Stephanie Prosack

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is a hot topic in the education world. I was invited to attend an ACS Congressional Briefing last week to hear its relevance to chemistry graduate students and postdocs. STEM skills have created innovative inventions, however, in the United States, STEM education leading to novel ideas is lagging behind that of foreign countries’ and is producing fewer students educated with this knowledge. Further information was provided at this discussion by an array of STEM education experts including Sylvester James Gates, Jr., theoretical physicist; Eunice Heath, senior director for government affairs (northeast) and corporate citizenship for STEM education, The Dow Chemicals Company; Mark Rosenberg, president, Florida International University; and Linda Rosen, chief executive officer, Change the Equation.

In the United States, STEM skills are typically taught at lower levels beginning at pre-kindergarten classes through college-level courses. The lack of STEM education in the United States has created a hindrance to keep the United States competitive, intellectually and economically. Approximately 57% of students who are taking a college math course in the U.S. are taking one “that is not internationally recognized as a college-level course,” says Gates. Despite the lower-pedigree of STEM courses, technology derived from STEM skills is becoming more needed in everyday life. Cell phones and electronic applications make life more convenient for people in western countries, and societies rely on these technologies to function. Additionally, the United States will have a large demographic out of the work force in the upcoming years as baby boomers retire. The combination of the lack of STEM education, increased requisite of STEM skills, and a large group of employees leaving the employment market creates a job gap.

Although, this may seem detrimental to some, people with STEM skills, which, many of you have as chemists, are becoming more vital. According to Rosen, “job seekers outnumbered online job postings by 3.6 people to one job,” yet “STEM jobs outnumbered unemployed people by 1.9 jobs to one person.”  The gap between qualified STEM employees to STEM jobs is bound to keep increasing as technology evolves and older generations retire from working.

If you are curious about the future of STEM education in the U.S. and the views of U.S. Presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, here is an interesting article summarizing each party. This is a useful pictogram displaying unemployment rates in some of the country's metropolitan areas. How does your town compare?

What have your experiences been and what are your views about STEM education in the United States?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lab Tales: How A Chemistry Lab Experiment/Explosion Changed My Life

I was grateful for Dr. Robert Hill's insightful article "Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions" in this month's issue of the Bulletin.

Why I am interested

Whenever I hear about lab accidents it makes me feel a little nauseous. This is because I have several inches of permanent scar tissue on my arm and a smaller scar on my face to remind me how chemical burns can have a lasting impact. I don't think about it most of the time until someone I am talking to or waiting in the elevator with fixates on my arm and then turns away like they weren't looking.

Long story short

 It happened one night some years ago when I was a third year grad student. I needed to do a deprotination to make an alpha hydroperoxy. I had flushed out the system using Argon. I had carefully set up the drop-wise addition of a pyrophoric compound via cannulation. All at once, a bright flash, loud sound and extreme pressure and heat invaded my senses. I remember being stunned and gazing into the glass hood where I could see the hair near my forehead was on fire. I ran to the showerlike I had seen in too many different lab class introduction videos as a T.A.stripped off my lab coat and shirt, and pulled on the shower knob. I saw some of the skin was peeling off my left arm. A postdoc in the next door lab gave me his jacket, helped me over to his car and proceeded to drive me to the hospital emergency room. Another postdoc helped clean up the water on the floor (thank you kind postdocs!). The drive to the emergency room only took minutes but felt like an eternity. I kept asking the postdoc driving the car if my face was 'real bad.' I knew my arm was scarred but I was more worried I had permanently scarred my face. At the hospital I was treated for second and third degree burns to my arm and my graduate adviser arrived. Luckily there were mostly only first degree burns on my face but I did look like I had a severe case of acne for a while. (Nothing is quite the same kind of awkward as sitting with your very distinguished adviser in the middle of the night with burns over your arm and face while dressed in a hospital gown in the emergency room.)

Why any of this matters

 You might wonder if and how I was irresponsible that night of the accident, what I could have done to prevent it, or what I could have done differently. All I know for certain is that my view on the importance of safety training in academia has changed greatly since then. After the accident, I no longer see any part of lab safety training as just a theoretical discussion or mandatory obligation.

When in the lab, there is so much at stake. We have not only our immediate safety to think about (avoiding fires, spills, etc.), but also potential repercussions to our future-permanent scars, cancers, reproductive systems, etc. It is so important to take advantage of the safety resources we have.

Side note: Other than my dissertation, my most prized possession that I took from the lab is an old pair of safety goggles I wore that night. It has a big white splotch where there was back-splash from the explosion just over the lens that was protecting my right eye.

-Corrie K. Ph.D.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The PhD Movie: A film adapted from Piled Higher & Deeper

By: Stephanie Prosack
       ACS, Education Assistant

The 244th ACS National Meeting has come and gone! Can you believe it? One of my favorite activities was viewing Jorge Cham’s movie, The PhD Movie, adapted from his well-loved comic strip, Piled Higher & Deeper.

As depicted in the comic strip, The PhD Movie follows the characters—in human form—who we have come to love: Cecilia, Mike, Tajel and someone we assume to portray Jorge. All combat many of the same encounters and obstacles commonly faced by graduate students in the real world: nonstop
research, disinterested and ungrateful professors, and lack of personal growth. The moral of the movie is to keep pursuing your dreams and passions. Wise words to follow, yes?

Although the acting is mediocre, at best, one of the coolest aspects of the movie—witty and entertaining—is the fact that it is acted and directed by graduate students. (Let’s give them a break! It’s not their day job!) Written and produced by Jorge, the director is a graduate student in aeronautics, and the actors are students in different sciences, too! Most are graduate students, except for the actor who portrays Jorge’s character; he is an undergrad. Jorge Cham even makes a few guest appearances; they’re discreet and short, so you may want to keep a close eye out for the author.

After the screening, Jorge Cham joined us via teleconference. He explained how he began the comic
strip as a stress-relieving outlet and way to procrastinate during his graduate school days at CalTech. In this discussion, Jorge took time to discuss the personalities of the four main characters, Cecilia, Mike,Tajel and Jorge. Interestingly, he said he often receives comments from people commenting on Cecilia’s attractiveness, but she is Jorge’s cartoon character, so people shouldn’t get too comfortable with her! Jorge finished the teleconference by highlighting the importance of Piled Higher & Deeper: to help graduate students felt less alone through the storm, and of course, encourage procrastination.

If you missed the movie screening at the ACS National Meeting or want to watch it again, you can
stream the movie here for a fee. The PhD Movie is also able to be screened at institutions after approval
from staff. This would be perfect way to honor Jorge Cham by procrastinating.

Did you see the The PhD Movie? We want to hear your thoughts! Share!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Movies, iPad, Symposia and More: Fall 2012 National Meeting Anticipations

By: Stephanie Prosack, Education Assistant
      ACS, Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office

Welcome to Philadelphia, the birthplace of America! 

This is my first visit to this fine city, and I wish I had ample time to view the historical and tourist attractions, but I am preoccupied at the 244th ACS National Meeting. Currently, I am sitting at the Postdoc to Faculty workshop sponsored by the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars, however this isn’t the only activity GPSO is participating in this National Meeting; we have plenty more you don’t want to misss.

Let’s start at the beginning of GPSO’s National Meeting programming in Philly by highlighting some events I am looking forward to attending this meeting. These events, a more, are included in the ACS Grad Grad, a comprehensive collection of activities, symposia, and fun available for grad students and postdocs in Philly-be sure to check it out! For those of you unfamiliar with the Postdoc to Faculty workshop, this is a two-day competitive event for aspiring chemistry faculty. Participants receive advice and feedback from established professors to help improve their chances of landing their first faculty position. A slew of information is provided to faculty candidates, from teaching pedagogies and statements to proposal writing. The Postdoc to Faculty workshop is held just prior to each fall National Meeting, and interested participants can learn more by viewing

Unwind from traveling and attending poster sessions by attending Double Feature Movie Night, a free screening of the films, Carbon for Water and The PhD Movie.  A film by Evan Abramson and Carmen Elsa Lopez, Carbon for Water chronicles the intentions of a company to distribute more than 900 water filters in Western Province, Kenya, all entirely funded by carbon credits.  The second movie of the night will be Jorge Cham’s The PhD Movie, based on his popular comic strip, Piled Higher & Deeper. Following four graduate students, the film follows their quest for love, teaching and research completion. 
Network with peers and ACS technical division representatives at the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Reception! Taking place on Monday, August 20, 2012, this is an excellent opportunity to network with students and talk with achieved chemists in a relaxing atmosphere. Free drinks and food will be served, with the chance to win ACS t-shirts and a third generation iPad 3! 

The final event I am looking forward to attending is the Graduate Student Symposia Planning Committee (GSSPC).  This year’s event, The Power Chemistry in Public Health: Drug Development from the Lab Bench to the Consumer, was planned by Binghamton University. They will be discussing the work and deliberation which goes into creating, testing and researching drugs used for public health. The GSSPC is an all-day symposia planned and hosted by graduate students from a different institution at each ACS National Meeting. Participants are responsible for choosing topics, speakers and logistics of their event, and receive sponsorships from the ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office and the ACS Division of Chemical Education.

Like, you, my schedule will be packed in Philly! I hope you will attend one of the aforementioned events. If you will be unable to attend the fall 2012 National Meeting, don’t worry, the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office will be hosting many of the same events at the spring 2012 National Meeting in New Orleans, LA.