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