Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Influencing Change through Science Policy Fellowships

Science Policy Fellows share their experiences and their reasons for applying 

It wasn’t the most auspicious start.

In August 2013, Sam Bockenhauer received his doctorate in chemistry from Stanford University. He applied for an American Chemical Society congressional fellowship and got it—starting his tenure one month after graduation.

Bockenhauer’s experience has been good. He’s a science policy fellow, a participant in a program that places chemists and other scientists in roles within the federal government. He works in the office of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and conducts meetings with interest groups and constituents, writes memos on policy topics, and drafts letters on behalf of Sen. Franken.

Tackling Big Problems with Broad Impact
“My chief reason for applying for the fellowship was that I wanted to work on complex problems,” Sam explains.

Tasks can be as straightforward as working on a brief about nuclear energy, or as unexpected as exploring forensic science. The rules—both rigid and amorphous—set the boundaries for existence in our culture.

Attracting Scientists from All Career Stages
Fellowships in this area abound, with the lion’s share specifically connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS works with more than 30 scientific and engineering professional organizations—including the American Chemical Society— to administer a large number of science policy fellowships. 

Laura Pence belongs in the middle group. Pence, a faculty member, decided to do a congressional fellowship mid-career. In 2012–2013, she worked in the office of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.). After a few months of cutting her teeth on the job, she narrowed her focus and became responsible for any issues pertaining to water.

“I had no documentable expertise in it, but some of the things that a chemist brings to Congress is knowing how to research something,”

Perspective Change
 “Most fellows are going from grad school, where you get very little respect, and then you do a fellowship where you are respected for your knowledge,” Brittany Westlake explains.

“I did a fellowship straight out of grad school, and at first, it was definitely a big cultural jump from a lab in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to a professional office in Washington, D.C.,” Westlake says.

Advice for New Candidates
There are a few more things would-be fellows can do to prepare themselves—and make themselves good candidates.

“Think about what you want to do with your Ph.D., and think about where it’s going to take you,” offers Kate Stoll, a 2013–2014 ACS Congressional Fellow. “If you decide that you don’t want to stay in academia and follow the tenure track, then you might want to consider getting some of these transferable skills early in your career.”

Bockenhauer adds, “I’d recommend looking for opportunities to broaden your experience outside of science. I participated in conferences, graduate student organizations, and took courses in areas ranging from patent law to biosecurity.”

[Author Bio] Wendy Hankle is a writer living in Ithaca, New York.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

All Work and No Play

By Mathew Fhaner, Postdoc USDA

This piece was originally published in the July 2013 Graduate & Postdoctoral Chemist. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the American Chemical Society. Some names and events may have been changed to protect privacy.

Often times, graduate school feels like a never-ending ocean of work, classes, seminars, presentations, and teaching; need I go on? In the whirlpool of our ongoing to-do lists, free time seems to be as elusive as obtaining data that will make our PIs crack a smile. There is, however, an oasis tucked away deep inside the graduate school desert. I will tell you about the day I discovered the hidden gem and the impact it had on my graduate school career. At the end of my second semester in graduate school I was asked to participate in an event organized by our local ACS section’s Younger Chemists Committee (YCC). The event was at a local science museum in celebration of National Chemistry Week. It was a simple demo: Children walked up to my booth and gazed in wonder as I made a marshmallow expand and shrink using a vacuum chamber. I soon realized that the act of changing the size of the sugary treat, which seemed mundane to me, was an act of pure wizardry to these kids. I was sold. Within six months I had taken over leadership of our local YCC; and with a small group of friends, we began to grow our group’s influence.

Creating a Sense of Community

In the past four years, our local section’s YCC has grown from doing two demos during National Chemistry Week to becoming a nationally recognized group. We took part in creating and proctoring
chemistry events for our state Science Olympiad, traveled to local elementary schools to put on demos, hosted social events to create a sense of community within our department, and collaborated with other local sections in an effort to bring undergraduate chemistry clubs together to test their knowledge.


Rewarding in Multiple Ways

All of these events took many hours of correspondence, phone calls, meetings, preptime, traveling, and, of course, putting on the various events. Yet, it never felt like work. I realized that it was because I was having fun—Being surrounded by my friends made the experience enjoyable, all while increasing interest in chemistry among thousands of people of all ages. The hard work was handsomely rewarded through grants, fellowships, and national recognition by the ACS. However, what has stuck with me the longest are the memories created with my friends, which helped relieve the stress that is symbiotic with graduate school. During my orientation week, one of the faculty members was explaining that graduate school was what you made of it. After my time in the YCC, I couldn’t agree more.

Matthew Fhaner, Ph.D, performed his graduate work at Michigan State University and recently graduated with his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry. He spent four years as a member of the MSU Younger Chemists Committee and plans to continue outreach work after graduation.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thank You for Being a Horrible TA: Pointers from an Undergraduate Chemistry Major

By Marisa Sanders, New Graduate Student, Princeton University 
The people mentioned in this piece are an accumulation of various undergraduate students’ experiences collected by the author.

This piece was originally published in the July 2013 Graduate & Postdoctoral Chemist. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the American Chemical Society. Some names and events may have been changed to protect privacy.

Teaching Assistant. Few terms conjure up such a wide range of emotions as this one. While I’m sure we’ve each had our fair share of TA success stories, I’m here to share my TA horror stories—the hair-pulling, gut-wrenching, eye-rolling, frustrating moments we’ve experienced as undergraduates at the hands of sleep-deprived and overworked graduate students. My aim is to provide constructive criticism for current and future TAs (myself included). After all, no one deserves to endure class or laboratory (or both!) with a horrid teaching assistant.

Incomprehensible TA 
I never thought my English minor would come in handy in my chemistry courses—until I took chemical physics with “Incomprehensible TA.” Incomprehensible TA was a soft-spoken, heavily-accented physical chemistry Ph.D. student who perhaps thought that learning to communicate in English came second to bonding with his computer over his molecular dynamic calculations. I could hardly understand anything he said.

Imagine the following situation: You’re seated at the front of the class while Incomprehensible TA is attempting to instruct you on some sort of chemical phenomenon. He refuses to write anything on the blackboard, relying solely on word of mouth. Exasperated, you sink down in your chair, place your hands on your forehead, and wait for the class to end. That evening, you look up the terms on Wikipedia and piece your notes together.
The blackboard is a wonderful medium for communication. It should be used effectively, as a guide. Even professors or TAs without a heavy accent should use the blackboard to help their lecture be more interpretable for their students.

Too Busy TA 
Organic chemistry with biochemistry Ph.D. candidate “Busy TA” was certainly an experience. The class took place after lunch in the tiniest lecture room available in the chemistry building. Couple that with post lunch-induced drowsiness and PowerPoint presentations that required all lights to be turned off. Add a stressed teaching assistant with poor time management skills, and the situation intensifies.

Busy TA had an NSF Fellowship due one month into her teaching gig, and she considered teaching organic chemistry as peripheral to her graduate school goals. This was apparent in her PowerPoint slides, which often contained incomplete reaction mechanisms and an abundance of typos. I still tremble at the thought of having to endure an entire lecture on cation-less acid catalyzed dehydration.

Busy TA’s careless attitude was obvious. She often arrived late to lecture, was ill-prepared, and ended classes early. Picture this: You’re seated at the front of the classroom taking notes on your laptop at the desk closest to Busy TA. Forty minutes into lecture, Busy TAs laptop dies; the PowerPoint presentation comes to a sudden stop, and the entire room turns pitch black. You hold your laptop charger up to Busy TA; and although she sees it, she ignores you and dismisses class early. Yay? Not quite. This is the fourth time this has happened. You’re convinced that your TA purposely brings her laptop to class with 10% battery life, just to bolt out early.
While a course like organic chemistry may be difficult to instruct, providing accurate, proofread slides is the first step toward being a great TA.Time management skills are particularly helpful in this position. Setting aside a certain time of each day to grade exams and prep for lecture would increase one’s efficiency.

Creepy Male TA 
“Creepy TA” was a seventh-year analytical chemistry Ph.D. student and the TA for my general chemistry lab. In the beginning Creepy TA came across as Helpful TA. He was on time, gave clear introductions to the laboratory experiments, and seemed interested in our learning the material. It wasn’t until about the second week that I began to notice some unsettling behavior from Creepy TA. First, he liked to stare a lot at women in the lab. Second, he was very touchy and always pushed in a little too close with female students. Third, he made innuendos that he thought were cute but just made the rest of us want to vomit.

One week, I was performing titrations when my goggles began to fog. Creepy TA sauntered by and whispered, “You’re too hot for your goggles.”“Excuse me?” I asked, confused.“I’ve had my eye on you for a while. You’re quite the chemist.” “Hah,” I responded not knowing what to say and feeling embarrassed and sickened. Another time when I had him sign off on my lab notebook, instead of simply signing his initials, he provided his phone number and a note that read “text me sometime.” I couldn’t help but feel dirty. Maybe Creepy TA believed his chemistry prowess made him desirable and his advances would be welcome. Whatever the case, I had come to learn chemistry, not to be hit on.

When I shared this story with my friends, I learned they had their own stories of creepy TAs who had hit on them. While I felt slightly relieved that I was in good company, I was displeased at how horrible TAs get away with their unprofessional behavior. Although Creepy TA has graduated, his reputation still lives on today. Perhaps somewhere he has advanced to being Creepy Professor.
Don’t hit on students. They’re not interested in you.

The Verdict 
Many of the classes taught at my institution by TAs have become a rite of passage for chemistry majors. We see each course as a “building” experience, something that allows us to develop into better, more resilient human beings. Would we have developed so much good character without such horrible TAs? We’ll never know. So we go ahead and say, “Thank you for being such a horrible TA.” At the very least, they’ve taught us how not to do it.

Marisa Sanders will be starting graduate school at Princeton University in the fall to obtain her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry. She is an associate member of the Younger Chemist Committee and looks forward to TA-ing at some point in her graduate career.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Enter the Everyday Chemistry Video Contest

By Stephanie Prosack, Education Assistant


Have you ever tried to explain to someone why avocado turns brown when left out too long? What about informing your sibling of the scientific reason behind baking soda and baked goods rising in the oven to produce a fluffy, tasty snack? Or letting your lab mate know how vinegar is a sanitary goddess for all things dirty and stained?

Thanks to C&EN, you can share your knowledge with more than those who are in close physical proximity to you, but with the entire Internet!

It is quite simple, really. To celebrate the 90th anniversary of C&EN, submit an amusing and informative two-minute video that features a tip or information about chemistry in everyday occurrences. In layman’s terms, the video must include a clear explanation of chemistry and why it is important. Remember, you want everyone to understand your information. It would be best to make sure your grandfather or cousin in fifth grade will not only comprehend, but be engaged with your material.

Recognition will be given to the winner with some enticing prizes including:

                -Paid trip to the 246th ACS National Meeting in Indianapolis, IN
                -Ticket to C&EN’s 90th Anniversary event
                -Profile on the ACS Chemistry Ambassadors webpage
                -Showcase in C&EN
                -Feature on ACS Bytesize Science YouTube channel

Once you have finalized your masterpiece video, upload it to Youtube, and send your submission to everdaychemistry@acs.org by July 31, 2013. Don’t forget to practice safety in your video by wearing your goggles and using other safety gear! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Seven Places to Look for Your Next Fellowship

By Stephanie Prosack, Education Assistant

Fellowships are a great doorway towards enhancing your resume. Gaining hands-on experience broadens horizons and gives a professional edge. However, some of these opportunities can be difficult to find.

Here is a list of seven top places to search for your next fellowship:


Check out the Fed for your next fellowship or research opportunity. Depending on your chemistry sub-discipline, there is an array of options from which to choose. Programs that offer exchanges with international labs or experience at agency headquarters offer an inside-look of government culture. Some selections that may interest you include:

1.National Science Foundation –
                        -Postdoctoral Fellowships in Polar Regions
                        -Graduate Research Fellowship Program

2.Food and Drug Administration –
3.Department of Energy –

Non-Profit Organizations

A large chunk of science opportunities are sponsored by non-profit organizations. Finances may come from member dues, government lobbying, or generous donors. Opportunities enable participants to network and tackle unique situations in a variety of fields including research-intensive institutions, government-subsidized labs and more.

              4. American Association of University Women –
                              -American Dissertation Fellowships
                              -American Postdoctoral Scholarships
                              -American Publication Grant
              5. American Association for the Advancement of Science –
                              -Science & Technology Policy Fellowships
              6. The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc. –
                              -Postdoctoral Program in Environmental Chemistry

  7. National Academies –
                              -Research Associateship Programs
                              -Ford Foundation Fellowship Program
                              -Jefferson Science Fellowship

Of course, these are a mere selection of what is available. Astute observations and persistence are key to discovering your next feat. To receive daily opportunity notifications read the Graduate & Postdoctoral Chemist; follow one of our Facebook pages, ACS Graduate Students or ACS Postdoctoral Scholars; and follow our Twitter feed, @ACSGradsPostdoc.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reasons Why Your Labmates May Dislike You

I was impressed with the forthrightness of a post I recently read called “Why Your Co-workers May Dislike You”. This post was featured in the ACS Career Blog and was written by Dr. John Borchardt, a well-respected chemist and writer who sadly passed away earlier this year.
Your behavior in the workplace can make coworkers dislike you. Often you are unaware that what you say or do might annoy other people. Managers often avoid discussing these behaviors with you because they find it uncomfortable. Irritating behaviors can be like a bad habit and bad habits are hard to break. However, the first step in breaking bad habits is to be aware of them. So let’s review some bad workplace habits that result in people potentially disliking you.
Read the full post  ...

Here are the key issues that Borchardt’s post focused on:
  • You’re condescending
  • You talk before you listen
  • You set coworkers up to fail
  • You waste coworkers’ time
  • You don’t say please or thank you
Reading this piece, I reflected on how this translates to the labmates we have within graduate school. Like coworkers in any setting, your labmates can either be your closest allies or your greatest threats or foils. How you interact with them can color your entire laboratory experience. They can be the force that gets you through the toughs times or they can be the force that drives you down into the ground. Likewise, you do the same for them. Are you considerate? Do you take time to think how your behavior may be affecting them?  For your consideration here are some of the top reasons on Ranker "Why Your Labmates May Dislike You". Please vote!

Why Your Labmates May Dislike You

Friday, April 5, 2013


ACS 245th National Meeting in New Orleans

 We are excited for the imminent ACS 245th National Meeting in New Orleans, La. Technical symposia, networking and fun awaits!  Do you know about all the events where you can receive professional development, learn about various careers, and meet and network with peers and established chemists? Check out the new Graduate & Postdoctoral Chemist Magazine for more detail.
Here are 3 top things you don't want to miss...
1. Career Workshops
The ACS will be offering workshops and symposia to help chemists identify careers off the beaten path for chemists, advice on achieving a dream job and being self-employed. At the ACS Career Fair, several Career Pathway workshops are being held from April 7-10. A few interesting workshops include, Foreign-National Scientist Obtaining a Job in the U.S., Acing the Interview and Working for Yourself; but this just a sprinkling of the workshops offered—there are plenty more to choose from! For those of you who are considering chemistry careers that are less common, two symposia may be of interest to you: Food for Thought: Alternative Careers in Chemistry and Beyond the Bench: Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry. Both spotlight jobs that you may not have thought of, and feature successful professionals who discuss their career journey.
2. Webcasts - A good chance to participate in the meeting if you will not be able to attend
Beginning on April 8, multiple live Webcasts will be available. Attendees of the National Meeting are able to participate in the audience, and those who are unable to join the fun can do so by viewing through their computer screens. There will be a cooking demo to deconstruct egg science, an overview of new research about benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, and more.
3. Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Reception - Delicious food and even better networking opportunities
The National Meeting is not all work and no play! Amusing events are aplenty and offer opportunities to meet and network, too. The Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Reception, which occurs on Monday evening from 7:00 – 8:30 PM, is open to all registered graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Participants are able to gather with scientists of their chemistry discipline, enjoy free food and beverages, and have the chance to win an iPad and ACS t-shirts. For your best shot at receiving a prize, don’t linger and arrive at 7:00 PM.
Throughout the meeting, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the latest updates and information for graduate students and postdocs. We will be trending with the hash tag, #ACSGPSCommunity. We hope to see you in the Big Easy. Safe travels!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where to Find ACS Funding

By Stephanie Prosack

Your grad school and postdoc experience is made successful by hard work. Did you know the American Chemical Society offers funding in multiple areas to help you professionally expand? As part of my responsibilities in the ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office, I research and communicate financial assistance opportunities to save you some extra time and cash. Traveling to an ACS meeting? Apply for a travel award. Searching for a fellowship? ACS has got you covered there, too. 

ACS Funding

Division Travel and Fellowship Awards

Transportation costs to ACS meetings may be supplemented through travel awards through ACS technical divisions. Awards range from a couple of hundred to a thousand dollars per meeting, and fellowship awards are as much as $26,000 a year. Be sure to read the fine print; you may need to be  presenting research at a division-sponsored oral or poster session, and have technical division membership in addition to the Society to qualify.

Society Fellowships, Grants and Scholarships

The Society offers an array of funding opportunities for you as a grad student or postdoc. Whether your interest lies in public policy or international research experience, there are plenty of opportunities to pick. The qualifications for each prospect are different, and some may require recommendations from an advisor or previous intellectual property and research efforts. Nevertheless, these possibilities are an impressive mode to gain experience and expand your C.V. or resume. Some examples are:

An easy way to learn about the latest awards and opportunities is by connecting with us. Awards and other financial possibilities are regularly posted on Facebook pages devoted to chemistry graduate students and postdocs, and on our Twitter feed @ACSGradsPostdoc. The ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin, a monthly e-newsletter, highlights opportunities of all genres—competitions, fellowships, grants, and travel— in each issue. Past editions can be viewed here, and you can subscribe to the Bulletin by sending an email to GradEd@acs.org with “subscribe” in the subject line.

Stephanie Prosack is an education assistant in the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office at the American Chemical Society. A graduate of Hollins University, she has extensive communications and international experience, and has contributed to communications outreach efforts at the American Chemical Society and public television..

Friday, January 4, 2013

Partners in Safety

By the time I completed my doctorate, I had lived in five different states and traveled to ten different countries. But the biggest culture shock of all was leaving graduate school and starting work as a researcher for a petrochemical company.

Instead of locking labs for security, our labs were door-less, so that people could leave quickly in an emergency. Not only did I have to confine my work wardrobe to slacks, I also had to make sure my shoes were all-leather, had low heels, and covered my whole foot. (By the way, try finding good work shoes when strappy sandals, ballet flats, and platform heels are all the rage.)

And don’t even get me started on all the procedures for ordering, handling, and disposing of chemicals. At first, I was convinced there was no way to do any actual chemistry at our research facility.

In the years that followed, however, I learned that the safety procedures my company used were part of a culture of safety that permeated the organization. While it could seem overly paranoid (we had signs in the stairwells reminding us to use the handrails), we also did not have any work-related injuries the entire time I worked there.

Which is why I was so happy to read C&EN’s report on The Dow Chemical Company’s partnerships with the University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. These partnerships bring together industry professionals, undergrads, grad students, postdocs, faculty, and academic safety staff to implement industry-level safety practices at the universities.

In the true spirit of partnership, Dow and university representatives tour each other’s facilities, identify needs, and see what they can offer. Students and faculty get the resources they need to beef up their safety culture; Dow knows where to look for future employees that possess a true appreciation for safety.
The reviews from the students and faculty are great. Instead of finding the safety culture restrictive, they feel it makes their research more efficient, more effective, and, yes, safer. Safety is becoming an integrated practice, rather than one more chore. And with the universities adopting standard operating procedures, stringent housekeeping practices, and incident reporting systems, the academic labs are starting to mirror the industry and government labs where, statistically, about 40% of their graduates will end up. No more culture shock.
Now if only Dow could do something about women’s shoe fashion. (Platform heels? Really? Wouldn’t it be easier to just break my ankles now?)
Author: Blake Aronson, Ph.D., has worked in industry, academia, and (currently) the ACS Office of Two-Year Colleges. Her views do not represent those of the office or ACS, but they are occasionally shared by others.