Resource List Updated

For those of you who are considering nontraditional careers, I just updated all the links at

Everything there now works, so feel free to check out all the resources and places you can take your career.  And if you know of any other great resources that should be listed there, please let me know about them.

Technical Societies

This is a guest post, written by Herb Silverman.

While the ACS Career Services is the best there is, it is important to look for ways to expand your network. Finding a position is a bit like a lottery the more opportunities you pursue the better your chances for success. This is to alert you to aids  offered by other technical societies, including Sigma Xi, AAAS, AICHE, The Electrochemical Society, Society of  Electroanalytical Chemists (SEAC), Scientific American to name some of them. Recently AAAS introduced  Science Careers (CTSciNet and MySciNet) which includes a resume tool, automated search, a monthly news letter, a discussion forum and articles on career opportunities.

You can contact Herb at agman  at  cox dot net

Free Resources: Communicating Science and

I’m preparing a class in how to give scientific presentations for the ACS. (I love the recursiveness of giving a talk on how to give talks.) In the course of my research, I came across the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, who offer a booklet free upon request entitled Communicating Science Communicating Science:Giving Talks . They also have Staffing the Lab:Perspectives from Both Sides of the Bench and Hints for Obtaining Tenure.

From what I’ve read on the web versions, they look pretty good.  Check them out!

Looking Out For the Future

One of the mailing lists I’m on has had a discussion recently on how professionals in our field can adapt to changes in the world. The conversation started when someone asked what cities were doing significant hiring, so they could relocate there and find a job.

While this is certainly an option, it may not be the best one. Just because an area has low unemployment doesn’t mean you will find a job there, let alone a job you like. Furthermore, that area may not continue to grow, and you may find yourself having to move again in a few years.

A better strategy is to be flexible not in where you will live (though that can be important), but to be flexible in the type of work you will do, and the industries in which you will do it. By applying your skills to a new field or industry, you can continue to learn and grow professionally without having to relocate (unless you just like moving!).

If you keep up on trends in your industry, and in the world in general, you can see the early warning signs of companies and industries that are on the declines, and ones that are growing. If your area is on the way out, start learning the vocabulary and quirks of ones that are on the rise, so you will be positioned to transition when/if it becomes necessary.

To help you out, Fortune magazine has published a list of growing market segments. Many of these segments are science-related, or could benefit from scientific input. Which ones are of interest to you? Which ones will you keep an eye on, or learn a little more about?

Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?

I just picked up a copy of the book with this title, written by Ellen Gordon Reeves. It’s billed as a crash course for finding, landing, and keeping your first real job. While I have not read it in detail, I think she does a very good job of giving the basics for those who have never gone through the process before.

I particularly liked the list of potential interview questions, and suggested strategies for answering them. While they are obviously for entry level positions, if you haven’t been interviewed in a long time they might be worth looking through to prepare yourself for what is to come.

PS. The answer to the title question is, Yes, under certain circumstances.

Nontraditional Careers: Tips from AAAS

This morning I attended a webinar put on by AAAS entitled Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away From the Bench. The entire session will be available on their web site in a few days, but in the meantime here are some of the important nuggets I wrote down as I was listening.

The most important questions to ask yourself are:
What do I want to do next? How do I acquire the skills to get there?

Options available for scientists can be found by looking at those around you. Where did the people you graduated with end up? what about others in your lab? Does what they are doing seem intriguing to you?

Take advantage of your time in college to explore options – talk to faculty, go to local science talks, take tours of companies, etc. Find role models who are further ahead in their career than you are, and look to them for examples and advice. Take the initiative to start a lecture series and bring in people who can talk about different things in which you may be interested.

These careers are not going to come to you. You need to do some work – exploring, reading, researching, narrowing, and so on. This process should continue throughout your career, as your skills and needs change. The more active you are in researching new options, the more likely you will be able to find your perfect fit.

Nontraditional jobs are not advertised where traditional science jobs are advertised. Professional societies can be good places to look for job ads, especially the societies for the field into which you are trying to move. Of course there are many more jobs that are not advertised, so use your network and let people know what you are looking for. Contact companies that might need that expertise – most profitably by using your network to link yourself to someone at that company and get an inside track. Use the connections you made during informational interviewing to help you take the next step.

You need to build your network and form relationships in such a way that people want to help you. Don’t always be the one asking for things and taking, but give back as much, or more, whenever you can.

Informational Interviewing –
Most people will talk to you, because they have been there and want to help others. Ask them:
1. What is your job?
2. How did you get there?
3. What should I do to follow in that path?
4. Who else should I talk to?

In this job market, you want to be careful how you approach people. People are bombarded by requests for “informational interviews”, many of which are thinly disguised requests for jobs. Try to find something in common with the person – have you read their papers, worked in the same field, etc? Make it clear that you are asking for information, not for a job.

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, do a critical self-analysis and figure out which necessary skills you have, which one you have but need to brush up on, and which ones you don’t have all all and need to acquire. You may need to do an internship, or volunteer your services, in order to get the required skills to move into our chosen field. Think long-term, not just what you need to pay the bills today. You need to invest the time, and maybe take less money now, to position yourself for the long-term.

Do something to differentiate yourself from everyone else – for example, do a postdoc abroad. Travel to a foreign country and spend 3 weeks working and prove you can survive without speaking the native language. Run a small business on the side.

Getting an MBA does not guarantee a job, and might not even be necessary. You need to determine if getting an MBA will give you the skills you need to make you more competitive for the job for which you are aiming. It has been shown that only an MBA earned early in your career, from a top school, will pay for itself in increased earnings over your career lifetime.

Peter Fiske recommends you spend 80% of your time doing the very best work you can for your boss, and 20% of your time doing things that develop you.

Ask these questions early – if I take this job, or this postdoc, will the supervisor/boss support my personal career development? Will they support me if I want to go into a nontraditional career? At each step of your career, ask yourself what your options are, and which ones will get you closer to where you want to be long-term. And ask yourself if your long-term goals have changed, or should change.

There are tons of resources for salary survey data for nontraditional careers, but some are better than others. Again, professional societies in your chosen field are one of the best resources. Read them with a critical eye, and see how they control for region, age, gender, etc.

These transitions are not as irreversible as they used to be. Academia is starting to value people coming in from industry, for example. Just don’t burn any bridges as you make your transitions, and you will be able to use those connections to move back into the other world.

Almost any job can be made family-friendly, but some companies are more flexible than others. You need to get to specifics – how much travel is required, are the hours flexible, do they provide elder care….? Figure out what is important to you, and ask the questions about not only what is officially allowed, but what do most people in that situation really do?

In all these cases, ask the questions of multiple people and compare their answers. The truth lies somewhere in-between.

The best way to build your network is to get involved. Go to national and local meetings, volunteer, and always be thinking about what kinds of people you want to meet, and where they are likely to hang out.

You need to know what you can do, but you need to be able to explain it to others in their language. This requires learning the terminology of other fields.

Tom Lane’s Seven C’s for Career Success

In a recent ACS Career Forum, the featured speaker was Tom Lane, ACS president 2009. He had some great points, which I have summarized briefly below.

Dr Lane started by pointing out that chemistry contributes to every major industrial segment – 20K or 11% of all patents are chemical in nature. It’s a $650B industry that influences 25% of the nation’s GDP.

Dr Lane’s 7 C’s for career success are:

Competence – in your field is now price of admission, not ticket to success. Your ability to learn is vital. Must be a learner, not learned. “In times, of change, learners inherit the world, while the learned are beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. (Eric Hoffer)”

Courage – to pursue new areas, lead into new directions. Must know how to fail. Must try areas that no one has tried before. Working in new environments – generations, across cultures, etc.

Collaborative – becoming increasingly important. Chemists are being asked to address enourmous, complex, interesting problems that cross many disciplines. Teams are dynamic, globally scattered but must still work together.

Communicate – both what is said and what is not said. Young people need good written skills, but as you get older more of your contact is through oral communication. All transactions are between humans, but perhaps facilitated by technology.

Creative – inventive. Force yourself out of the box.

Committed – to excellence, to your career

Competitive – being motivated to succeed. Desire to raise the standard. Healthy competition is a great motivating force.