Monday, April 18, 2011

Consulting and volunteering: a tactic for unemployed mid-career chemists?

Today's issue of Chemical and Engineering News has an article by Linda Wang that features the stories of 6 chemists and engineers who found themselves out of work and what they did with their time. (Our friend Daniel Levy is among them.) The common thread? Consulting or otherwise using that time to perform (unpaid) work towards their future employment goals. To wit:
When Ph.D. chemist Steven A. Weissman was laid off from Merck & Co. in 2008, he knew that it would take a while before he found a new job. “I was mentally prepared for a long-term search,” he says. “I had no illusions that it was going to be a one- or two-month thing.” 
"Employers “can have a bias against people whom they perceive to be stale." After allowing himself two weeks to regroup, Weissman immediately got to work. He completed the Mini-MBA program at Rutgers, attended scientific meetings, read scientific publications, served as a coinventor on two patents with former colleagues from Merck, and bolstered his online presence. “You definitely have to answer the question, ‘What have you done with your time in transition? What have you accomplished?’ ” In late 2009, Weissman was offered a job with Concert Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Mass., where he is now associate director of process chemistry. [snip]
While Ph.D. chemist Paul Young was unemployed after being laid off from Nalco in 2001, he served as an adjunct professor at several colleges in the Chicago area. “My teenage son was making more from his part-time job as a grocery cashier than I did from my part-time job teaching college chemistry,” he recalls. But the experience helped him improve his presentation and public speaking skills. He also kept his mind sharp. “There’s a lot of creativity in teaching when you’re trying to figure out the answer to a good question,” he says. 
During this period, Young also consulted for St. Michael, Minn.-based U.S. Water Services, which provides water treatment services, and it was this work that eventually led to his current full-time position with the company. 
Well, I suppose that's something to remember for unemployed chemists -- on top of searching for a job, you need to try to stay current in your field. Best wishes to all of us.

11 comments:

  1. Anyone else unemployed out there want to form a reciprocal consulting group/circle?

    After bolstering your online presence, of course!

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  2. It makes sense, really. You need some way to keep your name out there and to expand your circle of contacts.

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  3. A6:17a:

    I get the joke about 'bolstering your online presence', but that being said, it *is* fairly important to have your LinkedIn profile nice and visible to everyone, etc. Twitter/FB, I suspect, are less important.

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  4. I think it is more important to actively engage in LinkedIn discussions to raise your profile - simply putting your profile out there and keeping it up to date isn't enough in my experience.

    I always noticed a bump in the numbers looking at my profile after submitting a comment.

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  5. Environmental consulting firms are often looking for chemical engineers - such people have an excellent combination of the scientific background and basic engineering principles to handle consulting work, on top of often being able to handle the pace, workload and often intense time demands. You still need to be able to get your head around regulatory language, but it would be a good temporary or less-temporary career option - and it also pays about as well as you'd want.

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  6. Posting on threads in LinkedIn works both ways, don't forget. There's at least one guy out there who comes across as so bitter and angry about his lack of job prospects after getting his PhD that he's got to be on several "Don't Bother" lists because of his rants.

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  7. I agree with Anon 6:37, I also notice an increase in my profile views after I say something. However, this has never led to anything for me. But I also don't comment on a lot of stuff and I definitely don't go hunt people down and try to connect with them if I see they looked at my profile. I don't know if that's what's considered proper networking, I hope not because it seems a bit weird to me.

    LinkedIn is really a remarkable tool, but you have to use it properly. As YP and Anon 3:53 said, there's people (one very vocal person in particular) who use it as a soapbox to complain about the state of science (I have actually seen immigrants complain about the US giving out too many H1Bs). If you learn some of the ins and outs of LinkedIn it can be a huge help (no, you don't need to buy the gold membership either). My job search has been enormously more productive because of it.

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  8. CJ:
    I've seen a couple people combine Twitter and LinkedIn to increase their online presence. LinkedIn can post Twitter updates about their business. However, I find that scrolling through Tweets (however professional related) in LinkedIn extremely annoying, and thus hide updates from those people.

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  9. CJ:
    Facebook is more a detriment than anything else. One example discussed by a career transition course displayed how some people do not think of their Google presence. If you have a FB picture of yourself wasted and posted on the internet for the world to see, you may cost yourself jobs.

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  10. Yes, I've also watched some of the ACS discussion boards on Linkedin with utter amazement - some folks really lose their heads and don't seem to care who might be watching. It's a shame too, because some of the discussions themselves are very interesting and useful initially before getting ruined by such bitter individuals

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