Thursday, November 17, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: conclusion and index

In the final chapter of "Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry", Lisa Balbes sketches a road map for chemists who are thinking about different careers to consider:
As chemists, we are taught how to solve problems and how to find and critically evaluate data. We start by doing background research, identifying a problem, conducting an experiment, then analyzing the results and pplying what we learned to the next question. You can applly those same steps to the question of what career path will best suit your personal skills, knowledge, interests and values. You need to figure out not only what is available but what you want. Ask yourself questions such as:
What kinds of problems do I solve well? What do I most enjoy talking about? What do other people say I do well? What characteristics truly define me? What accomplishments am I most proud of?
Some specific steps she suggests:
  • "Like most things in life, the only way to really understand what a particular job is like is to experience it firsthand. ...Those just entering the work world should seek out positions that let them try many different types of tasks. Seek out internships, co-op programs, and summer and part-time work as valuable sources of real-world experience. Later in your career, you can take on additional responsibilities at your current company to move in a new direction."
  • "The second-best way to understand something is to talk to people who have done it. Use your network! Ask questions of people already working in jobs you find intriguing, and find out what they do on a daily basis."
  • "Find out not only what skills and knowledge are required but what personality traits are needed to be successful in that field."
  • "Investigate not only what you;d like to do but where you'd like to do it." [re: small company or large company.] 
  • "Always be on the lookout for opportunities to try something new -- seek them out, and consider them serious when they are offered, especially if the risk is low. It's never too late to try something new, and in the worst case you'll find something you don't want to do again."
She leaves off with a cautionary (but hopeful) note: 
This is not a process that can be rushed. If you admit you're discontented and start investigating your options for something better, you're already a step ahead of those who just accept where they are. Changing your career direction requires soul-searching, research, planning and courage. But in the end, getting to spend your time doing something you love is worth it. 
A final, effusive thanks to Dr. Lisa Balbes, who supplied her book for this 4 month series. The interest from chemists in alternative careers is strong and her work towards helping chemists towards their career goals should be recognized. 

I intend to return to Dr. Balbes' book on a regular basis, but I'm looking for alternate ways to discuss this topic. Readers, what do you want? 


  1. It drives me batty when people suggest that the true value of a scientific education is critical thinking and problem solving. If that were so, why do we waste billions of dollars and man-years on equipment and specialized training when we just need a "Ph.D. in Problem-Solving" program with work done with paper and pencil. Was it all just a mental exercise?

    Put another way...The first paragraph could apply to anyone...physicists, engineers, biologists, physicians, real-estate agents, plumbers...they all solve problems and use the scientific method to some degree. I was under the impression that the discipline of chemistry is valuable because it is specialized. Apparently, I could have saved a lot of time and money becoming a plumber.

    I appreciate that Dr. Balbes is helping folks escape a train that's coming off the tracks. But let's be honest here: Most of us like riding that train. There's a lot of inertia keeping us on...and it's a helluva ride!

  2. If you're not a bench chemist, you'll never kill
    anyone with Vioxx!

    Wonderful people.

  3. Not to veer too far off-topic, but Frazier is actually a stand-up guy compared to the rest of the characters involved in the whole PSU thing (ie; the defense lawyer who also is a pedophile). It doesn't say anything positive about him, but rather how awful everybody in Happy Valley is. It took THAT to make Frazier look like a good guy.

  4. More germane follow-up:
    CJ, you've done some of this already, but maybe continue interviewing people who have made transitions into some of these fields. Specifically address the barriers to entry and what the typical routes to get into the fields are.

    For example; I keep hearing from lots of people that regulatory affairs is where it's at these days. That's awesome if you're already in an industrial position. But if you're coming fresh out of your Ph.D or postdoc where you were at a bench all day, how exactly are you supposed to transition into a job where you're required to know regulation and documentation procedures to put an ANDA together?


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20