Monday, April 6, 2015

YP: Reaching an industrial postdoc in analytical chemistry

Last week, I expressed that I hoped that Linda Wang's story in C&EN about analytical chemists in industry did indeed reflect higher demand for analysts, a claim that I feel is not borne out yet with data. YP wrote in with their story; it has been redacted for privacy.
As an undergraduate, I attended [medium-sized state school] and majored in chemistry. There were several options in the chemistry major--you could pick the ACS certified option, general chemistry, or the biochemistry (the options have further diversified since then). Because I loved chemistry but also wanted to do biomedically-based research, I completed both the ACS certified and the biochemistry options--4 extra classes in total. At the time, I did not think very much about it; I was still in that strange undergraduate phase of loving learning for the sake of learning, so I enjoyed taking those extra labs and analytical chemistry lecture courses. 
Fast forward to grad school. Unlike many of your readers, I did not go into organic synthesis. I attended [prominent R1 school] and did a biophysical chemistry-project in [very, very famous professor's] group. This meant that I learned a lot of molecular biology very quickly, but also had to be reasonably adept at other aspects of chemistry... making me a jack of all trades, master of none type of scientist. Exactly the type industry does NOT want. Why did I pick this path? I was fascinated with the science, and Professor [redacted] makes one heck of a sales pitch. Also, I was not sure what I wanted to do after grad school; I thought I could keep my options open for a bit longer, maybe teach at a SLAC. 
For personal reasons, I looked for a job in [small East Coast city] after grad school. I ended up doing a postdoc in a cancer biology group, which was great, because coming out of a chemistry group I knew I needed a better understanding of biological processes as well as technical training. Three years later, the two-body problem reared its ugly head again, and my spouse and I decided that the greater Boston area gave both of us the best chance to have fulfilling non-academic careers, especially given the stresses in the academic world right now. [They] found a job almost immediately, but I spent 4 months in total looking for a job. 
I applied for a research associate position with a small contract research organization, [redacted], on a day when I was feeling desperate for a job. I was overqualified for the position, but the HR rep realized that I fit the qualifications for a recently-opened industrial postdoc position. and here is where the analytical skills come in: the HR rep requested all of my transcripts, because the position required understanding and problem-solving skills in analytical chemistry. Even though I took those courses 10 years ago, the mindset was still there. My biology knowledge will be useful, too, for characterizing biologics. I had a great interview with the company--this included a technical interview so that I could demonstrate problem-solving skills--and I will start the position [very soon]. 
Thanks to YP for their story -- best wishes to them, and to all of us. 

1 comment:

  1. I think YP is lucky that they encountered an HR rep that was willing to look beyond the basic check boxes for a position then review them as potential candidate more diligently, particularly as today CV screening can be computerized process used to eliminate "misalignment" with set criteria. I trust it works out and then YP will remember to treat the HR person to lunch or another special thank you.

    Although I was planning to become a Syn Org Chemist I spent a couple years between undergrad and grad school working as a analytical chemist (wet testing mainly) in a Petrochemical R&D lab and frankly IMO except for the serious higher level Analytical Development and ultra-specialized Instrument technologist roles most scientists in other disciplines probably do obtain or are exposed to fundamentals of being an Analyst if were willing to take such jobs (and like most all people coming out of school will require training in dealing with SOPs and review/documentation).

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