Saturday, November 21, 2015

Weekend Ask CJ: ADD/#chemjobs in Philly

From the inbox, a request from someone who: 
  • has a B.S. in chemistry, 
  • and has anxiety/ADD issues,
  • does not want to work in the lab
Two questions: 
  • Does anyone have any experience working in the lab with ADD? 
  • Does anyone have a good position outside of the lab for people with ADD?
Seems to me that a sales position might work? I dunno. 

Also, anyone have suggestions for someone who is a synthetic chemist in the Philadelphia area? 


  1. I worked in a lab with a dude who had ADD (apart from other inter-related emotional and mental needs). It is hard to tell what was worse, him being on amphetamine, or off: All that dope helped him to stay focused, to operate vacuum manifold and put things back to freezer, but then he had these compulsive grandiose ravings interspersed with mood swings into whining and ass-kissing. It did not help that he was a walking hard-on, and somehow managed to bed all female coworkers below age 50 but then he could not help but brag about it to his colleagues. These were trying times, and he is not longer with us.

    1. "managed to bed all female coworkers below age 50 but then he could not help but brag about it to his colleagues"

      u jelly?

    2. In one case yes, which did make the anger worse, in other case no. But regardless, bragging to your colleagues about how many BJs you scored, where with whom, it is a rotten way to treat women - especially if you happen to work with them every day at a small small company.

    3. That would be a very quick trip to HR at any larger company.

  2. One of my closest friends is a chemist with ADD. Their passion is for research, so their hyperfocus is directed toward that. It can lead to superhuman feats: routine 36 hr days in lab, massive reaction screens, NMR experiments all night, then go home and do literature surveys until they passed out. Definitely an interesting character, but I've been told that such people are more abundant in the upper tiers of research institutions. The one trouble this person has, though, is difficulty wrapping up projects. Everything becomes a magnum opus that they explore well beyond the criterion for publication in respected journals. So a tip for working with ADD people: assign a partner to tell them, "It's done," and wrap up. But they can be the one man army your team long as they have their meds. Otherwise they can't even tie their shoes.

  3. Perhaps some of our friends on the ACS Committee on Chemists With Disabilities could chime in. I will forward this post to them.

    1. I am a Chemist with ADD. I would be lying if I were to tell you that my ADD never affects me at work. However, I have built up coping mechanisms over the years and most people do not know I have ADD unless I tell them. ADD has even given me many advantages when it comes to a career in Chemistry.

      Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, including people with ADD/ADHD. One previously mentioned strength of having ADD is the ability to become hyperfocused when interested in something. For me this doesn't happen all the time, but is a great asset to getting a project done - and done right. However, people with ADD have many other strengths too.

      People with ADD are generally are more tenacious and more gregarious than people that do not have ADD. ADD makes you very energetic and the appearance of enthusiasm. People find this an attractive personality and often find it very magnetic due to this high energy. People with ADD tend to creates connections easily and can easily become the center of attention. They are good storytellers and are often fun to be around. Yes, they are good at customer relations too. Yes, sales maybe one possible career where a person with ADD would be able to apply their strengths and there are other areas a Chemist with ADD would excel.

      The classic occupation for a person with ADD is an entrepreneur. People with ADD are very creative, dynamic, resourceful, and confident. They thrive in chaos and are risk takers that seek out novelty. It should be no surprise that ADD is a trait found in many successful CEO and entrepreneurs. In fact, they are the group most likely to be self employed or entrepreneurs. Even Forbes magazine calls ADD/ADHD “The entrepreneur’s superpower”.

      People with ADD tend to be very willing to help and mentor others. Public speaking often is effortless to them and enjoyable. They are good at communication and relate to others easily. Thus, people with ADD make great teachers. Their energetic personality and creative teaching approaches keep students engaged. They can distill complicated concepts and come up with simple innovative solutions to convey them to students. The ADD brain naturally searches for better ways of teaching. If a student doesn’t understand a concept they are versatile and can approach the material in an alternative creative way so the student can understand. They tend to be empathetic so they take an interest in their students’ learning and sensitive to their individual needs.

    2. (continued)
      Personally, my ADD has given me many capabilities that help me in my career both inside and outside the laboratory. First of all, I find I am more creative and able to think outside the box. Thus, I am very good at solving puzzles and riddles and enjoy doing so. I am very good at being able to find patterns in the mist of disorder. I am very good at conceptualizing and being able to think on my toes. All of these things are very important skills for a Chemist.

      I tend to approach problems differently. Most people approach a problem by starting with the conundrum and the circumstances and try to work things out chronologically to get to the solution. Some people will start from the desired solution and try to work backwards. However, instead of working threw a problem sequentially, I often find that I try to find a solution from the outside in, meaning that I think about both the problem and the solution at the same time. Then, I work forwards from the problem and work backwards from the solution at the same time to find a way to bridge the two together. Sometimes, I find that if I am trying to solve a very long complicated problem, or a problem with critical elements, I will work through the problem from the beginning, the end, and somewhere in the middle all at the same time to bring all the elements together. I have found this to be an advantage to solving problems and/or finding alternate paths to overcome obstacles.

      ADD also makes it easy for me to multitask. In fact, I prefer to multitask. Why sit there and wait for your instrument to finish its run when you could be doing something else productive at the same time? Employers like this a lot.

      To answer your question, there are many fitting positions for you as Chemist with ADD. All you have to do is find a place where you can apply you unique skills, abilities, and interests. Yes, I am aware of the stigma that sometimes accompanies an ADD diagnosis. However, do not think of ADD as being problematic for your career as a Synthetic Chemist. Think of it as an advantage. People with ADD, like you and me, are not successful “in spite of” our ADD. We are successful because of the special talents and abilities it gives us.
      Now go forth and do great Chemistry!

      Sincerely: A Chemist with ADD and a member of ACS Chemists with Disabilities Committee

      PS Sometimes people with ADD are very creative and detailed writers!

    3. Thank you for your expertise!

    4. Congrats on making your traits work in your benefit. Yes, energy and enthusiasm are very valuable to employers, as well as the ability to multitask.

  4. I've a friend who has anxiety issues (and Asperger's); he found labwork a challenge too. He got into theoretical chemistry for this reason, although nowadays he has an office job at some small chemical company. He was pretty badly treated in academia because his disability was obvious - I don't know whether that got better or not when he specialized and only had to deal with theoretical people.

    I have another, great, friend, who has ADD, although nothing in the line of anxiety whatsoever. He works full time in a bio lab, as well as managing all kinds of other collaborations. So, things work out really well for him, and the comments above don't represent everyone.

  5. I agree about the sales job idea - someone who no longer wants to work in a lab can probably make better money as a technical salesperson than as a chemist.

    1. Yes, a few of my former coworkers ended up going into technical sales and do quite well. They are natural extroverts, though. Commodity sales may be better than instruments based on their experience.

      Another that liked to troubleshoot NMR issues ended up getting a job with Bruker.

  6. DDTea, I have ADHD as well as anxiety. I can relate to some of what you wrote about your friend--directing hyperfocus as well as some issues finishing things (I've gotten better at reigning that side in as I've gotten older). But overall, I've just learned how to manage my personality type/mental wiring so that I can function at work, just as I have figured out how to deal so that I can pay bills on time, do errands, and otherwise be a human being. I don't use adderall, although I did need extended time on exams when I was in school.

    One thing I've noticed is that ADD/ADHD types tend to be more creative, which can be a real benefit in science, as a lot of the traits that are selected for early on in one's scientific career (i.e. good grades in classes with an "objective" answer, ability to follow directions and grind out results) don't map on to a successful career in science in the long run.

  7. A former coworker with ADD has had a long career as an analytical chemist. It is not a dealbreaker by any means, and the squirrel joke was a running thing with her. She is addicted to coffee, and claims that it has a calming affect on her, but I would be careful with this if you have anxiety. I think that these issues are a lot more common than people realize, mainly due to the stigma society attaches to such things.

    Finding a job with a BS in chemistry is going to be a challenge, aside from some lab tech position. I think that you just need to get your foot in the door at this point. You can register with the CWDS (commonwealth workforce development system) and attend classes at the job centers even if you aren't collecting unemployment. There are a lot of resources on interviewing techniques, etc. You can also check out - a service which provides information on various careers and salary levels. There is a Great Careers Meetup that meets almost daily in various places around Philadelphia and suburbs - mainly it seems to be a lot of business people, but it may be good for networking.

  8. This person could go into regulatory affairs. The projects are short and turn over constantly. You're not in a lab but you're using your chemistry background.


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