Academic Professional Staff
Some typical jobs include the following:
- Instrumentation laboratory manager
- Stockroom manager
- Laboratory technician
- Project manager
- Outreach coordinator
- Career advisor
- Safety officer
- Technology transfer
- Most positions are often open to those with a bachelor’s degree.
Salaries vary widely, depending on the level and type of position. Many temporary or contract positions do not include benefits.
When you think of academic positions, you probably think of your professors who divide their time between teaching chemistry classes and conducting scientific research. However, there are many other academically based careers that allow you to help with both education and research in different ways.
Some typical positions include:
- Instrumentation laboratory manager—maintains scientific equipment, instructs students in its use, schedules students and researchers, runs samples for researchers
- Laboratory supervisor—develops experiments for chemistry lab classes, oversees preparation of unknowns and reagents
- Stockroom manager—orders supplies, reagents, and equipment, sells required supplies to chemistry students, supervises student assistants
- Laboratory technician—runs experiments, maintains lab supplies and equipment, assists in training of students
- Project manager—coordinates large multi-institution projects, tracks deadlines and deliverables, coordinates conferences and meetings of co-investigators
- Outreach coordinator—coordinates science outreach activities from the university to the community, sometimes in response to specific grant requirements
- Safety Officer —sets and enforces policies and procedures, conducts inspections, files all required paperwork
- Technology Transfer—works with academic professors to commercialize findings of their research
There is a wide variety in the types and terms of these academic support positions. For example, at a smaller institution more than one of these jobs may be combined into a single position, while at larger institutions multiple people may have the same position. Contract lengths also vary from a single semester to several years.
One important factor to keep in mind when considering support positions is the type of money used to fund them. Soft money (grant funding) is guaranteed only for the length of that particular grant and may be lost when the grant term runs out. Hard money (university funds) comes from tuition and fees and usually does not have a specific term limit but is still subject to changes in institution priorities and the budgeting process. For this reason, positions associated with teaching (e.g., stockroom manager) tend to be more permanent than research-related positions (e.g., technician) that may last only for the duration of a particular grant.
Most other positions require a bachelor's degree and experience in a laboratory or research environment.
Most positions are full time, though some may be on a 9- or 10-month schedule to match an academic year. Work is generally on-site at the institution.
Is This Career a Good Fit for You?
If you have the desire to help students learn in a larger sense than working with them individually, academic support positions may be right for you. These positions may or may not come with multi-year contracts, so they are flexible but do not have the long-term stability of tenured positions. Part-time or short-term positions can be used to add experience to your résumé, especially when you are in a new geographic location (for example, when accompanying a partner).
- Broad knowledge of chemical reactivity and the safe handling of chemicals
- Expertise in theory, maintenance, and troubleshooting of chemical instrumentation
- Interpersonal skills to engage with (and sometimes supervise) students, faculty, and other staff
- Networking and negotiation skills to utilize the skills and resources of technical support staff in other departments
- Time management and organizational skills to manage rapidly changing priorities and juggle multiple projects and responsibilities at one time
- Good writing skills to develop lab procedures, standard operating procedures for instruments, problem sets, tests, etc.
- Interest in keeping up with new developments in pedagogy, including online course websites and teaching resources; data acquisition systems for labs, etc.
Many of these positions have no clear path for advancement, but working at an institution may mean you hear about other opportunities before anyone else. However, a long-term temporary position may prevent you from being seriously considered for a permanent position.
Future Employment Trends
As enrollment in academic institutions continues to increase, more staff will be required to meet students’ needs. However, increased financial pressures will mean many of these positions will be flexible but only part-time and without benefits.
One growing area is the variety of forms of distance education, which require different skills to teach successfully. Distance learning allows instructor and students to be in different locations, so institutions are able to hire instructors with specific expertise, no matter where they are located.
Linda Roettger has had a diverse career. She began in academia, moved to international marketing, and eventually returned to the world of academia.
- National Association of Scientific Materials Managers (NAOSMM)
- ACS Division of Chemical Education (ACS CHED)
- Association of University Technology Managers
- American Association of Community Colleges
- Licensing Executives Society