Chemists in the Real World

Chris Bradley


Chris Bradley,
Assistant Professor

Mount St. Mary’s University
Ph.D., Inorganic/Organometallic Chemistry

 


In his own words, Chris Bradley does not really have a job. Instead, he combines two of his favorite hobbies, teaching and research, and as a bonus, Mount St. Mary’s University pays him a salary to participate. Bradley received his degree in inorganic/organometallic chemistry in 2006, completed a postdoc in 2008, and stayed in academics to pursue these “hobbies”.

ACS has benefitted him with “the opportunity to volunteer and with leadership experience working with others, particularly with respect to undergraduates. ACS meetings also offer excellent networking opportunities and the ability to keep abreast of the most recent cutting-edge research in my field.”

Today, Bradley is an Assistant Professor at Mount St. Mary’s University.

What's a typical day on the job like?

Instruction (two lectures and labs per semester) takes up about half of my time, 30% in class and 20% in class prep. I usually teach general chemistry each semester and a course in my specialty (Inorganic Chemistry) once a year.  I also mentor four research students during the semester and during the summer. Research and mentoring takes up about 40% of my time. And the rest is spent in meetings (10%).

Our research centers on using cobalt as a replacement catalyst for organic transformations that currently rely on precious metals such as rhodium or iridium. My students receive a background in a diverse range of synthetic methods and characterization techniques. The ligands we use require multistep syntheses to prepare, which means a strong base in organic synthesis is a necessity. The transition metal complexes we make are air sensitive, so a student also gains experience in handling reactive compounds under an inert atmosphere in gloveboxes or Schlenk lines. We even incorporate computational chemistry into our research, to understand the bonding in the cobalt compounds we make. Our research is so fun to me because you have to be a jack of all trades, good at lots of techniques, to be successful. Every day in the synthetic lab is something new and different!   

Mentoring students in the research lab is the favorite part of my day. Helping young minds develop a passion for making new molecules, learning to problem solve day to day issues of synthetic chemistry, and connecting their lab experience to the concepts they have learned in their classes is really why I do what I do.

Being involved with student ACS chapters in an advisory role has allowed me to make connections with other undergraduate research mentors across the country, creating a network of researchers with common goals to rely on. It has provided me with new perspectives on how to more effectively work with students in a research lab.

Are there any apps/software/instrumentation/tools that you can't live without?

Microsoft Office, Chemdraw, NMR spectroscopy, Gloveboxes, Schlenk lines. The ACS Mobile app is great to keep up with all the journals I typically read from ACS publications.

Describe your work environment.

A mixture of office (50%) and lab work (50%). I have my own office adjacent to our lab. For equipment, we have a glovebox, Schlenk lines, and NMR spectrometer (soon).

Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?

I work 40 hours on site and probably another 10-15 hours at home, preparing class materials, grading papers, writing grants, etc.

My department has a very relaxed atmosphere. Though being at any small undergraduate college comes with challenges, such as maintaining the instrumentation and resources needed to do high quality research, the one-on-one experiences you have with students in the small classes far outweigh the negatives. As I get to really know my students, I feel I can provide a strong positive influence for them and can help show them there are so many great and fulfilling careers in the physical sciences.

What is your best productivity trick?     

I wish I had some! The best advice I could give would be to make lists daily and to prioritize your activities. Make sure you work on more important things first and focus on secondary tasks next. Do not lose sight of the forest for the trees.

What's the best career advice you've received?

Pursue what you are interested in, give it your all, and things will work out.

Do you have any special talents or traits that make you a great fit for your job?

I think being curious about everything is very important. It shows your students your interest in what you are teaching and I think it involves them more in chemistry.

As a researcher, being somewhat stubborn and unwilling to accept defeat when you are trying to make a certain compound can be a valuable asset. A difficult synthesis is all the more rewarding if you are actually able to prevail in the end.

What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?

Better time management. I use calendars and make lists constantly to make sure I stay on top of things.

As you progress in any profession, you must be able to work on multiple projects at the same time. Keeping everything on schedule means never losing sight of deadlines for each activity. Though there are always things in every job that are not the most exciting, they still need to be done in a certain length of time.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

The ACS Mobile app. It's amazing! The app lets you browse all the ASAP articles from the journals you select, including their abstracts and figures. You can even email links to important articles to yourself. There is also a section for breaking C & E News articles. It has everything you need in one place- and it’s free!  

As you progress in any profession, you must be able to work on multiple projects at the same time. Keeping everything on schedule means never losing sight of deadlines for each activity."