Chemists in the Real World

Herman Cho


Herman Cho, Senior Research Scientist

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Ph.D., Chemical Physics

Herman Cho received his Ph.D. in chemical physics and completed two post-docs before joining Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Twenty-one years later he is at the same institution enjoying “the intellectual stimulation of scientific work, including the day-to-day tasks of problem-solving, building tools and instruments, writing software, data analysis, etc., as well as the deeper, long-term thinking that goes into pondering nature's mysteries.”

Cho’s primary responsibility at PNNL is to conduct independent, grant-funded research; his work focuses on radiochemistry and magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Cho values national ACS meetings “as a vital way to learn what is going on in the field of chemistry and reconnect with colleagues outside my areas of specialization.”

Today, Herman Cho is a Senior Research Scientist at PNNL. This is how he works.

What's a typical day on the job like?

  • Average time distribution:
  • Planning/running experiments: 30%
  • Writing (grants, papers, reports, presentations, etc.): 30%
  • Computer-centered work (software development, data analysis, calculations): 25%
  • Meetings: 10%
  • Training and education: 5%

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

Instrumentation: NMR spectrometers and associated equipment
Software: Too many apps to enumerate and they are all essential!

Describe your work environment.

My employer is a U.S. Department of Energy multi-program laboratory within the Office of Science.  I have a private office and multiple labs where I conduct my scientific work.

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

I typically spend 60 hours per week working, both at my workplace and at home.  I do not receive overtime pay.  The work is self-paced, but expectations for productivity are high, both from my managers and from my funding sources.

What is your best productivity trick?

Getting a good night's sleep and maintaining fitness and good health.

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

I remember not specific advice I received from mentors, but the compelling examples they set as career scientists, which I still try to emulate.

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

Perseverance and curiosity.

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

The ability to stay focused, goal-oriented, and disciplined.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

ACS journals and meetings are indispensable resources for my work.