Chemists in the Real World
In high school, Dana Fuerst envisioned becoming a marine biologist. The more she learned about that field, however, the less it seemed to be a good fit. Instead, she decided to attend a two-year college and earn an Associate of Applied Science degree. As graduation approached, she applied for and accepted a position with Dow’s Corporate Research & Development (Core R&D) group, and began working there as a local college co-op while completing her associate’s degree.
Today, Fuerst has been with Dow for 14 years, and has enjoyed her career pathway. Along the way, she’s made two major job changes within the organization — first moving to a business research group for a period of time, and then back to the Core R&D group, which she enjoys for its pace of work and other factors. Fuerst has worked to build her network by taking part in existing networks, such as an internal technologists group within Dow. In addition, she became heavily involved in an ACS Local Section Technican Group affiliated with her ACS local section in mid-Michigan — including serving on the Board of Directors and chairing the organization.
As an undergraduate did you complete any internships, co-op, or undergraduate research experiences?
Yes. I worked as a local co-op student at The Dow Chemical Company. This experience allowed me to see what people actually do in a lab/research setting in industry. I also gained valuable work experience and skills, and used certain types of advanced analytical equipment that I would not have had access to in an academic lab setting. I felt like my co-workers really treated me as part of the group, and I was expected to attend and participate in group meetings, safety meetings and other work processes. The co-op experience at Dow was very interactive, and I was truly included as part of the group effort.
How did you find your first chemistry-related job after you graduated from college?
As I was finishing my last semester of college, a recruiter from Dow Chemical came to the college to do on-site interviews for several Chemical Technologist positions they had open. I applied and interviewed with the recruiter. She passed along her interview notes, comments from my college chemistry instructors and personal references to the various Dow hiring managers. I was then invited to interview with five different groups at Dow.
From the interviews, I was offered my choice of two different positions. I accepted the offer from the Dow Polystyrene Research & Development (R&D) group. I was able to transition directly from a position as a Dow Chemical local college co-op to that of a full-time Dow Chemical employee. I graduated from college on a Sunday, and started as a full-time Dow employee the next day.
What is your major responsibility in your current position?
In my current role, I serve as the High Throughput Research (HTR) Analytical Capability Manager. I work with the various researchers, technologists, contractors and college co-ops/interns within my group to:
- Identify analytical needs for various projects;
- Identify issues with our HTR workflow;
- Install new pieces of analytical equipment in a safe and timely manner; and
- Serve as a contact for the annual review process for our procedures and other safety related documentation.
On occasion, I work with researchers and/or our subject matter experts from our Analytical Sciences group to provide analytical support that is not offered elsewhere within the Dow Chemical Michigan Operations site. In this role, I also serve as a supervisor for the contractor, local college co-ops and summer interns who work in the analytical lab.
What's a typical day on the job like?
Typically, my day consists of:
- Working with subject matter experts to identify and implement improvements to lab workflow via face to face conversations, e-mail or telephone conversations (25%)
- Supervising others (10%)
- Writing/reviewing procedures and other safety related documents (10%)
- Working in the lab troubleshooting equipment (10%)
- Attending meetings (10%)
- Working with researchers to identify best options for sample analysis (10%)
- Ordering & expense reporting for lab consumables and maintenance parts for analytical equipment (8%)
- Working in the lab installing new equipment (7%)
- Serving as a mentor to newer employees for safety and personal development (7%)
- Electronic lab databook/writing reports (3%)
Typically, how many days each month do you spend away from your workplace on travel?
I am not required to travel.
Are there any apps/software/instrumentation/tools that you can't live without?
It would be nearly impossible to mention all of the tools, software and instrumentation that I use on an almost daily basis. A large portion of my role requires use of standard analytical and lab equipment (including DSC, TGA, FTIR, GPC, High Temperature GPC, Melt Flow Rate Analyzer, GC, analytical balances, vacuum ovens, drying ovens, heated stir plates, etc.). We also utilize standard computer programs and software such as Microsoft Office, Lab Inventory Management System (LIMS), etc.
Since I work in High Throughput Research (HTR), many of our systems consist of HTR specific robotics equipment, including weighers, liquid dispensers, reactor systems, HTR GC & GPC, as well as specialized HTR computer programs.
Most importantly, we have Dow-specific Work Safety Programs, Protocols and Standards that we use and follow on a daily basis that we literally cannot live without! We are also provided with all necessary lab chemical fume hoods and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be sure that we are more than adequately protected while on the job. We often utilize gloveboxes and computer controlled reactor systems to allow us to work safely and efficiently.
Describe your work environment.
My work environment is a mix between office work and lab work. Since I work in HTR, we are running a large number of experiments each day, which results in many samples requiring analysis. We are able to generate thousands of samples from multiple pieces of high throughput tools, which include small scale screening systems. Our newest pieces of equipment continue to support our on-going high throughput research efforts, as well as supporting our larger scale batch and continuous processes.
Since we have the equipment to generate so many samples, we also have robotics equipment that allows us to complete the various analyses accurately and compile data quickly. This allows for the researchers working in our area to obtain results in a timely manner. They can use the results to determine which experiments are most promising for further research, scale-up, patent applications or publishing in an external report.
Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?
My typical work week is 40 hours, Monday-Friday. I have the option for a flexible work schedule where my start time/end time is flexible between 7 am and 6 pm. In my current role, I am a salaried employee but would be paid for any time worked over 40 hours in a standard work week. However, I am not typically required to work overtime.
Early on in my career, I gained experience providing plant support (which is definitely fast paced). I served as the analytical lab focal point supporting the business mini-plant and pilot plant operations. I also served as a production backup. If one of the subject matter experts in the production analytical lab was out on vacation or on maternity leave, and there was an issue, operators would call me, 24/7. They may have a stream of products coming off the line — hundreds or thousands of pounds per hour — so at any given hour, they need to know whether the product was meeting our specifications.
Later in my career, I returned to the corporate research group. It’s still fast-paced here, but in a more relaxed way. This may be contrary to what one would expect, considering the volume of samples that we are able to analyze. Since our project planning and supporting research is done differently than work done in a plant area, the atmosphere and work group are different. The projects we work on have a high impact on the Company, and we have the tools available to help us deliver the necessary results.
What do you like most about your job and why?
I like that the projects my group works on are the cutting edge of technology! The projects that have come through our labs have an impact on people every day. For example, a lot of our catalysis work is in plastics — things that you see around you everyday but don’t generally think about. Thanks to my experience at Dow, I sometimes notice the strength and properties of a particular type of plastic that Dow has produced, such as ENGAGE™ Polyolefin Elastomers or AFFINITY™ Polyolefin Plastomers that seem like they could just keep stretching and never break!
Dow Technologies have impact on the four megatrends of Agricultural, Energy, Consumer & Lifestyle and Infrastructure & Transportation. Dow Research & Development is able to touch each of these megatrend areas at the very beginning stages of ideation and development, and also when Dow businesses would like to make improvements to their existing processes. Knowing that my job has a direct impact on this is very exciting and fulfilling!
What is your best productivity trick?
I use my Outlook Calendar to schedule time needed for various daily tasks. I have also been building a network both within the company and externally through a group affiliated with the ACS local section to allow for quick access to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in many diverse areas to aid in project success. Often when I am given a new task, one of the first things I will do is pull together a plan of how I am going to accomplish the task. My next step is to use my network to find the best contacts to gain more information about the different pieces necessary to complete the task. Often it will take contacts from several different areas to gather the information necessary to move ahead. Being able to do this quickly is a necessity!
What's the best career advice you've received?
Change is constant. Being able to accept change, move ahead and implement the change will only make things easier in the end.
What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?
I feel that maintaining a positive attitude and focusing on how to make things work makes me a great fit for my job. In research, it’s not uncommon to experience experimental failures in the search for the solution. Being able to keep a positive outlook allows me to recognize that each “failure” is simply eliminating experiments that don’t work and narrowing the choices to find the best solution.
What is your favorite ACS resource?
Currently, my favorite ACS resource is the availability of Webinars that allow me to attend talks that I normally would not attend in person due to my work schedule. For example, one of the more recent series they did was on drug discovery. Even though I’m not involved in this field, I find a lot of the things they’re doing are similar to what we do in high throughput research. So I’ll call in and learn about what are they doing, and see if there’s anything I can pick up and integrate into what we do in our workflow. Being able to view/listen to them afterwards is also very helpful for those days when things just are not going smoothly in the lab!
How have you benefited from being an ACS member?
The ACS has allowed me to build a network — both locally and nationally — that allows me to be more effective in my role as a Technologist. If I don’t know the right person to contact, I can contact someone who does! Being involved in an ACS Local Section Technician Group, I was allowed the opportunity to attend the ACS Leadership Institute, a national ACS meeting, and represent not only our local TAG, the Mid-Michigan Technician Group (MMTG), but also Dow Chemical.
Being involved in my ACS local section has also enabled me to participate in science outreach activities in my community and to fulfill my own passion of having a positive impact on area youth and promote STEM
A lot of people think that once you go into industry, you never leave, but this was not true in my case."
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