Chemists in the Real World

Suzanne Golisz

 


Suzanne Golisz,
Research Chemist

Chevron
Ph.D., Organic Chemistry

 


One of Suzanne Golisz’s favorite parts of her job is the chance to work on a product that is in the marketplace. After earning her Ph.D. in organometallic chemistry and working in an academic setting, Golisz sought out, “a more commercial focus” for her career.

Golisz is responsible for ensuring product quality and product integrity of motor gasoline at Chevron by providing chemical expertise to the North American refineries. Her other responsibilities include evaluating biofuels, consulting on emerging refinery processes and advising the supply and trading business unit. She enjoys her work because every day is different. “You never know where the next problem to solve will come from!”

Golisz has found ACS career resources valuable as she’s built her career. “At the National Meetings, the career fair and related career events gave me a good idea of what jobs were available and how to prepare for interviews. I also connected with an ACS Career Consultant who gave me advice specific to my job search. I also try to attend local section meetings because they give you a better idea of what is actually going on in your neighborhood.”

Outside of chemistry, Golisz competes in triathlons and plays the violin in a community orchestra. Within chemistry, she’s a research chemist.

What's a typical day on the job like?

On average I spend 10% of my time in meetings, 10% in the lab and another 10% directing the work of technicians. The rest of my time is spent responding to internal customer inquiries, investigating product quality issues, researching new areas of fuel chemistry and documenting our findings. I also travel to our six North American refineries and professional development events such as training courses and national meetings.

Our group is composed of PhD chemists and senior staff that initiate and manage research projects. As part of this, we work closely with MS chemists that are responsible for instrumentation. We also direct the work of research technicians. We have a team lead that supervises all chemists and technicians

Suzanne at ACS booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festiva
Image Credit: Shane Arney

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

I use my computer to view and analyze data, prepare reports and access databases like SciFinder. We also have a lot of shared documents that are updated regularly like SOPs, and we use SharePoint to manage versioning. Everything we do requires the Chevron network. I have a company phone that allows me to access company email, calendars and intranet sites on the go. United is one of our preferred airlines, so having the United app on my phone makes travel much simpler. Also, the travel agency app Concur helps keep my itineraries in one place.

Describe your work environment.

I work mostly in an office with labs across the hall. I have my own office with a sit/stand desk and chairs for visitors. My coworkers are very good about asking questions in person. With my colleagues from other sites, we normally talk on the phone.

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

I typically work 40 hours, although I work a compressed schedule so that I get every other Friday off. When we have a major product quality investigation, things can get pretty busy. There are also slower times when we can work on long range research projects.

What's your best productivity trick?

I keep a notebook where I write down all of my ideas for experiments. This is a great resource, especially as priorities change, because it allows me to go back and see what I was thinking when I have time to resume a previous project. I also utilize the Outlook Tasks function. I can easily flag an email as something to do or generate new items. This keeps all things in one place.

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

My Ph.D. advisor John Bercaw always used to say “It’s your thesis” when discussing projects with his graduate students. This definitely applies to careers as well. It is important to do some soul-searching to find out what is important to you in a career. What job will make you want to get out of bed every day and spend a third of your time doing? Sometimes you need to get experience in a few different areas so that you can clarify career goals. This can be internships (I worked in pharma at Cephalon for one summer, at the University of Rochester for one summer and at Rohm & Hass for two summers) or jobs (I left my job at UVA when I realized that it wasn’t the direction that I wanted for my career).

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

In my job, I communicate with all sorts of people: process engineers at the refinery, external vendors, chemists in the analytical department and business people. It is important for me to know how to communicate with everyone. As chemists we explain our data to draw conclusions. It is important that the data and the conclusion match the audience that you are trying to reach. Throughout my career I have worked hard to maintain excellence as an oral and written communicator. I use these skills almost daily, especially on conference calls and when preparing reports.

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

In graduate school I would design experiments and then usually tweak the procedure as I was actually performing the task. When others depend on you to develop new procedures, it is essential that you write down the procedure so that someone else can replicate it. I am now much more methodical about writing SOPs.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

I regularly read Chemical & Engineering News to keep up on new developments in chemistry. I also consult ACS journals when researching new topics. During my job search I found the ACS career resources invaluable.