Collins Jones | Chemists in the Real World

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Collins Jones, Biotechnology Professor

  • Montgomery College
  • B.S., Biochemistry with a minor in Mathematics, Albright College, M.S. and Ph.D., Biochemistry, University of Maryland, College Park
Collins Jones works in the following areas:

Biotechnology Professor  ∎  Analytical Chemistry  ∎  Biochemistry 
∎ Academia

Collins Jones is the Biotechnology Industry Coordinator for the biotechnology program at Montgomery College (Germantown, MD), where he has been a professor for the past 15 years. His primary responsibility is teaching, which includes developing a curriculum that focuses on laboratory exercises relevant to the biotech industry. "I spend a great deal of time interacting with the local biotech industry to determine what needs to be included in the program," he says.

Jones also spends time applying for funds for equipment and scholarships. He doesn't stop at developing and funding the program, however. His job is not done until his students take their first steps along their fledgling career paths. He notes, "I spend lots of time advising students with respect to both their academic plans and their career, which includes job placement. We have placed about 250 students at full-time jobs since 2000."

Jones began his own career with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, focusing his research on cholesterol metabolism. He searched the classified ads in scientific journals and applied for the advertised positions to land his first chemistry-related job as a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health. After several years of doing metabolism research, Jones took advantage of an opportunity to move into brain imaging research, also at the National Institutes of Health. Later, he pursued his love of teaching by taking his current position at Montgomery College.

What's a typical day on the job like?

On teaching days (three days a week) I spend about 6–8 hours in the classroom. I typically teach four classes per semester, each with a three-hour lecture and a three-hour lab. When I am not teaching, I am either at college meetings, meeting with people from the local biotech industry or county economic development commission, at home updating my lecture material, or in the lab developing laboratory exercises.

Typically, how many days each month do you spend away from your workplace on travel?: 

I spend 1–5 days a month off-campus, networking with representatives from local biotech companies to keep my courses up to date, and doing consulting work as a sideline. What I learn from consulting, I bring back to the classroom. I go to conferences occasionally, and I have been on county and state economic development panels.

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

We use Microsoft Office and InSTAT (scientific statistics software). We have a variety of instruments in the lab: UV/vis spectrophotometers (conventional and micro-volume), plate readers, fluorimeters, bioanalyzers, pH and conductivity meters, electronic balances (mg to kg range), vertical and horizontal gel electrophoresis setups, a gel documentation system, polymerase chain reaction apparatus (conventional and quantitative or real-time), a fast protein liquid chromatography system, an LC-MS instrument, inverted microscopes, an automated cell counter, and bioreactors. We also have support equipment including biological safety cabinets, air-displacement pipettes, tissue culture incubators, and bioreactors.

Describe your work environment.

I have my own private office. It has a desk, bookshelves, file cabinet, phone, desktop PC and printer. I have a small dorm-sized refrigerator and a microwave oven. There is a small whiteboard to jot ideas or notes on. There are a few chairs for guests to sit in and I have a window that overlooks the campus. I also have access to conference rooms when I need them.

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

The environment is relaxed—Montgomery College is a great place to work! I am, for the most part, independent with respect to developing curricula, including the lab exercises. We do not use a textbook because we are trying to be industry-relevant. I don't think about overtime—I work as long as I need to or want to in order to accomplish what needs to be done. Some weeks I probably work 60–80 hours and others maybe only 30 hours. Of course, I always have to meet my teaching obligations, but some weeks I spend more time than others on things like meetings, working on curriculum, or writing grants. When you enjoy your job you don't think about the hours, unless they become excessive on a constant basis.

What do you like most about your job?

I like that I am constantly learning new things in a pressure-free environment. I go to the local industries and find out from them what entry-level employees need to know. Then, I develop curricula to meet that need, write grants to get the equipment, and learn how to use the equipment. Finally, I teach this to the students, and then I help those who have learned these things successfully to get a job in biotech. The most rewarding part is seeing a student become successful!

What's your best productivity trick?

I try to meet people outside of my or their office when possible—it is usually easier to end the meeting.

I also list what needs to be done and prioritize it. Keep it short and reasonable, review it at the beginning of the day, just before lunch, and at the end when you are thinking about the next day.

Learn to delegate—especially when you have good people around you.

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

A friend once pointed out to me "they wouldn't offer you the job if they didn't think you could do it. Don't second-guess that. Once they hire you, you'll either learn on the job or they'll teach you." That turned out to be very true.

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

I've been told I can see "the big picture" and am able to form a bridge between academia and industry. I love to learn new things in science and to try to figure out ways to communicate what I learn to others.

One trait I believe makes me good at my current position was a bit of a liability when I was a research scientist at NIH. I like to know a little about lots of things and try to see how they all fit together, whereas in a true academic research position, one has to be very focused on a specific problem.

Is there anything else you would like to mention about your career?

Montgomery College is a two-year school that offers associate's degrees, but in our program, half the students already have a bachelor's or master's degree when they enter our program. They receive a certificate at the end of the program that shows an employer that they have hands-on experience in biotechnology. Industrial employers are much more interested in your skill set and the results you can produce than in your specific degree or the topic of your graduate research.

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

I search the internet for PowerPoint and PDF files on subject matter I need to know about. These often provide a good overview of the subject, and they provide key concepts and vocabulary terms, which makes searching the primary literature easier.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

Chemical & Engineering News: the quick synopsis of new research and business ventures is a great way to stay up to date. Usually what is succinctly highlighted in C&E News is also in Science and Nature, including the Nature Reviews journals.

How have you benefited from being an ACS member?

The networking has been very beneficial—networking is a key to success in any career, and professional organizations are very helpful in that regard.

 

I like that I am constantly learning new things in a pressure-free environment. I go to the local industries and find out from them what entry-level employees need to know."