Maxwell Kushner-Lenhoff | Chemists in the Real World
As an undergraduate at Yale University, Maxwell Kushner-Lenhoff had the opportunity to earn both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in inorganic chemistry in four years. After a Harvey Mudd Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in physical chemistry his sophomore summer, Kushner-Lenhoff received an NSF travel grant to present a poster at his first national ACS meeting. The second semester of his sophomore year, he started research in an inorganic chemistry lab, focusing on renewable energy catalysis. Later, as an SCI Scholar and as president of the Yale ACS student chapter, he was awarded travel grants from Nalco and ACS, which he used to present research at the following two ACS Spring National Meetings.
At one meeting, Kushner-Lenhoff had the opportunity to speak with former ACS president and Dow employee Katie Hunt at a Chemical Professionals Meet-and-Greet for students. “We spoke about my interest in trying to find a science-related job outside of R&D, and she encouraged me to consider Dow, although she could not off the top of her mind recommend any specific positions,” Kushner-Lenhoff remembers.
“I enjoyed the lab work”, Kushner-Lenhoff says, “but I found that that was not my favorite part of what I was doing…One of the beautiful things about research is that you can focus on one problem and follow it through, but I like changing things up a bit, winding up with slightly different problems to work on.”
For Kushner-Lenhoff, the turning point came during an “Oratory and Statecraft” seminar at Yale. Thanks to a recommendation from an alumnus of the course, Kushner-Lenhoff found a position at Dow, tackling activities across the communications spectrum from research to writing, public relations and promotion, in his work as a Communications Manager at the The Dow Chemical Company.
The most rewarding part of his job now is being part of a team that supports the most senior leaders of a company that, “is truly making a difference in the world,” Kushner-Lenhoff says. “When people hear that I was the coordinator for the environmental advocacy organization at Yale, they are sometimes surprised at the transition. The truth is that technological advancements and political buy-in from companies like Dow are absolutely necessary if we are going to find the solutions to the challenges facing our planet. Dow's Collaboration with the Nature Conservancy is a case in point.”
What's a typical day on the job like?
A good part of my time, around 50%, is spent on research—online searches, reading news and white papers and engaging with experts so that I can stay up to date on trends, analysis and of course, all of Dow’s diverse businesses and technologies. As to the rest, 30% of my time is writing, 10% is meetings, and 10% is miscellaneous projects.
This time break-down is somewhat misleading because so much of good writing is dependent on proper research and finding the right connections. One of the most enjoyable parts of my role is to engage with Dow’s internal Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Whether in R&D, business, sustainability, diversity or government affairs, these SME’s are extremely knowledgeable and are very open and friendly. They have proven invaluable to getting the facts and the story right. With facts in hand, it is off to outlining and writing.
The environment is fairly high-pressure and fast paced. Working for a global corporation means that we engage with people across many different time zones, so often, my hours do not meet a standard 9-5, Monday to Friday work week. Time management is key, and can be a challenge. We try to anticipate everything that will be required to support events and activities, but breaking news can drive last-minute asks and research. In those moments, it helps to have come from an academic background where I honed my ability to deliver on a deadline and under pressure. The work is rewarding, but that does not mean it is easy.
Describe your work environment.
I could not ask for a better work environment. One of the perks of my job is the office where I overlook the streets of midtown Manhattan. I have plenty of desk space to spread out my writing materials alongside my laptop and an additional monitor, which helps with editing multiple documents at the same time.
Although I have my own office, virtually every project I touch is a team effort. It keeps all of us at the top of our game, because we know that others on the team will be taking a close look at our work once we have finished with it. We collaborate over the telephone, over email and using Dow’s internal instant messenger service.
New York is a small satellite office for Dow. While our team here is small, what we lack in size, we make up for in spirit. It is certainly somewhere I look forward to visiting each morning.
What’s your best productivity trick?
Drinking tea is a strategy that usually seems to work. If I am ever having writer’s block, I just go down the hall and warm up a cup. I do not know if it’s the tea itself or the walk around the office, but this routine always seems to make for a more productive time, whether during the morning or afternoon.
What’s the best advice you have received?
Growing up, my mother encouraged a student mentality in my brother and me: the idea that no matter who we were talking to or what we were doing, we could always learn something. Taking this advice to heart helps me stay constantly focused on growth and improvement.
Do you have any special talents or traits that make you a great fit for your job?
I love listening to people tell their favorite stories. Luckily, it just so happens that those narratives very often make for the most engaging proof points that I can incorporate into my research and writing.
What essential habit do you have now that you wish you’d started much earlier?
Researching a person’s title and background before I meet them helps me go into the room better-prepared and with more directed and poignant questions. All of these factors make for a more productive meeting.
What’s your favorite ACS resource?
Chemical & Engineering News magazine. I try to read it every week to find out about recent academic discoveries and what is going on in the industry, including stories about Dow!
Researching a person’s title and background before I meet them helps me go into the room better-prepared and with more directed and poignant questions."