Chemists in the Real World

Sarah McIntyre



Sarah McIntyre, Materials Scientist

Sandia National Laboratories
B.S., Chemistry; M.S., Materials Science


Sarah McIntyre joined Sandia National Laboratories as an undergraduate. A classmate was already an intern at Sandia and suggested McIntyre look into the student internship. When she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, she was offered a full-time position at Sandia as a technician. After four years as a technologist (Sandia lingo for “technician”), McIntyre says, she began her master’s program while still working full time. “A few months prior to completing my MS, I was promoted to the staff scientist position I currently hold, and I've been in this job for just over a year and a half.”

An ACS member since her undergraduate program, today McIntyre takes advantage of the professional development opportunities offered to members, and serves as the PR chair for the Central New Mexico Local Section. “I recently attended the Sparkle workshop,” she said, “which was a great opportunity, not only as the PR chair, but as a working professional. I learned a lot of great things about how to make chemistry more accessible to non-chemists.”

McIntyre is a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories.

What's a typical day on the job like?

There's really no such thing as a typical day on the job for me! I specialize in materials characterization in a group that uses a wide array of materials on a day to day basis. When a colleague is using a new material, I may be asked to characterize it. If a colleague is having a problem with an existing material, I might be asked to analyze it in order to determine the origin of the problem. I spend a substantial amount of time (50-75%) analyzing data, and discussing the results with my colleagues via meetings, or written reports. My instrumentation is highly automated, so I don't spend as much time in the lab. The time I do spend in the lab typically involves preparing samples for analysis, and then setting up the analysis. I'm also involved in mentoring.

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

I can't live without my x-ray photoelectron spectrometer and its associated software!

Describe your work environment.

My office space is in a cubicle, in a "cube farm" area with the rest of my immediate coworkers. Although the cube farm tends to lack on the privacy side, it provides excellent opportunities for collaborative sharing of information when we hear each other chatting with others about various projects, etc. I also have a laboratory, which I share with one other person. We have a few shared spectrometers, with our own workspaces in the lab.

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

For the most part, things are pretty relaxed, and I basically work 40-44 hours per week. However, occasionally we'll get hit with a busy week or an extremely high-priority project that requires 50-60 hours in the week to finish.

What is your best productivity trick?

Making lists!! Every morning, I make a list of what I need to accomplish that day—it's easy to track things as I cross them off the list throughout the day, and also lets me visually track my progress and feel good about getting stuff done!

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

Good things come to those who work hard to improve their skills and patiently seek out new opportunities.

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

Although I truly value all of the technical training and academic work I've completed, I think the personal talent that makes me a great fit for my job is actually my communication skills. As a materials scientist specializing in materials characterization, I see a wide array of materials, and work with many different people on a day-to-day basis. It is important for me to be able to build strong, trust-based relationships with my colleagues, and to be able to communicate the results of my analyses to them in a manner that is clear and easily understood.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

ACS publications. From journals to C&EN—I try to stay engaged in the current state of the chemical sciences, and ACS publications are a fantastic resource.