Chemists in the Real World

Leah Nemetz



Leah Nemetz, Special Agent

U. S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Master's Biology/Chemistry


Leah Nemetz knows firsthand that chemists don’t belong only behind a bench. Nemetz earned undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry before perusing her Master’s degree in pharmacology and toxicology.  Immediately after college, Nemetz started a laboratory rotation at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

But she was looking for a career change. She applied online for a position with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Upon the FBI’s interest in having me as a candidate, they called me into their office to conduct what they term Phase I testing,” Nemetz recalls. “Upon passing Phase I, I was informed that I would be scheduled to go to Phase II testing which was a panel interview of three agents.  Upon passing a written and oral interview at Phase II, then the FBI conducted a background investigation, medical clearance, physical fitness readiness test, and other typical federal government parameters.  After all those tests came back completed, then I was given a date to attend the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Ten years later, Nemetz is a Special Agent with the FBI.

What's a typical day on the job like?

There is no typical day on the job as an FBI agent.  Each day of the week can differ on how much of my time is spent doing various investigative processes.  Some days I'm on the road all day interviewing witnesses or conducting surveillance.  Other days, I can be at my desk analyzing data or typing reports.  There are days that are completely devoted to training for Evidence Response Team.  My weeks can consist of any of the following investigative steps: testifying in federal court (trial or grand jury); executing a search warrant; gathering evidence (physical or electronic); source meetings; interviewing witnesses; arresting subjects; investigative meetings; data analysis; documentation/paperwork; or traveling for meetings.

What apps/software/instrumentation/tools can't you live without?

My cell phone (Blackberry).  The internet.  Email.

Describe your work environment.

My work environment can change depending on what is on my schedule for the day.  If I am working at my desk, then I have a desk in an open cubicle area where I can discuss ideas with my coworkers.  I also spend a lot of time at the federal courthouse working with Assistant United States Attorneys to proceed in criminal prosecution of my case.  I can spend a lot of time in my car traveling to businesses and homes to interview witnesses or conducting surveillance.  I spend time at local police departments working joint investigations.  I also spend time outdoors, in the elements.  I also spend time in other people's houses and businesses when executing search warrants.

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

As a Special Agent, my salary is based on 50 work hours a week, that includes the mandatory 10 hours a week of overtime and the understanding that this job requires you to be responsive and available 24 hours a day/7days a week/365 days a year if needed.  I routinely end up putting in 2-10 more hours per week during off-peak hours.

What is your best productivity trick?

Do not procrastinate, and think ahead to what I will need later and be prepared. Keep things organized. I always write notes to myself so I know where my thought process is headed.

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

It may have been more of a life advice: Don't grow a wishbone where your backbone ought to be. (Clementine Paddleford penned it)

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

I wish that I had started working out in the morning much earlier in life so that I could have accomplished and done so much more.