Chemists in the Real World



Linda Roettger, Director of Alumni Relations

Valparaiso University
M.S., Organic Chemistry, 1977


Linda Roettger’s diverse career began in academia, moved to international marketing of scientific instrumentation products, and eventually returned to the world of academia.

After earning her first masters degree, focused on stop-flow kinetics studies of oxidation reactions of organometallics, she taught college chemistry for several years. Later, she transitioned into the world of scientific instrumentation manufacturing, where she had some early success in international sales. Soon she was offered a promotion into sales and marketing management, a role for which she found she had a strong affinity. Her career progressed through sales and marketing positions with several companies, and eventually she was overseeing sales staffs with representatives around the world.

After a long career in industrial sales and marketing, in 2012 Roettger made another transition, accepting a position in charge of alumni relations at the institution where she launched her career.

How did you find your first chemistry-related job after you graduated from college?

I worked in the Special Chemistry Department at Smith Kline Clinical Laboratory the summer between undergraduate and graduate school. I found the opening through a family friend who worked there.

What is your major responsibility in your current position?

My job is to build affinity with Valparaiso University and its alumni of all ages. My team develops both on- and off-campus programming for alumni, parents and friends to enjoy and we develop appropriate communications plans to reach all of our alumni demographics. When I first heard about this job, it seemed like an ideal transition to retirement, meeting my financial needs, and at the same time allowing me to give back to an institution that had helped me get my own career off to a great start. My work is interesting and personally rewarding, and I enjoy the idea of having a ‘bookend’ to my career, working again in academia, although in a very different capacity.

What's a typical day on the job like?

My typical ‘experiments’ these days are based on designing events of interest to alumni with affordable price points. I then wait to see how many people will attend. Approximately 25% of my time is spent on event planning and analysis. Approximately 20% is spent managing people, 20% in meetings and 20% travel. The final 15% is on spent writing reports and other correspondence.

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

I spend 6-10 days a month traveling to other cities in our local region, and in other parts of the country. I go to meet and greet alumni, help with logistics around events, and generally help the alumni groups establish themselves.

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

Microsoft Office Suite; also, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Describe your work environment.

I work 50 to 60 hours per week, including time spent on events taking place on weekends and evenings. After a 35-year business career, this work environment is much more relaxed.

What do you like most about your job and why?

I am able to use my talents and time giving back to a university that developed many aspects of my character that allowed me to enjoy a very successful career in international business. I have held internationally-scoped positions in sales, product marketing and marketing communications for Millipore, Thermo Electron and most recently Agilent Technologies.

What is your best productivity trick?

Every day I analyze my to-do list for the next day. I prioritize what must be done and make decisions on what can fall off the list completely.

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

Listen twice as much as you talk. This is particularly important in sales roles, where you need to gain a clear understanding of a customer’s needs or problems before you can explain how your products or services could solve them.

The other great advice I received was to always volunteer to take on the really messy and difficult projects that no one else wants to touch. Successful completion of such projects provides enormous corporate visibility, and that leads to promotion. Also, in the process of completing hard assignments, one can develop and polish many new skills for future use.

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

I was raised to think and do research as a chemist, with a mathematical mindset. Over my career, I found that I could analyze problems very rapidly, identifying and prioritizing the most important variables. While I’m highly analytic by nature, I’ve also acquired a degree of intuition, based on my education and career experience.

In addition, being educated as a chemist makes one very good at multi-variant analysis, and when you get into business decision-making, you need to understand the variables and their relevant importance in the situation in which you find yourself. Weigh the information that you have and make a decision.

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

My overseas study experience in Cambridge on Valpo's overseas study program allowed me to travel all of Europe on a Eurorail pass. When asked if I could travel alone for my first sales job with Millipore, I could answer with examples from my months traveling on my own throughout Europe. 

In addition, my career started in the ‘70s, and there were many occasions where I was the very first woman to be in the managerial positions that I attained. I often felt like a pioneer as I traveled the corporate pathway, but was also very fortunate to find terrific mentors along the way.

I think attitudes about gender have largely improved since then — although there still can be jealousy when someone gets a promotion (whether they’re a man or woman). You can’t change that, however, so it’s smarter to just come in every day and focus on the most important things that you can control, whether it’s building your team, meeting deadlines, or improving the bottom line for the corporation.

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

Not taking myself too seriously, and making more time to enjoy life by slowing down the pace a bit.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

I have read C&EN for years, and it always gives me the feeling that there is not a problem on earth that cannot be solved by a team of the right scientists and engineers.

How have you benefited from being an ACS member?

I’ve been involved with various ACS committees over the years, and found it was an effective way to build my network. It also often helped me find people I might want to hire — especially people who showed leadership capabilities in doing committee work.

Listen twice as much as you talk. This is particularly important in sales roles, where you need to gain a clear understanding of a customer’s needs or problems before you can explain how your products or services could solve them."