Chemists in the Real World

Justin Steve

 

Justin Steve, HPLC Technical Specialist

Tosoh Bioscience, LLC
M.S., Analytical Chemistry

 



Justin Steve's career has been an evolutionary process, as he pursues his interests and develops his talents. For the past year, he has worked for Tosoh Bioscience, LLC (King of Prussia, PA). He is in charge of developing novel applications and troubleshooting customers' problems, using HPLC to separate and purify complex biomolecules. Tosoh provides liquid chromatography instrumentation, columns, media, and other supplies for separating and purifying biological compounds.

While working on his bachelor's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Steve was approached by a pharmaceutical company, but he turned down their offer of a job. Instead, he accepted a job offer from another major pharmaceutical company after attending one of their mass interview events. He realized that he wanted to do more R&D-oriented work, so he left to take a job with another company. In 2011, while he was working for this company, he completed his master's degree at Villanova University.

Steve developed an interest in polymers, so he moved on to a position at a major chemical manufacturing company. While he was working there, a staffing agency found his resume online, and contacted him about interviewing with their client, Tosoh. "I believe that you can only benefit from gaining more interview experience, I took the interview with Tosoh," Steve said. "When I was offered the job, I realized I was able to negotiate a bit, as I was currently in a good position at the time. This allowed me to ask Tosoh for better benefits and pay relative to what I had been earning. They met my every request, and naturally I accepted the position."

What's a typical day on the job like?

Typically, I find myself in working at the bench about 80% of the day. Usually this means I'm working on developing a new method, optimizing an existing method, or looking into a customer problem that was received by our technical support line. The other 20% of my day primarily consists of literature searching to assist in the method development process, working on reports or presentations, or designing my next project to promote our products.

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

1–5 days

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

As a chromatographer, my HPLC instruments are vital to my work. The Chromatographic Data Software (CDS) is necessary to interpret the data and analyze results. Additionally, I use Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint extensively for reports and presentations on a daily basis.

Describe your work environment.

Tosoh has a relatively small operation in the U.S., so my office environment is very collegial and open. Most of us have our own cubicles, which allow for adequate privacy and solitude to focus on the project at hand. At Tosoh, I also have my own lab, complete with four HPLC instruments, and a variety of other less sophisticated tools (including UV/Vis spectrometer, pH meters, gel electrophoresis systems), all of which are relatively new and in good condition. A perk of my work at Tosoh is that I have the opportunity to present my current research at many of the trade shows and conferences throughout America. This allows me to interact with others in my field, as well as see the many interesting cities in the USA.

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

I work roughly a 40-hour work week. Occasionally, if problems arise, I may need to stay late a day to remedy a situation. On the other hand, some situations allow for me to leave a bit early if needed.  The work environment is extremely relaxed, without the pressures that are often present in larger corporations.

What do you like most about your job?

I really enjoy the flexibility I have to develop chromatographic applications that are in line with my own interests, as well as help promote our products for the good of the company. The freedom and responsibility I have here is far greater than what I have experienced with my previous employers, which were considerably larger in size.

What is your best productivity trick?

Many people think multi-tasking is the key to efficiency, but in reality it tends to slow you down in the long run. My trick to increase my productivity is careful planning on the front end. If my experiments are properly planned, I am able to stagger the various stages of the project that are more demanding, allowing for a more thorough utilization of my time.

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

Network with others and never stop learning. At every position I have held since graduation, I have worked extremely hard to make myself visible to others in various areas of the company, and to learn about as many aspects of the processes as possible. Although not all of my career moves have been truly enjoyable, I have yet to find a position where I can say that I have not been able to take anything useful away from the experience, and every experience has given me the opportunity to become a far better scientist than I could have ever grown into without the help of others.

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

I am a very easygoing person. I rarely show signs of stress and almost never work at a frantic pace. I believe my calm and light demeanor allows my co-workers to operate at a calmer plane, and realize that in the end, our work is important, but no one's life is on the line if a mistake happens.

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

I have been a relatively transient employee since I have graduated. I decided long ago that I would leave any position on my own terms if I felt that the opportunity for growth or learning was limited, and I have done just that. I took my first job out of school based purely on the offered salary, and it turned out to be a very rough experience for me. From that point, I took a considerable pay cut to enter the field of work that was of interest to me. Before long, the money was no longer an issue as my pay began to increase. Now, I have landed a position that allows me to do exactly what I am interested in, share my work with others, travel a bit while still being able to be with my family, and make more than I have ever made in the past. You must choose your career based on what is of interest to you, and make all the other aspects of the job secondary.

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

Confidence in my work is something that has progressively grown through my career. When you leave academia, you really do not have a feel for the level of work you are producing relative to what is common in industry. Academic basic research and industrial applied research operate in considerably different fashions. As I have moved through various companies, it became apparent to me that I am actually a skilled chromatographer, and I can offer more to a company than I was willing to admit when I first came out of school.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

For me, the ACS collection of journals is always helpful for my work. The literature found within the journals is always stimulating, as well.

How have you benefited from being an ACS member?

I most enjoy the member-discounted registration fees to attend the ACS national meetings, which in turn leads to greater benefit of meeting some of the leading researchers in the field and discussing current interest and work on a much more personal level.

Network with others and never stop learning. At every position I have held since graduation, I have worked extremely hard to make myself visible to others in various areas of the company, and to learn about as many aspects of the processes as possible."