Chemists in the Real World

Gregory Tew



Gregory Tew, Senior R&D Lab Chemical Technologist

University of Massachusetts Amherst
Ph.D., Materials Chemistry


Gregory Tew has been a professor of polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for 13 years. He leads a research group that focuses on synthesizing polymers that interact with biological systems, for use with medical applications. Specifically, they study polymers that affect the human immune system, for use with new vaccines and improving the body's acceptance of medical implants and transplant organs. One of Tew's big projects is an investigation of polymers that can trigger immune responses to fight cancer cells.

His graduate studies focused on materials chemistry, specifically, self-assembly, a process where surfaces, chemical conditions, or other factors induce molecules to come together in specific arrangements and formations. After a one-year postdoctoral fellowship, he found his current position by scouring the job postings in Chemical and Engineering News and other scientific publications.

Today, he runs a research laboratory, where he supervises a group consisting of 10–15 Ph.D. candidates, post-doctoral fellows, and undergraduates. He also teaches classes, and he currently serves as the graduate program director for his department.

What's a typical day on the job like?

As an academic, "typical" days vary ― one day I teach class, which involves lecturing, preparing for lecture, and interacting with the students in class. On another day, I may be attending a professional meeting out of town. I have routine meetings with my students (1–4 hours per day). I no longer conduct experiments myself, but I manage students and postdocs who perform the experiments. This includes a lot of mentoring, as well as applying for grants to keep everything funded. I also attend routine meetings related to administration of the department and university.

I am away from my workplace on travel from one to five days a month, on average. This may be as a guest lecturer at other universities, or visiting companies that are interested in my research. I attend several international, national and regional meetings, including Gordon Conferences and ACS meetings.

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

I depend on my mobile phone, which has email capabilities. I have a laptop with all the resources for email, editing and developing papers, and PowerPoint. Our lab is equipped with a variety of instruments, mostly what you would expect to find in a typical polymer synthesis lab.

Describe your work environment.

I work in an office, which I do not share with anyone. It has a computer, seated desk, and standing desk. I am often in a meeting with three or more people, and this may happen in my office, a conference room on campus, another office, or a coffee shop.

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

I work about 60 hours a week ― long hours are required. Email tends to be more or less 24 hours a day except when I am sleeping or on a plane (I still am unplugged on the plane).

What do you like most about your job and why?

The freedom to set my own schedule and pursue projects that interest me are benefits that I get in return for the hard work and long hours. Except for meetings and classes, I can pretty much decide how I use my time. My research focuses on what I'm passionate about. I do have to bring in funding by showing others the relevance of our work, but I believe in the relevance and importance of what my group and I are working on, and this helps me make a persuasive case for our work.

I especially enjoy working with students and colleagues, mentoring, and thinking about science.

What is your best productivity trick?

I make well-defined to-do lists. And I actually shut down the email sometimes.

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

I have had tremendous mentorship, and for that I am deeply grateful. Good mentorship is the best advice. When I was a student, I sought out a variety of mentors. Each one excelled at something different, so I learned different things from each one. I realized that it's my career, so I had to take the initiative to find people who could teach me.

What personal talent or trait makes you a great fit for your job?

I am a self-starter, I’m driven, and passionate about what I do.

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

Time management ― I could work 100 hours a week and there would still be things to do. I had to learn to set priorities and make sure that the most important things get done. I also had to learn not to spend an excessive amount of time trying to achieve perfection on any one thing while letting other important things go undone. My do-list is my responsibility.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

Involvement in the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry, Inc. has been essential for my career. The division is a vibrant and tremendously supportive community. It also provides an engaged and interactive approach to the broader ACS community.