How you found your first chemistry-related job:
After completing my Bachelor’s program, I worked for CH2M Hill for a year. I originally worked in the inorganic area, doing environmental testing such as graphite furnace, plasma, ACP, and iron chromatography involving metals and anions. Upon completion of my Master’s program, I was having difficulties finding a career in Forensic Chemistry due to budget concerns of most government agencies. I sought out my previous employer and was rehired in a new capacity, this time working on the organic side.
Primary job responsibilities:
As a project chemist, my major responsibility is solving chemistry-related issues for any projects that need assistance. This may involve reviewing analytical data for appropriateness, suggesting new analytical approaches, or anything in between. My lab is basically an in-house resource, which means that we often work as part of the team from the start of a project to its end.
Typical day on the job:
- Working directly with clients: 30%
- Reviewing data: 20%
- Meetings: 10%
- Writing reports: 10%
- Problem solving: 10%
- Planning work: 10%
- Performing analyses: 10%
I have the great fortune to work in a variety of environments. I spend a considerable amount of time at my desk/cubicle in an open floor plan office setting with several other chemists/scientists. Some of the time I spend in a full service environmental lab that is just feet away from my desk. And occasionally I am out of the office working either in the field or meeting with clients.
My desk includes your standard assortment of office equipment. The laboratory includes equipment to test just about any matrix you can imagine for a wide range of organic and inorganic analytes as well as a range of physical properties.
Occasionally, I (along with a significant team) have been called upon to create a laboratory in the field at remote locations.
I normally work about 45 hours each week. Overtime is encountered during our busier periods (typically the summer). As a consulting/testing laboratory, the environment is typically very fast paced.
1-5 days in a month.
Tools you can’t live without:
Basic word processing and spreadsheet operations form the basis for much of my current work. On the instrumentation side, I rely on a lot of standard scientific equipment, from the pH probe to GC/MS and ICP/MS, to generate the data I use.
What you like most about your job:
I most enjoy the people. As more than a standard commercial laboratory, we have a lot of very bright individuals on staff and throughout the rest of the company. The talents, skills, and general hospitality of the people I work with is amazing.
There’s also a great variety of work. I have the opportunity to develop or modify analytical methods, work with clients, and make contributions on a variety of international and domestic projects. For example, I’ve recently been doing lab design for a project — drawing out what the benches will look like, where the instruments will go, and working with electrical and mechanical engineers to design the electrical, and HVAC systems for new lab spaces.
Best productivity trick:
Turn off your email. Email in the background is a constant irritant and distraction. A second one would be to put your cell phone out of reach when you really need to concentrate.
Best career advice you’ve received:
Volunteer for new opportunities. You never know what opportunities you will end up getting to participate in if you just volunteer. Of course once you have raised your hand, you have to follow through.
Skills or talents that make you a good fit for your job:
Perseverance. I may be working on multiple complex projects simultaneously, and without the willingness and commitment to see them through, it would be chaos.
Essential habit you wish you’d started earlier:
Following the current state of the art in my field. I spend a little time each week looking at recent publications, papers, and trade magazines to attempt to stay up with new technologies, market directions, and trends. I also wish I had spent more time studying language (other than a few years of high school French). But I’m quickly trying to learn Spanish, so that I can be more useful in engaging with certain clients.
Favorite ACS resource:
National and regional meetings. I don't attend as many meetings as I would like; however, the meetings that I did attend have made a great impact on me, and I have benefitted from the networking and knowledge.
How you've benefited from being an ACS member:
ACS helps me to stay connected to the fundamental chemistry associated with my career.