Typical day on the job:
On average I spend 10% of my time in meetings, 10% in the lab and another 10% directing the work of technicians. The rest of my time is spent responding to internal customer inquiries, investigating product quality issues, researching new areas of fuel chemistry and documenting our findings. I also travel to our six North American refineries and professional development events such as training courses and national meetings.
Our group is composed of PhD chemists and senior staff that initiate and manage research projects. As part of this, we work closely with MS chemists that are responsible for instrumentation. We also direct the work of research technicians. We have a team lead that supervises all chemists and technicians.
I work mostly in an office with labs across the hall. I have my own office with a sit/stand desk and chairs for visitors. My coworkers are very good about asking questions in person. With my colleagues from other sites, we normally talk on the phone.
I typically work 40 hours, although I work a compressed schedule so that I get every other Friday off. When we have a major product quality investigation, things can get pretty busy. There are also slower times when we can work on long range research projects.
Tools you can’t live without:
I use my computer to view and analyze data, prepare reports and access databases like SciFinder. We also have a lot of shared documents that are updated regularly like SOPs, and we use SharePoint to manage versioning. Everything we do requires the Chevron network. I have a company phone that allows me to access company email, calendars and intranet sites on the go. United is one of our preferred airlines, so having the United app on my phone makes travel much simpler. Also, the travel agency app Concur helps keep my itineraries in one place.
Best productivity trick:
I keep a notebook where I write down all of my ideas for experiments. This is a great resource, especially as priorities change, because it allows me to go back and see what I was thinking when I have time to resume a previous project. I also utilize the Outlook Tasks function. I can easily flag an email as something to do or generate new items. This keeps all things in one place.
Best career advice you’ve received:
My Ph.D. advisor John Bercaw always used to say “It’s your thesis” when discussing projects with his graduate students. This definitely applies to careers as well. It is important to do some soul-searching to find out what is important to you in a career. What job will make you want to get out of bed every day and spend a third of your time doing? Sometimes you need to get experience in a few different areas so that you can clarify career goals. This can be internships (I worked in pharma at Cephalon for one summer, at the University of Rochester for one summer and at Rohm & Hass for two summers) or jobs (I left my job at UVA when I realized that it wasn’t the direction that I wanted for my career).
Skills or talents that make you a good fit for your job:
In my job, I communicate with all sorts of people: process engineers at the refinery, external vendors, chemists in the analytical department and business people. It is important for me to know how to communicate with everyone. As chemists we explain our data to draw conclusions. It is important that the data and the conclusion match the audience that you are trying to reach. Throughout my career I have worked hard to maintain excellence as an oral and written communicator. I use these skills almost daily, especially on conference calls and when preparing reports.
Essential habit you wish you’d started earlier:
In graduate school I would design experiments and then usually tweak the procedure as I was actually performing the task. When others depend on you to develop new procedures, it is essential that you write down the procedure so that someone else can replicate it. I am now much more methodical about writing SOPs.
Favorite ACS resource:
I regularly read Chemical & Engineering News to keep up on new developments in chemistry. I also consult ACS journals when researching new topics. During my job search I found the ACS career resources invaluable.