Chemists in the Real World

Cynthia Bunders

 

Cynthia Bunders, Scientist IV


Cynthia Bunders earned her Ph.D. in 2012. After applying online to more than 20 companies, she found a position at The Coca-Cola Company.

Bunders’ work in the company’s Global Research and Development function has been focused on ingredient and packaging chemistry to enable a pipeline of science-based innovation.

A great deal of what Bunders does is proprietary work, so many details of her work can’t be shared. In general, she interacts with several teams on long- and short-term projects to execute solutions that relate to the current business needs at The Coca-Cola Company. She enjoys her position because it offers a variety of activities and pursuits, and challenges her to stay flexible and at the top of her game.

What's a typical day on the job like?

I spend about half my time actually running experiments, and another 10% seeking opportunities to contribute new ideas and experiments. A few of the types of experiments that I work on are ingredient quality, solubility, product stability, purification, intellectual property creation, synthesis, and structure elucidation. Another 20% of my time is spent writing reports for various purposes — including concise and comprehensive one-page summaries, technical lab experiment reports, and literature reviews on hot topics. Another 10% of my day is spent in meetings, in which participants can include scientists at various levels, as well as product developers, staff from Science and Regulatory Affairs and other divisions within the company. The main purpose of most of my meetings is to allow each function to leverage their knowledge and coordinate workflow so that the group can deliver and execute the goals of each project.  Another 10% of my time is spent managing contracts we have with outside research organizations.

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

I travel pretty rarely — maybe once or twice a year. I attend ACS meetings, and occasionally visit the facilities of partners that we’re doing research with. The last trip I took was to present at an ACS national meeting.

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

In terms of software, I use ChemDraw, Excel and Microsoft Outlook. In terms of instruments, I use LCMS, Refractometer, Rheometer, pH Meter, NMR, HPLC, Flash Chromatography System, and UV/Vis Spectrophotometer.

Describe your work environment.

I share an office with one other scientist. I have my own hood and bench top in one of our five lab spaces. All of our equipment is shared by the entire R&D community.

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

40-45 hours a week. Overtime is only required if there is a tight deadline. The environment at The Coca-Cola Company is based on what business needs must get done. So it varies based on the week and the project.

What do you like most about your job and why?

In Global Research and Development, our goal is to protect, sustain, and grow the business, which allows me to participate in a variety of different projects using my scientific skills. I work on three teams exploring a variety of different aspects of applied science. One of the teams I work on develops the pipeline of non-caloric sweeteners to expand the profile of beverages that The Coca-Cola Company can offer the consumer. In this group, I can play an important role as an organic chemist, identifying molecules and how they’re interacting.

What is your best productivity trick?

Making lists and following through on them. To achieve any goal, small steps must be taken each day.

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

First, always be ready to adapt and change. When I first started, I was doing research in a specific area for about six months — but then priorities shifted, and I was moved to a brand-new project. Being able to change and adapt when things are beyond your control, and having an open mind and getting excited about different types of projects definitely helps.

Second, never stop learning. In addition to reading CE&N every week, I also have a tradition every Friday of browsing all the ASAP articles in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and reading many that are interesting. This is a great way to stay on top of new chemistry. When I go to meetings, I try to get as much out of them as I can. For example, if I encounter topics I don’t understand, I try to later go back and learn more — whether it’s chemical engineering, microbiology, or some other unfamiliar field.

Third, good communication and network development are essential. In addition to being able to write clearly and concisely, writing emails is another important skill. One bit of advice I heard here is never send an email you wouldn’t want to receive. You also need to devote some time to building your network. For example, I participate in the YCC Women Chemists Committee, and recently got to give a presentation at the ACS meeting in Indianapolis. It was great to meet all the women involved and hear about their careers. Networking is especially important here at The Coca-Cola Company, because almost everything you do is going to be on a multi-functional team. The more people you know outside of your small group, the better

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

The main trait that makes me a great fit for my current position at The Coca-Cola Company is my ability to collaborate with others. Currently I’m a part of three teams that span a wide variety of functional areas. I also believe I have good communication skills, and can write for a variety of audiences clearly and concisely.

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

Keep an open mind when applying for jobs. Just because you studied in one area for a while doesn’t mean you’re not a great fit for another area of science. Going from graduate school to industry, I found that my Ph.D. lets me be a valuable asset, even though I’m now working as a separation scientist for a beverage company as opposed to a synthetic organic chemist in a drug discovery group, which was my focus in graduate school. One of the core takeaways from earning a Ph.D. is learning how to solve problems, no matter the particular area of chemistry.

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

I volunteer and sign up for more extra-curricular activities. Being involved helps me meet and develop a strong network. I recommend starting with things you like to do anyway; for example, I really enjoy basketball, and so I coach a basketball team as a volunteer. Whatever activity you choose to undertake, approach it as a chance to build your network, and hone your skills. All types of activities allow you to build your network, and put you in a position to explore new opportunities.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

I appreciate the ACS webinars series. They are a great way to keep learning and can help with career development.

How have you benefited from being an ACS member?

I read C&EN every week cover to cover. I really enjoy staying updated on the novel and hot topic areas of science.