Chemists in the Real World

Owen Compton


Owen Compton, Research Investigator

“Industrial chemistry is a fast paced career that is challenging but rewarding to know that your research efforts truly solve the problems of consumers,” says Owen Compton.

For Compton, a scientist at DuPont, this means researching everything from industrial materials to agriculture applications. Compton joined DuPont after his post doc, where he enjoys the wide variety of research topics available to him and the flexibility to investigate those topics he finds most interesting.

He credits ACS with offering the opportunity to improve his presentation skills and appreciates the broad world of chemistry research.

What's a typical day on the job like?

I am a principal investigator responsible for running a laboratory and advancing the professional growth of the associate investigator that works with me. I spend the majority of my time developing experiments for my team to run, coming up with innovative lines of research, and preparing reports or presentations to communicate our findings to colleagues and key stakeholders.  My day also typically involves attending research group meetings and seminars, which provide a venue for idea sharing and collaboration that motivates me to be a better scientist. 

I typically run a few experiments in my laboratory, especially in the early stages of development to confirm the protocol.  My team performs a wide variety of research investigations including materials processing and fabrication of industrial objects, synthesis and analysis of polymers, and development of assays for the presence of active ingredients.

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

I rely on Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Minitab for data analysis and presentations. I also use AT&T connect for teleconferencing with colleagues in Europe and Asia. In the laboratory, my team is dependent on our Dynamic Mechanical Analyzer and Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometer to generate data. The expertise that my colleagues at DuPont provide for these techniques truly accelerates our research pace and facilitates better understanding of our results.

Describe your work environment.

My work environment is friendly, engaging, and highly collaborative. While my colleagues and I all strive to succeed on a personal level by patenting new inventions and commercializing the projects we work on, there is a stronger drive to generate innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as the increased need for food, energy, and protection. We freely share idea and we are encouraged to investigate new approaches to solving these problems.

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

DuPont provides flexible work hours, so I can manage my own time, as needed, to accomplish project goals. I typically work 40-50 hours a week. Some late nights are required along with some occasional work on the weekend. The environment varies based upon the progress of the research program.

What is your best productivity trick?

The best trick I have is to think before I experiment. I can save hours by considering the utility of an experiment for a few minutes. Using appropriate controls and choosing optimal conditions avoids wasted time on pointless experiments.

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

Broaden your knowledge base, but remain a specialist in your field. The constant expansion of business requires that you be able to communicate knowledgeably in a wide variety of topics, but you will gain the most respect by being a world-class researcher in a specific subject.

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

My flexibility and positive attitude are essential in navigating the constantly changing expectations of customers. Industrial chemistry requires you to avoid frustration in the laboratory when research targets shift and instead focus on alternative approaches to meet redefined goals.

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

Properly communicating my research, so as not to overstate (or understate) my results. Phrases like "this strongly suggests" or "this may contribute to" prevents you from stating possible inaccuracies to your audience, but clearly conveys the trend of the data.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

I appreciate the journal access and find it most interesting and enlightening to browse the ASAP articles for the most up-to-date research.