Timothy Garrett Jr. | Chemist Profiles
When Tim graduate advisor moved his lab from Maryland to Albany, New York, Garrett was stuck. He had earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry and had done some graduate work, but he wasn’t keen to move to upstate New York. He never expected that his next steps would lead to a career in chocolate.
Garrett registered with a temp agency and was placed with Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate in Lititz, PA After six months, he was hired into a full time position. Garrett is now an instrumentation specialist running a small analytical lab using high-performance liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, atomic absorption spectroscopy, differential scanning calorimetry, phosphorus nuclear magnetic resonance, and several physical testing pieces of equipment.
Though his career path wasn’t what he expected—“I thought you either went to grad school or got a job in pharma!”—Garrett is finding his choice of chemistry career is pretty sweet.
What's a typical day on the job like?
I split my time about 75/25% between quality control and product development. For the quality department I do mostly routine testing to verify that our products meet our specifications. For the product development team, I aid in new chocolate formulations or method development on instrumentation to accommodate new products. In addition to this, I am currently working on a project to increase food safety discussions between our business and our suppliers and external manufacturers.
Are there any apps/software/instrumentation/tools that you can't live without?
I think the most important piece of equipment I use is the HPLC. While we typically only use it to investigate sugar profiles, ensuring that our sugar free products do not contain any contamination (sugar v. sugar alcohols) is very important from not only a quality prospective, but a food safety prospective as well. I am not sure if this fits in this category, but one thing in particular that Cargill is really great at is sharing knowledge between business units (BU). I am part of a multifunctional instrumentation team that can be used as a resource for troubleshooting, investigating new technology, or in a pinch running a sample for me if one of our instruments is down. For instance, our business was looking at using NIR technology to investigate fat, protein, and moisture content of our chocolate. I wasn’t too familiar with this technology, but Cargill Animal Nutrition has built a center of excellence around NIR and I was able to work with them to explore this technology and build preliminary models that our BU could use to inform our decision on pursuing this technology.
Describe your work environment.
The lab I work in is right outside the plant environment, which makes it easy to get the samples I need to test quickly. In the analytical lab where I spend most of my time we have the AA, HPLC, DSC, GC, 2 fume hoods one specialized for AA prep and another for common organic solvents, an oven, refrigerator, and sample prep bench. Everything just fits!
What’s your best productivity trick?
I think being organized is the most important part of my productivity. The tests I perform take varying amounts of time, so knowing what to expect for the day allows me to plan testing so that I can prep GC samples while HPLC samples are running or vice versa to minimize wait time. It is also very important to communicate with my supervisor and the production side of the business to understand their priorities and make them my own to ensure I am not a hindrance to production.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice I ever received was from my dad when I was just a kid, but it really stuck with me and I believe is very applicable to being a scientist. The first thing he told me was, “If you do it right the first time, you won’t have to do it again.” I use that guidance in the lab every day whether it’s not cutting corners to see that a test is preformed accurately; taking an extra minute to think about all the variables before performing an experiment; or something simple like making the proper notes in a lab notebook. Just keeping that in my mind helps me to do the job right the first time. The second bit of advice came when my dad was trying to help me shoot a better foul shot. He told me to, “Do it (the task) the same way each time, and then change one thing and see if that makes it (the outcome) better or worse on go on from there.” This resonates so well being an analytical chemist. The results that I generate would be worthless if I had a lot of uncontrolled variables, and to that end it would be impossible to know what variable elicited what response in the experiment.
Do you have any special talents or traits that make you a great fit for your job?
When I started my undergraduate career at Lebanon Valley College, I had aspirations of becoming a high school science teacher. While there I was invited to participate in their summer research program. Part of that program was presenting research at regional and national meetings both within and outside the ACS. I wanted to share these experiences with the high school students, but had to change the way I presented the work to fit into their understanding. Fast forward to present day where I am working in the analytical lab of a production facility, where product is made and developed, and then sold to customers. The communication skills I developed early on allow me to work with people from all different backgrounds in the business.
What essential habit do you have now that you wish you’d started much earlier?
As I mentioned above, I think having great communication skills is very important to being successful in the workplace. However, knowing that communication is not just me talking—but actively listening and engaging others—is something I wish I would have learned or championed more when I was younger.
What’s your favorite ACS resource?
I was fortunate enough to win one of the Young Chemist Committee’s Leadership Development Awards this year and was able to attend the ACS Leadership Institute in Dallas this past January. I was there in the Young Chemist Committee track, and was able to take two courses: a coaching and feedback course—how to be an effective coach in the workplace or even as a committee chair, how you can provide feedback in a way that’s helpful—and a course on developing effective communication strategies. It was a great experience. I was really happy to take part in it.
If you do it right the first time, you won’t have to do it again.”