Chemists in the Real World

Gwen Gross

 

Gwen Gross, Material, Process & Physics Engineer


Gwen Gross got her degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington. She was fortunate that Boeing (where she currently works) was part of a consortium there known as the Center for Process Analytical Chemistry, and this allowed her to become acquainted with her eventual hiring manager early in her Ph.D.

In her current role, she acts as an intermediary between Boeing’s material suppliers, engineers, and manufacturing shops to, “provide a chemist's perspective on materials, processes, and any emergent issues and also to work with the engineering community to help ensure proper chemical controls are in place so that consistent and quality products are used and produced.”

ACS is important to Gross because, she says, it “keeps me grounded in my discipline while working in a company that does not always ‘think’ chemistry!”

Gross is material, process & physics engineer at the Boeing Co.

What's a typical day on the job like?

I typically spend approximately 50% of my time in meetings dealing directly with development projects or chemical changes to materials. 20% of my time will be analyzing and summarizing test data to support manufacturing issues with an additional 5-10% of my time interfacing with the labs to assess, design, and execute the steps necessary to generate that data. An additional 10-20% of my time is spent dealing with emergent issues related to production which may include meetings, shop visits, data analysis, reports, etc. The remainder of my time is spent answering emails, dealing with work-related tasks such as travel, training, etc.

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

My job would be infinitely harder without an ATR-FTIR and the PLS Toolbox for chemometrics. Attenuated total reflectance (ATR) is a sampling interface for mid-IR spectroscopy that allows for a sample (solid or liquid) to be analyzed without any additional sample prep. It is less sensitive to surface reflection than some of the reflective FTIR measurements that also do not require sample prep.

For shop issues I'm particularly fond of the lab's portable ATR-FTIR and a good piece of sterate-free sand paper (it acts like a KBr pellet for those hard to reach places).

Describe your work environment.

I'm mostly in a cubicle farm but get to "escape" to both a typical chemical lab as well as the production floor at least once a week. The production environment can be everything from a composites clean room for laying up parts all the way through final assembly of an airplane.

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

The time commitment is variable depending upon production schedules both for our shops as well as for our suppliers. We interface regularly with locations around the world so mornings can be early and evenings can run late depending on who you're on the phone with.

What is your best productivity trick?

Calendars. I keep my work calendar and my personal calendar up to date at all times. My sister lives with us (recession household), and keeping 3 working adults plus 1 child all on the same page is a feat of gargantuan proportions!

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

You can always change. Give whatever it is a year (grad school, a new job, a new position, a new desk) and if you're still miserable, move on. But, you're probably going to be miserable that first 6 months or so. Also, the people make the job. Projects and assignments come and go, but the team of people you work with will make or break your happiness at work. So far these have held true for me.

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

I've been told that I am a good "translator" for difficult ideas (chemistry) to an audience that may not have a strong chemical background. I put this down to being stubborn—I want to understand what's going on and if I can get it, then I can explain it to someone else! Persistent would probably be a more flattering term but being one of very few chemists in a large engineering company sometimes makes it feel more like stubbornness!

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

I'm not sure I've got that essential habit yet! Organization is key but the clutter always comes back, the mailbox always gets overly full, and the dishes always pile up again! So, I work at it but I wouldn't say I've got the perfect habit just yet!

What is your favorite ACS resource?

I love the classes and short courses. They help keep me fresh and up to date. The fact that they are often in conjunction with a conference is a nice leverage point for training requests.