Chemists in the Real World

Ruth Hathaway



Ruth Hathaway, Environmental Chemist


Ruth Hathaway didn’t set out to become an environmental sciences consultant. However, over the course of her 35-year career, she built not only a deep understanding of environmental legal and regulatory issues that affect industry, but a continually expanding network of associates and colleagues in industry and government — two assets that allowed her to grow and maintain a thriving consultancy.

While pursuing her B.S. degree, Hathaway had two useful undergrad research experiences. Her research on sickle cell anemia led to a summer internship at a hospital, which gave her insight into her love for medicine. The following year she did research on vitamins A and D in food, which showed her that she really enjoyed doing research. She had planned to be a pathologist, but couldn’t afford medical school — so instead, she began graduate school in the field of medicinal chemistry. She left grad school after a year, married and moved to California with her husband.

Throughout her career, Hathaway practiced the art of networking, attending ACS local section meetings and getting involved on committees. In the process, she built an ever-expanding network of associates and colleagues that eventually included some of the legends of chemistry. Her networking also helped her find a series of jobs — at Harvey Medical College in Chicago, a reclamation company, a manufacturer of transformers, and others. Eventually, she established her own highly successful firm focused on environmental consulting.

What is your major responsibility as an environmental chemist?

I am retired now, but previously, I ran my own environmental consulting firm. My clients were primarily in industry, and I advised and consulted on a variety of environmental regulatory issues, assisted with depositions in court cases, and other services. I remain active in chemistry, however, including serving as chair of my ACS local section in southeast Missouri.

What's a typical day on the job like?

Before I retired, I spent about 50% of my time managing people, 20% writing reports and talking to clients, 10% in meetings, 10% marketing, and 10% organizing activities.

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

It was usually more than 15 days per month. Most of my clients were not located in my area, so I travelled close to 300 days a year. Often my work was related to court cases, and I would spend a week or two on location, working on pretrial activities, depositions, and so on. I also travelled a fair amount in my work with ACS. Over the years, I served on a variety of different committees and a task force, not to mention attending national and regional meetings. It all added up to a lot of travel!

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

I worked 60 plus hours in a usually fast-paced environment.

What did you like most about your job and why?

Solving problems — because at the end of the day, I felt like I had accomplished something.

What is your best productivity trick?

Have a priority list and stay focused.

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

To set a price for my work (hourly rate) — never reduce it and never apologize for the price.

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

Being able to administrate.

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

I enjoyed 95% of my work career — including from when I started out working in a lab, to being a manager, director, and eventually starting and running my own company.

One thing I learned over the years is that I didn’t always need to have all the answers myself. Although I strengthened my credentials by joining the National Registry of Certified Chemists and becoming certified as an Environmental Analytical Chemist, sometimes it was just as important to know the right person to call. For example, thanks to my networking, at one time I knew every director within the water, testing, and quality control divisions at EPA. When working with regulatory affairs clients, I could often call people I knew fairly well to get insight into a certain law or regulation.

What was your favorite ACS resource?

National meetings. They are a great way to get to know people personally, especially at the divisional meetings within the national meeting framework.

How have you benefited from being an ACS member?

Networking. When I started out, I was very shy, and it was less intimidating working on committees, where I got to know people a few at a time. From there, my network expanded naturally, in concentric circles. One person would introduce me to one of their colleagues, who later helped me connect with their own colleagues. I eventually met some amazing people — including the Nobel Chemist Glenn Seaborg and his wife, several other Nobel Laureates, past and future presidents of ACS, and many others. I never set out to meet all these people; it just happened. I’ve truly been truly blessed!