Look for Ways to Give Back to the Profession and Its Practitioners

Mike Meador feels an obligation to help the discipline that helped him
Industry Matters Newsletter
Mike Meador at Biltmore Estates, Ashville, N.C., December 2021
Mike Meador at Biltmore Estates, Ashville, N.C., December 2021
Photo credit: Mary Ann Meador

Michael A. Meador received a B.A. in chemistry from Ithaca College (1978) and a PhD in organic chemistry from Michigan State University (1983).  

In 2019, he retired after a 35+ year career in the federal government during which he held a variety of positions, including Chief of the NASA Glenn Polymers Branch (1988-2011), Manager of the NASA Game Changing Development Program’s Nanotechnology Project (2011-2014), and NASA Program Element Manager for Lightweight Materials and Manufacturing (2016-2019). 

From 2014-2016, he served as Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Throughout his career he has been involved in various aspects of R&D planning, including leading a NASA-wide team that developed NASA’s Nanotechnology Roadmap – a 25+ year plan for the development of high impact nanoscale materials and devices and their application in NASA missions.   

Meador has been active in the ACS for many years, including as Member-at-Large of the Polymer Chemistry Division (POLY), POLY Chair (2020), as a symposium and workshop organizer, and as Thematic Programming Co-chair for the ACS Spring 2019 National Meeting.  

He is the recipient of several NASA awards including the NASA Medal for Equal Employment Opportunity, NASA Medal for Exceptional Service, and the inaugural Space Technology Technical Achievement Award. Meador is a Fellow of the American Chemical Society.

Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?

I chose to retire, it felt like it was the right time.

How was the transition from the working world to retirement?

It was pretty smooth. My wife, Mary Ann, and I decided to retire at the same time. We had a lot of interests outside of work that we are now able to pursue full time. I’m also doing a little bit of consulting on the side to keep active technically. 

Looking back, what do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired?

How easy it was to move from working full time to being retired. I was surprised about how I easily I could backfill the time I spent working with other activities. Mary Ann and I joke about how we can’t figure out how we did our jobs along with everything else we did (and are doing now).

So far, what has surprised you most about retirement?

In addition to above, how our overall expenses have gone down so that we are able to live off our Civil Service pensions without having to dip into our savings/401 plan. 

George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Assuming they would listen, what’s your best advice for someone in their 20s/30s?

Challenge yourself in your career and life. You probably don’t realize how capable you are of accepting new opportunities with your current employer or elsewhere. Don't be reckless about this but don’t be timid either. You would be surprised what you can accomplish with a little humility, some help from others, and some hard work. Don’t get too complacent, it’s probably not good for you and for your co-workers.

Always look to keep a good balance between work and life outside of work, it will make you a more rounded person and make you more productive/successful in your career. Even do simple things like, if possible, getting out of the office for lunch. That short time away will bring you back refreshed and energized.  

It’s also important to look for ways to give back. Your hard work got you to where you are today, but I bet you had faculty, friends, and mentors that have made that journey easier. You owe it to them, our profession, and yourself to look for ways to teach and mentor others. Working with student interns and new employees and helping them grow and succeed was the most rewarding part of my job.  

Getting involved in technical and professional societies, like ACS, is also a great way of giving back. I have been pretty active in ACS, in particular POLY, for most of my professional career and even in retirement. I have had the privilege of getting elected to several positions in POLY, including Chair. Serving in those positions has enabled me to lend my expertise and ideas to help (hopefully) improve POLY and better support its members. It has also allowed me to grow professionally, develop / enhance my network of professional colleagues, and make a lot of great new friends. Technical Divisions are always looking for volunteers. If you are not a member of one of these divisions, pick one and join it. If you are a member, consider attending their Board Meetings at ACS National Meetings. These are open to all members and are a great way to find out more about the division, opportunities to get involved, and meet division leadership. If you can’t attend a meeting, reach out to one of the officers and let them know you would like to find out more about how you can get involved.

What do you enjoy most about being retired?

I’m leading a much more active lifestyle – going to the beach or for long walks, playing more golf…

What’s the biggest challenge you have confronted to this point in your retirement?

Getting the temperature right in my Big Green Egg smoker to cook the Thanksgiving turkey.

How do you stay connected to the chemistry enterprise as a retiree?

Consulting and continuing to stay active with ACS – I am the Past Chair of POLY and am also a member of the ACS Committee for Chemistry and Public Affairs.

What’s a travel destination you can’t wait to get back to?

France and Spain, once the pandemic is under control.

What do you like most about where you are living in retirement? What’s one thing you wish you could change about where you live?

The weather, living on a golf course and close to 4 others (including the Ocean Course at Kiawah) and the beach. We are within 30 minutes of Charleston and all the great restaurants and historical sites. If I could change one thing, it would be to be closer to our family and friends up north.

What guidance do you have for people who are getting ready to retire?

Don't be afraid to retire if you think that the time is right, and you have a good plan for where and how you are going to live and what you are going to do. Stay active and enjoy yourself!

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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