Describe your job as a chemical technical professional (CTP). What is your favorite part of your job?
I am an analytical technologist in Dow’s Analytical Science Department. I primarily support Dow’s silicone business by either ensuring compliance or solving problems utilizing analytical equipment and techniques such as gas chromatography (GC) and mass spectrometry.
One project that I am particularly proud of starting a walk-up user lab for fast and routine GC analysis at work. It’s been running for three years, and I still support the lab today. I also help different groups with GC analysis from creating custom methods to hardware, maintenance, and troubleshooting.
Additionally, I solve tough challenges on project teams from manufacturing issues to customer challenges to product development of new materials. My favorite part is empowering others to succeed by providing my characterization expertise. I also enjoy seeing new areas and chemistries as well as meeting new people.
What type of daily tasks do you tackle as part of a typical workday?
I work on a variety of projects at once, so my tasks vary day to day. They include attending project meetings as well as prepping, running, and analyzing samples, and communicating results to the project teams. I troubleshoot equipment and help drive a culture of safety. I also enjoy being an advocate for chemical technology by volunteering with ACS.
Currently, I am a Science Coach at Coleman Elementary School and the Project SEED (Summer Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged) coordinator for the ACS Midland Local Section . I am also a director for both Midland Local Section and the Mid-Michigan Technician Group. At work, I am on the steering committee for Dow’s Midland R&D Technologist Group and Dow’s Core R&D Inclusion Team. I am also on the National Committee for Technician Affairs and the secretary for the ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry. So, sometimes my workday includes travel to a conference or a classroom.
How does your job provide “a bridge”? For example, between lab and consumer, science and manufacturing, or idea and implementation?
To provide a bridge means to connect two or more people, groups, or things. I help make connections every time I participate in an R&D project, whether it’s personally providing the benchmark data that bridges the gap between an idea and implementation or setting up the team to analyze their own samples. The bridge between research and development and manufacturing also exists when we have a manufacturing issue and I give a recommendation for testing or generate the data that helps identify the root cause.
What key factors went into deciding to become a CTP?
Well, I didn’t exactly decide to become a CTP. I took a detour in life and got lucky and ended up doing something I really love. Long story short, the wrong application ended up giving me a rewarding career. At the time, I thought I was applying to Dow Corning as a College Co-Op, but due to a mix-up with the application I went through the whole hiring process and was offered a full-time position as a chemical operator. After several years, I found the job unfulfilling. Lots of individuals find being a chemical operator rewarding, but it wasn’t a good fit for me. I needed more and I didn’t really know what that more was. It’s hard to find the motivation to work a job that isn’t the right fit for you.
I had some great co-workers who encouraged me to go back to school—taking advantage of the tuition reimbursement program at Dow Corning—and apply for a CTP job within R&D. That was a pivot point for me. I went back to school, earned a B.S. in biochemistry, and started this position more than 18 years ago. For me to enjoy my career, I needed the mental challenge of analyzing data, collaborating on projects, and teaching others.
If you could do it over, would you still choose a CTP career?
Yes, absolutely! I love my job. Would I do it differently? Sure, I would like to think that I would take a more direct route to becoming an analytical technologist, but then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Several of my connections and mentors have been professors that I studied under as an “older” student. And, I know more about the perspectives of manufacturing operators, which helps when we are solving problems together.
What’s the one thing you wish you had learned earlier in your career?
How to tell a compelling story of the work I do—aka “sell myself.” My manager asks me what I did all year and I give them a list of things I did. They say, ”that’s great, but what was the impact?” Ugg… seriously…umm…I don’t know? I personally struggle with this. I feel like I don’t know the buzz words and that everyone else was given a playbook but somehow I was absent that day. Over time, I have learned how to communicate impact, but it is not something that comes easy to me, and I remind myself how to employ this skill time and again. The secret is it is what you did (action), why it matters (context), and the outcome (results).
Think about an early career CTP. What advice do you have to help them advance?
Join an employee group at work or professional society like ACS or role-specific group like the Mid-Michigan Technician Group and get involved. Actively volunteer and step outside your comfort zone. This is the best way to create an extensive and useful network. My biggest successes have come from opportunities presented through these networks I have cultivated.
What is the one skill or personal trait that you believe to be the most instrumental in your success?
I’ve developed my personal brand as the “go-to person.” If I can’t help you, I usually know someone that can, or I make it my mission to find that person through others. I’ve done this by developing an extensive network both inside and outside of Dow, ACS, and career organizations through volunteerism.
You won the 2018 ACS National Chemical Technician Award. Do you recall what you did with the honoraria that came with the award? And where is the plaque you received?
If I recall correctly, I bought myself a very nice and expensive Fossil purse from the mall next to the convention center in New Orleans where I received my award. Fossil purses are my guilty pleasure. My plaque is proudly displayed in my office at Dow. I even have a cool poster board that CTA sent to me that highlights my award. It is posted right outside my office.
How does the satisfaction of winning the ACS NCTA compare to Michigan beating Ohio State in their annual football rivalry, probably the most intense in college sports?
Wait…was that Michigan or Michigan State that beat Ohio? Sorry…I am not really into sports unless it’s to socialize. I’m that annoying person that talks the whole time. Anyways, early in 2020 before the pandemic, I had an opportunity to train outreach volunteers to do classroom water quality testing at Ohio State and I found it quite intense that everywhere on campus, every letter “M” was crossed out. That had to take some serious time! The satisfaction and intensity they felt when crossing out that last M would not even compare to the intense satisfaction I felt seeing my life’s work and accomplishments being recognized by CTA and ACS.
Michelle Rivard is a research and development technologist at Dow, and the winner of the 2018 ACS National Chemical Technician Award for excellence and professionalism among technicians, operators, analysts, and other applied chemical technology professionals. In 2019 she received the E. Ann Nalley Central Region Award for Volunteer Services to her Local Section, ACS National and the Central Region. In 2021 she received the ACS Midland Section Award for Science Education Volunteer of the Year and the 2022 Midland Section Award for Outstanding Service to the American Chemical Society.
She is currently a member of the Delta College Chemical Technology Advisory Board. She has held several positions within the Midland Section of ACS, including Chair-Elect, Director, and Treasurer. She is the Midland Section Coordinator of Project SEED and Co-Chair of Kids and Chemistry Outreach. She served on the National ACS Project SEED Committee (2012-2021) and chaired the Scholarship sub-committee and is currently serving on the Committee of Technician Affairs (2022). She is an active member of Dow’s Midland Research and Development Technologist Group and Midland Section Mid-Michigan Technician Group.
At Dow, Michelle has been a key contributor in the development of robust quantification methods of cyclic volatile methylsiloxane (cVMS), and has developed new approaches for sample extraction, cleanup, and derivatization. She has also been involved in projects to understand the effects of filler structure on silicone sealant performance and differentiation of sealant families.
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.