John Pochan spent his career working mostly in industry, including stints at Kodak, XEROX and S.C. Johnson & Sons. Not truly ‘retired’, he currently serves as Principal and Co-Founder at Avount Group, LLC. John earned his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University Of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He is an ACS Fellow from the class of 2012.
Chemists generate a LOT of data. What can they do to present their data more effectively to management?
Understand what the audience wants. Provide simple slides: no clutter, to the point. Stick to the slide details; do NOT overrun the provided time unless asked to. Tell the audience what you are going to tell them, then tell your story, then tell the audience what you told them.
At some point, you decided to pursue a Ph.D. What went through your mind at the time? And how does the decision look to you in retrospect?
One of my senior professors encouraged me to attend an advanced P-Chem class that induced me to proceed to grad school in a field other than my undergrad major (BChE to P-Chem PHD). In retrospect, it looks perfect. The degree opened opportunities that I would not have gotten otherwise.
You have worked at some very large companies, and you have worked at a start-up. What’s the one thing people ought to know before signing on to a start-up?
It can be daunting, troublesome and exciting at the same time. Beginning salaries will not be high and money for the company can be a continuing issue. You will be required to do what needs to be done -- not necessarily what you have been trained to do. The startup must have someone with business acumen.
What’s your best piece of advice for young chemists just starting a career in industry?
Family first, work second. Always live up to your commitments. Except for special cases where the company needs an expert in a field, your job will be interdisciplinary. The company will usually have no allegiance to you (not a lifetime job). You will have funds to do your work. Companies will be reticent to allow external meeting attendance unless it affects your work, or you are asked to present. In my experience, if company budget is tight, research budget is the first to be cut. Expect more team efforts. Listen, listen, listen. If you are unhappy in your job, change. Don’t wait to see if it gets better.
What’s something you got seriously wrong during your career? What did you learn from it?
What I got wrong was working for a privately owned, market driven company. What I learned is that market-driven companies do not rely on research-driven new products.
Who had it tougher at Rensselaer Polytechnic when you were there? The person pursuing the chemistry degree or the person pursuing the chemical engineering degree?
Chemical engineers. They were required to take most of the chemistry major courses, as well as the chemical engineer courses.
What’s harder? Developing a successful strategy or executing it skillfully?
Difficult to answer; you need both to be successful. In my experience, execution is more difficult.
You have just won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Money is no object. What are you drinking to celebrate?
A bottle of 25-year old Red Breast Irish whiskey.
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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