CPT has members who are professors at universities and colleges around the country, and it also has members from industry. Those chemists are on the cutting edge of new research and products, giving them a unique perspective on where the field is going and what sorts of skills will be most helpful for future work. This also includes skills that aren’t usually defined in a syllabus: effective and clear communication, collegial collaboration, and the ability to problem solve.
Today’s chemistry graduates will be tomorrow’s professional colleagues, industry professionals on CPT have a vested interest in the preparation of students—including ensuring academic rigor of programs, exposing students to the breadth of career possibilities, and the need to create well-rounded team members.
Industry is a Big Pathway for Graduates
While some chemistry graduates dream of going on to graduate school and landing an academic job, the vast majority of graduates will enter industry or research labs for their professional careers.
“Industry still represents the largest employer of chemists,” noted Matt Grandbois, Ph.D., a strategic partnership manager at DuPont. “ There's a finite number of academic jobs that are out there. There are many more opportunities for chemists to develop into the scientists that they want to become in industry.” Grandbois said that the sheer size of industry and the growth potential are important reasons to have industry professionals on CPT.
Having industry professionals on CPT also gives the committee insights into what life is like outside of academia. Laura Kosbar Ph.D., a retired chemist who was previously with IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, said industry representatives “help inform the guidelines with respect to what the demands and expectations are for the students who go to work for industry—which is a large portion of the students.”
Kosbar added that industry can in some ways shape the kinds of classes that are offered at universities and colleges. “We've talked about things like green chemistry and newer fields of chemistry that would be useful for students to be exposed to", she said.
Be What You See
Seeing the diversity of specialties is another way industry can inform the trajectory of chemistry programs. Maureen Ngoh Ph.D., a principle scientist at Merck Animal Health, noted that she and her colleagues can show the breadth of professional tracts. Through her connection with CPT, she coordinated with Sunghee Lee Ph.D., a professor at Iona College and CPT member, to give a talk to students about her work in the animal health industry.
“I did give a seminar to her students to tell them about my background as an analytical chemist,” said Ngoh. “It was an eye opener for them to know that you can have a career in this field."
“I tell the students, you could be a hardcore scientist or you could be on the business side. Or you could be a communication specialist,” explained Ngoh. “There are a lot of opportunities and different careers in the animal health industry.”
One thing she encourages is for students to look for internships. “All pharmaceutical companies have internships,” said Ngoh, adding that company websites tend to post openings in the fall. An internship “is a way for you to get into industry, learn what they do, and see if it’s something you’re interested in doing.”
Chemistry graduates who go into industry can have a career filled with many broad opportunities, students can follow different trends in science and their interests may change over time. Kosbar said she is a perfect example of someone who gravitated toward new challenges and interesting projects rather than discipline.
“My background is in polymer chemistry, but I worked more in material science,” she said. “I was involved with fabrication of things like computer chips, or printed circuit boards, or a solar cell project.” Kosbar noted that “the thing with research is, you don’t tend to be as narrowly defined, it's sort of whatever projects need someone with your skill set or that you find interesting.”
Grandbois agrees, adding that his career evolved as he found new interests and opportunities. An organic chemist by training, Grandbois noted that “I actually started in R&D (research and development), and through some very deliberate choices, chose this career path.”
“Soft Skills” are anything but soft
“The kinds of things that industry is looking for changes over time,” said Bill Carroll Ph.D. Carroll retired from Occidental Chemical in 2015, and since then has run his own consulting business (Carroll Applied Science) while adjuncting at Indiana University. He said those in industry know that technical skills are one thing, but that non-technical skills are crucial.
“I'm not going to call them ‘soft skills,” he emphasized. “But these are extraordinarily important in terms of leadership, management, communications, and being able to work in a team.” Carroll noted that CPT is looking at how to build in these professional or non-technical skills into the approval process.
“Those professional skills are equally as important, even though they are not a core requirement for a chemistry graduate,” said Ngoh. “Our voice brings in the other useful skills, team building, collaboration, communication— the things you would need to really succeed as an individual working in industry,” she said. “Not only do you need your technical side, but these professional skills are really what will carry you forward in industry.
“The skills [are] important for any chemist, but they're extremely important going into industry,” added Kosbar. “Things like teamwork, literature searching… reading and writing, and oral presentations are hugely important for someone's success.” She adds that industry CPT members tend to be strong proponents of strengthening professional skills because “we see how it affects new employees.”
The Value of Approval
“The work of CPT goes two different directions,” said Carroll. “One is to, to approve the department. So in essence, you say you have a department that has adequate journals, adequate numbers of professors, adequate equipment, and all of the infrastructure, wherein you could deliver a 21st century chemistry education.”
The other side, said Carroll, is the student. He explained that when students complete the approved curriculum, the department chairperson certifies that the degree meets the guidelines for the approved program. But the question that some industry members of CPT are asking is: what is the value of completing the curriculum and receiving a degree from an approved institution?
If schools are going to go through the effort, and the students are going to put in the work to get through an approved curriculum, Ngoh added that “there has to be value added to it.”
“If I get a resume where one student has a degree from an ACS approved institution and one that does not, I would hope that the student from the ACS approved institution has a slight heads up, but I don't know if that's true,” said Grandbois. “Is ACS approval a differentiating advantage for students who are interested in entering chemical workforce?”
Ngoh said that the ACS is defining the value of a degree from an ACS approved institution. “That marketing ... and education for the public, are a few of the things that we’re working on to try and help people understand the value of the degree,” Ngoh said.