Smooth Sailing: Life After Industry

Bonnie Charpentier reflects on her vast career in drug development and life after industry
Person on boat

How did you feel on the first day of your retirement? What ended up surprising you? 

My transition to retirement after a long career in drug development was a long glide path, so there was no first day shock.

Despite succession planning efforts, the job had expanded such that we had to seek a successor from outside the company. After announcing my retirement, I stayed on until we hired my successor at the beginning of 2023, I overlapped with her full time for a few weeks, then went half time until the end of June. I became a consultant on retainer for the rest of the year. What surprised me a bit was how smooth the transition was, both physically and emotionally.

My transition to retirement was also made less dramatic because of our COVID experience in which almost everyone worked from home, and we slowly transitioned to coming back on site. The COVID schedule and challenges were more jarring than my eventual retirement. Although I loved my work and miss seeing my friends and colleagues, my major emotional change was to feel a huge burden of responsibility lifted from my shoulders.

Other things that helped me transition to retirement included having a consuming new project (my husband and I bought some property in the Texas Hill Country which has demanded a lot of attention and brought us closer to family), and my continuing involvement in my volunteer professional home, ACS.

My retirement thus far has been joyful and not at all boring.

My advice to those making the same transition is to explore ways to negotiate a plan that meets your needs; eg, would a transition to part time for a period of time work well for both you and your company? There may be flexibility for a customized plan, especially in smaller organizations. Have clear ideas about how you want to spend your time post-retirement and make contacts to discuss and enable a smooth transition. Do you want to do volunteer work, travel, expand a hobby? Talk to people and organizations with knowledge and experience in those areas. Above all, stay flexible and open to new possibilities.

For those who do not enjoy such control take steps to be ready for an involuntary retirement. Keep your resume updated. Be mentally prepared by taking time to consider what you would do in an unvoluntary retirement situation: think about what you really enjoy about working, assess your transferable skills. Are there skills that would be useful in a new job or different area? Take training or other steps to acquire those skills. Make use of resources such as those offered by ACS courses to work on technical and soft skills. Stay alert to other types of careers that may be interesting for you and talk with people in those areas.

How would you like to see late-career professionals interact better with the next generation of scientists?

I would like to see more opportunities for communication across chemistry professionals in all age groups to discuss experiences and share stories. I wouldn’t exclude mid-career chemists who are sometimes left out of such opportunities. ACS meetings, especially regional meetings are great venues for these types of interactions. Personal interactions are always best, but it would also be good to enhance use of virtual tools. I think situations that support informal mentoring interactions, call them “micro-mentoring” can be very effective for sharing ideas. You never know when a chance comment or conversation leads to an exciting project or career boost.

About the Contributor

Bonnie Charpentier, Recently Retired
Bonnie Charpentier, Recently Retired

Bonnie Charpentier recently retired as Senior Vice President of Regulatory and Compliance at Cytokinetics, Inc., a company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel small molecule therapeutics that modulate muscle function. Prior to Cytokinetics, Bonnie worked in drug research and development at companies including Syntex and Roche, and as an analytical chemist at the Procter and Gamble Co. 

Bonnie served as President of the American Chemical Society in 2019. She previously served on the ACS board of directors for 9 years, including as the Chair of the Board.  She has served on and chaired a variety of Society committees and task forces at national levels, as well as being active in local sections, divisions and regional meetings. She is passionate about the importance of volunteer public service and about the importance of science in education and public policy.

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.

Bonnie Charpentier, retired from Cytokinetics, Inc.

Bonnie Charpentier has recently retired from Cytokinetics, Inc.

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