What is the Worst Career Advice You've Received?

ACS members shared the worst career advice they've received and what they learned from it
Erin Joy Araneta, Founder and Director, Theory of Joy
Erin Joy Araneta, Founder and Director, Theory of Joy

"... I've found it more beneficial to focus on expanding my options..."

The worst career advice I've received was to always plan for the worst. While I believe it's wise to anticipate challenges to some extent, fixating and jumping on planning for the worst-case scenarios can be detrimental. Following that advice led to increased anxiety in my life. Instead, I've found it more beneficial to focus on expanding my options, remaining true to my values, and clarifying my career aspirations. This approach fills me with excitement and curiosity about the future rather than fear. It keeps me motivated, focused, and receptive to opportunities aligned with my goals and values. Cultivating this positive outlook enables me to tackle challenges with resilience and creativity. Ultimately, embracing a forward-thinking and optimistic mindset has led to greater fulfillment and success in my professional journey. By embracing this mindset, I've discovered that I can navigate my career path with confidence, joy, and purpose.


Kara, Kasakaitas, Director, Talent Acquisition and Organizational Development, Aegis
Kara, Kasakaitas, Director, Talent Acquisition and Organizational Development, Aegis

"That advice should have been 'follow your heart'."

The worst career advice I ever received was “never take a demotion” and I did it twice. Having started my career as an analytical chemist, I found myself looking for a career change when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness. I left pharma for a move into scientific recruitment, hiring researchers for a children’s hospital. Although an entry level role, it allowed me to build my new career path. A few years later, a family move brought me to a new city and into a senior level hospital recruiter role. After four years there, I decided to accept another entry level recruiting position. This time it was to bridge my two passions – analytical chemistry and recruitment. I started that college recruiter job 12 years ago, and my position has continued to evolve and grow year after year ever since.

That advice should have been “follow your heart”.


Andrea Alexander, Product Development Manager , Shin-Etsu Silicones of America
Andrea Alexander, Product Development Manager , Shin-Etsu Silicones of America

"...'Someone who looks like me should be grateful for where I am and fall in line'...”

When I reflect on feedback over the years, there was a moment in the first year of my professional career where I received unsavory/judgmental feedback. The question regarding “the worst career advice received” put me in deep reflection regarding what I have received over the years and it can be summarized as “someone who looks like me should be grateful for where I am and fall in line”.

What do I mean by that? Well, in my particular field, being a woman in the chemical industry comes with certain expectations; being a woman of color adds even more connotation. As you can imagine, this is an uncomfortable topic for most, but it is very real whether the behaviors are purposeful or societal norms. The mentor that left the most significant, negative impact early career left me befuddled and disheartened. I couldn’t understand how someone who I thought supported and cared for me could say, let alone think such things. I can go on for pages, but the way this particular conversation should have went was a mentor make the situation a teachable moment and not focus solely on race and sexual orientation as if they were the only factors in play (in this situation, it shouldn’t have mattered). A mentor should acknowledge that the way a person moves may be a bit unorthodox and that’s ok, and teach how to operate within the system, be received positively, as well as gain champions who will support the idea and/or future endeavors. 


Martins Oderinde, Senior Principal Scientist, Bristol Myers Squibb
Martins Oderinde, Senior Principal Scientist, Bristol Myers Squibb

"[There] are 11 key elements to smart working...”

The worst career advice I have ever received is to work hard and complete multiple tasks quickly. Working hard often means spending long hours on a task, taking few breaks, and skipping vacations. This approach often impacts work quality and creates an unhealthy work-life balance. Better advice should have been to work smart and prioritize tasks. 

Working smart means maximizing your efficiency and producing quality work with less effort. This is especially important in fast-paced environments such as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, where speed and efficiency are paramount.

Here are 11 key elements to smart working: (1) Prioritize tasks (2) Communicate regularly with your manager and team members (3) Delegate tasks appropriately and strategically (4) Ask for help! Be open to suggestions and feedback (5) Search the literature for precedence and procedures before setting up reactions (6) Avoid reinventing the wheel (7) Collaborate within and outside your department (8) Know the subject matter experts in your organization and reach out to them for advice (9) Use free time to advance your scientific knowledge and skills (10) Take breaks and vacations to recharge (11) Hire the right people.  


Samina Azad, Engineering Leader, Freudenberg Medical
Samina Azad, Engineering Leader, Freudenberg Medical

".... Regardless of all the advice, I did my homework and talked to folks who work in industry...”

I think this one is quite common – if you are in grad school, you are encouraged to be in academia (vs. industry) – my professors, friends & family, all advised me to stay in academia. In this case, the main misperception was that academia has more work-life balance and teaching is a more noble and stable profession than an industrial chemist job. The perception is not true, however, as I see my colleagues in academia working all the time with little work-life balance - they are always grading papers or writing proposals to bring in funding - it seems quite hectic.

I was always drawn to industry - it seemed fast paced, which matches my style. I also like to work on a team vs. working on my own, and I like the idea of bringing cool new products to market that people use every day. So, regardless of all the advice, I did my homework and talked to folks who work in industry and then I found a job in industry – and I immediately knew it was a great fit for me.

The advice should have been, find a career path that matches your style and strengths – find a job that’s a great fit for you!


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.

ACS Career Consultants are experts and leaders working in the field of chemistry who have volunteered to support other ACS members’ career development through one-on-one career counselling. They can stimulate your thinking, ask important career planning questions to help clarify goals, provide encouragement, teach strategies for making meaningful career decisions, and aid you in your job search. Connect with an ACS Career Consultant today!

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