When I started my first R&D job as a process chemist, I had a lot to learn about large scale reactions and process safety. I also had a lot to learn about the culture of the company and group I had joined. I quickly identified our group’s research fellow as someone who was highly respected, and began to consider him my role model. I watched and listened as he talked to the employees of the scale-up facilities, how he handled questions in meetings, and how he thought about process development. Watching and learning from him gave my early career a boost.
This idea served me throughout my career. When I begin a new role, I look to see who is respected and listened to. I watch and learn from this new role model as I begin to develop my understanding of the role and the culture.
A role model can be a very informal arrangement, and your role model may not even know about their status. In addition to role models, it would be wise to develop mentors—people who are not necessarily in your reporting chain of command but who are respected and willing to advise you on career-related topics. Having multiple mentors can provide you with a variety of perspectives.
Lori Spangler has a PhD in physical organic chemistry, and spent her career working in R&D in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. She was a process chemist for much of her career, then moved to manage people, teams, and global projects. Dr. Spangler was a campus recruiter for both companies she worked for, as well as an onsite interviewer. She has been an ACS Career Consultant for 10 years. In this role, she is able to help chemists develop career plans, create application documents, and practice interviewing skills.
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.