What You Really Need to Learn
from Your Chemistry Studies
By Mick HuRRey
COURTES Y OF MICK HURREY
You’ve already taken the first step on your career path by deciding to study chemis- try. What that involves in regard to course content has not changed significantly over
the last decade. Now, as then, you need to learn
physical, organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistry to obtain your degree.
However, the nontechnical skills you need to
become a successful chemist have changed dramatically. These are the
less obvious skills that you may learn while obtaining a bachelor’s and/
or advanced degree — and they may prove to be the most valuable part
of your education. But the question I pose to you is, will you take the
initiative to learn them?
Before I delve any deeper, consider my story. I flunked my first year
of undergraduate school with a 0.6 GPA (difficult to do, I can assure
you) and was homeless for a couple of months, but I didn’t quit. I completed my B.S. in chemistry and then was accepted to the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry.
After finishing, I accepted a position at Vertex Pharmaceuticals as a lead
analyst of the most important drug for the company and head of the
physical chemistry program. I’m now part of a larger group of materials scientists, crystallographers, and analytical and physical chemists in
charge of solid form development. These accomplishments would not
have been possible without strong skills in leadership, analytical thinking, team-building, and communication.
As I’ve moved through my career, my experiences in ACS, coupled
with the skills I learned in school, have been instrumental in the roles
that I have been able to take on and succeed at in my career.
So back to my original question. There are two major aspects to
every employee. First, there is technical ability, which one gets from
understanding one’s coursework and doing top-notch research. Second,
and equally important, are the skills that allow one to communicate and
interact with others in the global chemical enterprise. These include presenting data; applying first principles to solve problems; and being able
to work with, lead, and communicate with others.
I implore you to work just as hard to learn these skills while you
progress in your academic endeavors. This means that if they are not a
part of your curriculum, you should seek out the resources and opportunities you need to acquire them. Some majors offer courses in critical thinking, but what you learn in studying chemistry is how to think,
work with others, and solve real-world problems, and no class will teach
Mick HuRRey is Chair of the national Younger Chemists Committee and a Councilor
and Program Chair of the Division of Business Development and Management. He is
employed as a scientist in pharmaceutical development at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
Have questions about ACS student chapters
or other programs at ACS? If so, please e-mail
Robin Lindsey at email@example.com —
she’ll find your answer!
Q What are ACS Student Leadership Awards, and
how can I apply for one?
A The ACS Undergraduate Programs Office will offer
15 awards to ACS student members to cover travel,
accommodation, and registration expenses for the
2011 ACS Leadership Institute, to be held January
21-23, 2011, in Fort Worth, TX. Applicants must submit
a completed application form, cover letter, résumé, and
letter of reference to firstname.lastname@example.org by October
26, 2010. For more information, go to www.acs.
Q How can our ACS student chapter win a
Student Chapter Award?
A All student chapters that submit an annual chapter
report by the deadline and have at least six paid ACS
student members on their rosters can be considered for
awards. Nominations for ACS Student Chapter Awards
are based on exceptional activities, programs, and
initiatives described in the chapter reports. The Society
Committee on Education conducts the review process,
weighing chapter reports along with the type of institution (two-year versus four-year), location, available
resources, size of chapter, and other considerations.
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information tables, events, advertisements,
and so on?
A The ACS logo is a registered trademark of the society,
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materials provided by ACS are intended for promoting ACS programs, products, or services. Please go to
www.acs.org/branding to download the logo
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Q We recently attended an ACS national meeting and noticed some students presenting
successful student chapter posters at Sci-Mix.
We’d like to do the same, but do we need to
be an award-winning chapter first?
A Any ACS student chapter can present a poster at
Sci-Mix at an ACS national meeting. Posters must
be submitted by the abstract deadline through the
Program and Abstract Creation System (PACS; go to
abstracts.acs.org). After your faculty advisor has
reviewed your abstract, submit it under the “Successful
Student Chapters” session in the ACS Division of
Chemical Education. If you have a question about your
abstract, you can contact us.
RoBin Lindsey is Lead Program
Associate in the ACS Undergraduate