Undergrads Prep for Working World
BY EMILY BONES
ADAPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM CHEMICAL &
ENGINEERING NEWS, SEPTEMBER 10, 2012, VOLUME 90,
NUMBER 37, PP. 51–53. COPYRIGHT 2012 AMERICAN
After four years of making decisions such as what dorm to live in or which intramural sport to play, new graduates carrying a hot-off-the-press bachelor’s degree must tackle some weightier decisions. The first question to consider is whether to apply for
graduate school or wrestle with the challenging job market.
According to the American Chemical Society’s 2011 survey of
new graduates with a degree in a chemistry-related field, 41% of
respondents with a bachelor’s degree chose to pursue a graduate degree and the same percentage found employment. Not all
graduates who opted to search for a job were successful —14%
reported that they were unemployed, up from 6% just five years
earlier (C&EN, June 4, 2012, page 36).
Undergraduate students can do many things to prepare
themselves to be a tough competitor in the job market, however.
Through career services offices at their universities, they can take
résumé-writing workshops and seminars on how to compose a
top-notch cover letter. But landing a job as a new graduate starts
long before spring semester of senior year, when soon-to-be
grads start submitting job applications.
Many schools have programs that give students hands-on
experience. Some are internal and pair students with professors.
In others, students venture outside campus boundaries and gain
experience in a lab at another university or in industry.
Timothy Boman, for one, took advantage of opportunities
offered by his alma mater. During three summers of his undergraduate career at Hope College (MI), he conducted research. Each summer he did something a little different. In fact, halfway through
his program he added chemistry classes to complement his mathematics degree. He ultimately stayed at Hope College a fifth year to
complete a B.S. in chemistry and a B.A. in math in 2010.
Boman credits his research in organic chemistry, under Jeffrey B. Johnson, as a major factor in successfully finding a job
after graduation. Boman is now a process development chemist
involved in cancer drug discovery research at Ash Stevens, a contract research organization in Riverview, MI.
“During my interview, I was able to give a presentation about
the project I worked on
with Dr. Johnson,” Boman
explains. To get ready
for the job interview, he
did a mock presentation
for people who were
working in his advisor’s
Boman learned basic
lab protocol, including
assembling equipment and
manipulating reactions, from his
undergraduate organic chemistry
research. But once left to his own
devices on the job, he found he still
had a lot to learn. “The job itself is
fast-paced,” Boman says. “Having no
experience and going into an industrial job, it’s tough. You’re not just worried about what’s in your flask.” People
will ingest the drugs made in the lab, so
it’s important to know about good manufacturing practices, he emphasizes.
One way for undergraduates to gain
experience in an industrial setting is
to find an internship, which is what
Jessica Howard did. Howard is a 2012
graduate of Bates College (ME), where
she earned a B.S. in chemistry. A few
weeks ago she began her first permanent job as a research scientist. She is
working on a drug discovery project
at Albany Molecular Research, Inc., in
The summer before she graduated, Howard worked for Cubist Pharmaceuticals, based in Lexington, MA.
“I loved my experience there — the
people, the work environment, and
seeing the impact of my work by producing drug candidates,” she recalls.
She also picked up lab experience
in an academic setting. Howard spent a
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad