Myth 6: Most chemists work in academia
as tenured university professors.
Reality: The majority of chemists (52.3%) worked in industry in
2014, and an additional 7% worked for the federal government.
While the percentage of chemists who are working in academia
has been increasing slowly (38.9% in 2014), that figure includes
postdocs and other non-tenure-track positions. In fact, The
Washington Post estimates that at least 50% of all professors
are now adjuncts, and many of those positions are part-time
Myth 7: I am a failure if I don’t go to
graduate school, because a tenure-track
professorship is the ultimate career goal
of every chemist.
Reality: Although you may have talked to many professors who
are very happy with their chosen career path, there is no single
path that is right for everyone. Professors must enjoy and excel at
both teaching and directing a research group, which are two very
different skill sets. You are a success if you find a career that you
enjoy and are good at — no matter what others say.
Myth 8: I can do anything.
Reality: Although perhaps you can do lots of things, do you really
want to? You will be much more successful if you identify the
skills you have that others do not, as well as the skills you really
enjoy using— and then find a career path that will let you take
advantage of them.
Myth 9: I have no transferrable skills.
Reality: Everyone has skills; you just need to identify the ones
that you want to use. You are used to thinking about your laboratory skills in organic synthesis, NMR, and materials characterization. However, you also have experience with soft skills, such as
communication and teamwork, as well as domain expertise in
proper safety equipment, data interpretation, and more. Review
your most significant accomplishments, and the skills you used
to achieve them, to gain valuable insight into your professional
Myth 10: I can become a consultant, start
my own company, and make millions!
Reality: A successful career as a consultant requires extensive
expertise in a particular subject, and a well-developed network
of peers who will confirm and advertise your services. It is highly
unlikely that an undergraduate degree alone would provide either
of these, or the business skills required to run a company.
Myth 11: I have to get more education
to move into another career.
Reality: In many cases, this is not true. Hands-on experience in
an area will generally carry much more weight than a certificate.
Sometimes it’s as simple as describing what you have done in
different words; in other cases, you may want to seek out extra
responsibilities (either for pay or as a volunteer) to get specific
Myth 12: I can’t change careers.
Reality: Technology and the world of work are changing so fast
that whatever job you start out at is going to change during the
time you are working at it. You will be changing positions and
companies much more often than chemists in previous generations did, and someday you might even find that you have
changed careers without realizing it!
Myth 13: I will join a start-up and make
a ton of money!
Reality: Most start-up companies fail. Although working in a new
company can be a great education in how to run (or how not to
run!) a business, you should enter with realistic expectations and
a backup plan. ( www.wsj.com/articles/SB100008723963904437
Myth 14: There is a single perfect job
out there for me, and I will be unhappy
unless I find it.
Reality: You are a multifaceted individual, interested in a number
of different things. There are many different career paths that you
could take, and only by carefully examining your own skills, interests, and values can you find the direction that is best for you. In
addition, your values and priorities will change throughout your
life. What is ideal for you now may not be so in the future, so you
need to constantly re-evaluate the match between your professional and personal needs.
The take-away message
The reality is that some of your friends will receive job offers
before graduation, while others may be unable to find a job even
after months of intense searching. To find your own ideal career
path, do your homework. Start with the ACS College to Career
website at www.acs.org/CollegetoCareer. Talk to as many people
as possible about their careers. Try informational interviewing.
Hone your professional skills. Remember that each person’s set
of circumstances is unique and their advice and experiences may
not necessarily apply to your own future career path or success.
Best of luck to you on your journey!
Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D., of Balbes Consultants LLC, is a freelance
technical writer and editor, and author of Nontraditional
Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers
(Oxford University Press, 2007).
This article was adapted from “ 14 Myths about Non-Traditional Careers
in Chemistry … and the Realities Behind Them”, which will be published
later this year in the Graduate & Postdoctoral Chemist, Issue 4, Vol. 2.