Chemists in the Real World:
B.S. CHEMISTRY; MASTER’S IN LIBRARY SCIENCE
CHEMISTRY LIBRARIAN, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER
After Susan Cardinal earned
her B.S. in chemistry in 1989,
she worked for several years
for a small start-up company
involved in dechlorinating
water and soil, followed by
employment at an environmental laboratory, where she
worked as supervisor of the
firm’s organic extractions lab.
She found the work interesting but also recognized that
the work didn’t align with her
Cardinal began thinking about making a change in her
career, and worked with career counselors and took various
assessments such as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator and others. She also found helpful advice in the book What Color Is
Your Parachute? The pivotal moment came when she started
thinking about how much she had always enjoyed libraries and
began considering a career in library science.
To get a better sense of what the career change might
mean, Cardinal began volunteering at a local public library;
soon afterward, she started taking classes in library science. She
also took some part-time jobs in libraries, which prepared her
for a full-time position as a circulation supervisor. After earning her M.L.S., Cardinal found the position at the University of
Rochester, applied for it, and was hired. As she was learning on
the job, she became involved in ACS, and found a mentor who
was willing to give her career suggestions and advice.
Q: How did you find your first chemistry-related
job after you graduated from college?
Cardinal: As I was wrapping up my B.S. in chemistry, the University of Iowa brought in potential employers and I interviewed
with a few.
Q: What is your major responsibility
in your current position?
Cardinal: I meet the information needs of students, staff, and faculty of the University of Rochester, especially those in the chemistry department.
Q: Describe your typical day on the job.
Cardinal: I communicate via e-mail (30%), meet with colleagues
(20%), do research about libraries and chemistry (20%), read
articles (10%), supervise two staff on library-related projects (10%),
and make decisions about what books to buy or which journals to
buy or where to locate print items (10%).
Q: How many hours do you work in a typical week?
Cardinal: About 35–40 hours is typical. I may work more if I’m
preparing a presentation or training session. The intensity of
our pace varies with the flow of undergraduate classes and with
library projects; it is more relaxed in December and more hectic in
Q: What do you like most about your job and why?
Cardinal: No two days are the same. I meet with different people
with interesting questions. One of the most enjoyable moments
for me is to help someone connect with the hard-to-find information they’ve been looking for. I get a lot of satisfaction when I
see their excitement and sense of relief.
Q: What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
Cardinal: Know yourself and your preferences, and find a job that
Q: What personal talent or trait makes
you a great fit for your job?
Cardinal: I love to talk with people and go on “treasure hunts” for
information. Often I’m far less interested in what the particular
answer is than I am in simply finding it. Choosing which tools to
use, which route or process to follow, and helping to find it as fast
as we can — those are some of the challenges of being a librarian.
Q: Is there anything else you would like
to mention about your career?
Cardinal: Libraries and information science may appear boring
from the outside, but they are really exciting and interesting fields
because technology and software are evolving to enable convenient, broad access to information. And people have so many varied passions that it is a joy to further their research.
When I first started taking classes in library science, the World
Wide Web was just beginning to become popular. As I earned my
master’s and have worked at the University of Rochester, the Web
has transformed itself — and it’s also transformed the world of
libraries. Because people can find the answers to many questions on
the Web, they tend not to come to the library for answers to fairly
straightforward questions or to look up basic concepts. Instead, they
need to find very specific and hard-to-locate information — and I
love the challenge of helping them do so.
Q: What is your favorite ACS resource?
Cardinal: SciFinder is my go-to resource for finding all sorts of
chemical information. No other database has the same depth and
currency. The support people are excellent.
Q: How have you benefited from
being an ACS member?
Cardinal: At first, I read C&EN to get to know what was happening
in the field. Over time, I’ve gotten more involved in the Division of
Chemical Information committees and conference activities, and
I’ve met so many wonderful colleagues from all over the world.
They understand my work better than anyone else and are so