Navigating the Twists and
Turns of Chemistry Careers
Brownian Career Paths
BY BLAKE ARONSON
O n one level, careers in chemistry seem lin- ear: study chemistry up to a certain degree level, get a job in your chosen field, and you’re set. ACS and National Science Foun- dation employment surveys (see sidebar
on page 15) generally show lower unemployment rates
and higher salaries for chemists, compared with other
professions. But this seeming stability does not take into
account the twists and turns that individual lives take.
Your interests may evolve. The job market may fluctuate. A change in your personal life might throw your career
for a loop (or vice versa). According to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, more than half of people working in the life,
physical, and social science fields have been with their current employer less than five years.
In physical chemistry, the term “Brownian motion”
refers to the random motion of particles in a gas or liquid
that is caused by colliding into each other. Similarly, some
people find that their personal and professional lives collide in a Brownian fashion.
But a Brownian career path is not necessarily a bad
thing. Read on to learn more about how chemists have
successfully navigated the twists and turns of their lives
and careers in the real world.
I definitely want this
career … no, wait …
Many undergraduate chemistry majors eventually become
chemistry graduate students who pursue research careers.
Since chemistry is an experimental science, it is easy to go
along with research for a long time before you realize it is
not your passion.
This was the case for Frankie Wood-Black, who began
her research career at then-Conoco, studying the thermal
degradation of polymers. Her research involved a lot of
water analysis, and she was asked to support efforts to
make the research center a zero-wastewater facility.
Wood-Black never returned to the bench. Instead,
she started working with the refineries, implementing
grams and super-
vising the cleanup
of orphan (or unused)
sites. Ultimately, she realized
that, while she was a compe-
tent bench chemist, she had a real
passion and talent for develop-
ing research ideas and
So she took positions
that enabled her to
learn and grow on
the business side of
the company, morphing her career into one of application
development outside of the lab.
It took Aron Pollard three tries to find
his true passion. As an undergraduate,
Pollard didn’t know what he wanted to
do until he stumbled upon a chemistry
class. Inspired, he enrolled in the chemical technology program, a two-year program that prepared him for a career as a
laboratory technician. Upon graduation,
he became a quality control technician at
Pilot Chemical Company.
However, Pollard soon found bench-work repetitive. He continued to take
classes part-time at Miami University
(Oxford, OH), earning his B.A. in chemistry four years later. The extra degree
enabled him to pursue a job at his company’s corporate office writing safety
data sheets. He was later promoted to
product safety specialist and is now
responsible for all product safety issues
and regulatory compliance.