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more tales of real-world careers.
OK, so now what?
So how can you possibly manage a career when everything—
your company, your personal life, and even your interests—
are in a constant state of flux? Here are seven tips:
1. Start by taking advantage of a variety of opportunities
in college. For example, Pollard took several courses in college
before stumbling upon chemistry as a career path. Elective
courses can help you discover other passions, such as writing
or business, and give you an edge if you need to make career
changes later on. Internships can give you a chance to test
different work environments to find your best fit.
2. Learn to accept that a number of factors will be out of
your control. The weekend after Wood-Black defended her
physics dissertation, the Exxon Valdez struck Prince William
Sound’s Bligh Reef, spilling 11–38 million gallons of crude oil
into the Gulf of Alaska and nearby beaches. The spill forced
many companies to reexamine their environmental practices,
opening up a swath of opportunities that comprised a large
portion of Wood-Black’s career.
3. Career tracks do not need to be permanent, even in
academia. Wood-Black, who started her career as a Ph.D.
researcher, became an executive, then a consultant, and is now
a college professor. She says she hears about people struggling
to find tenure-track positions on the coasts, but her small
Midwestern university has plenty of openings. She advises
aspiring professors to earn tenure anywhere they can before
trying for their ideal university. That way, she says, “You’re still
searching for a job, but you’re doing it as a tenured professor,
which is very different.”
4. View jobs as opportunities to develop new skills, rather
than just a paycheck. Wood-Black took positions in finance
and patents to grow her business expertise, for example, while
French has pursued a variety of positions that helped her move
from technician to management.
5. In some cases, you may need to go back to school.
Although Pollard entered the workforce with an associate’s
degree, he continued to take classes part-time. The bachelor’s
degree he earned enabled him to move from the bench to the
safety career that he currently enjoys. Wood-Black earned her
M.B.A. in order to pursue opportunities on the business side
of Conoco. For Hayes, earning new degrees enabled him to
completely change his career. All agree that going to school
while working was hard — but for them, the payoff was worth
6. Maintaining an active network throughout your career
makes a difference. Tips from former classmates led both
Pollard and French to their current positions. The adjunct
position that inspired Hayes to work at a two-year college came
about because a colleague and some of his former students
7. Finally, always do your best. Wood-Black’s reputation for
hard work and dedication gave her enough credibility to explore
positions outside of her initial skill set. Coonce’s teaching
skills — including the willingness and ability to teach topics she
herself had struggled with — prompted her current employers
to create a teaching position just for her.
On paper, chemistry careers can seem far more stable than
careers in other fields. In reality, changes in the workforce,
in your interests, and in your life can make your career path
seem positively Brownian. However, by following your passions and opportunities, you will not only survive, but thrive
amid the changes.
Blake Aronson is a Senior Education Associate in the ACS
Undergraduate Programs Office, supporting two-year
college activities. She has a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry
and experience in industry, education, and the non-profit sectors.
Gauging the Employment
Landscape: Three Resources
“2014 Salaries & Employment.” S.L. Rovner. Chemical &
Engineering News, September 1, 2014; pp 68-71.
Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science
and Engineering: 2015 (Special Report NSF 15-311). NSF,
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.
Available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.
Employee Tenure Summary; U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics, released September 18, 2014.