Congratulations on becoming a member of the professional chemistry family. Welcome to the club! It’s not an easy path on which you have embarked but you have now completed the first step. What lies ahead are endless possibilities and your future is mostly in your hands. Luckily, there are many members of the chemistry family to help you navigate your path. If you haven’t already, of course, you should become a member of the American Chemical Society. Think of it as your union card. Now let me pass along a few lessons that you might find useful as you grow as a professional chemist.
People are going to lie to you. Let’s just get the ugly stuff out of the way first. It’s true, people will lie; in fact, I’ve already lied to you. You’re future career might not be mostly in your hands. We like to think that it will and as people managers, we like to tell our people this. But, the truth is, there are factors outside of your control that might prevent you from a certain career path. Desired roles might not open at the time when you are ready. You might work hard on a particular career path only to find that corporate strategy has changed and what you wanted to do is no longer part of the plan. That doesn’t mean the end of the road. Think broadly about where you want your career to progress so that there’s always something interesting in your sphere of possibilities.
Forget about the letters on your degree. If you use your Bachelor’s degree and start your career, go confidently into the field knowing that your training has prepared you well to be a contributing member of the chemistry community. If you decide to pursue an advanced degree, congratulations; you have an exciting time ahead of you. When you are done, you will be expected to lead. But don’t forget where you came from. Many times, the Bachelor’s and Master’s scientists will be the ones that keep the lab/project moving forward. You will have the added responsibility to contribute to the continued development of the non-Ph.D. members of your lab. None of us started at the top and we all had someone help us achieve our position.
This is not the end. You have worked hard to get your degree and are ready to contribute to the advancement of the field of chemistry. One of your primary responsibilities now is to continue to grow personally and professionally as the field advances technically. If you want to have the most satisfying career, you need to make sure that you are not the same chemist you were on the day you graduated. Continue learning and don’t let the field pass you by. Your employer or funding agencies will expect you to grow professionally. Luckily, there is an abundance of people to help you. Last week’s blog post spoke to the importance of mentors. Enlist as many as needed. The ACS provides numerous resources for professional growth and development, so take advantage of your membership. Most importantly, never lose the curiosity that spurred you to pursue a career in science.
During your professional career, the population of Earth will grow to almost 10 billion. We face great challenges as a result of this projected growth. Many of these challenges can be solved by creative applications of science. As a trained chemist, you have a set of tools that will allow you to contribute broadly to many of these problems. Congratulations, good luck, and do well. The world is counting on you.
Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign.