From a bench scientist to a group leader, many scientists can manage the transition as their careers advance. But from a group leader to an HR manager responsible for a full range of duties that support functions of more than 500 employees, and then to a technology manager responsible for coordination between organizations with varied functions and different cultures? That’s a totally different story. However, that’s precisely what Dawn Mason did. And she did it well.
A Natural Leader
After graduating with a PhD in inorganic chemistry from Texas A&M University, Mason started her career at E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co in 1998. After a short 3-year stint as an R&D chemist, she rose to her first management position. As a newly minted area superintendent, Mason managed a $9.6 million budget, supervised a team of 33 scientists and technicians, and managed contractor relationships in the area.
The suddenly increased responsibility could easily overwhelm many young scientists, but not Mason, who thrives in roles that require both great leadership skills and solid technical knowledge.
Mason’s capability to lead has been further tested and proven in a wide range of roles since joining Eastman Chemical Company in 2003. As a group leader, she successfully led technical groups in various functional areas. As a technology process manager, she managed the execution of a ~$1B technology project portfolio and assimilated needed information that helped the CTO and VPs make data-driven decisions. As an HR manager, she, in collaboration with the CIO leadership team, helped improve workplace competency, productivity, and future leader capability. And as a portfolio and special projects manager, she successfully led projects that require multi-site and multi-business coordination, and directed talent and portfolio management.
In her current role as a technology manager, Mason is managing a multimillion dollar technology portfolio for the performance films business, and she is also driving coordination between a number of organizations, including technology, business, legal, and manufacturing organizations.
It looks like that Mason is capable of managing almost any team, technical or not. The secret of her success? “I have ‘the gift of the gab’ and know how to make connections and catalyze others to act,” says Mason, with a smile.
A beloved mentor
Mason spends a lot of time coaching her team members at Eastman Chemical, and her job requires her to travel. Yet she is still able to squeeze out time and energy to mentor those that are not even part of her company.
As a member of multiple ACS committees, Mason regularly speaks at national and regional ACS meetings, offering career advice to chemical professionals young and old. She also frequently visits universities across the county, speaking with aspiring young chemists face-to-face.
How does she find the time? “It’s all about priority,” notes Mason. As a believer of multi-tasking, Mason is a master of using her lunch time as mentoring time. And she is also known for having walking meetings with her mentees. “Movement helps you think better, walking together keeps you both on an even playing field and we both get some exercise — that’s a win-win!” declares Mason.
In recognition of her managerial excellence, devotion to mentoring many scientists and significant contribution to the ACS community, the American Chemical Society named Mason an ACS Fellow in 2015.
Mason attributes her career success to good teachers, good people she has worked with, and her persistence. She also credits Texas A&M for helping her build a solid foundation in science, technology, and character. Today, she still interacts with the school’s undergraduate and graduate students on a regular basis. And she and her husband, David, a former Texas A&M student, have supported the school’s advancement of science through their personal philanthropy.
“I believe in investing in others,” says Mason. “In the grander scheme, if another person’s path is easier or they are better able to move forward with their goals, then we all win.”
Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.