Bevin Parks can’t tell you where her hometown is. Born to a homemaking mother and an educator father whose job frequently changed locations, Parks had gone through 17 physical addresses before she was 17, attending 7 different schools before graduating from high school.
The constant moving didn’t negatively affect Parks in the way that some might expect, instead it helped shape her love for adventures, ability to face challenges, and confidence in working with people from different backgrounds.
A senior scientist at Afton Chemical Corporation, Parks still enjoys adventures today. And the skill set she has acquired over the years is helping her handle challenges that often come along with adventures with ease.
But it wasn’t all rosy in the beginning.
A bumpy start
Many chemists fell in love with chemistry at a young age, but not Parks. A self described “non-traditional student,” Parks completed her first two years of college study while still in high school. She thrived in all chosen subjects, except for chemistry. “It just didn’t click,” says Parks.
Fortunately, a turning point came when she had to retake general chemistry for her proposed biology major. Thanks partly to the instructor’s enthusiasm, the course made more sense to her this time around. The positive experience propelled her to take an organic chemistry course, and she was hooked. She loved the subject so much that she subsequently changed her major from biology to chemistry.
“It just made sense in a way that math and physics never did to me,” Parks recalls. “Organic chemistry felt at once more like an art and an untapped talent.”
Pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry, with a push
Once she realized that chemistry was actually fun, Parks was all in. While studying for her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Western Washington University, Parks worked multiple jobs for the Chemistry Department, as a stockroom clerk and a teaching assistant.
Noticing Parks’ drive and passion for chemistry, professor James Vyvyan encouraged her to get involved in research at his lab. Parks jumped at the opportunity and studied the total synthesis of heliannuol C and E, a work that helped her win the Chemistry Department’s first Barbara French Duzan scholarship.
Parks enjoyed her early research experience, but she didn’t think about furthering her study in chemistry until Vyvyan one day asked her why not.
“If he hadn’t asked me where I was going to grad school and then challenged my reasons for not considering it, I’d not be here now,” Parks admits with a profound gratitude.
When asked why he encouraged Parks to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry, Vyvyan says, “Bevin was one of my most enthusiastic students from that time period. It was her passion for all things chemistry that led me to encourage her to pursue graduate studies.”
Striving to make an impact
By this time, Parks was deeply in love with everything associated with organic chemistry, but for her graduate study, she wanted to focus on research that could potentially make a real-world impact. Her desire to find her place in both synthesis and application fields led her to James Hutchison’s lab at the University of Oregon, where she synthesized and studied the physical properties of bicyclic malonamide ligands preorganized for binding f-block metals.
With the support of the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, Parks also worked two summers as an intern at the Radiological Processing Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and taught a chemistry course at Central Oregon Community College while working on her dissertation. The unique, multidisciplinary program helped Parks acquire essential skills that could help her start a career in either research or teaching. By the end of the program Parks was well positioned to make the real-world impact she had dreamed of.
From academia to industry
Upon graduating from the University of Oregon, Parks taught full time at California State University in Chico for one semester before deciding that she wanted to give industry a try. In 2007, Parks moved to Houston to work for Champion Technologies.
Today, Parks believes a career path in either academia or industry can be satisfying, but back then, the decision of switching her career path from academia to industry was made easier by the perks that came with an industry position, such as more time to interact with her family.
After working for Champion Technologies for about 2 years, Parks in 2010 moved to Richmond to work for Afton Chemical Corporation, where she has been joggling multiple tasks as a senior chemist, a group leader, and a project manager.
Currently she is helping her company develop new chemicals for industrial applications, and commercialize two novel products, one of which is new to the company and the other new to the industry.
Open to new adventures
Parks says she loves chemical research and product development, either alone as an individual contributor or working with others as a team member. But in recent years she has realized that she may love the latter even more.
Reflecting upon her work, Parks says, “the successes I have had have stemmed from my love of people and the joy I get from figuring out how we best work together to achieve our goals.”
And that seems to be a recipe for successfully managing scientific projects.
Would she switch her career focus from R&D to project management then?
“I absolutely could see my career bending in that direction, given the opportunity,” Parks admits.
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.