ACS Industry

Kara Allen: Glued to Science, Passionate about People

Blog Post created by ACS Industry on Nov 17, 2016

Sourcing resumes, preparing reports, and meeting with team members, it’s another busy day at work for Kara Allen. After multi-tasking for a couple of hours, Allen decides to take a short break and walk around.

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In the forensic labs at Aegis Sciences Corporation where Allen works, the scientists and technicians are busy at work. The familiar faces of those whom Allen helped recruit and promote put a smile on her face. Knowing that she has made a positive impact on these people’s career development, Allen feels a great sense of satisfaction.


Allen loves her job as a scientific recruiter for Aegis, a role that allows her to combine her love for science and her passion for helping others to succeed. Those who know her well think that Allen is naturally talented for her job.


But it took a life-changing event for Allen to switch her career path from scientific research to recruitment.


Gluedto science


Like many chemists, it was easy for Allen to fall in love with science at a young age. The source of her inspiration? Her scientist father who loved to conduct fun scientific experiments at home.


“My father was a polymer chemist! It absolutely affected my career choice,” says Allen. “I remember all of his adhesive ‘projects’ around the house. What kid doesn’t want to play with glue?” Allen recalls her childhood memories with a smile.


Naturally, Allen pursued a scientific degree in college, studying microbiology and chemistry. After graduating in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Mississippi University for Women, Allen landed a temporary job as a microbiologist for a food manufacturer. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that she loved analytical chemistry more than microbiology work. Thanks to the research experience and the analytical skills she harnessed while interning at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital during her undergraduate years, Allen easily ventured into the chemical industry. After working as an analytical technician at Valley Products Company for a few years, she joined GlaxoSmithKline as an analytical chemist. Along the way, she joined ACS as soon as she was eligible, and has been an active member ever since.


A change of heart


While Allen was enjoying her scientific work in the pharmaceutical industry, an unexpected event forced her to rethink about her career path.


The turning point came when her oldest daughter was ill. Allen needed time off to take care of her child. But unfortunately the pharmaceutical job she held at the time didn’t offer her the needed flexibility. After some soul-searching, she came to a conclusion that she wanted to change the direction of her career path. She wanted to work on something that was bigger than just a job, something worthy of her time away from her daughters.


“Sometimes life steers you in a different direction,” says Allen. “My oldest daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness at an early age, and when she started chemotherapy, I realized I wanted (and needed) to do something different.”


A passionate move


It wasn’t difficult for Allen to figure out what she really wanted to do, thanks to her long-time involvement in ACS activities.


As an ACS volunteer, one of Allen’s early efforts was serving as a professional advisor for students at a local college. “I really enjoyed working with the students and helping them with their career paths,” recalls Allen. So when the opportunity to recruit chemists for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened up, she “jumped in with both feet.” 


And the transition from analytical chemistry to recruitment was surprisingly smooth.


“When you have a passion for something, you work a lot harder for it,” Allen explains.


Making a positive impact


With her solid scientific background, extensive experience in analytical chemistry, and strong passion for making a positive impact on others’ career paths, Allen has been thriving in her new roles.


After working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for about 3.5 years, in 2008 Allen moved to Vanderbilt Medical Center to assist the hiring officials in all matters related to recruitment as a senior level consultant.


In 2012, Allen joined Aegis Sciences Corporation to help develop a college recruitment program for the rapidly growing forensic toxicology company. Her job is demanding at times, but Allen loves it. Over the past 6 years at Aegis, she has successfully identified and recruited candidates for all toxicology laboratory positions, established solid relationships with universities and professional societies, and built a strong recruiting team.


Today Allen leads Aegis’ recruiting team and guides its University Relations program as a manager. She still loves to recruit team members herself, and she is passionate about helping others grow in their roles.


“We not only recruit from the outside, but do a lot of internal promotion,” explains Allen. “We focus on not only finding the right people, but getting them in the right place.”


A skilled juggler


Despite her busy schedule at Aegis, Allen is still heavily involved in a wide range of ACS activities. From volunteering for the National Chemistry Week to serving as a Career Consultant, Allen has organized countless events since joining ACS 18 years ago. Over the years, she has served as the Chair for two local sections, and has been a member of three national committees, including the Younger Chemists Committee, the Committee on Community Activities, and the Committee on Technician Affairs. For her additional contributions as an ACS Volunteer Career Consultant, in 2015 Allen received the Career Consultant of the Year award from the Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs.


With two young children to raise and a demanding job to succeed in, how does she find time and energy to volunteer?


Here are Allen’s tips for keeping all the balls in the air.

  • Use your time strategically.  Some people like to say “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” Allen lives by it.


  • Get the kids involved.  Allen loves to include her two daughters in her volunteer activities whenever possible. Most of the time, the kids had fun and Allen got her work done.


  • Align your volunteer efforts with your career goal.  In Allen’s case, many of the volunteer activities provide her with an access to university talent. She likes to create a win-win for everybody: the students gain valuable advice regarding career choice and development, and she has a pool of talent that she could potentially attract to her company.


And what motivates her to do all of these?


“At the end of the day, knowing you have made a positive impact on someone’s career,” Allen 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.