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Victoria Mooney

Exeunt

Posted by Victoria Mooney Aug 30, 2012

Well, the 4th EuCheMS congress has ended, and I must say, it has been a wonderful experience. The range of topics presented during this conference was surprising. There was everything from synthesis, to chemistry and the environment, to ethics in chemistry. Some of the studies that stood out to me were the quirky ones, such the one involving using NMR to determine where and from what type of flower a Greek honey was made. I also love seeing applied research, which explains why one of my favorite talks was given by Reiner Salzer. His research involves using various spectroscopic techniques to monitor the brain during surgery. I had never thought of how the brain must readjust after the skull is opened for surgery, but it makes sense that the brain will have changed a bit from the pre-surgery scan. So cool!

               Aside from the talks, another thing I have enjoyed about coming to this conference is meeting some amazing people: my fellow awardees, the ACS students from Colorado, the students from the European Young Chemists network, as well as the ACS CEO and staff. Madeleine Jacobs, CEO and executive director of ACS, chatted with us several times, told us her story and about ceremonies she has gone to for the Nobel and Kavli prizes (which sound incredible), and encouraged us to excel in our careers. If you ever get the chance to hear her speak, take it. The rest of the ACS staff that we met here were awesome as well, especially Steven Meyers, who arranged our trips here and has gone out of his way to help arrange flights home for those of us that could have ended up stranded in Germany due to the Lufthansa strike. So thank you, Steve and everyone else that made this trip possible. It's been great.

                I have always known that there are different ways of doing things in different countries. Some of these differences are in the little things. For instance, I’ve learned during this trip that the serving sizes of soda and water are tiny compared to that of beer (200 mL compared to 500 mL). What surprised me, though, was when we were told on a dinner cruise that beer and wine were free, but coffee and water were not. Is it not common to drink water here?

However, I had not realized that the differences in protocol extended into the job application processes as well. I went to a clinic hosted by the European Young Chemist Network and the German chemical company Evonik, where they went over various ways to prepare a job application and for an interview. Some of their tips were ones I’m sure we’ve all heard before: Make sure you have an online presence, go over possible questions you may be asked in a job interview, etc. One difference that struck me was in the preparation of the CV. In Germany, it is expected that your photo be on your CV and it is also common to have your marital status, hobbies, etc. on your CV as well. Apparently, Europeans don’t sue people for discrimination like Americans do.

Actually, it had already been mentioned that Europeans don’t sue as often as Americans do during our trip to the American Embassy, when a representative for the Czech Fulbright program explained why the Czech Fulbright recipients are told soon after the decision has been made, but American winners aren’t notified until much later. The American recipients aren’t notified until after the Fulbright committee has received the final budget information, just in case they were to notify someone that they had won, only to later find out that there wasn’t enough money. It’s rather sad that other countries have to take those things into consideration when dealing with Americans. I think that if I were offered a Fulbright scholarship and it was later taken away, I would be devastated, but I wouldn't sue them over it. I don’t think I’m in the minority here, am I?

     One of the talks here was about European women in chemistry. The speaker mentioned several famous female chemists including Rosalind Franklin (for whom there is talk of petitioning the Nobel Foundation for posthumous recognition of her work) as well as Marie Curie, her daughter Irène Curie-Joliot, and Ada Yonath, the most recent female winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. A clip was shown of a talk given by Ada Yonath, wherein she spoke of her five-year-old granddaughter’s invitation to tell her class about the ribosome. This goes to show that it is never too early to get children interested in science.

      I have seen several children at this conference: A pre-teen girl leaving the conference center carrying a poster tube (not hers, obviously), a boy chatting with one of the vendors (Sigma-Aldrich, I believe), and a one-year-old going to his father’s talk. My favorite was tonight, when I saw a few graduate students holding their one-year-olds while presenting their posters. This reminded me of the first time I brought my two oldest daughters to the “Molecules and Radiation” class in graduate school. My professor (whose lab I later joined) held my two-year-old on his hip while he went over the previous week’s homework. While this may be a bit young to go to graduate-level chemistry class, I have noticed that the ACS has several initiatives underway to expose kids to chemistry and get them interested; among them, project SEED for high school kids and the Chemistry Ambassadors program for younger children.  After a discussion at dinner tonight with some of the other ACS awardees about how math and science classes in high school may overwhelm students and cause them to steer away from these areas, I now have a greater appreciation for these projects. Showing children how fun chemistry can be may spark a life-long interest in science and stimulate greater scientific advancement in America.

 

  P.S. If you have any stories about children and science, leave a comment. I would love to hear them!

It is really quite amazing how people end up where they do over the course of their careers. Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to hear about how some of the higher-ups in ACS came to be in their current positions. It has made me realize a few things that, as a graduate student nearing the end of her thesis project, have both reassured and inspired me.

I have learned that while you might have your career path planned out, you may have a few detours along the way doing jobs you had never considered while you were a graduate student. You can’t follow a route chosen for you by Google Maps to get from point A (graduate school) to point B (your ideal job). But that’s okay. Predictability can be boring; so having a few surprises along the way keeps life interesting, just don’t limit yourself. While knowing what type of career you would like to pursue is great, if the opportunity to do something different comes up, don’t immediately dismiss it, even if it is outside your comfort zone or isn’t what you thought you wanted.

I met a research scientist at one of the career seminars back home who told me that when he and his wife were in graduate school, he planned to teach and his wife planned to go into industry. Neither of them had any interest in pursuing other types of careers. However, now, about fifteen years later, they each have the career the other had planned: He is working in industry, she is a professor, and they are both exactly where they want to be. Although, that is not to say that their careers might not change again.

When people with careers in the sciences describe their lives since undergraduate or graduate school, I always get the impression that a career is a constantly evolving thing. Each job helps you build your skill set and connections until you move on to the next. Someone once told me not to worry too much about the job I get after graduate school, because it will only be the first of many. If I can have the type of successful career that I have heard about over the past few days, then having some variety in my career will be fine with me. I can’t wait to see where life takes me.

Recently, I was lucky enough to win one of the new ACS travel awards which has allowed me to come present at the 4th EuCheMS congress in Prague. As a part of the award agreement, I will be posting 5 blogs about this conference. It was suggested that the number of times people might wish to read blogs which can be summarized by “Oooh, Prague is so pretty, interesting, etc.” are few and that we should limit ourselves to only one blog in that vein. This will be mine.

                Obviously the architecture is amazing and many, if not most, of the buildings here are older than the United States. There is a huge castle, members of the Prague orchestra playing in the street, and artists drawing caricatures on ancient bridges. However, what I appreciated during the 4 hour walking tour we went on today, were the quirky little things we learned about the city and its inhabitants. For instance, there is a functioning monastery, the brothers of which run successful a hotel, a brewery, etc. A couple other things that stood out to me are 1) the famous defenestrations, 2) the communism museum and its posters (a teddy bear with a gun? Really?), and 3) the John Lennon wall, where you may go watch people paying homage to the musician by adding another layer of graffiti.

                Needless to say, after our tour, I had a new appreciation for Prague, and what was meant to satisfy my curiosity about the city so I can focus on the conference only increased it. However, the commencement of the conference revealed other opportunities to learn about new subjects and provided information that will be useful when preparing for my career after graduation. But that is a topic for another day.