My first chemistry job was amazing. I was hired immediately out of my graduate program by the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (the CDC) in Atlanta. One project I was working on, alongside Dr. Norstrom, caught their attention. We were measuring metabolites in PCBs in human blood. There were only a handful of individuals worldwide who were looking at this data and I was one of them. Naturally, I took the position. It was a chemist’s playground with access to all kinds of instrumentation in the lab and opportunities to experiment and drive research. The key aspects of me getting my first job was having a thesis supervisor that let me present at international conferences. I had to get up and present at these conferences, to get noticed. I had to work to get myself in front of the individuals who could help propel my career.
It’s an interesting time right now to pursue chemistry in Alberta. The landscape of what we do is changing. When I was younger, I struggled to find work in Alberta – I really had to drive my own career even though I had worked for the CDC. Part of the reason for this change is that companies are only now to starting to understand the value chemists bring to an organization. We can work in a variety of fields ranging from healthcare and education to oil and gas or within private firms. The P.Chem. designation provides a professional with a level of integrity that is gaining recognition in the workplace worldwide. It really is important to be a part of a profession that is recognized, that encourages professional development and that promotes a culture of legal and ethical responsibility.
Find a good mentor! Find your passion within chemistry. I have been incredibly fortunate to work under the guidance of phenomenal scientists like Dr. Ross Norstrom and Dr. Don Patterson who was my boss and mentor at the CDC. Even now, I immerse myself in books and opportunities to learn from my peers and all individuals who promote the beauty and education of science. Get involved within the science community whenever you can and try to connect with individuals and companies who share your values and interests. The chemistry community is a tight knit group so reach out and connect with fellow chemists and scientists, collaborate and share. The network you build will improve your chances of true success. This is a generalization of chemists but we need to step out of our introverted personalities and communicate more with the public about the value we offer and the services we can provide.
A chemist is not necessarily just destined for a lab job. A chemist can contribute to almost every scientific field. As the central science, it is easy for a chemist to provide insight to both the biological/earth sciences as well as the more theoretical sciences. Once you secure a position in a company you respect, be proud and confident in your chemistry training and speak up when something doesn’t make sense to you. If the data doesn’t seem to make sense, it likely indicates that something has been overlooked.