Advice to Students

Dr. Court Sandau is an adjunct professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary. Below is some of his advice to students and young chemists.

Why did you choose to study chemistry?

[Studying chemistry] wasn’t my first plan. I had enrolled in the French Literature program at the University of Western Ontario. The entrance advisor encouraged me to switch to the Chemistry program. Once I saw that there would be a minor in environmental sciences, I had to agree that it looked like a fantastic opportunity.

As a chemist, you can be almost anything related to science. You really have to drive your own career path. If you’re considering a career in chemistry, play off your strengths. Get into the research you’re interested in and good at.

How did you get your first job?

I was hired immediately out of my graduate program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) in Atlanta. One project I was working on [at the NWSRC while pursuing my graduate degree] 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.

[One of] the key aspects of me getting my first job was having a thesis supervisor that let me present at international conferences… I had to work to get myself in front of the individuals who could help propel my career.

What advice would you give a young chemist starting his or her career?

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 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.

A chemist can contribute to almost every scientific field. 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.