One of the most significant decisions doctoral
candidates have in front of them when they make
their decision to finish their degree is “what will
I do next.”
A common routes is to apply for and accept
temporary post-doctoral position(s). Future
academic positions will often separate
candidates based on doing a post-doc. In
certain industrial fields working as a post-doc
has advantages. It is helpful for chemists
who are foreign nationals to have post-
doctoral experience. These are
observations, but not absolutes.
The choice of post-doc is what interests you and
what you want to do next in your career. We will
talk about international post-docs in this post.
It is one that has attracted relatively little
JD> “First, I must say that the experience of doing
a postdoc abroad has been invigorating and I
would highly recommend it to anyone. The
experience has changed my outlook on myself
as a scientist (it enabled me to stretch my scientific
wings), the way science research can be structured
(more collaborative…), and the balance
between work and life (bet you can guess that
Brazil has a better work/life balance than the US).”
“I am sure there are millions of other changes… “Dan> Did you choose a mentor who has a strong
JD> “When I was in the second year of my PhD, a
professor from the University of São Paulo spent
a year and a half sabbatical in our lab…”. “This
professor and I worked well together and enjoyed
collaborating. Before he left, he invited me to
come down to Brazil upon my graduation. After
graduating, I decided to accept his offer to come
down to Brazil based on the following factors
(not necessarily in order of importance):
1) I knew this professor and knew that we would
work well together,
2) his focus on electrochemistry and
electrocatalysis would allow me to broaden my
science research background,
3) I liked the idea of immersing myself in a new
country, culture and language.
Regarding your question about whether I chose
my mentor for his ability to help with the job search,
I didn’t think of that. The US and Brazil do have
some ties, but it is still difficult for a professor in
Brazil to have a very broad network of professional
contacts in the US.
I would say that is the only downside to doing a
post doc abroad.
In terms of applying for jobs, I see a lot of
advantages. A number of people each year
receive PhDs from strong research universities,
but few of them choose to go abroad. As
such, I have found that international
experience definitely gets attention.
Companies that value geographic flexibility,
innovation, and different perspectives seem
to appreciate the post doctoral
experience in Brazil.”
Dan> What was the most useful tool you
used to obtain the post-doc?
JD> “Personal connection!”
Dan> What did you learn in your search for
JD> “I didn’t do much searching because I
already knew the advisor for whom I planned
Dan> what were the 3 most significant things
about your post-doctoral experience?
JD> “The three most significant things about my
post-doc are as follows:
Perspective: It was very helpful to do science
in a different environment, to see what other
people do and how they do it. Greater
perspective enabled me [to] clarify my own
interests and goals.
New scientific duties: As a post-doc I had
the opportunity to play a greater leadership
role than as a graduate student. I wrote grant
renewals, managed projects and advised
masters and doctoral students. All these
new duties helped me grow as a
Broader research background: By choosing
a post-doc in a different field than my graduate
degree, I expanded my interests and skills.
By far, the most difficult thing about applying
from abroad is the actual travel for onsite
interviews. If one does a postdoc in England,
it’s no big deal travelwise, but running back
and forth from Brazil is time consuming.
I am not sure if there is a truly good solution
to this problem (perhaps teleportation is
one option), but one possible solution would
be to move back to the US during this
season of interviews. I have to consider
Dan> Where there differences between
your expectations and reality in the
JD> “I wasn’t sure what to expect of a
post-doctoral position (especially because
I was going to a different country), but
I can say that I certainly did not expect
it to be as positive, invigorating or life
changing as it was. Part of the
surprisingly positive experience may
be attributed to living in a different
country and part of it may be attributed
to the intellectual vigor that comes with
the fact that post docs are much more
independent (as compared to grad
students), and can hence be much more
creative in their research.”
Dan>If you were to do it over, would you
work as a post-doc or choose to find a
JD> “I would definitely work as a post-doc.
You have your whole life to find a longer
term position, but the time right after
graduate school is a good time to do
something different without looking like
a flake on your resume (i.e., if you
changed jobs every 1.5 years you
might look non-committal)”
Dan>What are the key things to point out
about your post-doc experience?
JD> Key things:
1) it’s a chance to stretch your scientific
wings. Use the skills you learned as a
grad student to do something different,
2) It’s a chance to build your skills (manage
and mentor graduate and undergraduate
students, write proposals, present at
Dan> Did any thing go wrong, what
could you have done better?
JD> “I think it went well. The only thing
I would suggest to others is that the
post-doctoral fellowships are so fast
(typically 1.5 - 2 years) that as soon as
you begin, you should think not just
about the post-doc itself, but also about
professional development and job
searching when the post-doc is finished.”
Dan> Any questions that should be asked
that I have not asked and your responses?
JD> “The main things I think one should
consider when thinking about whether or
not todo a post-doc and/or about where
to do a post-doc are:
1) What do you think you want to do in the
longer term? For example, if you want to
get a professorship at a top 20 research
university; it you want ot work in a
multinational company, perhaps consider
a post-doc abroad.
2) Do you want to spend more time
developing skills and doing research or
would you prefer to get settled in your
life? If the latter, a post-doc many not
be so interesting for you.
3) What are your financial responsibilities?
If you have kids, a post-doc may not be a
very attactive option because the salary
is not much better than a graduate student.
I even found that paying student loans was
a bit onerous on a post-doc salary.
One of the most informative places to
obtain pertinent guidance for career is
Quintessential career reports. Some
highlights from Susan Hansen’s summary
“Internet is becoming a much stronger source
for recruiting and job-hunting” in some
“Networking is hard; responding to ads
on job boards is relatively easy.” Many
individuals fall to the easier approach.
“The fact remains, though, that the vast majority
of vacancies are never advertised, networking
as the best way to find a job.”
one survey cites sources for job interviews
(high average salary):
1. Networking contacts (46 percent);
2. Internet job listings (24 percent); and
3. Unsolicited contact from a recruiter (5 percent).
Many employers and recruiters perceive “you
are a better candidate if you’re employed.”
“Your online presence is more important than
ever. This is even if you are not actively seeking
a new job. An online presence, in which you
pop up in Google and other searches, can
open up some unexpected opportunities.”
There is quite a bit of factual information in
the Quintessential Careers report. Consider
taking a look for recent trends it reveals.
In August, the ACS awarded the Northeastern
Local section three ChemLuminary awards. This
blog was honored with two ChemLuminary awards
from the Committee on Economic and Professional
Affairs CEPA for outstanding career program and
the Local Sections Activities Committee for
Innovative program for very large sections.
We thank them for honoring the way we serve
the needs and interests of our Northeastern
section and the society in general by providing
a asynchronous, anywhere, anytime, interactive
There are several people who deserve special
recognition for their astuteness, their
willingness to go beyond the usual and
outstanding self-less teamwork each displayed.
In addition, several career consultants were
invited to offer their ideas to deal with
difficult situations. Their ideas influenced
some of the ideas offered. They are:
Finally, it needs to be mentioned that
there were two equally worthy blogs
that were named as finalists for the
CEPA award. It could have gone
either way. Both blogs could have been
awarded. Lisa Balbes’ Alternate
Careers for Chemist blog deserves
recognitiion for the outstanding work
it does for our members. It’s link is
in the Blogroll.
Had to “stop the presses” and share
this finding. A “Cliff notes” mode article
on a critical topic showed up in the
WSJ CareerJournal section by
Jared Sandberg, “Bad at complying?
You just may be a very bad listener.”
Listening skills are essential the higher
one goes in an organization. Listening
combines not only understanding the
words, meaning and intent of a speaker
but also the body language, emphasis,
background, and even what is not said;
then integrating and processing.
Mr. Sandberg offers step one (from
a course on Industrial Relations at Cornell),
that is, offering three things we can do
to be better listeners. Some highlights
of his article are:
begins with readiness to listen,
set your judgments aside.
three key elements:
Involved silence (eye contact, vocal encouragements),
probes (supportive inquiry using
questions like “what” as opposed to
the aggressive “why”) and
paraphrasing (”What I think you said is…”).
There are several other useful pointers
the ACS workshop on Communication
skills for chemical professionals offers. Here
we describe specific listening skills and
- develop strategies to manage urges
facial and body reflection
- focus attention on speaker
listen between the lines (nonverbal,
what is not said)
express empathy, provide nonverbal
- adapt thought speed and take time to
listen to the whole thought
assess what speaker wants you to
measure the information, feelings
mentally sum up
1. cues - for easy recall, thought hooks
2. Ws - where, when, why
3. tell me more about ….
4. restate in own words what was said
5. ask good questions, look for appropriate
But this takes practice and experience.
This is an essential transferable skill and needs
to be continuously developed and practiced.
Picture this: you want to contribute
something in your field that you have
no recent contact with. What do you
Picture this: you want to begin
a role as a adjunct professor, do you
need special professional insurance?
Picture this: you are coaching someone
who asks for specific help in a field
in which you have limited contact. What
do you offer this person? How can you
help him make personal progress?
Each of these situations have occurred
to me in the last week. In dealing with
them, extensive use of my mentors
and my network were instrumental
in influencing my actions. In more than
one situation, I spoke out loud what I
learned and planned to do and received
feedback that was even stronger.
People are willing to do this, when they
know you respect their opinion and will
go out of your way to help them.
This is another one of those multi-
segment postings divided up into
Comment 1: Effective networks, looking
out for the benefit of others.
Comment 2: Mentoring roles
Comment 3: Differences between
mentoring and networks
Kathy Hansen of QuintCareers offers an interesting
novel way of thinking about how to figure out
- recent grads want to do in their careers
- changes mid-career people might look at
- realms of investigations mature chemists and
In an engaging note she reviews how storytelling
might be used to define your life.
A brief abstract is
“… long periods of training, a shortage of
academic jobs, and intense competition for
This academics’ oriented journal points out
wide swings in research funding, slower
responding university staffing, hiring and
adjustment to functional realities (number of
students, specialization, requirements for
completing degrees, post-docs, facilities,
and more.) makes it challenging to
succeed in academic roles.
The article offers directions for dealing with
these conditions that have been “felt” for some
time with the known outcomes many people
Although the article points out that the
“American Chemical Society made suggestions
in 1947 that largely mirror the most recent studies,
including proposals to improve mentoring, to
avoid narrow specialization, and to prepare
students for careers in industry.”
As we know, all fields and realms of
employment (academe, entrepreneurial,
government, and industry) have stresses
and the trends to have professional
development skills be part of the
training advanced degree professionals
receive is realistic, if not needed.
The funny part of all this is that some
people felt this many years ago and are
waiting for someone else to do it….
It would seem to be a professional
responsibility not only to point this out,
also provide the supporting information,
and take specific steps to address
this head on.
How should this be done?
At what level would it be effective?
What would it look like?
Some tips I picked up on creating our PR
documents might come in handy for us.
- Avoid courier font (huh! I have recommended
this font based on input from a recruiter five
years ago. But I learned something. Courier
is a mono-spaced font, meaning “m” and “i”
are given the same spacing. It was common
in the 60’s and 70’s with IBM selectrics, but
not with computers. Simple, non-serif fonts
seem fine choices.)
- Look to use smaller sized bullets. The ones
that are smaller than small letter sizes. Word
is good at helping to get these.
- Choose to capitalize correctly. I know I tend
to capitalize too many words. Some People
Object to Too Many Capitals….
- Know the differences between spelling English
used in the US and UK. We all know:
centre center (US)
but did you know:
towards toward (US)
As with most individuals, we put off
talk about the challenging topics.
We must, however. One of them
in career management is salary.
What tipped this off is reading an
article in WSJ by Marshall Loeb.
He offers several observations that
have value to be repeated:
- few job-seekers actually ask for
- most corporate recruiters said they
are willing to negotiate compensation
- arm yourself with information.
Research the company’s pay scale,
Determine fair market value for the position
Assess the industry averages and
Know the affordability impact of the region
you’ll be working in.
One of the most interesting and well
thought-out sites for salary negotiation I
found was the Department of State.
Add two other sites to the list you read
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW to have
better understanding of the situation.
Thomas Denham in “Evaluating Jobs and
negotiating salary” puts things in perspective
by weighing important considerations in job
offers. He puts various decision factors into
perspective. (his weighting factors, but you
should decide these factors for yourself)
Job Content (30)
Your Boss (20)
Salary and Benefits (15)
Your Co-Workers (10)
Typical Work Week (10)
Organizational Flexibility (5)
Salary in this scheme has a 15 score!
Is the salary offer at market level?
Would taking this position create economic hardship?
How are individual increases and salary reviews and promotions handled?
Think also of the total benefits package when considering the offer.
Denham continues in the article by outlining
four Specific areas to score the employers values.
I found this most helpful for making solid
Once favorable decisions have been made
by the company to hire you and you to consider
accepting the position, then salary negotiation
becomes serious. At times before this, salary
is only brought up to rule out candidates. So,
if the question arises, a candidate’s response
is “very excited about the oppportunity that
you offer and will consider any reasonable
Salary negotiation is properly handled
by organizing, researching, practicing, and
having contingency plans. Denham provides
a nifty lay-out of these by
1) research your salary worth
look at: ACS salary comparator and
”The Salary Calculator™” at
(Use the research to come up with a base salary
range, the top being the best you can hope to
get and the bottom being the least you will take.”)
2) understand the normal progression–
use of salary screening (are you in the ballpark?)
3) understand each party’s goals and prepare
for resistance with acceptable behaviors and
4) establish common ground, showing an attitude
that reveals you seek what good for you given
the company’s constraints
5) request a formal document describing
agreements and actions.
6) consider all of the elements of working
commuting, family-support, better health
insurance options at no extra cost, bonus
with “summing up” (company pays the
taxes), memberships, meetings, etc.
Another strong article worth looking at
offers a different organization.
So, know where salary fits in your decision
process, know what your family requires
for compensation, understand the roles
you are asked to perform and its value
living in the location the company asks you to
An “aha” moment this morning when reading
the column by Anne Fisher, “Lunch-time
blunders.” Several reminders of proper
etiquette at business lunches are obvious,
but the stand-out ones for me are:
Come prepared with well-informed small
Have a few casual, non-business topics in
Learn to ask interesting questions
Develop a common ground
Know your companion’s business.
Prep yourself on business news (not rumors)
and current trends in the industry. Take
20 minutes or so to do a Google search
before you leave for lunch.
Simple etiqutte goes a long way:
take small bites, so that you can quickly
swallow if somebody asks you a question.
Thank you, Jennifer Petoff, for a terrific
on how to use LinkedIn tools to find jobs
and network into organizations. Some
excellent tips. Certainly look at all of them.
One mentioned that “your references
were excellent and described many of
the skills that make you a perfect
So it will be important for me to relay
to the people who so kindly provided the
references to offer some feedback and
especially personal thanks.
For this blog, several topics might be
worth covering. They include:
References vs. recommendations (Main)
Steps in the process and some good practices (2)
Who to ask (3)
Internet social networking recommendations (4)
Questions asked of references (5)
Do’s and don’t’s (6)
Thoughts on situations (7).
To provide highlights of this in this blog,
each item above will be presented as a
comment. Title element of each comment
will be at the beginning and the numbers
in parentheses above refer to the comment
to look up…
Let’s see if this works…
and the higher the pay, the tougher the
screening process. So if you’re being
considered for a top job, it’s likely that
your references will be checked thoroughly.”
“Surprisingly, few candidates realize that
a primary reason they don’t earn a job offer
is because their references failed them.
Instead, they assume a better candidate
beat them out of the job, or that they
performed poorly at some stage of the
But about half of all checked references
fall into the mediocre to poor category,
say human resources professionals.”
“At this stage of the job-search process,
you must be certain that your references
will seal the deal, not blow it away.”
The RileyGuide hits the nail on the head
for describing the difference between
letters of reference and recommendation.
If you have been laid off, request a
letter of reference from your current
supervisor. Calls to the HR department
will only result in verification of your
dates of employment and job position
and won’t discuss how well you did in
your job. “
“Recommendations are formal letters
usually written by your academic
advisor(s) or, if you are lucky, a respected
person in your field who is familiar with
you and your work.
They are used to support an application
for an academic or research position,
including continued study or post-doc
Who writes these letters is as important
as your own credentials and his or her
name behind yours is a real boost to
You often are usually not given an
opportunity to review these letters,
nor should you ask to review them.
They are confidential and meant only
for those reviewing your application.”
“…References and recommendations
written for you to get into a study
program should not be re-used for a
Your writers addressed these letters
for one purpose. They may not address
what an employer needs to hear.”
There was an interesting contact that came from
a grad student at a prestigious Japanese
university. The student wanted to know:
- Was there a chance for him(her) to find
a position in the US
- Is there a chance to pursue an academic
- What does a post-doctoral role entail and
how different is it from a Ph.D.
Basically, my take on the initial request is
‘what are the chances of foreign nationals
coming to the US and being offered positions.’
RESPONSE: There are strong possibilities
that are accompanied by significant barriers
and risks. The US chemical workforce in
chemistry and chemically related fields has
nearly 900,000 employees. It is large.
There are a significant fraction of workers who
were not born in the US but either attended
undergraduate, or graduate or post-graduate
programs. The trend remains in the 21st
century, but it is not general in all industries
and changes from time to time, based on a
number of outside factors.
RE: General Consideration: Personal Assessment
The first item we generally encourage people
entering the field is to perform a self assessment.
What brings him satisfaction? Is it:
challenges, stability, being an entrepreneur,
money, power, career growth,
being in a business and working with customers.
Working in industry is for people who enjoy
working in teams and are effective
There are styles of companies (culture) commonly
based on company size. Small companies
can be faster-paced, where a person has
many responsibilities and networking and
working with customers and suppliers is
nearly everyone’s role.
In many situations in industry, technical
professionals work on product development,
product and process problem-solving,
improving efficiencies, dealing with
regulations, limiting waste, improving yield
and figuring out better ways to do things.
In academia, motivators can be: the love
of learning and teaching, for those who seek
independence, who enjoy being the leading
expert in an area, those like the collegial
atmosphere of consensus building yet being
in charge of your personal area. These are
just a few. Some that apply for industrial
roles also apply for academic careers.
RE: General Consideration: Academia
In the US there are very generally 3 groupings
of college level education–
a)research intensive institutions,
b)principally undergraduate institutions, and
c)community colleges and institutes.
For many cases, a) and b) institutions tend
to employ several hundred new hires each year.
Most of them have participated in post-doctoral
Post-doctoral appointments are temporary
appointments where a person with a Ph. D.
works in the laboratory of a Principle Investigator
P. I.. The length of time varies considerably, but
is usually longer than one year. The roles of
post-docs vary but can involve exploring new
ideas, pursuing specific ideas or applications
or collaborating with several PIs as in industrial
Often c) institutions involve strictly chemical
instruction, many student contact hours and no
formal reserach activities.
My suggestion to this student were to consider
seeking a US post-doc after the self assessment.
Also, the choice of the P. I. is crucial in developing
the expertise to go into the field of choice or
Information on several other topics (resume,
interview strategies and networking)can be obtained
at the ACS website, and at certain blogs like this
and Alternate Careers LB in the Blogroll.