Recently was asked the following:
…I am completing an on-line application for a position
which I have … had two phone interviews. I have an
in-person interview next week.
What is the best response to the following question:
‘What did you enjoy least about your last 3 positions?‘
…When I consider your question, I find it challenging
and one that needs to be honest. I think of four classes
1. decisions that affect us
2. decisions you have to make affecting others
3. hard problems that do not have absolute ‘right answers’ or
involve choosing to minimize losses.
4. investigating the actions of others in a severe problem
Perhaps it has occurred to you that you have been on projects
developing, improving or making a process or product
manufacturable. Then, you are taken off the project before it
is completed or implemented. Business conditions may cause
this or finances may force the decision. You might indicate that
you were convinced of the decision when your boss described
the factors what the decision was being made.
CHOOSING PEOPLE TO LET GO AND LETTING THEM GO
When I worked for a company and was tasked to reduce
staffing of one or more in my group. Describe the decision
process and how you communicated it to upper management.
Then, describe how you served the notice to the severed
PROJECT MANAGEMENT WHERE YOU NEED TO
MINIMIZE NEGATIVE EFFECTS
M, we can look at all sorts of product management and
project management difficult problems. Consider major
catastrophes, like oil spills, where almost anything that is done
is too little, too late. Raw material changes and management,
cost and time implications of changes in a project charter, and
changes in product end use (thus changing product or process
specifications) are possible examples.
INVESTIGATING, AS MANAGEMENT, EITHER
DEATH OR A SEVERE ACCIDENT WHEN NO ONE
WISHES TO ADMIT WRONG-DOING OR CUTTING
We stress in one-on-one interviews that we want to
know the facts and circumstances so that we can
understand and prevent it from happening again.
Sometimes, it is hard for workers to respond to an
inquiry, when they think they are being personally
indicted. We also need to stress the importance of
suspending judgment or making unwarranted assumptions.
We need to honestly portray a separation between
investigation and finding fault.
M, in each of these situations, reveal
the importance of getting the facts and knowing the
that you can be called upon to make difficult decisions
with a human face and with empathy.
I am sure you have true experiences of this sort. If
you wish to share your stories or pose follow-up
questions, don’t hesitate.”
A graduation that I attended was a proud moment where
one of the speakers to the nursing school grads and their
friends and families spoke about a principle of not
allowing your core values and beliefs be compromised.
Three components of this principle seem relevant:
Importance of knowing what is critical, what is involved
how to express your core values and what to do if you are
asked to compromise them
Planning how you are going to carry out your
responsibilities with your values and beliefs as a “fore thought,”
not an after thought.
Be more than willing, be able and commit to examining
behaviors to correct them and make them right. Learn from
mistakes and be humble. There is wisdom and intelligence
all around us.
The commencement speaker offered the February 1,
2003 Challenger disaster attributed to faulty o-rings
as an example of how unintended consequences of a
low probability failure mode was allowed to persist,
even though it was known to be a cause of potential
catastrophic problems. It was fixable and should not
have been allowed.
There are many other examples of catastrophes that
have happened, despite real signals of them being
known. Humans cut corners, overlooked partial
occurrences, did not connect the dots with serious
but not fatal previous instances and permitted their
attention to be switched from the most important
Bhopal India methyl isothyanate disaster (1984)
Chernobyl nuclear safety disaster (1986)
Gulf of Mexico off shore rig release (2010)
and many others.
Gen. Duane Deal authored a thoughtful examination
of a large number perspectives. It applies to the
chemical enterprise as much as to nursing and life-
and-death military missions and decisions.
-Chemical Safety first.
-No risky activity should be started until all consequences
are considered and thought through.
-Learn from the lessons of others.
Most people offering help for positions, advancement
and managing their careers highlight networking as
a key activity.
I know I was at a loss when I first gave deep
thought into what networks and networking
was. So, in a way I feel that ambivilence
Then Barabasi’s work came to my attention.
Albert-Lazlo Barabasi is now at Northeastern
Univ. and has explored deeply the symbolic
mathematics and several important applications
of networks. A readable version is found in
his well conceived book– “Linked.”
In a nutshell networks can be generally
described as distributions that are not
normal (Poisson- like) with central tendencies
and other common terms, but are more “power
law” like, with few dominant components, called
“hubs” and many, less dominant elements that
fall off nearly exponentially in frequency.
The Internet as a network, one that nearly
everyone who uses it might benefit from, is
described as four continents that have cool
properties. The links in the Internet are
“directed” from one web-page to another.
A quarter of web-pages are in the “central
core” continent and links exist commonly
between web-pages there. Two other continents
are either “linked to” and “linked from” the
central core. The fourth ‘continent’ appear
as unconnected islands (like Oceania).
Linking in the Internet is key.
Preferential attachment to key webpages
makes a big difference.
Fitness so that other pages want to link to
a web-page is important.
There are similarities and differences between
social and professional networks and the Internet.
This will be a continuing topic in the blog.
It is more common now in my classes and in
workshops I am asked to deliver that there are
more women. Capable, strong communicators,
involved and focused, they have a different set
of problems than what me and my male scientists
Let’s start off with role models first. There are
fewer of them and with the emerging higher
number of women scientists the ratio of
emerging to role models (mentors) is high. Thus,
either women need to seek out men or do without.
ADAPT TO CONCERNS. In my classes where
we work together in the learning enterprise to
motivate and to change minds, the students are
not the only ones who actively learn. While I should
not favor women over men in disputes, I will
“go the extra mile” and change things, rather than
stand pat with the status quo.
One thing stands out is the troubling post doc
dilemma, when full time permanent positions are
at a premium. I want to argue in favor of career
consultants and mentors to proactively seek
avenues to promote women scientists.
Then when a female enters the workplace how do
you get recognized. Debra Condren’s book
reviewed in a blog offers some cogent advice
on survival tactics.
Resumes briefly highlight skills, experiences and
accomplishments that show a match to requirements
for an open position. While experienced scientists
and engineers will be able show all three, recent
grads will find it a challenge to make a case for
Commonly recommended sections of a resume include
heading - please be aware of subtleties 1 2
objective - crisply and clearly stated
highlights - notable technical items where you have
acquired, developed and mastered that
are valuable in the position you are seeking
education - this comes before experience for
recent grads (be sensitive to the actual
field in which your degree was granted.)
experience - job relevant positions where it is most
helpful to state accomplishments, using
active verbs 2
honors and awards - individual and team
affiliations - how you relate to those in your profession
and continue to learn after formal education
can also show your willingness to assume
leadership positions and demonstrate
transferable skills (a recent resume listed
membership in the Brazilian Chemical
Society to show language ability in Portugese.)
Many M. S. recent grads will not be represented well
enough with only these seven sections. A strong case can
be made for masters degree holders (no further degrees
in the same field) that a specific section providing
skill sets (SKILLS section), that are valuable in laboratory,
pilot plant, in problem solving, are innovation relevant
(customizing software for customers) or in use in
factories, be inserted.
Consider placing it following the experience section
and have it contain relevant technical competencies
like working with Symyx, Mathematica
and other versatile software packages, familiarity with
statistical design of experiments, experience with
laboratory, pilot or plant equipment, developing or
improving methods of synthesis, characterization or
isolation. These may not be at the expert level or
doctorate proficiency, but they are far more than
running it once in undergraduate organic or analytical
A skills section is not recommended for a doctorate
since their EXPERIENCE section would describe
accomplishments using these unique skills. There
would be no need to repeat them. However, a
case could be made that B. S. and B. A. holders
can benefit from having this section in their resume.
While browsing one of my journals I encountered
an interesting contribution by Dan Scherson, editor
of a prestigious electrochemical journal mentioning
the use of “publication metrics” in relation to tenure
This challenged me to explore what new
professors are expected to produce to successfully
meet tenure criteria. University of Georgia
offered a clear view of expectations.
It might not be valid in ten years if Henry Rzepa’s
view of the future of chemical journals where
machines will be the most avid readers of articles.
The field of Pharmacy has weighed in on this topic
in a strong way in a recent review.
If you are deeply into this topic, the impact factor of
the impact factor for publication metrics is given in
an amazing publication.
But then there is always Calvin and Hobbes 1
History has seen the invention of techniques be
the forerunner of major breakthroughs– mass
spectroscopy, hplc, nmr and many others.
Last February, I attended a lecture featuring
Dick Zare describing Cavity Ring-down
spectroscopy that he and his colleagues have
developed. It can be used to measure C, H,
O, N isotope ratios. Applications for this method
- water sources in mixed streams
- geographical origin of plant species 1
- early detection of ulcers
- geochemistry of coal and petroleum reserves
- understanding the sources and sinks of
“greenhouse gases” 2
One of the challenges facing graduate students,
post-docs and career changers is what
career path should I take. Related to this is:
Where should I work?
Been thinking about “choice” and the ‘art of
choosing’ that has led to me a revealing book
by Sheena Iyengar of Wharton School of
Business. The art of choosing is far from a
science and is woven together by narratives.
Nonetheless, science can be applied to choosing
and the recognition of choice options (trivial vs.
important, single part vs.multi-part decisions).
Iyengar points out that our choices often can
determine how we perceive ourselves and wish
to be perceived. Our personal narratives can
hold sway over what we make choices on and
what choices we make. When we ask ourselves
what we want, what will please us, what will be
the best for ourselves and people near to us,
we realize a significant difference between
Individualist societies (US) consider their own
needs, wants, rights and contracts, focusing on
their personal goals. Those with collectivist
backgrounds prize being members of groups
to which they belong. They strive to fit in and
maintain harmony following norms of and
duties imposed in these social constructs.
Rather than absolutes, this model offers a
range of extremes that guides when and what
Many commercial and political arenas take
their cues from approaches to reach “our full
potential”. Funny that most people even in
individualist societies who want to be unique,
are quite similar.
Marketing and commercial concerns build on
how our minds associate to recall and process.
They look for “priming” cues. Thus, when we
are interviewing for positions assessing and
projecting the critical cues advertises to the
interviewers that we can fit in.
CHOICES– CRITICAL AND TRIVIAL
Helpful notions about choosing come from
identifying what are the important choices
we make and choosing among “constrained
choices.” Most people can deal with a choice
among five to nine items. More than 7 +/- 2,
throws people into confusion.
CHOOSING IS A SKILL
You want to have choice. But, it is not an absolute
that more choice means more freedom and
more freedom means greater benefit. More choice
can lead people to be miserable, resulting from
loss of opportunity, due to limited options,
an escalation of expectations and
It is helpful to have some constraints and to lower
Simplify your decision rules. Obtain recommendations,
go to experts in areas that are significant and you lack
expertise, the time or the inclination to go into depth.
Increase your expertise to offset your weaknesses
and some limits to your cognitive abilities.
There can be reactance to lack of choice (You have no
optiions.), but this may not be real.
There can be unintended consequences of choice.
(Cigarette taxes encourages black market.)
There is much art in choice since there is uncertainty
Cloud computing is becoming more mainstream
in fields other than business and entertaining.
The long tail impact is expanding in many fields
and new tools are available for professionals to
benefit from the Internet. ETFs’ profits can be
eaten up by larger tax bites.
GOOGLE DOCS USED TO BRING
COURSE MATERIAL TO STUDENTS
Source: C. Eustace (Look at his blog.).
Chris was right.
Migrate to the cloud for documents for
the Professional Development course and make sure
the grad students knew of the importance of a
personal web presence and twitter.
My powerpoints and the students’ assignments were
uploaded to a course folder in Google-docs and
available for all.
Reasonable documentation and examples in a help-site.
Know about file size limits on uploads.
TURNING A WEBPAGE INTO A KEEPER
Source: K. Boerhet, WSJ 4-21-10; Turning a
WebPage into a Keeper
As more and more activity gets coordinated via the
web, smart resources that do multiple tasks for us
are developed. How do you “bookmark pages or
later reading? Author Boerhet talked about
this in her 4-21-10 column about icyte.com
HIDDEN TAX TRAPS IN ETFs
Source: J. Zweig, WSJ 4-17-10 Hidden tax traps
alternative assets like commodities and
currencies. With taxes likely to change, it is
important to explore and be aware of tax
implications to assess holding or buying more.
Recently, I had the privilege of working with a
member who asked for help with his interview
for a position at a community college.
Brief pointers were sent, for example: onsite
interview preparation and reminders about civility..
Then he asked for specific, detailed help regarding
A) chemistry CLASS (personal choice of topic) (10 minutes)
B) RESEARCH PROPOSAL and goals (5 minutes)
The audience for both was the search committee.
His preparation approach involved:
A) CLASS- power point presentation for
carboxylic acids and their derivatives
B) RESEARCH PROPOSAL- power point
presentation divided into:
1) Introduction (1 slides)
2) Aims (1)
3) Plan of action (2)
4) Achievements after one year and how it
positively impacts XXCC (2)
(here he emphasized undergraduate research,
collaboration and getting funded)
Suggestions offered were:
A) CLASS- Consider bringing in some
natural products containing carboxylic acids
and esters that have odors, like fruit as in
the Wikipedia table
Consider showing what happens to these
materials and then write the reaction on the
board. Do you use tangible teaching materials
like molecular models? These might be
B) RESEARCH- There should be a preliminary
budget estimate. Look for equipment that is
common in most college laboratories, if you
can, to keep within academic setting limits.
Include acknowledgments for funding
organizations and people with whom you have
C) QUESTIONS -Consider asking questions about the
length of the contract? When does it start? Is there
a chance to start working earlier? Explore the
interviewers’ experiences working at the community
Ask for a tour of the laboratories and a chance
to meet the students.
We had a guest speaker in class this week,
Jeremy Kocielecki. from DuPont, who talked about
things to prepare for and expect in a
professional’s first year on the job.
He focused on three:
(1) things to make sure you learn to work successfully,
(2) effective communication and
(3) performance reviews.
He encouraged people to have a personal, take-
it-with-you-when-you-leave “journal” that documents
what you do, think and observe. You can use this
when creating your annual performance review.
He emphasized working closely with your boss and
refraining from writing emails until you actually
discuss it over with your boss. Email is so prevalent
and used for legal evidence so much, one needs to
be fully aware. See a business netiqutte
site for a good discussion.
It is so important to start well off in a new position.
(Note helpful link.)