Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hi Y'all!

I thought I would take a break from my lab and come over to chat for a while. First of all, thanks to Mad Hatter and Bean Mom for starting the Alternative Scientist blog and for the invite to post. As someone who had no real guidance in her career decisions, I was happy to read that someone was trying to get information out on the subject of alternative careers for scientists.

Well, I guess I should start with a proper introduction. My name is Mad Chemist Chick and I am an organic chemist (Hmmm, sounds like the beginning of a support group, huh? ;-).

So how did I get to where I am now you may ask? I attended a small liberal arts college and majored in chemistry and minored in biology. During that time, I fell in love with organic research and went on to attend grad school at a large public university where I performed research in both organic methodology and natural product synthesis.

During grad school, I found I enjoyed teaching labs and tutoring students, however, I never seriously considered obtaining an academic tenure-track position. I did repeatedly question my sanity for putting up with the conditions in my lab though. I thought that maybe I should come up with a plan B. What if I could not work in chemistry in the way I had planned? I ended up ordering a book called Careers for Chemists: A World Outside the Lab. It gave me a lot of ideas but none of them were quite as appealing to me as drug discovery (For those interested in pharma, you might want to check out the book Jobs in the Drug Industry).

I moved to the Midwest to take a postdoc at a large research university where I performed a mix of organic and organometallic research. After I finished my postdoc, I had the choice of applying for industrial jobs or taking a job at a small liberal arts school teaching as an adjunct and doing some research in the lab of a tenured professor there. In a fit of what I can only describe as madness, I chose the latter. I thought I really couldn’t reach an honest decision regarding industry versus academia without having tried to teach a lecture course and dealing with all the crap that comes with it. I was also worried that if I chose industry and then later changed my mind, it would be much harder to go back and try to get into teaching.

Long story short:
While I really enjoyed interacting with the students, I decided I wanted to stick with my plan A. After postdoc #2, I took some time off and started looking for an industrial job. I ended up being unemployed for about 14 months and started doing some science/technical writing to help make ends meet (and have continued it as an extra source of income).

At the onset of my job search, I had to take an honest look at what I wanted from my career. During some early interviews at large pharma, I saw some things that I did not like and that really concerned me. So I widened my search to include some more non-traditional jobs. Chemists are really lucky in that there is a broad array of companies needing our skills. I interviewed at all sorts companies including biotechs, small pharma, start-ups, law firms, medical supplies, energy and contract research organizations (CROs). I ended up taking a position at a CRO and so far love it.

In terms of this blog, I don’t have firm ideas as to what I will write quite yet. I was thinking about possible avenues for increasing one’s marketability, my experiences while job hunting and hiring (including some outrageous examples of blatant prejudice), and debunking (or confirming) some of the myths of jobs in industry. If anyone has any questions (or ideas), just post them here or over in my lab and I will answer them ASAP.


Leanne said...

I assume from your post you are where you want to be. But what did you end up coming up with as a plan B? And can you describe what a CRO is in more detail.

Mad Hatter said...

I've never heard of CROs before and second Leanne's question! Also, I'd be curious to know what you think are the main differences between the various types of companies you interviewed at--big pharma, small pharma, biotech, start-up, etc.-- and why you ended up choosing the CRO over these other options.

The Mad Chemist said...

But what did you end up coming up with as a plan B?

Plan B keeps changing. Part of my problem is, at the beginning of considering plan Bs, I was really fed up with certain aspects of my field. It is male dominated; I knew that going in but it wasn't until grad school that I realized how ugly things could get.

I thought about different avenues mainly outside pharma (like photography, archeology, astronaut, and a few others) because I wasn't informed about other parts of the chemical field and in truth pharma itself (turned out to be way different than expected).

Then I would look at those fields and find they were mainly male dominated and think "I might as well stick with plan A cuz the same problems will be there too."

Right now, my plan B is a bit cloudy. Plan A is meeting my career needs at the moment and foreseeable future and quite honestly, I have been so busy at my job, I haven't had much time to think about career development issues.

I will probably touch on this in a later post and most certainly will do a post on CROs. It is a growing sector in the chemical industry as pharmas slash payrolls.