A New Track by Pittcon: Developing a Career in Analytical Chemistry

The field of analytical chemistry has evolved from a simple repository of empirical prescriptions and recipes to a theoretically and experimentally grounded sub-discipline of chemistry. Moving beyond the humble complexities of synthetic rubber production, analytical chemists are helping eliminate world hunger and malnutrition, quality control brain-computer interfaces, and resolve bioethical dilemmas through cultured meat.1,2,3,4

                                                                              Image Credit: Krisana Antharith/Shutterstock.com

For those interested in engineering a brighter future for the world, analytical chemistry is an attractive career choice. But how do you break into this field? Typically, a budding analytical chemist is recruited to an entry-level position, such as a lab technician or research assistant, following completion of an undergraduate degree. From here, it is common to undertake a PhD or transition into industry-specific roles. If the path of academia calls, a qualified analytical chemist may begin an assistant professorship before graduating to a full professor, all the while contributing to the academic community through grant writing, publishing research papers, and lecturing.5

With their foot on the gas, a seasoned professor may oversee departments, laboratories, or research divisions, juggling research groups and conferences. Stretched by the demands of this dynamic career, professors contend with a range of concerns, from managing a productive research group to satisfying editorial responsibilities, administrative positions, and societal leadership roles in a stubbornly 24-hour day.

Perhaps counterintuitively, in the face of this hectic lifestyle, professors are vulnerable to a particular occupational hazard—boredom. Recruiting students, securing funding, writing papers; wash, rinse, and repeat. When caught in this cycle for years, how do professors prevent their careers from growing stale? Fortunately, Pittcon 2024 is here to provide solutions, offering a new track on Professional Development that includes presentations from experts and a course highlighting the importance of effective communication.

Progressing in Your Analytical Chemistry Faculty Career

An academic career in analytical chemistry is marked by several key milestones and decision points. Collectively, these shape the trajectory of an academic career and emphasize the integration of research, teaching, and service throughout the journey. While individual paths will vary, common milestones and decisions include:

  1. Graduate Studies:
    • Decision Point: Pursuing advanced degrees, such as an MSc or PhD, opens job opportunities and improves salary prospects but can be costly.
  2. Research Publications:
    • Milestone: Publishing research findings in peer-reviewed journals contributes to the field and displays an ability to finish a project.6
  3. Grant Writing and Funding Acquisition:
    • Decision Point: Pursuing funding opportunities, writing research grants, and securing research funding are critical decisions that sustain a research program.
  4. Research Group Establishment:
    • Milestone: Building a successful research group, including mentoring graduate students and postdocs, demonstrates academic leadership.
  5. Promotion to Associate and Full Professor:
    • Milestone: Earning promotions to associate and full professor levels signifies ongoing contributions to research, teaching, and service.
  6. Editorial and Leadership Roles:
    • Decision Point: Accepting editorial responsibilities and taking leadership roles within academic societies are useful to professional development, though entail considerable demands on time.

Standing at a crossroads, it is natural to feel apprehensive. At each turn, a new raft of risks and responsibilities arises. Even so, it is recommended that analytical chemists take on new roles when they are ready and, in so doing, avoid career stagnation, for beyond the crest of a key decision, exciting opportunities abound to grow as an individual, create new relationships, and share expertise.

Finding the Balance: Expanding Research Interests and Group Dynamics

For a professor managing a research team, the weight of each decision can feel heavier than strictly personal decisions. Selecting the optimal time to explore new and terminate existing projects and understanding how these changes might affect group dynamics can be a challenging calculation. Though the prospect of shifting a team onto a new path can be daunting, there are some simple but effective strategies to help ensure a balance of interests:

  1. Plan and Prioritize: Before expanding research interests, carefully plan and prioritize projects based on their alignment with the team’s expertise, resources, and overarching research goals. This can be achieved through regular strategic planning sessions.
  2. Maintain Open Communication: To foster a collaborative environment and understand potential avenues of interest, maintain communication channels within the research team, and involve members in the decision-making process.
  3. Strategically Recruit and Up-skill: Evaluate the skills within the team, identifying blind spots for prospective projects. Recruit individuals with desired expertise and provide training opportunities for existing team members to enhance their skills and adapt to evolving research needs.

For more detailed insights on how to move through your career as an analytical chemistry faculty, visit Pittcon 2024.

Drawing on personal experience, Prof. Jonathan Sweedler, Director of the School of Chemical Sciences at Illinois University, will discuss strategies for balancing the exploration of new career opportunities with the management of a fruitful research group. To attend his presentation, Moving through your career as an analytical chemistry faculty, register now at Pittcon 2024.

The Art of Communication in Academia and Industry

At each step along the path of academia and industry, your success depends on an ability to communicate effectively in both writing and speaking. This extends beyond the correct use of vocabulary and grammar but encapsulates a confident writing style, clarity of expression, and the ability to craft a cogent argument.6

Nonetheless, it has been noted that communication classes in schools fail to properly equip scientists for the workforce. Aiming to resolve this problem, Kim HuynhBa, Pharmaceutical QMS Consultant and the Managing Director of Pharmalytik, is delivering a short course on different practices to improve oral and written communication skills both in person and online. To attend her course, ‘Effective Technical Communication for Analytical Chemists,’ register now at Pittcon 2024.

A Road Worth Traveling: Success in Your Analytical Chemistry Career

Though the journey may not be easy, the rewards of a career in analytical chemistry are worth it. Achieving success in analytical chemistry is an ongoing project, and amid the evolving landscape in this field, this demands a focus on career development and effective communication.

Providing a platform to showcase recent developments in analytical research and scientific instrumentation, Pittcon 2024 is proud to announce its new track, Professional Development. This new track delivers opportunities for ongoing education and enrichment in analytical chemistry. Boost your career by joining us at Pittcon 2024.

References and Further Reading

  1. ACS. (2014) National Historic Chemical Landmarks: Chemists and Chemistry that Transformed Our Lives – Izaak Maurits Kolthoff and Modern Analytical Chemistry.
  2. García-Martinez, J., et al. (2023) Feeding the Planet: The Main Contribution and Challenge of Chemistry. ACS Agricultural Science and Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acsagscitech.3c00108
  3. Neuralink. [Online] Analytical Chemist. Available at: https://neuralink.com/careers/apply/?gh_jid=5787186003&gh_src=c356a2533us (Accessed on 08 December 2023).
  4. C&EN. (2018). [Online] The to-do list for ‘clean’ meat. Available at: https://cen.acs.org/business/food-ingredients/list-cleanmeat/96/i42 (Accessed on 08 December 2023).
  5. ACS. [Online] Chemistry Professor. Available at: https://www.acs.org/careers/chemical-sciences/fields/chemistry-professor.html (Accessed on 03 December 2023).
  6. Sweedler, J.V. (2016) Career Advice for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows. Analytical Chemistry. doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.6b00532

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Pittcon.

For more information on this source, please visit Pittcon.

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