As a fresh-faced 21 yr old, I did a one-year placement at a pharmaceutical company as a synthetic chemist – a position that involves a lot of what is remarkably like cooking but with ‘reagents’ (fancy word for chemicals) instead of ingredients, making potential drugs instead of cakes. I loved the placement, I loved the work and I loved the people so I set about on the pathway to getting back in to the industry. It’s eight years on, I have the qualifications to do the role, I’m applying for jobs and I’m starting to wonder ‘Is this what I want to do? and 'Can I use all the skills I've learnt elsewhere?’

This blog is going to cover my research into what scientists like me are qualified to do that’s not in the laboratory. I’ll do my best to reference websites and people that actually do these jobs and hopefully I can help some people out by sharing what I’m learning. It’ll probably be interspersed with anecdotes and rants from the lab so you can see why I'm leaving this ‘unique’ environment! If you read this, think it’s useful/funny/worth reading, pass on the link – I’d love to know if I’m any good at this writing lark.

Friday 20 September 2013

Pro-Blogue (like a Prologue, but for a blog, get it? Nevermind…)

With my life plan firmly mapped out, I finished my Chemistry degree at the University of Surrey (not particularly high on the league tables, but they’ve got a lovely lake on campus…) I did a PhD (which I loved) in synthetic organic chemistry (more cooking) at University College London (UCL), and then took up a PostDoc at King’s College London with a focus on medicinal chemistry (even more cooking, but with the idea that what you make has to actually do something).  I’ve been so convinced that I was going to be a Synthetic Organic Chemist in Industry I’ve not actually stopped in the last eight years to re-evaluate if a. I still want to do this job, b. I’m likely to get this job and c. I'm better suited to life away from the ‘bench’ (read-kitchen). So, what changed?

I’ll be honest, I’ve applied for 26 synthetic jobs in the last 18 months and achieved 2 (unsuccessful) interviews, 6 rejections and a staggering 18 ‘no replies’. Fundamentally, there are so many people applying for each post (around 100 per post, if not more) the companies can’t be bothered to e-mail those who haven’t been successful. This leaves those of us who are waiting for replies in a bit of a shaky ‘limbo’ – only finding out that we didn't get an interview if one of our colleagues managed to get one. We’ve all been there, ‘brave-facing’ it and congratulating your friend, all the while thinking ‘Why them – what’s bloody wrong with me?’ It’s not that you’re not pleased for them, it’s simply that it’s really tough out there at the moment, we’re all competing for the same scarce jobs. Not to mention that there is a huge reservoir of highly skilled scientists that have just been made redundant. So we’re also competing against people who’ve already been doing that job, are older, more experienced, wiser and dare I say it, better?

So this is where I start thinking about the skills I can offer that aren’t just chemistry-related. In the midst of my application ‘fun’, a friend and colleague recommended me to a school to present to a group of 15 year old girls for a day about ‘Careers in Science’. I thought it would be a nice diversion, a day out of the lab and then back to normal. The curve ball was that I absolutely loved it! I mean really loved it, I got home and bored the pants off my then-boyfriend-now-husband (did I mention I also got married recently). I loved talking about my work, loved engaging with some genuine enthusiasm, loved the immediate response you get from working with people and, perhaps most surprisingly, I found that I was good at it!

Since then I got married, went on honeymoon and generally forgot all about my career. Who needs a life plan when you’ve got a happy hour Mai Tai lined up? Now it’s time to take stock. Did I just enjoy my day out of the lab because it was different or am I destined to try something new?

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