Issue Date: November 2, 2009
Marcel Goes To St. Louis
To be a research chemist at Kodak, in Rochester, N.Y., at a time when photography was morphing into an electronics-based technology was harrowing for electroanalytical chemist Marcel Madaras. For years, he was skipping through the minefield, surviving layoffs and restructurings. “Even from the time they hired me seven years ago,” Madaras says, “there were layoffs.”
As photography rapidly shifted to digital technology, Madaras says, “the decision of the company was to cut, cut, cut.” In the summer of 2007, the ax fell on him. And in a matter of months, the Department of Labor’s hiring statistics would begin free-falling into negative territory.
“At the macro level, I understood what happened, but at a personal level no one likes to hear they don’t have a job,” Madaras, who is 43 and has two elementary school-aged children, tells C&EN. Rather than jumping into the job market in search of another position like the one he had just lost, Madaras decided to leverage his joblessness into an opportunity to pursue an interest in the business side of chemical companies. At the time, his wife was still employed by Kodak. With that continued base of financial security, Madaras applied to a 16-month executive M.B.A. program at Rochester Institute of Technology. The program was challenging enough, he notes, that he did not have time for a job search while immersed in it. By the time he could tack that M.B.A. behind his name, the economic collapse had begun.
In the new financial context, even though Madaras now had both scientific and business credentials in hand, nothing was going to be handed to him on a silver platter. “It was very difficult to search for positions when the companies you would like to work for are laying off people and restructuring,” he says. “I tried for months.” He did not land anything, but he gained something else: “I did a good job at establishing networks, getting involved in the professional networking site LinkedIn, and doing networking meetings and informational meetings” with potential employers who might not even be looking to hire anybody at the moment.
Meanwhile, his wife, in what Madaras describes as a serendipitous sequence of events, stumbled into a job offer at the St. Louis facility of Sensient Technologies, the flavor, fragrance, and color maker. “That meant it was decision time,” Madaras says. Things were not looking economically promising overall in the long term in the Rochester area, he says, adding that he and his wife “are both from Romania and so were not particularly rooted to some particular part of the country.” So Madaras’ wife accepted the position. The family moved to St. Louis in the early summer.
For Madaras, the move meant that his new task was to find a job in the St. Louis area. He wasted no time in deploying those networking skills and connections he had developed after he was let go from Kodak. And he also tapped into the expertise of Lisa M. Balbes, a St. Louis-based consultant who volunteers in a career-consulting network organized by the American Chemical Society’s Department of Career Management & Development.
“It has been taking people longer to get jobs, and people need to be more flexible in what they are willing to take,” Balbes tells C&EN. Midcareer chemists are having the toughest time, she says.
Madaras found Balbes initially via LinkedIn through a University of North Carolina group that served as the social link between the two. He started applying to various chemical companies and had what he describes as “interesting discussions” with Monsanto in St. Louis, although the company told him it was planning to hire only in the future. Then he began opening up his purview and followed up on possible positions outside of his comfort zone; for example, in food chemistry. “I was not really a candidate for the job, but it was a way to make myself visible,” Madaras says.
Amid his searching and networking, he learned about a job that called for electroanalytical skills. It was at Pepex Biomedical, a medical diagnostics start-up in St. Louis, and “it was a good match,” Madaras says. On Aug. 31, he started working there. The job, for now, is a temporary contract position, but he’s fine with that. “If everything goes well at the company, it could become a permanent job,” he says, noting that it is the kind of place where he could even end up finding opportunities to put his M.B.A. skills to use.
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