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ACS helps graduate students and postdocs kick-start their careers

Career Kick-Starter Workshop provides resources for life after graduate school

by Linda Wang
October 2, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 38


A screenshot of people's faces from a virtual Career Kick-Starter Workshop.
Credit: Courtesy of Natalia Martin
The Career Kick-Starter Workshop went virtual after the pandemic shutdowns began. Norfolk State University hosted a virtual Career Kick-Starter Workshop in September.

Sarah Zaccarine thought that her only career options after graduate school were either industry or academia. But after attending the American Chemical Society’s Career Kick-Starter Workshop earlier this year, Zaccarine realized that a PhD in chemistry offers many different career paths. Now, Zaccarine is exploring career opportunities in science policy or science communication.

“I didn’t want to do the traditional path going into industry, academia, or national labs, so hearing ACS mention this fourth sector that’s nonprofit, communication, or policy related was validating,” says Zaccarine, a graduate student at the Colorado School of Mines. “It gave me a great starting point for what that actually looks like and how to network within that sector.”

Exposing students to different career paths is just one of the many goals of ACS’s Career Kick-Starter Workshop. “This workshop helps students and postdocs think through what’s important to them, how their competencies could contribute to different work environments, and how to get their first job, one that helps them flourish,” says Joerg Schlatterer, manager of the ACS Student and Postdoctoral Scholars Office, which organizes the workshop.

ACS launched the workshops in August 2019. The program is an updated version of the Preparing for Life after Graduate School Workshops that ACS had been offering at universities around the US since 2005.

“We changed the structure to be more interactive,” says Natalia Martin, project manager of the ACS Career Kick-Starter Workshop. “It also focuses on a wider range of career options. Before, it was more industry, academia, and a little bit about patent law. Now, we give a broader perspective of all the available options in terms of not only sectors but also roles within each sector.”

A photo of a group of graduate students gathered for the Career Kick-Starter Workshop.
Credit: Courtesy of Natalia Martin
The Colorado School of Mines hosted a Career Kick-Starter Workshop in January 2020, before the pandemic shutdowns began.

Schlatterer says the Career Kick-Starter Workshop helps students navigate the individual development plan process, such as how to use the ChemIDP career-planning tool. “We focus on professional development, including how to write a cover letter and résumé, how to do an interview, how to network and leverage your network, and career exploration,” Schlatterer says. During the workshop, participants can also sign up for a one-on-one session with a career consultant.

Chemistry departments can arrange for ACS to present a Career Kick-Starter Workshop for their graduate students and postdocs. Departments pay a fee for ACS to facilitate the workshop, and participants attend for free. Some ACS local sections are providing colleges and universities with funding to host a workshop as a way to introduce younger members to the local section.

It’s really nice to have a structured setting and set aside time to sit down and actually plan out your long-term goals.
Shannon L. Goes, graduate student

Because of the pandemic, the Career Kick-Starter Workshops are being offered virtually and with flexible scheduling, so chemistry departments can decide on the schedule that would work best for their graduate students and postdocs. All the workshop content is available to participants through the ACS Learning Center.

“It’s really nice to have a structured setting and set aside time to sit down and actually plan out your long-term goals,” says Shannon L. Goes, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who has helped organize two such workshops for her chemistry department. “Getting specific information from experienced people in the field with data that is relevant to the field of chemistry is so important. It’s chemists telling you what chemists are looking for.

“I was also really impressed with the way that they gave information for both US citizens and international students,” Goes adds. To complement the workshop, departments can organize a career panel with postdocs and professionals from different job sectors. “I came out of this workshop feeling really motivated and well equipped,” Zaccarine says. “They gave us a lot of information during the actual workshop, but I think a big part of it too was guiding us to resources to do homework ourselves. I think that between the snapshot they gave us and all the resources they provided, it just made me feel very empowered.”

These workshops are another way ACS is supporting diversity and inclusion. For example, the ACS Bridge Project, in partnership with the Genentech Foundation, is offering a Career Kick-Starter Workshop to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and ACS Bridge fellows. The 2020 ACS/Genentech Career Kick-Starter Workshop will be held virtually Nov. 13–15.

For more information about the ACS Career Kick-Starter Workshop, visit


This story was updated on Oct. 8, 2020, to identify Norfolk State University as the host of the virtual workshop shown in one of the photos.



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