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Postgraduate Guidance

ACS workshop gives doctoral students a fuller understanding of their career options after graduate school

by Linda Wang
March 3, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 9

Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Grad students at the University of Maryland participate in the workshop.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Grad students at the University of Maryland participate in the workshop.

When Neil Campbell decided to return to graduate school after five years working in industry, his knowledge of the working world outside of academia gave him a lot more insight about what he wanted from his career than his peers had. "Many graduate students assume they're going into academia, but I think it's important for people to see that there are more options," says Campbell, now a fourth-year chemistry graduate student at the University of Maryland.

For More Information

Chemistry departments interested in hosting a workshop can contact the ACS Office of Graduate Education at, or call (202)872-4588.

In January, Campbell, who is president of the university's Chemistry/Biochemistry Graduate Student Organization, helped his department host a two-day American Chemical Society workshop designed to inform doctoral students of the various career options available to them after they receive their degrees.

"Preparing for Life After Graduate School" (PfLAGS, for short) is a workshop sponsored jointly by ACS's Office of Graduate Education and Department of Career Management & Development.

"Most graduate programs in chemistry do an excellent job of training students to do research," Joel Shulman says. "But many graduate departments do not do a very good job of training students to take research jobs in industry." Schulman, an adjunct professor of chemistry at the University of Cincinnati, has been facilitating PfLAGS workshops at Ph.D.-granting universities around the country. "We wanted this workshop to complement what universities already do well and add some of the vocational aspects of chemistry," he explains.

Although the workshop has an industry focus, students who plan to pursue a career in academia can also benefit from participating. "Even if they know they want to take an academic position, the majority of their students will work in industry, so it's good for academics to have a perspective of industrial research," Shulman explains.

The first day of the workshop covers the similarities and differences among working in academia, industry, and government. Participants are also told about the complementary skills needed to be successful in the workplace, such as understanding the culture of an organization and understanding patents and intellectual property. The second day offers an overview of the job-search process, tips for preparing a résumé and cover letter, and practical advice for on-site interviews. A third day, which is optional in this workshop, includes résumé reviews and mock interviews.

To balance the program with an academic perspective at the University of Maryland workshop, several of the chemistry professors from the department shared their personal experiences. Mike Doyle, chair of the department, spoke about his experience teaching at a four-year college; John Fourkas told attendees what they could expect during their first five years as a university professor; and Amy Mullin offered advice on how to land a postdoctoral position.

The idea for starting this series of workshops came out of a one-credit graduate course that Shulman began teaching at the University of Cincinnati after he retired from Procter & Gamble in 2001. He spent the last eight of his 31 years at P&G as manager of technical recruiting and had seen firsthand just how unprepared graduate students generally are for a career in industry.

Three years ago, ACS's Office of Graduate Education and Department of Career Services asked Shulman whether he could turn this course into a two-day workshop that could be hosted by chemistry departments at Ph.D.-granting universities. The first workshop took place in December 2005 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Since then, the workshop has been held at roughly a dozen universities around the country. Shulman is one of several ACS career presenters who take turns running the workshops. All of the presenters have experience in industry. The next workshop will be held at the University of Rhode Island on March 18-19.

Campbell says he plans on returning to industry after he receives his Ph.D., but he hasn't ruled out a career in academia. He says the workshop gave him a better understanding of the responsibilities of a university professor.

Krupa Shukla, also a fourth-year grad student at Maryland, says the workshop answered many of her questions but also gave her more to think about. "I'm more scared, actually," she says. "I'm scared about where I will end up. Will I like the place I go to?"

Only time will tell. But at least Shukla is equipped with more of the knowledge she will need to make a sound decision.



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