Of Careers And Chemists | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 45 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: November 9, 2009

Of Careers And Chemists

Department: Letters

Several of us in so-called alternative chemical careers were disturbed by Ron Hankewich's implication that only laboratory careers were worthwhile occupations for trained chemists (C&EN, Sept. 7, page 10). Granted, probably because of unwise practices and even malfeasance in the financial and legal sectors, there is a good deal of antipathy among the public against investment bankers and lawyers.

However, this attitude ignores the fact that the education and training of a chemist, especially in problem solving, positions a chemist to perform well in a number of occupations. Most of these careers can and do involve creation of wealth and knowledge. Chemically trained investment staff can make excellent judgments on chemical company start-up investment. Chemically trained patent searchers, agents, and attorneys are invaluable in the essential patenting processes.

The ACS Chemical Information Division (www.acscinf.org) has much material available on careers in chemistry, especially alternative careers. And a list of alternative career paths annotated with links to more information is online at balbes.com/Careers/careers.html.

With a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and five years of laboratory experience in pesticide synthesis, I was then able to transfer into my second love, the field of chemical information, which I've practiced for almost four decades, even into my (alleged) retirement. I was blessed with research mentors who valued chemical information highly and practiced it. As a result, I and others assist mentoring in chemical careers in a wide variety of venues including high schools, colleges, and ACS meetings. We hope that all concerned come to appreciate just how valuable and diverse chemical careers can be.

Robert E. Buntrock
Orono, Maine

It greatly saddens me that there are individuals who believe that if one is not planning to pursue a career in the lab, one should not study chemistry. I have been a chemical information professional for the past 10 years, a career path I chose at the age of 16 when I first learned that one could combine a love of chemistry with a love of information science.

I chose to obtain a bachelor's degree in chemistry with the express purpose of becoming a chemistry librarian, although I participated in and enjoyed undergraduate research in organic chemistry. Chemical information professionals, among other tasks, ensure that the literature and even raw data are organized and accessible to future generations of researchers.

Science writers, primary and secondary school educators, and general enthusiasts help to spread a love of science to people who might otherwise never consider a career in science. Business and legal professionals work to bring scientific discoveries to the general public and to protect scientists' rights to their intellectual property. And the world could definitely benefit from having more scientists actively involved in politics. These, as well as other "nontraditional" careers in chemistry, do not just provide "service" for bench scientists, they are a critical part of the scientific whole and are necessary for its survival. I firmly believe that U.S. chemistry would suffer greatly if people with a passionate interest in and love of chemistry, but who do not derive joy from experimentation, were encouraged to find other fields in which to study and work.

Judith N. Currano
Jenkintown, Pa.

I couldn't decide whether to be amused or annoyed when I read Nelson Marans' letter about accepting "just anybody" into ACS (C&EN, Aug. 17, page 5). After all, without a chemistry degree, I've been an active member of ACS for more than 20 years. Having twice served as a technical division chair and once as chair of a joint board/council committee, it's clear to me that ACS has long recognized that the chemical enterprise can encompass those without "certain academic qualifications." To suggest that "the increased membership may not be for the enhancement of science" is somewhat short-sighted given the contributions made by numerous ACS members without a chemistry degree.

The chemical enterprise includes many important fields, and I doubt that Marans or anyone else is "professional" in all of them. In my field, environmental health and safety, we see every day that a number of supposedly well-educated chemists with "certain academic qualifications" have a blatant disregard for protecting themselves and others from harm associated with poorly designed or implemented procedures, improper management of chemicals, or just plain poor common sense.

I urge all those who believe that ACS is making a mistake to consider the contributions that new members without specific academic qualifications might make in the future, and how they might benefit the "new" ACS.

Russell Phifer
West Grove, Pa.

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