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Life’s Unexpected Opportunities

February 18, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 7

Feb. 4, page 18: A story on coping with the helium shortage erroneously referred to helium as a molecule. Under normal conditions, helium is a monoatomic gas.

I had to write concerning “Barely Hanging On” (C&EN, Nov. 5, 2012, page 50).

My story began on Nov. 27, 2001, when I was suddenly laid off from a 23-plus-year career as an industrial biochemist. I had worked at various jobs in the company but never changed employers even while the corporation changed around me. In my last four years with the company there were three different owners. I was in my late fifties and assumed I would quickly find professional work. Not so.

I landed a job at Sears selling tools part-time. So, 11 days after being laid off, I was back at work. But my earnings went from $45 an hour with full benefits to $7.35 an hour and no benefits worth mentioning. Little did I know that I would be at that cash register part-time for more than five years. During those five years, in addition to hunting for a professional position, I served as a substitute teacher, consulted, tutored, chased pins in a bowling alley, delivered mail, and worked as a handyman. By age 62 I figured I was semiretired and would carry on until age and infirmity ended my workdays.

Unexpectedly, I received a job offer as a part-time adjunct faculty member (no benefits) to teach organic chemistry where my sister taught in veterinary sciences. My résumé had landed the interview. Since the course had never been taught there, it was a start-from-scratch deal. Happily, before I started, the administration decided to offer me a staff position with full benefits at $40,000 a year.

It was a hard year reviewing the subject (I am a biochemist), writing lectures, ordering instruments, setting them up, running them, planning and testing experiments, all while ordering supplies and materials for the entire science department and taking care of several laboratories. My second year featured 54 students, which made for another mad scramble. I continued to teach until at age 66 another surprise came my way: promotion to associate professor!

I’m still teaching and loving it, especially when helping students grasp a concept. All of this surprises me because I never aspired to be a college teacher.

My advice to the unemployed: Scramble, and become underemployed. Being in circulation is psychologically good and brings in some income. Life is full of surprises. You never can know how opportunities will unfold. Me? An associate professor! Never in my wildest dreams.

Frederick A. Liberatore
Billerica, Mass.



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