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Words Of Wisdom

C&EN readers offer advice to help assistant professors soar in their new roles

by Susan J. Ainsworth , Linda Wang
September 8, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 36

When they step into exciting new roles as assistant professors, freshly minted chemistry Ph.D.s and postdocs are often overwhelmed by the numerous responsibilities they must juggle as they begin teaching and starting a research lab.

To help them, C&EN readers gave their best advice for managing tasks such as buying equipment and training students. Here we share a sampling of those offerings, edited for brevity and clarity, to help guide those chemists making their first foray into academia.

Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Sheldon

"Remember to make time to think quietly and alone about science. It seems obvious, yet it’s so easy to forget.”

—Matthew Sheldon, assistant professor, Texas A&M University

“The best advice I have received regarding the start of a career in academic research is this: Focus on the students. Recruit the best students, give them the best support you can offer, and everything else will be that much easier.”

—Scott K. Shaw, assistant professor, University of Iowa

Shaw takes a break from the lab to hold his son, Lucas.
Credit: Dallas Matz

“Have a notebook only for ideas, preferably with a numbering system. This will help with organization when you try to access the information later, especially when writing proposals.”

—Zachariah Heiden, assistant professor, Washington State University

Credit: Courtesy of Jared Delcamp

“Get in there, and get that first experiment set up! It gives the position a very familiar feel and is a good reminder you are an expert in at least one facet of the job.”

—Jared Delcamp, assistant professor, University of Mississippi

Credit: Courtesy of Yan Kung

“Don’t let penny-pinching consume you. I somehow let purchasing major equipment drag on for months, which not only meant that some of my research was kept waiting, it also added unnecessary items to the rapidly accumulating pile of things I needed to do.”

—Yan Kung, assistant professor, Bryn Mawr College

“Build a diverse and energetic group of scientists, and invest your time in empowering this group and teaching them how to collaborate.”

—Joaquín Rodríguez-López, assistant professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

A group of people pose for a photo. One of them is about to drink from a coffee mug.
Credit: Courtesy of Joaquín Rodríguez-López
Rodríguez-López (holding the mug) poses for a photo with his research group.

“Remind yourself that life is more than your job.”

—Harry Bermudez, associate professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Credit: Courtesy of William C. Pomerantz
Pomerantz (left) poses with lab members and colleagues who participated in the “Peptides for the Cure” breast cancer awareness event.
The Pomerantz research group poses for a photo while wearing matching t-shirts, except for one guy on the far left. A person-sized statue of a beaver fills out the assembly.
Credit: Courtesy of William C. Pomerantz
Pomerantz (left) poses with lab members and colleagues who participated in the “Peptides for the Cure” breast cancer awareness event.

“Participate in the American Chemical Society’s Postdoc-to-Faculty Workshop, devour resources such as [the book] ‘At the Helm,’ and deal aggressively with vendors so that you have a fresh pallet of supplies waiting upon your arrival at your new lab. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you have a flask and stir bar at the ready to start your first set of experiments!”

—William C. Pomerantz, assistant professor, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Credit: Xiao Tan

“Put up a website so students know what you do. It also allows reviewers to Google you.”

—Jennifer Roizen, assistant professor, Duke University

“As a new faculty member, I quickly learned to ask for help and advice from junior and senior faculty members, administrative and support staff, and students. All of them have more experience in the university and know how to work the system.”

—Jorge Almodovar-Montanez, assistant professor, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez

Berryman poses with a recently purchased x-ray diffractometer, looking pleased.
Credit: Todd Goodrich/U of Montana
Berryman works with an X-ray diffractometer in his lab.

“Good advice that was given to me: You will always have too much to do. Make sure to dedicate some time to the work activities you enjoy most.”

—Orion B. Berryman, assistant professor, University of Montana

“Don’t hesitate to make big equipment purchases that will help your lab be productive. The price tags may seem daunting, but getting results is what matters most.”

—Justin Mohr, assistant professor, University of Illinois, Chicago

“Try to set up a one- or two-day trip to Washington, D.C., to visit with program officers that will likely be handling your proposals.”

—Kevin Kittilstved, assistant professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


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