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Closing the doors

by Brought to you by ACS Career Navigator
November 6, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 44

Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Time to pack up and move on.
Graphic of a person carrying a lot of things.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Time to pack up and move on.

All things come to an end, and a research project or laboratory is no exception. At some point, professors retire, a once-promising line of research is canceled, or the project moves to a bigger and better stage. It may not be fun, but closing or moving a lab can be less of a chore with careful planning and preparation.

Plan to plan. Institutions have specific policies and procedures that must be followed, so contact administrators well in advance and learn what they require and what they recommend. Some institutions have a designated laboratory closeout coordinator, who can be a valuable source of information. Learn what resources are available and what timelines are recommended.

Plan for people. You need to take care of your people. For a university professor, that may mean not taking on new students or employees starting many years before you plan to retire. In industry, it may mean mentoring existing staff to think about their career aspirations and helping them acquire the skills and connections they will need to make any necessary transitions.

Plan for things. The longer the lab has been around, the more “stuff” will have been accumulated. Start looking with a critical eye. Some equipment can be transferred to other labs or donated to schools or nonprofit organizations. Once you make a decision about an item’s disposition, stick with it. If you start second-guessing your choices, you can get stuck in an endless loop of indecision.

Properly disposing of chemicals can be a challenge. For example, items with handwritten labels—or no labels—may be impossible to transfer or transport. Make sure that only trained personnel are doing the actual moving, cleaning, and transporting. Anything being transported on public roads will have to adhere to department of transportation regulations for packaging, especially for hazardous materials.

Plan for the future. You never know what may change in the future, so be prepared. Make sure lab notebooks and other documentation are destroyed or archived, as appropriate. If archived, include an index or other organizational system so that the next person can easily find needed information. Make sure to also finish and submit any reports requested by funding agencies or your institution.

Plan for yourself. Saying goodbye to one chapter of your life can be easier if you have something to look forward to in the next chapter. Are you going to move to another full-time project or maybe start a consulting business? Maybe you want to do some volunteer work, explore hobbies, or spend time with family. Thinking about this early, and trying some of it part-time before committing full-time, can help ease the transition.

Change is hard, but it can also give you a chance to look back and relish everything that you have accomplished. Take the time to savor the past and enjoy the present, then move on to the next chapter of your professional life.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns on the ACS Careers blog (


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