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Career Tips

Take time and take charge

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
October 31, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 42


Illustration of a chemist in a light-bulb-shaped hot air balloon, peering into the distance with a telescope.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Look for opportunities to plan for the future.

Now that we have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for over 6 months, life is getting into more of a routine. Nevertheless, you may be feeling overwhelmed that so much is out of your control and there’s no sign as to when the pandemic is going to end.

While you can’t control the virus, you can control your reaction to its impacts. You can do many things to positively affect your career progress—even while you’re working remotely.

Learn a new skill. Scientists are inherently curious. You can cultivate this trait to make yourself more valuable to future employers. Are there any skills you have been meaning to learn or areas of your science you’ve wanted to explore? One of the side effects of the move to doing everything online is that there are more online classes, many of which are free and available 24/7. Whether it’s spending an hour listening to a TED talk or enrolling in a technical class, you can find online talks or classes on just about anything. Bonus points if you can take what you’ve learned and put it into practice.

Refresh your professional network. Now is not the time to let your professional connections lapse. Instead, seek out ­reasons to connect with others—like a quick “this guy said something that reminded me of you” email or a socially distant or virtual meal. While it’s not the same as being in person, checking in with your colleagues now will make it easier to reconnect in person when normalcy returns. And don’t forget to seek out connections with people you meet at virtual events and develop relationships with them.

Take time off. Restart an old hobby, or find a new one. It’s important for your mental health to have more than just work in your life. Find something you enjoy doing that lets you exercise a different part of your brain (or your body). When you’re having trouble in your professional life, you can still have a sense of accomplishment from achieving something in your hobby. It will also give you something new and interesting to talk about and connect you with a new group of people.

Research your career options. Finally, you could use this time to research where you might go next professionally. Where have people in your position gone, and is that where you want to go? If not, what do you want to do differently? What parts of your job are your favorite, and how could those be a career?

No matter where you stand professionally, continue to plan for your future.Whether you choose to do all or none of the strategies outlined above, make sure you have a plan. Set objectives and deadlines, and ask someone to help keep you accountable. Don’t forget to build in rewards for achieving your goals. If you do this, you will find yourself in a better place no matter what you encounter along the way.

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Credit: ACS

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to


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