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Bench & Cubicle

Chemjobber’s mailbag: Business cards, interviewing etiquette, and more

Chemistry blogger answers readers’ questions in this edition of Bench & Cubicle

by Chemjobber
June 17, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 24

Illustration of a mailbag.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
What questions do you have for Chemjobber?

I’m in undergrad, and I’m making my first business card. I’m looking for some tips on how to make it stand out! I’m planning to go to grad school, so it’ll mostly be targeted to graduate school professors.

While I agree that it’s useful for students and postdocs to have business cards, the point isn’t the card. The point is the ability to participate in the social exchange of “Here is my card. Do you have a card that I could have?” It feels awkward to not participate in such an exchange, so it’s worthwhile to have a card so you can initiate the conversation.

Now that you have that contact’s business card, what will make you truly stand out is doing something with it. After you get home, write that person a note or reach out by email. Tell them that you enjoyed meeting with them and that you’d like an opportunity to speak with them again about a potential position with their organization and about what you need to do to gain such a position. It’s the card that initiates an exchange, but it’s sustaining the conversation that makes you memorable.

I have a phone interview for a job I would like, but it’s in a less desirable location. Assuming I advance to an on-site interview and get an offer, what is a reasonable amount of time between their offer and my accepting? I ask because I have other applications out there for jobs I would prefer, based on geography.

That’s a really good question, and one that’s tough to answer well. The best way to answer it, in my opinion, is to have the employer offer the answer. It’s reasonable to ask, “When do you need to hear back from me?” And most employers will answer with some frankness. If they say, “As soon as possible,” then I think a week or two is as much as you can ask for.

With this offer in hand, you may be able to accelerate the decision from the other employers you’re waiting on. While it doesn’t always work, saying to another employer, “I have an offer that I am considering, but I would like to understand what you might have to offer” is a good approach. At the same time, don’t drag out the process with the employer who has made a genuine offer. They are waiting for your answer, and there may be another chemist on their short list also waiting for your decision. This industry is small, and good behavior with job offers is remembered and appreciated.

Have you written on making the move from the Midwest, or similar, to the biotech mecca of Boston? I have lived in the Midwest for more than 10 years, and I now appear to be trading all its advantages for a new job in the Boston area. I feel a bit overwhelmed.

I’ve done a similar move, but from the Midwest to the West Coast. There’s a lot to think about, and money has to be on your mind. Even if you get a significant pay increase, the cost-of-living increase is going to be just as significant. You’ll want to talk to your new coworkers—especially those who made a similar move—and see what their advice is about dealing with the rather intense housing (and commuting) situations that you can find in places like Boston or San Francisco.

It will also take a while to rebuild your community. If you’ve lived somewhere for 10 or more years, you’ve likely developed a network of coworkers and friends that you can share life with. That will take some time to rebuild, and that will affect you just as much as having a bigger mortgage. In any case, you’re moving to a major biotech hub, and that’s exciting. Congratulations!

Moving to industry after a PhD or postdoc tends to have a negative connotation (greed, secrecy, etc.). What are your tips for shedding that stereotype, especially in the age of #openscience?

Every industry has its scandals and embarrassments, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are no different. I am proud to work in chemical manufacturing, and when people ask me about my industry’s problems, I acknowledge the errors of the past but point out what we’re doing differently and how we contribute to modern life. If you’re passionate about open science, you may want to find out what your current or future employers are doing to make their science more transparent and accessible to the public.

Chemjobber is an industrial chemist who blogs about the chemistry job market at Find all his columns for C&EN and suggest future topics at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS..



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