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How to negotiate salary, change careers, battle impostor syndrome, combat invisible work, and more

Top career tips from C&EN’s inaugural Table Talks event

by Linda Wang
September 30, 2019


C&EN Table talks participants.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
C&EN held its first Table Talks discussions at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego.

Some of the biggest challenges that chemists face at work aren’t technical. To help chemists navigate these career-related issues, C&EN hosted its first Table Talks event at the ACS national meeting in San Diego. Leaders from academia and industry facilitated discussions on invisible work and how to say no, combating impostor syndrome, how to negotiate salary, troubleshooting the job search, and changing careers.

The discussions were moderated by Raychelle Burks, an assistant professor of chemistry at St. Edward’s University; Jen Heemstra, an associate professor of chemistry at Emory University; Martin Oderinde, senior research investigator and manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb; Mary Canady, founder of the San Diego Biotechnology Network; and Silke Courtenay, R&D manager at HP.

Here are the top five takeaways from each discussion:

Photo of people engaging in group discussion.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Table Talks participants discuss issues related to invisible work.


Invisible work and how to say no. Are you overwhelmed with service commitments? Here’s how to prioritize and keep your sanity.

1. Make your work visible by documenting it in your job description. Ask for resources/pay/budget as appropriate.

2. Advocate for yourself.

3. If you are a grad student, ask your PI what their top priorities are. Align your work with those priorities.

4. “Researchize” your community engagement work. Write about it in journals, talk about it at conferences, and let others know you’re doing it.

5. Make it clear that you are not shirking work; instead, you’re focusing on excelling at the job you were hired to do.

Read more of C&EN’s coverage of invisible work.


Combating impostor syndrome. Do you feel like you’re not qualified or don’t belong in a situation? Here’s how to overcome that feeling.

1. Ask yourself: Why do you think that the people who picked you didn’t think through the decision carefully? Then pick it apart.

2. Determine what your win or goal is. It may not look like everyone else’s.

3. Give more weight to your successes than to your failures.

4. Take your goal, and turn it into a conversation with your supervisor. Lay out what you want to achieve, and get the conversation going by asking how you can grow to meet that objective.

Photo of Martin Oderinde.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Martin Oderinde discusses salary negotiations.

5. Surround yourself with people who will help you celebrate your successes.

Read more of C&EN’s coverage of impostor syndrome.


How to negotiate salary. Are you considering a job offer or looking for a promotion? Here’s how to make sure you’re compensated fairly.

1. Never provide a figure at the early stage of the interview process; wait until you have received an offer for the position.

2. Do market-value research through online resources such as, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn to get a sense of what your expected salary range is.

3. It is okay to ask the recruiter the salary range for the position. Keep in mind that the recruiter wants you to get your maximum benefits and pay.

4. Always ask for more! As a rule of thumb, ask for $5–10K more than offered.

5. Your performance review is the best time to discuss a raise with your manager. Carefully lay out your achievements and impacts, and then make a specific request on the amount of raise desired.

Read more of C&EN’s coverage of chemists’ salaries.


Troubleshooting your job search. Are you looking for a job? Here’s how to turn those rejections into opportunities.

1. Keep a master CV where you list all of your jobs, papers, volunteer work, and classes and training, and then customize each resume depending on the job you’re applying for.

2. Echo keywords and phrases from a job posting in your résumé.

3. Research the company and ask who you will meet during the interview. Research them before you arrive. Remember their names or something about them.

4. Say thank you. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an email or handwritten note. What matters is taking the time to write something thoughtful, suggesting your interest and engagement with the process. Bonus points for following up with something offered—a source, a tip, a paper of interest.

5. Use Twitter: #chemjobs is a thing, and it can help you find that unadvertised (or not-yet-advertised) position.

Read more tips from hiring managers on landing a job (and even navigating the rejection process.)


Changing careers. Are you looking to switch careers? Here’s how to have a smooth transition.

1. Be aware of new opportunities, even if you aren’t looking for a change.

2. Focus on your transferable skills; they don’t have to be technical skills.

3. Be open to taking advantage of spontaneous opportunities.

4. Remember, there’s no predetermined career path. Create your own roadmap.

5. Most decisions aren’t final. Use that mindset to tamp down your fear of making the wrong decision.

Read more of C&EN’s coverage of chemists’ career transitions.

C&EN is planning its next Table Talks event at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco in August 2020. We welcome your suggestions for topics we should discuss. Email us at



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