Chemistry degrees and career paths
Jen Heemstra’s Aug. 12 column, “When Is It Time to Leave a PhD Program?” (C&EN, page 23) reminded me of my own, somewhat convoluted experience. Upon graduating from college with a BS in chemistry, the following fall I immediately began graduate studies to pursue a PhD in organic chemistry.
What I discovered as a teaching assistant in undergraduate organic laboratory classes was that I had a passion for teaching. When it was announced that the university had had a poor accreditation evaluation and was voluntarily dropping its PhD program, we were given two options: stay and finish (with a degree from a university with questionable pedagogy) or apply elsewhere, where we would have a brighter future.
I applied to several schools, received a full fellowship to one of them, and transferred. But due to circumstances that arose, principally housing, I changed my mind after only 3 days. I went back to the university that was losing its doctoral program and at my mentor’s urging wrote my dissertation, took the remaining classes to fulfill the requirements for a master’s degree, and graduated with an MS.
From there I made the jump to industry, having several positions at a major chemical manufacturer, including working as the company’s environmental chemist followed by a position in natural products research and ultimately as a technical service representative for the company’s oil field chemicals division. I also taught one class of organic chemistry as an adjunct professor at a small, private college. (I simply couldn’t escape the passion to teach.)
The oil field rep position gave me a taste for the business side of things, and I went back to school in the evenings and earned an MBA in financial management. From there I joined a small, UK-based trading company in the US that sold food ingredients and pharmaceutical excipients. After working there for 4 years, I was offered an opportunity to start up a company that represented several Chinese active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers marketed principally for animal health. The business was hugely successful—but how to fulfill this passion to teach?
The story has a happy ending. A little over 2 years ago we moved to South Florida. In December 2017 I was hired as an adjunct instructor to teach one section of a general chemistry laboratory at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The following semester the university offered me a full-time position. I had come full circle. I was finally home!
Gregory J. Rummo
West Palm Beach, Florida