Review: “What You Need for the First Job, Besides the Ph.D. in Chemistry”

First job in chemistryIf you are expecting a tired look at how to apply for your first job, What You Need for the First Job, Besides the Ph.D. in Chemistry is not the book for you. I approached the book with mild interest, figuring it would be a review of what I already knew. Within the first few pages, however, I realized I had woefully underestimated both the knowledge and the personal writing styles of the authors. I felt as if the authors were talking to me directly and I thoroughly appreciated the change of voice that came with each chapter’s author. The book is personal, informative, and engaging.

I have been in academia all of my life, first as a student and then as an educator in middle school and high school, as well as a university professor. I have a chemist sister who works for industry, however, and a biologist husband for works in a government lab. What I read in this book rings true with what I know about their careers. In Chapter 1, discussed what is involved in working in industry, making observations similar to my sister’s. This chapter delivers the big picture of both the chemistry and the business side of corporate positions. He writes about the importance of teamwork and time management in industry. These traits are important in academic positions but play a larger role in industry than I’d realized. Wayne Ranbom’s Chapter 2 added to my understanding of what it is like to work in industry with his explanation of the importance of safety awareness and practice, as well as the central role that intellectual property plays in industry. These two chapters were eye-openers and what I learned will definitely help me better advise my students, as they decide what type of work they want to pursue after finishing their PhDs.

I have rarely seen a discussion of what it is like to make the transition from academia to a career in a government lab like the one in Chapter 5. Here,  do a good job of emphasizing the need for good communication and teamwork, as well as the importance of developing your own contribution and working within the rules and regulations of a government lab. Chapter 6, written by R discusses how one takes inventory of goals and works towards them within a government laboratory environment. These were new insights for someone who has spent her professional career in academia and ring true with what I know of my husband’s experiences in a government lab environment.

I thought Chapter 7, about applying for tenure-track positions, would just be a nice review of what I already knew, but I was wrong. Chapters 7-8 present good, clear, comprehensive advice on how to apply for academic positions, within the larger context of how one’s goals should shape the process. These chapters offered details I might not have emphasized with my students when they applied for academic positions. In Chapter 7,  walk through the entire application process, including how to prepare application documents, as well as phone and on-campus interviews. They even include advice on writing a thank-you note as a follow-up to the interview. George M. Bodner’s Chapter 8 speaks to the reader from the point of view of an insider who has been on both sides of the process. He shows how a candidate’s actions, dress, and words can be interpreted by the selection committee. Both of these chapters are “must reads” for everyone who is applying for an academic position.

Just when I thought I had read it all, in Chapter 11 and in Chapter 12 offered insights and advice spanning the bridge between applying for that first job in academia and planning to be successful through the tenure process. These chapters go beyond what I was expecting, discussing common pitfalls that beginning professors often encounter, including trying to do too much in terms of teaching and service in the first year. These sections address how faculty can learn more about different pedagogical approaches. Chapter 12 introduces the reader to some overarching pedagogical beliefs and practices. The take-home messages of these chapters are that research is important and you should start planning it right away, don’t rush into changing the curricula during your first year, learn how to teach the content and start planning for changes you will make your second time through, and embrace assessment, which for chemists is part of what we already do in the lab.ob

In Chapter 13,  offers a very personal and engaging look at academic alternatives to tenure-track positions and how to find a job that enables you to do what you love. I can think of no better closing to this book than Ray’s chapter.

After reading What You Need for the First Job, Besides the Ph.D. in Chemistry in two sittings, I decided I will give this book as a gift to all of my graduate students when they pass their proposal and to all new faculty members in my department. It has something to offer graduate students, new faculty and graduate advisors.

Diane M. Bunce is the 2015-16 Kinnear Chair of the Chemistry Department at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

What You Need for the First Job, Besides the Ph.D. in Chemistry is available now as part of the ACS Symposium Series of eBooks.

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.