The Work of Industrial Chemists


Where Academia meet Business

Date of Lecture: 3/1/18


  • Mick Secord
  • Graduated from KSC in 2008
  • Professional Work:
    • Markem-Imaje – a technical chemist, mainly research based and his work got 7 US patents.
    • Polyonics– senior chemist now-development based, materials for “harsh” environments were made

Academic Chemistry:

  • Answer a question/solve problem
  • Gain info, pressure to publish
  • Difficult to gain funding
  • Long-term projects
  • More collaboration-academic conferences
  • Build an academic legacy

Industrial Chemistry:

  • Make money
  • Pressure for efficiency/quickly
  • Funding based on business case (ROI) or specific drivers (new markets)
  • Work in isolation or under secrecy agreements and patent work
  • What have you accomplished lately for your boss?

Learning in academic setting:

  • Exposure to chemical branches-organic, inorganic, physical, etc.
  • Exposure to adjacent fields (math and physics)
  • Basic research understanding
  • Learn “how to learn” and understand how you learn best so you can bring that to graduate school and the work force.
  • Personal drive improves chances for a successful career.

Learning for an industrial setting:

  • Learn how to perform an experiment
    • Lab procedure/set-up are done by the chemist doing the work
    • What can be changed to benefit person style of understanding and learning and efficiency?
    • How do you…
      • Make it faster?
      • Run smoother?
      • Results easier to report on?
      • Reduce cost-material usage, equipment needed?

The Learning Process: Act –> plan –> do  –>  study  –> repeat

Record Keeping:

  • College: notebooks and binders
  • Industrial Work: moving towards electronic record keeping
    • Chemdraw and chemoffice 
    • Benefits: electronic notebooks are organized, easily accessible, and in the “cloud”


Moving from the College Life to the Work Life


What is typically included?

  • GPA, list of courses, level of knowledge, equipment exposure, use of terms that can’t be explained in person
  • social media posts- negative posts make you look like a negative person

What sets you apart?

  • Extra-curricular activities, sports, teams, leadership of groups, research you can speak to, chem lyceum leadership roles

The Interview Process

  • Making an interview means that the employer has potential interest
  • Must be able to explain everything on your resume
  • Be excited, not crazy
  • Know about the company-type of business, products, how big is it, do they have patents?
  • Come ready with questions about the products, business, job
  • Eye contact
  • Keep cellphone, pagers, etc. off and out of sight
  • Act comfortable
  • Funny relevant stories make you appear more human and relatable
  • Personality fit in most organizations will be more important than what you know.

After the Interview

  • Follow up with an email thanking for their time
  • Provide all the contact information again
  • Don’t be afraid to ask when the decision will be made
  • Reaffirm your desire for the job- emphasize points that were made in the interview
  • Make 100% sure that your recommendations are good
  • Understand the follow up policy-is there an email, letter, HR phone call, or no follow-up about moving to the next round.
  • If you are also applying to other jobs, let them know so that they do not take too long to get back to you.

The Industry

Thinking Outside the Box

  • Understand the context-performance issue, cost issue, competitive threat, political
  • Work on having a fundamental understanding of the chemistry-can be dangerous
  • Obtaining the context- dig up info on the product, understand who is involved, when did the problem begin, can you directly speak with those involved, write everything down in bulleted form if possible, get an agreement that what you have identified is correct.
  • Develop approaches to solve the problem
    • Step 1: replicate the problem
      • May require ingenious approach
    • Step 2: Runs tests
      • Are result reasonable?
    • Step 3: Peer review
      • Have others evaluate your work to check for completeness, understandable concepts/writing, and merit.
    • Step 4: submit the work

Assessing your skill set:

  • Self honesty-not everyone is perfect at everything
    • Find our niche
  • Find what you like and build that skill set
    • Connnect with people
    • Abstract problems
    • Primary literature
    • Team collaboration
  • Get exposed to other aspects of the job/topic
  • Ask professors and other professionals for input
    • Accept criticism
    • You do not want to make a mistake in career choice
  • Do others ask you for help in…
    • Lab?—-become a chemist
    • Homework? —become a professor

What are they looking for in an industrial setting

  • Employers look for
    • Well rounded, large knowledge base, sometimes specialization is required
    • 2 away format for problem solving: planning for the next steps based upon the results one might get from an experiment, multiple plans are created due to various possible outcomes.
    • Project management skills-understand the big picture of time, cost, potential return
    • Ability to complete long term tasks-set milestones and goals at regular intervals
  • Energy and fresh ideas
  • Personality fit-remember that there are always difficult people
  • Stability in past employment
  • Social media- can prevent you from the screening process
    • Negative posts makes you look like a negative person!!

Being Successful in the Industry:

  • Look for mentors and engage them
  • Volunteer for new projects-broaden knowledge, improve skill-set
  • Understand what is expected of you
  • Adapt a style that fits with management in your report style
  • Check-in, get feedback on progress, collaborate
  • Take on jobs that aren’t glamorous but add value to your skill set
    • Chemical hygiene officer
    • Hazardous waste coordinator
    • Crisis management committee

Big Companies Vs. Small Company

  • Big company
    • More/better equipment
    • Spend money
    • Longer timelines
    • Large staff
  • Small company
    • Equipment must be beneficial
    • Less money spent
    • More individual responsibility

Small companies give you the opportunity to learn and do a lot of  different activities such as analytical, scaling up, develop testing protocols, etc.







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