Searching For Satisfaction

Ready For The Career Change – But How?

Posted on: January 12, 2011


Yeah...I'm ready to leave this place behind...

Its January, and I’m about two weeks away from my first anniversary at the new job. Its been quite an experience, full of ups & downs. On the plus side, this job got me out of Florida & back to Minneapolis, which made my non-work life become much more enjoyable. On the minus side, I discovered that I don’t like this job, I don’t want to be a chemist any longer, and working for a large company is no longer for me.While I’m thankful to have a job in this economy, I don’t want to waste my time in a job & career that makes me unhappy.

Since the summer I’ve been thinking about a career change, and I’ve explored several different options. Option #1 was going back to school for a second advanced degree. I looked at several programs – MBA, science public policy & human resources. Three very different areas, but all represent a facet of Jubi & my interests. In the end, I decided against going back to school, at least right now. I would go back to school if I could get funding, and in each of those programs, its hard to come by, at least full funding is. And I wasn’t eager about both going back to the life of a broke graduate student & the possibility of adding to my student loan debt.

Option #2 is entrepreneurship. This is still on the table & something I really want to do at some point in my life. Growing up, I saw my parents run a home business, and it was a great learning experience for me. I have several ideas that I’d like to get started with: making money from my blogging; social media consulting; and a niche travel business targeted to women of color. Blogging & social media are both things I already do & am passionate about, the key for me is finding how spin those into a business that puts money in my bank account. As for the travel business, it’s an idea that I’ve been kicking around with LM for a while, and I really think it’s a money-maker. She may not embark on that journey with me, but I’m committed to seeing it through & making it happen.

Option #3 is simply getting a new job. Out of the 3, this is the option that is most likely in the short-term. What I want to do is to take my transferable skills and apply them in a new area. Lots of new careers are on the table: project manager, technical writing, technical recruiting, technical sales, etc. I really just want to take the skills I already have & move them to a new area where I can learn new things & try my hand at something else.

So what are my skills? Well let’s divide them into transferable & non-transferable.

Non-transferable skills:

  • Polymer chemistry specifics – polymerization reactions, materials properties, etc.
  • Instrumentation – chromatography – IC, HPLC, GC-MS, GPC/SEC; microscopy – SEM, optical; spectroscopy – XRD, XPS, XRF, FTIR UV-VIS, NMR; thermal analysis – DMA, TMA, TGA, DSC; other – TOC.
  • Laboratory skills – wet chemistry techniques – columns/TLC, extractions, various reaction methods, distillations, etc.
  • Thin film chemistry coatings knowledge

Transferable skills:

  • Project management – I’ve gained a lot of experience in this area the last two years of my career. Starting with the initial definition of the project, getting buy-in from all parties, setting budgets & timelines, meeting deadlines, keeping all team members engaged & on-task, and ending with the project report out. I’ve learned how to use different types of software & techniques to keep projects on task, within budget, and how to track potential issues & decision areas.
  • Communication – Blogging has really helped with my writing skills, both technically & just in terms of prose. I’ve developed an ability to take very dense technical information & relate it to those who have little to no technical background so that they can grasp the high level concepts without being bogged down in the details. I would love to do something with this skill. Beyond writing, I have excellent presentation skills – in college I won a technical presentation contest two years in a row,, and I’ve gotten even better since then.
  • People skills – Being an extrovert & also a person who connects easily with others, I have the ability to build a rapport with people very easily. I enjoy working with people, and helping others be successful. I’ve found that the times where I’m able to talk to people, and really engage with them, is when I most enjoy what I’m doing.
  • Analytical skills – Being a scientist & working virtually as an engineer for almost five years, I’ve really honed my analytical skills. I am able to absorb large amounts of information, discern what I need for the task at hand, and make decisions often with limited information. I approach problems & projects with a logical, analytical thought process.
  • Creativity – A lot of people don’t realize the amount of creativity that goes into a laboratory career. Everyday I’m tasked with thinking outside the box & coming up with novel ideas.

My concern now is how to highlight those skills on my resume. I’ve been revamping it a few times this year, and I’d like to create a resume that highlights my skills instead of my work experience & what I’ve accomplished at each job. That’s a functional resume, right? I’ve never written one, so I’d love some tips if you’ve done one before.

My goal for the first six months of 2011 is to work on both options #2 & #3, with the focus being more on the transition to a new career first. Have any of you done it before? Any tips or strategies to use? I know that I can’t rely solely on an online search this time, I have to get out and network. So far I’ve met with two very helpful people who have given me a lot of advice & helped me make connections. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else to do. Or how I can prove that I would be an asset in a position that isn’t technical, given my almost five years of technical experience.

Wish me luck!

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8 Responses to "Ready For The Career Change – But How?"

Oh my! Thanks for putting me on the spot.

Seriously great post once again. I really hope you get the resources/tools to make this happen!

I have been in your shoes. I went with option #1 and am currently a graduate student. I was doing a job that I knew I could not do forever. After 5 years, I left. Although I am still paying for undergraduate school, I will just conolidate all my loans.

About your option #2, it sounds great! If LM is not interested, I am. I am not really available right now though because I just started school. But I too am interested in entrepreneurhsip and am fascinated by social media! (On a personal note I am also a woman of color and feel like we should be doing and owning more.)

I’d love to hear how it all turns out for you.

science policy is becoming more and more of an option for me.

I started a 2nd masters in science & technology policy before I left Georgia Tech. I would have finished it but I got a job & jumped at it. I’m very intrigued by science policy, but I don’t want to go back to school without full funding & geting full funding in a non-technical area is hard to do.

I can only give you advice regarding your #3 option.

You should contact the project managers within your company and share with them that you would like learn more about what they do. Just don’t share the whole I hate the lab thing because people talk.

When I was tired of the lab, I went to the quality assurance department and asked if I could learn more about their area. Once I felt I had learned everything that I needed to b.s my way into another job I contacted a lab job hunting company and told them I only wanted job offers for quality assurance and only in the dietary supplement/pharmaceutical industry. It took about 3 months for them to find the right fit for me.

Also, look for the smaller companies. I know a lot of people are into the big name companies but a smaller company usually doesn’t have just one area that they want you to stay in. They give you an opportunity to perfect your craft, whatever that turns out being.

I don’t have any advice but I wish you luck and I’m hopeful that you will make the transition the best way you can. Seems to me that #3 would be the first step and while doing that you have the security to focus on #1 or #2.

I say go with #3. Once you get the new job, have them to pay for grad school.

Sad to hear you aren’t happy as a chemist. I too work as a chemist, and sadly i’ve heard a lot of my coworkers and friends i know in the field echo the same sentiment. I hope you find your niche soon, because life is too short to spend 40+ hrs/week unhappy. I know you’ve been anti-PhD in the past, but is that something you would consider now?

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