(On July 16, 2009, I asked for volunteers with science degrees and non-academic jobs who would be willing to be interviewed about their careers paths, with the goal of providing young scientists with more information about career options beyond the pursuit of a tenure-track faculty job that is too often assumed as a default. This post is one of those interviews, giving the responses of Rod Charlton, a retired chemical engineer.)
I've been retired for about 5 yrs; perhaps my responses can
reflect some of my overall experiences during my career.... see below:
Also... in my last decade, my company sponsored a program called Fun with
Science, myself and a young lady chemist took a portable science show, paid
for by the company to about 100 Grade 4 - 8 groups, it was a huge success.
1) What is your non-academic job?
- Technical service rep serving the pulp and paper industry,
- Shift supervisor in very large 24/7 chemical plant
2) What is your science background?
- Industrial Chemical Technologist (Ryerson, Toronto) followed by external
exam system to attain chemist equivalent
3) What led you to this job?
- Always liked science and engineering, had a good out-of-school offer from
4) What's your work environment like?
- Large chemical plant, lab, operations, production support... never boring!
Best part was customer service, free rein to travel to customers and assist
with product application and process optimisation
5) What do you do in a typical day?
- As a tech service rep - as above, go to customers plant, get to know their
technical staff, assist with operations
- As a shift supervisor, responsible for entire crew running a huge chemical
plant, over 75 crew members, had to know the scope of their jobs, know them
personally, communicate latest business/operations news - Downside was shift work, but you get used to it
6) How does your science background help you in your job?
- Absolutely essential; you can't run a chemical plant if you don't know
chemistry and engineering
7) If a current college student wanted to get a job like yours, how
should they go about it?
- Research chemical companies, where their plants are, how they run their
operations, whether they are mature, growing, static, commodity vs.
specialty.... find a combination that offers the best personal fit
Later addition: I forgot what I think is a key point that
young science grads should look for in a prospective employer.... an
outreach program of some sort. This allows science types to do demos, visit
classrooms, perhaps have classes come in for plant tours... pretty important
in these days of a suspicious public.
8) What's the most important thing you learned from science?
- Organised approach, problem solving, a big plant is the same as a lab only
9) What advice would you give to young science students trying to plan
- See No. 7 above... look for places that appear to have a future (Not
exactly easy, I know)
10) (Totally Optional Question) What's the pay like?
- Adequate, but only after a few years. I scraped for about 6 yrs (no
working spouse, small kids) after that it was very good