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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop
become college educators rather than university professors, and we recognized a need to educate ourselves about what would be needed to make a successful transition between graduate school and our chosen field. Although many of the types of positions that we had in mind also require a research component, the overall balance is quite different. Graduate schools, in general, provide a model for students with career paths leading toward academic environments that are similar to their own, or toward careers in industry. The needs of future small-college or community-college instructors tend to be largely ignored. It had been my experience, in fact, while visiting universities before deciding on Columbia, that teaching was seen as a four-letter word in the graduate school community. Whenever I mentioned a strong interest in teaching and asked if there were any special opportunities available to further develop my skills, I was usually told not to make this known to any professor with whom I might want to work. Somehow it was perceived that if you wanted to teach and bolster the skills necessary to become a good educator, then you could not be an effective researcher as well. This is a perception that needs to be changed.
C4 was designed to answer some of the questions that we could not seem to ask anyone and to address more general needs as well. We recognized that we were also quite ignorant about basic job-seeking skills and the types of alternative career options that were available. We decided, therefore, that these could form a common foundation on which we could gather the support of other graduate students. Columbia University has a career services division that provides information and organizes workshops and panel discussions for prospective job seekers. After attending a few of these sessions, however, we thought that the demands of a career in chemistry were sufficiently specific to address separately.
In our department, we had the example of a number of well-respected lecturers to follow, including our thesis advisor, Professor Katz. For advice on C4 plans and activities we sought additional help from Professors Leonard Fine and Ronald Breslow. We were lucky to garner the assistance of Joan Sberro, who was then the departmental liaison to the outside world. Joan was often the first line of contact between our department and the industrial sector or other universities. She did the groundwork for organizing all the lectures and special functions in the department. Through her we were able to get the names and contact information that we needed to start the ball rolling. With the help of a handful of other students, all with an interest in teaching, we drew up a mission statement, which we sent to the entire department. We also sent a questionnaire to the other students in the department, to find out which of the general career-based activities would interest them. The response showed that we were not alone in our ignorance.
The first activity that we organized was an interviewing workshop conducted by Sigfried Christiansen III from Smith Kline Beecham. Thirty-three students attended, a fairly large percentage of our graduate student body, which numbered about 110 at the time. In addition to learning more about the interviewing process itself and the general procedure for getting employment in industry, students were also able to ask questions about such things as the industrial working environment and what they should think about while still in graduate school if this was their chosen career path, how hiring decisions are made and what different companies might be looking for, what the outlook for a foreign graduate was like, and what seemed to be the overall state of the industrial job market.
At our résumé-writing workshop, Jim Burke from the American Chemical Society’s (ACS’s) Career Services Division gave a presentation on both résumé and curriculum vitae (CV) preparation to 22 graduate students and postdocs. Again, the specific needs of a chemist were addressed in great detail. This session was then followed by a series of scheduled critiques. Students were asked beforehand to bring in résumés that they had already prepared. There were time slots available for 14 individual critiques. All of these were filled, and there was a waiting list of additional students.
Through Peter Meinke, a former postdoc in Clark Still’s group and the official Columbia University