The importance of international collaborations came to me not in the form of chemistry at first, but in the form of a stranger on a bus. I was 16 years old and living in a suburb of Shanghai when a woman sat down next to me. We didn’t have much in common but what she shared with me was important: international collaboration, even in the form of a simple conversation, can change someone’s life. Just five years later as an undergraduate student I had the opportunity to ride a different bus, in a different country, in the name of Chemistry. I was headed to the University of Jordan in Amman to attend my first international conference.
I wanted to share this experience to show the way in which international education and outreach has changed the way I view chemistry and how you can get involved as well. I found a new voice during my first overseas conference that gave me the confidence to continue my scientific endeavors. 10 years later and my international network has expanded greater than I could have ever imagined. I’ve had the opportunity to attend two international conferences, work side-by-side with chemists from many different countries, dedicate my time to the International Presence (IP) working group of the Younger Chemists Committee (YCC), and help in the foundation of the International Younger Chemists Network. International exchange and collaboration has quite literally had an influence over every aspect of my life.
International collaborations are increasingly becoming the corner stone of modern day advancements. From Nobel Prize winners to TEDx talks you will hear (and see) about crucial collaborations across every discipline of science. Think cross coupling, think conductive polymers: all of these advancements would not have been possible if chemists didn’t leave the comfort of their home institution, but instead collaborated on a global scale. Chemistry, and especially the YCC of the American Chemical Society (ACS), is no stranger to this notion.
The YCC’s International Presence working group has had the opportunity to work with chemists in over 13 countries through the Younger Chemists Crossing Borders program. The International Year of Chemistry catalyzed these global opportunities and collaborations that have developed in recent years. We strive to expand our global network to provide opportunities for young chemists around the world.
I wanted to share some pieces of advice that my mentors have passed to me and I hope you can apply to your educational journey around the world.
So, what to keep in mind when you are presenting in an international setting?
1. Be Prepared.
Not everywhere will have poster printers or places to print quick business cards, pack these important networking tools ahead of time (especially computer converters and clickers/pointers that are necessary for your talk).
2. Not everyone is working with the same equipment, sometimes you will have to think outside the box.
When I presented in Jordan for the first time I didn’t realize the true sensitivity of the instruments I was working with at my research institution. It helped to think of ways the same analysis could be done using a variety of different instrumentation that may be available in different research settings.
3. Be careful with abbreviations, not everyone uses them in the same way.
I often find myself collaborating on projects with chemists from all around the world – when I abbreviate too much it creates unnecessary confusion. Not everyone speaks in the shorthand we so often do here in America.
4. Find some time for the culture within the science, important issues at home may be different than where you are a visitor.
Seeing the sites is always great but really experience the culture of where you are attending a conference, studying abroad, or working. When you connect with the environment of where you are it helps to open your mind to new ideas. Don’t leave those ideas behind though, be sure to bring them home with you and share within both your work and personal life.
Now that you know what to keep in mind, how do you cross that activation barrier to take that overseas flight.
1. Advisor/ Boss/ Company
Many companies and university programs have prior agreements with overseas universities. Take advantage of these!
2. ACS International CenterTM
Visit global.acs.org and see what opportunities await you. This website is the perfect tool to expand your horizons and browse international opportunities.
3. Talk with us within the YCC
YCC members are present at every national meeting and also can be reached through our website (which you are all the closer too since you are reading this). If you have any questions or concerns regarding your international experience I would be more than happy to chat with you more about the experience.
Take some time to step outside of your comfort zone. Before you head overseas do something that makes you a little nervous (grab a meal alone or spend some time at an unknown coffee shop) to prove to yourself that you can handle this. Embrace the unknown, you never know what you may find.
International opportunities in the chemistry world have allowed me to gain confidence that has catalyzed my chemistry career. One of the most important parts of all of this though is to have fun! Enjoy your opportunities and give back when you have the chance to take that flight by sharing your experiences with co-workers, classmates, and anyone who will listen. We all have a common language that surpasses political barriers and unrest: Chemistry! Chemistry is a universal language of atoms that quite literally builds bonds between early career chemists of every state and nation.