Meet the YCC: Amber Wilson

Meet Amber Wilson, lab analyst at Green Analytics, LLC, and Amber is a member of the national Younger Chemists Committee (YCC), of which she serves on the Governance Interface & Outreach (GIO) subcommittee. Amber’s profile is part of “Meet the YCC,” a series of blog posts highlighting YCC members and associates and what they do both in and outside of ACS.

Amber Wilson (she/her/hers)

YCC Member

YCC subcommittee: Governance Interface & Outreach (GIO)

Other ACS involvement: Chair-Elect, Younger Chemists Subdivision, Division of Professional Relations (PROF)

Education

B.S., Chemistry, Stevenson University
M.S., Forensic Science, Stevenson University

Connect: Instagram, LinkedIn

 

 

 

When and why did you join the YCC?

I joined YCC in January 2018 after a good friend of mine on the YCC suggested I join.  I thought it would be a great way to become more involved in a professional organization as well as meet like-minded chemists!

What motivated you to join the YCC?

I loved the idea of being involved and volunteering for an organization that did things I was passionate about.  Being able to support other chemists at the start of their careers was important for me.  I also liked giving a voice to those who did not pursue a PhD. When I joined ACS while working in my first “real” job, I felt like everyone I knew in ACS had a PhD and I didn’t, which was a little intimidating.  But ACS is for them and the Society was working for them too!

 

From left to right: Me, my best friend (Jennifer Schmidt, who encouraged me to join the YCC), and my husband before enjoying a day of music at the When We Were Young music festival in Las Vegas in 2022.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on coordinating the YCC liaison program.  It connects YCC members with the other Committees and Divisions within ACS so we can better communicate with them and work together.  The liaison program helps us plan symposia and events with other groups within ACS as well as helps younger chemists have a voice in the ongoing workings of a lot of different Committees and Divisions.  As of now, YCC has liaison connections with about 18 other Committees and 16 Divisions.  We are always working to connect with other groups within the ACS.

 

What is your favorite project you have been a part of with the YCC?

My favorite project has to be Catalyze the Vote! It’s our Q&A webinar that takes place in the fall with the ACS President-Elect Candidates.  I’ve had the opportunity to take that event and run it for quite a few years. Playing a part in it growing from a small YCC-run webinar to a larger Q&A with video through ACS Webinars has been amazing.

I also love Catalyze the Vote because it gives all, especially younger, ACS members the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates before voting in the annual ACS election.  It helps ACS members get a feel for who they are electing and hear answers to questions they are interested in.  It also has been a great way to grow communication between future ACS Presidents and the YCC and learning how we can all work together to make sure the needs of our younger ACS members are being met!

 

What is your favorite part about being on the YCC?

The people and the support. YCC is a committee of people who really care about the work they are doing.  Meeting up with different chemists around the country and sharing our successes and struggles in our schooling or careers can be really helpful and rewarding.  If you are struggling to find a job or have a question about something you are going through in grad school, there is probably someone on the Committee who can give you some advice.  Everyone I have met through YCC has been so genuine and open that it is just great to work with an amazing group of people that I never would have met outside of the Committee.

(Being able to travel to meetings across the country is pretty nice too!)

 

Posing with the ACS mascot, Professor Molenium, at the ACS Fall 2023 national meeting in San Francisco!

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing younger chemists today?

I think one of the biggest challenges is just finding jobs and job security.  Whereas I am currently lucky to be in a position I feel stable in, it wasn’t that long ago I was job searching and feeling like there was nothing out there for me.  And before that, I was looking at entry-level jobs that required years of experience. I think convincing companies to take a chance on people without a ton of experience in the workforce would really benefit young people and the companies themselves.  People with different types of experience can provide new ideas that might be better than how things are currently done.

 

What is something you want every younger chemist to know?

I wish every younger chemist knew that just because one door closes, it doesn’t mean there are not a ton more out there, and that they should research all the different options they have! This is important to me because I feel like I locked myself into a single career path early on with the goal of being a forensic chemist. (Thank you, CSI.) Throughout undergrad and my forensic science master’s, that is all I focused on.  It made it really hard for me to pivot mentally when that career path did not work out. I wish I had learned more about other things I could do with my chemistry degree before diving headfirst into one thing.  I can’t say that I would have chosen a different path than the one I took, but I think knowing my options would have let me be calmer and more confident when things didn’t work out as planned.

 

How has your career taken a unique or unexpected path?

I always wanted to be a forensic scientist from the first CSI episode I watched some time in middle school.  I focused on that and got my master’s in forensic science with the goal of one day being a forensic drug chemist. I started my career post-graduation working as a lab tech in a crime lab, always dreaming of eventually becoming one of the scientists I was assisting.  But after a ton of job applications and some circumstances outside of my control, it became clear I would not be working as a forensic chemist any time soon.

I had to expand my idea of what being a chemist meant to me. I ended up working in the water testing industry creating test strips and test kits for pool and spa test kits.  A few years later, I had the opportunity to switch over to a pharmaceutical company doing method development.  I feel like this role opened the door to me becoming a Laboratory Analyst for the cannabis testing lab I currently work in.

This might not seem like the wildest of paths, but it has ended with me working in a cannabis testing lab—a type of lab that did not exist in the world I grew up in.  While I was a lab tech at a crime lab, I used to help make up 10-gram bags of fake cannabis (i.e., oregano) to assist in the training of new police officers in drug packaging, collection, and field testing.  I could never have fathomed working for the “other” side.  In the time since then, the world around me has changed: cannabis is legal in my home state of Maryland, and I have found myself doing similar testing to what I always thought I would do had I worked in a forensics lab.  After three years in the industry, I am sometimes still surprised by where I ended up, but I wouldn’t change it.  I have been given the opportunity to work in a new, growing field where we are learning new things all the time.  That excitement and the ability to do testing that ultimately helps keep people safe makes me proud of the work I do.

 

What are your favorite things to do for fun?

CIRCUS! My biggest hobby and stress relief is circus arts! I do mostly circus wheels, both German wheel (two large rings connected in parallel) and Cyr wheel (single large ring).  I also spend a ton of time going to concerts with my husband (I will never say no to a good ska punk show) and spending time with my dogs!

 

A shot from the middle of my German Wheel performance during the In The Dark Circus Arts student showcase in Baltimore! I’ve been participating in circus for 10 years. Credit: Devon Rowland (@devonrowlandphotography)

 

 

Article by Olivia Wilkins, Ph.D.

Olivia Harper Wilkins is an astrochemist and Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Dickinson College. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Caltech and a BS in Chemistry and Mathematics from Dickinson.