Tips and Tricks for Navigating Transitions

Congrats! Your hard work paid off! You’ve just been accepted to grad school. You’ve just been selected for a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship. You’ve just landed your first industrial job. You’ve just been awarded an international travel opportunity. Take some time to celebrate your accomplishment with family, friends, labmates, and pets (not necessarily in that order).

Now, once the excitement of your achievement wears off, logistics start to set in. Where will you live? How will you get to work? What will your role actually entail? Where’s the best place nearby to get a sandwich?*

As younger chemists, our lives are full of transitions, but they can become overwhelming since they seem to happen so often. Having recently been through the transition from graduate school to my first industrial job, I have seen a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time. I found myself in a brand new city, again, having to start over. Here’s a few tips based on my experiences that have helped me to adjust.

One of the biggest challenges in a younger chemists’ career is packing up and shipping out to a different geographical location. Give yourself time to acclimate. One thing that helped me get used to my new grad school environment was to arrive early before the semester began. I was able to get situated in my apartment and perform research before the craziness of classes, TA-ing, and research meetings set in. This may not be feasible for everyone, but if it’s an option for you, I highly recommend it as a way to begin a transition in a less stressful way. If you are mourning the carefree days of undergrad, bring a picture or memento for your desk at work. It will remind you of what it took to get you where you are now.

Do your research. You are an analytical person by nature, and chances are, you have already scoped out information about your role and environment. Don’t hesitate to also reach out to your future boss and get his or her opinion on what you can do to be prepared before you start. Read papers or brush up on concepts that are a little dusty. You will have a lot of different tasks to focus on once you step foot into the lab or office, so do as much as you can beforehand. Go on a practice drive of your work route to make sure that you are comfortable. Stock your fridge with easy to prepare meal options. Find a great coffee shop close by to frequent when you need an escape from stressful days.

Connect with coworkers. You will not know much about your coworkers when you first meet them (besides what they have presented on their shiny LinkedIn profiles), but you already have something in common. You are in the same place at the same time. As the newbie, you will also be given a lot of leeway to ask random questions of people. Take advantage of this! Apart from asking about job-related questions, ask senior labmates or coworkers for their recommendations on eye doctors, child care options, or how to get involved with outreach opportunities. You may just find another commonality and make a connection. I once brought up offhand that I used to teach ballet to a group of other chemists, and that led to discovering a whole network of scientists that have a deep love of the performing arts. Look for student tickets or young professional discounts on events to broaden your horizons, and enjoy the company of your coworkers.

Maybe you are having a hard time adjusting or maybe your new role isn’t what you thought it would be. With all of the on-the-job trainings and to-do lists stacking up, it can be easy to get lost in day-to-day tasks. That is okay. Remember that you already persevered to obtain a degree in chemistry and keep moving forward. Your initial goals may (and probably will) change over the next five years. Use the momentum from your job search to develop a new skill in a complementary area. Attend professional meetings, local ACS events, or short courses to further develop your technical skill set. Who knows? As a younger chemist, your next transition is likely just around the corner.

* If in Pittsburgh, I highly recommend Thin Man Sandwich

Article by Kristin Nuzzio, Ph.D.

Kristin Nuzzio is a research chemist at PPG Industries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She completed her Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and her undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware. Kristin serves on the Governance Interface and Outreach (GIO) subcommittee of the YCC.