Book Reviews

I’m not into betting and you may not be either, but for this issue of the CIB I’m offering a trifecta: reviews of three books on scientific careers. The timing is fortuitous since all three crossed my desk in advance of the next CINF Symposium on Careers at the upcoming Boston ACS meeting (see the announcement elsewhere in this issue). Chemical information may be for CINF members and CIB readers an “alternative” career, one pursued after being trained and educated in chemistry or related subjects. Therefore, the reviews will emphasize treatment of these aspects and hopefully provide guidance for buy/no buy decisions either for yourself or for students if you are a librarian or mentor.

ImageCareer Options for Biomedical Scientists; Janssen, K., Sever, R., Eds.; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press: Cold Spring Harbor, New York, 2015. 232 pages, ISBN 978-1-936113-72-9 hardcover, $45.00.

Obviously aimed at biomedical students and scientists, this multi-authored book has much material relevant to chemists aiming for a career other than as a tenure track academic at a research university. The number of those with a PhD in the sciences continues to increase (as well as the number of post-docs), but the number of available tenure track positions remains relatively constant.  “Alternative” careers, those still maintaining a presence in science, are becoming the norm in prospects for PhD science graduates. They also are attractive to those in other research positions looking for some other career path.  Fortunately, many of the skills acquired in doing PhD research are necessities for a wide variety of careers including critical thinking, problem solving, evaluation of  data and research, communication, and time management.

Careers described include teaching at small liberal arts colleges, facility management, academic administration, science and grant administration (NIH authored), science policy (NIH authored), science society (American Physiologic Society), biomedical foundations, patent law, biotech startups/entrepreneurship, management consulting, medical communications, science journalism/writing, and science publishing. The chapter on patent law is quite good and exemplifies that scientists who pursue these careers have not “left” science. Both patent agents and patent lawyers are described and so is the need for certification for both. Jobs in medical communications include editorial, account management, and executive positions. Helen Pearson, Chief Features Editor for Nature, authors the science journalism chapter and describes a number of courses and paths to success in the industry. Journals, books, and the effects of open access and anonymous refereeing are discussed in the publications chapter. 

Each chapter also describes the jobs available, skills and qualifications needed, getting a foot in the door, career progression or ways out, the author’s personal experience, dos and don’ts, references, additional resources, and Web resources. Most of the chapters and examples are in the biomedical sphere. Much is applicable to chemists, but several alternative careers are not even mentioned, including librarianship, indexing and abstracting, database production and electronic access, and pre-college teaching. Information technology is discussed in the chapter on site management.

The book is recommended for students, especially graduate students, professors, mentors, and scientists exploring a career change, and for academic libraries and career centers.

ImageNavigating the Path to Industry: a Hiring Manager’s Advice for Academics Looking for a Job in Industry, Nelson, M. R., Annorlunda Enterprises: San Diego, CA, 2014. 72 pages, ISBN 978-0990744528 paperback, $5.99.

This is a brief, but potent book by a hiring manager in the biotech industry, and the subtitle is a good abstract. It is aimed at students, but has good advice for those in academia looking for their first (or subsequent job) in industry. Much of the advice is common to any job search and hiring, but it concentrates on the quirks of industrial jobs and hiring. It offers no guarantees, but hopefully a map to success. At this low price, it is a bargain.

Preparation should begin about a year before actually searching for a job. Tips include: use a personal e-mail address, assemble necessary software, identify skills, and begin networking (including LinkedIn and other social media); and then continue the networking into the actual job search. Other tips include writing resumes and cover letters, knowing etiquette, gaining interviewing skills, including asking questions and fielding inappropriate questions, learning more about yourself, and being prepared to accept rejection.

 ImageWhat You Need for the First Job, Besides the PhD in Chemistry, Benvenuto, M. A., American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2015. 183 pages, ISBN 987-0-8412-2962-4, $150.00.

This is a multi-authored ACS Symposium Series book (volume 1165), based on a symposium of the same title at the Fall 2013 ACS National Meeting, Indianapolis, IN, aimed at graduate students, but applicable to job seekers already employed in chemistry fields. The job positions are categorized as corporate, government, and academic. Many of the recommendations and skill requirements such as time management, safety, communication and people skills, and the obvious processes of job application, interview, etc., apply to all three categories.

One chapter has the most detailed description of the entire job search process, which is largely applicable to all job searches. Aspects of skills more specific to the three sectors are described. The skills hopefully developed in education, like analytical and critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving, are necessary, but not sufficient. Corporate jobs also require business and profitability awareness, collaboration and teamwork, confidentiality, and intellectual property awareness. Job positions in academia include tenure track at small colleges, academic leadership, and lectureship at research institutions. The positions described are all in the areas of academic professorship and teaching or lab research, so alternative careers are ignored. Although the title indicates the book is aimed at future PhDs, I think that’s too narrow since many chemistry students decide to go into industry with BS or MS degrees and many of the job hunting methods apply to those students. There are some deficiencies, especially the high cost for personal use. This is a valuable, but pricey book for several audiences including libraries. For more details see my previous reviews of this book in Choice and J. Chem. Educ., both in print.

In conclusion, all three books should be available to job seekers pursuing careers in chemistry or related sciences. Except for the first book, there is no mention of alternative careers so Balbes’ book (Nontraditional Careers for Chemists, Oxford, 2007) remains a key resource.

Robert Buntrock, Member, CINF Communications and Publications Committee