Monica Carreira, Scientific Editor

Name:  Monica Carreira

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Occupation:  Scientific Editor

About Me:  I am a Chemistry graduate from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). I later obtained my PhD from the University of Bristol (UK) in Inorganic Chemistry and Homogeneous Catalysis, where I worked on a project for Shell Global Solutions. My PhD research was therefore very industry oriented, working on developing new ligands for a hydroformylation process. After graduation, I moved to the United States as a Research Associate in the group of Prof. Maria Contel in Brooklyn College (The City University of New York) to work on coordination and organometallic anticancer compounds. The chemistry was very similar in terms of the synthesis and characterization techniques, although the final application of the compounds was completely different! As such, I developed new skills related to experiments with DNA and proteins.

In 2013, I moved back to Europe and joined the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) as a Publishing Editor where, for more than two years, I carried out the assessment of articles and production tasks for their journal portfolio. My tasks in this position involved supporting the publication process of articles from submission to printing. In 2015, and after living abroad for almost 10 years, I decided to move back to Spain, where I currently work as a freelance Scientific Editor.

About My Work:  My career as an editor began at the Royal Society of Chemistry, a not-for-profit organization aiming at advancing the Chemical Sciences in Industry and Academia, as well as by influencing policy makers. A huge part of their activities is supported by the Publishing Department, which publishes chemistry-related books and over 40 specialized journals. As a Publishing Editor in the Journal Department, I would assess the suitability of articles submitted for publication, but also establish and maintain good relationships with the scientific community. I even participated in the organization of a conference, which I also attended in representation of the RSC. Some of the responsibilities involved production tasks, including editing and proofreading the manuscripts accepted for publication or commissioning covers for the journals. I was also involved with the ethical aspects of Publishing, making sure all articles followed the standard guidelines (copyrights, plagiarism, retractions, etc.) and mediating author disputes.

When I moved back to Spain, I changed from working in an office with the typical 9-to-5 schedule to working as a freelancer from home. I still maintain a working relationship with the RSC, where I copy-edit books on highly specialized topics for the Books Department. In addition, I work for a number of editing companies around the world (Brazil, India, USA), as well as with some Spain-based clients. The science community is an international one, and I am glad that I have been able to maintain this aspect in my current job but from the commodity of my home! Research in regions such as China or India is developing very fast, and their scientific production is increasing at a speedy rate. Unfortunately, these authors still have trouble presenting their work and getting published in international journals, hence they seek the services of editing companies. In this regard, this is a growing business with great potential for many years to come.

My scientific background is definitely crucial to do my job. Communicating science requires clarity and accuracy, thus understanding the scientific method is fundamental. I also advise authors on how to make the most of their research and present it in the most efficient and appealing way. Although I started working exclusively in chemistry-related documents, I am now able to assist authors in many different fields (I now routinely edit about chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, biochemistry, or medicine). The type of documents I work on also covers a wide range: articles, books, press releases, proposals, etc.

As an editor, I remain informed on the latest advances and state-of-the-art technologies, while making sure that these are communicated in the most effective way. On the downside, I guess the job can get a bit tedious, which is why I try to mix different projects in different fields to keep it interesting.

Advice About Entering the Field:  You definitely need to be passionate about science. This job covers many different research areas, so having curiosity for the natural world definitely helps. Also, you need to love reading, as you will spend a lot of time doing so! Another skill very valuable is attention to detail, as sometimes you will be the last person seeing something before it goes online/is printed. Finally, you need the necessary skills to establish good relationships with the scientific community.

Overall, I would recommend a job in Scientific Publishing to someone who maybe is not that keen on lab work anymore, but who will always be a scientist at heart. As you can see, you can choose to either work for a Publisher in an office, or work from home as a freelancer. Also someone looking for the flexibility freelancing offers; not many jobs as a chemist would allow you to work full/part-time with the freedom to adjust your schedule on demand.

 

 

 

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Antonio Sanchez, Senior Chemist

Name: Antonio Sanchez

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Occupation: Senior Chemist

About Me:  I was born and raised in the city of Zaragoza in Spain. Since my childhood I had a strong interest in science and, in particular, in chemistry. I obtained my bachelors/Masters degree in Chemistry in the University of Zaragoza and, later on, decided to continue studying in a Ph.D. program at the same university. I finally graduated in the year 2010 as a Doctor in Organometallic Chemistry (specialized in catalysis).

Soon after, I moved to the United States to continue my education at Brooklyn College working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Chemistry under the supervision of Prof. Roberto Sanchez-Delgado. During that time, I had the chance to complete my expertise in catalysis while working for a project with the aim of developing cleaner fuels via catalytic reactions. Even though I liked working in Academia, there were several aspects of industry that I found very attractive, such as working closer to the practical applications of Chemistry rather than publishing articles. Therefore, I decided to go to the private sector in the year 2012.

About My Work:  I am currently working for a multinational company in the field of chemicals for semiconductor applications (like microchip fabrication). My work involves understanding chemistry and physics of the materials we develop and requires a strong background in science. I would not be able to do my job if I had not obtained a Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

The best thing about my job is that it offers the opportunity of overcome interesting challenges that are directly connected to the applied science. It is really exciting seeing how much impact you can make in industry if you think out of the box and propose new ideas.

A typical day at work is usually a combination of working in the lab (yes, Senior Chemists in the industry still do bench chemistry) and working in the office, attending meetings, conference calls… We are a big international company so we have to coordinate people in America, Asia and Europe sometimes at the same time.  So we often have conference calls at crazy hours due to the time zones.

The worst thing about working in industry compared to academia is that deadlines are in general much tighter and sometimes you will be in quite stressful situations.

Advice About Entering the Field:  In first place, working as a chemist implies being a person with curiosity and a logical mind. In terms of preparation, I strongly recommend going to graduate school (Ph.D. or, at least, a Master’s Degree) because the investment in time and effort definitely pays off.

In general, perseverance is a very important trait for a chemist and a person who easily gets frustrated is not suitable for this type of career. In research, there are more instances when things do not work than when they do. Therefore one has to be resilient enough to accept negative results and keep on trying. But when good results come, the satisfaction of the accomplishment pays it off by far.

Shaun MacMahon, Branch Chief, Chemical Contaminants Branch, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Name: Shaun MacMahon

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Occupation: Branch Chief, Chemical Contaminants Branch, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

About Me:  Until I moved to Maryland for my job, I lived in New York my whole life. I grew up on Long Island before moving to New York City to attend New York University, where I received my Bachelor’s (in Chemistry) and Ph.D. (in Organic Chemistry). Starting as a volunteer in my junior year of college through completing my Ph.D., I worked in Professor David Schuster’s laboratory.

Professor Schuster was a great mentor, and he prepared me very well for my career. He trusted me to operate complex and expensive scientific equipment on my own, and that was a huge help when I was interviewing for jobs. Most companies thinking about hiring you will want to know what equipment you’ve operated or what lab techniques you know, and being at a University is a great place to get that experience. I was able to present my research at conferences, which helps you get over any fear of public speaking and helps you learn how to answer tough questions.

After I finished my Ph.D., I started working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory in Jamaica, NY. After a few years of just working, I missed being at a college, so I started teaching Organic Chemistry at Brooklyn College in the evenings. I did that for two years, and I would have done it for longer, but that was when I moved to Maryland to start my current job.

About My Work:  I work in the Chemical Contaminants Branch in the Office of Regulatory Science in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, MD, which is a few miles north of Washington, DC.  Most people in the Branch are working in the lab on methods to test for allergens, toxic elements, and nutritional elements in food. To complete their work, they use everything from really complex scientific instrumentation like mass spectrometers to simple, handheld color changing tests.

When I started at FDA, I also worked in the lab developing methods for contaminants in food. But now, I’m the supervisor for a Branch, so I don’t spend much time in the lab anymore. My job is to help everyone in the Branch complete their lab work solving all the most important food safety issues. I have to make sure they have everything they need to complete those projects. I also review all of their articles and presentations, making sure everything in them is clear and correct. I go to a lot of meetings with people inside and outside the FDA to learn more about food safety issues that I can share with the Branch.

The best thing about my job is applying everything I learned in school to an important issue like ensuring that food in the United States is safe. I particularly like when I get to use Organic Chemistry to solve an important problem at work! It’s much easier to work hard when you like what your job and you feel like you’re doing something good for people. I enjoy getting to work with a lot of very talented scientists. The most difficult part is that sometimes there’s just so much to do that I end up working even after I go home at night or while I’m supposed to be on vacation.

Advice About Entering the Field:  When I was finishing school, I thought the choices for a chemist were to either work in the pharmaceutical industry or to work at a University. Working in government was not something I knew was even an option, but there are many paths available to people with a chemistry degree. Lots of businesses want to hire people with chemistry knowledge who can think critically.

I think the first preparation you need is to learn the fundamentals of chemistry in classes. Then try and identify which parts of the course work you enjoy most and apply them by getting hands-on experience in those areas. Take upper level classes that can teach you more, volunteer in the lab of a Professor whose work interests you, get an internship. That kind of specialized experience is extremely valuable, both in figuring out what you like to do and developing the background you need to find a position you’ll enjoy once you graduate.

Chemistry rewards people who really like to dig deeply into a subject; that’s why it’s so important to identify an area you enjoy working in and want to learn more about. It’s also a good fit for a curious person who wants to continue learning throughout their life. Scientific knowledge is always expanding and changing, sometimes rapidly. New techniques are developed, new theories are proven true, or old theories are proven false. As a result, whatever you’re doing as a chemist today probably won’t be what you do for your whole career, or even a few years down the line!

LT Kerton R. Victory, Environmental Health Officer/Epidemiologist

Name: LT Kerton R. Victory, PhD, MSc

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Occupation: Environmental Health Officer/Epidemiologist

About me:  I am an Environmental Health Officer/Epidemiologist assigned to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Emergency Preparedness and Response Office (EPRO). I currently serve as a NIOSH emergency coordinator supporting the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). In addition, I have led several Health Hazard Evaluations (HHEs) in the U.S. impacting worker health and safety.

I am also is a graduate of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) program, a 2 year post-doctoral training program for health professionals interested in the practice of applied epidemiology sponsored by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). EIS officers serve on the front lines of public health, protecting Americans and the global community, while training under the guidance of seasoned mentors. When disease outbreaks or other public health threats emerge, EIS officers investigate, identify the cause, rapidly implement control measures, and collect evidence to recommend preventive actions.

While I was in the EIS program, I was assigned to the NIOSH HHE Program in Cincinnati, Ohio from August 2014-May 2016. I worked on several projects including evaluating crystalline silica exposures among granite countertop workers, evaluatingf Missouri’s Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance program, and providing technical assistance in epidemiology for the Ebola virus response in the Republic of Guinea and in Dallas, Texas.

I started my undergraduate career at Brooklyn College in the summer of 2003. I was accepted into the MARC program at Brooklyn College in the summer of 2005. I worked with Professor Richard Magliozzo in the Chemistry Department on several drug resistant mutants of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. After graduating from Brooklyn College, I pursued a master’s degree in nutritional sciences and a doctorate in environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. In my spare time, I enjoy travelling and experiencing different cultures from around the world.

About my work:  I am a lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) assigned to the CDC in Atlanta. The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service is a team of more than 6,500 full-time, well-trained, highly qualified public health professionals dedicated to delivering the nation’s public health promotion and disease prevention programs and advancing public health science. As one of America’s seven uniformed services, the Commissioned Corps fills essential public health leadership and service roles within the federal government’s agencies and programs. Officers serve their country in communities that are most in need by providing essential health care services to underserved and vulnerable populations.

The mission of NIOSH EPRO is to protect the health and safety of emergency response providers and recovery workers, through the advancement of research and collaborations, to prevent diseases, injuries, and fatalities during responses to natural and man-made disasters and novel emergent events.

When CDC gets the call to assist in a public health emergency, the EOC is ready to respond. During CDC emergency responses, I assist with NIOSH personnel deployments and provides technical assistance. In addition, our staff leads the Worker Safety and Health Team within CDC EOC. Over the years, EPRO has participated in a variety of responses including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, 2011 Japan Earthquake, Deepwater Horizon, H1N1 pandemic, 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, 2015 Zika virus outbreak, and most recently Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Our office generally provides safety and health guidance and recommendations during emergencies, supports CDC emergency response efforts, and participates in response planning, training, and exercises.  EPRO participates in response planning activities, training, and exercises at the local, state, national, and international levels. These activities ensure the timely identification of health hazards associated with emergency responders and the implementation of adequate protection measures to protect their health and safety. By participating in these activities, EPRO supports increased internal and stakeholder preparedness while building relationships with fellow members of the response community.

Emergency Preparedness and Response is a very challenging field because you cannot always predict when a disaster will strike. The best part about my job is that every day brings new challenges and interesting situations. Some days, I write or review manuscripts, work on guidance documents or training materials, update scientific content on several of our webpages, or consult with others in conference calls or meetings. Other days, when the EOC is activated, I work on our Worker Safety and Health Team in the EOC coordinating deployments and providing technical support. Sometimes, I can also be deployed. Most recently, I was deployed to the Incident Response Coordination Team as a Safety Officer for Hurricanes Irma and Maria. I have also been lucky enough to travel to different parts of the world to work on different outbreaks, including the Republic of Guinea to work on the global Ebola virus outbreak response.

Advice about entering the field:  My training in basic sciences at Brooklyn College and graduate training in public health helped me prepare for my current job. What I really enjoy about working in public health is that it is very applied—the advice or recommendations we provide is used to protect the health and safety of emergency and response workers. Many of the basic concepts you will learn in you chemistry classes can also be applied to public health. For example, I recently collaborated with the State of Texas on a phosphine exposure among emergency responders. A general of understanding of basic chemistry and routes of exposure was essential to this investigation.

If you are interested in making a difference or having an impact on people’s lives, then the field of public health can help you achieve that. When you are looking for a job, make sure that you are flexible. Before you start the job search, take the time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. This will give you an indication of the type of jobs that will give you the greatest satisfaction. Your dream job might not always be your first job, but your first job might open doors towards you getting that dream job.

Many undergraduate degrees can translate into careers in public health. People who work in public health come from a variety of educational backgrounds. For example, if you are interested in epidemiology or biostatistics, a math or science major may provide a strong solid foundation to build on. Similarly, if you are interested in environmental health, a major in biology or chemistry can be very beneficial. Regardless of your background, a career with public health require competence in effective communication, so make sure to hone your verbal and written skills.

Aaron Frank, Professor of Biophysics

Aaron Frank

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OCCUPATION: University of Michigan Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Biophysics

ABOUT ME: I am originally from Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean. After moving to the US in 2001, I enrolled in the City University of New York and attended classes at the Brooklyn College campus, majoring in Chemistry.  While at Brooklyn College, I worked in the groups of Professors Charlene Forest, Shaneen Singh, and Alexander Greer. These research experiences were the most important component of my undergraduate experience; because of them, I knew for sure that I wanted to attend graduate school. After finishing up my BA in Chemistry in 2006, I then moved to Michigan to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan to study biophysics. Then in 2008, my Ph.D. advisor Professor Ioan Andricioaei, moved to UC Irvine and so I followed him to sunny California. After a few months in California, I vowed never again to live in any place where it is consistently cold. I received my Ph.D. in chemistry in 2011. Somehow forgetting my promise always to stay warm, I returned to Ann Arbor and did a two year stint at Nymirum Inc. — a small biotech company in Ann Arbor founded by a close collaborator. I then returned to the University of Michigan as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow where I was mentored by Professor Charles L. Brooks, III. In 2016, I joined the University of Michigan faculty, and I am now an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in the Chemistry Department and the Biophysics Department.

 

ABOUT MY WORK:  As a professor, I wear three hats (or a single tri-colored hat): I am a researcher, I am a teacher, and I am (or at least I attempt to be) a mentor to the aspiring young scientists in my research group. As a researcher, I get to, within reason, explore any basic science question that intrigues me, to the extent that I am qualified to make meaningful contributions to that area of research. As a teacher, I get see students discover new concepts and watch as they connect them concepts they already know. As a mentor, I have the privilege to observe the maturation–from novice to expert–of the students and postdocs in my research group.

Being a professor is unique in that the training I received prepared me to solve scientific problems, but not so much of about how to teach and mentor students. Much of the job has been come down to acquiring these skills on-the-fly, and indeed in many professions, just-in-time acquisition of needed skills is the norm.

My research group uses computers to answer questions that arise in structural biology and biophysics. Interestingly, our day-to-day activities mirror closely the day-to-day activities of a data-science group: we try to solve scientific problems by extracting patterns from experimental and simulated data. Therefore, to a casual observer, it may not seem like it, but our work is all about chemistry. The questions that motivate what we do is how the chemical properties of the monomers in biopolymers impact their physical properties. For example, what is the structure of these polymers and what are its dynamical properties (that is, how do they move in time). Most important, we want to know how do these properties give rise to biological function? In my research group, we primarily study a class of biopolymers called ribonucleic acids (RNA); the chemical sequence of RNA dictates its functional properties. For example, there are RNA that respond to changes in temperature or changes in the concentration of molecules and turn off or on genes in response to these changes. The fascinating thing is that changing the chemical identity of just a single monomer in RNA containing more than 100 individual monomers (for example) can obliterate the functional capacity of an RNA. As such, understanding the functioning of these molecules means rationalizing how chemistry at the level of a single monomer (called nucleotides in RNA) affects the properties of the entire polymer.

A typical day starts with breakfast with my son and wife. We then drop my son off at pre-school, and I get into the office around 9:00 pm. Once at the office, I begin my day by responding to unanswered emails from the previous night. I also check my calendar to remind myself about scheduled meeting for that day (and also to make sure I didn’t miss an earlier meeting!). If I lecture on that day, I typically spend 1-2 hours preparing for class. If not, I spend most of my day talking with my team about our research. Most of my interactions with my team center on troubleshooting issues that arise while working on our projects, and coming out with creative ideas to address specific technical and scientific challenges we invariably face. I also spend time serving on thesis committees and administrative committees within the Chemistry and Biophysics departments. My workday officially ends around 5 pm. After putting my son to bed, (around 7:00 pm, if we are lucky), I typically finish up uncompleted tasks from the day. If I don’t have anything specific to do, I usually spend about an hour on YouTube catching up on sports highlights and the latest political news. The toughest part of the day is trying to fall asleep: I get so excited about the research in our lab that I sometimes find it difficult just to sleep. Many of the new ideas I bring to the lab in the morning originates from thoughts I had while attempting to fall asleep!

The most challenging aspect of the jobs is juggling the three different aspects of my job—researcher,  teacher, and mentor—simultaneously. Each on its own can be stress-inducing, combined, even more so. Particularly challenging is dealing with the anxiety associated getting funding. The exercise of coming up with research questions, designing creative solutions to address meaningful problems, and putting together a logical and coherent plan for a set of research projects is a rewarding experience. It is everything that comes after that can be stress-inducing: will the project be funded, did you reviewers hate my idea, will I be able to keep my research team together, what will I do if this idea is not supported, again?

The best thing about my job is the intellectual freedom to explore my ideas or the ideas of my group members. For the most part, we are in complete control of the what we do and how we do it. The questions we attempt to answer and the technical challenges we attempt solve must be well motivated and rooted in filling an existing gap in a particular research area, but given that we can frame the question in such a way that we can use your talents to address it then it is all fair game. For me, it is really like being a kid in a candy store.

 

 

ADVICE ABOUT ENTERING THE FIELD:

  1. For someone interested in working in my area I would say learn as much physics, mathematics, and computer science as is possible, and sprinkle in a bit of biochemistry and molecular biology.
  2. Specific technical skills that will enable someone to make an impact write away is: (1) Being comfortable working on the command line in a Unix-like environment. Without any formal coding experience, if some can use the computer from the command line, they can be productive in my line of research. (2) Similarly, learning basics scripting is important, this we allow one to automate tasks for setting up calculations and analyzing the output.
  3. One has to be passionate about answering questions through the design logical experiments (in our case, virtual experiments). One must also be willing to thoroughly investigate all possible explanations. You have to be excited by the details: how and why, exactly? One must also be independent-minded and intellectually courageous. That is, one must be willing to come with and try out new and well-reasoned ideas, on their own. With these qualities, you also have to have an analytical mind and a willingness and ability to acquire the technical skills needed to get the job done. Almost in every project we work on, we employ computational tools and techniques that are new to us.
  4. If you (absolutely) dislike searching for patterns in data and find it hard using computers, then this line of research is not for you. I say this cautiously though; we have many different kinds of people in our group all with their unique background and interests, and so there is not a single type.

Yousra Abdelhadi, Chemistry Teacher

FULL NAME:  Yousra Abdelhadi

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OCCUPATION:  Former Chemist at Virginia Dare Flavor House and AVON Cosmetics, currently chemistry teacher and AP Curriculum Writer

ABOUT ME:  I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I went to James Madison High School and was lucky to be a student and employee at Brooklyn College.

My journey towards becoming a chemistry teacher took me through several different experiences all of which complement what I do now. At Brooklyn College, as a member of RISE  I had the privilege of working at AREAC as a research assistant my sophomore year. Seeing the intersection between the different sciences come together in a research project was a wonderful experience. The work facilitated by Dr. Schreibman, Dr. Zarnoch, and the collaboration they demonstrated with other members of the Brooklyn College Science Community really amped my interest in the field.

With the help of Dr. Kobrak, I started my first internship at Virginia Dare, an extracts and flavor house. I started off as a quality control chemist where I got to see the application of many of the labs we did in school like gas chromatography, HPLC, and titrations to name a few. When I graduated I moved to the beverage department, where I worked on product matching, formula design with consideration of calories, appearance, and of course taste. I really enjoyed my time there. On our downtime I find myself speaking with veteran employees about the research they have done with emulsions and other products, real estate, and their own career journeys. I learned so much, but wanted to see how things would pan out in the world of cosmetic chemistry, that’s when I started working at AVON.

As a productivity chemist at AVON, I got to work on preparing different consumer products with a focus on reducing the cost while maintaining the quality. Being involved in the formulation and scale-up of a consumer product was really cool. I got to see the process from its inception. From making multiple batches of shampoos, hand creams and other products in the lab, to product testing with microbiology, toxicology, stability testing and of course getting various approvals including the folks in marketing. I worked at AVON full-time (4 days a week). Once a week I got to work at Brooklyn College as an adjunct instructor for first year General Chemistry and I LOVED it.

It was only once a week, but I enjoyed working with undergrad students on seeing how the puzzle pieces of science and chemistry in particular fit so perfectly to create meaning of the things we overlook daily. Of course there were struggles at times, but it was a wonderful learning experience and from there I knew I wanted to teach Chemistry full-time.

 

ABOUT MY WORK:  I got into the Teaching Fellows Program and quickly entered the Department of Education as a high school science teacher while working on my Masters Degree in Education. Obviously there was a huge difference between teaching high school chemistry and college chemistry. Initially, I was a little overwhelmed with the graduate school and full time position, but those two years go by before you know it.

Building my skills as a pedagog, finding ways to incorporate literacy and mathematical reasoning skills into my lessons, making sure to connect with students as a person, helping them through whatever struggles they have, while taking them through the perfect choreography that exists between elements, particles, and energy in chemistry, became a journey of its own. High School Chemistry is similar to some of the introductory work done in General Chemistry. Often students are in the class because they have been programmed into it, or have a related career interest, regardless; building relevance into the topics and helping students see where in their daily life they come across these concepts brings a renewed sense of interest from all of us. Designing lab experiences for students from the student guide that they see, to the preparation of the solutions and substances they’ll use, and making meaning of the concept behind the activity all involves an understanding of the concepts learned in undergrad- not to mention a lot of time. There are usually tons of resources online to help with all this and if you are lucky you will have other chemistry teachers around to work through this with you.

Teachers often wear multiple hats. Besides teaching, I support teacher development as a Lead Teacher. I work with other teachers on facilitating discussions around data collection and analysis for instructional modifications, vertically aligning curriculum so that we are building student skills during their tenure in high school, collaborating to mutually improve our practice, and providing students with the experiences that would make a career in STEM fields more tenable. I am ever grateful that things have worked out well.

There are always tons of opportunities to further your career in the Department of Education, especially in science as long as you are willing to pursue them regardless of how rigorous the process may be. Currently, as a Math for America Master Teacher Fellow, I get to collaborate with other science teachers who are not just passionate about the content, but about student success and teaching as well. Besides the generous stipend, they provide a unique opportunity to connect with other professionals and discuss the delicate intricacies within a chemistry topic and its application to the classroom. Recently, I’ve been working with AP for All trying to increase the availability of AP courses and AP/college readiness for a broader group of students. Alongside one other teacher, I also write curriculum for the Chemistry Advanced Placement Courses in NYC funded by AP for All. It’s been such an exciting journey and I don’t think I’m done yet. I hope to one day use my background in industry and in education to create a pipeline for students with disabilities to enter positions like the ones I held regardless of how long it may take them to get there.

 

ADVICE ABOUT ENTERING THE FIELD:  When I graduated college the economy was in a recession and the job market didn’t look too bright. I was a nervous senior who didn’t want to be unemployed. Even though I was in an internship and had some research experience I found myself applying to at least 20 positions a night and hearing from only a handful.

It was a little scary, but the experience I had gained during undergrad was really powerful. I highly encourage students in undergrad to find an internship, or to reach out to a professor and do some research in the lab.

When applying for a job in industry, potential employers will look for the specific technical chemistry skills you have mastered. Going from one position to the other, I asked my colleagues at the time to look over my resume and suggest any changes and consistently they would include the specific scientific procedures that we practiced. In reflecting on my college experience, I found that many of those procedures were labs we conducted in some of our chemistry classes. Having research lab experience made me so comfortable with wet chemistry techniques. Although in industry you often work under a more senior chemist, knowing how to calculate dilutions to suit your product sample, and apply other lessons learned in chemistry, without having to ask for help, certainly reflects well on you. The work done in industry is often like a puzzle with deadlines. You might be given an assignment like matching a competing company’s formula, or reformulating a product to meet new FDA guidelines or another country’s guidelines, or just making the product more cost effective. Often times it is up to you in the lab to access your mental arsenal of techniques to figure out how you’ll get it done. That’s the exciting part and seeing your product come into its final form and use is an added privilege; but be prepared to go through the entire process of working on a sample making a batch, tossing it, and starting over every time it doesn’t come out right.

Don’t be afraid to move around and ask for advice from those around you. Often veteran employees will have more insight into other branches of the industry, contacts in other companies, and a perspective that would be otherwise unknown to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

Teaching is a different type of puzzle. It involves knowing how to cull out ideas from other people, knowing the micro skills that lead to understanding a broader concept, lots of planning, and patience as students make meaning of the content. Although people tend to assume that teaching is a stagnant career, the world is changing, and so do our practices. There are constantly new initiatives, directives, and opportunities and it’s on the teacher to remain abreast and adjust accordingly. Teaching can be really stressful. Attempting to get through so many topics and finding that students don’t possess the basic skills to access them is often a challenge, but you find ways to address these throughout the year.

Originally I went into Chemistry to be a patent attorney I ended up doing so many other things instead. Chemistry has so many applications in different fields. My brother in law majored in Chemistry and did research on polymer science, his work now involves making computer simulations of molecular models. My husband also studied science (at Brooklyn College as well- where we met) and for a while he was creating science study programs for medical students and is now a physician himself. From administrative jobs, to positions in law, teaching, industry, marketing there are a ton of options with a Chemistry degree so don’t be afraid to to explore and find your niche.

No matter how you use your chemistry degree finding passion in what you do and making that evident in your work is the trick. I wish you all the best and tremendous success.

 

Elina Trofimovsky, Endocrinologist

FULL NAME:  Elina Trofimovsky, MD
OCCUPATION:  Endocrinologist

ABOUT ME:  I was born in the Ukraine and my family immigrated to the US when I was 13. I went to New Utrecht high school in Brooklyn and then to the Brooklyn College BAMD/Macaulay honors program.

I think the hardest thing in college is figuring out what we want to do career-wise. So I’ll recount my process.

Throughout school I loved math and science the most – it was logical, easy to understand, didn’t involve much route memorization… I had an amazing chemistry teacher in high school Mr. Brunetti who just made basic chemistry so simple (just like Professor Kobrak). The rules made things click with clarity for the practical part of my brain so going into college I knew I wanted to major in chemistry, little did I know about organic chemistry then! Although I must say at the time when I was at BC, quantum chemistry was a breeze because the late Professor Levine taught it so well…

I also knew I’m a “people’s person.” I minored in psychology while at BC as well. I knew I wanted to work with people and help them while exercising my brain, so at the time, being a doctor made sense and I applied for the BAMD program, got wait-listed but then accepted when another candidate chose a different university.

I started Brooklyn College in 2001 – I can still say with certainty that physics and organic chemistry were the hardest courses I ever took. Even medical school was by in large conceptually simpler but boy oh boy was it more work – take the studying/cramming for biology and multiply by 1000 –  the sheer volume of information to grasp and make sense of…  lots of studying time in med school – so be ready!

I realized when I chose to join the BAMD program at Brooklyn College which was linked to SUNY Downstate that I was committed to a field in medicine which I knew little about. During high school I had volunteered in a nursing home with resident recreational activities to enliven the residents and bring smiles to their faces, but there was no clinical exposure there. The summer before college I followed a local primary care physician and during one the semesters at BC I spent a few hours a week shadowing a radiation physicist at Brooklyn Hospital who was working with the oncology service (check out the internship/externship opportunities the college offers, some of them even pay a bit). I knew right there and then that working solo was not for me, working with very ill patients possibly at the end of their life was also not for me, but the medical field in general still had its pull.

While at Brooklyn college, Dr. Kobrak advertised to our class the opportunity to accompany him to Brookhaven national lab on a research project on ionic liquids – I had no idea what those were at the time but I figured it’d be an amazing opportunity to see bench science research at its core and I was curious to see if that’s something I’d enjoy doing. Dr. Wishart and associates were studying the properties of certain ionic liquids which could then be used in industry i.e. for disposal of toxic or radioactive waste (so if you major in chemistry you can work for the EPA or industry to figure out how to save our planet, environment, energy sources and ourselves). I and the other students on the project got to help out in the way we would during chemistry lab by performing certain step-by-step instructions. Basically the researcher is like a grown-up child wondering about the universe and figuring things out (except he has a full lab of assistants to help him as well) – it does require lots of knowledge, imagination, discipline, persistence and self-directed learning. Again I knew research wasn’t for me. Meanwhile, my best friend worked in a biology lab while she was at Hunter College and ended up pursuing a PhD because she loved it. My now husband trained to be a psychiatrist and then did a research fellowship and now made a career out of it because he enjoys figuring things out more than clinical work…

I also got to volunteer a bit in the BC learning center proof-reading papers with students for whom English was a second language which reinforced my love for teaching. Honestly, what I do 60% of the time as an endocrinologist is teach my patients about healthy diet/lifestyle choices, their illness, their treatment options, their medications, how to take them, possible serious side effects they need to be aware of, etc. I had even had to make hand-outs of the most common things I discuss like a teacher would.

I treat patients with diabetes, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, and obesity for the most part. I love working with people and find it very rewarding.

I spend 30% of my actual patient time figuring out what’s wrong with patients and using my brain to interpret lab results/patient’s symptoms and guide my patients to the best possible treatment solutions. It’s what drew me to science in the first place: 1) gather all the necessary information, 2) formulate a hypothesis (although in medicine it’s typically a number of hypotheses which are on the differential diagnosis at the same time) and then prove/disprove it.

I spend the remaining 10% of the time using my intuition, or what we now call ‘emotional intelligence,’ on how to best communicate with my patients, how to motivate them, how to help reach a clinical decision and offer compassionate care – all of this requires a lot of people skills because we’re very complicated psychological beings.

I specifically chose a field in which most of the conditions are correctable so I could feel like I’m making a difference w/o feeling constantly sad. I specifically chose a field which was not very procedural because I’m a chicken at heart – unlike some of my friends who, like car mechanics, enjoy opening up, fixing and putting together again :).

It took 4 yrs of medical school, 3 yrs of internal medicine training and 2yrs of specialty training AFTER college to get to where I am today.

Looking back – medical school was a lot of memorization but everyone’s in it together, you do whatever it takes – paying attention in lecture, listening to the audio recordings, individual study, group study, etc.

Chemistry came up a lot in my medical school training when we were covering pharmacology (would presume it’d be even more crucial for pharmacists), concepts like pH, receptor binding, etc.  Chemistry also comes up a lot in the clinical laboratory – one of my friends who majored in chemistry works in a laboratory setting.

When I transitioned from the first 2yrs of just conceptual learning in medical school to the second 2yrs of hospital rotations I actually experienced a culture shock i.e. ‘this is not what I signed up for’ – I couldn’t bear to see the after-stroke or dying cancer patients. I wanted to quit. I was reassured by a great endocrine mentor that not all fields in medicine are so devastating and some fields are mostly office-based.  Here’s a gentle reminder to shadow and volunteer to get a glimpse into the future.

Residency was physically and emotionally draining – at times working 100 hour weeks (now there’re better hour regulations). It’s a huge learning curve, requires looking things up at every corner (still is actually).

It’s also very humbling and at the same time empowering to be in the position of helping people in their most vulnerable state.

The hardest parts of my job are: the long hours (after seeing patients catching up on office notes, call-backs, lab/imaging orders and results, communication orders, medication approvals, etc), the guilt of  not seeing my kids while staying late at the office.

Personal plug: If any of you guys reading this go into administrative work or governmental jobs or computer jobs and can help simplify this burden for doctors – perhaps they wouldn’t be as exhausted:)

I also didn’t realize the issues our health care system has in terms of the absence of a unified medical record, the different insurance companies having different rules and approved medication formularies which all seem like unnecessary burdens to overcome which technology can help solve (another plug).

Not having an answer is sometimes difficult – just as for the researcher or the teacher…

In the end, I got what I wanted – I’m working with people, I’m helping them.

I got a few things I didn’t bargain for – endless paperwork and carpal tunnel.

Chemistry is still pretty much at the core of my field of hormones and receptors & feed-back loops. So there you have it.

I think the take-away messages are: 1) chemistry will land you a job in whichever setting you want, 2) it’s important to volunteer/shadow or somehow get exposed to whatever line of work you choose to do not only to start to understand it but also to see whether it’s something you’d like to do most days of the week for many years…