So You Have a Degree, Now What?

Approximately 60 women and men--including panelists Dr. Julia Chan, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry at Louisiana State University; Ms. Vernita Veal, a senior quality control analyst with Shintech; Dr. Marquita Qualls, a research investigator with GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals; and Ms. April Idleburg, a supervisory forensic chemist with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)--got together recently to discuss topics of vital importance to women scientists. Ms. Lorraine Lyman, a second-year chemistry graduate student at Louisiana State University, served as moderator for the session.

Held during the 30th Annual NOBCChE (National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers) Conference in New Orleans, the second annual workshop on women in science was a big hit with participants. This workshop provided a much-needed forum on issues relevant to women scientists, including the importance of networking, career opportunities in academics and government, and conducting a job search.

Lyman got the conversation going by asking the panelists what had sparked their interest in science. "I was not afraid to try something new," Chan responded. "I became a chemistry major because the chemistry building was next to my dorm!" The other panelists indicated that they were naturally drawn to science and interested in figuring out how things work. Qualls added that she has always been an "inquisitive person" and changed her major from biology to chemistry after taking a chemistry course.

Lyman next invited the panelists to think back over their educational experience and conclude if they would have done anything differently. Panel responses focused on the importance of networking and not getting caught up in achieving instant financial gratification. "The job that I have, I don?t mind getting up in the morning and going to work. But, I did have to learn what is the difference between my passion and my profession," said Idleburg, adding that "Another thing I was concerned about was making money. If I [can] get into a place where I can match my passion with my profession, then I may not be a millionaire, but I can live like one."

Qualls stressed the importance of networking early. "I would have become more involved in majority organizations," said Qualls, adding, "I would have established my network a lot earlier, beginning with my first year of graduate school." Veal emphasized that she would have changed her thinking about financially preparing for college. She grew up believing that you need to work full time to pay for an education. She now realizes that "there are programs out there" to help people through college.

Finally, Lyman invited the panelists to comment on how to conduct a job search and earn promotions on the job. Each stressed the importance of networking, collaborating with other scientists, and not making hasty decisions. In response to a question about obtaining promotions, Idleburg emphasized the importance of making sure you are fulfilling all the requirements of your position. "Look at someone else within your organization [who] has received that promotion and find out what they did," she advised.

Due to the great success of the NOBCChE symposium on women in science, the workshop planning committee members hope the session will be presented at future conferences. Many of the participants felt that they received answers to many questions regarding finding and securing employment, the importance of networking, and dealing with potential problems on the job. The next NOBCChE conference will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2003. For further details, please visit the NOBCChE Web site.

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