About Chemical Innovation - Subscription Information
May 2001
Vol. 31, No. 5, p 3.
Leading the Way

Table of Contents

Victor E. Vandell

A freshman in industry

picture of Victor E. Vandell Victor E. Vandell is a staff scientist at Hercules Inc. (Analytical Science Division, 500 Hercules Rd., Wilmington, DE 19808-1599; 302-995-4484;
vvandell@herc.com). He obtained his B.S. in chemistry from Chicago State University, his M.S. in chemistry with a concentration in organic synthesis from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and his Ph.D. in chemistry from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.
I am a recent Louisiana State University Ph.D. graduate. My formal training is in the area of organic synthesis and analysis of mass spectra of organic and biomolecules. I have found that life after graduation is a series of transitions and adjustments that I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for. I have learned the hard way that the cushy life of a 12-year college student is just that—cushy. I can still remember complaining about how tired I was of working late in the lab for the peanuts paid to graduate students. I would often think to myself about the money and glamour awaiting me in industry.

Although I enjoy working at Hercules Inc., let me also say that working in the real world isn’t as glamorous as I was expecting. First, I am sure those of you reading this already know that a sizeable portion of your earned income goes directly to Uncle Sam. I’m still in shock over how much the government takes out of my pay every month. I could pay off my student loans in four years with my tax withholdings! Second, it was hard getting used to the initial adjustment of working on a fixed time schedule. I was literally sick my first week of work. I was mentally and physically exhausted every day.

Now, having survived the pains of the transition, the reality of full-time employment in industry has finally set in. Somewhere between the 1980s and 1990s, the “glamour” was lost. What happened to the fancy business lunches with company customers and the endless cash flow to purchase every office accessory your heart desired? Where are the performance bonuses and fast track promotions? Alas, these are things of the past. The gravy train has been derailed by an unforgiving economy.

After the initial shock of joining the workforce, I realized that I needed to develop a new perspective on life after graduate school. I now have more appreciation for what life as a “freshman in industry” means for an aspiring young chemist. This new perspective comes as a direct result of the people I work with at Hercules.

Last year, I was hired by Hercules to facilitate the upgrading of the mass spectrometry capabilities for the research center. My title is staff scientist, and I am a proud member of the analytical science division. I am currently charged with the task of implementing new methods and development strategies for the use of liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC–MS) and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI–MS). I am also responsible for facilitating the assessment and subsequent acquisition of new LC–MS and MALDI–MS instruments. This instrumentation will be used for the analysis of small organic molecules, oligomers, and polymers. I will be part of a team responsible for designing methods of analysis for existing and new product lines.

One of the major differences between industrial and academic research is the rapid rate at which results are expected. The driving force in industry is profit; hence analyses necessary for the progression of an assigned project have to be conducted in an expeditious, yet reasonably thorough, manner. An industrial researcher has to be able to identify and answer the most direct and applicable questions. Sometimes, the solutions obtained may not be altogether conclusive. In such cases, decisions are made as to whether or not the information collected “adequately” resolves the questions initially at hand.

An industrial researcher has to be able, at times, to disconnect from a particular project and move on to the next assignment with no questions asked. This mindset requires some adjustment time but is nevertheless achievable. In contrast to this approach, academic research thrives on cultivating a passion for a highly concentrated area of research.

My first year in industry has been a mixture of joy, satisfaction, and frustration. However, I work alongside people who genuinely care about their co-workers. The interpersonal relationships I’ve developed at Hercules offer a sense of relief that helps to offset the stress and unpredictability inherent to industry. From the very beginning, I was welcomed with open arms. The management team has been extraordinary at maintaining a level of respect and trust among the employees that they manage and mentor. From my limited experience, I have found that the employees, not the company, set the defining mark in today’s corporate industry. Ultimately, the satisfaction obtained from an industrial career can be measured by the people you work with, instead of the company you work for.

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