BRANDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF CHEMISTS THROUGH INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE
When I declared my major as an undergraduate, I did not know that in effect I was also majoring in becoming a branding expert. Entering college in itself was a formidable task where my most dreaded question was answering what major I would choose. After declaring a chemistry major, I felt a huge burden relieved off my shoulders – I had made a defining and permanent mark on my destiny as a professional in the chemical field. As a poor decision-maker, I thought that moment was a definitive victory on my part. Little did I know that was just the beginning of my career in branding myself. When I entered graduate school the next big question was what division of chemistry I wanted to obtain my PhD in. Choosing an advisor was next. Like all that wasn’t hard enough, the ensuing years I had to choose between various flavors of organic chemistry: catalysis, materials science, chemical biology or organometallics. By the time I was done in graduate school, I made another leap – I agreed to do a postdoc in organosilicon chemistry. I was now to become an expert in the chemistry of a single element. Now come time for job applications, I find myself further branded by the names of my various advisors which supposedly sets a trajectory into my career. One may be led to believe that this evolved mechanism of specializing in chemistry would render one with sufficient labels to find a home in some obscure lab embracing of those singular traits, be it industry, academia or government. But in modern times, this framework of producing specialized chemical prodigies has been challenged and in many cases revamped. Which leads me to my next scientifically relevant question: what do we tell the emerging generation of chemists seeking to brand themselves? What tags are important today?
In the International Year of Chemistry (IYC2011) we are reminded of a few realities. We live in a global society. Chemical jobs are no longer confined within a few distinct world regions. We have limited resources as a society and as a people. Chemistry has always been used to understand molecular mechanisms which have allowed us to solve real world problems. But most importantly, more than ever, the problems under scrutiny are not of one society but rather, affect the entire world. The middle class globally is expanding. Competition is fierce and we are no longer entitled to promising prospects. Alternative careers in chemistry are as rewarding and crucial as traditional career paths. Most pertinently, excellence in chemical training is achievable in multiple global locations. Hence to put an early competitive price tag to one’s résumé, one must learn to see and understand the world at the onset of their career to attack its chemical problems with real perspective.
To facilitate this discussion, the Younger Chemists Committee (YCC), the International Activities Committee (IAC), the Society Committee on Education (SOCED), Division of Chemical Education (CHED), and Division of Professional Relations (PROF) co-sponsored the symposium entitled “Globalizing Education: Graduate School Opportunities in North America & Europe.” The event was organized by YCC member Jens Breffke of Penn State, Dr. Matthew Mio (UD Mercy) from the SOCED committee, and Dr. David Carmode (Mt. Sinai School of Medicine). The talks began with Dr. Elisabeth Kopatsina from the German Chemical Society, who spoke of “Chemistry in Germany: Opportunities for Master, PhD and Postdoctoral Studies.” Dr. Kapatsina highlighted the path in chemical higher education in Germany describing common coursework, internship experiences, and research that would be performed at each step. Funding sources and non-university research institutes were also discussed. This was followed by a talk by Markus Schaefer, Vice President of Human Resources BU Health and Nutrition at Evonik Industries. After a brief background about the global representation of his company in more than 100 countries, he outlined both intangible and tangible aspects of a job application to Evonik. He highlighted several traits sought in prospect employees, including customer orientation, communication, entrepreneurial drive, and leadership. But he also stressed intercultural business effectiveness to be a strong component to this successful packet.
Further talks on educational opportunities in England and Canada followed with added discussions of funding available to US students to travel abroad. This symposium was a golden opportunity to not only discuss chemical opportunities abroad, but to also evidence multiple mechanisms of international communication. Participants watched a webinar by Charlotte-Ashley Roberts from the Royal Society of Chemistry in Great Britain. Charlotte discussed various motivations to pursue education in the UK, related support programs and monetary support available through different fellowship organizations. As an immediate follow-up, Justin M. Chalker offered his graduate experience in chemistry at Oxford to the audience with his talk titled “The Oxford D. Phil. Experience: An American Perspective.” Justin traced his journey from Pittsburgh to Oxford through support from the Rhodes Scholarship and a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. He shared Oxford’s rich culture and tradition in chemistry through names like Robert Boyle, Robert Robinson, Alexander Todd, Robert Mulliken, Robert Hooke, Erwin Schrödinger, and Dorothy Hodgkin. Yet Justin reminded us that this strong tradition has come from a department that encompasses a population comprised of near 61% non-UK citizens. He displayed pictures of laboratories at Oxford and showed common work spaces available to researchers at Oxford. To our delight, he further shared various flavors of life at Oxford, including dining, recreational sports, and travel.
After learning of opportunities in Europe, we were then put into connection with Dr. Tom Woo in Canada. Although Dr. Woo was scheduled to deliver a talk in person, due to personal circumstances he was unable to travel to Anaheim, but we were able to hear him live via Skype. With a catchy title, “International Graduate School Opportunities in the Great White North – Canada; What to expect other than snow,” Dr. Woo began a jovial talk about differences and similarities of research between the US and Canada. He challenged that Canadian universities offer a slightly more diverse learning experience than the US, as Canadian universities draw in a more international student population. However, he offered the Canadian living style to be markedly similar to the US and suggested that students should anticipate similar costs of living. He also discussed various Canadian funding sources important to the chemical sciences. Next Dr. Lourdes Echegoyen from the University of Texas El Paso discussed resources for US citizens through his seminar, “Global Engagement in Graduate School: Financial resources for US Citizens.” He offered the NSF, NIH, the US Department of State, ACS, and DAAD as great places to look for funding for graduate students. Moreover, he reminded us that opportunities for undergraduates to travel abroad are also possible through international REUs, international industrial internships, and study abroad. For post-docs and early-career professionals, he offered support through the NSF, NIH, U.S Department of State, the Newton foundation, and the Humboldt fellowships.
Dr. Echegoyen elaborated on various NSF programs that support graduate education for US citizens aboard. He highlighted the NSF PIRE (Partnerships in International Research and Education) program. This resource aims to foster international research and educational collaborations by enabling graduate students to spend time abroad with an appropriate project at an institution with PIRE and work with PIRE participating faculty. An international undergraduate component (IREU) may also be feasible. The NSF STC (Science and Technology Centers) offer similar support to the PIRE program. Further opportunities exist through the NSF IGERT (Interdisciplinary Grad Education Research Training) program in which an international component to the graduate education opportunity is possible and is organizationally similar to PIRE. Additionally, funding can be obtained through the NSF GRFP (Graduate Research Fellowship Program.) While this fellowship allows for portable funds, they must be specified for domestic or international use. Applications are generally due in mid-November and allow for a $30K stipend plus $10.5 K cost of educational allowance. The funding grants 3 years of support which can be used over a 5 year-period. Lastly, Dr. Echegoyen also discussed the NSF EAPSI (East Asia & Pacific Summer Institutes) which are available to all science and engineering graduate students (M.S or Ph.D.) The opportunity provides funding for 8-10 weeks of summer research in East Asia and the Pacific (Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand.) These applications are due the second Wednesday of every November and offer $5 K in stipend, cost of pre-departure orientation in DC, a round-trip ticket, and living expenses supported by a co-sponsoring organization in the EAP region.
Dr. Echegoyen further beckoned the audience to consider the NIH-Fogarty Center which funds advanced studies in the health sciences. This fellowship allows for non-Europeans to pursue PhD research in Europe with financial support coming from the Boehringer foundation or the Novartis foundation. Alternatively, funding can be obtained from the U.S. Department of State Fulbright U.S. Student Program for work towards individually designed study/research/teaching projects. Additionally, the ACS has established a pilot ACS GREET (Global Research Experiences, Exchanges & Training) Pilot Program to encourage teams of a faculty member, graduate students and undergraduates to travel abroad to establish new international collaborations. Both academic and industrial collaborations are encouraged allowing for a 2-3 week stay for faculty and 4-8 training periods for students. Lastly, Dr. Echegoyen also stressed the DAAD (Deutscher Academic Exchange Service) opportunity for graduate students that allow for 1-2 year scholarships for study in Germany. Opportunities for undergraduates and postdocs were also highlighted.
Finally, Dr. James D. Batteas from the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University responded with the numerous opportunities for foreigners to come to the United States. He discussed the critical factors in choosing a school, requirements to apply, and financial support for pursuing graduate school. While fellowships opportunities for international applicants are certainly limited, support is available through the Fulbright program, the AAUW international fellowships for women, and the HHMI International Research Fellowships. Expectations, teaching and research were reviewed as well as things to look for when choosing a group.
While the information was very helpful to young chemists in search of opportunity in the US or abroad, the audience present was quite perplexing. Looking around the room, it seemed to me that most people who came to listen were already international students in the US with a few domestic listeners in the audience. Students from abroad in the US have always been wanderers whereas it is easy to become complacent living in the US. However, the above talks highlighted that this too will change and change is just around the corner.
Uzma I. Zakai
Younger Chemists Committee
Department of Chemistry
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1101 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706
Symposium "Globalizing Education: "Graduate School Opportunities in North America & Europe"; ACS National Spring Meeting & Exposition 2011, Denver, Colorado. Markus Schaefer (Evonik Industries) presenting