Friday, June 3, 2016

Q&A on balancing activities in research and #OutsideTheLab

I was recently interviewed by Dr. Antara Dutta from Georgia State University for an on-line story by the ACS Georgia Local Section as part of their series to promote volunteer leaders in the American Chemical Society. The questions and answers are more about how I do what I do, and may be of use to you if you are thinking about balancing your professional and volunteer tasks...

1. What do you like most about your job? What are the most challenging parts of your job?
What I like most about my job is that I can learn something new every day, and that I also can make an impact on the lives of students, colleagues, and beyond. In this sense, the day is never done as there is always something more that I could have done. Thus the challenging part is knowing when to stop.

2. What characteristic do you associate with a good chemist?
Recalling that “chance favors the prepared mind,” it is clear that a good chemist must be both diligent and careful in their preparation, but imaginative in the construction and interpretation of everything they do.

3. How have you grown professionally through your career? How did you choose your professional career growth path?
I have been fortunate to meet great chemists who mentored me and guided me not just on my chemistry, but  also on how to manage my chemistry.  For example, Bob Lichter has been an amazing mentor helping me to integrate my broadening participation efforts with my scientific program.

4. How do you face and overcome your professional challenges?
I ask for help and I work harder.

5. What are your habits have you adopted to ensure professional success? For example, do you have a daily routine or practice that helps you to be successful?
I exercise every day to ensure that my mind and body stay healthy. I also reserve Monday’s and Wednesday’s for after school pickup of my son from his school and rarely schedule something else over them, unless I’m travelling. This ensures that I have quality time with my son.

6. How do you handle failures, either major or min, both professionally and in research?
As an academic, failure is inevitable because noone wins every grant competition. So I look at such failures as an opportunity to grow. That is, I learn from the rejections (by leveraging the written comments from reviewers and discussions with program managers), and I try again.

7. Who has inspired you professionally or personally and why?
My friends, Peter Stang and Dick Zare, are remarkable in their ability to balance their research programs and their activities to advance our profession.  They are living existence proofs that you can both serve others and pursue research, and it helps me to not give up hope that I can do both as well.

8. What are your thoughts on your growth especially in this digital age? What transformation do you see in the field of chemistry from the way you have learned the subject and it is today in this digital age? 
The promise of computers in chemistry is multi-fold. On the one hand, it provides the ability to amass a lot of data for which analytics tools can find unexpected correlations and solutions. On the other hand, it provides a platform on which we can code ever more accurate models of complex chemistry for which calculations and simulations can reveal chemistries that we had not anticipated earlier. Across this range, the power of computers thus offers us an opportunity to do chemistry differently just as, for example, combinatorial chemistry tools have already transformed discovery.

9. What hobbies or activities do you participate in outside of your professional life?
I have been running with my wife since just after I received tenure. In addition, since my son was four years-old, we have been training in Tae Kwon do together, taking all of our belt tests together, and we earned our Kukkiwon-certified 3rd degree black belts together. Running and Tae Kwon Do have been important for my health, but equally importantly they continue to provide me quality time with my family.

10. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
Much of what I have related involves the importance of interacting with people, both to help them and be helped by them. I have found many of my friends and colleagues through the American Chemical Society, and the value of my membership comes primarily from the fact that we are a society of like-minded chemical scientists and engineers. I encourage you to engage with other members at our local section meetings, our regional meetings, our national meetings, and on various on-line platforms. I am sure that you and I will both benefit from your greater engagement!