Name: Jason Gordon
Job Description: I work at a contract research organization where I lead a section of chemists and engineers focused on a variety of chemical analysis, systems engineering, and testing programs. My main roles involve:
1. program development (e.g., proposal writing, business development),
2) program leadership (either program management or principle investigator),
3) section management (e.g., IR&D pursuits, financials, etc.)
4) staff development
A typical day is split between the 4 roles described above. Much of my work day involves working in teams, so, I am probably meeting with others for about half of the day. I do travel, probably about 3-5 days a month on average. An average workweek is probably around 50 hours.
What were your graduate studies in? What aspects of your graduate training do you feel have made you more successful in your position? I have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. I think my education was very beneficial to my current career. Learning how to approach a research project translates well into my current work. The experience of how to approach research questions, how to design experiments to answer questions, this has been quite beneficial and has made it easy for me to transition into a position where I am leading programs for my company. My experiences have also helped me in understanding how to respond to proposal requests – especially how to take some basic requirements provided by a client and build a project around these requirements to provide the Client with the deliverable that they need. This includes building in measures to ensure that the deliverables we are providing have a high confidence levels.
What was your career path after leaving graduate school? I completed a post-doc in chemical engineering after finishing my Ph.D. The postdoc did build on work done in my Ph.D., but was focused in a different area within chemical engineering. I came to my current company from my postdoc. I began as a senior engineer, and began taking on team leadership responsibilities about 6 months later. I moved into my current role about 3 years ago. A Post-doc is not necessary for jobs in my field. A Ph.D. is also not absolutely necessary, but, is quite beneficial and often speeds up progression into leadership roles.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? There are many aspects of my job that I really enjoy. I get to work on a wide variety of programs – and so I don’t necessarily have a typical day. But, I get to develop many different skills, both within and outside of my educational background. I also get to work with very talented individuals from a variety of backgrounds. It is a lot of fun to get to piece together all of these different capabilities that are needed to complete a program. The most challenging aspects in moving from graduate school to my job was with respect to time management and needing to work towards specific deadlines for deliverables, rather than being able to explore interests as they come up within research. I also had to quickly learn how to manage many different individuals, and so any leadership experiences you can get in graduate school will be beneficial.
Do you have any other useful advice for graduate students interested in your field that hasn't been covered yet? I think graduate school education in the sciences and engineering does a great job of preparing students to work in many different fields. The work I do at my current job is quite removed from what I did in graduate school. But, the fundamental skills I developed about how to approach a problem and logically resolve it are beneficial to many different industries. I have classmates from graduate school that work in traditional chemical engineering industries (petroleum, chemical industry, etc.), while others work in many different industries, such as within hedge funds, or a variety of different start-up companies, or work for consulting firms. So, there are many opportunities out there.