I’m not good at goodbyes. As my consulting practice grows and my own career focus shifts, it has become more difficult to find time to research and write this column. So, after nine years of writing Career Connection, it’s time to say “So long!” and turn this column over to other qualified voices.
When I first started this column, CEP editorial advisory board member Loraine Huchler (MarTech Systems) said to “tell her something she didn’t already know.” If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, I know AIChE members to be well-read and wicked smart. So, from the outset, my mission was to present fresh perspectives on career topics for early- to mid-career chemical engineers.
Since February 2013, I have researched almost five dozen topics, quoted more than 160 experts and AIChE members, and written close to 46,000 words to bring the most germane insights to CEP readers. I have collaborated with CEP editors to produce 54 columns, and I’m endlessly grateful to the CEP team for polishing my writing to make it clear, concise, and engaging.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big shoutout to the dozens of AIChE members who responded to my Engage discussion board queries. Even when I did not quote them directly, reading their comments rounded out my thinking and helped to produce a better article. I thank them all for generously sharing their experiences.
As I prepared to write this final column, I realized how much of the advice offered over the years remains relevant. For instance, I pointed out in my first column, “Managing Your Career Transition” (Feb. 2013), that career transitions can be exciting if you are willing to cultivate a positive attitude and consciously accept change. Now, it is time to take my own advice and embrace this change. I hope you will too as I leave you with some of the column’s best career tips from over the years.
A generation ago, chemical engineers could expect to settle into a well-defined position at a company and remain there for their career. Today, with the continual acceleration of technological change, chemical engineers must become lifelong learners (Dec. 2013). Tap into informal learning networks, such as your company’s retirees, and draw on vendor expertise. Read voraciously, whether online articles, industry publications, or books (Oct. 2014). Consider mentoring, not just to share wisdom with your mentee, but to learn from them as well (Oct. 2015). Take advantage of in-house training or online education programs (e.g., those provided by AIChE’s Institute for Learning & Innovation) to advance your skills (Apr. 2018).
Be mindful of your mindset
A common theme throughout many of my columns is: if you want to change something, first change how you think about it. For instance, adapt to major workplace trends such as disruption, digitalization, or disintermediation by realizing nothing is permanent and change happens (Feb. 2019). Mindset is important too when you transition from a technical engineering role to management (June 2013). In this case, you must shift your focus from being an individual contributor to engaging and motivating others.
Take care of yourself
Constant digital engagement, coupled with a volatile and uncertain world, can take its toll on our physical and mental health. Take steps to create work-life harmony (Apr. 2013), detox your digital life (Apr. 2020), and declutter your environment (Aug. 2020) to reduce stress and stay productive. A key tip is to set aside time for quiet reflection to slow your brain down. In addition, structure your workweek based on the importance and urgency of your tasks (i.e., Eisenhower Principle) to help boost your productivity and conserve energy (June 2017). To cope with stress at work, identify the external factors that trigger your stress and take steps to proactively deal with them (Aug. 2017).
Be the one asking questions
Ask open-ended questions and listen actively to navigate many career goals, whether you are working to become a leader (Aug. 2013), build your negotiating skills (June 2015), speak up more in meetings (Oct. 2017), or lead a diverse team (Dec. 2018). When you pay close attention to answers and pose good follow-up questions, others feel valued and you improve your understanding of situational nuances.
Invest in your network
Without networking, it may be difficult to get a promotion, make a career change, or land a six-figure contract (Oct. 2013). Reach out to those in your network regularly so you stay top-of-mind. Consider volunteering, which enables you to make personal and professional connections while you help others (Feb. 2016). Build your LinkedIn profile (Aug. 2021), and use this social media tool to connect and network with a broad range of professionals (Oct. 2021).
Share the glory
Everyone likes to get recognition for what they have done, especially if much of this work involves remote collaboration. When the boss praises you for meeting and beating goals, let them know you did not do it alone. Point out specific team members and their accomplishments. More importantly, when you and others have worked hard to achieve desired results, celebrate your success (Aug. 2015).
This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column of the December 2021 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at aiche.org/cep.