UConn CLAS Alumni Help Undergraduates Navigate the Career Landscape
Alumni Panel Offers Insights in Industrial Career Paths
So as to build a bridge between students interested in industrial career paths and professionals in industry, the UConn Department of Chemistry—in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) and the UConn Foundation—offered students an opportunity to network with CLAS alumni during a panel event on November 8, 2018. Chemistry major Kailey Huot ‘20 (CLAS) reflected, “At a university, you only really get to see the research and academia side of chemistry. It was extremely beneficial and insightful to hear from the other side: people working in industry and how their career path has shaped them.” The panelists offered unique insights about their careers, answered questions regarding leadership and teamwork, and spoke of how UConn CLAS provided them with the skills needed to successfully navigate the career landscape.
Meet the Panelists
Eileen Meehan ’12 (CLAS) & ’14 M.S. took an admittedly non-traditional approach in her career path. After obtaining her B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Chemistry, Meehan explored multiple fields before finding fulfillment in her current position within Human Resources at Oak Hill Advisors, L.P.
Recently retired, Dr. Al Berzinis ’75 (CLAS) & ’79 Ph.D. (UCSD) had been employed by Rohm & Haas, General Electric, and Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation where he developed new polymer products and processes, restructured a research plant, and conducted research internationally.
Dennis Maroney ’89 (CLAS) began his career in consumer fragrances at a small perfume house. Now the Vice President and Senior Perfumer at International Flavors & Fragrances – Consumer Fragrances, Dennis is the architect of some of the scents found in popular personal care products.
The Value of CLAS & Ph.D. Degrees
Meehan and Berzinis agreed that a comprehensive liberal arts degree has allowed them to succeed in their respective career paths. Meehan believes that taking a variety of courses and engaging in a variety of experiences is “part of building a well-rounded self. Sometimes, you need to get out of your comfort zone to become more well-rounded and find something you like.” Although Meehan acknowledged that Human Resources is not a typical career path for a chemistry major, she asserts that she carried her chemistry degree with her through each stage of her journey: “I use my skills as a chemist to think outside the box and to look for efficiencies that save people’s time and money.” Berzinis also advised students to take a variety of courses and to take advantage of undergraduate research experiences: “Try it out and learn something from everything you do.”
Maroney believes the Liberal Arts part of his CLAS degree has been fundamental to his success: “You need to be able to communicate well. In addition to making the perfumes, you need to be able to describe the scents. Don’t tell me you want a product to smell like the morning dew, but not be able to describe it.” Maroney attributed the depth and breadth of courses at UConn to building a successful foundation: “If you want to keep growing, you want to make sure your base and your foundation is strong.” Maroney believes that in today’s world, you need to have a diverse set of skills gained from a variety of classroom and real-world experiences.
In response to whether students should pursue a Ph.D. program, Berzinis and Maroney agreed that large chemical companies are now dominated by professionals with Ph.D.s. However, for Maroney who worked his way upwards with a bachelor’s degree, he advised that “some of what you learn on the job carries a lot of weight as well…education was not the be-all and end-all [for me].”
Communication, Leadership, and Teamwork
In an increasingly global world, the panelists also discussed how skills in communication, leadership, and teamwork have become essential in navigating the international career landscape. “The cool thing about the chemistry industry is that it’s global,” said Berzinis. “You need to be able to communicate and understand how people may process things differently. Learn how to convey information in a way that will be beneficial for both sides of the table.” Through communication and self-awareness, individuals can learn to become a better leader and teammate. Maroney believes, “A big part of leadership is to know who is on your team and how to get the best out of them.” However, both Maroney and Berzinis believe that a job title shouldn’t dictate whether you are capable of becoming a leader. “You don’t have to be in a manager position to be a leader. As a colleague, you can be a leader,” assures Maroney. Berzinis agrees: “I found that I led better by example versus being in a manager role. I still considered myself a leader; I led as part of a team.”
Leadership can start early as an undergraduate student. Meehan advises, “Learn how you learn…Don’t be afraid to do the grit work to get to the bigger picture.” Maroney encourages students to start asking questions: “Learn what it is you know and what it is you don’t know so that you can partner with people who do things better than you—and vice versa—so that you can build a stronger team overall.”
Seeking Job Fulfillment
Reflecting upon pivotal moments in their career paths, each panelist recommended seeking opportunities that are both professionally and personally fulfilling. Berzinis encouraged, “Ask yourself – am I learning anymore? Am I being challenged? No company is perfect. You need to figure out what works for you. Learn to understand yourself and what you need from a job.” Maroney echoes, “You want to learn every day and be excited about going to work. Don’t just chase the money; search for job fulfillment.” Meehan further emphasized a holistic approach to finding the right job, company, or career: “Assess it. Is it fulfilling monetarily, emotionally, and professionally?” Despite any challenges that students may face in their careers or otherwise, Berzinis encouraged students to use each new opportunity to learn and to grow: “Life runs all sorts of experiments on you. Like any true chemist, you need to ask, ‘What did I learn from this experiment?’”
The UConn Chemistry Department would like to thank the panelists who generously donated their time to provide career guidance to our current undergraduate students.
By: Ashley Orcutt, UConn Department of Chemistry