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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Working Alone versus Managing the Work of Others


My career as a research chemist working in the laboratory for 27 years and later as Chemistry Team Leader for the Food and Drug Administration for another 12 years.

In my more than 41 years of professional career, I have experienced working alone as well as supervising the work of others. I have worked in four private firms( for 27 years) and the Federal Government( for 12 years), specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I enjoyed both types of job situation. I tell you why.

My first job was for Chemagro Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri. The firm was a subsidiary of Bayer Corporation a German conglomerate. My title was “Chemist” and I worked for the Analytical Chemistry Department. The department was composed of about 50 employees half of them were either chemists or biologists. My specific task was to develop analytical methods for the detection of pesticide residues in plant and animal tissues. It was a very challenging job, being my first.

I worked alone with six other bench chemist and we report to a supervisor. I worked in Chemagro for five years. The firm sponsored the change of my student visa to a permanent resident visa, so my family and I can reside in the US permanently. The firm treated their employees very well. On Christmas time, all of us received a 13-month salary bonus. The employees along with their immediate families were also treated to an extravagant Christmas Party in a downtown Kansas City hotel, complete with dancing and free drinks all night. I left Chemagro to move to the West Coast for a milder winter climate as well as a 20% raised in salary. My supervisor wanted to keep me, but the company was only willing to give me a 10% salary raise.

My second industrial job was in the Agricultural Research Division of Shell Development Company in Modesto, California. My job title was “Research Chemist” and again I worked alone with five other chemist reporting to a supervisor who then reported to the head of the Analytical Department. My specific job was again developing analytical methods for detecting pesticide residues in plant and animal tissues. I worked for Shell Development for five years until the company decided to get out of the pesticide business and closed their research facility affecting the job of more than 200 employees.

My third industrial job was with Stauffer Chemical Company, Agricultural Research Division in Richmond, California. My job title was “Senior Research Chemist”. Again I worked alone doing the same project as my previous industrial jobs. I worked for 12years at Stauffer Chemicals with outstanding performance evaluation every year. I reached the position of Principal Research Chemist, the highest position attainable in the company without supervisory duties.

One day my supervisor called and informed me that my job has been terminated and I have one day to vacate the facility. It was the most shocking experience in my life. My feeling of anger, sadness and humiliation had been unforgettable. This incident was the lowest point in my professional career.

Fortunately, due to my networking abilities, I found another job just 4 weeks after my termination from the company. My job was in the same field as my expertise- Analytical Method Development for the Detection of Pesticide Residues in Food, Plants and Animal Tissues.

A friend from church hired me as a “Senior Research Chemist” and as a group leader with two technicians to supervise. My new employer ( Chevron Chemical Company) was also in Richmond, CA so I did not have to relocate my family. This job gave me the introduction and basic knowledge of managing the work of others. I worked for Chevron Company four and a half years, until the company decided to consolidate their research facilities in Texas. By this time after experiencing three lay offs working for a private company, I vowed that I will never worked for a private company.

My new goal was either to work for the state of California or the Federal government in Washington, D.C. Four months after I lost my job in Chevron,I was hired by the Food and Drug Administration(FDA)as a “Review Chemist” in the Fall of 1990. In 1994, I was promoted to “Expert Research Chemist” with a Government Service(GS)-14 rating. My expertise was on Antimalarial and Anti-parasitic drug products.

I worked alone doing Chemistry and Manufacturing reviews of all new drug anti-infective drug products submissions (NDA and IND) from pharmaceutical firms submitted to FDA.

As a reviewer, I have the privilege of working 2 days per week at home. I enjoyed this independence so much that I refused a promotion to team leader once. To be a team leader, you will not be able to work at home. You will be required to attend meetings both in-house and with representatives of Pharmaceutical firms every week. In addition you need to supervise six or more chemistry reviewers. However, the second time another opportunity arised, my co-reviewers and supervisor insisted I should apply since I am the best qualified. I did and in 1997, I became a Chemistry Team Leader. As far as I knew, I was the first Filipino-American to attained this position in the history of FDA.

As team leader, I was responsible for prioritizing, assigning, and assuring the technical accuracy of all chemistry, manufacturing and control issues for all new drug applications submitted to the Division of Anti-Infective Drug Products, Center of New Drugs. It was also my responsibility to give advice, instruct and promote high morale and teamwork in my group.

In 1998, I won the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Award. The citation reads, “For outstanding accomplishments in fostering the objectives of the EEO Program by hiring minorities and encouraging their professional growth while providing excellent leadership.” The award was the result of my hiring the first Black-American chemist in the Division.

I have received numerous certificates of appreciation, awards in leadership and communications, commendation for teamwork and excellence in the accomplishment of the FDA mission. I have also received several letters of appreciation from private industry for my review work.

There is nothing wrong with working alone, if you enjoyed your job. It is even better if you like your immediate supervisor. Working alone develops your skill in goal setting and scheduling. But in general, the monetary rewards is much lower than a person who has supervisory responsibilities.

Managing the works of others is not easy. However, it develops your skill to be more people-oriented and the monetary rewards are great. It is more stressful, more work and responsibility than working alone. But a supervisory job give more personal growth and satisfaction from my personal experience. My work in FDA as a team leader managing the work of six scientists had been the happiest and the most rewarding experience in my life.

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