I used to work with a sales consultant who would say smart things now and then. As sales manager, consultants were usually the bane of my existance. Not because they were no good- often they were quite competent- but because they were problematic. Management brought them in because, with its all seeing eye, it believed that we foot soldiers were unable to make certain changes.

So when a consultant arrived we had to bring them up to speed and then watch them slowly fail to make the changes. They nearly always failed. Management was looking for change in the lower eschelons but never considered that change at the top was necessary. Ever. One day we’d hear that so-and-so had moved on to other things.

Working for a corporation is very one-sided unless you are at the very top. Employees are expected to be loyal and hard working no matter how outrageous the working environment and no matter how incompetent the management. Fail to impress management and you’ll face the prospect of job hunting without good references.

But I’ve gotten off track. The Great Gondini (I’ve scrambled the letters in his name) used to say this-

Never work for a company as a chemist if chemistry is not their main activity.

He spent much of his career with IBM and later, Lexmark, involved in magnetic coatings for disk drives, charge transfer agents and other xerography chemicals, and toners. IBM and Lexmark are not chemical companies.

The point my friend was trying to make was that professional isolation within a company has consequences. One consequence is that promotion to upper management is difficult owing to the lack of participation in the management of core projects.  It is understood that there are exceptions.

There are benefits to isolation. You get to be the company wizard. Often management is loath to mess with you because, while they know that you do something important, they aren’t really sure what it is. I experienced this phenomenon when I was a chemist in a dairy lab. It can be quite amusing.

The isolation issue exists even for chemists in chemical companies. Your ascendency to upper level positions is stunted if you have not been involved in the major company projects in a significant way. If you’re running an small lab somewhere in the organization, especially if you’re in a service role, it is hard for management to promote you to VP of Chemistry over that project manager whose successful project went to market on time and on budget.

If you’re not interested in this kind of advancement, then it is a moot point.

Some chemist friends have mentioned to me that I make sweeping generalizations and this is surely true. There are exceptions to all but the most specific statements, eg., x = 3 (wait a minute, doesn’t x = 4 as well !!??).  Generalizing is a rhetorical technique. The view from 50,000 feet is meant to show the overall topography.

Chemists love details and, like a pig in shit, we love to roll around in the data. And for some, no detail is too small to bring the show to a complete halt while they wrestle with details. I’ve seen this many times. This makes it difficult for some chemists to make the transition to other job descriptions. It is a simple fact that we sometimes have to move forward with an incomplete picture.