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Career Advice from Andrew Anderson

by Sanji Bhal, Director, Marketing Communications, (ACD/Labs)

From Pfizer to ACD/Labs, then PepsiCo and back to ACD/Labs, Andrew Anderson’s extensive work experience across different positions and fields makes him a great resource for career advice. Following part one and part two of our “5 Questions with Andrew Anderson” series, he shared a number of tips he has picked up during his time in the pharma, software and food & beverage industries. Enjoy the read and I hope you find this helpful and informative!

As an expert in analytical chemistry/informatics, what advice would you give people just starting their careers in the field?

I have had the privilege of working and knowing some of the world’s greatest scientists, particularly in the analytical sciences. My first observation is that folks can either take a highly specialized or generalized approach to skillset acquisition. When faced with the prospects of applying such skills, I find that one’s training is used in an “application” setting; for example, consider spectroscopists conducting comprehensive material characterization experiments.  If you find your passion in spectroscopy as a “platform,” of course a highly specialized skillset is required. However, I found passion in the “application,” and so I took a broad, general approach to learning. I was also very fortunate to have mentors and managers that supported this broader course!  

Years ago, I was sitting in a project meeting with a number of stakeholders from different analytical functions of our department. We were presented with a structural problem, and had to work together to solve the issue. Our NMR staff was confident NMR could solve the problem; correspondingly, our MS staff was similarly confident. Being a research assistant in the NMR group, I diligently acquired what I thought would be the appropriate experimental data to yield a solution to the problem. 

It was a Friday afternoon, and the larger team wasn’t going to meet until the following Monday. We happened to have just installed a new FT-IR system in our lab that week. Faced with the prospect of driving home during rush hour or trying out the new system, I acquired an FT-IR spectrum on the “problem” material. Without getting into the confidential details, the FT-IR data indicated functionality that no one (the synthesis team or either analytical group) expected. After subsequent rounds of data acquisition (and even conformational synthesis!) the structural hypothesis supported by the FT-IR data was ultimately the right one. 

This was random, dumb luck. I would have never even acquired the data had I not stuck around the office to avoid sitting in traffic. But I learned a very valuable lesson: sometimes, having more than one tool in the toolbox is essential, at least for me!

I’m also supportive of “getting out of one’s box.”  I was fortunate (again) to work in a variety of industries.  I have observed that many “solutions” to industrial challenges come from cross-fertilization—knowledge in one industry is often unknown in another. 

Along this thread of “tools in the toolbox,” another suggestion is that in any career, working effectively in teams is essential. Understanding how team members are motivated sheds light on their behavior in a group setting. When you enter the business world—or if you’re in informatics or the science space—positively influencing team-based outcomes is a major component to an employee’s success. From my sales training, I learned to “make a diagnosis before suggesting a prescription.” I extend this to the skill of effectively understanding human emotion and behavior. Of course, this skill is not just reserved for my colleagues’ emotions and behavior, but my own as well.

In my role at ACD/Labs today, I am expected to work closely with a variety of stakeholders, including collaborators, product managers, professional services, development teams, and customer-facing groups. Understanding their motivations and goals helps me in having a positive influence; however, changing my own behaviors, goals, and motivations when considering the needs and wants of my colleagues is also important. Good leaders have the skill to admit they don’t have all the answers.  I take that to heart. I listen. I empathize. I adjust. Possibly, this is a good skill for anyone new in their career.

Do you agree with Andrew or have any additional career advice you’d like to add? Leave a note below!

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