A Day in the Life of an Analytical Chemist
Group Commercial Manager - Envirolab
Today I’m going to give you a look at an
average day in September 2021 for me, a Commercial Manager at Envirolab Sydney.
Firstly, a little about me. I graduated in 1991 and began my career as a
Laboratory Technician at Australian Analytical Laboratories.
Over the years, I moved through the ranks
to then become a Chemist at Amdel, Senior Chemist and Operations Manager at Analabs,
Laboratory Manager back at Amdel again before moving onto Quality Manager and
Business Development Manager at Australian Government Analytical Laboratories/National
Measurement Institute. Now for the past
16 years I’ve been at Envirolab. My
whole career has been in Environmental Laboratories.
So, what is a Commercial Manager? Well, I’m not overly sure myself.
I guess it depends on the industry, but
broadly Commercial Managers look after business contracts, tender negotiations,
client interactions with perhaps some legal issues and procurement thrown into
I certainly do all that, however, being a Commercial
Manager in a busy commercial laboratory, I seem to have some added tasks, mostly
chemistry related. Which is good. I can honestly say that I am never bored at
work and if my daily ‘to do list’ is ever less than 10 tasks, then I start to
get a bit twitchy.
Pre-Covid, I would be traveling to our
interstate laboratories and offices, seeing clients, going to industry events
or conferences and would be away for at least a week a month. However, my last plane trip was in February
2019. Looking back, it’s hard to know
how I fitted all that travel in.
Today I slept in and stated at 8 am (been
rather lazy during the Sydney lockdown with my gym closed).
The first thing I do each day, like most,
is checking the overnight emails and answering them. I’ll then quickly scan all the tenders that
come overnight, looking for any that are laboratory related.
Until 11 am (NSW Government Press
Conference Time – essential viewing), I’ll be busy doing quotes for clients,
working on tenders for clients and dealing with client questions and technical
or production queries. To do this
properly, I need to have a good knowledge of all the different Guidelines out
there. Each Guideline will be different,
depending on the situation. For me this
will include Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG), National Environment
Protection Measure (NEPM), and National Assessment Guideline for Dredging (NAGD),
just to name a few.
Dealing with client tenders can be quite
time consuming – some may consist of hundreds of line items – each line is a
different laboratory test, in a different matrix (normally soil/water/air)
where we need to provide a price, a turnaround time and a practical
quantitation limit as the detection limit. Tenders can also be quite frustrating as all
the terms and conditions need to be read and understood. I must say that, after all these years, I’m confident
in legal jargon (if only I earned the $500/h lawyer fee!).
My other routine tasks include preparing
both marketing and technical presentations for clients and industry. In the good old days, I used to enjoy this
aspect in person, but now I’ve become reasonably good at finding my way around
a Teams or Zoon screen – but it’s not really the same as a live audience! Today I will be doing a Zoom presentation
about PFAS to a Government Department interstate.
Providing advice to my staff is also a
major part of my role. I generally have
dozens of calls and staff popping in to ask me a technical question or advice
on how to deal with an issue (and the odd difficult client). This is part of the job that I still love. I really do like to help people and provide
advice and solutions. With my staff here
in Sydney + our other laboratories and offices around the country, this part of
my job keeps me on my toes.
Before I know it, it’s 6 pm. I think to myself where has the day gone –
glance at my calendar to see that only 3 to-do-tasks have been crossed off. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. Plus, it’s almost wine time.
STEMM Leadership Coach
Dear RACI colleagues, this article describes what the job of a Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, & Medicine (STEMM) leadership coach consists of, and why it is important that organisations invest in their STEMM workforce. I’m the Founder and Managing Director of ProVeritas Leadership Pty Ltd - a leadership coaching and consulting firm dedicated to helping STEMM professionals undergo transformational change and transition to influential leadership roles. We’ve been coaching clients from a wide range of sectors for 11 years by designing tailored programs utilising evidence-based methods from psychology, leadership, and adult development pedagogy.
Initially, our (4 consultants) work was predominantly in business excellence consulting, encompassing both the human and technical aspects of quality systems, lean and lean six sigma enterprise engagements. However, the last 5 years saw seismic changes in the workplace and its ideal employees. We transitioned exclusively to leadership development and coaching to help meet the needs of the new workplace.
Before becoming a leadership coach, I spent 25 years in various Scientific Affairs roles in the pharmaceutical industry. I evolved into the leadership coach that I am today through transformative work, life, and educational experiences. As a STEMM leadership coach and consultant for the last 11 years, I’ve been developing effective leadership development programs for a wide range of clients in the corporate, academic and not-for-profit sectors.
What does a STEMM Leadership Coach do?
On any given day, we are contacted either by organisational leaders e.g., Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors, General Managers, and Human Resources looking for learning and development solutions for their STEMM workforce challenges. These challenges arise due to potential gaps between the STEMM qualities (such as analytical, critical, and complex problem-solving skills and sceptical curiosity) and the leadership qualities needed to achieve collaboration, innovation, productivity, and overall wellbeing within teams and organisations. Research shows that technical managers often struggle when promoted to senior leadership roles which demand adaptiveness, emotional intelligence, vision, resilience and other so called “soft skills” to navigate the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) workplace of the 21st Century.
First, let us look at the definition of coaching, based on Standards Australia Coaching in Organisations Handbook HB 332-2011: “Coaching is a forward-moving, solutions-focused process that is collaboratively created by the coach and the client. During this process, the necessary conditions for learning, growth, and change are explored, and ultimately outcomes are achieved based on the needs of the client”.
Before embarking on the coaching process, we hold the “chemistry meeting”. No, there is no literal chemistry work involved here! This is a meeting between the potential client and the coach to establish rapport before embarking on such a personal journey. Together, the client and the coach gradually form a “coaching alliance” anchored in confidentiality, trust, unconditional positive regard, and openness. A Coaching Agreement is then co-developed and implemented for all relevant parties to be aligned on the coaching process, desired outcomes (or deliverables), roles and responsibilities, and terms and conditions. The one-on-one coaching sessions are held at the coach’s office or via videoconference.
The first step of the coaching process is to help the client develop greater self-awareness. A range of psychometric and appreciative inquiry tools are used to identify personality strengths, values, drivers, and opportunities that will continue to inform further tailoring of the coaching program. This is because one size does NOT fit all – every client brings their unique personality traits, experiences, background, culture, and challenges. As such, coaching becomes an iterative and non-linear process directed by emergent insights from the client (and collected data from tests, 360 feedback, and other sources) and guided by the expert coach to move towards goal achievement.
Our coaching programs can be 6, 12 or 24 months in duration, depending on the client’s level of leadership experience and needs. We cover leadership style and identity, emotional intelligence, resilience and wellbeing, self-concept, and values-based goal setting for all aspects of life. A description of all the other steps of the coaching process is beyond the scope of this article however, it is neatly summarised by the leadership coaching model, which can be downloaded and is aptly named The SCIENCE of Leadership.
Transition from chemist to STEMM leader, to STEMM leadership coach
STEMM leaders already in middle to senior management seeking to move to senior and executive leadership roles value working with coaches with transformational leadership experience, especially internationally, as well as relevant qualifications in STEMM, management/leadership, and coaching/psychology. Here is my own background:
“I completed a Bachelor of Applied Chemistry (First Class Honours) at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) on part time basis whilst working full time as a Chemist at pharmaceutical multinationals for 8 years before becoming R&D Manager (Analytical Services) and setting up an Asia Pacific Centre of Excellence. During a 3-year secondment to the US, initially working on the chemistry, manufacture, and control of new and existing aseptic and aerosol products, I then worked on greenfield projects within the role of Contract Manufacturing Manager.
Back in Australia, I completed a PhD in Science (Physical Chemistry) at UTS, as recipient of an Australian Post Graduate Award. This led to a Technical Operations executive role role with a start-up biotechnology company, resulting on the successful ASX listing. I returned to multinational pharma work however, after 2 years driving systemic changes whilst raising a family with special needs, my wellbeing floundered.
For better work/life balance, I moved to a new consulting firm established by ex-TGA regulators, where I was able to work flexible hours. With the assistance of a great coach, I became aware of the multiple obstacles encountered by STEMM leaders within organisations. To develop a deeper understanding of systemic factors and how to change them, I completed further studies in business and leadership (MBA Executive at UNSW/AGSM Business School) and in psychology (Masters in Coaching Psychology, University of Sydney).
Since founding ProVeritas 11 years ago, we have helped numerous STEMM leaders go through their own transformation journey, supporting their transition to senior and influential positions sustainably (i.e., without burning out).”
Evidence-based leadership coaching, which falls under the umbrella of coaching psychology/science, is a relatively new discipline compared to chemistry. I am first a chemist/scientist and as such, I ensure that the methodology applied by ProVeritas’ coaches is at the forefront of leadership coaching science. As such, I am a Fellow at the Institute of Coaching, McClean Hospital/Harvard Medical School Affiliate, which is dedicated to shaping the leaders of tomorrow through ongoing research in coaching science. A day in the life of a STEMM leadership coach like me is therefore a mix of ongoing research in coaching, public speaking, teaching, and writing papers, blogs, and books.
If you’d like to learn more about my work, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. If you’d like to read curated articles and resources on leadership (and team) coaching, you might enjoy following the ProVeritas Leadership LinkedIn page.