Having an interest in Chemistry throughout his time at school Rob kick started his career by securing his first role in a research lab for drinking water. Since then Rob has never left the Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry field and is currently working with SCION Instruments as the GC/MS Business Development Manager. We caught up with Rob to find out more about his career within the industry and what interesting hobbies he enjoys taking part in outside of work.
What or who inspired you to pursue a scientific lead career?
These initial steps in our careers are often more ‘happy accidents’ than a masterplan…
I had a great chemistry teacher in middle school who inspired me and was able to connect hardcore science with lots of fun. Some of my other teachers will no doubt remember me as being a rather lazy, uninterested tall guy but he made chemistry a class that I was excited for. So much so that I decided to study Chemistry.
After that, I landed an internship in a drinking water research lab by drawing straws. This lab had a great research program, a lab with all you could wish for in instruments, and a small but very inspiring team of scientists. On my very first day, my internship manager made me disassemble a GCMS benchtop instrument down to the baseplate, only to put it back together again and make sure it was on spec for operation. I really thought he was joking, as these things were well over $100,000 a piece back in the day, but he wasn’t. All he said was: “You have to learn this instrument, and this is the best way to do it”.
Only later I realised that these first days have probably been very defining for my further career; I’ve never left the field of Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry after that day – and I still love it.
Can you describe a typical day?
There is no such thing as a typical day. Every day does really look different, and my daily plan may not work out as I had planned. This requires a lot of flexibility, which can be pretty tough sometimes – then again, it’s pretty much what I am and what I like.
I mix talking to our sales (channel), customers, engineers and apps specialists. Its supporting todays & tomorrows sales, creating new product – basically creating new customer value and providing a better user experience with a SCION solution.
What do you like most about your job?
It’s that specific combination between technical, people and commercial that I like the best.
Once, when I was the R&D project lead for 450-GC in Varian, I found myself disconnected from the real world and real end users, and felt increasingly unhappy after a while. Technically it was great learning, and I loved my first management experience with a team of 17 but I discovered my place was much more towards the outside of the organisation, i.e. closer to the customer.
Now, I’m flying between these different roles & functions, which is offering the best of all. I still love the technical aspects, and cherish talking with our smart scientists when they have an idea on product engineering, applications etc but my actual hours in the lab are very limited.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone considering a career in science?
If you like science, just go for it!
Science has had a pretty poor name and dwindling number of students for years, but with CSI on Television and the environment being a very hot topic these days, it’s gaining popularity again. I definitely would recommend to pursue a career in science. Chemistry is all around us, and it’s in everything. Our world would not be the same without it, and you can make a difference to it!
I have been part of countless practical projects that had a measurable effect on real life: e.g. developing biological breakdown routes for persistent pollutants, or analysing outdoor air on a major chemical storage fire in a harbour area.
Just in case people doubt this: There is a decent career to be made in science. Find a market space that has your interest. There is also plenty of scope for development ‘after the white coat’ – most of us grow our technical abilities first and eventually transition to some role with less lab-time.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Besides spending a few hours a week on PC gaming, I really enjoy spending time in my garden. It is slightly unusual though, as it’s a tropical/exotic garden.
Every tropical species that has a realistic chance of thriving in our temperate climate and I can get my hands on, I’m game. My garden now holds over 50 palms, multiple species of bamboo (some up to 8m tall), tree ferns, bananas & gingers. Most of these are indigenous to warmer climate areas such as Thailand, Malaysia, China, Chili, Argentina, or even Australia or Costa Rica.
I love visiting the tropics when I have time, for inspiration – my last trip to Sarawak, Borneo was no less than mind blowing. My girlfriend leaves me to it. She loves sitting in it reading books but I recently noticed she’s starting to mumble botanical plant names…
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