Welcome to the second day of our chemistry careers series in celebration of National Chemistry Week! Dr. Joy Gallagher is a Synthetic Chemist with lots of great insight into her role and advice about pursuing a career in the chemical industry. Joy appeared in our Women in STEM virtual workshop this year and we’re thrilled to have her back for this series. Thank you for joining us, Joy!
Why did you pursue a career in chemistry?
From my first chemistry class my junior year in high school, chemistry just clicked. It wasn’t until college that I really considered chemistry as my career path. Originally, I had my sights set on medical school. I had an amazing mentor and advisor in college, and he opened my eyes to all the incredible possibilities of a career in chemistry. At the heart of it, I wanted to use my scientific skills and knowledge to work on solving problems to make a difference in society.
What does your job entail?
As Associate Research Scientist in Dow Coating Materials based in Collegeville, PA, I am responsible for designing, synthesizing, and developing polymeric materials for industrial coatings applications, specifically in pavement markings and liquid applied sound damping segments. I am a global steering team co-lead for Corporate Reputation and site implementation co-lead within GLAD- Dow’s LGBT and Ally employee resource group. I am also active in Dow’s educational outreach program, STEM Ambassadors.
What aspect of your job do you find most interesting?
I love seeing products that I work on applied in the real world. For example, I’ve worked on the development of a new polymer used in the formulation of traffic paint. The polymer brings significant performance parameters to the paint, including quick dry-time when applied to the road and adhesion to both the road and glass beads, which are embedded in the paint so the lines are visible at night when headlights hit the road. We encounter pavement markings every day — they communicate information to drivers and pedestrians and help provide a safe and efficient roadway system. Often, we take for granted the science that goes into the everyday technologies we encounter. I had the opportunity to observe a field trial where a striping crew applied lines to a roadway as a test of paint containing our new polymer. I would say that was one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of my career — seeing a project I worked on from the lab to the real world.
What does a typical day look like for you?
One thing I love about my job is that there is no typical day, but there are typical themes. There’s a balance of planning experiments and executing them, analyzing data, and communicating results and conclusions to stakeholders. That last piece is what can really vary. Our project work is highly team oriented — we rely on each other to lead a piece of the project to move toward our goals. Stakeholders consist of immediate team members executing the day-to-day, commercial leads who are on the front line interfacing the market, as well as delivering technical information to our customers. When we develop new technologies, our goal is to have a seat at the design table so we are working on projects focused on meeting customer and market needs.
Tell us about a cool project on which you’re working.
As I mentioned before, I work on a team that develops materials for use in pavement markings. Vehicles are becoming “smarter” and the cutting edge of the auto industry is developing autonomous vehicles. I’m currently working on a team that is looking into ways pavement markings can contribute to communicating to the vehicle.
What is your favorite part of your job?
There’s a quote that I love from researcher Shawn Achor who studies happiness: “Happiness is the joy we feel moving toward our potential.” I think that’s the crux of the favorite part of my job. I get to work on solving complex problems with awesome people with the overarching goal of using science to create value for society.
How does your career allow you to give back to your community and society?
As part of our corporate global citizen sustainability goals, Dow has made two strategic commitments: Building the Workforce of Tomorrow and Innovating for Global Solutions. Dow has set a goal to impact positively the lives of one billion people across the globe by 2025. In pursuit of that goal, Dow supports and encourages employees to engage in the communities in which we live and work. As a scientist at Dow, I’m a participant of STEM Ambassadors —an employee-led organization that drives educational science outreach, bringing science into classrooms and communities; mentoring; and sharing of our experiences as professional scientists.
What would you say to a student considering a career path in chemistry?
The possibilities are truly endless in where a career in Chemistry can lead. Practically everything we encounter in our daily lives is enhanced by science, from the paint on your walls to the cell phone in your pocket, from the bag that steams your frozen vegetables to the medicine in your cabinet. Chemistry is literally everywhere and so too are the opportunities to be a chemist. Be curious, experiment, discover and experience the “joy of moving toward your potential.”