How to prevent cosmetic chemist career boredom

I worked as a *formulator for 17 years at a medium sized cosmetic company. We were primarily a hair care company so I spent most of my time creating new shampoos and conditioners. I did have the opportunity to occasionally make styling products and skin lotions but this was not my focus.

Well, the reality was that most of my projects involved taking an existing formula, making minor tweaks to the color, fragrance or other claims ingredients and making sure it remained stable. After a while, it got pretty easy…and dull.

Sure, many projects were more interesting than this but the reality for cosmetic chemists (especially at big companies) is that most of your time will be spent making incremental improvements to things that already exist. So eventually, you might start to get bored.

Here are 10 things you can do to combat career boredom.

1. Experiment with new raw materials – Raw material suppliers are always coming out with new things and unless you try them in your formulations, you’ll have no idea how they work. In truth, most of the new raw materials won’t do anything new. But you’ve got to keep looking. Create a baseline formula and then whenever you get a new raw material, try it in that formula. This is also a great way for you to learn about raw materials that you may not have used.

2. Make your own formulas – If you want to be a proper formulator, than you have to be able to formulate everything. When I was at the shampoo company there really were no projects for making products that the company didn’t market. For example, color cosmetics, antiperspirant, toothpaste, soap, lipsticks, etc were all things that I never had a formal project to make. But how can you call yourself a formulator if you can only make a limited number of formulations? Go through this list of free cosmetic formulas and start making things that you would never have to make. Make products that you want to use. Tweak them so you understand how things affect the final formulas.

To be a formulator, you have to be able to make all types of formulas

3. Try to solve problems without formulations – If your formulating job is getting dull, try creating solutions to cosmetic problems without making a formula. Can you create a better absorbent towel to speed up hair drying? Can you create an app that might solve some cosmetic problem? As a cosmetic chemist you are an inventor. Formulating is simply one type of invention. Spend some time coming up with other types of inventions.

4. Make a plan to get promoted – When you’re at a job for any length of time and you know you’re a good worker, you’ll get the urge to get a promotion. Often this means more money, more decision making power and sometimes even more influence on your peers. But just because you are the best formulator doesn’t mean you will get promoted. You need to figure out how to get promoted. Create a plan, a timetable to achieve it, and start doing the things you need to do. Often, this means sucking up to people who have the power to promote you. And if your company isn’t willing to promote you, don’t be afraid to look at other companies. Remember…

No matter who signs your paycheck you are always working for yourself.

5. Write – Another excellent thing for your career is to start writing. Industry magazines are hungry for content from new authors and so are the various SCC newsletters. And you don’t even need a publisher to start writing. Create a blog, then just start doing it. Of course, you have to be careful. Some companies will frown on your extracurricular activities. They might become particularly concerned that you’ll give away a company secret or something. If you are in this boat, you might want to do your writing anonymously. It is less satisfying and not as helpful for your career but it is still a great way to get your message out.

6. Teach a class – Teaching a class about cosmetic science is also a great way to keep yourself inspired in your career. The SCC produces a number of one-day classes and they are frequently looking for fresh new faces to be instructors. If you’ve built up an expertise in one area, then you might be able to teach a class. However, your company might frown on this activity too so make sure you get your boss’s permission.

7. Go back to school – There’s nothing like taking classes to keep your mind fresh and your career interesting. Look through this list of cosmetic programs around the world and consider getting involved in one. An additional bonus is that you can often get your company to pay for the costs of training you.

8. Learn about the business – Here on Chemists Corner we like to encourage entrepreneurs. As a trained scientist you probably didn’t get much chance to learn about business and making money. Do this! It will be good for your career and could eventually lead to you starting your own company. I’ve always believed that the smartest people should be the ones who start companies and as a scientist, you qualify. If you’re curious, see our free ebook start a cosmetic line.

9. Get involved with your trade organization – When your job has become less than satisfying, getting involved with a trade organization like the SCC is an excellent opportunity to infuse some excitement back into your career. They are always looking for volunteers so it will be easy to get involved. This is a great way to gain experience in management and getting things done. Also, you can’t beat the power of networking for helping you solve problems and advance your career.

10. Remain curious – Finally, if you are bored then you are not being curious enough. Start asking questions about things you do not know about and find answers. Keep a list of these questions and find answers.  You are a scientist and although formulating is your career focus there are still lots of scientific problems that don’t have answers. I love to keep up on the latest in physics, space, biology, mathematics, and more. Think of the big problems in the world and brainstorm ideas on how you might solve them.

*Incidentally, if you’re curious, you see more about my journey to cosmetic science.

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