Personalities and Drives of Today’s Chemists

This is a guest post from writer Marcia Poladky

Chemistry is one of the more popular genres of physical science. In its simplest form, chemistry deals with the physical composition and behavior of physical matter. Many readers will remember back to high school chemistry’s emphasis on atoms and their interactions, and that is one large chunk of chemistry, but another part of chemistry is the chemical bonds that hold atoms together. Understanding the laws that keep atoms together on a small scale may aid understanding of seemingly larger events. On a less abstract level, chemistry covers the burgeoning chemistry industry worldwide, as well as the tiny pills that come out of pharmaceutical companies.

Who are the Chemists?
Some studies indicate that today’s industrial chemists tend to be largely introverted and detail oriented. This makes sense after considering the job duties of today’s chemists – chemical engineering involves measuring and refining very small quantities of potentially volatile substances. For instance, one subfield of industrial chemistry deals with petroleum. This type of chemistry deals with energy, more generally, but dangerous chemicals like benzene and propylene, more specifically. For this type of work, intense concentration and attention to detail is required to get it right and prevent any disasters.

Kiersey and Chemists 
It’s oftentimes noted that good chemists have particular personality traits in common; these include being analytical, task oriented, and experiential. As it happens, within what’s known as the Kiersey Temperament Sorter, which is similar to the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator, these traits tend to cluster within one domain. Specifically, what Kiersey deems “the rationals.” In Kiersey’s system, these people are pragmatic and abstract. They tend to demonstrate high competence in areas of interest as well as building knowledge to hopefully erect logical solutions. In fact, the Kiersey Temperament Sort actually posits that the rationals may excel in engineering, chemistry, or tasks requiring abstract conceptualization.

Other traits of Chemists 
On the most basic level, chemists and chemistry help to enhance peoples’ lives by understanding and manipulating knowledge about the physical environment. Although chemistry can take many forms – including organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, as well as medical, materials, and analytical chemistry – the overarching goal appears to be increasing knowledge for human betterment and convenience. Especially within the field of materials chemistry, the emphasis is perennially on developing new materials to meet tomorrow’s challenges. For this task, both ingenuity and philanthropy are required.

Big 5 Personality Inventory 
The big five personality inventory measures personality along five discrete dimensions. These areas are discrete because factor analysis has repeatedly shown that personality can’t be broken down further. One of the big five personality dimensions that affects the field of chemistry is inquisitiveness. Current and future chemists must be interested in appreciating and manipulating the ways in which the world operates both at an atomic and seeable level. In fact, this type of burning curiosity helped chemistry greats like Marie Curie develop the X-Ray and it helps thousands of chemists today shape tomorrow’s technology.

Marcia Poladky writes about chemistry, professional development and psychology in the Grad School Journal.

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