Chris Swyngedouw, P.Chem.
Chris is the Group Technology leader – Chemistry for Exova’s global operations. Exova has over 4,000 employees globally at more than 130 testing facilities including 27 analytical laboratories.
What are your current duties?
“As the in-house scientific consultant, I am the scientific and technical advisor. I help with setting up experimental plans, interpreting results, performing statistical analyses and I give advice and voice opinions. I do this for both external projects like scientific research and for internal projects such as method validations and uncertainty, determining method detection limits, as well as setting quality control objectives. As the leader in chemistry I provide direction for technical standards, quality requirements and implementing best practices. My job now deals with the high level strategies, policy making and project coordination.”
What is your education?
Biosciences Engineering degree from the University of Ghent, Belgium
Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, University of Calgary
Certificate in Management Consulting, University of Calgary
Why did you choose to study chemistry?
“Chemistry explains things around us. My curiosity of nature as a child was later satisfied through learning chemistry. Secondly, there is beauty in chemistry. I came from a family where art and especially music was appreciated. I learned to look at a vase or a painting, and similarly at things in nature and notice how the colours, the symmetry and all their attributes fit, work and support each other. Theories about the beauty and symmetry of molecules appeals to me. Chemistry is also about knowledge and understanding. The philosophy of science and chemistry intrigues me. “
What was your first chemistry job? How did you get to where you are today?
“My first job that paid some reasonable money (thus not considering my post-doc) was at the Alberta environmental centre in Vegreville. I was hired on a contract term as a laboratory scientist to develop a couple of pesticide methods. This allowed me the time to apply for a more permanent job. Actually, from then on, it was mainly from my contacts and through word of mouth that alerted me to new opportunities and job openings. I have been a Chief Chemist, an R&D supervisor, Environmental Specialist, QA/QC Officer, Technical Manager as well as a Consulting Scientist. All of these experiences amalgamated very well for my present job.”
How has being a P.Chem. helped your career as a chemist in the province of Alberta?
“The ACPA has helped me develop many contacts with chemists similar to me to find practical [chemical] solutions to problems. Looking at career paths and advancement of other professional ACPA chemists has helped me with my own career ambitions and progression. ACPA has also provided me with leads on numerous collaborative projects with fellow Professional Chemists. Being a PChem has further helped me by providing recognition, that is, Exova now recognizes me (and the other PChems in the company) as a professional and this brings with it respect and a bit of prestige. For me, as a recruiter, a professional designation is also a good pre-screening tool.”
What advice would you give a young chemist starting his or her career?
When you look at the scope of chemistry, which is quite extensive, a chemist could be involved in many activities. School will give you the specialization, the ability to think, and to complete projects and research. These are all good attributes to have and they show you your expertise and proficiency. That is not enough. You need to consider your soft skills like communication, teamwork, business sense, leadership. They may be extra to the regular curriculum, but they are very necessary in any job and career. Please take courses in these either as options or after you graduate. Nowadays they may hire you into a team and your specialization might be less important than the soft skills you bring into that team. Also, consider chemistry as a lifelong learning opportunity and take continuous education courses.