Mark Rice Chemical/Physical Sciences Alumni
Briefly, tell us about your job. What do you find most rewarding? What are your greatest challenges within this profession?
I am presently a senior occupational health and safety specialist with the provincial government. My job entails crafting occupational health and safety legislation and supporting the health and safety of workers in the province in various other ways. Prior to working for the provincial government, I worked in a similar capacity in the private sector to protect the health and safety of workers as well as the environment. Being able to see how my work improves the quality of life of workers and by extension their families and the broader community is by its very nature rewarding. I find developing public policy challenging (in a positive way) because there are many competing needs and many perspectives on what things should be done by government. It feels great finding solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
What experiences and activities helped you to map out your career pathway?
While I was an undergraduate chemistry student, I obtained a part-time job with a hazardous waste management firm. This job had a number of inherent health and safety hazards and my ‘exposure’ to chemicals is what led me to gain a keen interest in chemical health and safety.
As a student, did you see yourself in your current career? What stayed the same and/or changed?
When I graduated with my undergraduate degree in chemistry, I didn’t feel that I was quite ready to leave the academic world. I turned to the University calendar and discovered the certificate program in occupational health and safety, which I completed. During my studies in occupational health and safety, I discovered the specialty of industrial hygiene of which chemical health and safety is a subset. I discovered that chemists, when provided with some additional training, can make excellent industrial hygienists and set this as my career goal. In the years following graduation, I worked as an industrial hygienist, safety and environmental coordinator in the private sector and actively focused on my professional development. The provincial government then hired me as their senior industrial hygienist, which for me was a dream come true. Along my professional path I became a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) and a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and through the professional chemists association, I obtained my Professional Chemist (P.Chem.) designation. After working in the public sector for some time, my interest in public administration grew and I began expanding my education in this field, which I had not predicted pursuing when I was an undergraduate student.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a degree in chemistry?
It is helpful to recognize is that chemistry is broadly considered to be the ‘central science.’ From a practical perspective, this means that people who earn a chemistry degree can follow many different career paths. Careers can range from analytical, pharmaceutical or paint chemists to environmental or occupational health and safety professionals, to name a few.
What job search advice do you have for students and recent graduates?
Before searching for a job, consider your career path – what you want to do in the future. You might not get there in your first job, so pursue jobs that help you gain experience towards where you want to end up. When you do get a job, do your very best as it is the reputation you earn, the experience you gain and the service you provide that will help propel you forward.
Tell us a fun fact about your career path.
When I was still a junior in my career, I managed to make my way to attend an international industrial hygiene conference. This was years before I obtained my professional certification in the field. While at the conference, I attend a ‘fun run’ that was associated with the conference. Those who signed up for the fun run were put on a bus to be taken to and from the run location. Sitting next to me on the bus was a seasoned industrial hygienist who had an immense level of wisdom and technical expertise. This kind and amazing gentleman took me under his wings by mentoring me for many years until I myself reached senior professional status. As we lived in different countries and email hadn’t become a thing yet, we communicated mostly by telephone. As the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I am forever grateful for the kind generosity of my mentor.