We recently caught up with Kelly Dobos, Research Scientist and Cosmetics Technical Manager at Sun Chemical to hear about her journey through a career in STEM. Take it away Kelly!

kelly dobos twitter

Kelly Dobos, Cosmetic Chemist out to make her mark on the world!

What is your current position in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths)? What does it involve?
I’m technical manager for cosmetic ingredients at Sun Chemical for the Americas region. I provide technical training and assistance to formulators. I also provide expertise in product quality, performance, specifications and regulations. I travel to visit customers and attend industry events. I also track beauty trends and create prototypes of cosmetic products. Every day is a little bit different and I enjoy that.

When did you decide this was the career for you and how did you get to where you are today?
My first real job was a necessity. I was planning on returning to grad school to study forensics but I was maid of honour in two weddings the summer after graduation and needed a job so I could buy those dresses. You know the ones they try to convince you can be worn again for cocktail parties, which is pretty absurd because my 20 something year old life lacked any semblance of cocktail parties.

Anyway, I started out as a technician with a company that made all kinds of cleaning products and was promoted to formulation within a year. I really loved the challenge of developing new products and when a raw material supplier suggested I apply for a position formulating cosmetics, I was sold. I love cosmetics and chemistry, it was a career the combined some of my favourite things. And it’s been nice to know that whether it’s the pick-me-up purchase of a lip gloss or the protection from pathogens of hand sanitizer, I’m making some one’s day a little better. I’ve since moved into a technical marketing role where I help formulators understand and use pigments and effects in cosmetics.

What obstacles have you faced along the way?
Stereotypes have always presented a challenge. In college, I was interested in analytical chemistry. I sat down with the owner of an analytical lab to ask for an internship and he said, “Why does a pretty girl like you want to do all this hard work, why not just marry…” I left positively angry. It’s ridiculous to think that a girl can’t be thought of as pretty and pursue a career in STEM. I ended up working for him and in the end, my talent spoke for me. I know I proved my mettle. Sadly, the stereotypes are persistent but I’m going to continue to do my best to prove them wrong.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement?
Graduating from Oberlin College with a degree in Chemistry. I grew up in a suburb of Youngstown, OH. The economy in Youngstown was never the same after the factories of the steel industry shut their doors in the 1970s. My parents were hard working but neither went to college. I knew I would have to work really hard to succeed and scholarships opened the door.

Oberlin is a small school and due to scheduling I had some time off before the last classes I needed were offered. I went through some emotionally stressful things during that time, including the loss of my only grandparent, and as those final classes neared I had nearly convinced myself to quit. The thought of Quantum Kinetics and Advanced Analytical/Physical Lab was daunting and I would have to leave the comforts of home to return to campus.

Two things pushed me forward, though. I had a serious conversation with my mom; she had faith in me even when I didn’t. I continue to thank her often for that conversation. And then there were my friends at Oberlin. My grandmother’s stroke occurred just before my last set of finals before the long break from school. It was sudden and she was given hours to live; I got a phone call late at night and took off on the hour and a half drive home from Oberlin. I was in such a hurry that I left with nothing but the clothes I had on. She passed that night and I headed back to Oberlin the following day to get clothes. The door to my dorm room was covered in paper hearts and a message from friends. I met some of the most amazing, talented, beautiful friends at Oberlin College and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to spend more time with them.

I’ve learned to face challenges because they make me who I am, to have faith in myself, and to lean on my friends when I need to. I even went back to school twice while working full time for an MBA and Masters in Pharmaceutical Science with Concentration in Cosmetic Science. There is nothing I can’t accomplish if I want to.

What do you think is the best way to help support young people interested in science and other STEM subjects?
I think it’s very important for young people to interact with scientists and engineers. Being a mentor for a student with interest in STEM fields is something that we should try to make time for. I had some amazing mentors encourage me along the way and I know what it meant to me.

Do you think we’re doing enough to encourage people into these subjects and careers? How do you think we can help show young people the huge range of STEM career choices out there?
Of course, we can always do more. We have wonderful new platforms to spread information about careers in STEM today. While small, the cosmetics industry has some a presence in social media and we receive a lot of correspondence from young people interested in the field. Even with in cosmetic science there are so many possibilities from microbiologists to toxicologists. It’s easier than ever to share this information and connect. It does take time and effort, but it’s imperative we do it.

Only 13% of the UK’s STEM workforce is made up of Women, how does this statistic make you feel? Do you think we can change this and if so, how?
While it’s disappointing, it’s an impetus for action. There are a multitude of reasons that young women don’t take the path into STEM fields and additional barriers for those that do when it comes to decisions about the future. Work needs to be done on both ends of that spectrum. We can start by encouraging young girls to play with legos and robots, not just princesses and ponies. And by removing obstacles for women who want both a career and family.

If you could send a message to young people considering careers in science, what would that message be?
I love a good quote. To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, I believe nothing worth having comes easily. Of course, pursuing a career in STEM is challenging but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

Thanks for that Kelly – it was great chatting with you!


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