Chemical Education Research and Education Technology Industry

by Erik Epp, Chemistry Product Manager at WebAssign

As someone who has taken an unusual route from a chemical education degree, I have been asked to share some of my experiences in the education technology industry.  I’ll start with the disclaimer that what follows is qualitative in nature and has N=1.

What I Do
My role at WebAssign is Chemistry Product Manager.  This entails determining what direction our chemistry offering should take and facilitating the process.  I act as a subject-matter expert for our sales and marketing teams, as an educational researcher for our development efforts, and as a liaison to the chemical education and technology education communities.  I visit campuses and attend conferences as well as follow the major journals and social media in education and research.

Academia or Industry
I started my graduate career with my heart set on being a faculty member of a small, primarily-undergraduate institution. What changed along the way?  Graduate school allowed me to see whether what I was doing was something I truly enjoyed.  I found myself drawn towards teaching, technology, and data analysis.  Later, during my post-doc (a visiting faculty position), I found that the fraction of time that I spent doing the things I was passionate about was much smaller than I had anticipated.  Ultimately I decided to trade my passion of classroom teaching in favor of spending more of my time on my other passions and making a difference in the teaching of thousands of teachers.

Skills for Industry
My chemical education research background provided me strong skills in data analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, that have served me well.  I regularly collect and analyze qualitative data on issues professors are facing from sales representatives, customer support representatives, and from interacting with faculty members themselves.  This data includes what faculty needs are unmet and how WebAssign might assist the learning process.  I also pull quantitative data from a vast database to run analyses and present findings, and ultimately bring about data-driven decisions that shape the business.

Advice for Those Interested in Alt-Ac Careers
If you are considering an Alt-Ac career, the first thing I encourage you to do is research what is out there.  One of the easiest ways is to visit the vendor exhibition at conferences and ask the representatives about what they do, what path lead them there, and what roles for an education researcher or content expert exist in their organization.  This also has the benefit of helping you network, which can bring opportunities to you now and in the future. Just be sure to remember to hand out your business cards and collect cards in return.
I attend many of the ACS National and Regional Meetings, along with more specialized conferences (BCCE, Chem.Ed., Gordon), and am happy to discuss potential options and opportunities in the education technology field in more depth – look for me in the red shirt and black pants.

Erik EppErik Epp is the Chemistry Product Manager at WebAssign.  He earned a B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry from the University of Michigan and University of Chicago, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Chemical Education from Purdue University.