Justin Heuser

photo of Justin Heuser

  • PhD in Analytical Chemistry (2008)
  • regional technical manager at Evonik, a large specialty chemical company based in Germany
  • worked for over a decade in the agriculture industry
  • analytical chemistry background allows him to evaluate data to ensure credibility

My Profession

"I am a regional technical manager overseeing a group of chemists at Evonik, a large German specialty chemical company whose American headquarters are in Parsippany, New Jersey. Our laboratory is responsible for projects and customer support related to North, Central and South American agriculture, enhancing the effectiveness of pesticides and biopesticides while keeping business stable and functional. We recently established a new laboratory in Brazil.

"After graduating from Miami with my PhD, I worked for short time at a company in Cincinnati before moving to North Carolina for a job at Syngenta, a global pesticide producer. This career change was my initiation into the world of agriculture. At Syngenta I started as an analytical chemist, then transitioned into formulation chemistry, and finally moved up as a product chemistry specialist assembling data volumes which eventually went on to the EPA.

"In the beginning of 2014 I joined Evonik and was able to focus back on the science and laboratory aspects of my work. The company has presented me with opportunities to grow as I previously transitioned from the scientist role into a regional technical manager.  Within this company, there are also opportunities to focus more on business aspects and to expand into many other business lines if desired."

Best Miami Experiences

"As a graduate student at Miami, I was extremely fortunate in the flexibility to organize research and class time around other activities such as basketball and racquetball. I worked primarily in analytical instrumentation in the group managed by the late Dr. Gil Pacey. The research was novel and immature enough that I was able to approach several professors, including Michael Crowder, Richard Taylor, and Chris Makaroff, to discuss applications in their respective fields of expertise. Many of these relationships continue to exist today which was evident by the opportunity to speak on campus and meet with the current staff.

"The graduate school at Miami facilitated exposure to the various branches of chemistry including analytical, physical, biochemistry, and even departments outside these divisions. This diversity allowed for cross-functional learning and research which is pivotal in sculpting academic growth. Personally, I leaned mostly towards analytical chemistry based on my curiosity about how to dismantle, measure, and understand the complex world around us. These hands-on experiences in the laboratory provided a solid background for all the roles I have held to this point in my career.

"I firmly believe that if one develops strong, comfortable relationships with faculty at a professional level — people who as a graduate student you view as geniuses — those connections will be rewarded exponentially."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"As a high school student, and even before that, I had a passion for science. However, headed into undergraduate studies I was unsure which path to take. My mother, the constant Socrates in my life, asked, 'Well, what are you good at?' To which I replied, 'I got the chemistry and math awards in high school … so I suppose that?'  And we then smiled and realized we had a consensus. From that point on, I realized my love for chemistry and mathematics.

"That being said, there is certainly value in also following the core requirements of the liberal arts. At my undergraduate institution I was not required to take a foreign language class, and that is a mistake I still regret — especially when traveling to South America for customer visits. Scientific people often face a negative preconception for being unsociable because they are narrowly focused on the science and close off the personal aspect. A liberal arts education helps you to become a better-rounded person with broader perspectives for your career and life in general.

"One of the main topics during my presentation to chemistry majors on this visit to Miami has been to tell them that many of the tangible, demonstrable skills that you obtain in school are not the kind that you intend to learn — these are serendipitous accidents. However, they stay with you and prepare you for a diversity of careers in chemistry. In graduate school you help design and execute a number of different projects which provides the basics in project management.  Sometimes you even have to create new pieces of equipment that have never previously existed. There is always some level of engineering and ingenuity involved, and this not only results in research innovation, but also allows you to create relationships with new people as they assist you. Your interactions with professors, fellow students, and staff will help to make you more successful in positions where you rely on other colleagues in order to meet deadlines.

"I also tell chemistry students that, although their scientific backgrounds will support them in research and industry, there are many other paths available after graduation. Depending on what their specific passions are, they can go into sales, marketing, supply chain management, or teaching at whatever level — grade school, high school, college. A strong background in science is truly beneficial for thriving in a multitude of different functions within a company or organization."

Advice to Students

"I tell undergrads to always keep learning, as cliché as that seems. It does not matter if they are planning to further their education with a masters or doctoral or medical degree or pursue a career directly. Success is measured from a great number of perspectives.

"People say this often, but it is true that by picking up new scraps of knowledge each day you make yourself and those around you better. Learning is exciting to me, and it helps you to know what your motivation, your 'why,' is. That certainly changes — when I was in school my motivation was to eventually land a lucrative job, but now that I am a father, my motivation is to provide for my son and ensure he has joy and opportunity. That is definitely my why — the reason that I wake up and go to work every day. Never lose sight of your 'why' as you progress in your career."

[July 2018]