Catching up with an alumnus

 Wayne H. Dickinson
Ph.D., Chemistry, 1996

“Graduate school taught me how to express my ideas.  I overcame my fear of public speaking and the intimidation of publishing research, and I became a proficient writer and speaker.  I emerged from graduate school with confidence in my knowledge and in my scientific capability.”

Education History: B.S., Chemistry, University of Washington,

Current Town & Employer: Atlanta, GA; Kemira Chemicals


Why did you want to attend graduate school? What drew you to Montana State University? I was 42 years old and living on the east coast. My work as a chemical oceanographer had diverted into electronics and instrument design, so I was ready to re-establish my foundation in chemistry while still able to anticipate a new career position. I looked at five schools in the Northwest and fell right in with the interdisciplinary program at the Center for Biofilm Engineering, which appealed to five areas of interest; electrochemistry, materials science, surface science, sensors and water chemistry.  Growing up in Seattle, the Big Sky always had a strong appeal; dry, snowy, wide-open and beautiful.  A recreational dream.  My wife was okay with the big adventure, and so we chose Bozeman and MSU.

What are you doing today? How did your graduate degree prepare you for life after school? I’m Principal Scientist at a chemical company with business in the oil, mining, paper and water treatment sectors.  I evaluate customer process needs, research possible solutions, identify preferred chemistry, develop new formulations and make recommendations to address the customer challenges.  My focus is on controlling mineral scale formation, corrosion, and microbiological growth.  My graduate degree and dissertation topic offered the perfect springboard for this path.  I had solid footing in electrochemistry and corrosion science, water chemistry, microbiology and instrument design. 

If I knew then what I know now…advice to future graduate students I wouldn’t change a thing. I wanted to see what it was like to work as a chemist and apply what I’d learned.  My working career provided several mentors and consolidated my competence in analytical chemistry, electronics, and instrumentation.  I’d always felt graduate work was the way to become a real chemist and after eighteen years in oceanography, several factors conspired to get me to apply.  It was one of two or three best decisions I’ve ever made. 

If you’ve always wanted to feel deeply competent or expert in a certain field, graduate school offers the path.  It’s an age-tested framework that guides you along the way.  A thesis or dissertation topic is a mystery to be solved.  Develop the skills to look at it from all angles, use a process of elimination to narrow the focus. If you’re stuck, ask for help, step back a bit and new ideas will find you. When the intimidating task of writing your thesis or dissertation arrives, write it a line at a time.  Ideally you’ll have a fascinating story to tell.  Write several hours a day and at the end of each day you’ll have solved something that had seemed like a big challenge.