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Follow Your Dreams, UMass President Tells Students

Robert Caret Addresses Undergrad Chemistry Class

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UMass President Robert Caret fields questions from chemistry students.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

“Take charge of your life. Keep growing, and always be ready for decisions or opportunities that come your way. Be active, not passive, and strive to be good at what you are doing. Do 5 percent more than other people. Be a leader — people love leaders.”

This is some of the sage advice UMass President Robert Caret gave to a class of nearly 40 chemistry majors during a recent talk.

“Follow what you love doing, not because it will make money — but if you can combine both, that would be great,” said Caret.

Prof. James Whitten, chair of the Chemistry Department, invited Caret to speak to students enrolled in “Introduction to the Discipline of Chemistry.” The course provides information about career opportunities in the field, including biochemistry and analytical/environmental, forensic, materials, polymer and pharmaceutical chemistry. It also gives an introduction to graduate schools and teaching positions. In addition to classroom lectures, guests from industry, government laboratories and academia are invited to discuss what it means to be a chemist.

Caret, who is a faculty member of UMass Lowell’s Chemistry Department, served as president of Towson University in Maryland and, before that, San Jose State University in California before assuming the top post at the University of Massachusetts last year, following Jack Wilson’s retirement.

Caret talked about his varied experiences — from being a mathematician and an organic chemist to being a teacher, industry researcher and school administrator. He also shared with the class some amusing stories about his research on pheromones, chemical signals used by animals for communication, mating and defense. He was particularly interested in the chemistry of sulfur-containing compounds secreted by anal scent glands in skunks. He and his coworkers in the lab had to “milk” the skunks every day to collect the chemicals before they found a farm in New Hampshire that sold frozen vials of the compound.

He added that although he is currently not working in chemistry day to day, his academic background gives him credibility to be an effective administrator.

“Chemistry can lead you to unexpected roles like mine,” said Caret.