Editor's note: The American Chemical Society does not endorse Pokémon or Pokémon GO.
Admit it. You’ve been caught up in the craze. You’ve been walking around with your head down, muttering about finding a Squirtle or needing a Poké-stop to heal your Pidgeotto, been using the game as an escape from your career woes. But did you know that you can use what you learned in the game to enhance your professional career?
1. Build Your Resources
The first part of the game involves catching Pokémon. You do this by throwing a Poké ball, and if you hit the Pokémon they are captured in it. You start off with a few Poké balls, but as you use them up you get more by finding and physically visiting a Pokéstop, which delivers Poké balls, potions, eggs, and other things. However, you have to be physically present at the right location, where you are given a few random items, and then you have to wait five minutes before you can ask for more. As the game progresses, the Pokéstops start giving you stronger Poké balls (more accurate, stronger) and better healing potions.
Similarly, in your career, you have a certain level of skills and knowledge, but you constantly need to acquire more. In order to do that, you need to be in the right place at the right time. You need to select the right school and the right classes, but you also actually have to attend class, take notes, and do the homework. Even after you graduate and your formal education ends, you must continue to learn. Building specific time into your schedule to take a class, attend a seminar, read a journal article, or attend a webinar will help keep your professional bag of tools full. As your career progresses, your tools should also become more useful.
2. Improve Your Skills
In order to catch a Pokémon, you have to throw a Poké ball at it, and hit in a specific circle. The hit only counts when there’s a colored ring around the Pokémon, and these become smaller over time. You get more points for more difficult throws, like curveballs, and there are special circumstances—like Pokémon that fly or jump, when you have to time your throw with where they are going to be, not where they are. The longer you play, the more specialized your throwing skills must become to be successful.
As with Poké-hunting skills, your career skills require you to adapt and develop them over time. You need to learn not only what Mass Spec is, but when it is appropriate to use it, and how it differs from other techniques. You may even have to learn some special techniques for certain situations. The more specialized ways you learn to apply your skills, the more valuable you become to your employer, and the more opportunities you will find to move your career forward.
3. Game Changers
In the beginning, you are collecting as many Pokémon as you can, gathering rarer ones as you “level up” in the game. At a certain point, you begin not only to collect Pokémon, but you take your Pokémon to gyms, where they battle against other people’s Pokémon. Whoever wins the battle keeps control of the gym, until the next person comes along and knocks them off. Some people prefer the collecting part, and rarely battle, while others only collect so they can get to the battling stage.
So too, careers change over time. You may start off as a laboratory chemist, but eventually find yourself doing more management and supervisory work. You may find you love it, or you may miss what you were doing before. Ideally, you will find a position and a company that allow you to do more of the parts you like, and less of the parts you don’t.
When you reach Level Five, you must join one of three teams—the yellow Team Instinct, blue Team Mystic, or the red Team Valor. Once you’ve selected your team, you cannot change. Each team has its own philosophy and emphasis, as well as its own idea of what is important.
So, too, in your career you often have to choose sides. Bench scientist or manager? Organic chemist or analytical chemist? Academia or industry? Your opportunities will be affected by the team with which you choose to ally yourself. While these choices are not irreversible, some of them do require significant investments of time or money if you change your mind later in your career. Make sure to do as much homework as possible before making a choice. Talk to people who are in the fields you are considering, and also look for ways to try out a particular choice.
For example, if you think you might want to move into the field of intellectual property, see if you can help draft a patent application for your adviser, or work in the technology transfer office at your university to get a sense of the kind of tasks you would be doing in that field.
5. Leading a Team
When it comes time to battle, you assemble a team of six Pokémon to fight others. You need to balance the strengths on your team, and make sure they can work together to take over a gym. You need to predict the types of attacks your opponents will use and to make sure your creatures have the abilities needed to defend against them. You may have to use some less powerful Pokémon, if your best ones are injured and need time to rebuild their strength.
Teamwork is crucial in your career as well. You need to know the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of the people with whom you work, so you can divide responsibilities and tasks appropriately. Sometimes you may have to work with someone who is not as experienced, and support him or her in the learning phase.
Teamwork is crucial in your career as well. You need to know the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of the people with whom you work...
6. Find A Mentor
Experts and enthusiasts love to share their knowledge with others. When I started playing Pokémon GO, I turned to my favorite expert—my son, who had played Pokémon when he was a child. He had great resources (books) and was happy to share. We had a great time going out together, where he could show me how to play the game. He helped jump-start my learning, so I didn’t have to figure everything out on my own.
A professional mentor can do the same thing, pointing out where you should look next and explaining what you don’t understand, but not wasting time explaining things you have already figured out.
Your professional mentor(s) can be anyone who knows more than you do about a topic, even if they’re younger than you are. However, once they start sharing, they don’t want you to waste their time with questions that are answered in the book.
My Pokémon GO mentor’s information was extremely useful. However, some of it was dated, since it was from the earliest incarnations of the game. I had to learn to distinguish between what was relevant and what was not. Pokémon GO is not Pokémon, and not all the information transfers. Similarly, the employment world has changed significantly in recent years, and your mentors’ advice must be balanced against current realities.
Pokémon GO forces you to go places in the real world in order to collect and to battle other Pokémon. This means you share physical space with other people, and you can tell by their actions that they are doing the same thing you are. This provides a natural starting point for conversations—first about the game, and then moving on to other topics. A simple question such as “Are you playing Pokémon GO?” can lead to insights about the game, and maybe broader subjects.
This is exactly the same thing that you should be doing with your professional networking—starting conversations with fellow professionals about common interests, and seeing where they lead. When you find people with whom you make a real connection, make sure to collect their contact information, and continue to build the relationship over time.
8. Go Where They Are
Different types of Pokémon are found in different places. Squirtles are near water, and Growlithe are most often found in arid climates. You can spend a lot of time walking around looking for them, but unless you are looking in the right places, you are wasting your time.
Similarly, chemists and scientists are likely to be found at seminars, conducting outreach programs at local science centers, or at professional conferences including local, regional, and national ACS meetings. If you want to find chemists and expand your network, you need to go where they are. Attending events will give you something to talk about, but volunteering to help with an activity or serve on a committee will go even further toward building your professional reputation—showing them what you can do.
9. Pay it Forward
Sometimes, you need to give before you can get. If you are trying to catch a Pokémon that is being particularly difficult, you can feed it a Razz Berry. This makes it like you, so it will go into the ball more easily and be more likely to stay put.
People aren’t quite so easily bribed (though depending on the kind of food, they may be), but the same idea applies. Throughout your career, you need to be constantly on the lookout for things of value that you can provide to people in your network—articles on topics they are interested in, referrals to opportunities or people they will find interesting, information about upcoming events, and so on. If you are continually feeding people in your network tasty treats, they will be more positively disposed to help you out when you need it—though your adviser is probably never going to get into a Poké ball for you.
10. Set Goals
Pokémon GO forces you to make some choices about goal setting. You will sometimes get an egg from a Pokéstop, which you incubate and walk with in order to hatch. The distance required to hatch an egg is displayed, and varies from 2–10 km. This requires making choices— do you want to hatch five 2 km eggs, or one 10 km egg? Because you have to walk the required distance with the app open, which drains your battery more quickly than usual, you need to start off with a charged battery and also decide when you are able and willing to sacrifice battery life to hatch your eggs.
You also need to have goals in your career, ideally multiple short-term goals that help move you to your long-term goal. You need to make sure you have the resources required to meet your goals, and you ought to know in advance what you’re going to get out of them (unlike Pokémon eggs).
Playing Pokémon can teach many life lessons, including some that apply to your career. But probably the best career advice is not to play Pokémon GO at work—or you may be putting those job search skills to work sooner than expected!