Translating Chemistry Across Borders

Karen Tkaczyk, Ph.D.,  McMillan Translation

  • Master of Chemistry with French (M.Chem.), University of Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

What do you do with an undergraduate minor in French and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry?

If you’re Karen Tkaczyk, you start a translation business that focuses on translating chemistry and related science and technology content from French into English.

As the owner of her business, Tkaczyk is responsible for state licensing, accounting, marketing, and, of course, translating content. She delights in the variety of responsibilities. “I have always loved languages, and I enjoy the broad range of chemistry and related science and technology that I am exposed to as I translate. One of the most unexpected benefits of my career is the breadth of knowledge I have developed …. I thrive on learning about something new with almost every job.”

Tkaczyk relied on her working knowledge of French, a one-year internship in a French pharmaceutical research laboratory, and her own bilingual home (her husband is French) to build her business, but certifications in translation are useful for building credibility. In the United States, the American Translators Association’s “Certified Translator” is an important credential. “I earned that after I had gained a few years’ experience,” Tkaczyk says. “For me, a niche specialization like chemistry and common-sense business practices were enough to get into the market and be earning a decent income before I was certified.”

Tkaczyk notes that freelancing can be challenging. “The freelance world is often described as one of feast and famine—indeed, initially, more famine than feast. I work about 40 hours most weeks, but I sometimes work 70 if I get a rushed or lucrative project, and I take a lot of time off—six to eight weeks a year. … The environment is fast-paced. Everyone wants everything now. I do tend to be connected when on the move, so that my clients receive a prompt response to new requests, even when I am out of the office.”

Tkaczyk describes her secret to success succinctly. “I’m a proactive, self-motivated person. That is the only way anyone will break into a freelance market and thrive once there.” She takes advantage of ACS and other resources to increase her “subject matter knowledge and awareness of the industry as a whole.” She also relies on ACS Webinars and the ACS Style Guide to inform her work.


Karen Tkaczyk, Ph.D.,  McMillan Translation

Read more chemist profiles and learn about other careers outside the lab at College to Career.