Thursday, February 17, 2011

Help ACS' Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs

I've had the pleasure of communicating with Lisa Balbes, the 2011 head of ACS' Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs. The CEPA page on the ACS site reads as follows:
The Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA) identifies and monitors the needs of the chemical workforce and develops, coordinates, and oversees the implementation of programs and activities to enhance the economic and professional status of chemical professionals.
A question that our e-mail conversations has brought up is this: how can ACS career development programs become better known? Do readers here have experiences with any of the programs (resume review, career counseling, leadership development courses or short courses) they'd like to share? If your experience was positive, did you tell your friends or colleagues?

A broader question that I'll bring up: what would you like to see in the ACS's career programs? Ideally, what would they look like?

18 comments:

  1. I think the ACS would get more support if they actually entered the fray on postdoc rights, and sad to say have the federal government play a role in subsidizing it (maybe through all those god damn tax credits we gave to the private sector to try to entice them into hiring us.)

    Can we please be honest with ourselves, that postdoc research might be the future mode of research in the world?

    I would settle for help with all the damn relocation expenses.

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  2. I have used ACS's resume and practice interview services. The resume service wasn't that great - I thought the suggestions were rather idiotic and out of date. The practice interviews were much more helpful. One thing that was helpful to me when I was first starting my career was a collection of sample resumes and cover letters that ACS published. Most career books don't cover scientific careers, so it's hard to find examples of science resumes. The ACS could update this document and add more examples. It would also be great to see examples of research summaries - those have become standard for interviews but I found it very difficult to find an example of how it should be laid out and formatted.

    It would be nice to have more online courses at reasonable prices. I realize that's difficult, but the price is a major barrier for laid off chemists, who are the people who probably need these courses the most.

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  3. I'll also add - the ACS should do more to reach out to unemployed chemists. It's hard to find out about any services that might be offered because they're hard to find. (I only found out about the dues waiver through word of mouth.) I'd like to see a page on the ACS web site that collects all the resources that unemployed chemists might use in one place.

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  4. I appreciate CJ posting the question, and will be collecting all the responses for future CEPA action.

    I can address one of them right away - see

    http://portal.acs.org:80/portal/PublicWebSite/membership/acs/benefits/CNBP_025464

    and

    http://portal.acs.org:80/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=335&content_id=WPCP_011789&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=a1f537ef-ac68-4d44-9843-ebbe6de4383e

    for lists of ACS benefits for unemployed members, including the dues waiver and buy-one-get-three-free courses.

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  5. Shouldn't CEPA be advocating for American chemistry? (The "AC" in ACS means something, I assume.) Surely, there are reasons why companies should hire American chemists as opposed to lower-paid chemists in developing nations. If not, then why do we even have an ACS? And if ACS won't voice those reasons to the people who can hire American chemists, then again, why do we have an ACS?

    The goals of the CEPA (i.e. identifying the needs of American chemists and enhancing their economic and professional status) should be one of ACS's core missions. And acting on those goals sure as hell shouldn't be limited to resume writing and interviewing skills!

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  6. Ironically, one of Dr Balbes links reads

    "Free Guidance from ACS Career Consultants – ACS mentors offer resume reviews, job search strategies, and interview tips that make you stand out from the rest"

    So it seems that there is no real motion apparent to address the low quality of the career advice that the ACS provides through its "advisors" (I'm one of the anonymous contributors on this subject earlier this week)

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  7. Do the career counselors received anonymized feedback? I'd think that'd be helpful.

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  8. The career councilors receive feedback, but who knows if it's anonymous? Perhaps more importantly, who knows if any of the ACS staff who manage this program read the feedback? My supposition on the 2nd question is "no".

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  9. Dear Anonymous,

    I do read your comments and feedback. I also welcome it. Our purpose is to help people find employment and to progress through the many career transitions that they are bound to face.

    We provide feedback to our Career Consultants in aggregate. We do not share who submits the feedback. It is an anonymous process. We also provide training for the Consultants, but this is a voluntary process as is service as a consultant.

    We have new versions of the guidebooks for finding a job, writing a resume, and interviewing. The resume writing guidebook has examples of resumes for your use. There are also animated videos, self-study guides and group discussion guides.

    You can find them at www.acs.org/careers

    I know that Lisa has already posted a link to benefits for the unemployed offered through ACS, but here is a link that is easier to remember
    www.acs.org/unemployed

    Two of the intractable problems that we are wrestling with right now are the long-term unemployed, and the postdoc loop. What are the solutions? We're listening, and we want to know what you have to say.

    David Harwell
    Asst. Dir., ACS Careers

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  10. @Kay, 7:24 - I, too, used ACS resume review, and (as I commented here earlier in the week) found it to be terribly outdated and not all that helpful. The advisor helping me actually suggested increasing the font size on the document "to make sure older reviewers could read it." It was Arial at 12 (fairly big).

    I do have a suggestion, and not all criticisms: perhaps ACS could round up a gang of young professionals roughly 5 years into the workforce, from diverse industries (chemical manufacture, pharm, gov't, patent law, etc) and offer them free admission to a conference or workshop if they're willing to spend one day consulting on resumes. Too often, the volunteer pool is artificially grey because, hey, they've got the time to volunteer while younger folks at working.

    I also feel like this would give some "other side of the table" approach to the job search - new grads and unemployed meeting chemists who just recently went through the same process, and have it fresh in their minds. I've heard the argument that late-career professionals have "seen it all", but they also probably worked jobs in now-defunct industries...and didn't even have to postdoc. :)

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  11. Back in 2007 I attended a regional ACS meeting, and do feel I got decent advice during the resume review and career counseling sessions that were offered. The main speaker was a recently retired hiring manager at a medium-sized chemical company, so his remarks were still relevant. I think that it's important that any speaker/reviewer be either still working or only within a year or so of retiring. The job market changes so fast that a person's advice can rapidly become outdated, no matter how well-intentioned they are when offering it.

    Another subject to address - the recent incident with Merck posting 400+ jobs on the ACS job board, with only 11 of them for chemists. Please be more diligent about the nature of the jobs being announced. From my perspective, it looked like someone at ACS simply did not see anything amiss with the large number, and did not bother to even read through a small sample of these job postings. It makes me wonder if anyone at ACS reads any of the job announcements before they are posted.

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  12. @Lisa Balbes: A few years ago, I had the pleasure of doing a mock interview with you at an ACS National Meeting. Your suggestions, particularly about body language, were helpful since academic researchers (grad students, postdocs, and profs) weren't especially known as masters of tact and etiquette. Furthermore, it was really helpful to have the mock interview recorded on DVD so that I coud address my distracting/detracting habits.

    Regarding the recent nonsense by Merck, I would be skeptical about the legitimacy of any job posting from them. Aside from the dearth of chemistry-related positions, Merck's announcements may stem from ongoing disputes with its unionized workers. By law, Merck is required to publicize jobs after a certain period of internal posting, even if for all intents and purposes the jobs are filled/retained/nonexistent. Who knows, perhaps ACS has become desperate in its attempts to gloss over the sad state of the US chemical industry.

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  13. "Who knows, perhaps ACS has become desperate in its attempts to gloss over the sad state of the US chemical industry."

    But I thought Rudy Baum said, "And it seems to me that the chemistry enterprise is in pretty good shape." ??

    http://cenblog.org/the-editors-blog/2010/10/chemistry-alive-and-well/

    I simply don't understand the disparity in views!

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  14. @Anon7:22 - Y'know, Merck WAS just in a hiring freeze for the last two years while they completed absorbing the old Schering sites and employees.

    Maybe we're just seeing the veil lifted?

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  15. I agree with Kay that I'd like to see some examples of a research summary. I was fortunate in grad school to have a friend put one together that I copied, but seeing different layouts is always helpful. Most of the internet searches you pull up for "chemistry research summary" are professors' webpages.

    I also met with someone at an ACS meeting to look at my resume. I didn't find his advice particularly helpful, but he did give me his business card so I could continue sending him drafts and I appreciated the effort. I agree though with anon 5:19, I think it's important to find people who are currently in the business because the landscape is changing so rapidly. I didn't find the online career counseling to be useful at all. Many of the counselors weren't available and the one that I did try to contact never replied to my request.

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  16. Thanks to all who have taken (and will take) the time to comment.

    @ See Arr Oh:
    I am sorry the advice you received was not helpful. We do provide training for our career consultants, and encourage them to keep up on current trends in hiring, but they are volunteers. To address this issue, we haver recently instituted a procedure for reviewing the career consultants every 5 years, and only re-certifying those that are still current and relevant. Please make sure to provide your feedback to ACS staff, who will make sure it is forwarded to the career consultant, and the to the people reviewing them.

    I would love to have more younger chemists as career consultants, and if anyone would like to volunteer, please contact me at lisa@balbes.com (if I don't answer, the spam filter ate it so try again). It takes a special kind of person to do this work - you must not only know the job market, current hiring methods and future trends, but be able to provide constructive critisism, encouragement and helpful advice to people who are often in a difficult place. Many people expect you to hand them a job, instead of helping them learn how to find a job. Each case takes many hours, often over many months or even years. While it's often rewarding, it can also be very draining.

    Re: Young Professionals
    I think we have had panel discussions in the past with people who recently found jobs talking about how they did it. Would that be helpful?

    Regarding the Merck ads:
    The job ads are not part of CEPA's responsibility, but it's my understanding that some employers have a package where they can post as many ads as they want for one price. While it's certainly annoying to have to wade throug irrlevant job postings, I'd certainly rather they err on the side of posting more, rather than less.

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  17. @Lisa Balbes:

    Regarding the Merck ads:
    The job ads are not part of CEPA's responsibility, but it's my understanding that some employers have a package where they can post as many ads as they want for one price. While it's certainly annoying to have to wade throug irrlevant job postings, I'd certainly rather they err on the side of posting more, rather than less.

    I apologize for the frankess, but if I want to wade through irrelevant ads, I will simply continue using monster or careerbuilder.

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  18. Post doc rights, too funny!

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/feb/04/ucsd-researcher-gets-more-time-fight-job/

    you have the right to do as your told, and enjoy it, all for little money.

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