Monday, August 8, 2011

"Paying It Forward": ACS' new employment effort

From today's Chemical and Engineering News, an interesting comment by Nancy Jackson, current president of the American Chemical Society:
You probably know that the employment climate for both new chemistry graduates and experienced chemical scientists is as bad as it’s been in a long time. Even more distressing is that most experts predict it will remain so for some time. As a community, we simply must pull out all the stops and launch special efforts to help our colleagues in distress—not just for them personally, but for our profession. [snip] 
Today, thousands of chemists are out of work. You probably know some of them. In fact, you may be glad you’re not one of them. But are you willing to pass on what someone has likely done for you? You see, what I do as president is not nearly as important as what you do in your local communities. It is the collective impact of more than 163,000 people that makes a difference. So my challenge, even plea, to you is this—between now and the end of this year, do one of two things: Give your personal advice or support to a job seeker, or pass on a job lead at the new “Paying It Forward” online employment forum on the ACS Network at www.acs.org/payingitforward. Members can communicate useful job leads and help displaced colleagues by facilitating local events and networking opportunities. We will track the top “payers” and recognize them in some way at year-end. 
ACS is also working closely with local sections and divisions to facilitate other easy ways to assist your colleagues with their careers. Next week’s Comment by Lisa M. Balbes, chair of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs, will focus on specific collaborative ways to grow your network and help others do likewise. The following week will feature a Comment by Connie J. Murphy, chair of the Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs. She will discuss ways that you can influence policymakers on the local and federal levels to favor initiatives for job creation and growth in the chemical enterprise. 
After that, Valerie J. Kuck, a longtime ACS career champion and adviser, will highlight regional employment trends as well as pressing needs and key ACS services in this area. You will hear how the North Jersey; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and other ACS local sections support local job clubs and networking receptions that can pay handsome dividends. The fifth and final Comment in this series will focus on chemical unemployment trends and career challenges among underrepresented groups. Allison A. Aldridge, chair of the Committee on Minority Affairs, will highlight the value of mentoring for all chemists and the added value that mentors bring to the professional development of minority scientists. 
We all know that chemistry creates solutions to global problems, but most of us do not take time to consider the smaller-scale, personal impact that we can have on the lives of others. But we should, because just a few minutes of our time could greatly affect another person’s chances for success, particularly in today’s economic climate. What you choose to contribute to this endeavor will pay it forward and shift your cosmic chemical karma in a positive direction—because someday it might be you who needs the help. Will you join me in this effort?
We're nearly 4 years into this current employment recession for chemists. ACS's own numbers suggest that this is the worst employment environment in over 20 years, with most folks believing that it's the worst ever. I can't help but find "Paying it Forward" to be a very poor (and delayed) response to a ACS-threatening existential problem. If a new section on a somewhat moribund social network is the most significant effort (financial or otherwise) that ACS can put together, consider me less than impressed.

All that aside, I can't help but hope something good comes out of this effort and I'll be tracking the efforts on "Paying it Forward" daily or weekly. Best wishes to all involved and I'll do my best to help as well.

Readers, what do you think?

17 comments:

  1. I guess it's better than nothing but shouldn't ACS try to promote efforts to create jobs for chemists. I have no idea what the magic bullet is but something, anything to show they're working on this.

    Small bit of good news - my brother (who lost his job) has now found a new academic position. It's only a year contract and he has to move, but he's pretty happy. (His field is bio/biochem)

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  2. I'm encouraged that the ACS finally seems to recognize there is a problem, but I am disappointed that this is their solution. Social networking isn't going to create more jobs, or keep jobs in the US. We need strong advocacy in Washington for funding careers in scientific research (and not just graduate/postdoctoral training). The NIH and NSF fund academic groups that churn out more and more PhDs/postdocs with no jobs at the end of that training. Most of those postdoctoral positions aren't even restricted to US citizens and I imagine most go to foreign nationals (at least they do where I'm at). What good is creating a job if you import the employee? I guess the idea is this works best to further the mission of the NIH and NSF with the least amount of money. Unfortunately, it does nothing to help the unemployment issue. These are areas that the ACS should focus, and how I would prefer my membership dollars be spent.

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  3. I think that we need more action on the policy front.

    Having a strong safe and secure America is directly related to having chemists employed in a lot of different venues.

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  4. Again I say:

    Danny Elfman’s lyrics have perfectly captured the attitude of the people who work at the ACS towards industrial chemists’ job woes:

    Nothing bad ever happens to me
    Nothing bad ever happens to me
    Why should I care?

    Did ya hear about Fred, he's unemployed
    They threw him away like a useless toy
    He went down the drain after 20 long years
    No warning, no pension and nobody's tears
    And I can't believe that anyone would
    Wanna do such a terrible thing
    But why should I care?
    Why should I care?

    Every time I look around this place
    I see them scream but I hear no sound
    And the terrible things happen down the road
    To someone else that I don't even know

    Nothing bad ever happens to me
    Nothing bad ever happens to me
    Nothing bad ever happens to me
    Nothing bad ever happens to me
    Why should I care?

    Maybe the ACS members need to unsettle the lives of the ACS bureaucrats - chemists unit and abandon the ACS; stop being members, stop buying their publications; lobby DC to pull their nonprofit tax status; and advocate for open free publication of all government sponored research!

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  5. ACS as an organization surely can help members do better in today's very difficult job market. Is ACS President Jackson's "Paying it Forward" statement an admission that the ACS can't or won't do better as an organization?

    ACS should advocate more strongly and effectively for policy changes at companies and the federal government. However, advocating for programs to create jobs became harder with the recent national budget deal reducing growth in federal government spending Nevertheless, ACS should figure out how to do this more effectively.

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  6. Not clear what anyone expects the ACS to do?

    I have never really grasped the utility of the ACS and could not point to a single thing of value they have accomplished. I guess they put on nice shows, and I do like attending ACS meetings), but that doesn't drive a lot of economic growth, outside of tourism dollars. Those coffee mugs with moles on them are cute. I like to read C&E News, but not so much as I'd pay anything for it.

    The ACS can advocate for all the jobs it wants to, but that does not create any real economic benefit (aside from workers at the ACS).

    Can anyone point to what it is the ACS does that has any tangible value?

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  7. I think that focusing on the ACS is too narrow a view. This is and overall crisis about jobs, prosperity and the role of a vital middle class in our democracy. Or, if the battle is lost, the continued domination of our economy by a small group of wealthy financiers. A world in which the rest of us are mere serfs. Chemists are not unique here.

    Ideas I find interesting:

    "A political system that responded rationally to the country’s problems would be concentrating on creating jobs. Washington is moving in the opposite direction: toward austerity and job cuts"

    "What sort of policies might make a real dent in unemployment? Providing subsidies to businesses that hire new workers is one. Extending extra tax cuts to firms that build new factories and offices is another. More radical ideas include investing in infrastructure projects, importing a version of the job-sharing scheme that Germany has used, and launching a national community-service program.

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2011/08/15/110815taco_talk_cassidy#ixzz1USskLlBA
    "

    I recently rejoined the ACS. Not because it offers the solutions to all of our problems, but because it is a venue through which I, as a chemist, can have some influence. In answer to the question above about what have "they" done, I'd say that the "they" needs to be us.

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  8. Booya: Tangible value: ACS Careers. Probably the best online clearinghouse for chemist jobs.

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  9. Do any of you know who your ACS councilors are? When was the last time you sent them an email or called them?

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  10. I'm just satisfied that the past year has brought about a wider acknowledgement of the bad situation scientists have been in for the past decade. The cover of nature ("Future of the PhD") and the ACS at least creating some movement in their own ranks to deal with the ACS underlings who have stopped paying their fees.

    For awhile scientists, such as chemists, had to just vent anonymously (http://chemistry.about.com/u/ua/educationemployment/chemists.htm)

    Now when ACS representatives call, they sound a lot more desperate to renew memberships, they are hurting bad right now. They are paying the price for thinking they could sweep this problem under the rug for so long.

    Maybe I might join the ACS again, I don't know. It may as well be called the Asian Chemical Society, since it doesn't represent my American employment issues much anyways.

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  11. The ACS leadership never had a problem pressing congress for more training money for academia, or pressing the panic button and lobbying for ever more chemists whenever there was the slightest indication of a shortage of chemists. They were hysterical when they thought they would lose their monopoly on Chem Abstracts. They went to the barricades to defend that monopoly by claiming the job loss would wreck the Ohio economy. A lifetime-tenured professor who was ACS president lectured unemployed chemists on their lack of divine rights to a chemistry job back in the 80s. The ACS always claims they can do nothing about jobs, but somehow the ACS can always make lots of noise in DC if someone cries shortage of chemists, no matter how flimsy the evidence.

    You see the ACS is not about members, it is about the ACS bureaucracy and their jobs, not ours jobs. Never have they given two sh*ts about members job issues: look up Alan Nixon from the 60/70s to see his frustration with the ACS on this issue back then. They used to publish a shame listing of companies who did not abide by the ACS recommendations for laying-off chemists. It got to be such an embarrassment to the ACS because chemists were being let go with no considerations to the ACS guidelines even as the ACS was lobbying for more chemists. They stopped this practice and abandoned their guidelines in the 80s. This is a nonprofit publishing house which provides a very comfortable living for its executives by ripping off Society's expensive research data and then back charges chemists an arm and leg to access that publicly produced data. It provides nothing of value to industrial members and steals from Society. It should be terminated, the sooner the better.

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  12. I agree with anon8:15, this problem is more systemic than just "let's post some job openings that we know of."

    The Ph.D problem is a well-known topic on this blog. I think the problem is now bleeding down to the undergraduate level. Unemployment is historically high, and universities have decided to address their budget shortfalls by having the students shoulder more of the cost. Current students are taking on massive debt for a degree that is growing increasingly meaningless.

    ACS dollars would be well spent lobbying to reform policy at the government and university level.

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  13. ACS is funny. I'm not sure they want to be taken seriously.

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  14. Doc Oc,

    You don't get it. They make, not spend, money lobbying.

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  15. The ACS doesn't have any real interest in members, it's just the dues. It is an industry lobby organization, workers are irrelevant....

    Prime example: Who helped grad students/post-docs in the UC system get health coverage ten years ago? Sure as hell not the ACS- it was the Teamsters. If that isn't a cause the ACS chooses to lobby for, it is a pretty clear signal...

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  16. Spoiler alert: In the 2000 movie "Pay It Forward," the kid dies.

    I hope the same doesn't happen to American chemistry.

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  17. @anonymous 6:18

    The kid is already on life support and its not looking good....

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