Monday, March 25, 2013

What industrial chemists need: more awards

I should really establish the Chemjobber Memorial Award for Most Interesting Letter to the C&EN editor. This one would certainly be a nominee:
The editorial about awards season prompts my every-five-years-or-so harangue about the awards given by the American Chemical Society (C&EN, Jan. 21, page 3). 
The majority of ACS members work in industry; a minority work in academia. The vast majority of ACS awards go to academia. As one distinguished academic colleague told me recently, “All we do is get awards.” Indeed. Occasionally an industrial chemist or engineer will win an award other than the industrial chemistry award. Here is the message ACS is delivering: The best of the best work is in academia. 
I am a 30-plus-year industrial bench chemist. You know, bench, where actual chemistry gets done. I tell my colleagues that a Science paper, the endgame in academia, is a good start! 
Folks, the chemical enterprise provides actual material solutions critical to society’s needs. To say that only research from academia is award-worthy is wrong. 
Larry Lewis
Scotia, N.Y.
I've long been convinced that these awards are basically some sort of in-group sort of thing. I suppose what this means is that the academics are better at establishing those sorts of awards and handing them out.

(I wonder if anyone has a statistical analysis of all the different ACS awards. Probably not. (I wonder if Dr. Lewis has one?))

5 comments:

  1. For academia awards are a metric of performance (and they increase salary) and I always assumed industry doesn't need this sort of thing.

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  2. It seems to me that academic chemists have much more tangible measures of success, such as which journal publishes their work (Science vs. JACS vs. JOC vs. Tetrahedron) or the prestige of their particular department. For industrial chemists, you can have 30 inventions/patents, but there is no patent rating system to judge which ones are the most important or interesting. Maybe there should be! Maybe if patents were more user-friendly and were rated based on their impact on society and how much money is generated by the invention, their authors (mostly industrial chemists) would get more publicity. (this, btw, will never happen)

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    1. Not only that, but it is harder to determine who is responsible for what portion of a patent. Another issue is that many times we don't patent work in the first place, but rather just document it in internal company reports. I'd guess that only about a third of my body of work as an industrial scientist is documented via patents, and perhaps another sixth via trade or academic publications. The other half has never seen the light of day in public, and never will.

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  3. In industry I receive an award every two weeks in my bank account. Every year that biweekly award may increase by some percentage, dependent on my performance. If that isn't enough, there's also yearly cash profit sharing, stock grants, and benefits, not to mention intracompany awards recognizing outstanding performance.

    Academia can have the ACS awards. I've got enough to keep me motivated.

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  4. I don't think I'm making it up that American chemists have ridiculously long lists of awards to their name compared with European chemists. It seems to be an American 'thing' to give out loads of awards (thus making it hard to tell who is actually the baddest badass).

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