CJ: Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it?
Dr. Kolb: Since I have been fortunate enough not to need ACSʼs career services I cannot speak from personal experience. I have heard good things about the personal career consulting service that features volunteer ACS members who provide practical advice on things like job search strategies, interviewing techniques, negotiating advice and resume preparation. These consultants are currently available remotely by e-mail and phone or in person at national and regional meetings. I suspect that face-to-face interactions work best.
I do know from personal experience that local section meetings are effective networking events. I wonder if formalizing confidential career consulting services at the local section level, using well-connected section members as career consultants, would be more convenient and effective, especially for members desiring to avoid relocating.
CJ: Is it ACS policy to get more students to study in STEM fields, specifically chemistry? If so, how do we reconcile the fact that wages for chemists are stagnant or falling? Does this argue against the idea of a STEM shortage and the need for more STEM students?
Dr. Kolb: I do not think that STEM jobs are a zero sum game, where if someone else gets a chemistry job it forever decreases anotherʼs chance of employment. There is a tremendous amount of science and technology that must be done if we want to sustain and enhance our economy, security, health and environment. Vectoring more bright and capable students away from STEM careers will not help. We need as many smart, articulate and entrepreneurial scientists and engineers as we can get, especially if they are properly prepared and motivated to revamp old organizations and found new ones that will create the more effective and efficient products and processes that we require.
For instance, when I joined the company I now lead, I was employee number 7 and the only chemist. Today we have 75 employees, 25 are chemists or chemical engineers. We need more STEM graduates, but we need them equipped with the communication skills, the understanding of scienceʼs real role in the modern world, and the imagination to create tomorrowʼs science and technology organizations. Thatʼs how enough productive STEM jobs can be created.
CJ: Each ACS president candidate, for at least the past decade, knows the challenging job market facing ACS members and inevitably speaks of "growing jobs" in the US. Specifically, what tangible steps would you take to increase the number of chemistry jobs in the US, and is this something you think is really achievable?
Dr. Kolb: As indicated in Response #2 above, I think it is both possible and necessary if we want our children and grandchildren to live as well or better than we do. As I indicated in my ACS Policy statement, quoted below, one important step is to help both current and future ACS members be prepared to “seize the future:”
“Nearly all of the critical challenges facing our world have significant chemical components. ACS must help our current and future members better understand how their vision and their skills can contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable future. The fact that too many ACS members are unemployed or under-employed, while most global challenges need chemical insight and innovation to be addressed successfully, is a travesty. ACS needs to develop more effective ways to help current and future members orient their interests and capabilities to successfully address critical problems. ACS also needs to motivate both private and public investments to ensure resources exist to fund the science needed for progress.”If I am fortunate enough to be elected I am pledged to work hard with other interested ACS members to achieve the goals stated above.
CJ: How would you describe ACS' response to the Great Recession and the increase in unemployment amongst its members? How should ACS respond to similar situations in the future?
Dr. Kolb: It seems to me that ACSʼs current career services are designed to help individual members to find and compete more successfully for the pool of current jobs, which is too shallow. I believe we need to work to deepen the pool by empowering members to identify how their interests and skills can be used to discover the new science and technology the world needs.
If there is no organization interested in the work they envision, we should encourage them to create their own jobs. The US government distributes more than 2.5 billion dollars of research and development funding each year in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to develop novel defense, health, energy, transportation and environmental technologies. Since 2002 I have served on a National Research Council committee that evaluates the SBIR program for Congress and the participating federal agencies. Our reports show that many small businesses, including very small, newly formed companies, win SBIR funding that leads to the creation of important new technologies and generates high technology jobs.
Finally, we need to start these activities now and help prevent, not wait for, the next recession.
Thanks to Dr. Kolb for his responses. The final candidate, Dr. Schmidt, will have her response published within 24 to 48 hours after it has been received.