Monday, January 5, 2015

Diane Grob Schmidt's presidential address: an industry focus

It's the first issue of the year for C&EN, which means that we get a new ACS presidential address from a new ACS president, Dr. Diane Grob Schmidt. It hews to a pretty standard cheery format, but the start is rather irritating to those who are irritable, i.e. me:
The workforce has changed dramatically since I went to work for Procter & Gamble as a newly minted Ph.D. more than 30 years ago. I was a longtime P&G employee, retiring from there just last year. Today’s chemistry graduates will likely end up working for several employers over the course of their careers. While some may have only one or two employers during their careers, I think many will find employment changes to be the new norm. 
The current employment environment is dynamic, not static. And that is not necessarily a negative. New opportunities can be fruitful, especially for those with an entrepreneurial mind-set. I remember a person from my graduate school class who was interested in synthetic organic chemistry. He knew there were markets that were not served by existing laboratories or resources to test or explore certain synthetic pathways, so he built his own small company. He identified a need, had the skills and knowledge to meet that need, and then acquired the business skills necessary to form and run a company. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Count me as somewhat less than cheered by a suggestion by someone who just retired from 30+ years at a major corporation that my likely future being laid off every 5 years in a dynamic environment is "not necessarily a negative." I think that her long career at P&G is exactly the sort of thing that the vast majority of chemists aspire to and long for, and she does glosses over the potential disruption that can happen when chemists are asked/forced to change employers.

I was also a more than a bit flummoxed by this paragraph, when she talks about the value proposition of ACS to industry (emphasis mine):
...Another vital step in developing a strong relationship with industry is ensuring we are providing the products and services that industrial chemical scientists want. Over the past 10 years, the share of ACS members employed in manufacturing has declined by 14%. That prompts the question: What can we do to attract and keep industry members?
Uh, that's not the question that I'm prompted to ask. I'm prompted to ask:
  • What happened to these members? 
  • Is it an increase in academic members or a loss of industrial members? 
  • Are those members who dropped out still chemists, or have they left the field altogether? 
  • What can we do to help unemployed member chemists? 
Maybe I'm just irritable and skeptical. Nevertheless, best wishes to President Grob Schmidt -- I sincerely hope she's successful in deepening ties to industry. 


  1. Based on the unwillingness of ACS "leadership" to speak frankly and openly about the employment status and outlook of chemists in the US, do you really want the ACS to have deeper ties to industry? I am not certain it would result in a desirable outcome

  2. Diane Grossly ShirkingJanuary 6, 2015 at 4:23 AM

    "The current employment environment is dynamic, not static. And that is not necessarily a negative."

    Sweet jeebus, writing that line takes some serious ahem, cojones- "Let them eat cake!"

  3. What a crock of you-know-what in that address. Could she be any more out of touch?

    Count me in as an industrial chemist who got absolutely nothing out of being an ACS member and dropped my membership years ago (I'm still a chemist, though). Beyond not getting anything out of the membership, the society did nothing to make industrial chemists feel welcome or valued. ACS always was (and still is) all academia, all the time.

  4. the society did nothing to make industrial chemists feel welcome or valued. ACS always was (and still is) all academia, all the time.

    So true. In those rare instances where industrial chemists are featured, the articles have a "look at all these opportunities in India/China" bent to them. Ugh. Out of touch, indeed!

  5. I'm getting tired of the "we all need to be entrepreneurs" talk. I have never had any interest in starting my own chemical company, and it's nothing like writing some simplistic & addictive app. Whenever I hear people speak about being "entrepreneurs", I'm always reminded of the business plan utilized by the underwear gnomes on South Park: "1. collect underpants 2. ? 3. Profit" Sorry, but we all don't have great ideas we can easily turn into Fortune 500 companies, nor should we all try.