Monday, September 21, 2015

ACS Presidential Candidate Allison Campbell on #chemjobs issues

I recently sent an e-mail to Dr. Allison Campbell, who is currently running for the ACS President-Elect position to see if she was interested in answering four questions for ACS presidential candidates about chemist employment and unemployment. Here are her unedited answers: 
1. Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it? 
In general I think that the ACS does a good job with the basics of helping members with employment.  There are resources for finding jobs, developing leadership skills and writing resumes and interviewing.  All of these are important.  One thing that I believe could be strengthened is the career networking support we offer members.  Whether the member is an early career chemist or one who has been recently displaced from the job market, knowing how to network effectively is as important is key.   
In addition to providing the opportunities for members to network at ACS meetings,  I would like to add networking training sessions to the agenda at the regional and national meetings.  I am very impressed with the networking methods I have seen in some of the university alumni programs and I think that we can borrow some best practices from them.  They have built a strong sense of community and provide unique means for connecting and reconnecting Alumni.  One of the best things alumni relations do is connect alumni with people looking for work.  They help find advocates for the members within organizations posting positions.  I firmly believe that in today's market, in order to differentiate oneself, a personal touch and an advocate within the hiring organization goes a long way.   
2. 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? Does this argue against the idea of a STEM shortage and the need for more STEM students? 
I personally am a huge advocate for STEM education for all students, not only for those who plan to go into STEM fields professionally.  I think that  students who understand science generally will mature into adults who can make better-informed decisions – decisions ranging from how to best steward our environment to understanding political candidates' support for policies that will spur the growth of an economy based on science, technology, and innovation.  Citizens who are educated and informed about science generally and chemistry in particular, can have a huge impact on the future of our nation.  Regardless of their personal career paths, their understanding of the scientific endeavor, their ability to differentiate junk science from fact-based policy and make informed choices as voters and consumers can only help our society. 
With respect to wages for chemists and the question of the future of chemistry as a career path, I am hugely optimistic.  So many high technology fields and industries depend on chemistry--including material science, pharmaceuticals, and energy—that it is hard not to be bullish about the future of the field. While wage stagnation is a problem for chemists, I think the phenomenon is one that reflects a larger, economy-wide trend.  Comparatively, students graduating in chemistry and other STEM fields still earn more than those graduating with non-technical degrees.  While I am not complacent about the employment situation for chemists, I do think it is important to consider it in context.   
3. In the past decade, what was the one action of any ACS President that has had the greatest influence -good or bad - on members' employment and careers? Other than working groups and reports, 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? 
I think all recent ACS Presidents have tried in some way or another to address the employment situation.  It is  clearly a difficult challenge for any President.  I was recently talking with a Congressman about the impacts of the governments always having budgetary Continuing Resolution and the uncertainly in creates for many federally funded scientists.   
Our Policy makers need to know and understand how their decisions with respect to things like energy, environmental, and trade policy impact national job outlooks, and how policies that entice high tech companies to relocate their research operations outside our borders are ultimately bad for the economy.  At best, I think that leading the dialogue and highlighting the importance of chemistry to our economic prosperity will have the biggest and most lasting impact.  And it is something that an incoming president has the time to do in his/her short three year tenure. One thing that I would do is to host a roundtable discussion series with key lawmakers and other key professional societies on this topic. 
4. One of the chief roles of the ACS is to advocate for chemists in the US Congress. Which of the following options would you prioritize, and why? (increased grant funding, more training in entrepreneurship for students, shifting funding from academia to more SBIRs or retraining postdocs?) 
Having had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time interfacing with Congress, I think the biggest payoff is to increase and sustain strong federal funding levels for science.  The signal that strong federal funding would send  would be felt economy-wide and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.  I think the other activities you mentioned—entrepreneurship, SBIR funding, etc. all depend on their being strong federal support for science.   I also think that this is an issue that could garner strong bipartisan support in Congress; members of both parties recognize the importance of science to our economy and our wellbeing, so I as ACS President, I would want to use my tenure to broker solutions that could bridge the party divide.
Thanks to Dr. Campbell for her responses. 


  1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

  2. It seems like part of the problem is in how the federal government supports research and how we as the electorate want it - people want research as cheaply as possible, as that has generally been with students doing the research (with minimal or lower safety standards). As long as you depend on cheap labor to sustain and expand the generation of research (with the carrot of jobs in the future - which does not appear to be happening), you are going to have many more people looking for jobs than having them. This seems OK with most of the other stakeholders (the populace, universities, and chemical businesses) but is unlikely to help chemists in any term. Anything that changes this methodology is likely to make research more expensive, which would make it less palatable to Congress (who at some point will have to make difficult financial decisions, and will if support is to be maintained have to justify raising taxes to pay for it or paying for it and not other things).

    I guess I am cynical that raising or maintaining federal support for science will lead to more jobs (at least in the US). It may be worth it overall for the US, but it may not be helpful to us in particular.

  3. Yep. This is a weak candidate, IMHO not in touch with reality for the US chemist. Now I understand why she did not respond to my specific questions.

  4. Wow, 4/4 non-answers, Kudos! Didn't even pretend to reply, just diverted attention and said a bunch of irrelevant feel good crap. I always find it frustrating when people seeking votes refuse the common decency to answer simple, direct questions.

    Balazs wins the Chemjobber round by landslide.

    1. This comment captured my feelings almost exactly.

  5. Thanks, Chemjobber, for asking my question (#3).

    I have to admit that when I formed it, I never expected such a mealy-mouthed response. My flabber has been gasted.

    1. Thanks, Anon, it was a great question.

  6. Replies
    1. Plenty of other places on the internet to talk politics.

    2. I think that was more of a jab at her carefully rehearsed non-answers than a jab at Democrats in general. Change "Hillary Clinton" to any evasive-answering, over-choreographed politician on either side, and you get the idea.

  7. "There are resources for finding jobs, developing leadership skills and writing resumes and interviewing. All of these are important."

    Sweet jesus mary and joseph- how does anyone parrot these canards? Sorry to be so harsh (I am well aware there are no easy answers) but 'clueless' doesn't even begin to capture how out of touch she is.