Sunday, October 9, 2016

ACS Presidential Candidate Peter Dorhout on #chemjobs issues

I recently sent an e-mail to Professor Peter Dorhout, who is currently running for the ACS President-Elect position to see if he was interested in answering four questions for ACS presidential candidates about chemist employment and unemployment. Here are his unedited answers: 
1. Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it? 
The Career Navigator.  There are a number of improvements we can make that would complement what already exists in the CN.  First and foremost, ACS needs to promote this more.  At nearly every ACS talk I give, I ask the audience if anyone knows about it - very few members know anything about it. So, here’s the link:   
I am also a big proponent of getting an external opinion about programs.  I use professional consultants to help me improve my operations at K-State, why wouldn’t I also do the same for the CN?  The external consultant perspective doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong, it provides a fresh view on things.  It’s how the world sees us that helps us improve the most.  
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? 
Your readers can review the ACS policy on STEM education for themselves:  ACS advocates for education "policies that respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by an aging workforce.”  Encouraging the best and brightest to pursue science careers is different from saying we need more scientists, specifically chemists.   
ACS also advocates for a diverse science workforce - broadening participation in science is key to maintaining creativity and innovation.  ACS and the nation need to continuously assess the workforce needs of the broad industry sector.  ACS also needs to continuously review what and how we need to teach in the chemistry curriculum - as the profession changes, so should the way we prepare students, including undergraduate, graduate, and postdocs. 
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? 
This is a bit self-aggrandizing, but I was very impressed with what Joe Francisco was able to accomplish as President.  I was serving as the International Activities Chair when he crafted the International Center ( with me and Judy Benham, who followed me as Chair.  This virtual center cost ACS very little but it was designed to serve to help ACS members find ways to garner skills to be competitive in the global chemistry employment marketplace.  Like the Career Navigator, this is an underutilized resource for ACS.   
Related to employment, Joe also created the Entrepreneurship Center, which was designed to be a hub for information/education on how to become an entrepreneur.  It lost some traction with the Board a few years ago and was not renewed for funding.  I would like to try to revitalize that program, working with SCHB and BMGT along with SOCED to promote this project (again).  I doubt either of these activities/projects will create new jobs in the US, but I do think they will help our chemists be more competitive. 
4. One of the chief roles of the ACS 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?) 
In my job, I spend several days each quarter in DC advocating for various research projects and support for Kansas State.  We have been very successful at moving the needle in several areas, particularly in agriculture and physics.  I understand much of the “lay of the land” when it comes to how Congress operates (if “understand” is synonymous with figure it out each time), but we will have new leadership in 2017 and the opportunity to craft new directions.   
Industry currently accounts for >65% of all funding for R&D (total R&D funding in 2015 was $453bn).  Those investments in R&D need to be recognized as valuable contributions to not only manufacturing jobs, but basic, applied, and development jobs.  Credit for those investments made in the US enterprise would encourage companies to continue to invest in innovation and creative thinking that will help our companies prosper here.
 Thanks to Professor Dorhout for his responses.


  1. Aiiiiiii......

    Improving help to job seeking ACS members by hiring consultants, I guess it makes work for consultants, but if your answer to "how would you improve...." is "I'll ask someone else", well I'm not so impressed.

    Is there an actual answer to #2 in there: a yes of a no?

    That said, when I look back at all the ACS has done for chemists over the past year I'm struck by....well, nothing.

  2. Maybe the ACS can have special web seminars on how to feed your family on 26 weeks of unemployment insurance or how to manage repeated bouts of joblessness or how to move your entire household strapped onto your car. Maybe chemistry degrees will include classes on how to pay off your student loans by avoiding a mortgage and couch surfing your life into middle age. The ACS could really be helpful to young chemists by showing them the joys of a nomadic impoverished life where dinner out at Mickey Dees is the highlight of the month.

    1. All the while, the ACS senior management receives pay hikes.

    2. For those still thinking the bifactional ruling uniparty was only a thing in US general elections, we present the Potemkin Village Headman election, ACS President.

  3. Reminds me of the insurance commercial deriding the lawyerly language in auto policies. Blah, blah. Blah blah blah. Puleeze spare me.

  4. "Industry currently accounts for >65% of all funding for R&D (total R&D funding in 2015 was $453bn). Those investments in R&D need to be recognized as valuable contributions to not only manufacturing jobs, but basic, applied, and development jobs. Credit for those investments made in the US enterprise would encourage companies to continue to invest in innovation and creative thinking that will help our companies prosper here."

    Maybe I'm too cynical, but until very recently I worked for an "innovative" Fortune 50 company that often boasts about their R&D spend and rates of IP generation. Sure, they paid ridiculously well, but I wouldn't say that we were doing anything truly innovative as a company. In fact, I think we were pretty much relying on the inertia of 100 years of process development to keep us making $$$. One of the main reasons I left was that management insisted that every project be profitable in under 6 months, which essentially meant that we were doing DOE-based formulation science. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, it just seems misleading to describe that as innovation. In the long run, I question whether tax breaks in support of this kind of "R&D" will really fuel growth. If anything, I think we're already seeing the sun beginning to set on a lot of the "old guard" companies, and tax breaks will only prop them up longer instead of stimulating true growth and innovation.

  5. @ biotechtoreador: I think there was a sort-of answer to Question 2. The chemical work force is getting old. Therefore (I infer) we'll eventually need to be replaced, so our replacements need to be trained.
    Dorhout then segues into the standard diversity speech. I sometimes wonder why everyone gives lip service to "diversity," as if it's a goal in itself. If certain ethnic or societal groups prefer to go into medicine or biology or banking or engineering, why is it bad that they don't choose to be chemists?

    1. and you will need replacements for the replacements. it just so happens that the time to replacement will be forever decreasing under thr current system

    2. This is exactly what I've never understood about pushing the diversity agenda. If we have (let's say) a 10% unemployment rate for new chemistry grads, but that 10% is exactly 50:50 male:female, 64% white, 12% black, 16% Latino, 5% Asian, etc., what have we achieved? We still have a 10% unemployment rate. While I'm fully for everyone getting a fair shake, achieving diversity isn't a goal in itself. The ultimate goal is to improve employment/salaries for everybody, not make sure those who are screwed are a mirror image of their societal demographics.