1. Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it?
Career Navigator (CN) is the ACS one-stop shopping center for helping members advance their careers and land new jobs. Its resources include career counseling; basic guidance on resume writing and interview preparation, and linking job seekers with prospective employers. These are effective tools as long as job seekers have the knowledge, skills, and experience to the fill the jobs that are available. For those who don’t, CN offers a variety of face-to-face and online training courses. These are quality courses, but they have price tags to match: often between $1000 and $2000, which is more than many members can afford, particularly those who have been out of work or who took huge pay cuts to find permanent jobs. On my Presidential to-do list is making these courses and other professional education services available to unemployed and under-employed members at reduced or no cost.
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?
It is true that ACS has major programs designed to improve the quality of K-12 STEM and chemistry education in the US, and to encourage students from under-represented groups to pursue careers in chemistry. The goals of these programs are to create a population that has an understanding of, and appreciation for, how science and scientific inquiry benefits all of us, and to create more diversity among chemistry professionals. I don’t see them significantly increasing the size of the chemistry work force. If others argue that ACS should be restricting enrollments in undergrad and grad chemistry programs, my counter argument is that we should focus on improving the quality of those programs so that they produce graduates who have the knowledge, skills and experience that are in demand in today’s chemical enterprise, recognizing that future job growth will not be within the traditional boundaries of chemistry but in cross-disciplinary areas built on an understanding of how processes work at the molecular level. ACS-certified education programs need to reflect that reality.
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?
An action that I believe will have an impact on the ability of young MS and PhD chemists to find employment is the work of the 2012 Presidential Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences. Their report made it clear that too many graduate programs are preparing students for jobs that no longer exist, guaranteeing that their students will dwell in the land of the perpetual post-doc for years before they acquire the skills – and not just laboratory skills – that they need to land a decent job. On too many campuses, graduate programs in chemistry are archaic, inefficient and inherently unfair to the students in them. The time has come to address this problem by putting into action the recommendations of the 2012 presidential commission.
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?)
Linked to my answer to the previous question, I believe that ACS should work with NSF, NIH, and other funding agencies to redesign how young chemists are trained. We need national models of cooperative undergraduate and graduate education in the chemical sciences that encourage partnerships between faculty and their colleagues in industry. Programs supported by these partnerships would provide undergrads with experiences they do not get in most college teaching labs, and would engage graduate students in interdisciplinary collaborations focused on solving real-world problems that actually impact peoples’ lives. I believe prospective employers would find considerable value in the knowledge, skills and experience that graduates of these programs would have.Thanks to Professor Gilbert for his responses.