Friday, January 27, 2017

ACS' thoughts about employment and how to increase member retention

Via the 2017 ACS Strategic Plan, here is their assessment of the "challenges and opportunities" related to ACS member careers and member retention regarding employment. They are bulleted in the original list, but for discussion purposes, I have decided to number them:
  1. Despite increasing awareness of the importance of having an active safety culture in the workplace, some practitioners see safety as interfering with success.
  2. Employers of chemists are increasingly diverse, smaller, and more service-oriented (for example, contract testing labs or analytical services versus research or innovation-focused companies). 
  3. The wider mix of jobs held by chemistry-related scientists and the growing multidisciplinary nature of science is causing fewer scientists to identify themselves as chemists.
  4. A mismatch exists between the current training of new graduates and the jobs available.
  5. Chemistry-related companies increasingly require external R&D partnerships to innovate.
  6. A general decline in association membership is occurring. Membership decisions are increasingly based more on personal return than support for the profession or greater good.
  7. Members want more targeted, mobile, and video resources and messages.
  8. Online technologies are being integrated with onsite meetings and courses.
  9. Constraints on volunteers (including greater job demands, less time given by employers for volunteer activities, and expectations of 24/7 connectivity) warrant new tools and support to facilitate volunteers’ work and grow their ranks.
  10. Customers increasingly expect services to be customized to their needs.
  11. The millennial generation will shape future management styles, culture, and expectations.
  12. Globalization and the changing demographics and needs of the chemistry enterprise are redefining diversity and offering associations opportunities to assist in that transformation.
  13. ACS alliances to advance mutual goals -- including with ACS technical divisions, local sections, international chapters, and peer societies -- are increasing in importance.
  14. The value proposition for membership has been disrupted by social, economic, and technological changes. This demands more targeted services, creative recruitment/retention strategies, and evaluation of alternative membership models.
  15. Global industrial acquisitions, consolidations, and closures are expected to remain prevalent. Companies are focusing more on developing their core strengths and are looking to acquisitions to deliver growth and greater shareholder value.
I think a statement about mid-career chemists is missing, although #15 is an oblique reference. #2 sure sounds like a field with growing numbers and growing wages, yeah? Readers, what do you think about this list? 


  1. #2 is also true for large, well-known corporations. After all, what's a corporation but a collection of smaller business units? At Do(w), our Core R&D (basic research) group seems to be shrinking year over year, whereas our business units are become more "tactical" and "market facing". All this to say that we no longer make new products or develop new technologies. Instead, we focus on formulating our way to $$ instead of inventing and building. There's no judgement or finger pointing implied, just my perspective on the state of the industry.

  2. #2 doesn't sound much like growing wages to me, unless I missed the sarcasm - generally smaller employers don't pay as much and expect more and are more contingent (no margin for error).

    Employers expect universities to train their employees or employees to train themselves - what universities want for future research (and what needs to be taught if graduates are going to survive as chemists) is unlikely to ever fit with that well.

    When people are replaceable cogs and being a chemist doesn't accord status or value (to them), then people are going to not going to place much value in their status as chemists, either, and not going to spend effort to support it as a profession. In addition, I think the perception of people of what membership means differs from earlier. Mainline churches have similar issues, I think, with what membership used to mean and what it means now (and what they can expect from their members and how they can function as a result) which doesn't bode all that well.

    People are learning that nothing matters but now - society and businesses care about what makes money now. Things that don't support individuals in the now are going to be difficult to justify - investing in promises (that institutions don't want to make and won't keep if they do make) doesn't make sense. What this means for a future isn't good.

  3. What core strengths do you have if you don't have any research? "Buying other people's products and selling them more expensively" only works when there's a large pool of people with lots of money, while the pool of people who have enough money for your products keeps getting smaller and smaller, and a pool of people willing to do your research for cheap, which is also likely to get smaller as well.

    1. "What core strengths do you have if you don't have any research?"

      Research isn't just mixing chemicals, it's formulating hypotheses and matching those to existing or inventable products. Just because one's company doesn't have a lab doesn't mean it's not doing research.

      Currently there's a glut of researchers (read CROs) to take care of the physical aspects of R&D. Once these become scarce prices will rise and it will make sense to have one's own R&D facilities again. It does not seem that that will happen any time soon.

    2. At some point, though, most products have to be made, not just conceived. Someone has to actually generate the end products of research to show that they can be done. There is lots of work (research) to get good (uncommercialized) ideas into products, but someone has to come up with the ideas. In general, the "knowledge/innovation/whatever the $%^& we're calling this economy" devalues making things in favor of making them better or repackaging them (even as people want to be "disruptive" - to render current products irrelevant). That seems bad to me (although it's probably water under the dam at this point).

      I would imagine there'll be a balance between external and internal research, but internal research employees won't be much better off than CROs - it'll always be contingent (or at least more so than previously). Eventually, the market will contract enough that everyone has to pay more, but I'm not as sure of that - hello elsewhere!

  4. "Membership decisions are increasingly based more on personal return than support for the profession or greater good."

    Implicit in this statement is the assumption that giving $150 dollars to the ACS every year provides support for the profession or the greater good. The president if the ACS is paid $1 million a year. If you divide that by the 150K members (who knows how many of those are active, dues paying members) that's $7 per member per year.

    1. What's the punchline?

      Is $143/member/year not enough to do anything else?

    2. Greater good = lining the pockets of the ACS executives

    3. I feel the need to note that Thomas Connelly (the CEO of ACS) made $590,190 in 2015.

  5. #6 and 14 both seem to mean the same thing to me (people choose membership based on benefits and the benefits have been disrupted). This seems more like an issue for the ACS to work on (its value proposition in general) rather than something to blame on the members. I'm currently a student so the value proposition for me has been ---- Cost going to meeting while member + cost of membership < cost of going to meeting while not a member ----

    I have in general read how the membership seems to be more appealing for academic chemists, as opposed to industrial chemists. For the industrial chemists out there, do you agree with the above statement? Has ACS tried to be more appealing to you in any tangible way?

    Why is #4 hidden down there in the middle? This is perhaps a very large problem, and if ACS worked with universities and companies, it could direct the type of education that chemists get.

    The flipside point to #3, is that for an interdisciplinary job, is that perhaps workers would rather be identified by the moniker of the other group (biologist rather than biochemist). This alludes to the mostly negative PR in the media about chemists, which don't seem to plague other fields as much. If a chemistry degree or job is not something that is admirable, why is it surprising if less people get the degree and want to be a member of a professional chemistry society? (I am very interested in the numbers of degrees awarded vs ACS membership, to see if the are correlated in a downward trend)

    I myself intend to stay a member after I graduate, specifically to support policy work (that "profession or greater good" from #6). And also that element mug, it's a not insignificant benefit.

    1. I received a mug after a year of membership; in smithereens. That was symbolic of my relationship with ACS, and it had to end on the spot.

    2. I wouldn't count on the element mugs. I was a member for 14 years (ending in 2016) and received zero mugs during that time.

  6. Agree with 11:42. If I'm going to write a check for $150 for the "greater good", I'll make it out to a charity.

    Alternatively, I'll send it to an NGO with an explicitly stated agenda, not to a stealth advocacy organization.

    1. I've never understood the value of an ACS membership, or what the ACS actually does for chemists. SciFinder is great, but I think that's a profitable business in its own right, as are ACS publications (which get free content and free editing but still charge you to read---really really good business!). I read C&E News every couple of weeks, and I guess I like it well enough but not as much as Runners World or the New Yorker, which aren't $150/yr.

      I really do not know how the ACS benefits me as a chemist.

    2. it doesn't.
      I would argue that ACS is actually working (or has in effect worked) to the net detriment of US citizen chemists

    3. ACS should be renamed the "International chemistry society"

  7. Agree with the assessment of #4, but I don't see a fix in the future. There's no strategic alignment between universities, the private sector, and funding agencies. As a professor, I'd love to train students to make fully formulated automotive adhesives using DOE and six sigma discipline, but how do I pay for that and how do I publish enough to get tenure? With few exceptions, academia and industry don't value the same things.

    1. What's more, those kinds of skills are 1) likely to involve proprietary products and 2) only useful for getting jobs in a limited area (so that when that business goes under or the people that make its products are commoditized, they can't get jobs).

      Education is supposed to give people a basis for further work, not replace training on the job. Co-ops would be nice to get experience for students and a picture of how companies work, but ultimately it isn't universities' jobs to train someone's employees, it's the employer's job. Since they've done so well transferring costs to other people, though, why stop now?

    2. Anon1:18, I love your comment.

    3. Absolutely right, Hap. University is not a vocational school.

  8. I still don't understand what the ACS does. What are it's policies? How can they advocate for industrial and academic chemists at the same time? Those are two completely different worlds wit completely different priorities.

  9. Reasons I dislike the ACS:
    - high membership dues
    - unclear definition of "advocacy for the profession". does this mean advocacy for the working chemist or advocacy to support profits for the chemical industry?
    - high meeting registration costs. for attendees supported by federal grants the US taxpayer is paying for this so shift more of the cost to expo vendors or offer a substantial academic discount
    - 25 free SciFinder searches with membership. Is this a joke?
    - use of presumably expensive external consultants to survey members about why they don't find membership especially valuable
    - the use of "targeted messages". nobody wants more email. also what is ACS Axial and why was I automatically signed up?
    - how much of my membership dues are going toward video production? Who has spare time and says 'I think I'll spend it watching videos from the ACS'?
    - repetitive, costly mailings about why I should renew (home address) and why I should join (work address)

  10. Perhaps ACS can better serve its members by acting more like a political party and a labor union and advocating policies that will benefit members.

    For example, oppose weakening of environmental regulations that will job loss for chemists working in contract analytical labs.

    Another would be to support maintaining traditional pensions by companies.

    Members could be polled for each proposed policy before ACS adopts it.

    ACS should also seek support from the general public for its positions via the news media.

  11. Great post,

    I think for me as younger chemist (I just turned 30), the value is there but it can be hard to see. Let me give a couple of examples,

    (1) the career stuff needs a MASSIVE overhaul, there are supposed to be these contract members who help other members with career services and the like. I reached out the person who was assigned to my area multiple times and I didn't hear a work back. Also, this should be filtered down to the local sections, mine does not provide any sort of career events or workshops, so why am I sending them money?

    (2) Can someone please explain to me what YCC is supposed to do for the ACS? For example, I am thinking of moving to Denver or Seattle when I am finished with this postdoc, crosses fingers. I reached out to both local sections and their YCC members chairs. I didn't hear a thing, so I used linked and just randomly started connecting with people who have ACS listed in their profiles. I've not heard of one YCC sponsored networking event in larger cities those seems like low hanging fruit.

    (3) The meetings are really useful both in terms of networking (I'll say more on that later) but also in terms of getting practice making talks and doing that sort of thing, but I think they need to take steps to really beef up the regional meetings so they can be useful too. Not all students can afford the huge costs associated with traveling to SF (PIs and institutions are not really providing travel funding like they should) for the national meeting.

    (4) #9/#10 - This is hard, I don't know to much about industry. I would think that if ACS had a way to provide value for industry members and employees they might be more likely to send them to meeting. The meetings can turn into these giant panels of talk after talk after talk, and thus don't really give people much of a chance to network and great new collaborations.

    1. Delta, feel free to e-mail me and I will see if I can get some results for you.

  12. Also missing from the ACS statement was any comment on increasing competition for domestic employment which results through continued import of graduate students from overseas.

    An ACS statement on the model of science would have also been appreciated. Something along the lines of contemporary laboratory-based science requiring a steady supply of graduate student laboratory workers whose numbers greatly exceed long-term employment options as chemists.

    But either of those hoped would be contrary to the interests of the "ACS stakeholders".

    1. If only they would be so honest . . .

    2. This is a discussion that I think really needs to take place in academia, but everyone would probably be too scared to say it out loud.

      Federal tax dollars are being spent to train foreign students who then:
      1) Take that training back to their home country, or
      2) get a job here, displacing an American citizen.

      In my small sample size of 1, my incoming graduate class of 20 students consisted of 7 U.S. citizens and 13 foreign students, mostly from China and India.

      It would be interesting to see some data on change in foreign-born composition of the chemistry world here in the U.S. over time and whether it correlates with the decreasing 'real' salaries of chemists.