Monday, October 2, 2017

ACS Presidential Candidate Bonnie Charpentier on #chemjobs issues

I recently sent an e-mail to Dr. Bonnie Charpentier, who is currently running for the ACS President-Elect position to see if she was interested in answering last year's questions for ACS presidential candidates.

She responded today. Her unedited response is below:

1. Which ACS program do you think best helps the job-seeking ACS member? How would you improve it?
The most complete resource for ACS members is Career Navigator, which provides a menu of different programs and tools for job-seekers and others interested in exploring career options and professional development. Options under career navigator include offerings such as resume writing, career consulting, professional education courses and links to information about salaries and survey results. One way it could be improved by making sure that members know about it.
I think some of our strongest programs involve member-to-member connections and communication. More and more jobs are in small companies, and according to information in the press, including an article in the New York Times, a large percentage of jobs are obtained through referrals. Most of those jobs are not advertised at venues such as national meetings nor in C&EN. We could make it easier for members to share information about opportunities broadly with each other online through ACS.

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?
ACS has a policy titled “Strengthen Science Education and the Scientific Workforce” which, among other things, calls for strengthening support for science education facilities and teacher education and training, supports nurturing students of all backgrounds in pursuit of studies and careers in STEM, and urges Congress to reduce the complexity of 401(k) plans available to small business owners. The policy can be found at
I personally am a strong advocate for strengthening STEM education everywhere for all students to make them more informed as consumers and as the electorate. The advantages of a scientifically literate public are numerous and important.
I believe we should provide information to students about potential career paths and provide as accurate information as we can about job prospects in different fields of STEM. Education in STEM can be useful in many different types of jobs and professions. The caveat is that where the jobs are (both geographically and technically) changes over time. I believe students should pursue what interests them and what they love, with as clear an understanding of relevant job prospects as possible.
The wages for chemists and other STEM professionals are affected by many complex economic factors, and scientific and technical skills are needed in many areas. What we can do for our members is identify areas where those skills are needed, provide training to help us all stay current technically and develop additional important non-technical skills to improve job prospects.

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?
To be successful, any program to influence members’ careers must be sustainable and supported by the actions of more than one individual. All recent ACS presidents have sought to address employment issues for chemists; including, as noted in the question, multiple task forces and reports, some of which provided useful insights. In my industry career I have had to deal with lay-offs and site closures, and I know firsthand that employment statistics showing things are better for chemists than in some other fields don’t mean much to an individual who can’t find a job.

On the negative side, it seems unlikely that large corporations in traditional areas will change the pattern of down-sizing and layoffs we have become accustomed to seeing. On the positive side, advances in many new areas of technology require the skills of chemists. Chemists are creating jobs for chemists in start-ups and small businesses. We can advocate strongly for policies that incentivize job creation in chemistry and other fields that are vital to our overall economy and well-being, and that is something I would pursue with vigor. ACS has recently been bringing together CTO’s from big companies for discussions; we can do more to work with small companies and start-ups, and to encourage collaboration between academia and industry.

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 spent time on Capitol Hill advocating for chemists and funding for science and education, and in my current job, walking the Hill with patients and patient advocates regarding rare diseases, one thing I’ve learned is that it is more effective to advocate for actions that have understandable human consequences than for esoteric concepts. (Another thing I’ve learned is that it can be more effective to talk with senators and representatives in their home districts than on the Hill, but that is another topic).

My priority would be to advocate for funding for science and technology with clear and concrete examples of the importance of that funding to the discovery and development of such things as medicines, energy sources, clean water, new technologies and the importance to our lives and economic well-being. In this time of bitter partisanship, focusing on areas of concrete importance to constituents is one way toward bi-partisan support. I don’t see this as a question of shifting funding from academia to more SBIRs; both are important, and both can be supported by solid and reliable funding, as can grants and educational programs.

5. It has been 8 years since the official end of the Great Recession. What should ACS be doing to prepare our members for the next recession? 
The most obvious answer is to help our members maintain marketable technical and soft skills through continuing education, leadership, and entrepreneurial training. These are important at any time, but clearly more critical in economic downturns. Our programs must be kept strong, relevant and effective for our members. The ability for members to network and support each other with employment information is also important.
A less obvious answer is that to do these things ACS must be sustainable. In my opinion, we could have done a better job with some decision-making during the last recession. After that experience, plans were put in place to establish clear priorities and financial contingencies and it is very important that ACS keep those plans current in the event of another recession to enable the financial sustainability of the Society and services for members.

Thanks to Dr. Charpentier for her responses. 


  1. I sort of get tired of hearing the "we can't do anything about jobs but more money would help", particularly since part of the justification for more research money is to develop jobs, and if they aren't actually being generated by more research dollars, then extra money has to come from somewhere else (whose efficiency at generating jobs may be better or worse). Congress is unlikely to find more money to spend either through taxes or transfers, since we keep electing people to not do that.

    Asking individuals to spend more of their money on training for contingent jobs is sort of frustrating too, particularly in the absence of employer training. It's always worthwhile for employers to have better trained employees if someone else pays, but it's not very helpful for the employees to keep investing in training for shorter-term jobs (where the financial justification for training is unlikely to exist).

    I understand that there is not all that much an ACS President can or should do to change these things, but it seems frustrating to advocate for positions that seem to benefit everyone else in the chemical enterprise but members.

    1. Chemists. Policies don't have to help only ACS members, but policies that benefit everyone in chemistry but the people who work in, are likely to work in, or potentially could work in it is unhelpful.

  2. I see she's an advocate for more funding for medical research. The problem is, academics aren't interested in the years of unsexy work needed to turn the snazzy total synthesis of some exotic new drug molecule into a fully-approved new drug product, and throwing more money at academic research isn't going to change this.

    1. Considering the likely publishability of such work and its probability of success, it's not hard to see why, though. The stuff that might be useful (figuring out why trials fail or making sure that target knowledge means what people think it means) isn't particularly attractive, though funding or otherwise encouraging precompetitive groups between drug companies might help. Unless it gets lots of grant money, it's probably not going to help academics.


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