Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why don't industrial members attend ACS National Meetings?

Also in this week's C&EN, a really interesting article about new approaches to the ACS National Meeting by Kevin Edgar, the chair of the Committee on Meetings & Expositions, including this interesting paragraph:
Another M&E initiative aims to enhance industrial member attendance at ACS meetings. The proportion of industrial ACS members has dropped in recent years, and it is critically important to all of our members that we maintain strong connections to industry. We understand that much of the loss of industrial members is a result of economic trends that ACS cannot control and has a limited ability to influence. We are looking at ways to create a more inclusive industrial community at meetings, to connect with the expo, and to enhance the overall industrial member experience.
It sure seems like people in industry prefer to attend smaller conferences, even as the registration for a National Meeting (~$400) is a lot more than the $1000 or so that you'll pay for a practitioner-level conference.

I'm not sure I have a solution for the National Meeting folks, other than maybe to make them just a little less pricey. Anyone else have a better solution? 

21 comments:

  1. CJ: about your statement.."I find it grimly amusing that this article (and a number of others, including Nashville's The Tennessean) seem to believe that flames spontaneously result from the mixture of ethyl alcohol and boric acid (which was used in this case.). Well, I do not. I am sure that this would be litigated in the court of law, and lawyers can change the conventional wisdom in chemistry. All you need is some dumb jury!

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  2. Industry-specific (or industrial topic-specific) Gordon Conferences? There's probably proprietary knowledge that might hinder attendance or useful information, but it would fit at least the meeting size requirement.

    It's hard to get industry participation when there aren't jobs (which the author acknowledged and can't do much about), or when the jobs are applications-oriented enough that smaller professional societies are much more relevant to industrial people.

    I don't know what the costs or profits of running a meeting are; unfortunately, I'd assume that hotel and food costs are more significant (when my employer paid for us to attend ACS meetings, the hotel and food costs were probably 50-70% of the cost) and are unlikely to be very negotiable, at least for large meetings. It doesn't mean it wouldn't help, but I don't know if it would be decisive. For a Boston meeting (or SF), it could be.

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  3. When I was in industry, I had to justify my travel based on how critical the trip was to the business. I could book a $1000 ticket the day before a flight if I was going to do a customer consultation, but conference travel was probably the lowest priority. All of the leaders in the R&D organization were PhD scientists, so they knew very well that an ACS national meeting was not going to be a great place for business (unless "business" is defined as a bunch of jaded and obnoxious post-docs sitting around sipping coffee and complaining about how Professor Big Shot's research program has really gone downhill). Specialty conferences (e.g. Adhesion Society, Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, National Association of Coating Engineers, etc) were easier to justify and arguably a better use of travel funds. I'm sure ACS wants to see attendance go up, but they should just stay in their lane.

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    1. This is my experience as well. For an industrial researcher, academic conferences are a good but expensive way to stay on top of what's going on in academia -- and that's about it. In general, employers would rather spend money on industry-specific meetings, and in any case, sales-related travel will always take precedence.

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  4. What does an industry scientist get out of attending an ACS meeting? Not much. There's a large disconnect between what is of interest in academic chemistry research and what is of interest to research in industry. I consider dozens of other smaller conferences, where I may actually learn something job-relevant, before ever considering an ACS conference. I think the academics that attend these smaller conferences get more out of them as well. ACS meetings are a gathering of grad students fulfilling presentation requirements, jaded post-docs (as mentioned above) and PIs peddling their research to like-minded colleagues. I went to an ACS meeting as a grad student and found it mostly a waste of time, besides knocking a few back with other miserable grad students. I just don't see the point and don't see ACS making any traction here.

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    1. Although this is the first time I've ever seen ACS actually admit they have no control or ability to influence the employment of chemists. At least there's that. I think that statement may have something to do with the answer they're seeking.

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    2. It's selective admission. When industrial membership is down they say it's not their fault and they have no control. But in the article they make sure to brag how student membership is increasing. How do you suppose they achieve that? By promising that there are rewarding careers and citing the deceptive low unemployment statistic. They have nothing to do with that either, but you wouldn't know it by how hard they push it.

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    3. I think I can excuse the chair of M&E in terms of making that statement (i.e. not his bailiwick). But the helplessness that I see on this particular issue (shrugwhaddyagonnado?) from the top of the society fundamentally drives working chemists away from ACS.

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  5. The short story: it's a waste of time and money.

    ACS national conference is usually for academics busy patting themselves and others on the back over useless chemistry. Surprised there aren't more shoulder injuries from repeated movement...

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  6. The Iron ChemistMay 16, 2018 at 10:46 AM

    It sounds like the industrial chemists don't go to these since the content is rarely job related. That's certainly a fair criticism. So industrial chemists, how about suggesting and/or organizing symposia or other specific content that WOULD draw you to the meeting? Why leave it up to others to guess what you want to see? Nowadays, it seems that most of the special symposia are put together by academics, but that certainly doesn't have to be the case.

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    1. Other conferences already deliver the goods so why should I spend my time organizing a symposium for ACS?
      On top of all that its the same damned cities over and over again

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    2. When I was in industry, we could typically go to one conference per year. Sometimes more, if we were giving an invited talk or if something were local. I would go to ACS if it were local, or there were multiple symposia I was interested in. I like ACS meetings once in a while, but inevitably get frustrated with too many overlapping talks far away from each other. It's hit or miss on the networking - if I know a lot of people there, it's great and I meet new people, but if it's below critical mass it's much harder than at a smaller conference.

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    3. The Iron ChemistMay 17, 2018 at 4:13 PM

      I agree with you in that these things are too damn big. The core of THAT particular problem is that there are too many oral presentations. This leads to severely diluted audiences unless you're a heavy hitter in a symposium with other heavy hitters. If you contribute a talk, it is normally going to be in front of 20 or fewer people, most of whom are also talking in the session. More oral presentations also means that you need to book more rooms and more AV equipment, which drives up costs. Also, you can either rush from talk to talk, network, or go to the exposition (which is what's paying for the show). Pick one, and if you are hoping to network, also pray that the people you want to meet have decided to focus on that as well.

      I'd say that this is an orthogonal problem to the content, which is what I was originally focusing on. I can understand if you skip ACS entirely if somewhere else is "deliver[ing] the goods." If you're not getting what you want anywhere, well, watcha want?

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  7. As cynical as I am about the ACS, I don't know that this is their fault or that there is a solution.

    The money isn't the problem. Others have pointed out different reasons, but I've paid tremendously more than $400 registration for a conference and not batted an eye. It has to do with content. Even though I did my PhD in purely organic chemistry, my job is not purely organic chemistry. So when I was working in cancer therapeutics, I would spend money to go to cancer therapeutics conferences. When I was working in oligonucleotides/peptides, I'd go to TIDES. This isn't the type of thing ACS can adopt nor should they.

    The obvious tone of this article is "We want more money!" One simple way they could attract industry dollars is to offer a reasonably priced article access package. After leaving academia the only member benefit I used was the access to 25 articles. Now that I've let my membership lapse I'll just buy the articles that I really need, but usually we have interns look them up for us. I'm sure as shit not gonna pay the thieving rate that ACS charges universities for access. You want my money? Give me something useful for it. A couple free beers at a poster session isn't that valuable.

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    1. value. the value often isn't there for industrial chemists. Some of my colleagues like ACS National meetings, but most of us in the office just dont get much out of it for the time and money spent.
      Time away from my family and work responsibilities had better be very enjoyable, very useful, or some acceptable combination of the two. ACS just doesnt deliver much on either requirement as far as I am concerned.

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  8. My main reason for ACS meetings was recruiting. Ca. 1996 I went to three ACS meetings in a row with 3 colleagues to interview job candidates. At each meeting, we spent three solid days in interviews, identified at least 3-4 candidates in for site visits, and hired at least one, maybe more.

    In 2006, a colleague and I went, and we had a hard time filling up one day of interviews. I also had more than one who had accepted a scheduled interview not show up. I don't know what the difference was, but it was pretty clear that the ACS Clearinghouse was not something productive for hiring, so there went one of my main reasons for going.

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  9. If you asked an academic to come up with a new paint, it would be made out of iridium, cost $10,000 a gallon, and be so air-sensitive that it needs to be handled in a glovebox. I'd rather go to an industrial conference and learn about new developments that can actually be used in real life.

    I agree with Old Biddy's comment about ACS sessions being scattered across a city in different hotel ballrooms. You can burn a lot of time traveling between locations if you don't stick to one track of talks at a time.

    I also think the networking is better at smaller, industrially-focused conferences. I've developed a lot of friendships with people who frequently attend the same small conferences I do, and the ACS meeting is so huge that you don't get the repeated contact / chance meetings that lead to professional acquaintanceships or even personal friendships.

    Someone mentioned that the ACS is in the same few cities every time. This is another good thing about small conferences - the ACS pretty much has to be in a very large convention center, limiting the possible cities to a few, but a small conference can be held in any hotel with a decent-sized ballroom.

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  10. ACS conferences are for academics. When I ended up in industry I thought I'd always be part of the ACS Chemist circle, but I've definitely drifted away to the point where I find more value in The American Coatings Show or the Adhesives and Sealants Council compared to an ACS meeting. Although chemistry as an academic discipline developed alongside industry, there is currently a big rift between the two, and I think quite a lot of resentment from the industrial folks toward the academics who have very cushy jobs and only have to give the impression they are doing something useful without having to actually sell it. I would give talks and plenty of info if I thought it could help me land an academic position, but I don't think there is much interest in academics recruiting Ph.D. level scientists from industry, so I'll stay focused on the industrial conferences where I might find a new application or buyer for my technology or maybe make a connection that helps me land a bigger gig.

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  11. Our company requirement for conference attendance is that we either give a talk or present a poster. Conference travel is determined in January for the entire year. Attending conferences in Q4 is nearly impossible, because the conference sessions haven't been announced by the time I need to put in for travel, and therefore I have no idea whether I will have something to present that's relevant to the conference. There is also often a Q4 travel freeze so that we hit our EBIT numbers for the year. This scheduling also makes it difficult to attend January/February conferences, as the travel budget is not always set until sometime in February. Thus, the available conferences are basically March-September. Ideal conferences are those that put out a call for papers by early January (or even December) and take place somewhere in the aforementioned timeframe. It is helpful if there are sessions specifically for industrial speakers (Microscopy and Microanalysis has these, for example), or if the conference is totally geared toward industry, as I have to be able to get a talk/poster accepted. Unlike some other posters here, I actually like the academic nature of talks at the big conferences - there's very little ability to learn pure science in an industry job, and these talks often inspire new modes of thinking.

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  12. It’s much easier to justify to your boss why you should go to an industry-specific meeting than ACS. I just went to such a conference and well over half the talks I attended were directly relevant to my work. I also brought home a pocket full of business cards of people that I could work with.

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