Monday, May 7, 2012

ACS president-elect Marinda Wu on #chemjobs

In this week's C&EN, an essay from ACS president-elect Marinda Wu. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's pretty #chemjobs-heavy. I beg forgiveness for the long excerpt:
Two areas I will focus on in my presidential year in 2013 include helping ACS members find jobs and extending our global outreach. Chemistry has always been the central science and a means to a very rewarding profession. But this holds true only if one has a good job. Unfortunately, ACS members are suffering the highest unemployment rate on record since 1972—4.6% (C&EN, March 26, page 10). [snip] 
What more can ACS do to help members with employment and professional development? ACS cannot create jobs, but we can influence employment conditions. I am working with the ACS Office of Public Affairs, the Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs, and others regarding advocacy efforts to improve the business climate in the U.S. We can explore solutions with various ACS stakeholders such as Corporation Associates, the Small Chemical Businesses Division, the Division of Business Development & Management, and others. I welcome suggestions from all. 
I am also seeking input on ways to expand our global outreach through international exchanges and strategic collaborations that will benefit ACS members and the global chemistry enterprise. A priority for ACS should be to support our domestic members, but in order to remain competitive, ACS can and should do more in the global arena. 
I have appointed a task force called Vision 2025: Helping ACS Members Thrive in the Global Chemistry Enterprise. Its charge is to identify challenges and opportunities and to develop an action plan to help members thrive in light of adverse employment trends and an increase in the globalization of the chemistry enterprise. 
As I urged in a previous ACS Comment titled “Ambassadors for Science, Technology & Education in the 21st Century,” we should continue to work together (C&EN, Aug. 6, 2007, page 37). The need persists worldwide to increase the public’s appreciation of the importance of chemistry and to gain the support of legislators. Improving the public image of chemistry may help encourage the passage of favorable legislation for job creation. My colleague William F. Carroll, who is chair of the ACS Board, recently raised an excellent point by noting how much work remains to be done in this area to improve the U.S. business climate (C&EN, Feb. 13, page 46). 
Another way to help our job seekers is to encourage the creation of more local job clubs to facilitate networking. After all, networking is still the most effective means of finding new jobs in difficult times. Thus, when I attended our annual ACS Leadership Institute in Fort Worth in January, I challenged the 350 leaders there to consider recruiting champions to start or reinvigorate job clubs in their local sections. I know from experience that job seekers help one another, so why not try inviting a couple of job seekers to start a job club for your local section? Providing local access to the latest ACS career resources, helping with résumés and interviewing, plus providing networking opportunities can offer invaluable assistance to the record 4.6% of members who are unemployed. 
[snip] I am grateful for the support, suggestions, and encouraging messages I have received from members from all over the world. Many challenges face us; let’s work together to turn them into opportunities for our members to thrive in the global chemistry enterprise. I continue to welcome your suggestions at or
 So Dr. Wu's #chemjobs plan seems to consist of:
  • Attempting to influence employment conditions
  • Appointing a task force to think more about these issues
  • Improving the public image of chemistry
  • Encouraging the creation of more local job clubs
I welcome all efforts to address the #chemjobs issue. I think I'm disappointed in this preliminary plan, in that it's heavy on the "let's think about this" and "let's solve this from the bottom up" (e.g. you all start job clubs). How effective are chemistry job clubs? (I suppose this blog is a 'job club on the web'.) 

If I were ACS president (fat chance), I would focus ACS' efforts on the question "How can I use ACS' power and influence to attempt to address this problem in the short term?" If I were ACS president, I'd be calling the highest ranking member of my society at major corporations and asking "Why are you laying off / why aren't you hiring our members, and how can ACS help make that happen?" I would also be asking, "What is the scale of the #chemjobs problem, and how can I get a better, faster handle on it?" 

But that's probably why I'm not ACS president. All to the better, I suppose. 

P.S. I plan to e-mail this post to President-Elect Wu. 


  1. What incentives do chemical companies have for acquiescing to the ACS? What specific power can the ACS wield? If the ACS were to ask chemical employers questions, is there anything other than "out of the goodness of their chemical hearts" compelling them to answer those questions?

    I'm not trying to be pessimistic to anything. I am honestly just curious about the above questions.

  2. By the way, I hope that your portion of the post also gets sent to CEN.

  3. My first reaction was to yawn, but in the end, after looking at the results of Google image search for "Captain Irrelevant" I have concluded that reading Ms. Wu's statement was not a complete loss of time.

  4. Unstable IsotopeMay 7, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    I would like to see some concentration on trying to quantify underemployment for chemists. I feel that 4.6% number is really misleading. Could ACS do some concentrated work looking at senior grad students and post docs and tracing what happens to them?

    Another thing I'd like to see ACS do is to get a board of advisors of "regular" chemists, not high level professors and managers. I'd love to see a board consisting of unemployed chemists, students, corporate scientists, bench chemists, older chemists, etc.

  5. @4.6% ACS unemployed: Why do I think that disproportionate number of unemployed chemists does not give a hoot about answering the ACS surveys or renewing the ACS membership...

  6. Maybe iam just cynical, but her statements/plan is the same as all the other previous ACS presidents. Always say they will help unemployed chemists find jobs but nothing ever happened.

  7. In the past we got lectures about how chemists have no devine rights to jobs from ACS presidents who were in tenued jobs, so you could say lamely acknowledging there is a employment problem for new grads and industrial chemists, especially older chemists, is an improvement, kind of.

  8. Vision: 2025?

    And what of the tens of thousands of young chemistry majors being degreed yearly with 15% unemployment?

    I suppose they can just go to graduate school, so that they become unemployed Ph.D. chemists in five years, and then do a couple postdocs to wait out that job in 2025.

    1. Don't be ridiculous, after grad school and 2 postdocs you'll be "too specialized" to get a job outside of academia.

    2. I recall that circa 1985 Gorbachev came up with a program that was named "Housing: 2000" with the idea that by that date every family in the Soviet Union would have a separate apartment. Of course, as we all know by the year 2000 there were no Soviet Union and no Gorbachev. Not much new construction either, but population drop did take the edge of the demand to a degree.

  9. The ACS career consultants are mostly “regular chemists,” not high-level executives and tenured professors.

  10. Anon1141. The career consultants are not really the ones to move ACS policy.

    President: Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    President-elect: Marinda Li Wu is founder and president of Science is Fun!
    Immediate Past President: Nancy B. Jackson is manager of the International Chemical Threat Reduction Department in the Global Security Center at Sandia National Laboratories.
    Director-at-large: Bill Carroll is a vice president of Occidental Chemical Corp.

    Past that is professor, professor, professor, VP, professor, VP, etc.

    The only one who might be considered "regular" is the executive director: Previously serving as the Editor-in-Chief of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN), 2004 marks Ms. Jacobs first year as Executive Director of the American Chemical Society. She worked for C&EN from 1969 until 1972 and returned again in 1993.

    1. Career consultants are not the same as the executive board. Look up John Borchardt, a long-time ACS career consultant. I've met him on a few occasions, and he was a legitimate "regular" bench chemist.

    2. Right, but this is more of a discussion of ACS policy and leadership rather than individual career consultation.

  11. CJ for ACS president 2013!

    Every year I see a list of candidates which are unconnected from the issues which are important to me and my immediate colleagues. I usually end up not voting, because none of the candidates seem appealing.

    CJ, you are very close to these issues. I would vote and tell others to vote for you CJ!

  12. Realistically, I don't think there's much ACS can do to pressure corporations to hire or what not. They would probably have more success doing things to pressure the funding agencies if they so desired. Things like maybe a job-retraining postdoc program or something for imploding fields. I don't know.

    Frankly, I'd just be happy if they just tried to get some better information to inform future students but I would guess that won't ever happen since that survey might tell the universities things they might not want to hear.

    For example surveying corporations on some tangible questions rather than just salary numbers...

    Are there any sub-disciplines or areas where your company see a shortage of qualified chemistry applicants or are all areas oversupplied?

    Pure chemistry jobs seem on the decline; what types of emerging jobs at your company would be appropriate for chemists and what types of non-chemistry skills and/or background do you see as necessary for those jobs that current chemistry students aren't getting?

    What chemistry methods are current students lacking in? What methods are they overtrained in that are becoming obsolete?


    1. But isn't the ACS's job just keep whining for more STEM dollars and government funding to keep America Competitive?

      Maybe if the ACS were like the AMA it'd actually be beneficial to members. You know, control the supply of chemists etc. Anyone with a pulse can get a PhD. Obviously not at a top 10 school, but if you want to go to a school ranked #50, the bar isn't that high...

  13. How about they spend dues they receive on obtaining facts. For example they could obtain the annual wages and unemployment rate of all chemists, not just those that fill out the survey. This should be done by a non-affiliated, third-party group so the results can’t be manipulated. It seems odd to me that a science society doesn’t use well-established methods of polling ect.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20