...So if the scientific workforce, the chemical workforce, and younger members of ACS are predominantly employed outside academia, with many of them in nonlaboratory positions, why are these career paths still referred to as “nontraditional”? I’ll admit, I’m guilty of using this term myself. As an accomplished bench-trained chemist who has actively pursued a career at the interface of science and business, I’ve chosen not to work in a laboratory setting since the completion of my graduate education. I still very much consider myself a chemist, despite having caught myself on occasion telling others that I have followed a “nontraditional path.”
Some of this mind-set is perpetuated by what seems to be misinterpretation of the data. The ChemCensus data* I cited above were preceded by the following statement: “The increasing rate of doctorate degree holders in the chemistry workforce appears to be fueled by the growth of employment opportunities in the academic sector.”
In my opinion, that is flat-out wrong. The reality is that few academic positions are available each year, and institutions train more scientists than there are faculty positions and grant funding to support. The more likely explanation for the numbers seen in the ChemCensus is that chemists who pursue these “nontraditional paths” may (incorrectly) see less value in ACS membership. This may be fueled in part by a sense of nonbelonging—the idea that these nonlaboratory chemists are seen as less of a chemist than their academic counterparts through their continued branding as “nontraditional.”I really liked this piece, in that it struggles with the difficult question of "why does non-academic participation in the American Chemical Society keep dropping?" I'm not sure the 'non-traditional' branding is the reason why, but I think Dr. LaFranzo has a good point, in that ACS feels like an "academia-first" society, especially when ACS has its larg-ish gatherings like National Meetings. But that's just my perception.
But here's my question: if you don't want to call non-academic careers "non-traditional", what would you call them? "Alternative" is similarly pejorative, and most of the rest of the possible terms ('non-bench', 'non-research', careers outside the laboratory, etc) are clunky and expressed in a negative (not this, non-that.) What positive term could be developed? I have no idea, so I'd like to stick to "traditional" and "non-traditional."
So. Here's my pitch. Let's get some data (the ACS Salary Survey should do) for the time period between, say, 1945-1995. We'll categorize the careers that make up 90% of the members as "traditional" and those that are less than 10% of membership "non-traditional." Then, we can compare that to the 'modern' era (1996 until now), and then we can decide what is 'traditional' and 'non-traditional.'
I don't really know what to do about this, especially since 1) people like to categorize themselves and 2) no one wants to look up the data and 3) if myself or someone like myself totted up all the data, no one would pay attention. But it seems to me to be a logical approach to defining What is Traditional.
*"Similarly, results from the 2015 American Chemical Society ChemCensus survey of the chemical workforce showed that 40.4% of respondents reported working in the academic sector."