Friday, August 27, 2021

The decline in professional society memberships

Credit: "Bowling Alone", Robert Putnam, 20th anniversary edition
As a part of the ACS Council agenda, the news that between 2015 and 2020, the ACS lost ~12000 industrial members. There's a lot of different explanations, but most folks see it as being a problem of the cost and the value of a membership in the American Chemical Society. 

I'm not particularly interested in rehashing the debate, but I do think it's worthwhile to note that the decline in professional society participation seems to have started in the 1960s, according to Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone." 

I haven't finished reading it (barely started, but I did think this was interesting.) 


  1. Aside from the issue of them being a publishing house and lobbying outfit masquerading as a professional society (which has been thoroughly discussed on here), another issue I see is the demise of companies doing academic-style fundamental science, like Union Carbide, Rohm and Haas, Dupont, or any of the pharma companies that Pfizer ate. I went to a few ACS meetings early in my career, and I remember writing a trip report about talks I attended that may be relevant to my company. If I went to an ACS meeting now, everything would be way too academic for my employer to be interested.

  2. This is certainly not unique to ACS. The same thing is happening to ASQ, for example.

  3. ASQ and ACS are not even in the same galaxy with regards to benefits. I do indeed see that ASQ membership and/or participation in local/regional/state chapters has declined - but ASQ still offers certifications that are worth something. As a hiring manager, if I see an associate with an ASQ CQE, CQM/OE, CQA, LSSGB, LSSBB - that person has invested in their career with tangible skills. A talented LSSGB and certainly a LSSBB can take steps into project management or even consulting with the right chops.

    The only benefit that ACS offers that is even somewhat valuable is the career fair at the meetings. This benefit is somewhat reduced because even if you get admitted for free to the fair and meeting, someone still has to pony up the cost of travel, lodging, food, etc. and will be underwater even with ACS unemployment benefits. This is also assuming that the job market for chemists isn't the shits. ASQ certifications can be paid for by an employer and actually add value.

    What does ACS offer that adds value?

  4. I skipped the March meeting this year as I couldn't afford APS membership!

  5. I was a foreign member of the ACS for about 15 years. As an industrial chemist, I only went to one or two ACS conferences during that time, so the only benefit for me was the subscription to the paper version of C&EN. (Car insurance group rates and the like don't apply outside the US.)

    I do enjoy C&EN quite a bit, but after a while it became hard to justify the continued cost, especially since C&EN is available online (if you know where to look) and I was also paying dues for my home country's professional society, which I'm much more involved with.

    I do also agree with KT's comment of 2021-08-27 that the value proposition of ACS membership is declining as industrial "interest" in the research enterprise declines (which itself has its own root causes, worth exploring elsewhere).

  6. The ACS has become too woke. White male chemists not welcome (but they will take your money).


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