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ACS NEWS
October 22, 2001
Volume 79, Number 43
CENEAR 79 43 pp. 65-69
ISSN 0009-2347
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MEMBER VIEWS PROBED
Data from e-poll confirm ACS members are generally positive about the society and services

MICHAEL HEYLIN, C&EN WASHINGTON

Ninety-eight percent of American Chemical Society members would recommend society membership to a colleague. The 93% of them who are at least "somewhat" satisfied with their membership outnumber the 6% who are "not very satisfied" and the 1% "not satisfied at all." More than half, 51%, are either "extremely satisfied" or "very satisfied." Two-thirds believe their membership in ACS is worth the $108 membership fee.

These are some of the central findings from the statistical data generated by an electronic poll of the attitude of ACS members toward their society, conducted earlier this year.

Survey results confirm that the dominant value of ACS to its members is as a source of information--about both chemistry in general and their specialized fields in particular--through its magazines, journals, Chemical Abstracts Service, and meetings.

The results also indicate that, although demographic cohorts of the membership by gender, age, length of membership, nature of employment, highest degree, and domicile (U.S. or elsewhere) can show somewhat different profiles of how they use and benefit from ACS's products and services, they all have an overall supportive attitude toward the society.

The poll accomplishes the following:

  • Measures the involvement of members in the society and their participation in its activities.
  • Quantifies members' attitudes toward the smorgasbord of products and services ACS provides.
  • Explores member perceptions of how ACS performs as an organization.
  • Probes attitudes toward a variety of initiatives and potential shifts in society emphasis.

THE POLL WAS commissioned by ACS President Attila E. Pavlath. About 90,000 members for whom the ACS database had an e-mail address were invited by Pavlath on April 16 to take part in the poll. About 9,000 of the addresses turned out to be redundant.

This left a population of close to 82,000. Of these, 8,009 responded to the poll questionnaire during the three weeks of response time allowed. This 10% response rate was considerably shy of the 45 to 50% response to ACS's well-established annual survey of the salary and employment status of its members. The latter is done both electronically and by mail.

TASK FORCE ASSESSES RESULTS

ACS President Attila E. Pavlath appointed a task force to study and evaluate responses to the electronic poll and to suggest prioritized actions or responses to member needs.

The task force was chaired by Judith Giordan, a former member of the ACS Board of Directors. She presented a summary of the group's findings to the ACS Council and Board at the society's national meeting in Chicago in August.

The executive summary of the final task force report and some accompanying graphics are available on the Web at http://chemistry.org/presidentialpoll. See also Pavlath's ACS Comment in this issue on page 64.

However, a 10% response is considered to be respectable for a solely electronic membership poll. And the more than 8,000 responses are sufficient to ensure a 95% level of confidence in the results, according to Greenfield Online, the Wilton, Conn., electronic survey company that conducted the poll. The poll was managed by the ACS Customer & Administrative Services unit and based on a pilot survey conducted by the ACS California Section in December 2000.

The poll covered all members. It included those residing outside the U.S. as well as student, retired, and emeritus members. The salary survey covers only society members in the domestic workforce. Despite these differences, the demographics of the respondents to the two studies were reasonably consistent.

In both cases, close to 24% were women. The median age was 46 for electronic poll respondents and 45 for the survey. By employer, 55% of respondents to the poll worked for industry, 36% for academia, and 9% elsewhere, mostly government. These numbers compare with 64%, 26%, and 9%, respectively, for respondents to this year's salary survey (C&EN, Aug. 20, page 51). The breakdown by highest degree was 51% with Ph.D.s, 35% with bachelor's degrees, and 14% with master's degrees for the poll. Reflecting the exclusion of student members, 60% of respondents to the salary survey held Ph.D.s, 22% held bachelor's degrees, and 17% held master's degrees.

The employment profile of poll respondents who are in the workforce is somewhat different from that for those responding to this year's salary survey. The 6.6% on postdocs or other fellowships compares with 1.4% in the survey. Also, more poll respondents have part-time jobs--5.1% compared with 2.5%--and more are unemployed--2.4% compared with 1.5%. Therefore, 85.9% of poll respondents, compared with 94.6% of the survey respondents, have full-time jobs. This feature would suggest something of a bias in the poll against the full-time working member.

ANALYZING AND drawing conclusions based on statistical data from any poll should be approached with care.

For example, the readership attitude survey done in connection with the monitoring of C&EN in 1986 raised the question of whether a 63% agree/37% disagree response indicated good things or bad. The answer from an account executive of Chilton Research Services, which had conducted the survey, reads, in part:

"Favorable and unfavorable attitudes usually exist in a continuum. Because any large group of people hold a wide range of viewpoints on almost any subject--be it a magazine, political issue, or perception of a product--it is impossible to please all individuals. A point is reached when almost any change will cause as many, or more, individuals to change their perceptions in a negative direction (i.e., will result in a net increase in the 'disagree' attitude). I personally believe, though I cannot cite scientific evidence to prove this, that this point lies close to the 2-to-1 ratio in most cases. Once two-thirds of a group like something, it will be difficult to make significant change which does not alienate more people than it entrances."

The number of members who would recommend ACS membership to a colleague hovers at very close to 98% for all the subsets of the membership explored by the survey. It holds at this level for women chemists, younger chemists, industrial chemists, and bachelor's degree chemists.

There is some variation in the overall 74%/24% breakdown of those who would "definitely" recommend and those who would do so "with reservations." Older members are the most enthusiastic, with emeritus members split 92% "definitely" and 7% "with reservations." Retired members are at 85%/14%, and members 55 and older are at 80%/18%. There are no meaningful variations by either gender or degree.

The data on overall satisfaction with ACS membership are also very consistent. Except for women, emeritus members, and government-employed members--all at 0.4%--the percentage that are "not satisfied at all" can be rounded off at 1% for all other groups. Similarly, "not very satisfied" scores are either 5% or 6% for all groups except those not residing in the U.S., which is at 4%, and emeritus members, at 3%.

SOME VARIATIONS are seen in the breakdown between those who are "extremely" and "very" satisfied--51% of all respondents, and those who are "somewhat" satisfied--42%. There is again an apparent age correlation with emeritus members, who, it should be noted, are not charged dues, at 75%/22%, and chemists over 55, at 60%/33%. For chemists 18 to 34 years old, it is a less positive 48%/46%, and for those with up to five years of membership, 46%/47%. This response compares with 56%/38% for those who have been members for 21 years or more.

In fact, it is not unexpected that seasoned professionals who have been members of a society for many years would feel somewhat more warmly toward it than do those who are newly joined and still in the early stages of their careers.

The overall 2-to-1 positive response that ACS membership is worth the $108 membership fee also shows some age variation--from 62% "yes" for younger chemists to 73% "yes" for older ones.

Another reflection of the monetary value that members place on ACS comes from a question that asks, on a five-point scale, if ACS is "reasonably priced." Of all respondents, 35% choose "excellent" or "very good"; "good" receives 40%; "fair," 20%; and "poor," 5%. These results would all seem to indicate no general unhappiness with the dues.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents indicate that they pay their own dues; the dues of 31% are paid by their employer. Of industry members, 50% have their dues paid by their employer; of academics, only 10%.

ACCORDING TO poll results, 2% of responders consider themselves to be "extremely" involved in ACS and another 6%, "very" involved. To the extent that the poll results reflect society-wide reality, this outcome translates into a nominal 3,000 or so "extremely" involved members society-wide and about another 9,000 who are "very" involved. In addition, 24%, or 36,000 members, claim they are "somewhat" involved.

Women are as likely to be involved as men. Members with Ph.D.s, of whom 11% are "extremely" or "very" involved, are more active than those without, at about 5%. Also, 13% of academics are so involved. This number compares with 6% of those in industry and 9% of those in government. Such heavy involvement with ACS increases with age--from 5% of those between 18 and 34 to 12% of those 55 or older. As is not unusual for a membership organization, projects at ACS apparently tend to be organized and get done somewhat disproportionately by its more experienced members.

The number of those "not involved at all" hovers at about the 17% level across the membership. Those "not very involved" cluster quite closely around 50%.

As to actual attendance at, or participation in, ACS activities during the year prior to the survey, 25% of poll respondents claim to have attended an ACS national meeting. This number is higher than would be expected from the actual attendance at the fall 2000 and spring 2001 meetings. This finding, in turn, implies that the poll likely has a bias toward the society's more active members. This conclusion would be in line with the possible underrepresentation of full-time working, mostly industrial, members.

Chemists 18 to 34 years old are more likely to have attended a national meeting, 32%, than are those 55 or older, 20%. Also, academics score higher, 34%, than those otherwise employed. This result compares with 27% of government and 19% of industrial chemists.

The poll also shows that 21%, or a nominal 32,000 members, attended a local section meeting during the year. And 11%, or about 17,000, indicate participation in local section programs or committees.

Academics are the most active ACS members. A low 45% of them report no participation in society activities. The least active are industrial chemists, with 62% not participating. Participation does not seem to vary significantly by age, with those not participating at close to 55% for all age groups.

When asked what would cause members to become more active in ACS, 54% indicate they would do so if they had more time; 34%, if the programs were more interesting; and 22%, if they were encouraged by their employer.

HIGH ON THE LIST
Chemical Education, Funding, And Public Image Are Deemed Important

PERCENT WHO SAY IT IS IMPORTANT THAT ACS ...

Provide programs to improve science literacy and ensure quality chemical education--88

Encourage funding for science, engineering, and technology--86

Provide programs to improve public's recognition of chemistry--82

Encourage application of scientific principles to environmental issues--77

Provide programs and activities to facilitate career development--76

Increase role of younger chemists in ACS activities--73

Be world's leading provider/deliverer of chemical information--72

Expand activities at interdisciplinary boundaries of chemistry--67

Expand ACS services to industrial members--55

Encourage role of women, minorities, and the disabled in chemical sciences--54

THE POLL ASKS members to assess the value to them personally of a listing of 21 existing society programs on a six-point scale that includes "extremely," "very," "somewhat," "not very," and "not at all" valuable. The sixth option is "not aware of."

The ranking is dominated by print journals and magazines, with 84% of poll respondents finding them either "extremely" or "very" valuable. And this assessment holds at between 81 and 89% for all demographic cohorts. If the 11% of respondents who find these products "somewhat" valuable are included, a total of 95% of all respondents find them to be of value.

These products draw a very high 55% overall response for "extremely" valuable. For academics, the products are at 64% by this measure, and for 18- to 34-year-olds, at 61%.

The next three ranked services are also information related: Chemical Abstracts Service at 76% for "extremely" plus "very," Web-based journals and magazines at 70%, and meetings and conferences at 69%. Again, the results are reasonably consistent across the membership. One exception is a manifestation of the generational computer gap. The Web-based products post a 79% "extremely" plus "very" valuable rating with 18- to 34-year-olds but a significantly lower 60% for those 55 or older.

Coming in as a strong fifth after the "Big Four" information products is the Employment Clearing House and related career services, with 58% of all respondents rating these activities as "extremely" or "very" valuable. As would be expected, they are of more use to 18- to 34-year-old members, 65%, than to those 55 and older, 51%.

The other 16 programs taper down from a 56% "extremely" plus "very" valuable rating for the society's national awards program to the new and not yet well known industry pavilion, at 17%.

These 16 programs are aimed at particular audiences, such as education for precollege students and teachers; are used only occasionally by individual members, such as continuing education programs; or are of indirect value to members, such as the society's media relations and legislative action activities. The industry pavilion occurs only at one national meeting per year; that might account for the lower awareness.

Even the lower rated of these programs are valuable in some way to somebody. For instance, the ACS Scholars Program, deemed "extremely" or "very" valuable by 31% of respondents, and Project SEED, at 24%, are the society's primary social action programs and contribute to making chemical careers more accessible to minority and disadvantaged young people. And although ACS's insurance programs are near the bottom of the value, ranking 18th out of 21, they protect more than 30,000 society members and their families.

Respondents to the poll give ACS high marks for being professional, knowledgeable, well organized, and reliable. However, they are not quite as enthusiastic about the society being helpful, responsive, and member oriented. In no case are there significant differences among the responses from member subgroups.

On a scale of "excellent," "very good," "good," "fair," and "poor," 96% of respondents rate the society as "good" or better for being both professional and knowledgeable. Reliable comes in at 93%, well organized at 91%, helpful at 85%, responsive at 84%, and member oriented at 82%. These responses all amount to averages for the seven attributes of 89% "good" or better and 11% "fair" or "poor."

The tougher standard of only "excellent" and "very good" shows more variance in these assessments. Professional drops to 76%; knowledgeable, to 74%; well organized and reliable, to 62%; helpful, to 45%; member oriented, to 44%; and responsive, to 43%. These numbers yield an average of 58% for these top two assessments--still markedly in excess of the 11% for "fair" and "poor," the bottom two assessments.

Respondents were asked to assess the importance to them personally of an eclectic selection of seven potential ACS initiatives. They rank expanded efforts on career development and job search as number one, with 76% rating it as "extremely" or "very" important. They are almost as positive about fostering more interaction among academic, industrial, and government chemical professionals, at 72%, and promoting professionalism in the chemical workforce, 69%.

They are less interested in actions more involved with the nitty-gritty of ACS. Only 17% consider developing a new way to set membership dues to be "extremely" or "very" important. Developing a credentialing process for chemical professionals is deemed "extremely" or "very" important by 34%; identifying approaches to retaining members, by 42%; improving society programs for non-Ph.D. members, by 47%; and addressing the supply/demand balance for chemists, by 52%.

When asked the slightly different question of how important it is to them that ACS be active, or more active, in a selection of 10 rather broadly defined good works for chemists and chemistry, respondents give the number one rank to providing programs to improve science literacy and ensure quality chemical education. This function is deemed "extremely" or "very" important by 88%. Ranked almost as high is encouraging science funding, 86%, and providing programs to improve the public's recognition of chemistry, 82%.

At the other end of this scale, providing programs to encourage the greater participation in all aspects of chemistry by women, underrepresented minorities, and the handicapped rates a 54%. Expanding ACS service to industrial members does about the same at 55%.

Ranking in the middle are encouraging application of science to environmental issues, 77%; providing career development programs, 76%; increasing the roles of younger chemists in ACS activities, 73%; being the world's leading provider of chemical information, 72%; and expanding activities at the interdisciplinary boundaries of chemistry, 67%.

All these assessments were made in the absence of consideration of the potential cost of the initiatives.

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