IT'S A GREAT TIME TO BE A TECHNICIAN IN ACS
D. RICHARD COBB, CHAIR, COMMITTEE ON TECHNICIAN AFFAIRS
Less than a decade ago, a key American Chemical Society figure was discussing the large technician workforce in the U.S. That leader then asked a key Division of Chemical Technicians member what it would take to get those technicians involved in ACS. The answer came back, "Allow people with two-year degrees to become full members." The leader's response: "That would never happen." One thing I can rely on now is that, within the halls of industry or the walls of ACS, there is nothing more challenging than telling a technician that "it cannot be done!"
On Aug. 29, 2001, by unanimous ACS Council approval, the "never" happened, and ACS applicants with associates degrees or equivalent and five years of chemical work experience were welcomed as full members. And so the doors of ACS have been swung open wide for technician participation.
Technicians now have more opportunities to become strong voices within ACS local sections, divisions, and committees than ever before.
Technicians now have more opportunities to become strong voices within ACS local sections, divisions, and committees than ever before. In 2001, technicians were nominated for the Council Policy Committee and the Committee on Committees for the first time.
An arrray of National Science Foundation programs has been established to help develop sound chemical technology and environmental education programs. We have also become aware of the need to welcome into the fold the many chemical-based process technicians in the country.
Technicians are now winning various ACS awards for the first time, and they are being recognized as the "benchtop chemists of today."
ACS committees and task forces now seek out technicians--perhaps partly due to their bureaucratic inexperience and willingness to speak up. ACS national leadership has opened up to technicians, and we applaud them for their efforts. We are also appreciative of the endless efforts by ACS professional staff, who have made "techs" feel welcome and have given us great guidance.
Quietly, behind the scenes, an alliance has formed among technicians, women chemists, and minority chemists--all of whom have fought for years for fair recognition of their contributions to science. Yet we should never receive privileges or recognition just because we are technicians. Privileges need to be earned on the basis of merit, because tokenism is never a substitute for real opportunity.
Yes, the doors of opportunity within ACS have swung wide open as never before. It is not just a fantasy to think of a day when a technician might sit on the ACS Board of Directors or even in the chair of the presidency. Opportunities are abundant both for technicians starting their careers today and for those who are looking to enhance their current careers. And all of this is good.
Is there still more to do? Of course there is. We need to work to establish the following:
- Establishing leadership academies for future leaders from local section affiliate groups and committees--preferably to be offered at regional meetings.
- Setting term limits for all elected and appointed positions so that governance opportunities exist for more members and we can ensure that there will be a flow of fresh leadership for ACS into the future.
- Listening to the needs of all members and giving them what they want--not what we want them to have.
Do we still have problems? Sure we do. There are still some inherent barriers that separate local sections from divisions, national from local, members from staff, chemists from technicians, majority from minority, young from old, and governance from membership. But in all cases, we have proven that we can make a difference if we are willing.
And it is vital that we listen to our members. The recent presidential poll is a good example of members telling us what is important to them. And often that does not match the programs we are offering. I am reminded of the story of a king who, in celebrating the birth of his only son, asked the royal gardener to begin cultivating the most beautiful flower in the world for the day when his son would bring home his bride. The gardener chose the most regal of flowers, the rose. For years, that gardener cross-pollinated and cultivated until he came forth with the most beautiful bloom--a rainbow rose. On the day of the wedding, the newlyweds entered the royal garden and the queen-to-be was asked to select her favorite blossom. To the shock of this now old gardener, she came forth with an ordinary but majestic red rose. For you see, she was blind, and she found the one flaw in the rainbow rose. All of the crossbreeding had taken away its scent. We need to make sure we do not offer rainbow solutions to our members who may be seeking basic, yet majestic, programs and opportunities to grow professionally.
The world's events this past year have indeed brought us closer together as a people, and the challenge now for technicians is to take advantage of the opportunities that have been given to us. The challenge to the whole ACS is to cultivate the unity and the needs of our entire "professional family" into the future.
My fellow technicians, that future is ours!
ACS Comments are available online at http://pubs.acs.org/cen/html/acscomments.html.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS committee.