CHEMISTRY: ENTERING THE NEW AGE WITH "I'S" OPEN
ELI M. PEARCE, ACS PRESIDENT
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..."
Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
The 21st century is certainly upon us. Recent events have cast a shadow on a bright future. None of us--least of all a native New Yorker like me--can recall the image on Sept. 11, 2001, of the destroyed World Trade Center without revulsion and horror. At the same time, these ruins have given rise to a new sense of purpose: uniting us all in a common cause.
The future of the American Chemical Society and of our profession is a bright one. The centrality of chemistry to the advancement of science, engineering, and technology means that we are caretakers of the future. Chemistry and its practitioners can make significant contributions to removing the dark shadow of uncertainty and replacing it with a beacon of light that leads the way to a more stable world. As you and I know, "Chemistry is not the problem. Chemistry is the solution!"
|DYNAMIC DUO Pearce and wife, Judith, look forward to seeing members at events throughout 2002 and beyond.
PHOTO BY PETER CUTTS
During its 125th anniversary in 2001, ACS honored its past. In these challenging times, this very solid past serves as a strong base for the future. The question is, Do we shape the times or do we allow the times to shape us? We have a Strategic Plan (200103) that spells out our goals and directions. What we need is the will and resources to carry these forward.
Recent economic and political events suggest to some that we move conservatively in expending our resources to accomplish our goals (thrusts). I disagree! We have framed an implementation strategy utilizing the three "I's": focusing on the INDIVIDUAL needs of our members, maximizing use of the INTERNET to enable expanded delivery of services, and collaborating with INTERNATIONAL organizations in addressing the complex issues facing us.
ACS is a unique and large volunteer organization that has strong financial reserves and a fine professional staff. Bringing these resources together, with a "can do" perspective, is the challenge for leadership in a world that is moving so rapidly that one cannot afford to hesitate. I have accepted this as a personal challenge!
The results of the recent electronic poll of the membership, commissioned in 2001 by then-ACS president Attila E. Pavlath, serve as a valuable guide to identifying the perceived individual needs of our members and point to future directions for the Society's activities (C&EN, Oct. 22, 2001, pages 64, 65). One obvious message, which has been reaffirmed in my visits to local sections and regional meetings, is that our members are not fully aware of the services available to them. We must all work to ensure that our colleagues, particularly those new to ACS membership, are aware of and take advantage of the myriad of services and opportunities. It is the obligation of all in governance and on staff to identify and support the additional services needed and expected by our members.
Career services and professional development. We must ensure that chemistry or chemical engineering can compete more favorably as the career of choice. Multiple terminations and early retirements send a negative message to those making career choices. Our emphasis on industrial relations through direct interaction with leaders in the chemical industry should be used to create a dialogue about more effective ways to encourage our young people to consider a career in the chemical sciences.
I attended a dinner sponsored by the Society of Chemical Industry at which Dow Chemical's chairman, William S. Stavropoulos, was honored with the Chemical Industry Medal. In his remarks, he pointed out that chemical R&D and its productivity must be revitalized, that chemistry is not a single material industry but is about manipulating molecules to create materials for a broad range of industries, and that "it has a great future." His words serve as a challenge to ACS members to reinforce and spread the message to others in industry, government, and academe that a short-term vision will jeopardize the future. Longer term managed research is a very good business investment!
Today's definition of job security is the ability to get another job. ACS must focus on intensive retraining programs and career tutorials, in concert with our partners in industry and academia. These programs should be delivered in such a way that cost is not a barrier to participation. Our career services offerings have been outstanding and, with JobSpectrum.org and C&EN Online Classifieds in place, have become even better at serving both employees and employers. With the further application of Internet capabilities, these services will become even more accessible.
I have proposed exploration of a process by which all ACS members could be anonymously registered and their skills and knowledge noted to facilitate both job-seeking and hiring efforts. Rather than chemical professionals having to look for new positions after five to six years, we should provide them with the awareness that they are valued and may have other opportunities of their own choosing at any point in their careers.
The independence of chemical professionals is also tied to the issue of portable pensions. ACS must be a stronger advocate for portable pensions! Society seems to be moving in this direction. This represents yet another opportunity for the chemical profession to compete favorably with other technical and scientific professions.
"Chemistry is ... what chemists do!" Chemists tend to define themselves too narrowly. We must educate ourselves, our students, and the general public about who we actually are, what our achievements have been, and how much of an impact we can make on the quality of life. Chemists and chemical engineers are involved in space exploration, biotechnology, telecommunications, energy, health, environment, electronics ... the list is endless.
ACS must continue to support and strengthen our public relations efforts, emphasizing that we are problem solvers and inventors using science, engineering, and technology to derive solutions to societal problems. "We are not the problem; we are the solution!" Like other occupations, chemists also do research, development, manufacturing marketing, sales, and more.
The importance of our communication with the public was brought home recently by Columbia University chemistry professor and former ACS president Ronald Breslow in a guest editorial titled "Not So General Chemistry" (C&EN, July 30, 2001, page 5) . He pointed out that introductory chemistry at any level is a "chance to excite most students about our field" and that "we need to make general chemistry truly general and truly interesting." Not only is this philosophy important as a means of attracting students to chemistry, but it gives those who choose other fields an appreciation of our contributions to human welfare.
The appropriate units of ACS--the Society Committee on Education and the Committee on Professional Training, in particular--should be addressing how "general" general chemistry courses should be. Hopefully, if this is done right, the typical public reaction that I get when I am introduced as a chemist (a silly grin and comment that "it was the most difficult subject I ever took") will change to a pleasant smile and an "aahh" (a sound of appreciation).
A broad definition of chemistry should lead to the redefinition and reintegration of the chemical curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels to reflect the role of the modern chemist in the changing workplace and in society. Discussions of these subjects are under way, but we should be accelerating this into action. Toward this end, a presidential symposium titled "Interdisciplinary Science: Research and Graduate Education" will be presented at the ACS National Meeting in Boston in August 2002.
There is no doubt in my mind that the traditional educational divisions of chemistry are historical artifacts and that if we were to begin all over, chemistry and chemical engineering would look much different. I am searching for a way to redefine these fields, envisioning what the profession might look like if it were reinvented today. Speaking on this subject and considering the narrow breadth and width of current chemical education, I am reminded of Carl Djerassi's wonderful phrasing urging new science and engineering graduates to practice "intellectual polygamy" and "intellectual promiscuity" in this era of rampant overspecialization. (What a wonderful bumper sticker that would make.)
We must communicate better and more creatively. The Publications Division's journals and magazines and Chemical Abstracts Service are the crown jewels of the Society. We must do everything possible to maintain and expand our leadership by increasing investments in people, equipment, and technology. We should seriously explore the transferability of the technical knowledge and capabilities of Internet utilization gained from these activities to our other member services.
My vision is related to expanding thepersonal and gated portals linking members to all of our services, current and future, as well as to their local section and division homes during this year. Our personalizable website should offer valuable content to enhance our members' knowledge.
I fear that we are not progressing rapidly enough to meet our members' expectations. In the area of e-learning, we have made an excellent start. However, we need to make the commitment of resources to expand this effort and ensure that we take advantage of every new technology to broaden the reach of our electronic education efforts. Online education is rapidly becoming a preferred method of learning.
In a century that will become known for Internet-based communication, chemistry.org must become a bookmark on every member's computer. Success can be measured when every chemist realizes that ACS's communications ability makes ACS membership a necessary investment!
Globalization in the broadest sense. This is usually defined in geographic terms as the internationalization of businesses and universities. At the Boston national meeting, a second presidential symposium will focus on globalization from an industrial perspective with an emphasis on R&D. I believe that we do not yet fully understand the implications of globalization on the future of our profession. Exploration and education should give us a clearer vision of the "global" future in order to prepare ourselves and our students to flourish in the changing environment.
The term "global" also must be more expansive, including interdisciplinarity; strong interactions between industry, academia, and government; and partnering with other professional organizations throughout the world. I applaud the signing of bilateral membership agreements between ACS and chemical societies in Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, and Taipei, Taiwan. Education and thinking must be reoriented so that present and future chemists will be better prepared to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities afforded by the global marketplace.
Fortunately, as a nation, we already have broad individual diversity, but more exposure in general to cultural and language understandings is necessary to avoid insularity and to provide a truly international perspective. To achieve this goal, international partnerships, especially as defined in our strategic thrusts, must be expanded. I was impressed by my recent overseas visit to an NSF-ACS workshop on environmental chemistry, held in Slovenia and attended by individuals from throughout Southeastern Europe. This ACS initiative was able to bring together scientists and engineers with common scientific and societal problems to share in their solutions, even while political uncertainties might normally have prevented it.
Partnering with other professional organizations on an interdisciplinary and international basis. We must explore multipronged interactions with other disciplinary societies at home and throughout the world, and it must be done on a member-affordable basis. In an interdisciplinary world, our members should be able to benefit from all of the relevant topical organizations. The Internet again will be a key, but broader additional journal and meeting partnering with such societies must be considered as a viable route to the creation of ideas and expanded knowledge and insights, thus contributing to increased personal value for the member.
Who will do chemistry? Recently, I was impressed by a guest editorial in C&EN (May 21, 2001, page 5) in which Carlos G. Gutierrez, a chemistry professor at California State University, Los Angeles, emphasized the value of intellectual diversity in solving problems by providing a variety of perspectives. I was also impressed by a talk in which William S. Stavropoulos of Dow recognized that success in emerging markets in Asia, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe requires a company to "accept and embrace diversity." I have embraced diversity as a major challenge for my ACS presidency. The viability of the chemical profession with ACS as its primary proponent depends on attracting the best and the brightest. We are doing a poor job generally and in particular with attracting women and minorities.
There are so many other good reasons for diversifying the chemical workforce. (See my Comment, C&EN, Dec. 3, 2001, page 46.) Simply put, from my own personal perspective, it is the right thing to do! The Society must strive to present a more welcoming presence. I plan to sponsor several events celebrating the diversity of chemical practitioners at the Orlando and Boston national meetings. Regional meeting organizers and local section and division officers will be encouraged to develop programs targeted to attract minority and women attendees. Task forces and focus groups will be directed to study and recommend appropriate actions.
Already, I have asked the Committees on Economic & Professional Affairs, on Minority Affairs, on Professional Training, and on Women Chemists to form a work group to examine an ACS role in data gathering and dissemination on how successfully these special populations are being brought into and kept in the pipeline and the career track.
At this time, ACS is also preparing to attract the next generation, the "Millennial Generation," or those born after 1982. Over 76 million strong, they are the first generation to experience female empowerment and racial equality, with one in five having at least one immigrant parent (Neil Howe and William Strauss, "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation"). By their very nature, they are more diverse. This generation also appears to be doers and high achievers, comfortable working in teams. They see scientists and young people as the two groups capable of causing the "most changes for the better in the future."
I support the Society's use of focus groups to learn how we can communicate effectively with this generation about the benefits of a career in chemistry and then take the necessary follow-up actions.
Closer working relationships between local sections and divisions can improve programming and maximize both volunteer time and financial resources. At the 2001 leadership conferences for local section and division officers and at the training conference for regional meeting planners, I encouraged a stronger liaison. As partners, these units should be able to better attract our members to meetings sponsored by ACS. I am pleased that some programming at five regional meetings in 2002 will reflect a local section-division partnership. I am also pleased that the Committees on Divisional Activities and Local Section Activities are jointly exploring further opportunities for collaboration.
We have witnessed the rollout of chemistry.org, our new portal website. The possibilities and capabilities are great, and I will be encouraging efforts to accelerate the application of portal technology, particularly in providing gated communities, discussion groups, and more, for division and local section members. I envision chemistry.org as a tool for recruitment and retention of new members, particularly those younger chemists who have and are growing up with the Internet.
Success for the chemical enterprise in 2002 can be partly defined by the investments for the future in research, technology, and education. ACS, with its Office of Legislative & Government Affairs (OLGA), keeps us informed about government progress in these areas. I have had several opportunities to testify before and meet with congressional leaders and have used these opportunities to encourage support for science research and education.
All ACS members can help with this effort through participation in the Legislative Action Network. It identifies your elected officials, provides information on key issues, and allows you to send a letter or e-mail message to your legislators with a few clicks of your mouse. I urge you to join the network and become an advocate for our profession. Believe me, if 100,000 of our members were actively involved in contacting their congressional representatives, we could have great influence! Congress rarely hears from constituents about science issues.
Currently, we are far from having an overwhelming number of participants. Not being the wizard Harry Potter, I must work diligently to convince you of the merits of becoming involved. Please go to http://www.chemistry.org/government and click on Legislative Action Center. Join NOW!
Become involved in your Society. ACS is you: a large volunteer-driven organization. We face many challenges and have many wonderful opportunities. Your involvement can make the difference. I have tried to outline some of the challenges we face in the profession and in ACS. It is up to us to make this next century of chemistry fulfill the potential that science and technology can bring to all peoples of this world. We can do it--together! Chemistry --"the science of matter--is the science that matters." Let's prove it!
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