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August 11, 2003
Volume 81, Number 32
CENEAR 81 32 p. 38
ISSN 0009-2347


ACS COMMENT

SCHEDULING SYMPOSIA NEEDS NEW APPROACH

ELSA REICHMANIS, ACS PRESIDENT

Does this sound familiar? Your work has suddenly involved you in an area of chemistry that's new to you--nanotechnology, computational chemistry, green chemistry. An ACS national meeting is coming up, and you are confident that it will have sessions that will meet your needs. But then you look at the schedule published in C&EN. Four divisions have planned symposia that relate, but they conflict--not only in subject matter, but also in time. You try to plan a schedule that will allow you to attend the most appropriate talks in each. Unfortunately, they are not in adjacent rooms, and some are in different properties. You know that you will miss quite a bit.

I believe we need to examine how we manage the scheduling process for national meetings.
BELL LABS PHOTO
Although our national meetings provide an excellent product, I'm increasingly hearing stories like this from members. Competing, overlapping sessions are one of the reasons I believe we need to examine how we manage the scheduling process for national meetings. The lines between the basic subdisciplines of chemistry have been replaced by overlapping layers of common interest, and the program content should reflect this.

Overlapping symposia are not just a source of frustration. For scientists in industry, it can be a barrier to attendance. I know from personal experience that most industrial chemists need authorization from their companies to attend meetings. That means one must be able to provide a strong argument why attendance will strengthen his or her professional capabilities. The duplication of topics results in a tremendous printed program, making it extremely difficult to scan for the relevant sessions.

The problem of overlapping programs also means that several technical divisions are competing for the same limited pool of expert presenters. Some of the symposia are likely to be much weaker than others. One could ask whether a member would be better served by attending one "supersymposium" that provides the perspectives of a variety of experts on a given topic than by attending four or five individual sessions of varying quality and more limited focus.

I believe we should attempt some structural changes to division programming at society meetings for a more basic reason as well. In my presidential statement (C&EN, Jan. 6, page 2), I wrote that the overarching message I've chosen for 2003 is communication--not only with legislators, the press, and the public at large, but also among ourselves and with our sister disciplines. The recent National Research Council report, "Beyond the Molecular Frontier" (C&EN, March 3, pages 5 and 39), on the challenges and opportunities for chemists and chemical engineers in the 21st century,
reports that research in the future will be increasingly multidisciplinary. The most exciting developments in science and technology are occurring at the interfaces between disciplines. Unfortunately, the current structure of division programming at national meetings hinders, rather than encourages, communication among the different areas of chemistry and across disciplines.

I am aware that tools to address the scheduling challenge have been provided by governance committees and staff--the Program Planning Coordination Conference, the online advance planning information, and the program chairs' lunch at national meetings, for example. But the scheduling challenge seems to be getting worse as each division tries to grab its "piece of the pie" in emerging areas.

What should we try now?

  • First, industrial chemists who have been critical of national meetings need to get more involved. As a former division chair, I know that division programming relies heavily on volunteers. As a member of the program committee, you can help develop topics and linkages with other divisions/societies that will better meet your needs.
  • We should change the way ACS funds are distributed to divisions to provide incentives for cooperation between divisions. The current method is more of a disincentive. Divisions should be rewarded for cosponsoring sessions and thereby reducing the number of competing sessions on a given half day.
  • The Committees on Meetings & Expositions and on Divisional Activities need to become more involved in facilitating the communication process between divisions. And division program chairs and committees need to pay more attention to each other's plans. Programming done in a vacuum cannot be very innovative. The Committee on Science could help with intersociety contacts.

Over the years, divisions, to their credit, have occasionally cosponsored symposia with other scientific societies. This is an excellent way to promote multidisciplinary perspectives. One member survey identified more than 15 other technical organizations as those in which our members are involved. There are many more opportunities for interaction on a regular basis. I would be happy to offer my assistance in inviting one of these groups to cosponsor a symposium at an ACS meeting.

One of the reasons ACS is the largest and most successful scientific society in the world is that we have provided our members with the tools they need to succeed as professionals. By updating the scheduling and content of division programming at national meetings to encourage more cooperation among disciplines, I think we'll help ensure that ACS continues to play this role well into the 21st century.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts, but more important, I encourage you to share them with the chairs of the Committees on Meetings & Expositions and on Divisional Activities and with the program committees of the division(s) to which you belong. And of course, please do volunteer if you can!


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Related Story
Of Members And Muggles: Let's Communicate!
[C&EN, Jan. 6, page 2]

Challenges For Our Future
[C&EN, March 3, page 5]

Taking The Pulse Of Chemical Science
[C&EN, March 3, page 39]

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