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ACS Comments

December 4, 2006
Volume 84, Number 49
p. 86

What Do You Think?

Dennis Chamot, ACS Director-At-Large

I write this comment shortly after being informed that I have been elected to my third, and final, term on the board of directors. This welcome news has set me both to reminisce and to look toward the future, and I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.

There was a time—through much of its 130-year history, in fact—when ACS was essentially a pure scientific society, with most activities related to scientific and technical information exchange and the education of the next generation of practitioners. Interest in having the society move further to include concern for chemists as professional workers in various organizational settings began to gather steam with Alan Nixon's election as ACS president three decades ago. His campaign slogan, "The first responsibility of the ACS is to its members," resonated strongly with younger chemists such as myself, particularly as the country was going through some serious economic difficulties at the time and job insecurity was widespread.

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If we focus on our members, current and future, on their needs and concerns, we will automatically concentrate on doing just those things that will ensure the continued health of and high regard for our society.

It has been satisfying to see the creation and continued expansion of direct services for individual members over the years, some of which I was personally involved with. It is clear that ACS is a much broader organization than it was. With, for example, such active groups as the Council Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs, the Council Membership Affairs Committee, the Board Committee on Professional & Member Relations, and the ACS Member Insurance Trust overseeing a large variety of member services provided by ACS staff—employment and career management services and products, résumé reviews, salary surveys, personal insurance plans, Professional Employment Guidelines, investment instruments, and more—ACS today is much more than just a scientific society. It deals with a full range of issues of concern to individual members throughout their student years, their working lives, and into retirement.

By the way, these advances did not come easily or quickly. See, for example, the chapter on professionalism in "The American Chemical Society at 125. A Recent History 1976-2001" (published by ACS in 2002).

Today, we have a society that, indeed, focuses on the interests and needs of its members while, at the same time, producing scientific information and information tools of value to the world. What of the future? Where should we be aiming to be three decades from now?

I firmly believe, with all of the change we have seen in the world and the trends that are already visible, that Nixon's advice is still good guidance. What makes us strong, vital, and flexible is the participation and support of our members, supported by a very capable staff. Our members want world-class journals and excellent meetings, but they also want to have the society help them with their personal professional needs. They seek excellent academic training, but they also want the society to be active in educating members of Congress. They want easier collaboration with scientists around the world, but they also recognize the need for a national society that will push their interests with the U.S. government. (For example, the ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs counts over 12,000 members registered in the ACS Legislative Action Network, and that number is growing.)

We need to preserve and enhance member involvement in the future, and that means continuing to regard ACS as primarily a professional membership organization serving the needs of chemical professionals, broadly defined. We need to make ACS more attractive to scientists who work in areas dependent upon chemistry and chemical reasoning who may not call themselves chemists-colleagues who work in such areas as materials science, molecular biology, pharmacology, imaging technologies, geology, and so on. We need to make the society a more welcoming place for chemical professionals who do not have Ph.D.s, especially those who are employed in industrial firms. We need to keep up with developments in electronic communications and Internet technologies (or whatever they will be called in the future). We need to continue to develop associations with scientific organizations around the world.

If we focus on our members, current and future, on their needs and concerns, we will automatically concentrate on doing just those things that will ensure the continued health of and high regard for our society. And in so doing, we will also support science for the benefit of the world.

All of this would be somewhat Pollyannaish if we did not go further and develop specific plans and budgets. That's exactly the task that now faces us, and some key decisions have to be made up front. Should we simply look for new sources of revenue to support growing programs, thus also continuing to diminish the relative size of membership programs versus the organization as a whole? Should we concentrate so strongly on member recruitment that we lose sight of either the professional aspect or the national focus of our membership?

These and other important questions will be debated. I would very much like to hear your views. I can be reached directly at dennischamot@yahoo.com.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.