Judith C. “Judy” Giordan is the 2023 American Chemical Society president. She recently spoke with C&EN about her plans to enhance ACS support for members. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What initially piqued your interest in chemistry?
I grew up during the Cold War in the ’50s and ’60s. We used to hide under our desks every day during air-raid drills. I felt that if I didn’t want this to happen in the future, I should try to fix it. I started out with the idea of helping the world as a nuclear physicist—not that I had any idea what that was. As time went on, I became fascinated with how things were made. At some point, I realized everything is composed of atoms. And that’s when my love of chemistry started.
After earning your PhD, what drew you to industry?
I went to the University of Maryland. Upon completing my PhD, I was advised to apply for academic positions, but I realized two things. Number one: I did not want to do science solely for the sake of learning something new. I wanted to solve problems. And number two: back then, many of the positions for which I applied were held by women who had not been granted tenure. Why would I be any different? I was not a better chemist than they were. After reflection, I realized I wanted to solve problems and provide solutions in the form of products people could use and enjoy.
What drives you? What do you want to accomplish?
My goal is to help individual scientists and engineers, as well as organizations, embrace their ability to contribute in the manner of their choosing. This means all of us should fully embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR) and its impact on our relationships as well as our science. I also want to ensure that scientists and engineers have the skills to contribute innovative and sustainable solutions for the challenges of the 21st century. These skills will be critical for the global community and can help increase the trust of and respect for the work that we do as scientists.
How did you spend your year as president-elect?
I have been involved in many initiatives with a great team of fellow ACS volunteers and staff. One important focus was to address the public’s declining trust in science and scientists. In the past, chemistry and science in general were trusted and believed in, and even if people didn’t understand the nuances of the science, they at least believed scientists were not out to harm them or the planet. Recent data from the Pew Charitable Trusts and other organizations have indicated that we, as a society, have entered a period when people are not sure who or what they should trust, and they often embrace as fact any belief that resonates with their own perception and intuition.
My aim is to provide our members with strategies and skills to engage in constructive dialogues with nonscientists—friends, neighbors, family members—who might be skeptical of science. Skills that employ humor and empathy to help us listen to people’s concerns and questions. Even if you’re not thrilled with what they’re saying, listen so you can understand where they are coming from. Try to see science from their perspective, share other options, and help them trust you. Trust in science can best happen when there is trust in the person talking about it.
I am honored that ACS Board of Directors chair Paul Jagodzinski and I are teammates on this. We had a kickoff event at the ACS Fall 2022 meeting in Chicago with a virtual panel of four young scientists and engineers who are known and respected science communicators. Stephanie Castillo, Alex Dainis, Jessie Hanson, and Maynard Okereke spoke about trust in science and scientists and how to talk with people about science. Now we’re taking the next step with this initiative and working with them to develop opportunities for ACS member participation. We’ll roll them out in 2023.
What other initiatives did you work on as president-elect?
I provided seven neXus Regional Meeting Grants to help to help bring together ACS members and others from academia, industry, the venture community, and government labs to address a regionally relevant market or technical problem. The aim was to foster collaboration to make progress in solving market or technical problems in their regions.
Another action I took to address market-related, chemistry-intensive challenges was with the kickoff of the Chemistry Virtual Value Chain series on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Thanks to the ACS Divisions of Energy and Fuels, Business Development and Management, Small Chemical Businesses, and Professional Relations, there was a very well-attended three-part webinar series that addressed market needs, technology, regulatory issues, and careers, all within the SAF market. I hope to do more of this in 2023 and am looking forward to working with divisions to determine the next important topic.
An additional major effort is the Local Section Activities Committee virtual speaker service that will roll out this month. Wherever you are in the world and whatever science you are doing, if you are a member of ACS and want to share your science with local sections or international chapters, we want you to be able to give a talk, whether it’s virtual or face to face. And we want to support local sections and international chapters in scheduling you to speak.
To support industry membership, I am honored to have been invited by ACS Board member Wayne E. Jones to cosponsor the formation of an advisory board of commercial scientists. The advisory board will work to better define important topics, including why ACS wants industrial members and who embodies an industrial member in the 21st century. We want to be mindful and respectful of diversity among these members. For instance, not all people in start-ups consider themselves part of the chemical industry, yet they are key players in commercial science. Also, the ability to participate in ACS may differ with a person’s position in an organization or the type of organization. And industrial members in different countries may have different needs. We want to be inclusive and bring a variety of thoughts and ideas to ensure that whatever we do, ACS knows why we want commercial members and what we can offer them.
In fact, I endeavor to do any work I undertake with an eye to inclusion and diversity. There’s not just one program. It’s in the DNA of everything we do—the topics, the speakers, the perspectives. It’s part and parcel of every initiative, every symposium, every advisory board, every discussion. I am always asking myself, How do we ensure we include a global perspective? How can we make sure we’re getting diverse representatives? As a simple example, I met a postdoctoral ACS member at the Western Regional Meeting who put together a speaker series for chemists with disabilities, and he wanted to know how to involve the Committee on Chemists with Disabilities. We were able to link him with the right people. To be part of the ACS presidential succession means listening, hearing, and taking action on member needs and not just talking about lofty goals.
What else would you like to accomplish during your time in the presidential succession?
I’ll continue the initiatives I’ve already discussed. And I would like to accomplish a few other things. I want to help all ACS members, wherever you sit—geographically, in your career, and in your chosen field—to be more aware of your value and importance to chemistry. When I consider the combined impact of our volunteers, I like to say that “one plus one plus one can make a million.” As an ACS member, you can work together with other volunteers to make chemistry greater and to help your own career, regardless of who you are. You bring value not only by giving talks at meetings but also by participating locally, being involved in divisions, having ideas, and reaching out to ACS to see if we can bring those ideas to life. And I want to help with that.
That includes helping to bring the successes of the ACS Strategic Plan to our members. So for spring and fall ACS meetings, we are putting together sessions about the value of being an ACS member, including outcomes of the strategic plan and how members can get involved. I am honored that a team including members of the ACS Board, ACS Strategic Planning Committee, Committee on Membership Affairs, Committee on Local Section Activities, many divisions, and ACS staff are working with me to develop the most impactful programming possible.
Stay tuned. Thanks to working with the Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group (MPPG) of the Divisional Activities Committee, and in alignment with the 2023 meeting themes and MPPG theme leads, we already have 26 presidential or president-recommended symposia planned for the spring ACS meeting in Indianapolis and 20 for the fall meeting in San Francisco. And I am working with the Committee on Meetings and Expositions to ensure the best access to our meetings so all can participate, whether in person or virtually.
You discussed how you promote ACS’s core values and goals of DEIR. How have these issues affected you personally?
Those of us who have grown up in the chemistry enterprise have our share of stories here. I am no different. For each of us, some of those stories include being a first at something. But I learned early on—what matters is not being a first at anything. It is doing all you can to ensure others have fewer obstacles to achievement. What matters is getting the job done, taking care of people, and making sure that they all feel that they can contribute. As leaders—and we are all leaders—our job is to do everything we can to create a rising tide that lifts all boats. Our job is not to dream about our own glory. It’s to be the wind in the sails of our organizations. It’s to be the support structure that allows people to succeed, regardless of who they are and regardless of what their background is.
In addition to industry, you have worked in academia and the world of start-ups. Can you talk about those experiences?
I’ve never been a tenure-track professor, but I’ve been a high school teacher, a professor of practice, a visiting professor, and a member on many academic advisory boards.
I’m proud to be a cofounder of the Chemical Angel Network, an investment group that was established to provide financial capital and mentorship to early-stage chemistry start-up companies. I also founded the company ecosVC. Our team works with universities and business accelerators to help scientists and engineers inform their research by assessing market need and potentially transforming that research into commercial products. We want students to not only learn science but also learn the process of developing a business case, business model, and go-to-market plan—regardless of their career path.
Credit: Courtesy of Judith B. Giordan
Judith C. Giordan and her husband, Lawrence B. Friedman, at the Grand Canyon.
Judith C. “Judy” Giordan is vice president and managing director of ecosVC, which inspires science, technology, engineering, and mathematics researchers at universities, companies, national laboratories, and accelerators to become innovators and bring products to market. She is also a cofounder of the Chemical Angel Network, which connects chemistry start-ups with seed-stage funding.
After earning a BS in chemistry and environmental science in 1975 from Rutgers University and a PhD in chemistry in 1980 from the University of Maryland, College Park, Giordan became an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral researcher at Goethe University.
Giordan subsequently took a position at Polaroid, where she worked as a senior scientist and program leader. At Henkel Corporation, she was vice president of corporate R&D. After Henkel, she became global vice president of R&D for PepsiCola and next joined International Flavors & Fragrances, where she served as corporate vice president, chief technology officer, and global director of R&D.
Other roles she has held include professor of practice at the University of Southern Mississippi and at Oregon State University, program officer at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), member of the NSF’s Math and Physical Sciences Advisory Board, and chair and member of the NSF’s Alan T. Waterman Award committee. She has authored more than 200 articles about entrepreneurship, career development and leadership, intellectual property monetization, market and operational strategy development and implementation, diversity, polymer chemistry, flavor and fragrance technology, and electron spectroscopy.
Giordan and her husband, Lawrence B. “Larry” Friedman, have been married 38 years. Friedman, who has held senior management and scientific positions in both university and industrial settings, has been an ACS member for more than 60 years.
Giordan has been an ACS member since 1977 and has served in numerous roles in the society, including as a councilor and as a member of the board of directors, Board Committee on Corporation Associates, Committee on Public Affairs and Public Relations, Women Chemists Committee, and Society Committee on Publications. She is an ACS fellow; recipient of the society’s Francis P. Garvan–John M. Olin Medal, which honors distinguished service to chemistry by women chemists; and recipient of the Henry F. Whalen Jr. Award for Excellence in Business Development and Management in the Chemical Enterprise from the Division of Business Development and Management.
What are you proudest of in your life and why?
There is no one thing. I think pride is something you build or lose every day with the ability to speak with people and care about people. Everything I do has a focus on what I can do better. How can I serve the highest good of people and the planet? How can science be the best it can be, and how can we make it manifest in the world? How do we involve the most people possible who have the skills to contribute so that we can all have a greater life? It’s not only the science or only the commercial aspect. It’s how to create that rising tide to lift all boats; it’s a system, a process. And how can I enable that for the greater good?
What might readers be intrigued to learn about you?
People who know me often think I’m an extrovert. I’m really an introvert. My mother was a speech therapist and a teacher of public speaking. As a child, I was the teacher’s kid, overweight, and smart, and it was very lonely to be that. I just didn’t want to talk to people. But my wonderful mother helped me to gain confidence and become more outgoing. I learned how to be more expressive and upbeat. That said, as an introvert, it can be tiring.
To be the service leader I try to be, or the helper or the teammate that I want to be, I try to match my style to the people I’m with. I’m always true to my values, but if someone likes a lot of data, I give them data. If someone likes to drive to closure, I help them get there. That can be exhausting when you’re an introvert, so sometimes I really want to go sit in the corner. Sometimes I find I need to nicely excuse myself. It’s not because I’m upset or being snarky. It’s that I need some alone time to recharge.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
As I said earlier, one plus one plus one can make a million. There’s more to being an ACS member than the science; it’s more than giving a talk. It’s listening to and talking with others. It’s being together and helping the community of science—and scientists—feel bigger, feel stronger, feel better in what can be a tough time. I hope all our members feel that way. Through ACS, you can create a family that gets you through the good times and the bad times.
How can readers contact you?
Through my ACS email at email@example.com. I hope all members want to get involved with the efforts we are sponsoring. Please let me know what you think is important about ACS and your membership.
Sophie Rovner is a senior science writer at ACS.