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ACS Comment: Opportunities for early-career chemists to develop soft skills and build networks

by Katherine R. Johnson, Chair, ACS Younger Chemists Committee
May 26, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 19


A photo of Katherine Johnson.
Credit: Courtesy of Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson

As we slowly exit the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe 2022 is an opportunity to return to the ground state of a postpandemic world. Early-career chemists have had to adapt to virtual communication for key moments in their career—defending their theses, communicating science, networking, job fairs, and performing analyses. It has also been an exciting time to be an early-career chemist, as bursts of job openings and hirings have altered the industrial job market.

As the world opens up, I encourage rising chemists to focus their efforts on building qualities, such as leadership and soft skills, that will make them stand out. What if you could combine practicing these skills with service and making impactful change in the chemistry community? ACS offers such an opportunity to double dip.

Take advantage of ACS’s online courses, webinars, and virtual workshops—all included in your membership—and become involved within the ACS governance structure. These opportunities can strengthen your leadership skills and offer access to new network connections beyond your current affiliation.

YCC is here to support you on your professional journey.

Participating in ACS governance as a volunteer can be impactful, and many of the groups want younger chemists to join their team because our insights and experiences hold value. Here are five areas of ACS’s governance in which you can get involved:

Become a leader in your local section. The easiest way to gain leadership experience is to participate in your local section. In particular, you will find opportunities to contribute to and participate in hands-on activities. Students and early-career chemists are highly desired as volunteers to support outreach activities like science fairs and chemistry demonstrations. The national Younger Chemists Committee (YCC) also backs local section younger chemist committees (LSYCCs). Through these groups, volunteers and allies plan events for early-career chemists within their local communities. If you don’t have an established YCC in your local section, we can help you start one, and we offer funding toward programming activities. We also help connect LSYCCs via virtual networking sessions to share ideas and encourage LSYCC partnerships. Your passion, perspective, and excitement will be valued by your local section leaders. You will also meet local mentors who can help you navigate your career path.

Become an active member in an ACS technical division. Technical divisions are not just membership add-ons for specialized information but are opportunities to network with scientists in your field. They also offer leadership experience and distribute travel grants and awards. Divisions are the largest contributors to programming at regional and national meetings. If you enjoy attending these meetings and feel that the programming, content, and interactions are valuable, remember that your participation and leadership in a division can strengthen or influence how all other members participate in symposia. You can connect with other division leaders and strengthen your personal network within a specific field of interest.

Run for council. An elected council position as a technical division representative or a local section representative can provide ample opportunities to share your perspective as an early-career chemist and to vote on upcoming ACS bylaw legislation. These roles are crucial for open communication between the greater society and the local sections and technical divisions. Councilors are reelected every 3 years and although there are no specific requirements for volunteer experience, a foundational knowledge of the ACS governance structure would provide the best footing for navigating this position.

Join an ACS committee. ACS committees report to the society and several act as subject-matter experts for a specific constituency of ACS members. For example, the national YCC is comprised of ACS leaders who pledge their service for 1–3 years. Undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and early-career chemists in academia, industry, and small business are all examples of the 30 serving members. As a YCC member, you can gain experience coordinating in-person and virtual programming, awards, social activities, international exchanges, advocacy workshops, and more.

Participate in a Catalyze the Vote webinar. Many of the above opportunities may be time consuming for some early-career chemists. Participating in a Catalyze the Vote webinar may be the easiest way to get involved. The webinars’ ultimate goal is to amplify the voices of young and early-career chemist members during the ACS national election cycles. Every year, YCC hosts a virtual town hall as a way for younger chemists and allies to ask the ACS presidential candidates questions on topics relevant to our generation and career levels and about how they’ll incorporate early-​career chemists into their goals if elected.

Whether you’re just getting started, or are a seasoned leader, YCC is here to support you on your professional journey. Contact YCC at to share your ideas, visit and connect with us on our social media pages: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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