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ACS professional development: Past, present and future

by Wayne E. Jones Jr, Director-at-Large and Allison A. Campbell, ACS Past President
August 24, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 33


Photo of Wayne Jones.
Credit: Courtesy of Wayne E. Jones jr.
Wayne E. Jones Jr.

Among the core values of the American Chemical Society is a focus on its members, as well as professionalism, safety, and ethics. To demonstrate its commitment to these two core values, the ACS Board of Directors has established a task force to consider professional development within the society.

Photo of Allison Campbell.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Allison Campbell

The ACS NextGen Leadership Task Force has had the pleasure of leading conversations on how ACS can assist its members on their development as individuals, professionals, and ACS volunteers. This includes developing skills in leading others, or managing oneself through a variety of technical or volunteer roles. We have been collecting insights from members, governance, and staff across the organization. It is clear from these conversations that providing learning and training services or products to our members that aids them professionally is central to who we are as a society and, more importantly, to the future of the chemical enterprise.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the rollout of the ACS Leadership Development System, which is overseen by the ACS Leadership Advisory Board. Using research-based leadership characteristics that differentiate outstanding leaders from mediocre leaders in various employment sectors, ACS developed 17 leadership courses, which have since been completed by thousands of chemical scientists. Another outcome of the Leadership Development System has been the combined Leadership Institute, an invitation-only annual training conference that supports our local sections, divisions, committees, and aspiring ACS leaders.

As we celebrate this milestone, it is an appropriate time to reflect on how we might enhance our current ACS leadership program and look to the future. An examination of current ACS programming and member benefits demonstrates that we have a plethora of professional development activities beyond the courses offered through the Leadership Development System. The Career Navigator, ACS On Campus, national and regional meetings, and new efforts by ACS Publications, Chemical Abstracts Service, Membership and Society Services, the Education Division, and Scientific Advancement have resulted in a menu of over 60 different professional development programs currently available across the society. There are also a variety of new activities being proposed that target international members, younger chemists, industrial chemists, and new faculty.

From developing personal skills, to managing their career, to learning to lead others in their organization, we want all ACS members to achieve professional success.

If we look at national research in the area of professional and leadership development, there are many examples that highlight why it is in the best interest of a professional society to provide its membership with critical skills that aid them in their growth and development. The task force has examined some of those efforts and developed a rubric that combines personal professional development with leadership skills. The goal of these would be to help chemists from early stages of their training through mid-career and beyond to become successful chemical professionals. We are also seeking to ensure that ACS is a go-to resource for those who are seeking a career transition or in need of training to develop within their current role.

We need your help to plan the most successful path forward. During the ACS Board open meeting at the ACS national meeting held in San Diego, we hosted a conversation with ACS members on critical leadership skills needed for the future and how ACS can help to provide them. This conversation and your input can help us to complete a gap analysis that will map current member needs with the existing resources across the ACS enterprise. While many areas of professional and leadership development have been addressed, new opportunities abound. You can provide your thoughts on this topic by completing the survey at

The success of the ACS lies in the fact that it is a member-focused organization. Working together, we seek to define a vision for professional and leadership development that will help all of our members. From developing personal skills, to managing their career, to learning to lead others in their organization, we want all ACS members to achieve professional success.

To provide additional feedback on the future of professional and leadership development for chemical scientists, email us at

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


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