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Comment: Helping members navigate an uncertain economy

by John Gavenonis, chair, ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs
July 23, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 24


Photo of John Gavenonis.
Credit: Christine Brennan-Schmidt
John Gavenonis

The summer of 2023 finds the US economy in an uncertain state with mixed economic signals. The first half of the year saw bank failures, stock market instability, ongoing impacts from the war in Ukraine, and workforce reductions. On the other hand, inflation has fallen from its peak last year and US unemployment remains below 4%. The US Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates to help cool a hot economy, and the Wall Street Journal recently asked, “Where’s the Recession We Were Promised?” The effects of these mixed signals vary across sectors. The chemical industry is not immune, and some firms announced job cuts earlier this year.

These crosscurrents prompt the question: How can chemists navigate their careers through an unsettled economy? Fortunately, the American Chemical Society has tools and resources to help members do just this, and many of these are now more accessible than ever.

Within ACS, the Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA) identifies and monitors the needs of the chemistry workforce. It also develops, coordinates, and oversees the implementation of programs and activities to enhance the economic and professional status of chemistry professionals. To learn about these programs and activities, visit the ACS Careers website ( There, members can find information and tools to support them throughout their careers—whether they are starting a first job, moving to another company or career path, returning to the workforce, navigating an involuntary job transition, or even preparing for retirement. The offerings on the ACS Careers website have grown significantly in the past several years.

ACS currently holds more virtual career consultations than in-person ones at ACS spring or fall meetings.

Career Consultants program. The ACS Career Consultants program is a member-exclusive benefit that provides personalized, one-on-one career advice and coaching. Consultations are available in person during ACS spring and fall meetings and—motivated by the pandemic—virtually. Career consultants are selected in a rigorous review process led by CEPA. The ACS Career Consultants website ( provides biographies and profiles that highlight each consultant’s expertise. The 100-plus consultants have a broad range of backgrounds, experiences, and career longevity, and each has specialized knowledge in various parts of the chemistry enterprise. They help ACS members with résumé reviews, mock interviews, professional social media profiles, and general career advice. In the past several years, CEPA expanded the career consultant corps to include nine international consultants from China, India, and Nigeria; more early-career consultants; and two consultants who are certified retirement coaches. This allows ACS to engage members where they are in their careers in an inclusive way.

Virtual Office Hours. For those not quite ready for personal consultation or who prefer a group environment, ACS Virtual Office Hours offer an opportunity to learn about career development. This program launched in March 2020 as a way to offer pandemic-era career support. Virtual Office Hours are held the first Thursday of each month and consist of a career-related presentation followed by small group networking sessions led by career consultants. Each session features a unique topic, and upcoming themes include “Careers in Government” in August, “the Basics of Building Resilience” in September, and “Skydiving into Retirement” in October. Virtual Office Hours are open to everyone, not just ACS members. Check the website for the full schedule:

More accessible than ever. Before the pandemic, access to the ACS Career Consultants program was available only during ACS spring and fall meetings—meaning it could reach only the 10% of members who attend these events. Expanding the program virtually means that career consultants are accessible online, from any location in the world, throughout the year. It also allows for a better match between the member’s needs and the consultant’s expertise—only about 30 of the consultants are available during each ACS spring and fall meeting.

ACS currently holds more virtual career consultations than in-person ones at ACS spring or fall meetings. In the first half of 2023, there were 183 virtual one-on-one career consultations and 985 Virtual Office Hours attendees. The virtual tools described here and other offerings available at ACS Career Navigator help CEPA achieve its mission to support ACS members in their professional lives.

While the mixed signals in the US economy continue and even experts disagree on whether there will be choppy waters or smooth sailing, ACS has the programs to help members navigate this dynamic environment.

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



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