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Comment: It takes a village to build a career

by Angela K. Wilson, ACS President
December 16, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 44


Angela Wilson.
Credit: Harley J. Seely
Angela Wilson

As we approach the end of 2022, I feel a great sense of gratitude for the trajectory that I began in 1989, when I first became a member of ACS. For students at that time, joining ACS was the first step into our profession, whether we were considering careers in medicine, chemical engineering, or chemistry. Little did we know at the time that the network we were unfolding was so immense and that we were opening up a lifetime of career opportunities, collaborations, and friendships.

Throughout job changes, relocations, and professional ups and downs, ACS has been the constant. By joining local sections, I have gotten to know new places quickly and have gained an immeasurable understanding of chemical science across sectors. ACS divisions have provided a mainstay group of colleagues, regardless of my locale. International ACS colleagues have opened doors for me for global engagement. Combined, these groups have given a great richness to my career.

As I look back, every chance that I have had can be attributed to my ACS network and to the continuous skill building the society has provided. I went from being place-bound, working as an adjunct professor nearly for free, and leaving the field temporarily early in my career to having opportunities such as editorships, awards, the role of National Science Foundation division director of chemistry, my present position at Michigan State University, and my ACS presidency—all thanks to ACS.

I cannot imagine going through a career without the benefits of ACS. To me, such a choice is akin to showing up alone to a football or soccer game without a uniform or proper equipment and playing against a full team. We should go through our careers with the benefit of a coach to encourage us, a team with a great set of various skills to draw on, spectators to cheer us on and celebrate our successes, and equipment to strengthen us in our efforts. ACS provides all this—the mentorship, the collaborators, the large network of members, and significant and valuable resources.

I urge every member to share about ACS with colleagues, students, and others with an interest in the chemical sciences, regardless of career or educational pathway. The tiered membership system, which includes a free Community Associate option, provides an easy in for all. A bigger network expands opportunities for all of us and adds further richness to our careers. It also helps demonstrate to the world the importance of the chemical enterprise as, together, we move into a transformational age of chemistry.

I have been privileged to serve as ACS president this year, with the wonderful opportunity to meet members around the world and get to know some of the amazing ACS staff of almost 2,000 people. I have enjoyed serving on the ACS Board of Directors, a dedicated group of colleagues who work hand in hand to serve the society. I have been able to participate in celebrations of local section anniversaries, many different awards, and National Historic Chemical Landmarks celebrations (see page 42), and to engage in discussions with leaders of local sections and international chapters about their challenges and opportunities. I have had the chance to recognize some of our US and international colleagues—including those from companies, universities, and the government—for their volunteer service, their science, and their teams’ science. I have met remarkable emerging leaders in the chemical sciences. Meeting them has given me confidence about the future of our field.

I cannot imagine going through a career without the benefits of ACS.

Every leader has a team. I am grateful to the unsung heroes with whom I have had the privilege to work: the ACS staff who have supported me in my leadership role; the staff of the Office of the Secretary, who have provided valuable support and insight; the international team, which has done a great job in our engagement with ACS international chapters; the teams at CAS and ACS Publications, which ensure that high-quality science and scientific information is at the forefront of our organization; the Global Government Affairs, Alliances, and Outreach staff, who ensure that the voice of the chemical enterprise and ACS is heard; the Executive Leadership Team, which provided dynamic leadership for membership, meetings, communications, and business operations, to name only several of its many functions; the Science Outreach team, whose impact and reach to the public and next-generation workforce is vital; the C&EN team, which keeps us all informed about happenings across the chemical enterprise; and the roughly 800 governance committee volunteers and thousands of division and local section volunteers who drive our programs, direction, and impact.

I thank my research group—graduate students and postdoctoral fellows—who have stood by me patiently this year, understanding my ACS time investments. And I thank my colleagues at Michigan State University for their understanding and support.

It truly takes a village to build a career. For me, 2022 has been a wonderful year, and I thank so many of you for being a part of it, a part of my career, and such an important part of my life.

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



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