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Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Edgar

We sometimes may take for granted the remarkable enterprises that we call American Chemical Society meetings. With two national meetings, and roughly a half-dozen regional meetings each year, approximately 30,000–40,000 individuals with interest in the central science come together to exchange information, spend time with friends and colleagues, network with others of similar interests, and occasionally even wander over to presentations from unfamiliar fields that broaden their horizons. These meetings powerfully enhance the success of ACS, generating knowledge, enabling career progression, and providing a forum for society governance and for growth and renewal of our members. We should appreciate all that is good about these large-scale, incredibly diverse enterprises while working to have them serve ACS, and society at large, even more effectively. We also work to navigate the pangs and perils that result from the growth of our meetings, such as:

Oral presentation growth.At the spring national meeting in Orlando, Florida, there were 140 simultaneous oral sessions at the peak time. When the Orlando contract was signed in 2011, there were only 85 oral sessions at the peak in that year’s spring meeting. Such rapid growth in oral sessions strains even the largest convention facilities. This challenge increases attendee frustration as session topics progressively overlap with one another. In many cities, insufficient convention center space to accommodate the large number of concurrent oral sessions results in having to offer programming in nearby hotels, which further inconveniences attendees and isolates some divisions from a significant portion of the meeting.

Poster session issues. Often, younger chemists, including those new to the society, present posters. All too often, poster sessions are in the evenings, with few senior scientists in attendance for the young chemists to talk to, and sometimes in locations that hint of Siberia. This doesn’t help support these new attendees, nor is it conducive to their continued attendance, society membership, or membership in divisions of interest.

Industrial participation. The proportions of industrial ACS members and ACS meeting attendees have been declining. Much of this is due to changes in the chemical industry and external financial pressures on the industry. Interplay between academic, industrial, governmental, and entrepreneurial members is an outstanding catalyst for ideas and innovation. But how can it occur if one key membership group is missing?

The ACS Committee on Meetings and Expositions (M&E) has been working to address these and other issues in what we hope you will agree is an integrated fashion, and we solicit your ideas and help. We have worked assiduously to concentrate national meeting programs in a convention center—for example, by moving nontechnical meetings to other sites. Recently we have experimented with multiple simultaneous sessions in large ballrooms; this method was successful in 2018 national meeting trials and has worked well for other societies, but we ran into unexpected issues in Orlando this spring that we will address before we do any further experiments. We are making progress, and we wonder whether greater progress might be made if divisions returned to a more selective approach to approving abstracts for oral presentations, thereby creating more posters and fewer oral sessions. We know this is a complex issue. What are your thoughts?

As noted above, we have opportunities to enhance poster sessions. A task force from the Younger Chemists, Divisional Activities, and M&E Committees has just finished its work, recommending that we look at new presentation technologies, better ways to integrate oral and poster sessions, and other solutions that will make ACS poster sessions more attractive to our members, especially those new to ACS meetings and the society. In Orlando, Sci-Mix was more energized than in recent years. To further enhance poster session culture and attractiveness, we will seek to implement the task force’s suggestions.

The M&E Committee is considering several experiments for upcoming meetings. What are your thoughts on the following?

What if we stopped oral sessions at 11:00 a.m. each day and adjourned to the exhibition hall for 2 h of poster sessions?

What if each day covered a different set of topics?

What if there were some refreshments in the exhibition hall, simultaneously enhancing the poster session’s attractiveness and solving the ever-knotty problem of how to sneak out and get lunch from crowded venues in the short time between morning and afternoon oral sessions?

We are also seeking to enrich the attractiveness of ACS meetings to industrial members. One option is to enhance the exhibition hall with additional workshops, events, and more creative ways to create foot traffic. Early feedback from exhibitors indicates that these measures are working well, and of course, greater integration with poster sessions would help, too. Another opportunity is to involve more industrial members in regional meetings, and the M&E Committee’s regional meetings subcommittee is working hard to enhance industrial participation in regional meetings.

Finally, we note that the ACS Board of Directors is thinking about the future of ACS meetings from the most fundamental perspective. Board chair John Adams will soon charter a task force with broad remit to think about the future of ACS meetings, including their purpose, frequency, format, and themes. M&E will be represented on that task force and looks forward to helping implement its findings. We cherish your feedback on all topics having to do with our goal of making ACS meetings better in every respect. Please contact us at M&E@acs.org with your thoughts.

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

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