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Preparing for professional training in the time of a pandemic

by Edgar A. Arriaga, Chair, Committee on Professional Training
March 27, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 12


This is a photo of Edgar Arriaga.
Credit: Courtesy of Edgar Arriaga
Edgar Arriaga

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is bringing uncertainty and a challenge to our academic institutions to accomplish their missions. Avoiding group gatherings and increasing social distance have made us move the classroom and laboratories into virtual spaces. Many institutions have reached out to the American Chemical Society wondering how this shift will affect their approval status. Others may be wondering about the short- and long-term effects on the ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) operations. We are exploring answers and share some of them below.

Virtual instruction and student certification. CPT would like to assure institutions that their status as an approved program will not be affected by the use of virtual instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, department chairs can still certify students who were on the path to completing the approved curriculum even if those students were not able to complete the coursework because of the move to virtual instruction. CPT will continue working with the community to address any other adjustments needed by ACS-approved programs. Our concern is for the health and safety of students, staff, and faculty at approved institutions.

Committee operations. Although the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia has been canceled, CPT continues to operate virtually. CPT is meeting virtually with institutions applying for ACS approval, is continuing to review periodic reports prepared by the approximately 700 currently approved programs, and will continue revising the 2015 ACS Guidelines and Evaluation Procedures for Bachelor’s Degree Programs. CPT anticipates that it will resume face-to-face operations at the ACS national meeting in San Francisco in August and will continue providing updates through its website at, as well as through open communication with its constituents.

The committee has approved restructuring the guidelines to separate its components into three categories.

Guideline revisions. The process for revising the ACS Guidelines and Evaluation Procedures for Bachelor’s Degree Programs occurs approximately every 7 years. It has been driven by the need to train and prepare chemists to meet and excel in their professional careers and the recognition that the one-size-fits-all paradigm is inadequate and that a flexible set of standards that promotes and rewards innovation for all sizes and types of institutions is necessary. CPT is conducting an objective review by requesting feedback from and engagement with the community through town hall meetings (face to face and virtual), short surveys on our website (, and open communication with our constituents. We need your input. Please check CPT’s website for announcements of town hall meetings, links to surveys, and events in the upcoming months.

Structural changes to the guidelines. The committee has approved restructuring the guidelines to separate its components into three categories: “essential requirements,” which must be met in order to receive ACS approval; “normal expectations,” which are experiences that enhance the educational programs; and “markers of excellence,” which represent aspirational goals in innovation in education.

To obtain and maintain ACS approval, programs must meet the essential requirements in the guidelines. Examples of these items are those that include the word “must” in the guidelines. As an example, there must be at least five full-time permanent faculty members wholly dedicated to the chemistry program and the institution must be accredited by the regional accrediting body. Student laboratory experiences must include at least four of the five subdisciplines (analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, physical).

Because an ACS-approved program pursues excellence in undergraduate education, such programs are expected to meet some, if not most, of the normal expectations. The goal with this category is to empower institutions to use the guidelines as a lever for change and improvement of their programs. Examples of these items are those that include the word “should” in the current guidelines. As an example, the number of support staff should be sufficient to allow faculty members to devote time to academic and scholarly activities and approved programs should be aware of educational backgrounds and challenges facing transfer students.

Aspirational goals for programs are not explicitly articulated in the current guidelines. Some of these markers of excellence are part of supplemental documents found on the CPT website. The goal is to drive improvement and excellence over time. Topics include creating and maintaining a safety culture, designing lecture and lab experiences focusing on polymer chemistry, and incorporating green chemistry and systems thinking into the curriculum.

CPT welcomes feedback and comments on the new guidelines structure at, or email us at

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


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