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What is a chemical technical professional?

by Jennifer McCulley, chair, ACS Committee on Technician Affairs
September 12, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 35

 

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Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer McCulley
Members of the Committee on Technician Affairs gathered in 2019.

As I looked back at my old business cards, titles such as research assistant, research associate, chemist, quality chemist, product manager, and program manager are listed. I reflected on how job titles can affect the identification of roles and recognition in the laboratory. In some companies, the title of chemist requires a PhD in chemistry; because my highest degree is a master’s, I might not have been considered a chemist in that company.

As I wrote in last year’s Comment, “chemical technicians were historically considered to be ‘a pair of hands’ in the laboratory, primarily tasked with routine or less-specialized work. The highest degree that they obtained was often a high school diploma or perhaps an associate’s degree.” However, as degree requirements shift, the term chemical technical professional is a better description than chemical technician. Nowadays, we see those holding an AS, BA, BS, or even MS degree performing routine laboratory work.

The chemical technical professional plays a vital role in production, quality control, and research in laboratories. Currently, they are the majority of the people working in the laboratory. The laboratory work they do can include collecting, preparing, and analyzing samples and carrying out experiments. The Committee on Technician Affairs (CTA) recognizes that many members or stakeholders might not self-identify or use the title of technician. While the committee has the word technician in its name, we have pivoted from using that word to using chemical technical professional to help the committee’s stakeholders identify resources available for recognition and professional development.

An example of recognition is the annual National Chemical Technician Award (NCTA), which honors excellence and professionalism among technicians, operators, analysts, and other applied chemical technology professionals. This year’s winner is John Stelter of 3M. Among Stelter’s accomplishments is the production of 3M Filtrete smart air filters. Dozens of product concepts have come to fruition with Stelter’s knowledge of how to produce useful materials from polymer feedstocks. His work at 3M has resulted in 24 US patents. Because of the cancellation of the American Chemical Society Spring 2020 National Meeting, the NCTA luncheon was canceled, and we sent him the award instead of presenting it in person. We will invite him to the 2021 NCTA luncheon.

In addition, CTA awarded three young chemists with the CTA/Younger Chemists Committee Leadership Development Award. The recipients attended the ACS Leadership Institute in Atlanta in January.

In 2018, CTA launched its Leadership Development System Course Award. This award covers the cost for two chemical technical professionals to take an ACS Leadership Development System course at an ACS national meeting.

These annual awards are a way to recognize the outstanding career achievements of exceptional chemical technical professionals. CTA is currently seeking nominations for the 2021 NCTA and the leadership development awards.

To carry out the professional development mission of CTA, we have increased our programing at ACS national meetings as well as our presence on social media. At the national meetings, we have been cosponsoring programs (up to nine per meeting) that would be relevant to the chemical technical professional. During the ACS Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting and Expo, for example, CTA organized a panel discussion titled “How Chemical Technical Professionals Contribute to the Chemical Enterprise from Bench to Market.” The discussion provided the panelists with the opportunity to present their career journeys to a broad audience; it also enabled members to gain some tips on how to grow in their careers.

A new area for CTA is using social media channels to identify resources that would benefit the chemical technical professional, such as those on project management, communication skills, and presentation skills. In today’s world of being overwhelmed with information, our constituents can look to these channels for information tailored to their needs.

As we shift toward other activities of the committee, the Stakeholders Outreach Subcommittee surveyed possible stakeholders and generated a list of the job titles and descriptions for those we support; it plans to use the information for awards and other future activity development.

The committee is looking for consultants and volunteers who can guide the committee toward its vision and mission to support and advance the chemical technical professional through career development and recognition. We want to be an essential resource for chemical technical professionals.

If you would like to volunteer, please email me at cta@acs.org. For more information on the committee, please visit the CTA website at www.acs.org/cta and join our LinkedIn group, ACS Committee on Technician Affairs (CTA). You can also follow us on Twitter at @cta_acs.

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

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