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The new world for senior chemists

by Arlene A. Garrison, Chair, Senior Chemists Committee
June 20, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 24


Photo of Arlene Garrison.
Credit: Courtesy of Arlene Garrison
Arlene Garrison

As I write this, the US has lost more than 115,000 lives to the novel coronavirus. Many of us know victims of COVID-19, and our hearts go out to all who have experienced loss. What a change to our world since we were all planning to travel to Philadelphia for the ACS Spring 2020 National Meeting. What have the senior chemists learned through this experience? Here are some things I have learned and observed in working with the ACS Senior Chemists Committee.

Old dogs can learn new tricks. The Senior Chemists Committee members quickly picked up teleconferencing skills; we met on Zoom on the same day we had been scheduled to meet in Philadelphia. This energetic group is committed to pursuing our strategic goals whatever the platform!

Disruption leads to improvements. Seniors have benefited greatly from ways that our society has adapted to the need for social distancing. Telemedicine, grocery pickup, prescription delivery, and buying almost anything (even new cars) from home are among the ways that life has become easier for seniors and persons with disabilities.

Focus on what matters. In the hectic pre–COVID-19 world, we were so busy we often lost touch with the people we really care about. We invested significant time on our appearance and entertainment. Now that we have had the time to be still and hear the birds singing, we have learned to share this quieter world with our friends and family.

Essential workers rock! Society learned the incredible value of teachers, medical professionals, truck drivers, grocery workers, the postal service, and all those on the front line to help us deal with basic needs.

The world needs to heal. Pollution levels have dropped dramatically as many have been asked to work from home to adhere to stay-at-home orders. The clear skies remind many of us of earlier times when commutes were shorter and there was less pollution.

Forgotten skills were relearned. Previously, sewing, cooking, gardening, home repair, arts and crafts, and many other talents were abandoned. Now those skills have become primary means of survival. We have relearned the joy of baking bread and pulling out the sewing machines to make masks.

Emotions lose power when named. When we speak about our frustration and fear, it helps us to clear our minds and to see the many good and powerful lessons learned from the pandemic.

The ACS senior chemists are resilient. They express their gratitude in so many ways beyond their words.

In the 2019 local section reports, we were very pleased to see that 167 local sections reported that they have a senior group—65 activities were held between them. If your local section does not have a senior group, we’re happy to provide some suggestions in our “How to Start a Local Senior Group” guide on the Senior Chemists Committee website. The committee has selected two local sections for this year’s ChemLuminary Awards—one for Best Ongoing Senior Chemist Activity and the other for Best New Senior Chemist Activity.

Senior chemist activities were also held as part of six regional meetings in 2019, and plans were made for special events at all the 2020 regional meetings. Many of those have now been canceled or postponed.

The ACS senior chemists are resilient. They express their gratitude in so many ways beyond their words. In this crisis, the chemistry community has supported each other and continued to address needs. Our local section grants have enabled virtual events. The summer issue of the Senior Chemists Newsletter will be out soon. We’ve been running a popular series on birds, and the 10th installment will appear in this issue of the newsletter. The article may be particularly relevant to those who have started bird-watching while at home. We will also share ideas regarding retirement. Archived issues are available on the committee’s website.

Our Senior Chemists on the Move group on the ACS Network has been active with conversations from different perspectives, including thoughts on COVID-19. I encourage you to join the discussion and stay connected with your peers. We are also working with ACS Past President William F. Carroll Jr. on a potential ACS course to assist with the transition to retirement.

Senior Chemists Committee members have enjoyed using Zoom and sharing their tips and tricks. In support of our strategic plan, we are developing a guide for using Zoom that is designed for novices. The guide avoids the use of computer jargon and is illustrated with screenshots to make it easy to use. A link to the guide will be available on the Senior Chemists Committee website. Other guides are under discussion, and we would love to have your input on software user guides that would be of interest to seniors. Please send your input to

Keep smiling behind your mask! And stay safe.

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



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