For a professional organization like the American Chemical Society, in-person interactions are at the heart of how it serves its members and the community, from providing students with hands-on research experiences, to organizing outreach events, and hosting professional development workshops.
When the novel coronavirus began spreading in the US in early March, ACS staff and volunteers wondered how they would continue to provide these experiences when members couldn’t gather in person.
It didn’t take long before the society’s staff and volunteers came up with creative solutions to keep these programs going. Here are some ways that ACS programs have adapted to the restrictions brought on by the pandemic:
ACS’s Project SEED program has been giving high school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds hands-on summer research experiences since 1968. Because in-person research experiences are not possible this year, ACS’s Education Division has converted this year’s program into a 4-week virtual summer camp.
Since July 6, roughly 300 students have been meeting virtually several times a week to listen to professional development talks on communication skills, how to apply for college, different career paths in chemistry, and research topics such as safety and managing hazardous waste. At the end of the summer, Project SEED students will participate in a virtual scientific conference.
Racquel Jemison, who manages the Project SEED program, says it’s important to help students develop new skills even if they can’t be in the lab. “With high school students, their interest in science can be fleeting, and so you want to capture it while you have it,” she says. “This is also an opportunity for students to develop a much wider network than they would have had.”
The US National Chemistry Olympiad Study Camp, which is sponsored by ACS, was also disrupted this year. The study camp is typically held on a college campus, and the 20 students selected for the camp spend 2 weeks attending lectures, labs, and social activities. This year, the camp was moved to an entirely online experience. Students participated in a week of online lectures, guest presentations, as well as social activities. On June 12, four students were selected to represent the US during the International Chemistry Olympiad, which will take place virtually this year on July 25.
To help ACS’s undergraduate members feel less isolated, the ACS Education Division launched a series of Social Distancing Socials where members of ACS student chapters, as well as international student chapters, can interact with each other through weekly Zoom happy hours. The Education Division has also launched an ACS Journal Club where undergraduates can talk about journal articles they have read. The next ACS Journal Club will be held on July 24 and will feature an article from ACS Nano. On social media, undergraduates have been sharing the journal articles they’ve read using the hashtag #JournalJune.
Many outreach activities were canceled this year, but that hasn’t stopped ACS’s volunteers from taking the celebrations virtual. The Chemists Celebrate Earth Week celebration, for example, took place almost entirely online with some volunteers participating in socially distanced cleanup events. Virtual celebrations are also being planned for the National Chemistry Week celebration in October.
Partnering with ACS Webinars, ACS on Campus moved its recent events to a virtual platform. ACS on Campus partnered with Hunan University on June 8 to offer a virtual event about the publishing process and what ACS resources are available to scientists. The event reached capacity. On June 30, ACS on Campus partnered with the Federal University of Technology–Paraná for a similar virtual event on scholarly publishing.
ACS’s various scientific meetings have also moved online this year. The Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, for example, was held entirely online and attracted nearly 5,000 attendees, compared to roughly 600 for past meetings. The Fall 2020 ACS National Meeting will be entirely virtual and will take place August 17–20.
Employment prospects have also been significantly impacted this year. In response, ACS Career Navigator is continuing to offer its ACS Career Days virtually. On June 27, ACS Career Navigator partnered with the Younger Chemists Committee to offer a virtual ACS Career Day specifically for recent graduates and early-career chemists. ACS Career Navigator is also offering ACS members the opportunity to set up one-on-one virtual meetings with ACS Career Consultants.
CAS, a division of ACS, has also adapted its programs. The CAS Future Leaders program has been postponed to 2021. But this year’s class still met online on July 9 for a virtual social hour and introduction.
For more on what ACS is doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.acs.org/content/acs/en/covid-19.html.