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ACS's Academic Employment Initiative

March 1, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 9

Few matters are more important to chemistry departments than the recruitment of excellent faculty. It is a serious undertaking that has a long-term impact on the quality and composition of the department. The difficulties that research universities are having in recruiting women and minorities suggest that our recruitment process could be improved.

After much reflection, both as a member of the faculty of a major university and now as ACS president in 2004, I have come to understand that two seemingly simple changes in the process could have important benefits. First, our hiring process needs to cast a wider net, as, too often, only candidates from the most prestigious universities are given the most serious consideration. Second, our current process could be improved by adding personal contact before a candidate is invited to campus. Changing established procedures is seldom simple, but I am pleased to present an initiative in that direction.

Through this process, we expect to create a more inclusive system of faculty recruitment that will ultimately strengthen research and teaching in the chemical sciences.

The Academic Employment Initiative (AEI) is a presidential event I will sponsor in 2004 that is aimed at broadening the process by which colleges and universities recruit faculty into the chemical sciences. The intent is to give colleges and universities exposure to a larger pool of candidates for faculty positions than is possible through current recruitment practices, and to give candidates the opportunity to convey their teaching and research goals to a wider audience. Through this process, we expect to create a more inclusive system of faculty recruitment that will ultimately strengthen research and teaching in the chemical sciences.

In the current hiring process, chemistry departments rely largely on applicants' paper portfolios. In many cases, too strong a bias exists for applicants from the most prestigious chemistry departments, and applicants from less prestigious departments are viewed as less likely candidates. This can discourage young people, particularly underrepresented communities and women, from seeking academic appointments if they are not from one of the top few graduate schools.

Somehow, we have to find a way to broaden the recruitment process and make it more inclusive of the talent in our midst.

In many academic disciplines, such as languages, national meetings are used for extensive interviews of candidates who are then invited to campus for a formal interview. In contrast, chemistry departments usually have no personal contact with a candidate before an invitation is extended. We've all heard anecdotes about an immediate realization of a mismatch when the candidate walks through the front door. Personal interaction between candidates and recruiting committees before invitations are given can only help to give more candidates a fairer chance at an interview and can minimize the chances of mismatches.

ACS can play a role in the challenge of change and the need to ensure a broad swath of talent in our future chemistry faculty--not through intervention, but by assistance--beginning with AEI. Our national meetings offer an ideal forum for job candidates and recruiters to connect and explore mutual opportunities. We just need to find a way to make this happen as easily as possible.

At the spring ACS national meeting in Anaheim, Calif., AEI will offer a candid look at faculty recruitment through a panel session called "Recruiting Faculty: How Is It Done? Who Gets the Job, and Why?" Panelists include both senior and junior faculty who will describe their experiences with the academic hiring process. Graduate students and postdocs who are interested in a faculty career should plan to attend this session if possible. The session will also provide a valuable opportunity for faculty to exchange views on their priorities in recruiting new faculty.

At the fall 2004 ACS national meeting in Philadelphia, an AEI poster session will be run as part of the popular Sci-Mix poster session. Those seeking faculty positions will present a research poster or a poster expanding on their research interests, teaching philosophy, and experience. The objectives are to give faculty recruiters the opportunity to meet as many candidates as possible and to give candidates the opportunity to network among themselves and meet faculty from many institutions.

For the AEI poster session to succeed, a large number of candidates and faculty hiring committee members will need to come together to take advantage of this opportunity to get to know one another better. I will be contacting departments to urge their cooperation and assistance, and to invite them to extend an invitation to participate to all relevant parties (postdocs, grad students, faculty). I need your help in spreading the word about the objectives of AEI and the two AEI events planned in 2004, and I welcome your suggestions at all times (send e-mail to


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