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Oldest ACS committee may bow out as eligibility for membership broadens

by Susan J. Ainsworth
June 8, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 23

Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Applications for membership from 1909 and today. Applications for membership from 1909 and today.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Applications for membership from 1909 and today. Applications for membership from 1909 and today.

The Committee on Admissions, which has existed in one form or another since the American Chemical Society was founded 133 years ago, may not see its 134th anniversary. The venerable committee, which has served as the gatekeeper to membership, may not have much of a role to play in light of comprehensive changes to the ACS constitution and bylaws approved last year (C&EN, May 5, 2008, page 50). Starting at the end of this month, ACS membership requirements are being relaxed to welcome into the society as many people as possible who have appropriate training or experience in a chemical or related science.


Chair: Paul J. Smith, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Membership: 12 members, three associate members, and one ACS staff liaison

Classification: Other Committee of the Council

Inception: Existed informally since the founding of ACS in 1876. Officially formed under the ACS constitution in 1893 as the Standing Committee on Nominations to Membership.

In a nutshell, those who will be eligible for ACS membership include chemists and other scientists who have skills, interests, experience, and education in other chemistry-related disciplines. The society will roll out the welcome mat for those who hold an associate's or higher degree in chemistry or a related field of natural science, engineering, technology, or science education. Currently, the society requires additional work experience or additional documentation from scientists who don't have a chemistry degree.

"Many in the society felt that membership requirements might have been a little bit too narrow for modern chemical science, which is so multidisciplinary," says Admissions Committee Chair Paul J. Smith, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In addition, under the incoming rules, those who are currently associate members—including chemical technicians, precollege teachers, and others who did not have the required number of years of work experience for membership under the outgoing rules—will become regular ACS members, and the associate member category will disappear.

The student affiliate membership category is also being retired. Current student affiliates will be accepted into ACS as student members. All new undergraduates in the chemical sciences, broadly construed, whose applications are approved will become ACS student members automatically. Applicants at any educational level in any field who are not eligible for regular or student membership will qualify as society affiliates.

Under the new rules, many of the applications that previously received close scrutiny from the Admissions Committee will now clearly qualify for approval, drastically reducing the committee's workload, Smith says.

In recognition of the committee's diminished role, a petition has been created to retire it and to transfer its functions to the Council Committee on Membership Affairs, which focuses primarily on recruiting and retaining ACS members. The petition to sunset the Admissions Committee grew out of a report from the Summit on ACS Committee Structure in July 2007. It will be up for consideration by the ACS Council at the national meeting in Washington, D.C., in August. Councilors will debate and vote on the petition at the ACS national meeting in San Francisco in March 2010.

For now, the Admissions Committee continues to evaluate applications for membership from people whose eligibility isn't clear-cut. In the course of their review, committee members look at candidates and their employers to assess their relationship to the chemical enterprise, Smith says. In other instances committee members "must try to articulate degrees from other countries to determine how they compare with degrees given at U.S.-based universities," he adds.

As chair, Smith serves alongside 12 committee members and three associate members who come from diverse backgrounds in industry, government labs, and academia in locations around the U.S. The committee convenes in Washington twice each year; its next meeting will coincide with the ACS national meeting in August. In addition, the committee reviews applications via conference calls and e-mail throughout the year.

The bulk of the work of screening applications, however, is now done by a computer program that the committee designed to evaluate online membership applications. Last year, more than 70% of the 14,692 new member applications were submitted via the Internet. The program empowers ACS Members Services staff to determine the eligibility of applicants. "The pool of applications that actually come to the Admissions Committee for review is really quite small these days," Smith says. "In a way, we are victims of our own success."

Still, Smith is among those who see a positive side to the changes that are eroding the Admissions Committee's worth. "Appropriately, new broader membership requirements recognize the interdisciplinary nature of chemistry," he says. "After all, chemistry is the central science."



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