The global financial crisis of the past two years is proof that we live and work in a global community and that we depend on each other. In the next 15 years, the chemical industry will change significantly. China and India will continue to make infrastructure improvements and are likely to retain their strong economies.
To compete effectively in global markets, scientists, particularly those in North America and Europe, need to change their perceptions of globalization and must be more proactive than reactive when facing opportunities and challenges. While serving on the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs Task Force on Globalization, I learned that many chemists in the U.S. are concerned about jobs being outsourced to Asia because of Asia’s lower labor and manufacturing costs.
Although a lot of emphasis has been placed on creating political and economic incentives for employers to keep jobs and manufacturing in the U.S., I believe another approach may be more effective. We should establish collaborative and cooperative relationships among researchers in similar technology areas across the globe. For the best and brightest minds to cooperate to solve the world’s chemistry-related problems, younger chemists must have more opportunities to interact with their peers from different cultures. The biggest challenges in establishing collaborations across borders are cultural differences and distance.
Recently, I traveled to Switzerland to attend the annual delegate assembly of the European Younger Chemists Network. EYCN is a collective of younger chemist representatives from chemical societies throughout Europe. It is a forum for discussing the benefits of chemistry, and its mission is to create opportunities for younger chemists in academe, government, and industry. I am happy to report that the ACS Younger Chemists Committee (YCC) has been invited to be an associate member of EYCN. We have accepted this invitation and look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.
Three observations I made in Switzerland were particularly noteworthy. The first was probably the most profound and yet the least tangible. As EYCN delegates were trying to agree on a slogan for an upcoming campaign, I saw Portuguese, Spanish, Finnish, German, Russian, British, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian, Czech, Polish, Swiss, and Italian delegates working together to solve a problem. The lesson I took from their ultimately successful exercise is that if you embrace diversity, the outcomes you can achieve are astonishing.
Second, we made plans to build on an existing international exchange between the German Chemical Society and the ACS Northeastern Section. This international exchange, now in its 10th year, involves the U.S. and Germany hosting a delegation of students on alternating years. The delegates participate in a society meeting and other social activities and gain valuable experience in the host country.
Many of the countries represented in EYCN don’t have the resources to sponsor an exchange of this scope but are still interested in working with YCC on exchange programs. Over the next year, YCC will work with EYCN to plan exchanges and develop a model for collaboration.
Last, EYCN assembly participants agreed to collaborate on a video called “World of Chemistry” in which each participant country will provide a three-minute video that shows what chemistry means to younger chemists from their perspective and in their language. These videos will be edited into one YouTube video and posted on the Web during the International Year of Chemistry in 2011. The aim of the video project is to help promote chemistry to young people, to show them that a career in the sciences is fun and rewarding, and to help combat chemophobia.
The YCC vision is to lead younger chemists into successful careers and active roles in ACS. For us to be successful in realizing our vision, we must prepare the next generation for the global marketplace. The ability to understand and embrace cultural and language differences will be essential for success in the chemical enterprise in the years to come. I hope that by creating opportunities for international collaboration we will be on the right track.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.