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Paying It Forward On Jobs: Members Helping Members

by Nancy Jackson
August 8, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 32

Nancy B. Jackson, ACS President
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Nancy B. Jackson, ACS President
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

It is with great pride that I tell people that I am the president of the largest professional scientific society in the world with more than 163,000 members—but not because of the reasons that you might think. To me, the American Chemical Society is a group of friends and family, a global network that has been there for me when I needed it. And if I am to rely on my fellow members, I must be willing to help others when called to serve.

You probably know that the employment climate for both new chemistry graduates and experienced chemical scientists is as bad as it’s been in a long time. Even more distressing is that most experts predict it will remain so for some time. As a community, we simply must pull out all the stops and launch special efforts to help our colleagues in distress—not just for them personally, but for our profession.

Have you ever had someone unexpectedly lend an important hand to help advance your career, perhaps when you least expected it? In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.” That’s a pretty simple and powerful doctrine, and one applied decades earlier by Benjamin Franklin, who would “lend” money with a proviso: “When you meet with another honest man in similar distress, you must pay me by lending this sum to him.”

This reciprocity philosophy, whether called “passing it on” or “paying it forward,” could not be more befitting our current employment challenge—because most jobs are gained through a friendly assist. We all know that networking is the single best tool in the job-search arsenal. But what if, rather than waiting for someone to come to us for advice, all ACS members proactively shared job leads and other support with our job-seeking colleagues? That is truly something that could raise the tide for our unemployed members.

Today, thousands of chemists are out of work. You probably know some of them. In fact, you may be glad you’re not one of them. But are you willing to pass on what someone has likely done for you? You see, what I do as president is not nearly as important as what you do in your local communities. It is the collective impact of more than 163,000 people that makes a difference. So my challenge, even plea, to you is this—between now and the end of this year, do one of two things: Give your personal advice or support to a job seeker, or pass on a job lead at the new “Paying It Forward” online employment forum on the ACS Network at Members can communicate useful job leads and help displaced colleagues by facilitating local events and networking opportunities. We will track the top “payers” and recognize them in some way at year-end.

ACS is also working closely with local sections and divisions to facilitate other easy ways to assist your colleagues with their careers. Next week’s Comment by Lisa M. Balbes, chair of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs, will focus on specific collaborative ways to grow your network and help others do likewise. The following week will feature a Comment by Connie J. Murphy, chair of the Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs. She will discuss ways that you can influence policymakers on the local and federal levels to favor initiatives for job creation and growth in the chemical enterprise.

After that, Valerie J. Kuck, a longtime ACS career champion and adviser, will highlight regional employment trends as well as pressing needs and key ACS services in this area. You will hear how the North Jersey; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and other ACS local sections support local job clubs and networking receptions that can pay handsome dividends. The fifth and final Comment in this series will focus on chemical unemployment trends and career challenges among underrepresented groups. Allison A. Aldridge, chair of the Committee on Minority Affairs, will highlight the value of mentoring for all chemists and the added value that mentors bring to the professional development of minority scientists.

We all know that chemistry creates solutions to global problems, but most of us do not take time to consider the smaller-scale, personal impact that we can have on the lives of others. But we should, because just a few minutes of our time could greatly affect another person’s chances for success, particularly in today’s economic climate. What you choose to contribute to this endeavor will pay it forward and shift your cosmic chemical karma in a positive direction—because someday it might be you who needs the help. Will you join me in this effort?

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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