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Chemists Helping All Chemists

by Allison A. Aldridge
September 5, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 36

Allison A. Aldridge, Chair of the ACS Committee on Minority Affairs
Credit: Anthony Marill Photography
Allison A. Aldridge, chair of  ACS Committee on Minority Affairs, and Interdisciplinary Scientist-Chemist, FDA/CDER/OC/OMPQ/DIDQ, White Oak Federal Research Center, Silver Spring, MD
Credit: Anthony Marill Photography

This is the fifth and final Comment in a series launched last month by ACS President Nancy B. Jackson (C&EN, Aug. 8, page 52). All five of these Comments have been dedicated to the theme “Paying It Forward,” in which members take the initiative to help other members find jobs and thrive despite these uncertain economic times.

Every day, we read about the dismal employment outlook. Right now, the national unemployment rate is hovering above 9% in the U.S. Chemical workers have generally fared better, with unemployment at 3.8%. As ACS Director-at-Large Valerie J. Kuck explained in last week’s Comment, however, aggregate national employment statistics don’t provide the whole picture (C&EN, Aug. 29, page 41). Kuck focused on key regional differences, noting that employment opportunities for chemists were particularly tight in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific Regions.

As the chair of the ACS Committee on Minority Affairs, I’d like to draw your attention to employment disparities among minorities. As measured by the 2010 ACS ChemCensus survey, nationwide unemployment among chemical workers is 6.3% for African Americans, 4.6% for Hispanics, and 4.3% for Asians. On the other hand, the national unemployment rate for whites in chemistry is 3.7%.

Not only are minorities having a more difficult time finding employment, but these employment disparities may also send a signal to young minorities that a career in chemistry may not be the best choice for them. We can speculate about the underlying reasons for the disparities in employment among ethnic and racial groups in chemistry; however, there is no doubt that we need to take action to correct these disparities.

The chemical industry will work best when all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard. Different backgrounds mean different experiences and different ideas. All of these diverse backgrounds and ideas can, and should, contribute to the advancement of the chemical enterprise.

Fortunately, we can do many things to help all our fellow members and ensure equal opportunity and fair representation in the chemical sciences. ACS, for example, has several initiatives managed primarily at the organizational level, such as apportioning scholarships to support education and advocating for public policy to spur job growth. Nevertheless, ACS is often most effective by developing initiatives that empower individual members to pay it forward and help other members. Our Paying It Forward website ( and ACS Career Consulting Programs are just two examples of such initiatives.

Just launched, the “Paying It Forward” campaign was created to facilitate the communication of both job and networking opportunities for ACS members across the U.S. If each ACS member sent in just one lead, the forum would make it possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of members to sail through today’s economic storm.

If you know of job openings, I urge you to post them at the website. Likewise, if you know of good networking opportunities for ACS members, please post them. These could be an ACS local section or technical division initiative, job club, alumni reception, or other event. The more opportunities members have to learn about job openings and talk with prospective employers, the better their chances will be of landing a job. I am thankful that fellow ACS members provided me with job leads and support when I was unemployed. One of those leads resulted in my current position.

If you have more time to pay it forward, please consider volunteering as an ACS career consultant. ACS designed the Career Consulting Program to support the career goals of all members, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. Moreover, career consultants work with members seeking employment in all job sectors: industry, academia, government, and nonprofit.

As a career consultant, you’ll serve as a mentor to fellow ACS members, helping them design and execute effective job search strategies as well as locate specific job opportunities. Career consultants help members strengthen their résumés and improve their interview skills so they can make strong, positive impressions on prospective employers.

ACS Careers provides a complete training program for prospective career consultants, enabling them to fully leverage their background and experience in order to help other ACS members reach their goals. For full details, including the requirements and responsibilities of a career consultant, visit

The Career Consulting Program is just one way that you can mentor fellow ACS members. ACS local sections and divisions offer many more opportunities and are eager to hear your ideas for developing new programs to support and mentor members.

The ACS Division of Computers in Chemistry (COMP), for example, offers COMP Together, which provides opportunities for networking and career growth through a series of national and local outreach programs. This initiative offers seminars, networking events, and mentoring lunches. On Tuesday, Aug. 30, for example, COMP Together sponsored a COMP mentor lunch at the ACS national meeting in Denver. At the local level, COMP Together Champions serve as advocates and mentors, organizing events in nine local areas. For more information, visit

Paying it forward can happen at many levels—from offering a quick tip on the Paying It Forward website to serving as a mentor. The one thing we know from experience is that paying it forward definitely works at any level. I therefore urge you to take the initiative and pay it forward whenever and however you can. If we all do what we can, we all can thrive.

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



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