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Refining The Undergraduate Guidelines: A Progress Report

by Anne B. McCoy, Chair, Committee On Professional Training , Ron W. Darbeau, Vice Chair, Committee On Professional Training
November 18, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 46

Anne B. McCoy, Chair, Committee On Professional Training
Credit: Courtesy of Anne McCoy
Anne B. McCoy, Chair, Committee On Professional Training
Credit: Courtesy of Anne McCoy

One charge for the Committee on Professional Training (CPT) is to develop and administer “living” guidelines for bachelor’s degree programs in chemistry. These guidelines are intended to promote program excellence, stimulate the growth of enriching and supportive environments for chemistry academics, and provide standards for preparing the next generation of professionals to make positive and meaningful contributions to the chemistry enterprise. Programs that meet the guidelines are approved by the American Chemical Society.

Ron W. Darbeau, Vice Chair, Committee On Professional Training
Credit: Courtesy of Ron Darbeau
Ron W. Darbeau, Vice Chair, Committee On Professional Training
Credit: Courtesy of Ron Darbeau

Change is a necessary component of the guidelines, as it is for the discipline they advance. Every few years, CPT shoulders the task of retooling the language and content of the guidelines to enhance clarity and promote the excellence and flexibility that they intend to foster. The revisions are also meant to ensure consideration of, and sensitivity to, trends in the chemistry discipline and in chemistry employment.

The 2008 version of the guidelines represented a marked paradigm shift from the previous iteration. They placed greater responsibility for program excellence in the hands of approved departments, including candid, holistic self-examination of programs. They also abandoned the CPT-defined degree tracks and put greater emphasis on the development of students’ professional skills.

Community response to the 2008 guidelines—measured by a CPT survey conducted in 2012—was somewhat guarded but generally favorable. Nonetheless, the survey results highlighted certain areas of concern.

Informed by these comments as well as by solicited and spontaneous feedback from multiple stakeholders across the chemistry enterprise, CPT began discussions on guideline revisions and then wrote a white paper on proposed changes. The committee disseminated this document widely and sought feedback online, via letters, and by verbal communication at CPT open meetings and CPT-sponsored symposia.

At its meeting in September, CPT considered how to move forward with the changes proposed in the white paper and on concerns raised by the community. We achieved consensus on most topics, but not unexpectedly, several issues remain undecided. All unresolved issues will be considered again by CPT at its January meeting in Savannah, Ga. A full accounting of the items discussed, resolved, and pending will be addressed in a CPT newsletter article later this fall. Some highlights appear below.

CPT agreed to encourage approved programs to provide their certified majors with a capstone experience either integrated into multiple courses or into a single course.

The committee decided not to modify the requirement that programs must have a functional on-site nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. At a minimum, the on-site unit must support the instructional mission of the program. For those programs in which research is conducted, there must also be access (on-site or proximal) to an NMR spectrometer with appropriate capabilities.

The white paper included a proposal to increase the minimum number of chemistry faculty in an approved program from four to five. The committee has postponed its decision on this issue until it can assess the potential impact of this change on four-person departments as well as the frequency with which such departments have difficulties meeting the requirements for ACS approval.

One item not included in the white paper generated much discussion: Should instruction in the synthesis, properties, and analysis of macromolecules be required in the training of certified majors?

Polymers differ markedly from small molecules, and their vital and versatile roles in chemistry, industry, and the global economy cannot be overstated. Consequently, although the precise language has not been fully developed, CPT is considering a requirement for programs to incorporate instruction in macromolecules in the courses taken by certified majors.

If CPT takes this step, programs will have a grace period to develop appropriate content and delivery. An existing supplement to the guidelines already suggests ways in which departments might include the coverage of polymer chemistry in the courses they currently teach. Later this fall, the ACS Office of Professional Training will contact chairs and department heads about this possibility and solicit rapid feedback on the implications of such a requirement on chemistry programs.

The committee recognizes the interest generated by these revisions and appreciates those individuals and committees who have thoughtfully and passionately communicated with us during this process. Your comments continue to be invaluable in the committee’s efforts to revise the guidelines and to enrich the chemistry enterprise. We will next meet on Jan. 9–12, 2014, so feedback received by Dec. 15 will be helpful in informing our discussions at that meeting. You can reach us at

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


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