Issue Date: December 22, 2014
My Exit Interview
I’m coming to the end of three years as chair of the ACS Board of Directors, and I guess this ACS Comment qualifies as my exit interview. So I wanted to take a look back at where we’ve been in that time and maybe where we’re going and some of the challenges we’ll see on the way.
Members always tell us that communicating scientific knowledge—through meetings, journals, and particularly C&EN—is most important to them. On the other hand, our ability to help with career maintenance and advancement has been working its way up the importance ladder. I think we’ve made good progress on both counts.
We’re doing a better job of linking the three pillars of the American Chemical Society—Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), ACS Publications (Pubs), and the membership organization—into a cohesive member- and customer-facing unit. There are now basic benefits in Pubs and CAS that come with membership, including free article downloads and SciFinder tasks. There are opportunities for purchasing additional articles and subscriptions at low prices. For the retired, self-employed, or unemployed chemist this provides substantial value.
We’re thinking more globally in all three units. Most of our revenue as a society comes from outside the U.S., and a growing number of authors and editors for our publications are based around the world. A substantial portion of the articles and patents that CAS indexes comes from other countries. And as people the world over become more familiar with our products, we can credibly make the case that membership is a benefit that draws them yet closer to the largest and most diverse scientific society in the world.
Our Career Pathways Workshops do a great job of teaching members, and particularly students, what the world is like out there and how to break into it. I know these tools are useful because as an ACS Career Consultant, I’ve helped people launch themselves. There is nothing more gratifying than when one of your students gets a job.
The chemistry enterprise getting more diverse in the U.S.; that diversity is spreading into ACS, particularly now that students join the society as members rather than affiliates. I’m always struck by the energy and enthusiasm of chemistry students and by the fact that there are now more women than men getting chemistry degrees and also leading our student chapters.
Additionally, we inaugurated the American Association of Chemistry Teachers—an organization designed to link people in what can be the world’s loneliest profession. We will provide content and context, and the members themselves will provide community.
Looking toward the future, alongside those achievements lie two important challenges: how to increase membership in countries where it is uncommon to belong to any membership organization, including a professional society, and how to keep recent graduates in the U.S. engaged with us as they move into and through their careers—especially if those careers are not in traditional chemistry jobs.
I expect developments in our core competency of information generation, classification, and retrieval. It seems to me that Pubs and CAS are not two separate things but part of a continuum. Scientific information is the only business I know with a circular supply chain: The output of Pubs is the input for CAS; authors use CAS in generating discoveries that will appear in Pubs. We are hot on the trail of processes that will integrate these two indispensable resources into even more powerful tools.
And of course, my friend and colleague Madeleine Jacobs, executive director and chief executive officer for the past 11 years, is retiring early next year. I and the other members of the board realized when she announced her retirement that the single most important action we would take as board members was finding her successor. Our goal was to find someone who could provide the same solid management that Madeleine has and bring other skills that might help us meet our future challenges.
We think we’ve found an outstanding person in Thomas M. Connelly Jr., who starts Feb. 17, 2015 (C&EN, Dec. 8, page 5). He has a wonderful record and a winning personality, and while he will be a marvelous successor to Madeleine, we will never forget her or the contributions she’s made.
And a final, personal note. I have the privilege of being one of three living ACS members who has been both ACS president and chair of the board. The other two are Mary L. Good and Paul H. L. Walter, two legendary figures in the society. It is the honor of my life to have been entrusted with those offices.
I want to thank Madeleine and the ACS staff, my colleagues on the ACS council and the board, and all of you for making my time as ACS Board chair challenging, fulfilling, and fun. I wouldn’t trade these three years for anything. We spend a lot of time worrying about our flaws and how we might improve ACS, and well we should. But we have so many dedicated staff members and volunteers who contribute their time and talent, it’s no wonder we’re the largest single-discipline scientific society and the best. You all rock.
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