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Who Are The American Chemical Society’s Members, And What Do They Earn?

The 30th anniversary of a comprehensive salary survey shows what has changed—and what hasn't—about ACS members

by Andrea Widener , Linda Wang
November 8, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 44

Think back to 1985. Michael Jordan was NBA Rookie of the Year. Microsoft released its first version of Windows. “Back to the Future” was one of the top movies. Gas cost an average of $1.09 per gal.

The year 1985 was also when the American Chemical Society started its ChemCensus. Although ACS does a smaller salary survey every year, ChemCensus is a comprehensive look at ACS members’ demographics and earnings that’s conducted every five years. That means it offers the most reliable data on the makeup of ACS—way more accurate than time travel via DeLorean.

To mark the 30th anniversary of ChemCensus, C&EN explored what ACS’s membership looked like in 1985 compared with 2015. We interviewed two members who got their Ph.D.s in those years to get their perspective on how the job market has changed (see page 32). We also present some of our top job advice from today’s members (see page 33).

As the data show, the situation is not all roses for chemists. Salaries are up in real dollars, but if you take inflation into account, they have barely budged in 30 years. Unemployment is up from 1.7% in 1985 to 3.1% this year, which is high for chemists but still below the national average unemployment rate.

Still, there are bright spots, no matter how small. Diversity of ACS members by both race and sex is increasing. For example, women now make up more than 30% of members, double their representation 30 years ago. There are more African American, Hispanic, and Asian members, too.

Sift through the data, and decide for yourself what the future might hold for the chemistry profession.


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