Issue Date: October 17, 2016
Members for life
As a chemistry major nearing the end of his days as an undergraduate, Zory Glaser joined the American Chemical Society hoping it might help him land a job. Not only did it do that, but “membership in ACS was one of the major factors that helped me decide to continue my education into graduate school, where I earned a Ph.D. in chemistry,” Glaser says. That was 57 years ago, and he has remained a member ever since.
It may be hard to imagine joining a professional organization these days and expecting to remain a member for life. But for ACS’s more than 15,000 emeritus members, who have been in the society for at least 35 years, it’s hard to imagine going through their careers without their involvement with ACS. In fact, these longtime members continue to play a significant role in the society.
C&EN reached out to them with a survey this spring to learn why they joined ACS, what role the society has played in their careers, and what has made them maintain their memberships.
“I decided if I wanted to be a chemist, I should join the organization that best represents chemists,” wrote chemical safety consultant Douglas Walters, who joined his ACS student affiliate chapter as an undergraduate chemistry major in 1960. Walters says his membership helped him establish his professional reputation by providing a platform to present his work, meet peers, and participate in ACS governance.
For some, such as Glaser, ACS helped guide their careers by illuminating the next step after graduation or during a job search. For others, contact with ACS as a student helped inspire and propel them toward a career in chemistry. “I received an award from our ACS student chapter, and it launched me into my career. I’ve always appreciated that early support and encouragement,” said research chemist Marianne Kipper. “This was in 1961, when women chemists were an oddity.” The honor of being selected for the award made a lasting impression that encouraged her to pursue a challenging career, through a Ph.D. and beyond.
Others mentioned publishing in ACS journals and the opportunity to present papers at ACS meetings as what initially attracted them to the organization. “National meetings were a wonderful opportunity to learn to speak and defend ideas,” according to Army scientist Richard Ward. “Publishing in ACS journals was deemed a measure of professional achievement and accomplishment.”
Professor Thomas Weeks values ACS meetings as a way to stay current. “I like to know what’s happening in the profession,” he wrote. “The short courses and national meetings allow one to come up to speed quickly as one’s job changes.”
In turn, numerous members have used their involvement with ACS to interact with and inspire the next generation of chemists. Professor Don Weser wrote, “ACS has provided me with an opportunity to guide students in selecting various careers in chemistry and related areas.” As a faculty adviser, “it has allowed me to shepherd students to national meetings, where they presented papers and posters on their research and student organization.”
Professor Darleane Hoffman wrote, “It not only put me in touch with the ‘giants’ in the field, whom I otherwise might not have met, but I also met younger people just beginning their careers. Hopefully, I was able to encourage some of them (especially the young women) to continue their careers in chemistry.”
Hoffman described the student awards as particularly important for attracting young people to chemistry. She believes the ACS awards she received helped her gain recognition outside the organization. “In 1997, I received the U.S. Medal of Science, and I feel sure my ACS awards contributed to my selection for that.” Hoffman won the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal in 1990 and in 2000 became the second woman ever to receive the Priestley Medal.
When asked what role ACS has played in their careers, many mentioned having taken advantage of employment services, especially early on. For some, ACS membership solidified their reputations as serious, professional chemists. “My ACS membership was widely recognized as an indication of professionalism and as essential by each of my subsequent employers,” Glaser wrote.
In at least one instance, an article in C&EN served as a catalyst for a career change. For professor Joseph Delfino, a 1964 feature on chemistry and the oceans inspired him to switch from working in inorganic synthesis chemistry to environmental chemistry. “Without that first introduction to the field very specifically due to the C&EN feature on chemistry and the oceans,” he wrote, “it might have taken me a while longer to discover the connection between chemistry, the environment, and water in particular.”
For a number of educators, involvement with ACS provided opportunities for professional development. For Janice Sanders, who taught chemistry at a community college, interaction with students and teachers through Project SEED “made me more sensitive to the science and math preparation of potential chemical technicians and more aware of my own shortcomings in providing guidance and structure to team members.” For high school teacher Elizabeth Catelli, ACS provided resources for her classroom and inspired her and her colleagues to maintain rigorous standards in their curricula.
Glaser gained confidence in his leadership and speaking abilities by serving as president of his campus’s student affiliate chapter as an undergraduate. He gained technical knowledge from the guest speakers he introduced. Hoffman’s experience organizing and attending symposia helped her develop professionally as well as scientifically. The symposia “encouraged me to continue to perform research along with management responsibilities,” she wrote.
R&D director Leo Roos echoed this sentiment. ACS “has kept me involved with my first love: chemistry,” he wrote. “Once one enters management, there is less time for chemistry but more and more time for people problems. However, the journals … at least allowed me to remain a chemist and not just a pencil pusher.”
When asked how ACS has evolved over the years, members overwhelmingly responded that it has become bigger and more inclusive. As ACS has become larger and more international, many feel it has grown in its ability to serve its members. Professor Laurence Ladwig wrote that increased diversity and an emphasis on attracting younger chemists make ACS a stronger organization. Coatings project manager Ronald Lash remarked, “It has become less of an exclusive club and more of a valuable asset to all of its members, regardless of their degree or employment in academics or industry.”
ACS has also expanded its focus to better serve a wider range of chemists. “I have seen ACS become more concerned with public perceptions of chemistry and the working conditions of chemists,” wrote professor Steven Schildcrout. “It has broadened its membership base to include those in various chemistry-related fields and at various levels of training.”
However, several have mixed feelings about ACS’s growth. Some members worry that newer chemists may be overwhelmed by ACS’s size. Others contend that an increased emphasis on organizational needs has shifted the focus away from members. Professor Thomas Willard wrote, “Mostly it seems to me ACS has grown much bigger, providing its services to a much larger constituency but, in the process, has become less personal.”
Others, such as Hoffman, noted that there is still work to be done in the way of diversity. “Women are still not appropriately represented among the winners of the various honors and awards,” she wrote. “We must try to see that they are nominated, and perhaps the nomination process should be simplified in some way.”
Multiple members cited technological advances as having transformed not only ACS but the field as a whole. Electronic communication and manuscript submission and review have increased the speed at which information is exchanged. Printed program books at national meetings have been gradually discontinued in favor of online versions, and SciFinder has taken the place of printed chemical abstract volumes.
But these new conveniences may have a flipside. “Unfortunately, participation in our local section has become very limited, probably due to the many competing activities and the fact that the vast amount of information available via the internet has reduced the benefits of personal contact,” wrote biochemical research director Stephen Coburn.
Despite the uncertainty of some of these changes, members felt largely positive about the future of ACS. Many have noticed an increased emphasis on mentoring members and helping connect them with employment. Professor Wendell Dilling noted that governance procedures have been updated to make them more fair.
Emeritus members say they are continuing to take advantage of their connection to ACS. Professor and consultant Rich Chapas said the connection to the ACS community is his primary reason for staying involved over the years. Dilling wrote, “My volunteer activities with ACS are a way to pay back for the advantages I have received in my chemistry career.”
More than a few respondents cited ACS Publications as their primary link to new developments in chemistry. “About 17 years in retirement, I thoroughly enjoy being an ACS member,” wrote research director H. Georg Schmelzer. “The wealth of continuous information is fantastic; I am really thankful.” Patent services supervisor Jean Bostwick wrote, “I like to keep current, even in my 80s, with the chemical and, to some degree, biological fields as they evolve today.”
Many emeritus members are still active teaching or conducting research in their given fields. Still more continue to attend national and regional meetings, both as observers and as participants. And they say that the feeling of excitement in being a part of ACS never gets old. As professor Donald Lyman wrote on the cusp of his 90th birthday: “After 67 years as a member, I still feel the way I did in the beginning.”
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