Remember your first ACS national meeting? Remember the crowds and the amazing diversity of the technical program? Possibly you remember it as a transformative experience, or possibly you remember it as overwhelming.
Our ACS national meetings are in many ways the jewel in the crown of the society. They bring members together to talk and learn about all aspects of the central science and to hear some of the best chemists in the world expound on the transforming power of chemistry. They present a diverse smorgasbord of science, provide opportunities to network and socialize, and can strengthen our sense of community in an increasingly impersonal world.
Why do our national meetings need to be better? Every organization and every event has its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of ACS meetings include their sheer size and scope, the wonderful organizing ability of ACS staff, and the brilliance of leaders from all branches of chemistry who share their inspiring breakthroughs.
However, the size and diversity of ACS national meetings can be intimidating to young (or not so young) chemists attending for the first time. With 120 parallel sessions, where do I go? Knowing few people in this huge crowd, where do I find a community that shares my interests and is of a manageable size? Where is there a welcoming hand?
Another area of concern is the exposition. Long a source of funding that supports the national meeting, the expo remains so but has lately provided less revenue, likely because of changes in the industry. How can we make the expo more appealing and useful to ACS members, enticing them to attend the expo, and in turn enticing more companies to exhibit there? We are pursuing ideas but would love to hear any suggestions you might have.
How can we make ACS meetings less mysterious, more welcoming, even more exciting, and more accessible, including to the rookies? How can we more effectively reach out that hand in welcome? The ACS Committee on Meetings & Expositions (M&E) is working with the Committee on Divisional Activities (DAC), the Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group (MPPG)—which has responsibility for promoting more broadly themed programming—and with all ACS divisions to address these issues.
At the moment, we admit that we don’t have all the answers. We want, rather, to start conversations and elicit great ideas from all members. For example, what would it be like if we set aside one or more evenings (no competing oral sessions), say from 4–6 PM, for division poster sessions that would be well integrated with the exposition and well attended by leading lights from the divisions, and would provide great networking opportunities at a convenient time for all? What if we encouraged awards for the best posters in such sessions, to be judged by said leading lights? What if we set aside some funding for creative events meant to engage newcomers, young people, and groups with common interests at national meetings? What would you like to see?
One issue we’ve been considering for the past couple of years is what to do about Thursday programming at national meetings. At the ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C., in August, the number of sessions dropped by about 20% on Thursday morning and by about 70% on Thursday afternoon compared with the other days of the meeting. Many unhappy situations result from poor Thursday attendance, including speakers whose audience may consist only of the organizer, the next speaker, and perhaps the speaker’s mother, and large amounts of wasted audiovisual costs for Thursday (not avoidable unless we eliminate the day).
M&E has led discussions on this issue with all interested parties. Many reasons have been expressed for simply walking away from Thursday programming. Divisions have shown strong interest in the idea, but many concerns have also been voiced.
We are scientists, so we have decided to conduct an experiment and get some data to help us resolve these conflicting opinions. The ACS national meeting is scheduled to be in Atlanta in the fall of 2021, and the contract with the Atlanta venue was conducive to an experiment. Thus, we have decided to eliminate Thursday technical programming in Atlanta and set up metrics to determine whether the overall impact upon the society is positive. We are looking at opportunities for additional experiments in the years after the Atlanta meeting.
At the ACS national meeting in New Orleans next spring, M&E will hold a strategic planning retreat that will include our partners (DAC, MPPG, Younger Chemists Committee, and others) who are also deeply interested in these issues.
We invite your thoughts and ideas about how to make ACS meetings even more exciting, more welcoming, and more conducive to cross-fertilization, idea generation, learning, and growing. Please submit your comments or feedback to M&E@acs.org.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.