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Industry is too focused on applied research, chemists say in survey

Chemical enterprise must also address image problem to attract top talent

by Jyllian Kemsley
September 22, 2017

At a glance

Of 186 chemists surveyed:

80% think too much focus on applied research stymies scientific advancement

78% think that potential chemists choose other fields because those fields have more newsworthy breakthroughs

75% think that potential chemists choose other fields because medical research innovation is associated with biology

21% think there are insufficient opportunities to collaborate with researchers in other fields

84% think that being technologically savvy is crucial or very important for career advancement

Source: Elsevier

Innovation in the chemical sciences is stifled by overemphasis on applications at the expense of basic research, a survey of chemists says.

“Chemistry is often regarded as having less ‘pull’ than other disciplines, such as biology and physics, and its contributions often go unrecognized,” says Tim Hoctor, vice president of professional services at Elsevier, which conducted the survey. “This is why we were particularly interested in gaining a better understanding of the industry, and of chemists’ views into the factors that may hinder innovation.”

Of the 186 industry professionals in the chemical sciences who took the survey, 80% said that too much focus on applied research is hindering breakthroughs.

Nearly 80% also said that they believe potential chemists choose other fields for careers because medical research innovation is more associated with biology than chemistry, and because advances in other fields get more media coverage.

“Chemistry is at the heart of many of the innovations being enjoyed by the public today,” comments Susan Morrissey, director of communications at the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN. “ACS supports and encourages all members of the chemistry enterprise to communicate the vital role of chemical professionals and chemistry in addressing the world’s challenges.”

More than 80% of survey respondents also said that being technologically savvy is very important to career progression in the chemical sciences, but they also had mixed opinions about what that means in practice.


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