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Editorial: Distinguished scientists inspire at career event

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
July 23, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 26


I was fortunate to participate in the inaugural LEADS Conference, an event organized by the American Chemical Society with the goal of preparing “high-potential early career professionals and students for successful and impactful careers in the chemical enterprise.”

LEADS stands for Lasting Encounters between Aspiring and Distinguished Scientists. As the name suggests, it is designed to bring together scientists at opposite ends of their careers for networking, mentoring, and sharing experiences and career opportunities in the chemical sciences.

The conference, which took place in Washington, DC, July 18–20, is the brainchild of former ACS president Luis Echegoyen, who envisioned an opportunity to build community while emphasizing diversity and inclusion in the chemical sciences.

The inaugural LEADS Conference had originally been scheduled to take place in 2021, but the pandemic meant that plans had to be redrawn and the conference put on hold until now. Nonetheless, the roster of speakers was impressive, including chemistry Nobel laureates Jennifer A. Doudna, Roald Hoffmann, David MacMillan, and Sir Fraser Stoddart.

Attendance at the LEADS Conference is by application only, and applicants are required to submit a variety of supporting documents, including a personal statement, résumé, and letters of recommendation. In addition, applicants must be undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, or within the first 3 years of starting a profession.

The conference is open to international attendees and to individuals from all employment sectors. As a result, participants came from far and wide. One thing they all had in common was their readiness to soak up the experience and eagerness to learn and be inspired by the guidance that was shared.

The program was varied and touched on many aspects of what being a successful chemist requires today, including developing leadership, mentoring, and networking skills and establishing collaborations and partnerships.

I was asked to moderate a panel discussion titled “Industry Needs and Challenges.” The panelists were Carlonda Reilly, vice president and chief technology officer at Kennametal, and A. N. Sreeram, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Dow. My goal was to facilitate a discussion between these industrial R&D heavyweights with a view to learning more about what they see as the main challenges and opportunities facing their fields today and in the future. I hoped attendees would better understand the complexity of the industrial sector, what a career in that field may look like, and what skills they need to succeed in industry.

Interestingly, one theme both panelists identified as an important challenge in industry is securing the right talent—and, in that vein, how crucial it is to employ professionals with good communication skills. A scientist’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively in a cross-functional environment is critical not just for the individual’s success but also for the success of entire teams.

In academia, multidisciplinarity is a much-talked-about topic. More than ever before, scientists are collaborating across the boundaries of their fields, and this is also the case in industry. Chemists and chemical engineers often work in tandem, for example, but industrial chemists may also work closely with people from corporate functions like sales and marketing.

Part of the conversation centered on the “S” in ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and how socially responsible and sustainable practices have become a priority for chemical firms.

All in all, it was a great first LEADS Conference. Long may they continue.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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