The science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce in the US has a long way to go before it reflects the overall population. A National Science Foundation report on diversity in STEM published earlier this year reported that in 2021, the chemistry workforce of 114,000 included just 4.4% Black or African American and 7.0% Hispanic or Latino people. The authors of the report did not include data for American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander scientists, as each group had fewer than 500 people working in chemistry. In contrast, in the US census of 2020, Hispanic or Latino made up 18.7% of the total population and Black or African American people comprised 12.1% of the total population.
recently earned her PhD in inorganic chemistry from Case Western Reserve University
The mismatch between the chemistry workforce composition and that of the general US population could be a result of systematic barriers chemists from underrepresented groups in the US often face when trying to access career opportunities that are more readily available to many of their White peers. The barriers, biases, and discrimination people from non-majority groups face reduce their success; the hurdles can affect not only professional growth but also mental and physical well-being of people from underrepresented groups. The American Chemical Society Bridge Project aims to help counteract these systemic issues by offering events and initiatives to support primarily Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students and postdoctoral researchers who are members of groups underrepresented in chemistry.
Each year, the ACS Bridge Project offers the Career Kick-Starter (CKS) Workshop in partnership with the Genentech Foundation. The weekend-long experience helps Bridge fellows, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars from underrepresented groups prepare to apply for their first academic, government, nonprofit, or industry job in the US. Participants get advice from career professionals, gain career preparation insights and tips, and attend networking events.
The 2022 CKS Workshop was held Nov. 11–13 in Washington, DC. C&EN BrandLab spoke with attendees and facilitators to get a snapshot of their weekend.
“For a long time, I had never really met anyone who looked like me and did the type of chemistry I do,” says Emalyn Delgado Rosario, who recently earned her PhD in inorganic chemistry from Case Western Reserve University. “But at the CKS Workshop, I was able to see so many amazing women doing incredible things.”
Natalia Martin, a program manager for ACS Career & Professional Education who helped facilitate the workshop, explains that a key objective of the event is to provide participants with the chance to engage with and learn from a diverse group of chemical scientists working in a variety of jobs across academia, government, industry, and nonprofit organizations.
an analytical chemistry PhD candidate at Missouri University of Science and Technology
Mentors may only have certain knowledge of what's needed to pursue a career path different from theirs, Martin says. She views the CKS workshop as an important place for attendees to find extra support for investigating a wide range of careers in various sectors.
The opportunity to hear experienced chemists talk about their own career paths also helped relieve the pressure some participants felt to have already defined their goals. “I had a lot of questions going in, and the workshop not only helped me answer some of them but also made me realize that it’s OK not to be sure and to keep exploring,” says Olajide Adetunji, a PhD candidate in analytical chemistry at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Participants were also encouraged to consider their whole selves when looking at career options. “Values, interests, and personal identity play a significant role in finding a fulfilling career path,” Martin says. To this end, Martin and her ACS Bridge Project colleagues created a welcoming and culturally diverse environment with many opportunities for connection.
a PhD candidate studying fiber and polymer science at North Carolina State University
The workshop planners intentionally provided food featuring flavors from around the world and encouraged honest sharing through purposeful activities. Attendees were encouraged to contribute to a Wall of Awesomeness that featured sticky notes on which they shared some of the challenges they’d had to overcome. “It was comforting to hear that other people have faced similar struggles, but also that they are pursuing big dreams in the same way,” says Julio Terán, a PhD candidate studying fiber and polymer science at North Carolina State University.
Participants say they left the workshop with plans to stay in contact. “Twenty years down the line, I anticipate that we will still celebrate each other's accomplishments,” Delgado Rosario says. Martin says many attendees of previous workshops have also kept in touch with the ACS staff, speakers, and mentors they met and have received support and practical assistance with application materials and career decisions.
CKS Workshops are intended as a gateway to successful and enriching chemistry careers. Workshop participants practiced many professional skills, including conversation for interviews and networking, and writing for applications, résumés, and cover letters. Adetunji gained confidence in writing his cover letters and now assists peers in writing theirs. The type of growth demonstrated by Adetunji is one of the ACS Bridge Project’s primary goals for these events: provide participants with new competencies and give them the encouragement needed to pursue newly discovered opportunities.
With this goal and others, the ACS Bridge Project hopes that future CKS Workshops will continue to equip graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from underrepresented groups with supportive tools and skills to face down barriers they may meet as they embark on their professional journeys.
Apply for the 2023 CKS Workshop: acs.org/CKSworkshop