Earlier this month, ChemBark sent a questionnaire to the three current candidates for ACS President-Elect. The set of questions was similar to the set distributed last year that Tom Barton was kind enough to answer.
ChemBark will publish each candidate’s response—complete and unedited—in dedicated posts. Dr. Chuck Kolb’s answers ran last week. The next candidate to respond is Dr. Bryan Balazs. His answers appear below.
Don’t forget to vote in the ACS national elections!
Edit: This post has been corrected to include the correct spelling of “Balazs”. (We regret the error!)
Response of Dr. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS President-Elect
With the excitement of the Nobel prizes now (somewhat) behind us, here are my responses to your questions posed below. Let me know if there are any statements that need additional clarification, and thanks for the opportunity to address your readership on these important topics.
PS: If the answers are too long, I can shorten them.
1. What are your thoughts about the historically low voter turnout (~15%) typical of ACS national elections?
I wish this were a higher percentage, as elections are the opportunity for all members to have a voice in who will be the representative of their Society to the membership, to the public, to government, and to other countries. The ACS is the largest scientific society in the world and with this size come challenges in effective engagement with the membership. The candidates do have different strengths, backgrounds, and platforms, and the ACS President definitely can influence the future of the Society. What the low turnout tells us is either: A) members do not follow the elections or care about the outcome, B) the reason they are ACS members is unlikely to be influenced very much by who the President is, or C) members do not know any of the candidates and don’t wish to participate in an election without having an informed vote. If would like to understand the relative influence of each of these three possibilities, and if there are other reasons Until we get this information, what can we do in the meantime to improve this? Here are a few ideas I would like to suggest: 1. The members don’t get many opportunities to interact with the candidates and vice versa. The current election rules are very restrictive and so, we should explore ways for the candidates to reach out to members, and the ACS could provide more resources for the candidates to facilitate this; 2. To make it easier to vote, ACS should move towards a default of electronic voting rather than the current paper ballot with an option to vote online; 3. Members who vote can influence and encourage friends and colleagues to vote. This sounds simple but can have a huge effect in the voting rates; and finally 4. We can nurture voting regularity in younger members by providing some kind of membership incentives as a result of voting.
2. What is your stance regarding the fees that ACS Publications charges companies and universities to access journals?
I have heard from many members, especially those at small colleges or companies that the journal prices are raising at an unsustainable rate for them and they wish that there were other pricing options. This is indeed a problem not only for ACS publications but also other publications like Nature, to the point where universities are considering boycotting journal subscriptions. Also, there has been an increase in open access journals, a trend ACS has to keep in mind. While there should be no restrictions in the spread of knowledge, unfortunately, publishing and circulation of these journals (both online and physical copies) does come with costs. We need to explore ways to keep these costs under control, and academia, industry and the scientific societies need to have a serious dialogue on this issue. This needs to happen because it directly affects our members.
3. What is your stance on the ACS’s executive compensation packages?
Within any organization, the pay that an employee receives should correspond to the value that this employee provides to the organization, and the ACS should be no different. All salaries must be benchmarked against market conditions, keeping in mind that the ACS is a complex non-profit organization with over 160,000 members, about 2000 staff members, and about a billion dollars in assets. Executive compensation packages should reflect this, and the ACS has been very transparent about this information; see https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/aboutacs/financial.html (see part VII in the 2011 IRS Form 990 for info on executive compensation).
4. What are your thoughts on the recent ACS vs. Leadscope case? Do you believe that society records pertaining to the lawsuit—including legal fees—should be made public?
I am familiar with only the basic facts of the case, such as those published by the ACS in C&EN or in the Councilor bulletins. To be honest, I really don’t have a strong opinion in this case, but it sounds like the ACS made logical decisions as the legal process unfolded. The ACS has said that the legal judgment against the ACS will not affect member dues or benefits, and I take their word on this.
5. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the public perception of chemistry?
The public listens to celebrities and other people in the public spotlight, and I believe we should tap into this. Many of these people are enthusiastic about science, so why not partner with them to help spread the message about the value of chemistry (science in general)? I think having actor Alan Alda at the recent national meeting in Indianapolis was a superb idea, and I would do more of this.
6. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the employment situation for chemists?
This is a complex issue, but ACS can do a better job of bridging the employers with new opportunities (employees). My thoughts are as follows:
There is no doubt that chemists are in a competitive job market in the current challenging economic times. In my opinion, applicants need three things to land a job: 1) they need to find out about job openings (this goes without saying), 2) they need to have the required skills for the job, and 3) they need to outshine the competition when it comes to the application and interview process. The ACS needs stronger efforts for its members in each of these areas. Quite frankly, the ACS does not do a very good job at identifying for its members where the jobs are and who IS hiring (item number 1). This can be improved by coming up with a database of websites that ACS member can use to locate the jobs that they might be qualified for, including companies that are “non-traditional” employers of chemists. With item number 2, skills, I feel that in the fast changing competition from talent around the world, we need to constantly encourage our students and work force to keep learning new skills, even while in a job. One of the latest trends in our education system is the onset of online courses. I will extend my efforts to explore collaborations between ACS and institutions offering such courses to benefit our members. For item number 3, the ACS has good resources to help members polish their resume, work through the application process, etc., but surprisingly few members take advantage of these resources. We need to find out why, and we need to improve this. One of the areas we can improve is to offer online services for those seeking help with item number 3.
7. What is your favorite chemical compound with respect to color or smell?
I have lots of favorite chemicals and elements, but one that comes to mind is malachite green, or [C6H5C(C6H4N(CH3)2)2]Cl. My organic chemistry professor in college, who had a rather mischievous sense of humor, had the students synthesize malachite green in the organic lab around St. Patrick’s Day. Malachite green is a very intense dye, and the end result of all these students synthesizing this compound was that the hallways of the chemistry building turned green, and students’ furniture, clothes, bedsheets, and so forth had a green tinge. Pretty amusing, unless of course you had a car with white leather seats…!