Archive for the ‘Employment’ Category

Our Faculty Position Ad: Behind the Scenes

Monday, October 13th, 2014

ed_academic_bigOur department is running its first tenure-track faculty search since I was hired last year, so it is my first chance to get a behind-the-scenes view of the process from the other side. Having experienced the joy and frustration of dealing with the academic job market from the side of an applicant, I figured our search is a good opportunity to pull back the curtain on what would otherwise be an opaque process. At the same time, such a post could be used to broadcast our position to as wide an audience as possible. That’s a win–win, baby.

You may have seen our official announcement, which ran in the August 18th edition of C&EN:

Saint Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, research, health care, and service seeks applicants for a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in Chemistry starting Fall 2015. A Ph.D. is required and post-doctoral experience is preferred. Successful candidates will develop an independent research program and be committed to excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching in the areas of both organic chemistry and biochemistry. Successful applicants will have an expertise in bioorganic chemistry, chemical biology or organic chemistry. The Department offers BA/BS degrees in chemistry and biochemistry and MS and PhD degrees in chemistry. Review of applications begins October 15th and will continue until the position is filled. All applications must be made online at; also send CV, research plans, teaching philosophy, transcripts, and 3 reference letters to: Saint Louis University is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer, and encourages nominations and applications of women and underrepresented minorities.

These adverts have always struck me as stuffy, vague, and minimally informative, and ours is no exception. There are actually a couple of reasons for the brevity and stuffiness. First, magazines like C&EN charge handsomely per line—over $1 per character, with a $650 minimum—so you generally want these ads to be concise. Second, all of these announcements have to get cleared by the administration, and HR demands that certain information be included in any job posting. After placement of that information, there is little space for elaboration—just the basic facts.

So, allow me to read between the lines by providing some context and background about our posting. Our department began offering a biochemistry degree a few years ago, and it has become very popular. So popular that it is putting strain on the teaching assignments for our department. We need more professors able to teach biochemistry, and just as importantly, able to provide research opportunities for these majors. Bolstering our biological side will also allow us to offer more graduate courses in this area, which now is essentially impossible due to the scheduling demands of the undergraduate curriculum.

At the same time, the departure of one professor and the promotion of another into an administrative position have created a strain on the organic faculty. As far as organic goes, we offer a sophomore sequence for majors (with ~35 students), a sophomore sequence for non-majors (with ~250 students), a single-semester course for nursing students, an advanced course on organic spectroscopy, and usually two graduate organic courses each year (e.g., synthesis, physical organic, and medicinal). As a result, we are hoping that we can find a candidate who can not only teach biochemistry, but who also has the flexibility to teach organic.

So, that is what we mean when we say “committed to excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching in the areas of both organic chemistry and biochemistry”. You have probably heard that many candidates get rejected from academic searches not because they lack talent, but because they do not fit the department’s current needs. We are undoubtedly going to be doling out some of those rejections, because we mean it when we say we want to hire someone with expertise in both biochemistry and organic chemistry. We are not simply throwing out these terms to try to cast as wide a net as possible. If you are strongly physical-organic (with no focus on a biological problem), it’s probably not going to work out. But if bioorganic chemistry is your bag, please apply! And the rest of you should be pals and tell your bioorganic/chembio friends about our listing.

The terseness of these job advertisements also prevents our providing more information about the school and our department. The advertisement says that we are a Catholic, Jesuit institution, and I imagine this could lead many applicants to develop preconceptions about the way things work at SLU. Having been here a year, I’d say that the Jesuit influence has more of an effect on the model the college uses for education (e.g., a broad core program weighed towards courses in philosophy and theology) rather than any particular influence on our department. When I was applying, I was concerned that my proposed research on origin-of-life chemistry would disqualify me due to conflict with Catholic beliefs. Obviously, it did not—I was hired—and I have encountered absolutely zero resistance with regard to this issue.

The school is governed by a board of trustees with a layperson majority. In fact, the school itself has argued (in public court records) that it is not a religious institution. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, stating “The university is not a religious institution simply because it is affiliated with the Jesuits or the Roman Catholic Church. A university’s motivation or aspiration to follow certain teachings does not indicate that it is ‘controlled by a religious creed’ such that religion dictates the corporate management of the university.” While the university takes great pride in its Catholic heritage and affiliation, it does not dominate the politics of the school or our department.

As far as our department goes, it reminds me of the chemistry department at NYU when I was an undergraduate. When I was at NYU, the graduate program was small-to-medium-sized and undergrads were given a lot of leeway in research. At SLU, we have 13 research faculty and we matriculate about 10 new graduate students each year. The most active labs have about 3-6 graduate students each—a very manageable size. This is also an exciting time for the department. We are converting the building adjacent to ours into laboratories, and we will expand into that space in March. Furthermore, the school just inaugurated a new president and we are set to have a major capital campaign to mark our bicentennial in 2018.

As far as people go, the faculty here gets along better than at any other department I’ve seen. I believe that most of the votes we’ve had in faculty meeting during my time here have been unanimous decisions. The graduate students get along with each other, and there is a lot of interaction among groups. This completely contradicts my experience in graduate school, where research groups were massive, faculty were absent for long stretches of time, professors talked incredible smack about each other behind their backs, and each lab was essentially its own island. While such a work environment is tolerable as a graduate student for a limited amount of time, I think my general preference is for something a little less caustic. Of course, the tradeoff is that we lack the resources of a powerhouse department. We have one NMR instrument, not nine. We have two administrative assistants for the department, whereas my graduate advisor had four just for himself.

But I like the balance of SLU. Balance in terms of size—we have a Ph.D. program, but not one so big that you lose touch of students or the lab. Balance in terms of effort—both research and teaching are valued. Balance in terms of students—both undergraduate and graduate students make meaningful contributions to research. Balance in terms of location—St. Louis is a medium-sized Metro area with plenty of culture, but not a megalopolis with an overwhelming cost of living.

And, that’s the whole story, more or less. It is not something any applicant would be expected to glean from our advert alone, but that’s how the system works. I am sure there are similar stories for many other departments who are looking to fill a specific need. While the information may trickle out in the form of personal communication and gossip, social media and the Internet allow free publication of the complete story. And, as longtime readers will know, that is one of the big reasons I love blogs: because they democratize information, making it accessible to everyone instead of people in the Old Boys’ Club who are in the know.

If you think you’d be a good fit for our department, please apply! If you think your labmate would be a good fit, tell her about our opening! And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

UCLA Professor Patrick Harran Strikes Deal with Prosecutors

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

BulldoodyPatrick Harran, the UCLA professor who faced four felony counts in connection with the death of Sheri Sangji in a laboratory fire, has struck a deal with prosecutors that allows him to avoid charges in exchange for a $10,000 fine, 800 hours of community service, and running a lab free of safety violations. So long as Harran completes his end of the terms of the agreement, he will avoid trial and have an untarnished criminal record.

What a relief!

As an assistant professor in charge of a research lab, I could not be happier with this outcome. I have a lot of stuff to worry about, and ensuring the safety of my students cannot be allowed to get in the way of important things like finding consulting gigs, collecting awards, traveling to international conferences, and stealing ideas for grants. All of those OSHA rules are meant for industry, not academia. The bar for what passes as safe in academic labs is clear, and people who want to work under moderately safe conditions know better than to go to graduate school. The government simply can’t expect me to be responsible for what happens in my lab, which is well over 50 feet from my office and not even the same direction as the restroom. I’m happy to buy enough safety goggles and almost enough lab coats to outfit my students, but the rest is up to them. If Aldrich has written a technical note on their hazardous experiment, my students know not to bother me.

The most important aspect of the Harran deal is how it extends the long, proud tradition of excusing PIs of any professional responsibility for their work. Society recognizes that professors are only supposed to have good things happen to them. We get the lion’s share of credit for papers, not the students or postdocs. We get the big salaries, not the students or postdocs. We get the awards, not the students or postdocs. On the flip side, professors must be protected from negative consequences at all costs. If an accident happens in one of our labs, that’s the students’ fault. If multiple papers from one of our labs contain fabricated data, that’s the students’ fault as well. Clearly, professors are not responsible for supervising their groups for integrity or safety. We know this because Dalibor Sames and Patrick Harran are still in charge of their labs. I applaud Columbia and UCLA for recognizing that you can’t discriminate against professors for trivial things like irresponsibility and incompetence. Anyway, it’s the competent professors you need to watch—lightning never strikes twice, right?

Of course, I realize that there should be some consequences when something truly horrible happens. In these situations, professors must arrange for perfunctory punishments that allow all of the parties charged with oversight to save face. That’s what we saw here: UCLA threw some money at a scholarship in the victim’s name and at establishing a safety program it should have had in the first place. Personally, Harran was forced to donate money to the hospital where his student died. Incidentally, I think $10,000 was way too much; the man only earns $301,000 a year. How is he going to make ends meet with just $291,000? At least Harran’s lawyers were clever in how they disguised the 800 hours of community service as a major inconvenience instead of court-mandated preparation for the Broader Impacts section of Harran’s next NSF proposal. Killing two birds with one stone is exactly why good lawyers get paid the big bucks.

In all seriousness, I think the deal agreed to by prosecutors is a grave injustice, but one that comes as no surprise in today’s legal system. Without any changes to the material facts of the case, how does the DA go from charging someone with four felony counts to striking a deal that allows Harran to have a spotless record with a payment, community service, and actually doing his job of running a lab free of safety violations? Note that this was not a plea bargain; Harran pleaded guilty to nothing—not a misdemeanor, or even an infraction.

The game plan of Harran’s legal defense was quite effective: delay, delay, and delay. They gummed up the works with continuance after continuance and motion after motion. In the end, it appeared the prosecutors were willing to do anything just to clear the case. I mean, was this deal what the prosecutors were holding out for all of these years? What makes it all the more worse is that the original deal called for 400 rather than 800 hours of community service. The judge had to step in and double it.

My heart goes out to Sheri’s family for their loss. While I think our legal system has denied them justice, my hope is that the field of chemistry does not forget what happened to her. I hope UCLA’s reported new-and-improved safety culture persists, and I hope the rest of the world of academic chemistry also strives to do a much better job regarding safety than it has in the past. At the very least, I can guarantee you that Sheri’s death has had an indelible, positive effect my approach to safety and how I manage my lab and students.


For more coverage: C&EN’s Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice have done a fantastic service for the community in covering the case, and Chemjobber has been curating links to coverage on his site.

Questionnaire Answers from Dr. Diane Schmidt, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

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 is publishing each candidate’s response—complete and unedited—in dedicated posts. Dr. Chuck Kolb’s answers and Dr. Bryan Balazs answers ran in previous posts. The next candidate to respond is Dr. Diane Schmidt (whose response was delayed due to jury duty). Her answers appear below.

Don’t forget to vote in the ACS national elections!


Response of Dr. Diane Schmidt, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

1. What are your thoughts about the historically low voter turnout (~15%) typical of ACS national elections?

Apathy is difficult to cure. One suggestion would be to have greater publicity in C&EN (perhaps a cover article) to raise the profile and awareness of the national elections. The option to vote electronically does not appear to have had the impact of  greater participation in the national elections that was expected.

2. What is your stance regarding the fees that ACS Publications charges companies and universities to access journals?

Journal pricing is complex and is probably best understood by dealing in specifics for specific schools and companies rather than generalities.  When I get these questions, I always refer people to Pubs.  In many cases there are custom solutions that can be crafted for individual circumstances.

My view is that ACS journals offer high value and high impact at competitive pricing. The quality and the value of the trusted, peer reviewed information provided by ACS journals is a very good value vs. other publishers.

3. What is your stance on the ACS’s executive compensation packages?

Full transparency is important. Perhaps a C&EN comment on the process that is used would help get everyone on the same page as to what is actually in place and the process that is used to determine compensation.

You may remember that the Board held a town meeting on Executive Compensation after Council in Fall, 2005, and perhaps a refresher is in order via a C&EN comment. C&EN calls attention to the ACS Form 990 filing each year and tells readers how to access that document on Here’s the link to the 990 notice on page 6 of C&EN. term=990&doc id=-1&search term=990#pg8 

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?

Full transparency is important.

The background as I recall is that all public reports on Leadscope in the early days were modulated by the fact that it was active litigation.  The events relating to the litigation go back to 1998. For a long time, virtually nothing happened, then there was the trial.

For nearly a year after the settlement in 2012, an extensive Q&A was advertised on the front page of the ACS website. It can still be found at:

One of the difficulties I think with this case is it spanned quite a number of years perhaps making it difficult to follow. My impression is there were regular updates in C&EN over the course of the legal proceedings as the case unfolded, reports in Council of the case status by the Chair of the Board, as well as updates in the Councilor Bulletin. Perhaps a summary in C&EN tying all of the bits and pieces together that were published over time as the case unfolded would be helpful with links to the publically available information. My understanding is that the Chair of the Board reports which include Leadscope are posted on the ACS website.

The most recent report on Leadscope and the financial impact on ACS was by the Chair of the Board  and was presented in Council last Spring. I believe his remarks are posted on the ACS web.

My understanding is that the proceedings of this case are in the public record. To read a summary of the case prepared by the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Office of Public Information, click here:

5. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the public perception of chemistry?

Outreach. Chemistry improves the lives of all. Communicating specific examples such as chemistry’s role in clean water, food safety, medicinal improvements, diagnostic techniques, etc.  that the general public experiences daily, but does not identify as chemistry. This would help make the connection between the role of chemistry and the improvements the general public experiences in daily life because of the contributions of chemists and chemistry. The ACS Landmarks Program does this to some degree. During the International Year of Chemistry, many examples of how chemistry improves life daily were posted on the ACS website. There is an opportunity to go the next step and more broadly communicate these.

6. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the employment situation for chemists?

Ensure that all members and all chemists know of and have access to the many ACS employment tools and services already in place. Work with staff and members to further enhance, expand and improve these tools.

7. What is your favorite chemical compound with respect to color or smell?

My favorite chemical compound is caffeine, especially delivered in chocolate. It was my first total synthesis as an undergraduate.

Questionnaire Answers from Dr. Bryan Balazs, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

Monday, October 21st, 2013

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

Hi Paul,

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 (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…!

Questionnaire Answers from Dr. Charles Kolb, Candidate for ACS President-Elect

Monday, October 14th, 2013

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. The first candidate to respond was Dr. Chuck Kolb. His response appears below. (The answers of Dr. Bryan Balazs can be found in this thread.)

Response of Dr. Chuck Kolb, Candidate for ACS President-Elect


Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the important questions you have distributed to candidates for 2014 ACS President-Elect. My initial responses are listed after each of your questions below. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I expect to be more deeply involved with the ACS Board of Directors and executive staff as we deal with several of the issues you have raised. I look forward to learning more about them during my “apprentice” year as President-Elect.



1. What are your thoughts about the historically low voter turnout (~15%) typical of ACS national elections?

A much higher voter participation rate in ACS elections would be a very healthy development. It would help ensure that issues of direct importance to members, not just to ACS’s governance volunteers, have the highest priority. Some ACS governance debates have an “inside the beltway” flavor that might seem strange to a majority of our members. However, this is not just and ACS problem, I belong to several other scientific societies with similar voter participation levels in their elections. Scientists and engineers are busy people and will not spend time on things that believe might not be very important or where they do not know what is at stake.

To do better we need to be sure the voting procedure is easy and quick and that the voters know what is at stake. I think that recent advances in on‐line voting are addressing the first requirement. I believe that greater transparency and more effective communication from the ACS Board of Directors, including the presidential succession members, might address the second requirement. If elected, I will advocate that ACS’s Board prepare and publish an annual “report card” to the members where they summarize the major issues they are addressing, what they have accomplished in the reporting year and what they intend to do in the coming year.

2. What is your stance regarding the fees that ACS Publications charges companies and universities to access journals?

I am very concerned about the escalation in journal subscription costs. Particularly their impact on both smaller and/or poorer academic institutions and smaller businesses, that need access to compete effectively, but really struggle to meet ever increasing fees. This is a serious problem in the U.S., but an even more serious problem in the developing world. For this and other reasons I believe that scientific publishing will soon be dominated by open access journals and that the ACS needs to work very hard to figure out how to meet that challenge while maintaining adequate revenue to sustain the quantity and quality of our publications.

3. What is your stance on the ACS’s executive compensation packages?

ACS’s senior executive staff is very well compensated. To some extent this is understandable because ACS is a large and complex organization that requires highly capable full‐time professional management, despite the uncompensated leadership and management skills of its thousands of volunteer members who play key governance roles. Also, ACS must compete with both for‐profit and other non‐profit science based organizations for executive talent, and their leaders’ compensation is generally at historic highs.

Organizational transparency is required to keep this issue in perspective and under control. I agree with Tom Barton, ACS’s current President‐Elect, who recommended an annual report on ACS executive staff compensation levels and their rationale, including available comparisons with similar positions at other major scientific societies, be published annually in C&E News, when responding to ChemBark on this question last year.

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?

A similar question was asked of each of the four initial 2014 President‐ Elect candidates at our candidate’s forum during the 2013 Spring ACS National Meeting in New Orleans. I was the only candidate who stated directly that the Leadscope suit was a clear and costly mistake. It resulted in very serious monetary losses, for both judgment penalties and legal fees. It also tarnished the ACS’s reputation for fairness and sound business practices.

Since then, Bill Carroll, Chair of ACS’s Board of Directors did publish, in C&E News, a summary explanation of the case and its costs addressed to ACS members. At this point I am less interested in debating whether Bill’s summary was fully transparent than I am in working to ensure that both ACS’s professional and volunteer leaders learned from this mistake and that both will react more effectively if facing similar challenges in the future.

5. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the public perception of chemistry?

Many ACS members are skilled teachers, educating both future chemists and a much larger number of future voters and societal leaders. Recognizing their importance, I proposed the following in my candidate’s statement:

“ACS needs to continue helping educators at all levels to effectively present the beauty of fundamental chemistry. But we also need to help them convey the critical role chemistry can and must play to sustain and enhance our economy, security, health and environment. ACS’s education oriented staff and committees have started addressing this challenge; their efforts need to be supported and expanded, so the large fraction of ACS members who teach can be engaged and empowered.”

If elected, I will work hard with other interested members to promote this strategy.

6. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the employment situation for chemists?

I will work to ensure under-employed and unemployed chemists, as well as ACS members in general, are informed enough by ACS programming, publications, webinars, etc. to exploit the opportunities they will have to address critical societal challenges that require need better chemistry to be successfully addressed. My candidate’s statement describes the challenge of helping ACS members be prepared to “seize the future:”

“Nearly all of the critical challenges facing our world have significant chemical components. ACS must help our current and future members better understand how their vision and their skills can contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable future. The fact that too many ACS members are unemployed or under‐employed, while most global challenges need chemical insight and innovation to be addressed successfully, is a travesty. ACS needs to develop more effective ways to help current and future members orient their interests and capabilities to successfully address critical problems. ACS also needs to motivate both private and public investments to ensure resources exist to fund the science needed for progress.”

7. What is your favorite chemical compound with respect to color or smell?

My favorite chemical color is the blue-green patina of copper sulfate that I first noticed on the architectural surfaces in the coal-burning town where I grew up. That colorful corrosion first showed me that the atmosphere contained invisible, but powerful, chemicals that probably had other important effects beyond turning church roofs blue-green, leading to a career long fascination with atmospheric chemistry.

Waking Up to a Dream Job

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

ed_academic_bigLast month, I started as an assistant professor of chemistry at Saint Louis University. I’ve wanted to be a chemist ever since I was 15 and enraptured by Dr. Liebermann’s three-year chemistry sequence at my high school. My wonderful experience as an undergrad at NYU cemented these plans and the goal of a career in academia.  Almost every academic decision I’ve made since high school has been directed toward being able to teach chemistry and conduct research.

I feel very fortunate to have successfully navigated the job market, and I wish all the best to those of you going out for jobs now. I could never make sense of everything I saw when my colleagues and I applied for jobs. It was an incredibly tough experience, made all the more frustrating by the opaque nature of the process. You never know exactly what’s important, what schools are looking for, or if they’ve even received your application. So little information is shared that when it finally trickles in from second- and third-hand sources, you treat it like valuable military intelligence—dispatches from the front lines of battle. Some people win, but many don’t and must endure a long wait until the next application cycle opens.

Despite the elation—and relief—of getting the job I’ve always wanted, I haven’t really had the opportunity to savor the moment. The hectic experience of moving halfway across the country blended with the hectic experience of setting up the lab at SLU. Two weeks later, classes started and my head has been spinning ever since. SLU definitely values teaching more than your typical Ph.D. chemistry department, and I am teaching two classes this fall: (i) sophomore organic chemistry for majors and (ii) an introduction to the chemical literature + scientific presentations.

The semester hit me like a freight train. The volume of work is unbelievable. I give four lectures a week, and because it’s my first time teaching, these lectures all have to be created from scratch. The joy of being finished with a lecture is quickly superseded by the crushing realization I have to prepare and deliver another whole lecture in 47 hours. On Mondays, I give two lectures, so weekends are particularly filled with fun. Aside from preparing lectures from scratch, there is the other nasty detail that I’ve never written exams before so I can’t distribute old ones as practice tests. So, instead of writing one new exam per unit, I have to write three. And as it turns out, writing thoughtful exams also takes a lot of time. I suppose I could give my colleagues’ old exams,  but everyone emphasizes different things and I feel that the practice exams I give students should reflect what they’ll see on my exams.

In many ways I feel like a new parent. I’ve gone through life as a kid saying, “when I grow up, I’m going to do it this way.” Now is my chance to correct all of the problems I experienced as a student. One of the things I disliked about taking organic chemistry was that no one took the time to explain things in answer keys. Answer keys are a wonderful opportunity to teach; just dropping an answer on students is frustrating to them. Of course, writing detailed answer keys takes a lot of time, but I’m making it a point to do so. Here was the key from my last practice exam. Let’s see how long I can keep it up.

Outside of lecture preparation, there’s a whole bunch of grading to do and many, many meetings with students and advisees. When I was a grad student and postdoc, I could keep my calendar on a small index card. Now, I have so many meetings every week, I finally surrendered and registered for Google Calendar. I get multiple text messages every day reminding me whom I’m supposed to meet with, when, and where. On top of that, students and colleagues stop by my office regularly, which is great. I live for these interactions, but they are another investment of time. Basically, the only time I can get work done is at home, which is yet another weird/counter-intuitive realization I’ve made in the past month.

Despite the fact that I always feel I’m doing something, I am still amazed how quickly work piles up. Up to 50 new e-mails a day land in my inbox, and some of them I just can’t get to. Unfortunately, friends and blog stuff are the ones that typically get pushed to the back burner, so my deepest apologies if you’re waiting on a reply about something. Also, while I have yet to submit a research paper from SLU, referee requests have already found their way into my SLU inbox.

So, the last five weeks have been crazy, but enjoyable. I really like working with students and I have a fantastic group of colleagues. I hope to update the blog more often, but it’s one of those things that is easily pushed to the back burner. I’m looking forward to the time when I will teach a class for the second time and I’ll already have the material ready to go, but sadly, that is at least a year away. In the meantime, I’m just hoping to keep my head above water…