UNITED WE STAND OR A HOUSE DIVIDED (1995)
In my previous Comments, 2+2=4, I stated my views on the problems in chemistry. I finished it by pleading to the various segments of our profession for a joint "no fault" action to solve it. I have received numerous communications (letters, calls, FAX-es even E-mails). No one wanted to tar and feather me, the large majority agreed that the problem exists. However, some of them were pessimistic fearing that there were too much interest at stakes to make any progress. Representatives from various segments claimed that the other segments will never compromise.
Obviously, any separate action aimed at improving the situation would cause apprehension and would meet resistance by various segments. Let me state bluntly these problems.
1. Tightening academic standards and immigration requirements would cause a drop in the number of graduate students who represent a very efficient labor force for Academia as far as the cost/benefit ratio is concerned. Reward system in Academia is based on publication. Teaching is frequently the secondary factor, especially at Ph.D. granting institutions.
2. If the supply is restricted in any way, the salaries will start to rise, thus creating an imbalance in the research budget. Industrys profitability today is measured by the yearly balance sheet, the difference between financial situation at the beginning and the end of year, or sometimes even the quarter. Potential long range benefits are not translated to numbers.
3. Higher workloads during the learning period, or certification/licensing requirements after graduation takes up more time and may result in failing. This could negate or at least decrease the potential benefits one can derive from time and money invested in higher education.
It is evident that uncoordinated changes could threaten the livelihood of various segments in the chemical profession: Academia, Industry and Chemists. Many of them see the long range consequences of the problems, but are reluctant to initiate or even just advocate changes fearing that they will have harmful effects on their own career. The potential problems of the unknown was always a major reason of procrastination in human history. Unfortunately, meanwhile the situation keeps deteriorating. At a certain point, the neglection of the problems will result in drastic, panicky reactions and oversteering which will be worse than the possible side-effects of pioneering actions we avoided earlier.
It should be evident that appropriate safeguards are needed to minimize the potential problems the changes may cause. There is no question that the problems are real and solutions are difficult. But the alternative, i.e., ignoring the problem is much worse. The solution must be and can be reached by joint actions. Europe is standing on the threshold of a strong federation whose members were fighting each other for many centuries. It was not an easy process, and there is still friction over some of the details. However, the once warring parties now realize that the long range benefits will outweigh any "growing" pains.
So where is the beef? What do I propose to do? I can describe in 25 words the basic principles we must consider while working out the solutions to our problems: .
1. Put more emphasis on teaching
2. Handle research as a long range investment, not as day-to-day expense.
3. Consider chemistry as a lifelong learning process.
However, I would need at least 2500 words to ease even just a little the anxiety and uncertainty these statements induced in some of you as you read them. Many of you are probably ready to list the pitfalls and how you might be adversely affected by it. As soon as I were to recommend any specific action out of context, there would be objection to it by some. It is the same as closing military bases. Everyone is for it, except if it is in their own area.
Yes, there are hazards in controlling the supply and demand ratio, instituting any type of certification or licensing process, or whatever other actions are needed to solve the problems. However, the difficulties can be minimized if the plans are worked out jointly. The shortcomings of any of these actions may be balanced by the benefits from the others. For example, the requirement for continuing education whether it is taking additional courses/examinations or the development of non-academic sabbaticals would make up for a possible drop in enrollment at universities. Higher financial compensation to industrial scientists would retain more of the talented researchers resulting in more discoveries. Continuing educational requirements would assure better and longer job stability.
Our difficult situation is the result of the lack of long range and, mostly, joint planning. Each segment is trying to protect its own interest, which is natural. However, ignoring the long range consequences of our action might be par for ostriches, but it is unforgivable for physical scientists who depend on logic in their every day work.
What can the ACS do? We do not have the power to dictate Academia how to reward their members. We can not change the balance sheet of organizations employing chemists. We can not force continuing education in any form. However, the Society is the largest and more prestigious single discipline scientific organization of the world. We can and should be the developer of new ideas, the instigator of their adoption, the facilitator of their implementation and the mediator between the various segments which eyes each others actions with suspicion. If each sides can see that the others are willing to listen to new ideas, we can make great progress. Many of our members are very influential in the Academia. We have good contacts with Industry through the Corporate Associates. It will not be an easy process, but if politicians of a dozen of European countries with centuries of mistrust can work together, we should not be afraid to start on the Chemistry Trek to go where no one ever went before. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind at it.
How can the ACS do it? The ACS Board of Directors with the Council should take the initiative to bring representatives of various segments together for open discussions. However, these steps will not bring fruits unless the members, Local Sections and Divisions will actively nurture them. I will use every opportunity as a Board member promote discussion, but I urge everyone to discuss the problems -- both local and national--, suggest possible solutions to them and build harmony so that we can act together. Let us start 1995 on a positive and optimistic note. The profession you save might be your own.
Attila E. Pavlath, Chair
Professional and Member Relations Committee
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