Digging Deeper at the ACS Conference: A Librarian’s Perspective

At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) where I am the Health & Science Librarian, I have the challenging yet exciting opportunity to work with all of the STEM and health science disciplines. Despite having little time to specialize, I have been very fortunate to develop a close relationship with our Chemistry department—both the students and the faculty—over the last several years and this past year, became the liaison to Chemistry. Based upon my work with chemistry faculty and students (and related presentations and publications) I was invited by the ACS CINF section to present on this work at the Spring ACS conference. However, as Chemistry is not my sole focus or responsibility, it was unlikely that I would have had the funding to attend the entire ACS conference, but would rather just attend the single day of my presentation. Enter the ACS Publications Travel Grant I was awarded!

With my newly awarded funding courtesy of ACS, I was able to expand my goals for the conference. My primary focus became developing a more holistic understanding of the culture of chemists and the conversations surrounding work in chemistry and allied fields. Secondly, and selfishly, I hoped I would have a chance to interact with other chemistry or general science librarians. I was also hoping to gain some insights related to the structuring of another large professional conference to inform my committee involvement with the American Library Association Conference (ALA). I was able to realize all of these goals and more during my time at the ACS conference.

Perhaps the most impressive and recurrent thread throughout the conference was the integration of students into all aspects of the conference. Everywhere I looked there were students! And they weren’t just passive observers, but active participants involved in everything from poster sessions to podium presentations to asking really great questions in sessions. My first stop, after rolling in to New Orleans, was the Undergraduate Research at the Frontiers of Inorganic Chemistry student poster sessions where one of our very own UTC students was presenting! He had already talked to several professors from potential graduate programs, looking to recruit students to their universities. What an amazing opportunity!

Students showed up again and again throughout my conference experience but nowhere were they as concentrated as at Sci-Mix! My fellow grant recipient, April, and I were told that the Sci-Mix poster session was not to be missed and we took heed. The warehouse-sized room was packed to the walls with students and was every bit as loud as a nightclub. The drink lines (with FREE drinks) were well over 100 deep. April and I visited with many students who were giving posters and all of them were bright, articulate, and excited to share their research. Their energy was infectious and inspiring. I left Sci-Mix with a purpose to explore how library conferences could do better at facilitating student participation.

ACS supports student involvement in many ways, but the best one, in my opinion, was through the ACS Career Fair where students could create an online profile and upload a resume and even get a free headshot for use in digital portfolios and profiles. Students are encouraged to meet with potential employers and actively apply for jobs as well as attend Career Pathways Workshops and meet with ACS Career Consultants to receive job search advice. Even if ACS didn’t drastically reduce the cost of conference registration it would be well worth the money for a student to attend. I was able to pop by the Expo on a couple of occasions and at each visit I saw many students taking advantage of the ACS Career Fair.

Another highlight of my ACS conference experience was the Kavli lecture series. The second Kavli lecturer, Dr. Angela Belcher, gave an excellent presentation on her interdisciplinary work with nanostructures. In her lecture she spoke about a wide variety of projects and products generated in her lab including several small businesses and a partnership with a hospital oncology unit. I was greatly impressed at the array of work produced and, admittedly, found myself wondering how she had the time to complete all of these projects. It was the last slide of her presentation that blew me away, however. It was a simple photograph of her with her family—a husband and two young children. The point she made with this slide was that it was possible to do good, meaningful work and to have a family too. And that it is not just ok, but important that we talk about family and the integration of our personal and professional lives. This is an issue that I know many women in the sciences struggle with—including faculty on my campus—and it was incredibly refreshing to see someone acknowledge the value and place of family in life.

In a related feminist-issues vein, I’d like to shout-out the Stop Sexual Harassment in the Sciences campaign sponsored by C&EN and WCC at the ACS conference.  While April & I spoke to a couple of the organizers of the movement activities at the conference, the workshops given overlapped other commitments, so we could not attend. Everywhere I looked though I saw the little teal awareness ribbons for the movement. And the ribbons didn’t just come on their own but were offered to attendees on a card that gave examples of what you should do if harassed and what you can do as a bystander. Kudos to the campaign organizers and to ACS members for recognizing that this is an issue that requires immediate attention. Let’s keep that momentum going.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent opportunities provided to me by the ACS Travel Grant to meet fellow science librarians. Two travel grants are awarded and I was lucky enough to have April Colosimo as my co-grant recipient/partner in crime. April and I had worked together on national committees and it was wonderful to meet and hang out with her in person. The genius of the travel award going to two librarians is evident in providing the recipients with an instant friend to share in the new experiences. Also, April and I were enthusiastically welcomed at the CINF Welcome Reception, an excellent array of CINF podium presentation sessions (including the wonderful series commemorating and extending the life and work of Eugene Garfield), the CINF luncheon, and the reception for the Kavli lecturers. Information professionals from all walks of life were very involved in ACS activities and willing to welcome us into the fold.

Finally, I’d like to thank Michael Qiu, Library Relations Manager for ACS, on his impeccable organization of travel award details and his attentiveness to our needs. He really helped facilitate us getting the most out of our conference experience, allowing us to dig a little deeper. And thanks to ACS for sponsoring this travel award, without which I would not have had the full ACS conference experience, which I expect will inform my work for a long time to come.

 

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