Finding Inspiration at the 256th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Boston

Alyssa Rozendaal is currently a graduate student at Indiana University where she works as a Graduate Assistant in the Sciences Library. 

When I was awarded the ACS Publications Travel Grant to attend the 256th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Boston this fall, I didn’t quite believe it was real.  I can honestly say it didn’t sink in until I was on the plane to Boston.  I’m still a student and, while the faculty and staff at Indiana University have been incredibly supportive of my career goals, my program isn’t exactly overflowing with aspiring chemistry librarians.  More often than not, I’m the only one in the room.  Most of the time, I don’t mind, but after a year of being the only chemist in a room of up-and-coming archivists and librarians, I was feeling a little discouraged.

With the new school year looming, I was in desperate need of some inspiration and encouragement.  Where better to find that than a trip to the ACS National Meeting?  All of a sudden, I was surrounded by an incredibly welcoming community of chemists and chemistry librarians who were all ready with a word of encouragement or some friendly advice, and I was determined to take full advantage of my time there.  I’ve never been a huge fan of networking, especially after a long day of conference sessions, but at the ACS National Meeting, I was grateful for every minute.  I haven’t figured out who I am as a professional in this field yet (and that’s okay) so I took this as my chance to learn from and connect with others from the world of chemical information.  I walked away from the conference having met chemistry librarians and information professionals from across the country.  Although that alone made the trip to Boston more than worth it, there was so much more to come.

I spent most of my time at the conference attending presentations for the Division of Chemical Information (CINF) and more than once, I had trouble choosing between sessions.  In spite of being a chemist by training, this was my first ACS National Meeting, and I think describing the experience as “overwhelming” is an understatement.  There was no shortage of seminars and workshops covering just about everything from patent searching to cheminformatics and beyond.  My favorite seminar series was “Chemistry Librarians of the Future,” an incredible mix of chemistry librarians from across the country talking about how the profession has changed over the last several years, where it is now, and where it has the potential to go.  I was also able to attend sessions on the ethics of data sharing, open data, and publishing data which I found incredibly compelling.  Each session was something different and exciting and offered something new to learn.

As much as I was enjoying my time with CINF, I did set one morning aside for something completely different. I walked over to the main convention center where the bulk of the technical sessions were held to check out some of the other divisions.  There were a couple of presentations that I specifically planned on going to, but for the most part, I just stopped at whichever session caught my eye, and I cannot begin to tell you how much fun I had.  Library school can be a very insular place; between classes, jobs, everything that goes along with them, it can be easy to forget the reasons I chose to become a librarian in the first place.  I spent the majority of the week with some amazing chemistry information professionals who were incredibly encouraging and educational, but the one morning I spent in other technical sessions did something invaluable.  It reminded me that long before I was a librarian, I was a chemist.  Don’t get me wrong, I love librarianship, and I’m eager to find my place in the library community, but there’s a reason I want to be a science librarian.  I was never meant for a career in the lab, but I am genuinely invested in the research coming from chemists around the world; I couldn’t get enough of it!  It was exciting and invigorating to see the dedication and creativity of the chemistry community.  The entire atmosphere was infectious, and I came away feeling undeniably enthusiastic about being a part of the research process in my own way.

So, here’s my one piece of advice for anybody who gets the chance to go to an ACS National Meeting:  I encourage you to take some time to experience the chemistry.  By all means focus on chemical information and education – I understand we’re all coming at this from different backgrounds and with different motives – but I urge you to take an hour or two and go to SciMix, or the opening session, or the Kavli Lectures, or even just take a walk around the Expo hall.  For a little while, just be a part of the community you serve, and see just how far it can reach.

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