Skip navigation

Education has become the go-to solution for all societal problems or challenges. If we increase energy literacy, it will reduce energy use. If we educate about the real benefits of vaccines, vaccination rates will increase. If we teach people about violence prevention, violent crime will be reduced.  If we educate society about the benefits the chemical industry enables, negative views of the industry will melt away.

 

I was amused to learn that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was hiring graphic artists and science writers to improve education about climate change, having concluded that the lack of public action is due to inadequate education.1

 

I certainly have the good fortune of being well-educated. I went through a very good suburban public school system, graduating from a high school with an excellent academic tradition. I followed that with a college degree at a liberal arts college.  I then went to graduate school and received my Ph.D. By almost any standard, I have had a ridiculous amount of formal education. Education opened many doors for me. I am a believer in education.

 

However, I am having a bit of a crisis of confidence in the power of education to influence change.  I have attended a number of forums where discussion of a problem has defaulted to education as the solution.

 

One of the forums was the annual American Center for Life Cycle Assessment's LCA XV conference, which was just held in October. This was the most passion-filled technical conference I ever attended.  The opening plenary session concluded with a discussion about how life cycle thinking needs more respect and how we must better educate the public and policymakers about the power of life cycle assessment to inform their decisions. These are important decisions about how to best use resources and how to reduce the impact of development on water, energy, and the climate. The conference message was that all benefit from a life cycle view.

 

I left the plenary fired up, secure in the knowledge that a group of passionate practitioners are ready to change the world for the better. Sadly, these thoughts were quickly derailed by a college kid smoking a cigarette on the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia where the conference was held.  Vancouver is an environmentally and health conscious community. It wasn't that a law was being broken, though it is reasonable to expect smoking is banned on campus.  What caught my attention was that a college kid that was smoking when he should have known better.

 

smoking_art.jpg

 

I have two kids in college. I know the education my kids got about the evils of tobacco.  When my daughter was in elementary school, I introduced her to a smoker we passed on the street.  Her eyes got big when she noticed the cigarette and she tried to back away.  When he was out of range, she gasped, "He was smoking!"  The reaction was strong, like he was a criminal.  She explained she learned about smoking in school. She was educated about the evils of tobacco.

 

The power of education was wielded against tobacco in my kids’ elementary school.  It was reinforced by TV and print ads showing the negative effects of smoking.  Cigarettes come with the surgeon general's warning on every pack.  It is a product that carries a consistent message: this stuff can kill you.

 

It is impossible that the student I saw had not been educated about the dangers of smoking.  Looking around, he was not the only college-aged smoker.  How could it be that young people-- with the good sense to be getting an education, having grown up fully educated about the dangers of smoking--still elect to smoke? The inescapable conclusion is that education doesn't always stick.  It has limits.

 

Data are available on smoking habits.  Cigarette use among college students peaked before 2000 at over 44%, according to the University of Michigan “Monitoring the Future” effort.  In 2014, the last year for which data are available, it dropped to less than 23%.2

 

About 20% of the population in the U.S. smoke, and that percentage has been relatively constant over the last few decades . It appears education about the dangers of smoking has reached its limit to drive further reductions.3

 

This does not bode well for the well-intentioned life cycle analysis folks.  They want to improve the world, but don't have a message nearly as shrill as "this stuff can kill you". Will the problems that result from a lack of life cycle thinking kill you? Their answer is actually far too often, "it depends."  If a "this stuff can kill you" message influences only about 80% of the population, "it depends" will have a hard time getting attention. The life cycle community is not alone. It’s a problem, too, for most parts of the chemical enterprise, where complicated and nuanced messages are the norm. Education may not be enough.


------------------------------------------------------------------

Mark Jones is Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow at Dow Chemical since September 2011. He spent most of his career developing catalytic processes after joining Dow in 1990. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder doing research unlikely to lead to an industrial career and totally unrelated to his current responsibilities.


1. Nature 526, 293 (15 October 2015) doi:10.1038/526293a.


2. Data from trends in annual use in Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Miech, R. A. (2015). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2014: Volume 2, College students and adults ages 19–55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-vol2_2014.pdf.

 

3. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/, accessed on 25 October 2015.

In recent weeks, much attention has been focused on the news that U.S. drug giant Pfizer is in discussions with Irish firm Allergan about a potential merger and tax-inversion deal.  Media comment suggests its main aim is to enable Pfizer to relocate to Ireland to escape U.S. taxation.

Of course, Pfizer’s CEO has every right to call attention to the illogicality of U.S. corporate taxation policy. But I worry that pursuing the Allergan deal, after being rebuffed in its attempts to achieve a similar deal with the U.K.’s AstraZeneca, is distracting the company from pursuing its core mission (as highlighted on its website) of “applying science to discover therapies that significantly improve and extend people's lives.” 

This concern is heightened by my own experience working for ICI in the 1980s and 1990s, then the second-largest chemical company in the world. ICI had built up its pharmaceuticals business over decades by employing brilliant researchers such as Sir James Black, who invented beta-blockers.  As the Financial Times noted last year*:

ICI’s visionary investment in pharmaceuticals did not just pay off for the company itself. It laid the foundations of what is today one of Britain’s most successful industries…James Black almost certainly created more shareholder value than any financier or chief executive in the history of British business.

ICI’s fate is a terrible warning to Pfizer.  The ICI Board’s decision in the 1990s to effectively pursue shareholder value at the expense of its core businesses eventually ended with the complete disappearance of the company as an independent entity.

 

Unsurprisingly, others have also expressed their concern about a potential Pfizer-Allergan deal.  John LaMattina, Pfizer’s former head of R&D, has highlighted the potential for Allergan’s CEO to take charge of new drug research and development.  Allergan, after all, is not a typical pharma company  focused  on discovering and developing new treatments for the benefit of patients.  The bulk of Allergan’s expenditures are not on innovative new research and technologies, or clinical trials, but on finding new uses for existing drugs such as Botox.  As LaMattina noted:

It is hard to believe that Pfizer, a company with a long history of discovering many of its own products, would put someone in charge with an avowed distaste for the challenges of drug research.

I also share LaMattina’s fear that the end result of any deal could well be to reduce Pfizer’s R&D spending – Allergan, after all, spends just 7% of its revenues on R&D compared to Pfizer’s current 15%. This approach, if adopted by Pfizer as part of a merger, could have major implications for Pfizer’s highly talented U.S. research base.

 

That research base could also be impacted, if under a Pfizer-Allergan merger deal, Pfizer closed some of its U.S. R&D and manufacturing facilities and laid off many chemists and other scientists.  One of the early signs of ICI’s eventual demise was the closure of its world-leading Corporate Laboratory in the U.K. for cost-saving reasons.  This boosted the share price in the short-term, but effectively destroyed seed corn for future earnings.

 

A consolidation strategy of the type being considered by Pfizer with Allergan would be understandable if the pharma market was coming to the end of its lifecycle.  Cost-cutting makes perfect sense when you have few opportunities to grow. But that is hardly Pfizer’s situation today.  Major new opportunities are available for the industry in areas such as the development of low-cost treatments.  These will be vital if healthcare is to remain affordable, in a world where value-for-money is fast becoming the critical driver for the future. 

 

We simply cannot afford to weaken the drug development capabilities of companies such as Pfizer that have the global scale and financial resources required for success.  Black’s warning* back in 2009, a year before his death, seems worryingly prophetic today:


There is no shortage of scientific talent.  But I am much less optimistic about the managerial vision of the pharmaceutical industry to catalyse these talents to deliver the results we all want.2

Pfizer’s board contains a number of eminent scientists who, like Sir James Black, have helped to create the value contained in today’s pharmaceutical industry. One can only hope they will resist the siren calls that – whether intended or not – could otherwise result in the destruction of one of the world’s most valuable scientific resources.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------

Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars.

 

*These two links may be blocked on some browsers. The articles they are citing are as follows:

1. Kay, J. (2014, May 6). Drug companies are built in labs, not boardrooms. Financial Times.

2. Jack, A. (2009, February 9). An acute talent for innovation. Financial Times.

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS. Comments on posts are encouraged; however, foul or derogatory language will be rejected.

I retired from Occidental Chemical on September 15, after 36 years with the company.

 

I made this decision of my own free will.  I decided that if I were going to start something else, age 63 is not a limit, but the older you get, the closer the practical horizon gets.  Also, I felt that with the reduction in oil prices, having a non-traditional job in a division of an oil company might not be as much fun as it had been.


For most people, there is a process that leads to the final act of retiring, and it can be longer or shorter depending on circumstances and the type person you are.  I set my date out six months.  If you read a note of denial in this, you’re quite perceptive.  In that period, I was like Schroedinger’s employee: simultaneously retiring but working.  The superposition of those two wave functions allowed me to have things both ways and avoid dealing with the process.  For a while. But at some point you have to break down the office and unwind what you’ve done.

 

I’ve had a number of different canonical jobs in the company, but most of my career was spent on environmental and public policy issues associated with our products and our customers’ products.  For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been kind of an internal consultant on those issues.  To that end, I had assembled about 3,000 hardcopy articles in files I had cataloged, abstracted and key worded.  I simply couldn’t bear to throw them away, even though many of them could probably be replaced at some expense.  So I scanned 1,800 of them and passed them on to a couple of colleagues in the relevant trade associations as electronic files.  Don’t call the copyright police.

 

But that was only six of the 22 file drawers of historical materials I’d saved over 36 years.  I went through each one.  Each issue, each project.  Eventually, I recycled three 90-gallon roll-offs of paper and I only took home four boxes of books and about the same quantity of personal papers and artifacts.  The process literally took three months to complete, but I needed to do that so as to come to grips with moving on.

 

The process of reviewing all those articles and all those files reminded me of all the opportunities I’d had, the successes and failures, the people I worked with and some I fought with.  Because most everything turned out for the best, I’d forgotten how difficult the issues were at the time, and how hard we had to work so the business would survive. I’d also forgotten some of the wonderful personalities on both sides of the issues.  And I couldn’t help but think: how short those years turned out to be. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes sang, “I had the time of my life...” And I did, too.

 

Memo to self: next time enjoy more mundane stuff, and take more pictures.

 

In the process of winding down, I realized that all the things I aimed for in building a career—at least in the conventional sense—are now moot.  There are no more promotions or raises or bonuses; those days are past.  The externally imposed discipline of getting up every morning to go to work or to school—something we’ve all probably done since kindergarten—is no longer operative.

 

I now have to substitute my own incentives.  My own goals.  My own schedule.  My own structure.  No matter how much you’ve railed at the tyranny of the alarm clock and the things you have to do, I think this is harder.  To be fair, I’m not starting retirement from a standing stop with no responsibilities. I have two more years on the ACS Board, and plenty of volunteer work to do as an ACS tour speaker and career consultant.

 

I’d like to stay involved with the industry where I can still bring some value, and I frankly want to retrieve some of the golf games I gave up in the name of work.  And maybe someday I’ll tell you about my research into the history of popular music between 1955 and 1990.  There’s already a book and one peer reviewed article in a music journal, and more to come. But the secret is that I have to commit to each of these and put time on the schedule for them.  None of these things will happen by accident; what happens by accident is you find yourself watching three hours of cat videos.

 

The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto about the same time as my retirement. There was tremendous anticipation as it arrived.  It turns out that some of the most interesting data was gathered when it looked back after passing it by.

 

As I was hurtling toward my retirement, people would say, “Congratulations,” as though retirement is an achievement, and perhaps it is. Reflexively, I would say, “Thank you,” but I didn’t really understand what they meant.  In a way, I was embarrassed.  I felt like I was abandoning the team and being a slacker.  I still have some “fear of missing out” on things in my old organizations, and I worry about losing my edge.  But now, I’m past the event, and just like New Horizons, I can look back at it and finally realize that what they’re saying is something like, “Congratulations on successfully completing this level of your personal video game.”

 

And now it’s on to the next.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Dr. William F. Carroll, Jr. holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.  He received an M.S. from Tulane University in New Orleans, and a B.A. in chemistry and physics from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. He holds two patents, and has over sixty-five publications in the fields of organic electrochemistry, polymer chemistry, combustion chemistry, incineration and plastics recycling.

I read the news today, oh, boy!

 

What happens when you hear on the morning news that your company is restructuring and there will be layoffs involved? After the, “Oh, *^$% moment,” comes the what-will-happen-to-me time of uncertainty.

 

While most of the time we try not to think about it, job uncertainty is always part of the equation working in industry where the primary responsibility is creating value for shareholders. When times are good, the thought is rarely there. And then one day, boom! Your company is the lead story on NPR and panic sets in.

 

The most important issue in these times of uncertainty is learning how to cope in a healthy and productive manner.

 

In my 19 years in industry, I have been in a company impacted by restructuring efforts more than a few times. In each case, I kept my job, but experienced the stress of watching others being cut from the company ranks. Many of them were traumatized by the experience as they entered a weak job market in search of another job opportunity. My first time, the stress was high. I worried. I stressed. It wasn’t the most productive way to navigate the uncertainty.

 

But, the storm passed and the world settled down for me. Some of my friends were no longer around, but many were. New relationships formed, new ideas, new projects. I came to realize that restructuring decisions were out of my control. I also learned that successfully coping with the uncertainty around my employment future meant focusing on things I could control like continuing to meet my research goals. Remembering to find time to disconnect from the job and focusing on friends and family were also  important ways of dealing with the uncertainty.

 

And then a few years later, it happened again. Having lived through it once, I knew mostly what to expect and this time the stress was less. Subsequent changes brought less and less personal turmoil, although I would be lying if I said I never wondered, “What if this is it? What if I lose my job this time?”

 

As I’ve been through these changes, I’ve learned that restructuring efforts are often necessary for the health of the company, to enable it to continue to do great things. Of course, they also bring about sadness, as some colleagues, FRIENDS, are no longer with us as a result.

 

If you are a people manager during such times, it is of the utmost importance for you to listen to your employees and pass along insights into how to successfully navigate the transition. Importantly, it is absolutely necessary for you to outwardly model a calm demeanor, even if you are scared on the inside. As a leader, you set the tone for your team. Keeping your composure can be challenging in these uncertain times. None of us are very secure about the future and what it holds for those who report to us, our colleagues—or even ourselves.


Help for the Unemployed

We  acknowledge that some of our colleagues have been out of work for quite some time due to the recession and resulting restructuring efforts. Those still struggling to find jobs may find helpful career-related benefits and resources at: www.acs.org/unemployed.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- --------

 

Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign. (The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Monsanto.)