Ten Lessons from a Lifetime of Science: Madeleine Jacobs, President and CEO Council of Scientific Society Presidents

Madeleine Jacobs
Madeleine Jacobs

Madeleine Jacobs has had a distinguished career working in a wide variety of scientific organizations spanning government and the not-for-profit world.

Most recently, she was President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, an organization of presidents, presidents-elect, and recent past presidents of about sixty scientific federations and societies whose combined membership numbers well over 1.4 million scientists and science educators. Since 1973, CSSP has served as a strong national voice in fostering wise science policy, in support of science and science education, as the premier national science leadership development center, and as a forum for open, substantive exchanges on emerging scientific issues. She held this position from March 2015 through December 2016.

Prior to assuming the CSSP position, Jacobs was Executive Director and CEO of the American Chemical Society (2004-February 2015). The American Chemical Society is the world’s largest scientific society, with more than 158,000 members worldwide. It has revenues of more than $500 million-a-year and employs 2,000 people. At the conclusion of her 11-year tenure, ACS had under management $1.5 billion in assets, including a $600 million defined benefit pension fund, $550 million research fund, and $400 million in short and long term investments and cash. Jacobs has experience in and understanding of leading large complex organizations; strategic planning; research and development; scientific and technical publishing (journals and databases); employment trends; employee engagement; diversity and minority equity and representation; gender equity; the chemical, pharmaceutical, materials, and biotechnology industries; public affairs and crisis management; executive compensation; pensions and investments; and audits and financial management.

The 10 Lessons:

I grew up in Washington, D.C., in a comfortable lower middle class home with my extended family that included a grandmother and an uncle, as well as my parents and a brother. My father was a bassoonist—from a long line of bassoonists—my mother was a housewife and later a secretary who became the executive assistant to the President of Geico, which in the 1950s was just starting out. I never had a chemistry set to play with, and my parents were totally uninterested in and unaware of science.

However, I always had the sense that I could do anything I wanted. And my favorite television program was “Watch Mr. Wizard”—that was my first exposure to science—and Mr. Wizard made it seem magical. For those of you who are too young to remember this show and have not seen it on the Internet, let me tell you a little bit about it.

Don Herbert, also known as Mr. Wizard, was a World War II pilot and a radio and television actor before he gained his greatest fame as Mr. Wizard. Every Saturday morning, from 1951-1965, he appeared live on NBC--in black and white, of course. Mr. Wizard covered everything from air travel to sound speed to chemical reactions and much, more. The key to this show was the experiments he conducted.

Sometimes, the experiments went awry or didn’t do anything of interest, which could have been the cause of major embarrassment on live TV. But Mr. Wizard never got discouraged. He would repeat the experiment week after week until it behaved as he knew it should.

Part of the show’s success was the fact that everyday household items could be used to conduct the experiments. Since Mr. Wizard was a teacher, he needed students, and so the show gathered a group of “neighborhood kids,” who were actually young actors hired to be inquisitive. I was pretty naive in those days—I thought they were real kids! Although Mr. Wizard had file cards with “one word reminders” on them, most of the dialogue was improvised, although the audience could always count on the kids saying in unison, “Gee, Mr. Wizard!”

Watch Mr. Wizard” demonstrated that science was something tangible and accessible to everyone. The philosophy worked, and many people whom I’ve met over the years have credited Mr. Wizard with their career choices in science and engineering.

So with the help of Mr. Wizard, I became increasingly aware of science in my daily life. I grew up with DuPont’s once-famous slogan—“Better Things for Better Living through Chemistry.” I was probably only 10 years old when it became crystal clear to me that science in general and chemistry in particular made possible the food, medicines, housing, furniture, clothes, and transportation that I enjoyed. Then, in 1957, Sputnik was launched, and the U.S. government began pouring money into science education and training—from kindergarten through graduate school. By the time I was ready to go to college in 1964, I had benefited from several excellent general science, chemistry, physics, and biology teachers. These teachers not only had a deep love of their subject matter, but they also had the ability to communicate that love.

Science was a hands-on activity, and like Mr. Wizard, those teachers made it come alive.

Majoring in science, in chemistry, was encouraged, not necessarily by my parents, who, as I mentioned, had no particular interest in science, but by the overall cultural environment. I believed strongly and still believe that being a chemist was a noble calling. Scientists were widely respected, and they also earned a respectable salary. The message to youth was: You could live well and do good by becoming a scientist. For my part, I wanted to get a Ph.D. in chemistry and design drugs that would cure cancer. At the age of 17, I understood that it was chemists, as well as biologists, not physicians, who developed the drugs that made our lives healthier.

As a senior in high school, I had very little guidance from my parents or from my guidance counselors, as my graduating class had 900 kids. We were indeed the baby boom generation! Many of my classmates were from affluent families and had parents who were scientists and physicians—there were few lawyers back then.

My family only had enough money for me to apply to four universities, and when I received a full tuition scholarship for four years from George Washington University, I was elated, even though it meant I wasn’t going to an Ivy League school like my friends, or even going away from Washington, D.C.

I lived on the George Washington University campus, and immersed myself in chemistry. GW had a very small graduate department but prepared a lot of kids for medical school, so its undergraduate chemistry and biology departments were excellent. I took every possible course I could, including a graduate course in organic chemistry, which cemented my love for that field.

To earn money so I could live on campus, I worked two summers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, catching and dissecting cockroaches. I still have nightmares from that job, but it paid well. The summer between my junior and senior year I had an NSF fellowship to work in my organic chemistry professor’s lab.

It was a great experience, despite my one and only experience with an explosion. But that story is for another time.

I was completely in love with chemistry and wanted to go to graduate school. Moreover, I had achieved straight A grades (except for three B’s in physical education) and outstanding GRE’s to make it possible to go to the best graduate schools. My father was enthusiastic; my mother, on the other hand, had only one goal for me: To see me married—and to someone who could keep me in the style to which she wanted to see me become accustomed.

So here is Lesson Number 1: Never do anything just to please your mother—or your mother’s friends or anyone else for that matter.

However, in those days, I was always anxious to please my mother and so I dutifully married a high school boyfriend, the son of a very wealthy family, a month after college graduation in 1968. My husband, a physics major at Yale, graduated first in his class. We had a dream of getting our Ph.D.s in physics and chemistry, doing brilliant research, having our 2.5 children, and winning the Nobel Prize. We were going to be a modern day Pierre and Marie Curie.

The marriage worked out well in two ways: My mother got to plan the big wedding she had always dreamed of, and I didn’t have to even think about where I wanted to go to graduate school. Since my new husband was a physics major at Yale and wanted to go to graduate school, I let him choose the place we would go. We applied to the top 10 universities in physics (which fortunately coincided with the Top 10 in chemistry). He got into all of them; I got into nine of them but was rejected by Harvard. Later, in life, as I became more familiar with women’s issues and discrimination, I wondered whether my rejection at Harvard had to do with my marital status, since the Harvard application asked if the applicant was married, and if the answer was no, it asked, “Are you planning to get married.” I answered it honestly. I guess

Harvard figured it wouldn’t waste time to educate a woman who might get pregnant. Anyhow, of the nine universities where we both got in, my husband chose Stanford.

My first husband and I were headed to Stanford for graduate school when he learned that he was going to be drafted into the Army—it was the height of the Vietnam War and there were no deferments for graduate school. His wealthy father pulled some strings and my husband received a commission in the Public Health Service. As it turned out, his father owned the building that housed the Public Health Service’s computers. He and I got deferments from Stanford, and that settled life for the next two years—at least for him.

But I was then in a quandary because I hadn’t applied to any local universities for graduate school since none of them were of the caliber of Stanford. I ended up going to the University of Maryland, figuring I’d get a master’s degree and then be just that further ahead when I got to Stanford. So I completed my course work at the University of Maryland and began working on my thesis in the spring of 1969. I chose as a mentor a young assistant professor who had the worst lab space—it was on the fourth floor of an un-air-conditioned building. I was in the field of organic chemistry, and by the middle of May, I had to come in at 6 a.m. and leave by 11 a.m. because the lab was 110 degrees.

Also, at that time, my husband’s mother had succeeded in making life miserable for me. She had signed me up for tennis lessons so I wouldn’t embarrass her at the country club where we played doubles on

Saturday mornings, and it meant I had to commute 30 miles twice a week from University of Maryland to make the lessons.

After a few months of suffocating heat in the laboratory and a boring master’s degree project, not to mention lousy tennis, I tossed in the towel and decided to get a job. Everyone was horrified.

This leads me to the next lesson.

Lesson Number 2: Follow your intuition. It is often better than looking only at the facts.

From a factual viewpoint, I should have finished my master’s degree. After all, it was only a year. But I knew in my gut that completing my master’s degree at the University of Maryland was not the right thing to do for me. I figured I was going to go to Stanford. And there was a nagging doubt in my head at the time. I began to wonder whether I was smart enough and cut out to do research.

At this stage, I only had a year before I was to head off to Stanford. I had always enjoyed writing—-indeed, at one point my English literature professor in college asked me to switch majors—and I loved Chemical & Engineering News, which I read as an undergraduate and in graduate school.

So I thought to myself, why not get a job at Chemical & Engineering News? I had no idea whether or not there was an opening. I simply thought, that would be interesting. One day in July 1969, I called Dr. Richard Kenyon, then the publisher of C&EN, and asked his secretary for an appointment. She informed me that “Dr. Kenyon is at lunch and he is busy all afternoon. I suggest you send a résumé.” I didn’t know what a résumé was, so instead, I got on a bus and went to the headquarters of the American Chemical Society, took the elevator to the publications floor—there was no security back then—and walked into Dr. Kenyon’s office. I told the secretary I was there to see Dr.

Kenyon. She looked up and said, “Didn’t I just talk to you on the phone?” “Yes,” I admitted. “And didn’t I tell you that he’s at lunch and he’s busy?” “Yes,” I replied, “Do you mind if I wait?” She shrugged, and said “You can wait but he won’t be able to see you.”

I positioned myself in the office so I could see the elevator and when he got off, I raced over to the elevator door, introduced myself and asked for a job.

You can’t imagine the look of horror on the secretary’s face as we breezed past as Dr. Kenyon said to me, “Come right in.”

Lesson Number Three: Never take NO for an answer. (And by the way, I’ll always see anyone who walks in off the street, although it is a lot harder now with security.)

I was very honest at this interview. I told Dr. Kenyon I only had a year to give the magazine because I was going to graduate school at Stanford.

He asked me if I had any writing experience. Proudly, I replied, “Yes, I’ve always gotten an A on my lab reports.” I even pulled one from my briefcase.

He took me to see the editor, Pat McCurdy, and because I always read the magazine carefully, I told him everything that was wrong with the magazine and how I could contribute. I told him which editorials I liked and which ones missed the mark. Remember I was 22 years old.

Incredibly, Pat offered me the job. That’s why today, I will see any young person who calls and I will always answer their letters and emails.

Lesson Number Four: Believe in yourself.

I didn’t have this much self confidence again for another 25 years! A short digression here: A lack of self confidence and a lack of self esteem are nearly universal problems that haunt women at some stage in their development. Girls and young women in particular suffer from a lack of self confidence that holds them back. But all of us know women well into their 40s who are very successful at what they do who still think they aren’t good enough, smart enough, thin enough, or pretty enough to succeed. One thing that each of us in this room who are older can do is be sure that we help young women known their own worth.

After my first year at C&EN, it was time to go to Stanford, but I had found my calling: Writing about chemistry. I loved this job. It nourished my love of learning and my myriad interests in science. So instead of going to graduate school, I moved with my husband to California where he went to graduate school and I worked for C&EN.

However, the marriage broke up for two main reasons: My mother died in January 1970, just a year and a half into our marriage, and I no longer had to please her, and my husband and I had very little in common because I had moved into the adult world and he was still in the world of graduate school.

So I left him and moved back to Washington, D.C., where I continued working for C&EN. I also met and married my husband of 43 years, Joe.

I loved my work at C&EN. Besides writing about every field of chemistry, I became the expert on women’s issues in chemistry and science. But I had a step son who would soon be going to college and I needed more money. I left C&EN in 1972 when I discovered that my salary was 30% below a benchmark for my position. This may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that I was the only woman on the staff, but later ACS did have a class action suit brought by the women at ACS for underpayment of salaries. ACS lost the suit.

Back in 1972, I asked for a raise and was told that the economy was in a recession, which it was, and that since eight people had just been fired, the magazine was not in a position to give me a raise. Although I was the youngest staff member, and the only woman, I was then the highest producer on the staff.

With no hard feelings, I found a better job, at the National Institutes of Health writing about allergies and infectious diseases. It was a great fit with my chemistry training, and also broadened my knowledge of science tremendously to include immunology, molecular biology, and medicine.

Lesson Number Five: Never burn bridges, but know when it is time to move on, and then do it.

No one can make these choices for you. Be open to change.

One of my favorite books is by Dawn Marie Driscoll and Carol R. Greenberg. It is titled “Members of the Club: The Coming of Age of Executive Women.” Though it was published in 1993, it is still a wonderful book. Driscoll and Greenberg speak of the 5 R’s that define a culture of success: respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, revenue development, and risk taking. Women are a part of this culture of success only to the extent that they explicitly embrace and deal with the five Rs.

I had a rewarding time at NIH, and certainly learned about allergies, immunology, and infectious diseases. But after three years working at a weekly magazine, I found the pace of a government agency excruciatingly slow. Fortunately, after just 15 months working at NIH, I got a call from a friend of a friend, and I went to work at the National Bureau of Standards, since renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as a science writer. This was a new function at the National Bureau of Standards and I was soon like the kid in the candy shop.

The Bureau, as we called it then, worked in so many basic research and applied science fields—everything from fundamental research in materials, nuclear energy, and particle physics to dental research, fire prevention, and energy conservation. I wrote about all of those areas and became one of those individuals who could talk about almost anything for three minutes at a cocktail party.

Seriously, if you have broad interests as I do, this was a fabulous job. Almost every day I got to work with interesting scientists and engineers and learn something new about important fields with practical applications. Chemistry, I found, was an underpinning for many of these fields and I used my knowledge of chemistry and the scientific method to gain credibility with the scientists and engineers as I interviewed them and wrote about their complex research.

But, and there’s usually a “but”….I was about to face my next major career challenge. That occurred when my boss was promoted to division head and I was promoted into my first job in management—to head the media and general publications unit he had previously directed.

My boss and I had always gotten along well, when I was one of 14 people reporting to him. Interestingly, most of the other people who reported to him did not like him at all. They saw him as a bully and a mean-spirited micro-manager. I soon found out why he wasn’t liked, when I took over his old job and began doing it differently. All hell broke loose. He would come into my office and stand over my shoulder while I was working. He once called me at home when I was sick with 104 fever and screamed at me, demanding to know where a certain report was. I told him it was on his desk. Instead of mentoring me and supporting me, he spent most of his time trying to teach me how to do the job the way he did it, micromanaging everything I did, and yelling at me. Constantly. I had to act as the buffer between my staff and his outrageous bullying behavior.

My work, which I had always loved, started to become unbearable. I hated getting out of bed in the morning to go to work. I knew that he would never change and that I could not and did not want to change to become like him. I thought, if this is what it means to be a manager, I want no part of it. Thus, I quietly let the word out that I was interested in finding a new job.

Knowing that I was eventually going to leave enabled me to tolerate the situation. It took a year, but I received that magic call from a friend of a friend who told me that the Smithsonian Institution was looking for a science writer to start a news service for daily and weekly newspapers. He asked if I knew anyone, I said I did, and that’s how I landed a new and wonderful job at the Smithsonian Institution as chief science writer in the Office of Public Affairs.

Lesson Number Six: Never allow yourself to become a martyr or to be victimized by anyone.

My experience at the National Bureau of Standards taught me never to allow anyone to bully me. It taught me to take control of my career and make it happen. I found being a martyr very unpleasant. It meant that someone else had control of my life.

So my advice is: Never stand for a situation in which someone is acting the way my boss acted. And by the way, this can happen with women bosses too. More about that in a moment.

I tell young women to construct a personal agenda with a series of five year plans focusing on your objectives, goals, and career aspirations. Revise these plans regularly so they are up to date. Ask yourself: “Where do I want to be in five years and what must I do to get there?” Don’t wait for others to define this agenda for you. It won’t happen.

And now we come to a long stretch in my career—14 years at the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian was a wonderful place to work between 1979 and 1993, the years I was there. I was hired to write and launch a news service about research at the Smithsonian, which in the pre-internet days was distributed by mail to daily and weekly newspapers. It was a very popular service, and once again I expanded my knowledge base to include the arts and humanities. The Smithsonian conducted research on everything from American art, astrophysics, and anthropology to zoology and Zen Buddhism. I traveled with biologists, physicists, and animal behaviorists around the world and wrote about their research. Almost immediately, my wonderful boss, a former foreign correspondent for newspapers and networks, promoted me to assistant director of the office. After seven years, I moved from being assistant director and chief science writer to head of the Office of Public Affairs and was also the chief spokesman for the institution. I oversaw the public affairs activities of 16 museums, the national Zoo, and many research institutes ranging from astronomy to zoology.

It was a dream job. I built a wonderful staff of writers and media specialists, and we were considered the best museum public affairs staff in the world. And it was there that I successfully made the transition from being an individual contributor to being a manager and a leader. I found the rewards of creating an environment where very bright people could do their best work. It was a revelation to me that management could be as rewarding as being a single contributor. It also taught me the value of teamwork and collaboration.

But the Smithsonian job was incredibly time consuming and stressful. Essentially, I was on duty 24 hours a day, and it was not uncommon for the press to call me at 3 a.m. about the birth of a panda at the National Zoo or the havoc wrought by a tornado at one of the storage facilities of the National Air and Space Museum. Although the Smithsonian was an endlessly fascinating place and fed my love of art, history, and the humanities, I had no personal life at all. I worked, ate, and breathed the Smithsonian.

And, once again, I found myself dealing with a bully—only this time it was a woman. I reported directly to the head of the Smithsonian, who had the title of Secretary, but he brought in an undersecretary who decided that she would hold daily staff meetings at 7:30 a.m. every day—whether there was anything to discuss or not. She began micromanaging everything in the purview of the Secretary’s direct reports.

One day in 1991, I had a Eureka moment. I was standing in front of the mirror getting dressed and I realized that although I was very good at my job, I was unhappy. I am a person who likes to be in control of my life, and I was in a job where I was never in control. I realized that I hated going to work in the morning because at the end of the day I had not accomplished any of the things I had set out to do. And then I spent every weekend at work. And I had a boss, who wasn’t really my boss, who thought she was!

Lesson Number Seven: Get a life! That is, a life in addition to your work life.

Balancing a personal life and professional career is difficult—but it can be done by carefully setting priorities and not getting distracted by those things which don’t fit on your list of priorities. It is also very important to have a supportive partner if you want to achieve that balance.

And remember, if you don’t enjoy going to work every day, ask yourself why. Be honest with yourself. Decide what gives you satisfaction in life, and then make it happen.

I thought about what had given me the greatest pleasure in my career, and I realized it was my love of chemistry—I had moved away from that over the years—and my love of writing and journalism. I had never lost touch with Chemical & Engineering News, and one day I bumped into the then editor, Michael Heylin, at a black tie dinner. We agreed to meet for lunch. At that lunch, I asked him why he didn’t have a managing editor. He explained that the managing editor had died 10 years before and he just hadn’t gotten around to filling the position.

I was shocked, because when I had been at C&EN, the managing editor was a co-captain of the ship. I couldn’t imagine how Mike could produce a quality publication without a managing editor. He took my comments to heart, and asked if I were interested in the job. I said yes and he said he would try to get funding for the position. But in the fall of 1991, he reported back that ACS would not fund the new position. It was in the middle of a recession and funding was not available. I began looking elsewhere, methodically targeting those publications that might provide the kind of environment that would fulfill my goals.

I was still looking in March 1993 when an executive search firm called to say that ACS was looking for a managing editor for its flagship publication. By that time, I wasn’t sure I was still interested. After all, any organization that would take two years to make up its mind didn’t strike me as the kind of organization I would like. But I met with the recruiter anyhow, and returned to C&EN in 1993 and became Editor-in-Chief in 1995.

I loved being Editor-in-Chief of Chemical & Engineering News. When I came back to the American Chemical Society in 1993, I was told C&EN was a family, but what I found was a dysfunctional family. But in the 10 years I worked there as managing editor and editor-in-chief, we truly became a family. It was a joy to go to work every day. I know I made a difference in the quality of the publication and also in the quality of the lives of the people who work there. I was able to mentor an entire new generation of writers and reporters and prepare my successor, Rudy Baum, for the job.

As Editor-in-Chief, I deepened again my knowledge of chemistry. Every day I learned something new about the exciting research going on in the field. Since chemistry is a central science, I was able to ensure that C&EN covered the most exciting fields at the interface of chemistry and multiple disciplines—biology, materials, engineering, physics, medicine, to name a few. I also enhanced our coverage of industry, making sure that our stories covered the important research that went on in industry.

Shortly after I became Editor-in-Chief, I had a series of personal crises. First, my beloved father became ill with lymphoma and died within five months. We had always been very close, I talked to him nearly every day, and we saw each other every week for lunch. Fortunately for me, he lived near me. From the day of his diagnosis until he died five months later, I left work every day promptly at 5 p.m. to visit him. I found a way to balance the demands of the job with my need to see him as much as possible. I learned that nothing suffered at work, and I cherished that time with him.

Barely a year after he died, when my life had returned to its normal hectic pace, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 50 years old and had never felt better or been fitter. I was completely taken by surprise. When I received the diagnosis and the oncologist laid out the possible courses of treatment for my estrogen positive, stage-one cancer, I compiled a list of 30 technical questions for him to answer. I had read about all the options and the chemotherapeutic agents, the side effects, the clinical trials, and so forth. I understood the chemical structures and asked very detailed questions. He had never before had a patient who wanted to know so much. But I was simply following my own advice to take charge of my life and construct an agenda for myself. He patiently answered everything, and in the end, I had two surgeries, six months of chemotherapy, and daily radiation for 7 weeks.

I am so grateful to all the researchers who worked tirelessly over the years—the chemists, biologists, doctors, and others—who developed the drugs and treatments that saved my life. My course of treatment was

CMF—cytoxan, methotrexate, and 5-fluorouracil. When I had completed all of the treatments, I also took Tamoxifen, whose mode of action was binding estrogen, and Femara, an aromatase inhibitor whose mode of action was interrupting the synthesis of estrogen. It helped me to understand what the mode of action and side effects of each of these drugs were.

As a digression, I recently gave this talk at Genentech in 2014 and was very excited to read about Genentech’s acquisition of Seragon Pharmaceuticals and the development of selective estrogen receptor degraders (SERDs). This is truly exciting and if successful will save lives and change the course of breast cancer treatments.

Fortunately, except for the two weeks involving the surgery, I never missed a day of work. I knew I was fortunate because the only real side effect I had was fatigue and weight loss—25 pounds in all. I really liked being a size 6!

Of course, the size 6 didn’t last long, but fortunately for me, the remission did. It’s been 19 years and I count myself very fortunate.

It was exciting leading the C&EN team which had a weekly mission: produce the best possible publication covering the chemistry universe. I could have gone on forever as Editor-in-Chief of Chemical & Engineering News. There are few positions as satisfying as having a weekly product—and an excellent one at that! But when I learned that the Executive Director of the American Chemical Society was going to retire at the end of 2003, I decided to apply for the position. There were more than 250 applicants, 30 of whom became serious contenders. I went through five interviews, including two with the full board of directors.

In these interviews, my confidence never wavered. I didn’t have a Ph.D. in chemistry, and my career was perhaps a nontraditional one to become the head of an organization. I was managing a group of 75 people, and the ACS has 2,000 employees. How did I know I could transfer my skills as a leader from 75 to 2,000? I just knew. Because in my heart, I believe that all good things come from the power of people, and I am the ultimate people person.

Apparently the Board of Directors agreed and I became the first woman, non-Ph.D. to head the American Chemical Society. ACS was at the time at an important crossroads in its 138-year history. From my vantage point as C&EN Editor in Chief, I saw what needed to be done to ensure that ACS was positioned for the future. I worked diligently and patiently with the ACS Board of Directors, our 161,000 members, and our staff to bring the Society to a new level of excellence, just as I did at Chemical & Engineering News.

The 11 years as Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer were a great learning experience. Working with a volunteer Board of Directors is not the same as working with a single boss.

I always love reading articles in the Wall Street Journal about CEOs who get fired because invariably they are fired because they have a run in with the Board of Directors or the chair of the Board. Think Carly Fiorina! And that fate almost befell me. I ran into a rocky patch after two years as Executive Director/CEO, and found it was indeed lonely at the top. So I hired an executive coach to help me negotiate the way. First, he advised me that the care and feeding of a board of directors requires considerably more time than you can imagine. He was right.

He gave me lots of invaluable advice. “Stay calm, listen carefully, pause before speaking, and be strategic when you speak.” He talked to each member of the Board of Directors to find out what they liked and didn’t like. He reported back that the Board thought I was too glamorous. “Men are distracted, women are jealous,” he told me. So I threw away my patterned stockings and bought St. John knit suits. I tossed out my contact lenses and began wearing glasses. Suddenly, I was less glamorous and more intelligent-looking and the Board of Directors began to see me differently. Though this was the right approach with the Board of Directors, it turned out to be deadly advice. St. John suits have elastic waist bands, and without even knowing it, I quickly gained 20 pounds on the job. I’m still trying to lose that weight.

But seriously, I sought advice from others I respected. My first chair of the board advised, “It’s better to do it right than to do it fast.” Another colleague whom I admired told me, “You can get credit for things or you can get things done, but you rarely can do both.” I utilized my scientific training and always thought about options, what would happen if I approached a problem from multiple perspectives. Every day, I put into operation my analytical thinking skills and the patience I had learned in doing research.

The outcomes were great for the ACS and for me. I won’t bore you with a list of accomplishments, but I will just say this: My career journey has been a wonderful one, fulfilling my love of lifelong learning and of working with people.

So, you might ask, why did I decide to retire when my career was going so well?

I certainly had the energy and I knew what needed to be done to take ACS to the next level. But I also knew that taking ACS to the next level would require numerous 14 hour days, loads of international travel, and a commitment of five years. At the time I gave my notice in March 2014, I was 67 years old but my beloved husband Joe was 89. I felt that I needed to spend more time with him. I gave a year’s notice and I’m delighted that the ACS Board of Directors chose Tom Connelly, a former DuPont CTO, as Executive Director. He took over in mid-February of 2015. That turned out to be a good decision for me.

I had also used my own advice and envisioned what my “Encore Performance” after retirement from 45 years of full time work would look like. My girlfriends chide me all the time that I don’t behave like a “retired person.” To them, a retired person goes to museums, has lunch with girlfriends, or for my creative friends, spends their days doing their artwork. Well, I’m not an artist and I didn’t need to retire to go to museums. I had to plan a next chapter of my life that involved doing meaningful things.

To me, this means I am doing volunteer work for the American Chemical Society, the George Washington University, and other nonprofit organizations. At ACS, I chair the Committee on Minority Affairs and head the fund-raising effort for the ACS Scholars Program. I’m also on the Pensions and Investments Committee that provides oversight to $1.5 billion in investments.

At George Washington University, I’m on the Board of Trustees and have numerous different assignments which include serving as Chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs and as a member of the Executive Committee, helping to find the next head of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, leading a revision of the Faculty Code, serving on the Museum Board and helping to raise money for my college, and now chair of the search committee to find the next president of the university. I also took a part time position as President and CEO of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, which is a federation of science and engineering societies whose member societies are represented by presidents, president elects, and past presidents.

I know this is not everyone’s version of retirement, but it gave me flexibility, a sense of purpose, and plenty of time with my husband Joe. I’m so happy I had that wonderful year with my husband, because in February of this year, he suffered the first of three cerebral hemorrhages. Because I was retired, I could spend every minute with him for the 11 weeks during which he fought back from the increasingly devastating consequences. He died on May 8 at home, surrounded by his art and the people he loved. He was 91 ½ and was and is the great love of my life.

As you might have gleaned, I can honestly say I’ve never been bored a single day of my life. I’ve learned many lessons—I’ve shared some of them with you today. As I conclude, I have a few words about embarking on or changing courses in a career.

Lesson Number Eight: No matter what career pathway you choose, you should do it for something other than money. You should do it because you love it with a passion, and because you believe in it.

A career is like a love affair. It has its ups and downs—but overall, it must be rich and rewarding. It must be bursting daily with possibilities and promise, or why bother? It must provide an environment in which you can constantly grow and learn. It must make you want to get up every day and go to work. It must be fun.

I can’t imagine staying in a relationship that didn’t have these qualities, and what else is a job except a relationship where you spend anywhere from eight to 16 hours a day? I can’t imagine spending even a minute at work without feeling passionate about it.

It’s not always easy to find the right person—or the right career. Sometimes we simply don’t choose wisely the first time; presumably, we learn from that experience and move on. Making that transition can be painful, but it can also open up exciting possibilities. So it is with a career. The important thing to understand is that there are alternatives--that there might not be a single right choice that will give a lifetime of satisfaction. Fortunately, there’s a veritable cornucopia of career possibilities for people trained in the sciences at all degree levels.

Lesson Number Nine: Carpe diem!

I am a firm believer in seizing the day. Don’t let a day slip by without doing something to advance your career. As Dale Carnegie used to advise people taking his public speaking course, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Make the most of it.

My career has been an exciting adventure, and I have many people to thank for my success, if indeed I have been successful.

When I was still Editor-in-Chief of C&EN, Chemistry and Industry magazine featured me in its publication in a column they call “Personal Chemistry.” They asked me, what do I like most about my job. And I answered, “The opportunity to create an environment where bright, intellectually curious people can do their best work—which is writing about events in the chemical enterprise for a global audience.” They asked me who my biggest influence is, and why, and I answered “My father, who gave me an optimistic outlook on life, some pretty decent genes, and wise advice for dealing with life in general and people in particular.” But the no-brainer for me was the question, “What is my biggest success?” The answer to that is “My marriage to a wonderful and talented artist.” We had 45 years together and were married 44 years.

In my life, I am especially pleased to have been able to balance my personal and professional lives. My husband and I did not have our own biological children, but I have a wonderful stepson who is 61 years old today and two fabulous grandsons, ages 32 and 27. Since I was there at their births and helped their parents with babysitting every week while they were growing up, they really do see me as their grandmother. Do I wish I had children of my own? Absolutely, but I have many children in my life—and my friend’s children and their children as well.

The fact is, I count myself lucky. And yet I also know that hard work is what helped get me here today.

So I have one final lesson, Lesson Number Ten, I’d like to leave you with.

Because this is a gathering of scientists, I want to reinforce the idea of science as a noble calling. I believe that the best and the brightest are desperately needed in the sciences, and I hope that those of you who are on your way in this career will see it through to the end. To help you take this message to heart, I’m going to give you the lyrics of a wonderful Cole Porter tune—-it was in a 1933 musical called “Nymph Errant,” about an adventuresome young woman who aims to lose her virginity—pretty advanced stuff for 1933. In a song to her, Miss Pratt, Evangeline’s chemistry teacher, exhorts her to “Experiment,” and it is Lesson Number 10. Here are the lyrics:

Before you leave these portals,

To meet less fortunate mortals,

There’s just one final message

I would give to you.

You all have learned reliance

On the sacred teachings of science,

So I hope, through life, you never will decline

In spite of Philistine


To do what all good scientists do.


Make it your motto day and night.


And it will lead you to the light.

The apple on the top of the tree

Is never too high to achieve.

So take an example from Eve,


Be curious,

Though interfering friends may frown.

Get furious

At each attempt to hold you down.

If this advice you always employ

The future can offer you infinite joy

And merriment.


And you’ll see.

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