Steven Holdcroft, the new President of the Canadian Society for Chemistry and chair of the Board, recently took a few questions from CIC News.

What has motivated your participation with CSC, which has now culminated in this post on the Board?

I have always welcomed the chance to work with an organization that offers a range for opportunities for one to explore personal and professional growth. I found those opportunities in the Vancouver Local Section, the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Division executive committee, chairing Pacifichem and CSC-related conference committees, and finally here, chairing the Board. Each step has enabled me to assemble an ever-expanding network of collaboration with people of diverse interests and viewpoints, so that I can listen, hear, learn, and give back, wherever I can.

As we all reel from the impact of a global pandemic, what particular challenges in the CSC are front-and-centre for you?

There definitely are several challenges we face, but I would prefer to couch them in terms of opportunities. Three of these stand out for me:

1) Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). The ongoing and disturbing incidence of racial violence against people of colour has had a profound impact on our modern society’s psyche. Within CSC, these events serve as a platform for change. Members of our Board, both past and present, have been exceptionally active in this regard as they laid the groundwork for this change at the systemic level. Our top priority has been establishing EDI policies that pervade all aspects of CSC’s operations. Given the time and resources that are available to us, we are entrenching these policies as quickly as possible, in ways that will also make them meaningful and sustainable.

2) Providing value to our membership. The COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to cancel CCCE 2020 in Winnipeg, which was not just a huge disappointment but a loss with ongoing financial repercussions. A further unfortunate consequence was a sharp decline in our membership, since many members join or renew just prior to this annual event. In its absence we need to find other ways of reinforcing and enhancing the value of CSC membership. Above all, we must keep everyone apprised of all the significant work that continues to be undertaken by members and for members, even though many of these activities typically have a lower public profile. Individuals join CSC because of what’s in it for them. For some it will be a matter of identifying scientific or social value, while for others it may the result of a mentor’s encouragement.  We can certainly draw in as many members as possible by describing and discussing just how very much is in it for them.

3) The Governance Task Force.  As one of three bodies that constitutes the Chemical Institute of Canada, the CSC’s status retains some fiscal and operational oddities that need addressing. We have actively promoted a review of this longstanding structure and the CIC recently agreed to form a Governance Task Force to do just that. With a mandate to examine the structure of the organizations within the CIC and to make recommendations to ensure their administrative processes are robust, this review should invoke fundamental changes with substantial implications for the way CSC is run.

Given the extraordinary turn-out for the virtual AGM, how do you see CSC positioning its activities in a world where so much of our work will be conducted in this kind of digital setting?

We must not forget that a large proportion of chemical society activities are driven by professional, social interactions. These include the subject divisions, local sections, student chapters, industry liaisons, working groups, member resource groups, and so on. We may not be able to meet in person, but we can definitely build a framework for these interactions within our virtual world. In fact, we can create new networks and re-invigorate old ones.  The past few months have seen a number of fabulous on-line activities supported by the CSC, which we hope will become a resource for other member groups that want to expand their digital reach in the same way.

Much of what the CSC does identifies strongly with the chemical sciences at post-secondary educational institutions of one sort or another. What more could the organization do to build up its relationship with industry or government? 

We must acknowledge that industry or government account for a large proportion of Canada’s population of working chemists, including students graduating in this field who largely move into these two sectors. In addition, chemists and chemical research in post-secondary institutions not only rely on government funding, but often that funding is attached to collaboration with industrial or government partners. This is not just a two-way street, but a three-way interaction. Industry is increasingly outsourcing its blue-sky research to academic labs or in-licensing innovative intellectual property from universities, while government R&D labs are increasingly bridging research between post-secondary educational institutions and industry, and vice versa. Clearly, we need to form closer associations between academia, industry, and government at all levels. This begins with recognizing the value of people engaged in industry and government, as is routinely done for people in academic settings. Over a longer term, the CSC ought to be in the position of sharing expertise, knowledge, and mentorship with our young professionals, especially in challenging aspects of building their careers and cultivating complementary skills in communication and management, which are not often included in any formal curriculum. If we do this well, these newcomers should remain engaged with CSC and want to give back when they are able to do so.

What do you want to make sure people know about the CSC?

At face value this should be an easy question to answer, but it turns out to be surprising difficult because the context changes with different people or groups. If you are addressing members, then it is important to remind them how CSC can augment their personal and professional growth, regardless of whether they’re a first-year university student or the board chair. Everyone can benefit from serving on various committees and working groups, organizing symposia and events, or reaching out to other societal groups. For anyone outside of CSC, I would describe it as a major focal point for giving and receiving mentorship, a place where like-minded — and importantly, non-like-minded — individuals share a common love of the chemical sciences.