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Being Tech Savvy is ‘Crucial’ to Advancement in STEM careers

Posted on October 30th, 2017 by in Chemistry


A survey of chemistry professionals finds familiarity with machine learning and data analysis tools among needed skills for future chemists, while collaborative technology is crucial in supporting innovation

Being tech savvy is critical to career advancement prospects for chemists, according to a survey of 186 chemistry professionals from industry and academia, carried out by Elsevier’s Reaxys team. A majority (84%) of respondents said an ability to use digital tools was either ‘critical’ or ‘very important’ to their progression in the field. However, various different technologies were regarded as important, including access to deep-dive statistical analysis tools (26%) and access to computational chemistry power (22%) – both identified as key attributes required of modern chemists, suggesting that there is little consensus around which technologies are most important. This is further underlined by the growing importance of emerging technologies, with 13% identifying a familiarity with machine learning, or similar technologies, as important for future chemists.

Other key findings include:

  • Technologies such as AI, data analytics and cloud computing have been instrumental in numerous recent scientific breakthroughs, including gene-editing techniques, high-throughput sequencing and genomic sequencing, and almost three quarters (74%) of respondents stated that chemistry adopts new technologies either as fast as, or faster than, other disciplines
  • Yet despite keeping pace technologically, 78% felt a lack of ‘newsworthy’ breakthroughs contributed to the industry not being seen as innovative when compared to other sciences

“The real future of science depends on the next generation of the scientists who will pick up on the work that has been done, apply the next generation of thinking, and use tools in new ways — having grown up with them not as novelties but as a tool used in everyday life,” commented Tim Hoctor, Vice President of Professional Services at Elsevier. “They will approach data differently and have a different take on serendipitous discovery. Information technology advancements are accelerating the way that chemistry and other information is stored, located or discovered, changing how researchers collaborate in the workplace and driving the growth of available data. Companies and institutions need to make sure they are investing in the best, most user-friendly technology to enable researchers to optimize their time and innovate quickly – at least as fast as the next competitor.”

Beyond dealing with the flood of data, respondents highlighted several other key areas where technology can change the way modern chemists work. The top three skills required by chemists today is the ability to access cross-disciplinary research (72%), the ability to collaborate with researchers in other fields and geographies (59%), and the ability to present a commercial case for research (45%). The research also suggested that chemistry was perceived to be overlooked in the conversation about major technology innovations compared to other disciplines, such as the Large Hadron Collider for physics and the sequencing of the genome for biology. 78% of chemists believe this reputation contributes to people choosing not to pursue a career in chemistry, in favour of other sciences.

“Managing problems by effectively accessing data and collaborating across multiple regions can be tricky but advances in cloud computing and software are rapidly improving the way that scientists and researchers work” continued Hoctor. “The better the tools, the more time researchers have to work at the coalface of progress. Solutions that enable multiple location access, integrate both proprietary and third-party data for ease of analysis, and enable rapid data sharing, are crucial to modern chemists. There are a huge range of technical advances that would improve the rate of scientific discovery if companies are willing to make the investment in time and resources.”

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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