Category Archives: Reference material

CHAS Spring 2021 Professional Workshops, APril 1 – April 2

To register, scroll to the form at the bottom of this page

NEW for 2021: Half-day workshop on
Writing Safety Statements in Publications

Thursday, April 1, 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time, $150

The ACS now requires that authors include a statement of safety concerns in manuscripts submitted to ACS journals. The 2020 edition of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication, section 1.3 (Communicating Safety Information) provides guidelines to developing appropriate information for scholarly communication, but there are no complete examples provided, only excerpts. Furthermore, the chapter provides only information—it cannot impart the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the instructions in the section. The purpose of this workshop is to put into practice the guidelines for writing effective safety statements based on the science and the intended audience using risk assessment.

Presented by: Sammye Sigmann, Leah McEwen, Daniel Kuespert

Laboratory Waste Management 2021, $300

Thursday, April 1, 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

CHAS offers the Laboratory Waste Management workshop to assist participants with the various regulatory requirements that apply to laboratories which generate hazardous waste, as well as to provide insight into the options for on-site management and off-site disposal. Includes details on the Hazardous Waste Improvement Rule and how it impacts laboratories. Focus will include discussion on recycling/ reclamation techniques, economical handling of wastes and liability issues. There is extensive opportunity for questions both during the workshop with follow-up by phone and email.

taught by Russ Phifer, WC Environmental

How to be a more effective Chemical Hygiene Officer, $300

Friday, April 2, 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

CHAS offers the How to be a more effective Chemical Hygiene Officer workshop to provide participants with a detailed analysis of the CHO position and to prepare for the NRCC Chemical Hygiene Officer Board Certification exam. Participants receive a clear perspective on safety issues in the laboratory, focusing on what the CHO does and how to do it better. OSHA, EPA & DOT regulations that impact laboratory operations are included in the discussion.

The workshop covers the content areas of the NRCC certification exam, including a sample test in the same format as the real one. Whether you are a new Chemical Hygiene Officer or an “old” one, you will find something to put to real use in this fast-paced presentation. There is extensive opportunity for questions during the workshop and with follow-up by phone and email.

taught by Russ Phifer, Jim Kaufman
(Note that the Chemical Hygiene Officer certification exams are offered online. These exams are managed by the National Registry of Certified Chemists. Visit their web site at http://www.nrcc6.org for further information.)

Registration Notes:

One person may register for multiple workshops on a single Registration form. If you have more than one person to register using the same credit card or billing method or if you need help with the registration process, please contact Russ Phifer at 610-322-0657 or rphifer@wcenvironmental.com 

You will receive a confirmation that your registration has been submitted immediately upon registering. You will be sent a confirmation of registration email as soon as your registration is reviewed. Please contact 610-322-0657 if you do not receive the confirmation within four working days.

Note: Conditions and Cancellation/Refund Policy

Upon verified registration, information will be sent to each participant containing specific location information of the workshop. Companies may substitute registrants without prior notice or penalty.

Full refund available for cancellations up to three (3) weeks prior to workshop date. 50% refund up to one (1) week prior to workshop. Cancellations made less than seven (7) days prior to workshop start date will be charged, but an 80% credit may be applied toward a future program. No-shows receive no credit and will be billed.

In the event that the Division of Chemical Health and Safety is forced to cancel a workshop due to lack of registration or other causes, CHAS will notify participants at least ten (10) days in advance by email. We will notify you by email as soon as we know that the workshops will be held, i.e. we have sufficient registrants to present the workshop.

Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment: CHAS Journal Club

Climate Survey Team representatives: Rebeca Fernandez (she/her/hers), Tesia Janicki (she/her/hers)

On March 10, 2021 the CHAS Journal continuing our discussion of the paper “Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment.” The original paper can be found at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00611 One of the authors, Rebeca Fernandez, led the discussion. Comments from the Table Read (that was led by Tesia Janicki) are also below.

03/03 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club
Excerpts from “Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment”

INTRODUCTION


Recent reports have emerged that highlight a prevalence of mental health disorders among graduate students. These studies show that graduate students are disproportionately susceptible to mental health disorders when compared to the general population, due in part to unique challenges associated with the graduate school experience[a][b][c][d][e][f][g]. The majority of incoming students are recent college graduates in their early 20s, and their transition to graduate life is typically preceded by a relocation that separates them from their social networks and support systems[h][i][j][k]. Graduate programs that are able to assist students during the transition into their departments will benefit from a happier, healthier, and more productive group of young researchers. Although it is not universally recognized among faculty [l][m][n]that chemistry graduate programs need to adapt to better support the needs of graduate students, a few departments have initiated major institutional efforts to improve the research and educational climate in graduate school.
Here, we define “climate” to encompass all aspects of the graduate student experience such as research practices, mentorship, social activities, work-life balance, and cultivation of a healthy lifestyle. Along with the general challenges associated with graduate school, each individual department has unique elements that influence its culture, such as size, demographics, geographic location, and whether the university is private or public. These differences notwithstanding, many challenges that graduate students experience appear to be universal[o][p]. The accurate evaluation of graduate program climate and student mental health has been hindered by the transient nature of the graduate student population[q][r], but encouragingly, graduate programs across the country have begun developing metrics to examine departmental climate and the graduate student experience. In 2014, the University of California, Berkeley administered a survey to assess the well-being of graduate students in all departments at the university. In 2018, Mousavi et al. demonstrated the successful implementation of a survey tailored to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota (UMN). At UMN, the development of a climate survey was initiated by faculty[s][t][u][v][w], with student involvement, and the survey results were used to guide institutional changes to improve graduate student culture. These results are further discussed alongside our Recommendations and Initiatives.

SURVEY PROCESS


Survey Development The UW−Madison climate survey was developed by the Climate Survey Team (CST), a group composed of eight students from different research laboratories[x][y] and years in graduate school who provided unique perspectives on the graduate school experience. The chemistry department at UW− Madison represents one of the largest national programs and has non-uniform demographics throughout the department, i.e., among research groups, across subfields, and between years (the breakdown of department demographics versus survey respondents is provided in the Supporting Information). Given these variations, we sought input from fellow graduate students, faculty, staff, representatives from University Health Services (UHS), and select department alumni, including a human resources expert, throughout each step of the survey design process.
[z][aa][ab][ac]

REPRESENTATIVE SURVEY FINDINGS[ad][ae]

Emotional Well-Being and Work-Life Balance


Graduate students and postdocs were asked what factors influenced their emotional well-being over the course of the previous year. It is clear from these data (Figure 2) that personal relationships, ranging from principle investigator (PI) involvement to peer interactions, have a significant impact on the emotional well-being of students. Notably, the advisor/PI was ranked highly as both a positive and negative influence, depending on the respondent, representing the outsized effect of PI−student interactions on the overall graduate school experience. [af][ag][ah][ai][aj][ak][al]Of the respondents who indicated that their relationship with their advisor/PI had a negative impact on their emotional well-being at least once per month (22%), 5% identified as male and 17% did not identify as male (details of how demographic responses were grouped can be found in the Supporting Information). From this data, it is clear that differences in PI−student relationships may be related to gender; however, we could not elucidate more specific causes from this survey. The significance of the PI−student relationship, regardless of gender, is further supported by a global PhD student survey in 2017 that reports, “good (PI) mentorship was the main factor driving (graduate student) satisfaction levels”.

Work Environment


Demographic correlations regarding perceived mentorship efficacy revealed some dependence on ethnicity. For example, 83% of those who identified as Caucasian experienced effective mentorship by senior graduate students/postdocs compared to only 58% of those who did not identify as Caucasian. Similarly, 90% of respondents who identified as Caucasian reported supportive interactions with their PI[am][an][ao], in contrast with 63% who do not identify as Caucasian. Variations in responses based on ethnicity reflect many factors, such as the diversity (or lack thereof) among the students and faculty members, which will vary across departments and over time. In response to trends revealed from demographic correlations and the negative experiences reported in Figure 3b, we recommend the installation of regular implicit bias training, mentorship,[ap][aq] and conflict resolution workshop[ar][as][at][au][av][aw]s.

Outside the scope of this survey, we and other departments are making a concerted effort to improve minority representation in chemistry[ax][ay][az], necessitating shifts in climate that respect and integrate a more diverse student pool. [ba][bb][bc][bd][be]These data serve as an important baseline from which to gauge the effect of new policies through future assessments. The climate survey administered by the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley echoes these sentiments and emphasizes the importance of creating a welcoming work environment for women and underrepresented minorities.

Mental Health[bf][bg][bh][bi][bj][bk][bl][bm][bn][bo]

A cumulative 59% of graduate students and postdocs reported feeling depressed or sad (a symptom of depression) at least a few times per month compared with 37% of adults surveyed among a broader population (one-month time frame)[bp][bq][br][bs][bt][bu]. Additionally, high percentages of graduate students and postdocs reported exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, with 25% of students experiencing a panic or anxiety attack at least once per month. For comparison, a 2012 study reported that 31.2% of adults had some anxiety disorder, where 4.7% had a panic disorder, specifically.

The most shocking observation from our climate survey was that 9.1% of graduate students and postdocs reported experiencing thoughts that they would be better off dead or hurting themselves at least a few days a month. This alarming number is comparable with that reported for graduate students from other universities using similar methods. To address and attempt to mitigate the struggles of graduate students and postdocs, we recommend increasing access to and awareness of mental health resources through education and structured conversations.

If faculty are educated about the mental health resources available on campus, they are in a better position to direct their students to the appropriate resources if needed[bv][bw][bx][by][bz]. Most, if not all, graduate schools will have an on-campus mental health organization (at UW−Madison this is the UHS). Collaboration with professionals is essential to making mental health support for graduate students and postdocs accessible.

Our department now hosts biweekly “Office [ca][cb][cc]Hours” with a UHS professional providing drop-in confidential consultation sessions for graduate students and postdocs inside of the chemistry building, significantly lowering the barrier to seek support. We encourage graduate students at other institutes to connect with their on-campus health professionals and inquire about implementing a similar program[cd][ce][cf][cg].

RECOMMENDATIONS AND INITIATIVES BASED ON CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS


Student buy-in for any climate discussions in the department is essential and faculty support is equally crucial to the success of implementing lasting change[ch][ci][cj][ck][cl][cm][cn][co]. Faculty acceptance of student participation in various activities (e.g., being a member of a student council) and engagement in conversations about mental health signals that students’ well-being is valued in addition to their research productivity.

With the coordinated efforts of students and faculty, department curricula can be updated to provide explicit and detailed program requirements for graduate students. We encourage graduate students in other programs to work with faculty and staff to design and carry out a plan to foster a healthy graduate school climate based on the specific needs of their departments[cp][cq]. Utilizing a survey such as ours provides a starting point to gather information that is critical to creating lasting change.

A list of the major initiatives, which have been implemented in the UW−Madison Department of Chemistry to address our own unique challenges, can be found below.

  • The advent of conversations surrounding graduate student struggles with stress, anxiety, and depression, which have provided a framework for both individuals and research groups to discuss related problems.
  • The organization of a regular department-wide town hall to discuss relevant issues.
  • An increase in the number of events focused on raising awareness about mental health disorders and resources available on campus.
  • Revision of graduate program policies[cr][cs][ct][cu][cv][cw][cx] to reduce stresses associated with the transition into a research group and subsequent graduation requirements.
  • An effort to develop an expectations document for independent research laboratories to mitigate stress surrounding graduation requirements.
  • A focus on providing leadership opportunities for graduate students and postdocs to further increase student involvement.


[a]Do we have any historical data to know if this is a change over either the short term or long term?
[b]Can you elaborate? I’m not sure I understand your question
[c]Related: Are we reporting differently just because we think about it differently?
[d]Sounds like we need more surveys!
[e]I wonder what the experience is in 2020 compared to 2010, compared to 1980 For example, when my father was in grad school in the 1970’s, my mother was typing his papes for him. I wonder if changes in the reasons and ways people go to grad school impacts their experience of the situation.
[f]Ohhhh wow. I really don’t know! We have data from 2015 at the earliest. And we really can’t compare because we used very different questions in 2017
[g]This reminds me of an essay written in the 1970s I think (can’t remember author) in which a feminist explains how she would really like to have a wife since they do all of the thankless things to support the success of their spouse :).
[h]Is this influenced by the demographics; i.e. are older grad students more likely to be international or vice versa?
[i]Interesting, I don’t think we have this data at hand but my thought would be no.
[j]Yes – I wondered about this assumption. I know that older students are coming back to school now (I’m one of them). There seem to be more people starting families while in grad school – so the idea that they are all singletons in their 20s doesn’t really seem to ring true anymore.
[k]In 2019, we included questions on family status for correlations, but not age.


[l]Is this because they accepted certain negative aspects of their programs in the past w/o complaint or is it because something has fundamentally changed about the structure of graduate programs?
[m]Also interested to know about the generational aspects of this (generational in terms of inherited structures, temporal changes, etc.)
[n]I think that the fundamental structure of graduate programs needs to change. It is built to publish and conduct research for the PI not to support graduate students in their achievements. This is especially true for those who identify as BIPOC. From our experience trying to implement changes not every faculty member is interested in helping or volunteering their time
[o]I presume this means universal across institutions rather than all individuals feel the same challenges
[p]Yes, for example across most institutions you do not have to be trained to manage people to be a PI
[q]To me, this seems to also be related to Jessica’s question above querying faculty’s resistance to adaptation and supporting new and/or old unaddressed needs, since the transient nature of the grad student population might only be a major source of hindrance to evaluation if the effort is taken up, pushed, and facilitated by graduate students
[r]Yes exactly.

[s]What motivated these faculty to take on this project?
[t]I believe this was one faculty member. I’m involved with the student group associated with the survey (they’ve repeated it since the initial survey) and the faculty advisor of the student group was also the director of graduate studies at the time and collaborated with psychiatrists from the health center on campus
[u]You can read some more about it here (https://cen.acs.org/articles/95/i32/Grappling-graduate-student-mental-health.html)
[v]Thanks – I’ll take a look. Is this something that the JST has taken on – or is this a separate group?
[w]A separate group. This is run through http://ccgs.chem.umn.edu/

[x]Were these all chemistry students?
[y]Yes, spanning years 2-6
[z]Was there a focus group phase to test the questions before they were used in the survey?
[aa]Yes. Our sample group included graduate students and postdocs, men and women, international and domestic. We also had some faculty and mental health advisors read the survey for their take.
[ab]Thanks. In my experience, that is a very helpful step that not all climate surveys undertake
[ac]It was especially important for us to ensure language was clear to those for whom English was not their first language.
[ad]The transition from U/G to grad school introduces the student to going from being one of the academic leaders of the class to being a lesser star in a peer group of academic stars. Coping with that can be difficult. Is this addressed in this study?
[ae]We did not address this specific phenomenon. Themes of imposter syndrome were pervasive in qualitative responses, however.
[af]In personal conversations, I definitely see evidence for this. While a grad student joins a dept, it really feels more like they join a PI. Two students in the same department can have wildly different experiences depending on who their PI is.
[ag]You can even at times see very different experiences within a group (e.g. the student that is fellowship funded vs. the student that requires support off the research grant).
[ah]I have had this exact same experience. I initially joined one group and after my first year I switched to a different group due to the terrible environment in the first group. My mental health improved tremendously as a result. Both were in the same department
[ai] Definitely true. On a personal note, I encourage fellow graduate students to seek as much funding outside of their PI as possible, even if they think they are covered, because money often = power.
[aj]Money helps, but at the end of the day your PI writes your rec letter, introduces you to collaborators, your future bosses, etc.
[ak]Securing outside funding can also make it easier to switch PIs or bring in a more supportive co-PI. I am speaking on a personal level here – it helps more than any other single factor.
[al]Absolutely agree on being self-funded leading to greater opportunities and flexibility.


[am]Is this data broken out in any way to see if caucasian students were having these more positive interactions with caucasian PIs or just all PIs? Also, for those who are not caucasian, do they also have more positive experiences when their PIs are not caucasian (or even identify in the same way as the student)?
[an]We did not collect PI identity/demographics of respondents. We would also run into small-numbers statistics here due to poor diversity among faculty in just our department. I think this is an excellent point to share with our future climate survey teams!
[ao]Definitely – it would also be interesting to compare to another institution that does have more diversity among its faculty, especially with the number of international faculty that exist in departments throughout the US.
[ap]Specifically to mentorship, are faculty required to go through any mentoring programs/trainings?
[aq]There is a huge limitation with requiring tenured faculty to attend these trainings. There has been recent discussion of having “digital badges” placed on faculty profiles for those who have completed the training. A very visual form of peer pressure, but again, not a requirement.
[ar]Are any proposals made to increase “buy-in” on these workshops? I feel that sometimes those going to events and programs of this nature tend to be those who already understand the importance of mental health and not necessarily those who need to hear it.
[as]I echo this sentiment. At my uni, the faculty most in need of training / the most egregious ones are the ones who think it’s a waste of time and won’t participate
[at]Hard AGREE.
[au]Absolutely. My dream would be to tie it to tenure and promotion but that has not happened yet. We do now host mentorship training for faculty though!
[av]While tying it to promotion would eventually fix this the Old guard which unfortunately is a lot of the more repeat offenders who are set in their ways would still be relatively left untouched more active / radical initiatives like linking mentorship performance to grant support would have a bigger effect. But this would be highly difficult to apply at the institutional level.

[aw]On the PI side, I am also curious who in the institution really sits down and thinks about how PI time is divvied up and what the expectations are. Given that PIs do not have a direct boss, I feel like there are a whole lot of “PIs should…” discussions without rebalancing the demands that already exist.
[ax]I am curious about how this is being done? Increased recruitment?
[ay]Currently, UW-Madison is working on recruitment as well as retention initiatives via mentoring programs. More on some of these programs here:
https://chem.wisc.edu/catalyst/
https://chem.wisc.edu/2013/10/09/opportunities-abound-chops-and-pgsec-programs-expose-undergraduates-to-graduate-school-life/
[az]At my uni, we have had some success with a student-led team called the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) – https://voices.uchicago.edu/grit/
They specifically work to target recruitment at URMs, work to create and maintain an accessible support network for the URM students they successfully recruited, and they work to address issues in application requirements (for instance, they were successfully able to get the GRE removed from admissions requirements across all graduate programs https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2018/11/16/grits-urging-biological-sciences-drops-gre-require/)
[ba]It is in my experience that when faced with the notion of recruiting more underrepresented minorities into graduate programs department leadership has come up with rather lackluster ideas of how this isdone.
As a matter of fact while recruitment seems to be increasing I would like to see how that compares to degree completion related to overall satisfaction with the program.
[bb]That is why I was asking because I personally believe increased recruitment alone hasn’t helped dealt with the issue.
[bc]Another factor is how is the overall climate in the department is adapting to increase presence of underrepresented minorities. Has it been embraced and flourished or have these students been tokenized in an effort to improve the outward appearance of a program?
[bd]Yes yes yes. these are all so important. Increased recruitment just forces someone into a space that can be toxic. We’re working on this (because we really need to). Like Tesia said we’re trying to change our department to create spaces and be supportive. Along the lines of supporting and promoting affinity groups, standardizing requirements, increasing transparency along every step of the program (graduation requirements and PI expectation documents). There’s definitely more but I can’t think of it off the top of my head.
[be]I’m just copying and pasting my comment from above about GRIT, since they are an organization that works diligently to support URM students that they’ve successfully recruited, as well. It’s a fundamental part of their functioning.
At my uni, we have had some success with a student-led team called the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) – https://voices.uchicago.edu/grit/
They specifically work to target recruitment at URMs, work to create and maintain an accessible support network for the URM students they successfully recruited, and they work to address issues in application requirements (for instance, they were successfully able to get the GRE removed from admissions requirements across all graduate programs https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2018/11/16/grits-urging-biological-sciences-drops-gre-require/)

[bf]How do you separate frustration related to failed experiments from other stressors? Isn’t part of the development as a scientist learning to deal with experiments not working and developing tools to create the desired outcome?
[bg]I don’t think you can necessarily separate those frustrations. The way stressors build on one another makes them entangled so that they cannot be dissected away from each other. I think it’s more so important to acknowledge that failed experiments will exist and find ways to minimize additional stressors that can exacerbate the frustrations associated with the experimental side.
[bh]Isn’t that learning to cope with failure?
[bi]I think even learning from failure can be facilitated so that it is not so detrimental to one’s mental health. My current PI is very good at this, and constantly tries to make my lab mates and not take failure personally, and constantly turn it into a learning experience. The end result of all of this is that while I still get frustrated due to inevitable failures, I am more often able to go home at the end of the day and not feel terrible about myself
[bj]This is an interesting thread to me. Actual results of my experiments never actually represented a “stress” for me – either when I was working in a research lab in undergrad or in grad school. The stress has all been centered around poor & neglectful relationships, lack of clarity on what goal posts are supposed to exist where. Every stupid little thing is some sort of mystery to figure out. It is incredibly unnecessary and takes away from the joy of the actual research.
[bk]I agree with you on this. It may seem trivial talking about teaching graduate students how to deal with failure of experiments or grad work in general but grad school is a journey. Not knowing how to effectively deal with frustrations from work can pile up real quick and that might lead to some detrimental mental health issues.
[bl]It’s also pretty important to recognize that one’s ability to “cope with failure” is heavily dependent on their support system, the degree to which they feel they have power/control over their environment and lives, the degree to which failures are expected as natural and normal by others in the environment, and their self-perceptions (which are themselves influenced heavily by the environment).
I think it’s too reductive to say that it’s a matter of “learning to cope.” Coping skills are very important, but they are only reasonable deterrents when your environment and support systems are reasonably sufficient.
[bm]For me, when my experiments failed most of the stress came from my former PI getting upset that I couldn’t make it work. I think the response to the failure from the PI dictates a lot more how the students will respond to it. Obviously, personalities dictate this to some extent as well, but having a PI who supports you despite the failures can minimize a lot of the frustrations due to the failure.

[bn]This is a really good point. It sort of alludes to a point I made above asking about the mental well being of PIs. How much unhealthy coping and overreaction to negative things (including data) is being triggered by the PI themselves reacting in a really inappropriate way?
[bo]Jessica’s point about the uncertainty for the ‘goal posts’ IMHO can’t be overstated. That’s a conversation that all grad students should have with the PI before ever deciding to join their group. And even then, things can shift during the student’s career, but having some idea up front (and confirming similar expectations with other students in the group) should be very high on the evaluation list for prospective research group selection.
[bp]I think one interesting question to ask would be, how has this value changed before and after starting grad school. In other words, did students enrolling in graduate school have a history/propensity towards problems with mental health
[bq]This is interesting. I also wonder if any studies have been done to see if those who become research faculty exhibit anxiety at a higher rate than the average population.
[br]I am wondering if it would help if PIs have some expertise in Psychology
[bs]I think that kind of begs the question. Is that important to address? If the answer to your question Taysir is yes, then that doesn’t mean we give up on not making graduate school a negative environment.
[bt]Not necessarily an expertise in psychology – but more having some training in team building and project management. It is shocking to me what PIs are expected to do when nothing about graduate training suggests that these types of things are part of the education.
[bu]@rebeca Fernandez. Oh absolutely, I fully agree that creating a more supportive is something that is essential. What I was alluding to is this: the answer to my question is yes, then that would warrant further investigation into the source of these metal health issues that arose prior to grad school, and how grad school exasperated them. If the answer to my question is no, which I find the most likely scenario, then that would even more conclusively show that grad school is indeed the source of these mental health issues, and further validate your efforts

[bv]I worry about this becoming a culture of faculty just handing off “troubled” students instead of acknowledging the role they may be playing in harming the mental health of their students.
[bw]I second this there are a lot of treat the symptoms not the cause initiatives when handling graduate student mental health.
[bx]Agreed. How much of the issue is “my mental health” versus “this relationship is incredibly harmful but I depend heavily on it”?
[by]I agree.
[bz]Yeah definitely. Cristian’s point is excellent. I think that is an easy flaw of Climate Survey data. It becomes much easier to treat symptoms then address the root cause of it

[ca]How has this been impacted by COVID? Do you have any post-publication information about attendance at these office hours?
[cb]This will be addressed in the 2021-2022 survey
[cc]These are still hosted now but via Zoom or phone call.
[cd]I wonder how grad student pay correlates with these findings. Are all grad students paid the same amount? Is it a living wage in Madison?
[ce]Ooooo interesting. We asked if stress was caused by financial factors. I believe that everyone is “paid the same” unless you are on NSF GRFP. International students have to pay more fees.
[cf]Many universities have different pay levels based on degree progress. It could also vary wildly by department a common occurrence pay discrepancies also tends to show up in summer funding for 9 month stipends. The summer funding can be either widely available or generously compensating. And this dichotomy has been observed way too much in higher education.
[cg]The financial aspects are definitely something that should be considered. Most are compensated at levels near (or below) the poverty line. Even those lucky enough to have compensation dictated by federal programs aren’t substantially better-off financially.

[ch]In addition to faculty and staff, there are over 100 staff members in the department. I suspect that they have a significant role to play in influencing the department’s climate
[ci]Great point. Also worth noting that Departmental leaders (e.g. Chair) aren’t always the most qualified to lead, but get that responsibility due to politics or the unwillingness of the more qualified to offer their time for those responsibilities.
[cj]This is so true. From the staff in the department office, the technical support people to the custodians.
[ck]Chemistry faculty rarely have any structured education in leadership or management. This lapse leads to difficulty managing people (students/staff) and causes unnecessary stress on those managed. I have no idea how to address this on a system level. Back when I was a PI and later as a business owner, I took some management classes.
[cl]Faculty support is mentioned specifically because of the present power structure. Recommendations in the survey are were developed for all department members (including staff). Discussions of staff climate surveys have occurred, but I don’t have much information on that development.

[cm]While technically true, it can feel very much like you really only answer to your PI. I have found it quite stunning how little I know about what is going on in my building – especially when I compare it to positions in which I worked before coming to grad school.
[cn]Yes, staff play an active role and we meet with faculty, staff and students frequently on various committees.
[co]when I was a new BS graduate, I was hired by an academic department to support international grad students who needed help with their English, etc. This was 1980 and most labs in the agronomy department had that kind of support that faculty could rely on to support their grad students. I get the impression that this support team has dwindled significantly since about 1990
[cp]Is there historical data about the drop out rate of the department’s grad students. A faculty friend of mine who went to UW Madison as a history major in the 1980’s said he was the only person in his entering class to actually get his degree there.
[cq]This likely exists in department records, but I do not have stats on this presently.


[cr]On a personal level, I have found it extremely frustrating how much time I have wasted learning about basic things at my university. Everything is do disjointed. While it is not “the” stresser, it adds an unnecessary layer that distracts you from focusing on the truly challenging parts of graduate school.
[cs]I agree! I think making it more transparent on how to do things and report things helps a lot! Especially if you encounter an abusive faculty, less hoops to jump through make it much easier to remedy the situation.
[ct]I suspect that the disjointed nature of the academic community is part of the education of the grad student, as opposed to the technical training aspects. This is not an efficient approach to sharing information, but primes people for being faculty members rather than scientists
[cu]Ha! It is literally the 1st thing I would fix – as I have in multiple companies. Why would I want my team distracted by pointless garbage when instead I would want their eyes on the prize and the focus on the actual work we are producing?
[cv]Actually there’s a lot of data that shows that this exact type of information specifically selects against minoritized students in academia. This is what we mean by increasing transparency and standardizing graduation requirements. SO that this information can be easily found and not create an undue burden.
[cw]It’s a feature not a bug if you’re trying to produce more faculty members
[cx]And there should be many arguments about whether or not we should be trying to produce more faculty members, given the job availability.

And, it only “primes people for being faculty members” under the assumption that the future of academic structure remains disjointed 😛

Submit an Abstract to the 25th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference

The ACS Green Chemistry Institute invites you to submit an abstract to the 25th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. Held virtually on June 14-18, 2021, the Conference will feature 5 days of programming, over 30 oral and poster sessions with Q&A, and many opportunities to for online networking. Take a moment to browse the symposia and submit an abstract before February 15, 2021.
https://www.gcande.org/program/?cid=sc_gci_partner_1_4_21

Note particularly the presentation opportunity in the symposium I am co-organizing. Last year, the green chemistry and safety symposium was most of best attended of the GCI conference.

CONNECTING GREEN CHEMISTRY AND CHEMICAL SAFETY IN THE CHEMISTRY CURRICULUM AND BEYOND

Organizers: Ralph Stuart, Keene State College and ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety; Kendra Denlinger, Xavier

Both green chemistry and chemical safety have direct connections to the ACS’s core value of “professionalism, safety and ethics”. The symposium will explore how these connections can be engaged in academic coursework, in the research laboratory, and in industrial and engineering settings. Papers that define, compare, and contrast the practices of green chemistry and green engineering with chemical safety and then connect these to their social context and goals within the chemistry and engineering enterprise are welcome.

No travel required!

Let me know if you have any questions about this.

– Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Membership Chair
American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Health and Safety
membership@dchas.org

Spring 2021 National Meeting Call for Papers

The CHAS Call for Abstracts for the 2021 Spring Virtual ACS National Meeting is now available at https://callforabstracts.acs.org/acsspring2021/CHAS

Note that the submission calendar is quite tight due to the pandemic’s impact on planning the meeting. The deadlines for submission is January 19. But the good news is that you can share your work more conveniently since travel will not be required.

CHAS symposia open for paper submissions include:

  • Chemical Safety Film Festival
  • Designing safety into an undergraduate laboratory curriculum, beyond safety rules
  • Safety Across the Scientific Disciplines: Where are the successes, and what needs improvements
  • Systems thinking in Chemical Health and Safety

CANN symposia include

  • Cannabis apart from Cannabinoids
  • Cannabis Derived Treatments for Specific Medical Condtions:
  • Women in Cannabis: Shaping an Emerging Industry

More details about these sessions can be found on the ACS web site

ACS CHAS Workshop: Empowering academic researchers to strengthen safety culture

This 4-hour workshop is primarily directed at researchers in academic institutions that may include graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and undergraduate students. Faculty and safety staff are also very much encouraged to participate.

Workshop goals are to:

  • Educate participants about the value of risk assessment
  • Guide participants towards gaining awareness of safety culture messages from the leadership at their institutions
  • Empower participants to expand their safety networks and develop laboratory safety teams.

The next workshop is scheduled for Sunday, February 7, 2 PM to 6 PM Eastern Time. The workshop is $25 per participant. To register for this workshop date, please follow this link to our Eventbrite registration page. If you have any questions about the workshop, please email lstworkshop@dchas.org. 

For more information:

For a list of technical resources related to LSTs, visit this page.

For information about the history of the workshop, visit this page.

Who pays when a graduate student gets hurt? : Safety Journal Club Discussion, December 1, 2020

Led by:
Ralph Stuart, Keene State College

The discussion format on December 1 was to read snd comment on an abridged version of the C&EN article “Who pays when a graduate student gets hurt?” found at https://cen.acs.org/safety/lab-safety/pays-graduate-student-hurt/98/i42

The group comments and discussions were then organized around 5 questions:

  1. Who are the stakeholders in this story (either at BU specifically, or more generally)?
  2. What do you think are the 3 most important take away messages from this article?
  3. What other aspects of the grad student experience does their legal status as employees impact? 
  4. What opportunities are there for addressing the confusion these questions raise?
  5. How does this confusion impact the safety culture of 1) specific institutions and 2) higher education in general?

Who Pays? Discussion summary

1. Who are the stakeholders in this story (either at BU specifically, or more generally)?

  • As a current graduate student, I would assume that I was working in the capacity of an employee of the institution here.
  • I’ve always assumed that graduate students are employees of the institution. Their checks have the university’s name emblazoned on it. I have come across situations, as described in the article, while as department chair where graduate students were treated as students when convenient and as employees when convenient. “When convenient” seems to be the operant term.
  • The grad students are the people with the most potential for contact with the hazards bc they are frequently the hands doing the actual work.  Can it be that they have the least safety net?  Plus they are in a poor position to fight back bc they need to recoup the time and money invested in their degree so suing the institution isn’t a go to option.
  • This advisor person does not seem to be involved after the initial response. Isn’t there a duty that the advisor / responsible PI advocate for the student throughout the bureaucratic mess that ensued? Perhaps the institution’s response would’ve been more robust if a faculty member had been more actively involved with seeking a remedy.
  • In my experience, who the stakeholders are varies by institution and even within institutions. Higher education has a complex financial structure that confuses many discussions about money.
  • Is there a difference between how public/private institutions should/could react?
  • Are there conflicting stakeholders? The graduate student, the PI, the institution (here BU), risk management, workman’s comp, the state, all have different agendas.
  • As the article indicates, it’s not a question EHS folks can usually answer accurately and often nor could Risk Mgmt. The unit’s business pro was best suited and able to do so.
  • This reflects the broken USA healthcare system. Thus, the needed fix is political. In the interim, anyone, including a student of any level, should assure health insurance. Under 25 qualifies for parent’s program, if any. Most students, including graduate students and post-docs, will qualify under the ACA for coverage assistance. Worst case is to purchase private medical insurance, often out of the price range for students.
  • Compensability determinations are currently made by our Worker’s Comp group.  If there are complexities in the decision there is confusion about where to go and who to talk to.  The Business Manager in the home department is a good source of information.
    • Seconded. There is a lot of confusion in the air that needs to be clarified case by case
    • My experience is that there is a lot of variation in the expertise of departmental business managers. In addition, the departmental clerical staff at our institution has been cut in half over the last year due to covid impacts.

2. What do you think are the 3 most important take away messages from this article?

  • I wonder if because of the assumption that paycheck = employee, most graduate students assume they are covered by workman’s comp and don’t even bother to ask. This is an important take away. Students should ask when they come in how the university really views them and what their legal position it.
  • WC has been very beneficial to employees. They are covered by law. The issue is the unclear status of a graduate student whose “employment” is linked to their education. Again, that is a question for legislation to resolve. Each of us must have medical protection while waiting for this to happen.
    • While I can appreciate that this question has a long history, it IS news to current graduate students.
  • Shouldn’t financial responsibility for medical care be part of Planning For Emergencies done by institutions?
    • Emergency planning and workers compensation policies do tie together.
    • Planning for Emergencies in labs is often as confusing as WC due to local resources (campus and municipal), diverse types of hazards needed to prepare for, and local politics.

3. What other aspects of the grad student experience does their legal status as employees impact?

  • Expectations and compensation for working hours
  • Access to personal protective equipment
  • Termination process concerns
  • When I was a grad student I was told by our student government to only say “hurt at school” so that my personal insurance would not reject a claim
  • A lot of places do try to list post-docs as students. I don’t think that is clear cut everywhere either.

4. What opportunities are there for addressing the confusion these questions raise?

  • I wonder if the National Labor Relations Board should /could get involved in mediating this nationally, or do these laws need to reside, legally, at the state level?
  • One idea is to develop a FAQ list that grad students should ask about safety before accepting a fellowship offer would be helpful to the grad student in evaluating the offer and the PI in framing the offer as desirable. This could be a national resource
  • Given how much Workers Comp varies by state, I am deeply skeptical of a successful unified approach to rectifying it across the U.S.  I think a state by state approach is much more likely to be effective (though inefficient perhaps).  So, then perhaps a college by college approach to encourage (require?) a unified set of best practices to be implemented locally might lend itself to the missing broad scale aspect.
  • Some institutions require that PI’s provide health insurance for graduate students and postdocs. Conversely, some universities do not require mandatory health insurance. There are no unified policies. At my university, we require that PI’s or the institution to provide health care for our graduate students doing research.
  • UC Davis has its own Fire Dept with EMTs making at least initial treatment quick, easy, and at no cost to students.
    • Related to ambulance costs and American healthcare, one of the concerns that has been raised is the cost for undergrads that call an ambulance for medical emergencies (lab or non-lab). If the university’s ambulance service responds it’s free, but if they are unavailable an outside service responds. This can lead to bills (after insurance) of >$1,000. This creates a disincentive to calling for medical help when needed.
    • This is an important point. I stress in lab safety training I do that the institution expects the lab worker to call 911 in case of emergency. For some people, this call is a significant financial risk
    • This is one of the reasons why graduate students will often drive other grad students to the hospital. They just saved >$1,000
  • What is the incentive to NOT consider graduate students to be employees?

5. How does this confusion impact the safety culture of 1) specific institutions and 2) higher education in general?

  • This unfortunate outcome (in addition to a GSR not having medical bills paid) was that they wouldn’t go for any treatment for fear of the costs. We saw this occur frequently (and quite sadly).
  • If one cannot feel that an accident can be recovered from financially, I imagine it would inhibit more dangerous lines of research. It may also inhibit students from feeling that the institution actually cares about their safety and well-being.
  • What kind of work performed by students does the ruling pertain to?  Could laws be strengthened if WC-type coverage is extended to students who do certain types of hazardous work, such as laboratory research?
  • It’s sad that it takes a meeting with an attorney before the institution decided to pay. Although this article is only one perspective, it seems there was a genuine lack of caring behind the initial inaction. Although the administration seemed to say some of the right things, what they didn’t do was cover the student’s bills first and figure out how those bills might be accounted for later.
  • How can there we build a constructive safety culture when people on the front lines of the work are having experiences that leave them distrustful of the institutions?

Discussion of Emergency Response issues

  • TFA does not pose the risk of systemic toxicity that HF does. Here is one study demonstrating this difference and pointing out that PEG 400 is recommended as a topical treatment on some SDS’s, https://drive.google.com/file/d/16QsUsw3MoYcnIhm9akXF4piUUajNOCue/view?usp=sharing
  • We had an HF Committee (including our Occ Doc and Occ Nurse).  We required grab ‘n go kits with instructions for the Emergency Dept to follow.  They could/should just call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 – purposefully easy to remember! 🙂
  • One piece of helpful advice for people who work with exotic chemicals is to bring the SDS to the Emergency Room with you so that the ER staff will know exactly which chemical was involved. The treatment for HF is very different from the treatment of HCl, but their names sound similar in conversation
    • Is this why there is insistence that SDSs be printed out rather than relying on accessing them through a computer? We are allowed to embrace the latter, but then we wouldn’t have an easily accessible SDS to bring to the ER.
    • From Haim Weizman (he/him) : We made a video that shows TFA damage.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6DrCdjedas&ab_channel=ChemUCSD

2021 CHAS Chat Topics Survey Results

52 CHAS members responder to our survey of interest in potential 2021 CHAS chat topics. The average response for each potential topic are in the table below, with “10” being most interested and “1” least interested.

Potential 2021 CHAS chat topics

TopicInterest level (1-10)
Best sources of safety information for chemicals7.63
Hazard Assessment in the research lab7.58
Specific examples of RAMP in action7.35
Online resources for learning safe chemistry techniques7.21
Best practices for at-the-bench training6.88
Teaching chemical safety and risk assessment in virtual labs6.75
Chemical Safety for Biologists6.73
Fire codes and flammable/reactive limits6.60
Planning for and Recovering from Emergencies6.54
Overview of new ACS chemical safety education resources6.50
Working alone policies and practices6.50
Safety in Nanotechnology6.15
Safe Reaction scale up considerations6.12
The role and impact of covid masks (in public and in the lab)6.10
Safety in community outreach6.09
Strengths and limitations of PubChem LCSS5.98
EH&S as a career option5.94
Uses of ACS Style Guide chapter5.79
Safety in the performing arts5.42
Service Animals in the Lab4.94
Process Safety in the Pharmaceutical Industry4.82
High School Safety related resources4.60

Webinar: Lessons learned from Beirut and Ammonium Nitrate

CAS will be hosting a webinar on Friday, December 4th at 11:30 EDT.

The Expert View – Lessons learned from Beirut and Ammonium Nitrate:

Register here: https://www.cas.org/science-connect/ammonium-nitrate

Even if you don’t work with industrial levels of ammonium nitrate on a daily basis, the safe handling of this chemical could have implications in your local community. With the recent tragedies in Beirut, are there lessons learned that can help minimize the safety risks?

Join us for an in-depth panel discussion with experts who bring diverse ideas from the commercial, academic, and safety viewpoints from a deeper study into the formulation options, the innovation landscape, and key safety guidelines.

Panelists:

  • Dr. Jimmie Carol Oxley, professor of chemistry at the University of Rhode Island
  • Dr. Vyto Brabauskas, President of Fire Science and Technology
  • Kimberly Brown, Sr. Lab Safety Specialist and Chemical Hygiene Officer, University of Pennsylvania

Date: December, 4th 2020
11:30am – 12:30pm ET – Register to join live or access the recording at a later date: https://www.cas.org/science-connect/ammonium-nitrate