Teaching Chemical Information:
Tips and Techniques
— March 1998 —
- Students need information to solve chemical problems
Example: Need to find preparation, spectra, properties, etc. Long-time standby sources, as well as new electronic sources, are there to answer these questions. However, it is not obvious to students what sources to use, and how to use them.
CPT (Committee on Professional Training) stresses importance of teaching information searching — “too complicated to leave to self-learning.” Appendix A: Library and information sections from 1992 CPT Guidelines.
- Chemical information sources are increasing in number and variety
With many in electronic form, it is increasingly essential to help students learn to evaluate relevant sources and learn to use the diverse electronic formats.
- Students will be more successful in courses and in the research lab if they learn to select
the appropriate sources and know how to use them efficiently.
Students will vlaue information instruction when they see that it helps them be successful in classes.
In a recent exchange on the chemical information listserv, a senior majoring in chemistry mentioned that his school just began offering an information course last year. He said: “My one regret is the fact that before this class I didn’t have a clue about most of this information. … I would go so far to say I’m definitely not alone. This wealth of information should not be an ‘elective’ in this day and age, especially in such a broad and complicated field such as chemistry. Every incoming chemistry major should be briefed…early on…”
Faculty will find that students in their research groups who learn to search independently will be more productive.
- All graduates from BS through Ph.D., will be more successful on-the-job.
Efficient information searching skills contribute to productive work habits,which are required in industry. (Current Trends in Chemical Technology, Business, and Employment, ACS, Dec. 1994 section on Skills/Traits Desired by Employers notes: industry wants “people who understand how research is done, who know where to get information, and who are lifetime learners.” p. 31)
Lifetime learning has become critical, as scientists can expect to hold more than one job—each job most likely requiring learning about new topics.
From the industrial research manager perspective: “Timely and accurate information gathering is absolutely critical for industrial research, because of the highly competitive nature of chemically related business arenas. The rapidly evolving changes in research require problem solvers, which includes information skills.”
Another research director emphasized the essential need for all graduates, including those with BS degrees, to “understand how to handle and retrieve scientific and other related information needed in chemical industries.” Such areas include: production (new, improved processes), environmental (EPA, OSHA requirements), intelligence (know what your competitors are doing), chemical marketing (including future market areas), legal patents and litigation), engineering, manufacturing, and advertising.
“Many industrial companies, such as mine, do not employ information specialists, so each scientist needs to be able to access the information needed, and in the timeframe required (which may be as short as 3 hours).
From the industrial consultant perspective: “As a consultant in organic chemistry to six industrial research laboratories, I find that a large portion of my task is to bring to research scientists the literature references relevant to their immediate aims. Many scientists do not carry out thorough literature searches for their projects and often several months of fruitless work occurred in the laboratories before questions are brought to my attention. This loss of time (and funds) could have been avoided by acquiring the necessary information at the appropriate time.”
From the industrial information manger: “Scientists need to know the state-of-the-art technology in their fields, so they need to use information skills to accomplish this. There is not time available on-the-job to teach these skills—graduates need to come with these skills.”
From a president of a small chemical engineering company: “I’ll have to offer your graduate the job—so few graduates know how to locate information!”
With this emphasis on efficient information gathering, graduates can gain an edge with potential empolyers when they can include information searching skills and courses in their resumes. And, they will be more productive on the job.
- Training graduate students to be independent scientists, not technicians.
Scientists cannot be independent researchers unless they can locate information when needed, or know how to and when to use services of information center staff.
The academic years are the time to do systematic presentation of broad information seeking skills. This background provides the foundation to build on to maintain information skills and to apply in changing circumstances.