An Interview with Sue Cardinal
What a strange time to be a program chair for the division! I wanted to get a firsthand perspective on the future of national meetings by continuing a series of interviews with division functionaries(1). Sue Cardinal(2) is completing a two-year term as the chair of the program committee and is the 2021 chair-elect of the division. CINF is fortunate to have had her outstanding dedication over the past twenty years. I first met Sue in 2002, when she served as the CINF secretary. At that time, the secretary had daunting tasks, including preparing documentation for the ACS Committee on Divisional Activities (DAC) that was much more exhaustive than that currently required by DAC. After completing her term as secretary, Sue went on to co-chair the CINF Education Committee from 2006-2008 and the CINF Careers Committee from 2014-2018, publishing “Resources for first time attendees” in 2017. She has also served as the teller for many CINF elections. In her professional life, Sue is the passionate science and engineering librarian at the University of Rochester, and, in 2016, she received the Sandra M. Beach Memorial Award for outstanding service to the Chemistry Department(3). Sue earned her B.S. in chemistry from University of Iowa and her M.S. in library science from Syracuse University.
Svetlana Korolev: Greetings Sue! Let me start by expressing my gratitude for your sharing the “tricks of the trade” of the division secretary position back when I was new to this role. Your advice was much appreciated. Now, I am wondering how your personal involvement in ACS and CINF started. Has anyone influenced your service to the division? Which membership benefits were attractive to you at that stage of your career?
Sue Cardinal: Hi Svetlana, I became an ACS member at the end of my senior year at University of Iowa. I was sponsored by Dr. Mark Arnold for whom I was doing research. At that time, I was graduating and starting my first job. I received Chemical & Engineering News and occasionally read it, gawked at the research and awards, and enjoyed the fun Newscript article at the end. I really started to get involved in CINF in 2000 when I met Arleen Somerville, and she encouraged me to go to my first meeting in Washington DC. As a chemistry librarian, it was a homecoming. I had found my people! After this, the emails began to fly. I was encouraged to run for secretary, and I couldn’t believe it when I was elected! Suddenly, I was in the thick of CINF work.
SK: CINF members used to enjoy many fun social networking events, including long-range planning dinners, infamous Harry’s parties, lavish anniversary receptions, and luncheons. Do you have a special memory of an historic divisional happening?
SC: My first meetings were eye-opening. I was rubbing shoulders with the best chemistry librarians and cheminformatics people in the world! I was star-struck. And the receptions were lavish with (my first) caviar and chocolate fountains. Often, we were at the top of a tower in the city looking at amazing views. As the years went by, our budget didn’t stretch as far, yet the quality of the company has never diminished. My favorite parts of the conference were the cozy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with friends who really knew my work.
SK: Unfortunately, another divisional activity became history when the Council voted to disband the Joint Board-Council Committee on Chemical Abstracts Service (CCAS) in August 2020. Writing about the committee’s origin, Val Metanomski recorded: “At the 188th ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia in August 1984, a major novelty was a joint session of the Division with the ACS Society Committee on Chemical Abstracts Service (SCCAS). The purpose was to introduce the Committee to the Division, to explain the ACS governance, and to provide a forum for exchanging views on topics of mutual interest. … The ACS Council at its March 31, 1993, meeting dissolved the Committee and established in its place a Joint Board-Council Committee on Chemical Abstracts Service. Since the governance function with respect to CAS was taken over by the CAS Governing Board established in 1991, the new Committee is to act in an advisory and information exchange role between CAS, the Governing Board, and the ACS membership. Lura J. Powell, the Committee Chairman, established a subgroup (Jean G. Marcali, chairman) specifically charged with improving interactions between the Division of Chemical Information, the Division of Computers in Chemistry, and other Divisions, and the Committee.”(4) Several CINF members have served on CCAS, and CAS employees have organized symposia for CINF. Could you comment on the current collaboration of CINF and CAS, in terms of programming? Do you think that the elimination of the CCAS open meetings and SciFinder luncheons have created gaps in the CINF program?
SC: I’m sad to see CCAS and the SciFinder luncheons end. CAS has always provided excellent, responsive, and effective service to individual schools, in my opinion. While many of us have pleasant, respectful, and productive relationships with our CAS representatives, SciFinder luncheons gave us a chance to learn about new developments and discuss them as a group. I learned a great deal from the questions that my colleagues asked, including things that I hadn’t thought of before. There will be nuances to the product that I will not learn as quickly without those discussions. CAS representatives benefited by learning about new needs and desires which could be translated to developments. I imagine that they now learn from the CAS Future Leaders.
While I wasn’t directly involved in CCAS, I think it is important to maintain a strong connection among CAS developers, librarians, and power users. While it is good to teach individual users how to use SciFindern, if you teach a librarian, they will share this with several generations of students. Likewise, the librarian has professional relationships with individual users and can collect feedback or arrange meetings. Probably the stickiest issue is the pricing. CAS has strong competition, and librarians are constantly justifying SciFinder products during tight budget years. To an administrator, all high-priced chemistry databases look the same. COVID-19 has damaged our economy, our university budgets, and our library budgets. I hope that our justifications will be enough and that CAS will be able to accommodate our financial needs.
SK: Have you observed any overall trends in programming during your tenure? Does the program committee have any current collaborations with other organizations? Are there emerging themes influenced by the collaborators?
SC: We’ve consistently had excellent programming about developments in chemical information. Recently, there are more programs about data, especially related to FAIR practices. In my memory, we’ve always had a strong cheminformatics component, as well, with this being half of the program. In recent years, talks on topics related to librarianship have decreased, and machine learning and artificial intelligence have become very popular and expansive topics. We often collaborate with other divisions and committees within ACS to our mutual benefit, including COMP, CHED, CHAS, CHAL, ETHX, and PROF. Outside of ACS, we are collaborating more with publishers, IUPAC, and software companies like Schrödinger. The program committee brainstorms potential programs and organizers and sends invitations. Fortunately, our organizers (representing industry, government, and academia) are willing volunteers who answer this call and make proposals of their own. Then, the organizers must convince several people to speak on their topics, so the most interesting topics end up being presented. There is limited space in the program, so the program planner makes the final call on which programs go forward and which ones need to wait or be reimagined.
SK: What was your experience with the fall ACS virtual national meeting as a program chair this fall? Would you like to highlight any interesting or unexpected experience? Which aspects worked well or benefited from the virtual setup?
SC: Planning the virtual meeting was like going white water rafting! I was so thankful to Ye Li for working with me on the program for this fall. First, we had to deal with the uncertainty of an in-person meeting. We encouraged organizers and speakers to develop the program even though we didn’t know what the final form might be. ACS staff began emailing speakers directly, and we found out about this afterwards when people began asking questions. We attended frequent program planners’ meetings where we learned and reacted to plans. We were pulled along by the current, trying to keep ourselves informed and one step ahead of the needs of our organizers and speakers. I felt great sadness as I witnessed whole symposia canceled or postponed and some speakers postponing or discontinuing their talks for all sorts of reasons, mainly because of the virtual format. I was thrilled that we had a core of programs and speakers that continued.
Finally, the day arrived, and we were dismayed when several people reported that they could not log in to the conference and had difficulty finding a support person to help! This bump was gradually corrected, but then we discovered that the webinar format allowed little interaction between attendees and speakers. I enjoyed some of the talks but did not really have a way beyond email to share my thoughts. I missed sitting with my friends and sharing life stories that they would understand best. On the plus side, I could fix or order anything I wanted for lunch and eat it on my back porch. I was in awe of my colleagues who got up in the middle of the night to attend. Zoom networking was a bright spot during the conference. We had a nice exchange of experiences, relieving some of the isolation and sadness.
I “saved the day” during one session. A speaker learned that his prerecorded talk was not in the queue for the broadcast session. By then, I had made the virtual acquaintance of our technical support person. I asked if there was anything I could do. He did not think so. Then, I remembered seeing this talk in the “on-demand” section of the conference. I suggested that he get it from there, but he did not have access. We were able to work together to obtain the talk and put it in place in time for the broadcast, much to the delight of the speaker. Hopefully, our audience never knew the difference (until now).
I was also glad to be close to home. We received a phone call during one of the broadcast sessions. My son had fallen off a horse and had a concussion. I was able to slip away, attend to him and his injury, and return without many people noticing. Later the next day, I was able to watch some of the talks I missed. My son is fine now.
SK: Would you recommend hosting a webinar with one or two speakers based on their presentations at the fall virtual meeting?
SC: I think it would be a good idea to feature some talks in a webinar or a social viewing using a platform like Zoom, Facebook, or YouTube. I think it is really important to allow some social interaction during and after viewing. People want to react, clap, laugh, encourage, show surprise. They also want to discuss what they have just heard and seen. They need clarification. Sometimes they are inspired or have ideas to share, and the webinar format is very restrictive. For the most part, we have a friendly and supportive group of attendees, and the number of participants is manageable (except in rare instances).
SK: Have you received any data or feedback about the CINF virtual program? Is the online mode going to affect your choice of future symposia? What is being considered for spring 2021?
SC: We compiled our own feedback for the CINF virtual program. Mainly, we wanted more social interaction. The webinar format was very restrictive. SciMix and the Expo were ghost towns. We enjoyed the Zoom meetings. The technical staff were super-helpful. I haven’t heard more broadly how the program was received.
I think the online mode is more suited for some talks than others. Certainly, any talk that requires audience participation or where the visuals are especially striking are good examples of talks that work better in-person.
While we have ideas for spring 2021 symposia, [at the time of this interview] everything is in flux because we are not sure if this program will be hybrid or completely virtual. Postponed symposia from the Philadelphia program are being rescheduled, in hopes of having an in-person meeting. Also, speakers’ and organizers’ personal circumstances are changing in terms of financial support and availability. If there are organizers who would like to organize a future symposium, I encourage them to submit a title and description at https://forms.gle/Yaez5KX7WoyN55tFA. Questions about this can be sent to Ye Li at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SK: How far in advance is programming being planned these days? Could you give us a sneak preview of some future considerations?
SC: In the past, we discussed programs several years ahead of when they might happen. Because of uncertainty, we are currently discussing programs for spring 2021, only 6 months prior to the meeting. The schedule has been compressed, and that will make it difficult for speakers to get abstracts submitted on time, to register, and to prepare their presentations. Organizers will have less time to review abstracts, put them in order, and mentor their speakers. Program planners need to be flexible and responsive to keep the program going. I would expect our programs to be smaller. There is talk of adding more social Zoom events between the conferences. The “gifts” from the pandemic can be challenging to manage. There are benefits also. Speakers do not need to travel, so it may be possible to have a surprise event with prominent people. Also, people with physical disabilities or with complicated schedules can participate more than ever.
SK: Many thanks for running for the chair-elect position this year! What are your goals for CINF in 2022? Do you have any suggestions for ways the division and the society can better serve their members?
SC: I’m really keen to enhance communication and networking between members. Part of this will be to work on our technology, our website, and our mailing list and to learn how our members prefer to communicate. During strategic planning, Jeremy Garritano and a small group of members started some interesting initiatives. I would like to continue to encourage progress on these goals in bite-sized chunks so that we can continually improve and grow our membership. My main suggestion is to encourage our new members to contribute in small, doable ways. We need to celebrate our successes and learn from the failures that result from boldly trying new things.
SK: Sue, congratulations on being called a “transformative librarian”(5) by scientists at your workplace. Are you working on any projects or following special discussions of interest in your professional position at the University of Rochester? Is the remote work setup causing additional issues, regarding information resources and services for researchers?
SC: Currently, we are restructuring the roles within the library, introducing a stronger focus on supporting STEM research. This will be a great opportunity to learn about graduate student needs so that we can continue to develop key programs and services. I am sure we will learn more about grants, data, and digital technology, including AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality). One thing I love about libraries is that the information formats are constantly morphing and our skills continue to be relevant and applicable. One challenge we have is in reinventing our image so that we will be included in broader discussions beyond buying and managing books and digital articles. With remote work, there is a fear that people will forget about us. “Out of sight is out of mind.”
I think the professional development venues are really thinking about what their core values are and trying to replicate them in the virtual world. For CINF, networking is extremely important. The national virtual meeting was not very effective for networking because of the closed nature of webinars and lack of interactions in SciMix and the Expo. The best experiences I have had were with small virtual meetings, employing Zoom, Skype, Google Meets, or similar platforms. Everyone can easily talk in a small group. Larger groups need to be broken up into smaller groups or have an excellent moderator.
How can we help each other? This could be a good time to develop a deeper mentoring relationship. Alternately, frequent but brief check-ins on your friends, possibly via text messaging, can be a comfort. At a meeting, we get together to share information about our work and learn what others are doing. This can be done using social media posts, but, again, the interaction is minimal. What is the best venue for a warm, engaging conversation that feels less like watching and more like participating? We can go back and look at SciMeetings. Perhaps a conference viewing party on Zoom might make sense as a good blend, with lots of time for discussion.
SK: Sue, let me finish our interview by asking a few personal questions. What are your favorite activities outside of work? Is there anything else I did not ask that you want to add?
SC: Svetlana, I really love being with my son and husband and getting to know them better. We are watching many movies together. I have enjoyed cooking, baking, and home decorating. I play a little music on my piano, flute, and hand bells. I find the music so uplifting. It is a good meditation, as it is difficult to think about much else when playing. I also love to read a good book. Recently, my mind has turned to learning about systemic racism and Black history. I am reading Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture and Identity by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Sadly, I have realized how much history was left out of my childhood education. I am not satisfied with the status quo, as not everyone is being respected and well supported. I believe I can play a small part, so my ears are open to see where my gifts may be applied. I am particularly interested in equitable STEM education for all, but I am ignorant of all the barriers that are in the way. Thank you for asking.
SK: Thank you for sharing your experience as the CINF program chair, 2019-20. Best wishes for your leadership as the division chair in 2022.
ACS Division of Chemical Information Interviews (accessed 2020-02-09).
Sue Cardinal: ACS Chemist Profiles Snapshot (accessed 2020-02-09).
Susan Cardinal Wins Chemistry Department Sandra Beach Award (accessed 2020-02-09).
50 Years of Chemical Information in the American Chemical Society 1943-1993 (accessed 2020-02-09).
Researchers Recognizing Transformative Librarians (accessed 2020-02-09).