Editorial: Looking Back, Looking Ahead — One Last Time | AIChE

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Editorial: Looking Back, Looking Ahead — One Last Time

January
2021

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The last editorial I wrote from my office before the COVID-19 pandemic hit was “Spring Has Sprung,” which ran in the March 2020 issue. I was eagerly looking forward to spring and all that it brings. I did not imagine that it would bring us a global pandemic that would upend all of our lives in countless ways.

As happens every year, even in 2020, spring turned into summer, summer turned into autumn, and as I write this editorial in mid-December, autumn is about to turn into winter. I’m not a fan of cold weather and winter is my least-favorite season, but at least the sun will be rising earlier and setting later so we will have more and more hours of daylight.

As I think about the changing seasons and the passage of time, I’m reminded of the well-known verse (which you might recognize as Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 or the lyrics to the Pete Seeger song Turn! Turn! Turn!):

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

As we say goodbye and good riddance to the infamous year of 2020, it seems fitting to add: “a time to reflect on the past and a time to gaze into the future.” The first editorial I wrote as editor-in-chief, in the January 2008 issue, was titled “Looking Back, Looking Ahead.” So, the title of this editorial seems appropriate for my last editorial as editor-in-chief. After more than 30 years at CEP, it is now time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life — retirement.

How I got where I am today

In early 1990, then-editor-in-chief Mark Rosenzweig, who had been my boss at the competing magazine where I was working at the time, was trying to fill a new editorial position at CEP. The budget was for an entry-level chemical engineer, and he called me to see if I knew anyone who might be qualified and interested. I had recently returned from maternity leave after having my second child, and my transition from leave to part-time to full-time was not going as well as I had hoped. I asked if he would consider a more-experienced editor working part-time — me. That was a new arrangement for AIChE, and it took a few months for us to work out the details. In June 1990, I started as CEP’s technical editor — working four days a week, with every Friday off and with the option to switch to full-time in the future, which I expected to do after both of my children started school.

I was an experienced and efficient editor, and I was handling a full-time workload even though I was in the office only four days a week. After a few years my status became officially full-time, and I was allowed to continue working four days a week as long as my performance remained at a high level. As the years went by, my older child started school … my younger child started school … and I continued working four days a week … for many more years.

In 2003, AIChE undertook a major downsizing. The two full-time editorial positions at CEP were reduced to one full-time position and one half-time position. I volunteered to take the reduction to half-time so I could try my hand at consulting as a freelance writer and editor, and I launched my business — Engineered Writing. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was not cut out to be an independent consultant. I liked that I could (in theory at least) pick my assignments, because I still had a steady (albeit much smaller) income from my regular job (and a spouse with a well-paying job as well). But I did not enjoy having to drum up business, and I knew that I would not remain a freelancer forever. Fortunately, I had a few steady clients and I didn’t need to do much self-marketing.

My major client was the Catholic high school that my teenage children were attending at the time. My son’s science teacher knew that I was an engineer and an editor and that I was starting a freelance business, and on her recommendation, the school asked me to serve as the advisor for the student newspaper. During the summer of 2004, I received a fellowship from the American Society of Magazine Editors to attend a two-week course for journalism teachers and newspaper advisors at Kent State Univ. There I learned an incredible amount about journalism, news reporting, writing and editing, publication design and layout, and coaching writers and editors — much of which I was later able to apply in my job at CEP.

My daughter graduated from high school in June 2007, and — 18 years after I said I would like to have the option to move to a full-time, five-days-a-week schedule once my kids were in school — I informed my then-boss Kristine Chin that I planned to do that in September, after enjoying one last summer of three-day weekends. Around that time, she decided to move to another position within AIChE, manager of technical programming, opening up the job of CEP editor-in-chief. After much deliberation (I was hesitant about managing people), I applied for the position, and on Dec. 1, 2007, I took over as editor-in-chief. And, as they say, the rest is history.

My guiding values

A few years ago, AIChE managers attended a training session, and one of our assignments was to write a letter to our staff explaining our values. Let me share with you how I have approached leading my team:

Excellence tops my list of values. Most obviously, excellence translates to high quality — always produce work of the highest quality. As you know, I have very high standards. I try to live up to the high standards I set for myself, and I hope my example encourages you to set high standards as well. Perhaps less obvious, I consider productivity and effectiveness to be key elements of excellence. Don’t waste time and effort; find the best way to do what needs to be done.

Almost as important as excellence is fairness, which encompasses (among other things) respect, trust, honesty, integrity, dependability, and responsibility. We often hear the phrase “life is not fair.” That may be true, but we can be fair in matters that are within our control. Act with respect, trust, honesty, and integrity. Take responsibility for doing your part, and demonstrate dependability, that you can be counted on.

In what might seem like a contradiction, I value both independence and teamwork. Each of us has a role on the CEP team. Collaboration is essential. When one of us needs help, the others step up and pitch in, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. But, it’s also important for each of us to not become dependent on our coworkers. Know that I will always have your back, but don’t take advantage of me.

Our jobs as editors allow us — indeed, require us — to exercise creativity. Feel free to innovate in the way you present information and the information that you present.

Finally, I also value what I call the three Hs: happiness, harmony, and health. Remember to take care of yourself. Be happy and have fun in your job.

I hope these values have been evident as you read each issue.

How did I do?

When I applied for the job of editor-in-chief, I prepared a vision statement for CEP. Now that I am leaving the position, I thought it would be interesting to revisit it.

My vision was to build on CEP’s reputation for publishing high-quality articles that provide useful information for the chemical engineering community:

  • useful perspectives for staying abreast of important trends
  • useful how-to problem-solving guidance
  • useful information for learning about new technologies
  • useful means for staying connected.

Those who know me well know that I like to try new things. I believe that you’ll never know whether something will work or not work if you don’t try it. (I also believe that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission — but you need to be careful with that.) I like to experiment, and my vision saw us experimenting with different types of articles, different topics, new approaches to layout and graphics, and more. My vision acknowledged that CEP would need to evolve to meet the changing needs of our readers, and over the years the evolution involved trying many new things.

With a philosophy like that, it’s not surprising that some of our biggest successes have been things I did not anticipate when I wrote my vision statement.

A major evolution has been our expanded online presence. AIChE members have had online access to CEP as far back as January 2001, in the form of PDF files of individual articles. With the September 2015 issue, we started offering feature articles in both PDF and HTML formats, which improved the user experience for those reading CEP on mobile devices. In 2017, we launched the CEP mobile app. This past June, we introduced the flipbook version that is accessible from the CEP website (aiche.org/cep). The popularity of these digital offerings, as measured by website traffic and downloads, continues to increase.

And in January, we are publishing our first digital-only issue: a special bonus issue on climate that will be available to members and nonmembers alike on our flipbook platform. You will find it at aiche.org/cep/climate-issue — check it out, and please share it widely.

CEP content has also evolved. For example:

Our publication of special sections has expanded. Even before I became editor-in-chief, we were publishing two special sections per year on bio-related topics for the Society of Biological Engineering (SBE), and these continue today. Topics ran the gamut and included: disposable equipment for bioprocessing; stem cell engineering; vaccines; biobased materials; bionanotechnology; drug delivery; industrial biotechnology; synthetic biology; biomolecular engineering; translational medicine; epigenetics; food engineering; and microbiome engineering. In 2008, we began publishing special sections on energy, on topics such as: nuclear energy; carbon capture and storage; shale gas; lithium-ion batteries; smart grid; natural gas; fuel cells; concentrating solar energy; hydrogen deployment; and battery energy storage. We also covered bio and energy together in several special sections on biofuels.

In addition to the bio and energy supplements, each year we picked one other topic to cover in a special section, including: sustainability; water; process development; safety; big data analytics; troubleshooting; cybersecurity; and communicating effectively. Most recently, we dedicated the entire September 2020 issue’s feature articles to digitalization, with articles on the digital transformation, blockchain, open process automation, and cybersecurity. And after AIChE launched the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute in 2016, we started publishing an annual special section on process intensification and modularization.

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I cannot possibly thank everyone who helped me throughout my career, so I offer this collective thank you to all of you who have been a part of my journey.

My vision statement included publishing more Critical Issues and On the Horizon articles. Some of my favorite Critical Issues articles covered: environmental and health impacts of nanomaterials; critical materials (rare earth elements); produce contamination; and waste plastics. We published On the Horizon articles, which look out over the horizon and discuss new and emerging technologies and the opportunities and challenges they provide, on such topics as: computational science; data science; virtual reality; biobased materials in the operating room; 3D-printed prosthetics; nanoparticles for drug delivery; chemical engineering responses to the opioid addiction epidemic; and deep learning.

My vision did not anticipate our Global Outlook series — 29 (so far) articles that provide in-depth overviews of the chemical industry in a particular country. The articles provide a brief history of the industry in that nation and the factors that contributed to its development (e.g., geography, natural resources, politics), as well as information on major companies, products, production data, import and export statistics, and more. Beyond the data, though, are interesting stories about each country’s uniqueness. Collectively, they paint a rich picture of the chemical industry and chemical engineering around the world. Ignacio Grossmmann of Carnegie Mellon Univ. solicited the articles and dogged the authors until they submitted their manuscripts.

Another area of ongoing experimentation is our lineup of columns, which continues to evolve as we introduce new columns and retire others. Long-time readers might remember Regulatory Update, Washington Update, and Process Automation Corner. Some of our columns were short-lived: Professional Excellence, Bio Beat, Material Matters, Process Safety Visions, and Leadership Q&A. Other columns morphed over time: Spotlight on Safety gave way to Safety Minute, Technical Entity Trends became simply Trends, and YPOV — Young Professionals Point of View — is now Emerging Voices. A popular column that ran every other month from October 2002 through November 2011 was We’re History, which was written by Neil Gusman of the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute). Our longest-running column was Patent Update, which discussed patent court cases relevant to chemical engineering. Written by M. Henry Heines, it launched in March 1995 and ran approximately quarterly until December 2019. Another long-running and popular column is Career Connection, written by Loraine Kasprzak. It began as Career Corner in February 2013, and 42 articles later it’s still going strong. A unique aspect of Career Connection is that Loraine frequently uses the AIChE Engage online discussion forum to gather input from AIChE members.

Celebrating 100 years of AIChE and chemical engineering

One of the editorial accomplishments that I am most proud of came early in my time as editor-in-chief — our coverage of AIChE’s centennial. The November 2008 issue celebrates not only AIChE, but also the profession of chemical engineering and achievements of chemical engineers. Feature articles included:

If you haven’t seen it or you want to reminisce, check it out at aiche.org/resources/publications/cep/2008/november. You might also enjoy the series of recognition lists, compiled by a Board-appointed Recognition Committee, that we published throughout 2008 leading up to that issue:

What’s ahead for me

What I’m most looking forward to: No deadlines! A monthly magazine is ruled by deadlines. No sooner does one deadline pass than the next deadline looms. And printer deadlines are not flexible. Printers schedule each job to be printed at a certain date and time, and if we miss our slot on the press, we would have to wait for the next opening (there’s no telling when that might be) and we would incur a significant cost penalty. Deadlines are so important that editors’ job descriptions include the requirement “respect for deadlines is paramount.” We schedule vacations and surgeries around our deadlines; one editor scheduled her wedding to take place right after we sent an issue to the printer. When a blizzard was predicted and the city was being shut down, we figured out a way to wrap up work on the issue and send it to the printer on time while all of us were working from home. That turned out to be good practice for our current remote working situation during the coronavirus pandemic. I’m proud to say that under my watch, we never missed a deadline. But after 38 years and more than 450 monthly deadlines, I’m ready for a break.

My husband and I plan to move to Sedona, AZ, where we will hike and enjoy nature. I also plan to spend a lot of time reading books for pleasure. I was once asked whether I read every page of every issue. Yes, I read every page (excluding the ads) — several times each. With as much reading as I do every day, reading has been the last thing I want to do in my spare time. So it will be nice to relax with a good book. I will also do some type of volunteer work, although I haven’t decided what that will involve.

What’s ahead for you

My final look ahead: I’m excited to introduce Emily Petruzzelli as CEP’s next editor-in-chief. Emily joined CEP in January 2012. She hadn’t been here very long when I realized her potential, and I’ve had my eye on her as my successor for several years. She was promoted to managing editor in 2017, and behind the scenes she has been taking over more and more of the tasks involved in running the magazine while I worked on AIChE’s portfolio of research journals. I can’t think of anyone else I would rather turn over the reins to. I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes CEP.

Cynthia Mascone, Editor-in-Chief

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