Organic Chemistry PhD Student, Indiana University
And - Mentor, Group STEM program, Indiana University
You don't have to be perfect to do science, you don't have to be perfect in order to feel competent...you don't have to be perfect.
What do you do?
I am starting the 3rd year of my graduate studies. At the moment, my research involves developing new methods to construct large molecules more efficiently from simple starting materials, with the help of transition metals and organometallic chemistry. In the future, my goal is to pursue an academic job where I can have a research group and teach.
Additionally, I am passionate about helping students from underrepresented backgrounds achieve in STEM fields. I am a mentor in the Groups STEM program at IU) and recently registered to be a mentor for 'Letters to a Pre-Scientist'. I am also a member of FLAME Net, a group committed to promoting and instilling resilience in students pursuing STEM.
Why did you choose this field?
I grew up in a low-socioeconomic status family and went to school in a rural area; as such, opportunities to further myself in STEM were limited. I encountered this frustration in high school when I knew that there were opportunities out there, but I could not access them. This instilled in me an intense desire to prove that I could succeed in STEM without them.
In college, I fell in love with organic chemistry when I first started taking it--I can't adequately describe how amazing it is to be able to study molecules; how they interact with bonding, their 3D nature and conformation...there really is an artistic/creative aspect to the work and each element seems to have their own personality. And performing the experiments in lab provides a unique way to use your own two hands to build something that you can only observe through spectroscopic techniques. It's utterly surreal to me that I've made it this far and get to study the subject I love at a higher level.
With that being said, it wasn't always easy for me. I actually didn't do that well in my organic lecture courses and was frustrated because I couldn't seem to pick up the material as fast as it was being presented. Through much struggle and perseverance I've made it this far, but it still isn't always easy--but it is what I love, and that makes the entire journey worth it.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I was self-taught on the flute from 7th grade until my senior year in high school, and it was quite difficult to improve my playing when I had little guidance at all. At times, it was immensely frustrating and I felt like I wasn't progressing at all; however, the more I kept putting myself out there and auditioning, the more I learned, and the more I grew. Eventually, I studied music in college and became the principal flautist of my school's orchestra, and I never thought that was possible starting out.
Reflecting on that journey has allowed me to make a similar analogy to my path in organic chemistry--I had a little bit of a rocky start, but I know that if I keep putting myself out there and seeking opportunities while learning and growing along the way, I'll eventually end up in a place I never imagined was possible at the beginning of the journey. Significant growth does not come without struggle.
Why do you love working in STEM?
There are many things that I love about working in STEM. Coming from a low-socioeconomic status background, I was shocked when my undergraduate advisor told me that you could essentially be paid to study science beyond undergrad (i.e. for Ph.D.).
I've always loved the research aspect of science--the ability to use critical thinking to interrogate systems and make new discoveries in the process, and the ability to use your knowledge and creativity to design new systems. I wake up looking forward to learning something new every day--there's hardly ever a dull moment in research.
I also wake up looking forward to the day when I'm finally a professor and can help students from underrepresented backgrounds advance themselves the way that my professors have helped me.
Best advice for next generation?
You. Belong. Here.
You are smart enough to do science, you are worthy of stretching yourself and finding your limits, you have a whole crowd of people cheering you on in your journey, even if you don't know them or can't hear them. You don't have to be perfect to do science, you don't have to be perfect in order to feel competent...you don't have to be perfect.
We need your beautiful voice and perspective and ideas. STEM (along with every other field/company/organization) benefits most when a diverse group of people are actively sharing their opinions and making their voices heard.
We believe in you. Now go out there and pursue your dreams with the most intense determination and passion! We can't wait to see what you do.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“I don’t need easy. I just need possible.” -Bethany Hamilton