Meeting recap 4/1/2014

Here’s a review of some topics we discussed at last night’s member meeting. A full list can be found here on the WCS-UW Google Drive.

1. The Managing Up workshop with the graduate school was a great success, and Sarah is working on a recap/resource to distribute (via our mailing list and blog, but also through the department). Joan and Scott are also adapting MIT’s Postdoctoral Mentoring and Advising Toolkit for grad students. Using the toolkit will involve meeting with your advisor to go through a worksheet and have a discussion that clarifies your goals and expectations. Joan and Scott will send out the toolkit soon with more details for how to use it. We hope to have an event later this quarter where people can discuss their experiences using the toolkit and how to make it more widely used in the department.

2. Our next event will be a workshop on impostor syndrome with Professor Alexes Harris from the sociology department. This workshop will tentatively take place at noon on April 23rd, location TBD. More details will be posted soon.

3. This summer, we’re having a book club! Meetings will take place during lunchtime, probably every other week. We’re looking for ideas for science-related and/or women-related books. No particular preference for fiction or non-fiction, but a collection of essays or short stories might work well. Add your ideas to the brainstorming document on the WCS google drive, and we’ll vote later in the quarter.

4. Our budget includes funds to bring in one out-of-town speaker per year. We’d like to decide on a speaker and invite them this spring/summer for the inaugural WCS-UW Lecture this fall/winter. Add your ideas for speakers to the brainstorming document, and we’ll discuss and vote on which to invite at a future meeting.

5. The WCS blog is always looking for more content – upcoming events of interest, recaps of past events, reflections on articles or papers. Just register or log in via the links on the right-hand side of this page, and we’ll authorize your account to post entries if it isn’t already set up.

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Chemists Rock the 2014 FOSEP 1000 Word Challenge!!

On Friday, March 21st, the Seattle Forum on Science Ethics and Policy hosted its second annual 1000 Word Challenge at the Burke Museum of Natural History. Last year, no chemistry graduate students or postdocs made it to the finalists round of the competition. This year, however, two of the prizes were taken home by one chemistry graduate student and one postdoc! Congratulations to us!

For this challenge, graduate students and postdocs crafted descriptions of their research using on the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language. The competitors then presented their research descriptions to 3 judges and other attendees. The descriptions were judged in three areas: Language, Style, and Presentation.

As we all know, chemistry can be quite difficult to explain to our non-chemist family members and friends, especially since we use so much chemistry vernacular. Thus, distilling our research down to a summary that only uses the 1000 most commonly used words is quite a difficult (and fun) challenge. How do we talk about the fundamental atoms, molecules, protons, electrons, nanoparticles, etc., that we study without just calling them very small things? They’re more complicated than that!

My lab mate, postdoc Miriam Bowring, and I decided to give it a shot. It’s funny how we came up with such similar descriptions, from the vocabulary to the structure, even though the first time we heard each other’s summary was at the event! I will admit that we do work on very similar projects. Here’s what we came up with:

Miriam Bowring: Winner – Best Style

“Unimolecular synthetic models to probe multiple-site concerted proton electron transfer.”

Everything in the world is made of very tiny bits. The very tiny bits are too small to see. They move from one place to another all the time. This allows people to live, leaves to grow, and power to work in our homes. No one knows exactly why the very tiny bits move the way they do, but I would like to find out. There are two kinds of very tiny bits that usually like to be together. When these two very tiny bits are together, and they both need to go somewhere else, they sometimes go faster by going together instead of one at a time. The funny thing is, the very tiny bits can go fast by moving together, even if they are going away from each other. Why is moving together better? I have made something to help me find out. I put the two very tiny bits in the middle, with places for the very tiny bits to go on either side. Soon I will use light to see how fast the very tiny bits go, and I will check if they are moving together and see what changes make them go slower or faster. This way, I will find out what the very tiny bits are doing, and what controls how fast they move. Since the very tiny bits make up our bodies and everything else, one day, my work might even help other people save lives!

Jessica Wittman: Winner – Best Use of Language

“Separated Proton-Electron Transfer in Ruthenium Complexes with Distant Carboxylic Acid Sites.”

Inside every person, animal, tree, or TV, tiny, tiny bits that are too small to see are moving around in an ordered way. Some of them are friends who like to hang out and move around together. When a pair of tiny bits who are friends have very little space between them, and then one moves away, the other misses it very much and wants to leave, too. It’s sort of like when your best friend at work leaves and then work’s not as fun anymore. Other tiny bits start out with a lot of space and other stuff between them, so when one moves, it doesn’t matter so much to the other. This would be like if you had a friend in another state who moved to a farther away state; it doesn’t really change your day-to-day life.

I am studying how close the pairs of tiny bits have to be for one to notice when the other moves. If we know how close they have to be to notice each other, we can keep it in mind when we build our own things out of these tiny bits. In some cases, we don’t want the tiny bits to be sad and miss their friends because then they can be a real pain in the ass. In other cases, we want the tiny bits to be sad so we can push them to go to a new, better place!

Also, congratulations to the other winners, especially the grand prize winner from the biology department, David Slager! We all had a blast, and maybe we can do another one of these events later this year!

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Life lessons from Justice Sonia Sotomayor

By Joan Bleecker


UW offers its students amazing opportunities to meet professional women who are making a difference in the nation and the world. Last November, Women in the Chemical Sciences invited Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy of “Power Pose” fame. This March, Undergraduate Academic Affairs hosted sitting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The format of the event was question and answer. Students submitted questions online which UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce read to the Justice. Unexpectedly, Justice Sotomayor asked each student who wrote a question to stand up so she could greet each by name, thank him/her, and gather all for a group photo. You could tell the organizers were caught off guard by this, but the Justice seemed un-phased. It was inspiring to see her break protocol and connect with her audience. It made me think of how often I stick to the script and do what’s expected of me, even if it means sacrificing meaningful interactions.

I was also struck by how Justice Sotomayor paused after each question, sometimes for quite a long time, to think about her response. Even though video cameras and thousands of eyes were focused on her, she was not rushed or ruffled. Accordingly, almost everything she said was quotable. (I was scribbling fairly furiously trying to take down my favorite ones).

Justice Sotomayor admitted she is her own worst critic. “You don’t judge me, I judge me.” This belief has helped her dismiss outside criticism, including criticism leveled by U. S. Senators at her confirmation hearings, who said she was not intelligent enough for the position, and a time when a court employee called her “honey”. She politely told him it was “Justice”.

Though loath to give advice, Justice Sotomayer shared some great insights. She emphasized the importance of community and connecting with others, admitting “I didn’t make it to where I am by myself.” She spoke about how important her grandmother’s unconditional love and care were to her growing up saying “You need someone to talk to who can comfort and help you.”

As a women and Latina in high office, she received many questions about how minorities can move up in society. One of her more blunt answers was “make money”, but overall her message went beyond race or gender to what makes life fulfilling, “The greatest contribution you can make to the world is figuring out what you think is important to you. What kind of work is meaningful? What are you good at?” She emphasized that you didn’t have to be a Supreme Court justice or a community leader, but you must “…think outside of your own needs to look around and say, there is this little piece of my world that I want to make a difference in.” She also admitted “I cannot guarantee outcomes. No one can. The frustrations with that are sometimes the most difficult to deal with.” She admitted it was about “moving a mountain an inch at a time” and in spite of adversity there is always hope.

When asked what made her a great leader, she said she never meant to be a leader, but “if you have enough strength of character you can convince others to join you.” She also talked about being in power, “The thing you learn about power is that it’s shared,” and, “Power can corrupt. I watch it and I know it can make you full of yourself if you let it. And I’m trying to work very, very hard to always remember that I didn’t get to where I got by myself. And I tell my friends I made a very thick book [My Beloved World] so that when they think I’m getting conceited, they’ll hit me over the head with it.”

Sometimes being a woman in a “male” profession feels like facing an uphill battle. At such moments I can recall Justice Sotomayor’s core principles: I can answer demands on me at my own pace, take advantage of the care, concern, and knowledge of those who support me, and know it is not the magnitude or notoriety of what I choose to do but the meaning of the change I can make in the world that counts.

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Solving a chemistry mystery at Seattle Expanding Your Horizons

This weekend, several members of WCS-UW presented a workshop at the Expanding Your Horizons Conference at Seattle University. This event, which had over 450 attendees this year, provides an opportunity for 6th to 8th grade girls to participate in hands-on workshops and learn about careers in STEM fields. Last year, some of us helped out with supervising the students and directing traffic, but this year, we led our own activity.

In our workshop, students solved a chemistry mystery involving a chemical spill in Lake Washington. They received a contaminated water sample and a note left at the crime scene, and they had to figure out what the contaminant was and which of the four suspects (a pesticide transporter, a corporate executive, an alleged poacher, and a gang of teenagers) was responsible for it. To determine if lead or copper ions were present, they added an acid or a base to the contaminated water, observed whether a precipitate formed, and compared the result to known lead and copper solutions. Students also tested the pH of the contaminated water and compared it to the pH of chemicals confiscated from the suspects. Finally, they used chromatography to determine which of the suspects’ pens was used to write the note found at the crime scene. They shared their results and concluded that the pesticide transporter was responsible for contaminating the lake, with copper cyanide that had leaked out of his truck.

From this activity, the students learned about basic chemical concepts like precipitation reactions, the pH scale, and how chromatography is used to separate components of mixtures. They also gained an understanding of more general ideas that are important to doing science, like the value of doing control experiments and the importance of wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. We also talked to them about what graduate school is and about our own research (lasers and magnets and colors!).

It was fun to see the girls getting excited about their experiments and results, but my favorite question was from a sixth-grader who asked, “Is this real?” We explained that no, we weren’t using real Lake Washington water or solving a real-life mystery…but the science and the experiments were still real, and if there had been a chemical spill in Lake Washington, similar techniques could be used to figure out what happened. The take-home message was that chemistry can be used to answer a lot of different questions! Overall, this event was a really fun experience for us and for the students, and we’re definitely planning to present another workshop next year.

I’d like to thank the Haynes Research Group at the University of Minnesota, where I worked as an undergraduate. We adapted our chemistry mystery workshop from an activity they had developed for an annual outreach event and published in the Journal of Chemical Education, which was a great resource for us. Also thanks to the UW Department of Chemistry for providing funding, and to the Seattle Expanding Your Horizons organizers and sponsors for putting on such a great event. Finally, thanks to all of the WCS members who helped prepare and present the chemistry mystery workshop! Continue reading

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WiSE Conference 2014: An Inspiring Event for Students and Professionals in Science and Engineering

This past Saturday, I attended the annual Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Conference on the UW campus. This was my first time at the conference, and overall it was a very inspiring experience! The program featured keynote presentations from Dona Sarkar, a Principal Systems Engineer at Microsoft, and Randi Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and former Director of Market Development for Facebook. These women are exceptional role models for women starting out in the tech industry. The day also included a variety of workshops and panel discussions on topics relevant to women scientists and engineers at every stage of their education and career. Event sponsors, including Intel, Boeing, and Microsoft, hosted a mini-career fair in the morning as well.

The first thing I would like to stress about the conference is how the atmosphere was so positive and supportive. It was not difficult at all to find and start conversations with women professionals in science or engineering that were eager to give career advice. Everyone I talked to was also willing to continue the discussion at another time, and many business cards were exchanged. I’ve never been to an event where people were more proactive about talking to new people. I believe that many of the post-collegiate attendees come to this conference with the goal of providing guidance and advice to science and engineering students. Additionally, the organizing staff, mostly made up of WiSE students from UW, exuded a positive attitude without fail for the entire day, which definitely caught on with the attendees.

Of the day’s events, Dona Sarkar’s and Randi Zuckerberg’s keynote presentations were particularly inspiring to me. Both women talked about their paths to their remarkable career achievements in a personal and entertaining way that made them both very relatable. I came away from both talks feeling that these women were not so unlike myself, and that I can achieve great things in my career even if they may seem unattainable to me right now. I also was heartened to learn of Dona Sarkar’s personal hobbies. She accomplished the impressive feats of both becoming a published novelist and starting a fashion line without sacrificing her dedication to her work.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the UW WiSE conference. I made great connections and left feeling much more confident in my career prospects as I begin my search for a job. I highly recommend this event to all science and engineering students, from undergraduate to graduate, as well professionals in these fields and high school students interested in a career in science or engineering.

Jessica Wittman, WCS-UW Treasurer

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Upcoming outreach opportunities

Women in Chemical Sciences at UW will be participating in several exciting outreach events in the next few months. We’ll provide supplies and are planning to coordinate transportation for all of these events, but we’re looking for volunteers!

Outreach planning meeting: We’re meeting this Saturday, January 25th at 12:00 in CHB 239. We’ll focus on putting together the chemistry mystery workshop for the Expanding Your Horizons conference, but we’ll also discuss other activities and future projects. The chemistry department has generously provided us with funding for outreach supplies, and we’re excited to expand our outreach efforts!

1. Echo Lake Science Night: 6:30-8:30 pm on Thursday, February 6th at Echo Lake Elementary School in Shoreline. This is an open-house setting with lots of hands-on exhibits for elementary school students. WCS-UW will be helping students make iridescent bookmarks with clear nail polish thin-films, demonstrating how the properties of materials change on the nanoscale. Contact Sarah ( if you’re interested!

2. Greenwood Elementary Science and Health Fair: 6:00-8:00 pm on Thursday, February 27th at Greenwood Elementary School in north Seattle. This event needs judges for students’ science fair projects. Contact Heidi ( if you’re interested!

3. Seattle Expanding Your Horizons Conference: 8:15 am-1:30 pm on Saturday, March 15th at Seattle University. This is a conference aimed at middle-school girls who are interested in science. This year, WCS-UW will be running a workshop in which students solve a mystery using chemistry! The conference also needs general volunteers to guide students around the event, serve pizza for lunch, etc. If you’re interested in helping plan our workshop and/or volunteering on the day of the event, contact Heidi (

4. Paws on Science: All day, weekend of April 4th-6th at the Pacific Science Center. This is an event where UW researchers from all departments show off their research for kids and families. WCS-UW will tentatively be collaborating with the Ginger group to present a booth with information and activities related to solar energy. If you’re interested in helping out, contact Sarah ( and we’ll let you know more details as the event gets closer.

If you’re interested in any of these events, please let us know ASAP, since some of them need a volunteer headcount very soon. Also feel free to contact Sarah or Heidi with any questions!

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Member Meeting

We will hold a meeting for all those interested:

TUESDAY, January 14th
at 4:30 pm
in BAG 319 (inside the Theory Suite)

Items on the agenda include new outreach opportunities, prospective speakers and other exciting news from the graduate school.  We are looking forward to seeing everyone as we head into 2014.

As always, if you cannot attend but have something you would like to share with the group, please let us know!

See you next week!
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Men and Women Use Uptalk Differently: A Sociological Study

You might not know uptalk by its definition, but you likely know what it is:  the rising intonation that you would put at the end of a sentence as if you were answering a question.  You probably also wouldn’t be surprised to find that men and women use uptalk very differently.

Thomas J. Linneman performed a study analyzing the use of uptalk in the game show Jeopardy! and the results are quite interesting.  You can read a summary of the study here or the full research article here.

I think the most interesting conclusion of the study is that women use uptalk more frequently as they were more successful on the show, causing them “to appear uncertain of their knowledge and apologetic for their success.”  I wonder how this relates to imposter syndrome, and if we graduate students do this more than the average person.

What do you guys think?  How do you use uptalk?

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Pregnancy During Graduate School, a workshop and discussion

Yesterday, Shoshanna Barnett hosted a workshop on pregnancy during graduate school at the University of Washington.  We discussed some of the more common issues that you might expect (what concerns should lab workers have if they are expecting?) as well as some that were surprising (did you know UW doesn’t have a policy in place for maternity leave for its graduate students?).

Shoshanna brought up many good points, including a discussion on the predominant cultural idea within science that graduate students should wait until after our degrees to start families.  How does this idea affect us and how does it lead to hidden sexism within our workplace?

This was a very valuable workshop for those who are considering families but also for those who are not, but want to support gender equality in the workplace through both policy and attitudes.  Thanks, Shoshanna!


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Amy Cuddy Round-Table and Lecture

Women in Chemical Science was excited to host visiting lecturer Amy Cuddy last Wednesday, November the 13th.  We started off our time with her having a round-table discussion about being in graduate school.  Amy listened to us talk about our unique takes on graduate school and gave us advice on giving lectures, taking second year exams, and managing in a field full of dominant personalities.

Later that evening, we met for a private reception where we all mingled with the Graduate School, who were fundamental in organizing this event.  Finally, we sat down to watch Amy’s lecture Connect, Then Lead.  Amy discussed the importance of interpersonal warmth in addition to (and oftentimes ahead of) competence as a necessary tool for leadership.  She also summarized her TED talk (found here) and discussed the many responses she’s received on it.  Of course, being a horse person, my favorite story would be how a horse trainer used power posing to bring out the confidence in a horse named Vafi!  (Check it out here!)

Thank you Amy Cuddy for an unforgettable day!  Many of us agreed: it was one of the best days ever!


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