Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the Fields Medal

Way to go Maryam Mirzakhani!  She is the first woman to win the Fields Medal, and WCS-UW couldn’t be prouder!

Full article here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boating in the Arboretum with WCS


The Women in Chemical Sciences will be getting together on July 27th to have a relaxing afternoon boating in the UW Arboretum. If you would like to join us, contact Joan Bleecker for more information!

Posted in Events, Other Events | Leave a comment

Meeting recap 6/25/2014

The full recap can be found here. Some highlights:

Mindfulness workshop: The event with Meghann Gerber was very successful and we’re planning to repeat it, with Meghann again or possibly someone else, in January. We are also still working to compile and distribute a list of resources for dealing with grad school, from mental health to conflict resolution. If you have any links, mindfulness-related or not, please add them to the document!

Summer outing: Joan is organizing our first WCS summer outing! We’ve voted to rent boats, paddle around the Arboretum, and have a picnic. Fill out this Doodle poll to help determine when this outing will take place.

Book club: We’re reading Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, and meetings will be on Tuesdays at noon in CHB 239, starting next week with a discussion of Chapter 1. If you want to participate, please add your contact information to this spreadsheet. The schedule, along with discussion leader and snack signup, can be found here.

Mentoring toolkit: Scott, Joan, and Addie are continuing to develop the mentoring worksheet and work with the chemistry department to encourage communication between grad students and advisors. The first version, based on MIT’s Postdoctoral Mentoring and Advising Toolkit, can be found here. After talking to someone at Stanford who has developed similar resources, they are planning to develop different versions for grad students at different stages of their education. There will be a meeting to brainstorm and get feedback.

Chem WMN reminder: Join the Chemistry Women Mentorship Network (co-founded by Brandi Cossairt, our faculty advisor) if you haven’t already!

Christy Haynes: Christy Haynes, a professor at the University of Minnesota, will be at UW in October for an analytical seminar. She will also give a talk sponsored by WCS on October 21st.

Posted in Member meetings | Leave a comment

Summer book club

Women in Chemical Sciences is organizing a summer book club! We’ll be reading Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele, which is available via Amazon and at the University Bookstore, and discussing various topics related to stereotypes and identity.

Meetings will be Tuesdays from 12 to 1 (or 1:30 if we have a lot to talk about) in CHB 239. We’ll read one chapter (usually 15-20 pages) each week, starting with Chapter 1 for the July 1st meeting. Each week, someone will lead the discussion and someone will bring a snack. You can sign up for either job, as well as adding any anticipated scheduling conflicts, on this Google spreadsheet if you’re interested.

If you are interested, please contact Heidi ( or add your name and email address to this contact list. Reminders, discussion questions, meeting recaps, and other resources will be sent out to that list of people, posted in this Google Drive folder, and/or posted on the blog here.

Posted in Book club | Leave a comment

Awesome new Ted Talk about changing the culture of science!

Uri Alon’s TED talk:

Why truly innovative science demands a leap into the unknown


Posted in Links | Leave a comment

Meeting recap 5/19/14

Highlights from the WCS-UW member meeting on May 19th, 2014 (full recap here).

  • Attend the graduate student and advisor communication workshop this Friday at 11:30 in CHB 439 (stay tuned to this email list and the chemistry department list for a copy of the mentoring toolkit).
  • Plan on attending our next event after that, a mindfulness workshop and discussion of mental health resources with Meghann Gerber of the mental health clinic at Hall Health. This event will take place around June 16-18ish.
  • Email Marie ( if you’re interested in joining the Danz lecture committee and helping plan the events around Jill Tarter’s visit to UW. Also, check out Jill Tarter’s TED Talk.
  • Add to our new collection of resources for mental health, conflict resolution, managing stress, etc. on this google doc. We’re compiling a list of useful resources that grad students may not be aware of, and we’ll distribute it as widely as possible.
  • Add any last-minute suggestions for our summer book club to the brainstorming doc.
  • Get excited for our future events, from the inaugural WCS-UW lecture to bocce ball and boating…
Posted in Member meetings | Leave a comment

Imposter Syndrome Workshop with Professor Alexes Harris

Last week, Professor Alexes Harris of the UW Sociology Department discussed ways to combat imposter syndrome with us during one of our lunch-time workshops. Prof. Harris shared her own struggles with imposter syndrome as well as techniques she continues to use to overcome it. Below are some key points and suggestions from the discussion that resonated with us chemistry graduate students. Thank you to everyone who came for your excellent questions and participation!

- Develop a support group of your peers. Find people with whom you feel safe sharing your concerns and struggles. You will probably find many of your peers are dealing with the same issues as you and also feel like they are imposters. You will gain a sense of belonging and strength from your support group, as well as valuable advice and insight.

- Ask your friends/support group for a confidence boost when you need it.  Let them know exactly what you need and when. For example, you may want an (honest!) compliment before an important presentation or exam to remind you of your strengths and calm your nerves.

- Seek out people with a positive outlook and don’t let yourself be brought down by negativity. Politely minimize your interactions with negative people.

- End the self-doubt and guilt today! Promise yourself to not allow these unhelpful emotions to affect you. After all, they are only emotions, not facts.

- Give yourself time to decompress and relax, but most importantly, don’t allow yourself to feel guilty about it! You deserve (and need) at least a few hours a week to do something for yourself that you truly enjoy. Don’t feel guilty about the work you’re missing. Don’t be embarrassed about what you enjoy doing, no matter what it is (even trashy TV).

- Make a list of your goals and reward yourself when you complete them. Breaking projects down into small tasks will help you complete the larger goals. Perhaps make a board of post-it notes so that finishing a task requires the physical motion of removing the post-it note. Congratulate yourself for finishing even the smallest tasks.

- Regularly remind yourself of why you are here and what your end-goal is. Use your end-goal to motivate you to finish!

Jessica Wittman, WCS-UW Treasurer

Posted in Events, Speakers, Workshops | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Member meetings | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Other Events | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Speakers | 1 Comment