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New student organizations strengthen sense of community

Jen Hope, Jack Sloane and Natalie Geise

From left: Jen Hope, Jack Sloane and Natalie Geise

Photo credit: Binhong Lin
Jan 18 2019

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The department recently welcomed two new student organizations, the Chemistry Association in the Interest of Minority Students (ChemAIMS) and the Synthesis Supergroup, in an effort to foster camaraderie, collaboration and inclusion within the chemistry community.

While the existing Graduate Student Affairs Committee (SAC) organizes many events and activities, it does not facilitate programs that give students the opportunity to discuss their research, experiences, identities and hardships in a more intimate setting. The founders of ChemAIMS and the Synthesis Supergroup hoped to fill that void.  

Building a Supportive Environment

Established by graduate students Natalie Geise and Jen Hope two years ago, ChemAIMS is dedicated to expanding the spaces for underrepresented groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, queer, trans, first-generation, low-income, and disabled students, in the chemistry department.

“Each of these groups face very different barriers to success, but power lies in solidarity, and we have to learn from each other,” said Hope, a fourth year in the Cui lab.

Hope was inspired to create the organization after taking a course taught by Miriam Goodman, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, titled Diversity and Inclusion in Science. The coursework and conversations had during the class reminded Hope to “kickstart the change that I wanted to see.”

Geise, a fourth year working with staff scientist Michael Toney at SLAC, was motivated to start the group after recognizing the significant “gap there is in who gets offered opportunities, gets to take advantage of them, and ultimately is supported in whatever they do.”

“It’s way too easy in the department for students to fall into silos of their own research and not have a grounding community to come back to,” Hope said. “This issue is especially salient for marginalized trainees, who have experiences that shape them that aren’t necessarily reflected in their peers.”

ChemAIMS seeks to provide support for underrepresented students as they navigate the turbulent waters of graduate school.  The organization hosts a number of events and programs, including a breakfast series with faculty who identify as underrepresented minorities as well as discussion sessions where students present their own research. During these meetings, attendees explore topics such as work-life balance, prejudice, power dynamics and microaggressions.

“Voices that can usually get sidelined are all front and center in the room,” Hope said.

Breaking down the Silos

Jack Sloane, a fifth year in the Wender lab who started the Synthesis Supergroup, echoed many of Hope’s thoughts.  “At Stanford, everyone cares a lot about their own research and what they do, but there is not a lot of communication between research groups,” he said. “The purpose of the Synthesis Supergroup is to get students to interact with those outside of their lab.”

The Synthesis Supergroup meets twice a month to discuss problem sets designed by group members. While the group is focused on synthetic organic chemistry, it is open to anyone who has an interest in the field of chemistry.

In addition to encouraging interactions between labs, the Synthesis Supergroup also helps students improve their general knowledge of chemistry. “This group allows us to learn so much more chemistry so much faster. I have already learned a lot of new things just in one quarter,” said Sloane.

Moving forward, he would like to see students give mini research seminars to develop their pedagogical and presentation skills. He also hopes to see increased participation from faculty members and postdoctoral scholars.

By connecting with peers from neighboring laboratories, Sloane believes that graduate students will “emerge as more positive members of the department and as better scientists.”

Keeping the Momentum Going

Exciting things are in the works for both organizations in the upcoming year.

ChemAIMS is in the final stages of selecting its first seminar speaker. “We are looking to bring in a professor who does research, but also puts time and energy into advocacy work for making science more inclusive,” Hope explained. “I’d also love to see more people take on leadership in the group, for our activities to expand, and also for us to reach out to other departments.”

Meanwhile, the Synthesis Supergroup plans to expand to tackle research problems outside of synthetic organic chemistry, including physical, inorganic and biological chemistry.  “I think the more we can do to foster inter-group communication, the more we can all learn together and collaborate,” said Sloane.

All three students hope their organizations will continue to flourish long after they graduate. “My biggest goal is to see the Synthesis Supergroup carry forward once I leave the department,” said Sloane.

Geise added, “We want to establish a community and programming that fulfills the purpose of ChemAIMS and is sustainable and able to thrive well beyond our time in the department.”

Joining a Group

To learn more about joining a student organization, please visit the Student Organizations page on the Department of Chemistry website.