College Beat: Chemistry and Connections

By Gloria Diaz
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Michigan
B.S. Chemistry, Cal State San Marcos

Gloria Diaz in Rackham Graduate School, Spring 2019.

As an undergraduate chemistry major, I had vaguely considered graduate school. But it was hard to picture myself as a Ph.D. candidate, especially at a top-tier research institution like the University of Michigan. Yet, a couple of years later, here I sit. This path has had its challenges, but I’ve learned that support from friends, mentors, and social communities are key to fostering growth and bolstering your confidence by shaping your mindset.

When it came time to pick an undergraduate institution, I chose to attend one of the California state schools because it was close to my hometown, but also because of the relationships I built while there. During my undergrad, I made two incredible friends who were also chemistry majors so we called ourselves the “Chem Squad”. Thinking back, these ladies were key to my success in undergrad because they were academically driven so we held each other accountable for our work. We genuinely had each other’s best interests at heart. They demonstrated to me the importance of actively seeking out peers that motivate and propel you forward.

As a first-generation college student, I knew I would also need help building a network and professional reputation for myself. I sought mentors who would invest time and effort into my professional development as well as hold me to a higher standard. I was lucky enough to find two excellent mentors in my undergraduate research advisor and, later, my industry supervisor. They have guided me through milestones like job applications and graduate school visits, and, although they are on the west coast, continue to support me as I pursue my Ph.D. in the Midwest. Their support inspires me to find opportunities to give back and help marginalized communities pursue STEM disciplines.

Gloria dressed in protective wear for work in the culture lab. University of Michigan, Winter 2018.

Today my concept of a supportive community also comes from women scientists I have met through social media that are deconstructing the stereotypical concept of what scientists look like. During my first year of graduate school, I started posting about my experience and luckily at the same time so did others. Three years later we have a network of “non-traditional scientists” all over the world that represent different disciplines, career stages, and backgrounds. Higher education is notoriously competitive and this new support system offers advice and provides encouragement that nourishes our motivation to pursue our respective careers.

Gloria and her two advisors continue to guide her through her Ph.D. San Diego, CA, Winter 2018.

As I consider my trajectory to graduate school, I feel like I am standing on the shoulders of my mentors and am being held up by my friends. I am working to pay their encouragement forward to the next generation of scientists, but I also want to stop and give gratitude to my support system.

Reader, I hope you too have a community of people who believe in you. Thank them often; let them know how much they have helped you. And I hope that if you find yourself without a mentor, seek one out! Every.1 (everypointone.com) is a great platform to find like-minded women to form your own, virtual “science squad”.

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