One of the most rewarding aspects of being a professor is that you never have to leave a college campus to be part of something new. My job description allows me to be involved in different aspects of the university culture, but UT Dallas is unique in that it is a modern and rapidly growing university of just fifty years old. This allows assistant professors, like me, to be active university citizens at an early stage and shape new outreach directions at the department, university, and local community levels, in addition to their research programs. My outreach initiatives would not be possible without the participation of my team!
Along these lines, my team and I have been actively involved in engaging with a younger generation of scientists. From 2017–2019, we participate in the Summer Comet Chemistry Camp, which is organized by Professor Stephanie Taylor in the Department of Science and Math Education. We conveyed aspects of our research with a presentation on what fluorescent proteins are and how they work, along with hands-on protein folding and black light box experiments. We converted a part of our activity into a virtual format in Summer 2020, and it can be found here. We also have had the opportunity to share a hands on research experience with high school students through the Women in Science and Engineering Investigators Program, the Welch Summer Scholar Program, and entering college freshmen through the Anson L. Clark Program. These programs provide students with their first research experiences in a lab and inspire them to pursue science (it did for me as a former Clark Scholar working with slime molds and redox active macrocycles!). In Summer 2021, we started to develop a lab called Hofmeister in the Kitchen with the goal to communicate how anions can interact with proteins. This lab will first be deployed in the freshmen general chemistry teaching labs here at UT Dallas and ultimately shared on our website for K-12 and at home experiments (stay tuned!).
In addition to these efforts, I created career development resources for (bio)chemistry undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from 2019–2021. This was motivated not only by my own career path but also by countless conversations with my undergraduate students in my inorganic chemistry course and trainees on my team. I realized that even the most academically accomplished students do not know what they can do with their (bio)chemistry degrees or even how to look for their first jobs. The challenge is that a (bio)chemistry degree can open the door to many different career paths. This can be an advantage as well as overwhelming to students and even to professors who maybe never worked outside of academia! Outside of university career centers, how can we effectively teach our students what they can do with their degrees? As a first step towards this, I focused on communication to non-experts and networking. My team and I organized a Summer Seminar Series in 2019 that was open to students and postdoctoral researchers from any discipline to share their research. In Summer 2020 and 2021, we hosted a virtual seminar series called Comet Career Pathways to connect students and postdoctoral researchers with professionals outside of academia to learn about their career paths. As part of this series, we created a self-reflection career checkup for STEM majors at all stages, and it can be found at the link here.