Meet chemistry student, Lauren McNamara

March 29, 2023

Lauren McNamara wearing a gray sweater against a vivid and colorful background

Lauren McNamara was born in Thousand Oaks, CA, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She is a third-year UChicago chemistry PhD student, with a bachelor’s in chemistry from UC Davis. Lauren is a synthetic inorganic chemist and works primarily with a carbon and sulfur-based scaffold that she links between transition metals. As part of this work, she has been studying this molecule’s unique electronic structure and exploring its applications in quantum information science and as biological imaging agents. 

We interviewed her about her experiences at UChicago. 

1.  Why did you choose the University of Chicago?

UChicago stood out for a number of reasons. The stipend vs. the cost of living in Hyde Park was by far the best out of all the programs I looked at. Additionally, during the visit weekend, I was able to see all the research facilities and instruments available to students, and it was clear that there was an enormous amount of effort and resources going into improving these facilities so that students had access to all they needed during their PhD. Lastly, talking to graduate students during the visit weekend was incredibly helpful in making my decision. There’s a strong sense of community amongst UChicago graduate students and they were able to provide helpful and unfiltered insight into the graduate student experience at UChicago and life outside of the lab.

2. Please describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.

I was one of three student leaders that planned our department recruitment weekends for the past two years. I’ve personally worked to add more, and support existing, D&I efforts into these weekends through the inclusion of an EDI address, a student-only panel, and the women in chemistry+ (WiC+) and graduate recruitment initiative team (GRIT) brunch. The recruitment weekends are a lot of work, but I’ve had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with the chemistry department, UChicagoGRAD, and other student leaders to pull it off. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see our hard work pay off when students visit, have a great time during the weekend, and when we get to see some of them in the autumn as enrolled students!

3. What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?

Outside of the lab, being a department representative for the graduate recruitment initiative team (GRIT) has been one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had at UChicago thus far. Through GRIT, I’ve had the opportunity to recruit students at SACNAS, sit on recruitment panels for the PSD, help plan the South Side Science Festival, and even got to organize the Big Gay BBQ! Outside of UChicago, I like to explore the city with friends, run, and play intramural softball.

4. What are your plans post-UChicago?

I’m still undecided, but I’m leaning towards industry or doing a postdoc. The one thing I’m sure of is that I want to continue doing research and lab work in some capacity.

5. What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?

Financially, I’ve received three awards, two through the chemistry department, and one through UChicagoGRAD that have helped to support me throughout my three years here.

In another sense, my advisor, John Anderson, has been incredibly supportive throughout my PhD thus far, both with my research and departmental service. I’ve also been lucky to have a great cohort and lab mates that have offered a lot of emotional support over the years and have been great to hang out with outside of the lab.

6. If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?

It would definitely be to come to visit! There were so many aspects of the program and the university as a whole that I didn’t know about until I visited. If visiting isn’t an option, I would recommend chatting with a graduate student in some capacity, as they have the best insight into what your life here would look like. Many graduate students here are happy to chat about their experiences, so don’t be afraid to shoot us a cold email!

7. How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?

As a woman in STEM, I’ve experienced the challenges of working in a male-majority field. This has helped me to understand the perspective of students from marginalized backgrounds and the challenges they face. Furthermore, working with groups such as GRIT has also helped me to understand the privilege I have and the value of approaching D&I efforts within an intersectional framework.

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