May 7, 2019
Sarah Brown was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. Prior to coming to the University of Chicago, she completed a B.Sc. in Honours Physics & Chemistry at McGill University. She’s currently a fourth-year student in the Department of Chemistry’s Ph.D. program. We interviewed her via email about her experiences at UChicago.
What have you been studying or researching as part of your program?
I use a type of electron microscopy called “Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy” (STM) to study atomic-scale reaction kinetics and dynamics on surfaces. Currently, I am studying how organic self-assembled monolayers react with atomic gases (such as hydrogen and oxygen) under a variety of conditions.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
I was blown away by the research resources available here. The amount of shared instrumentation accessible through Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) was so impressive. Coming in, I wasn’t sure exactly what type of chemistry research I wanted to pursue, so I chose a department with a wealth of worthy options.
Please describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.
I am currently serving as co-president of Women in Chemistry at UChicago (WiC), a graduate student-focused organization that works to create a supportive environment for women in chemistry and promote women in STEM by hosting monthly social and professional events, bringing in speakers, and raising awareness of diverse issues facing the scientific community. This year, we implemented a first-year mentoring program to provide support for first-year graduate women in the Chemistry Department by pairing them with an older graduate mentor from WiC. The goal was to help integrate students into the department and university communities, while also alleviating some of the stress of starting graduate school, and the feedback from this effort has been extremely positive.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I play soccer in a women’s league on the northside of Chicago, I dance with the student-run ballet organization on campus, and I am currently a volunteer with a non-profit SCUBA shop in Chicago (where I am also pursuing my professional Divemaster certification).
What are your plans post-UChicago?
Undetermined for now! However, I am currently looking into postdoc positions at National Laboratories to keep options in both academia and industry open. I also enjoy teaching immensely, and have started looking into opportunities in the field of chemistry education.
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
Last year, I received a departmental travel award, which enabled me to present a research talk at the Fall 2018 National ACS Meeting.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
Ask all the questions, particularly to graduate students! They are the ones who will be in the trenches with you, and they often have knowledge that has been passed down the pipeline that is harder to find elsewhere.
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
I grew up in a very multicultural city, so working with people from different backgrounds is my norm. The best collaborations are formed with those who have different perspectives from your own; otherwise, you’ll never grow—neither as a scientist, nor as a person.