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This blog is a collaboration between LCGC and the American Chemical Society Analytical Division Subdivision on Chromatography and Separations Chemistry.
The Season to Celebrate
This time of year always makes me particularly proud to have become a scientist. In February we are surrounded by a multitude of materials advertising the great accomplishments of women in science, due to UNESCO’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Shortly after, in March, we celebrate accomplishments of women in a variety of fields that impact societal advances with International Women’s Day. Often, we are reminded of women who were overlooked in science history for discovering great knowledge that we use today. I am reminded of a great blog article written by Michelle Misselwitz that explains the history of Dr. Erika Cremer’s contributions to the invention of gas chromatography (GC) (1). The inaccessibility of Cremer’s work during the period in which it was performed has largely been attributed to the gender and political biases of the time. If you are a chromatographer, and you are unaware of Cremer’s contributions to GC, I highly encourage you to read this article (or other historical accounts) about the early days of GC in Cremer’s laboratory. This time of year tends to serve as a reminder that while women may be entering more degrees and careers in science than ever before, there is still a need to advocate for gender parity in many sectors.
My Experience as a Woman in Separation Science
I was fortunate to be raised in an environment where I was never told that I couldn’t do or study something just because I was a girl. I have, however, dealt with gender bias many times in my career, and know that it is something that I will continue to face in the future to some extent. From each experience, I try to learn and grow. As a graduate student, I told myself I had to work extra hard to get my work published, be noticed, and make connections with prominent scientists. As a postdoctoral scientist, I struggled with taking ownership of my science, often being perceived as an assistant to male scientists with whom I worked closely.
As a faculty member, I have made it my mission to share my passion for chemical separations with my students, and get them to dream big. I am a “cheerleader” for separation science, hoping to convince students how exciting this field can be. While the programs I teach are heavily dominated by female students, I am very cognizant that many of my students don’t believe they could go to graduate school, or do other things well within their reach. They tell me they aren’t sure they can do it, and it breaks my heart every time. We host large events to expose them to women scientists; I try to connect with every student in the classroom about what makes them excited; I meet one-on-one with students as much as possible and remind them of their potential; I teach a class dedicated to the transition to life after college; I share my stories and emotions. Most of all, I believe fiercely in them until they are able to do so themselves.
In 2019 I was awarded the American Chemical Society’s Satinder Ahuja Award for Young Investigators in Separation Science. This award is given annually by the Subdivision for Chromatography and Separations Chemistry (SCSC), the subdivision responsible for this blog article (and where I now serve as an Executive Committee member). I was shocked and thrilled about the award and quickly went to the website to view the list of past winners. To my surprise, I was the first woman to receive this award since its inception in 2004. I am proud to be joined by another female on the list, Dr. Robbyn K. Anand, in 2020, and to know that this landscape is changing. The list will one day be populated by many women who become our future separation science leaders. We are fortunate that the activities of the SCSC have helped to unite many women who are doing work in the field of separations, and to grow our networks. We are all extremely willing to network with others who may feel the benefit of this type of professional community, and hope you will join us at some of our future events.
Come to think of it, I’m not aware of any awards in my field of work that are named after a female scientist. It is not because they have not made meaningful and celebrated advances in the field of separations chemistry. Perhaps this comes from historical, political, or geographical factors. I hope this landscape will also change some day.
I am fortunate to be connected with a network of powerhouse scientists (who also just happen to share the same sex as me). I have benefitted from interactions with this amazing network in my career and do not take it for granted, because I know many women before me did not have such a privilege. I have always had colleagues to turn to when I had questions uniquely suited to women scientists.Today I recognize these women for their valuable contributions to the field of separation science by sharing with you some of their responses to questions I asked them. I hope you will enjoy hearing from them as much as I enjoyed recording their responses.
What got you interested in separation science?
What inspires you to keep working in separation science?
Which class do you think helped you most in your day-to-day life as a separations chemist?
What has been a major challenge you have experienced in your career?
What are some of the activities you’d suggest students get involved in if they are looking to become separation scientists?
Is there anything you wish you knew or did when establishing your career as a separations chemist?
What has surprised you most about the work you do in separation science?
What other advice would you give to students that are unsure about their career path?
What do you still dream about for the future of separation science?
A Final Thought
And there you have it—advice from some amazing separation scientists. Thank you to everyone who responded to my survey and shared their hearts and souls to demonstrate how powerful separation science can be in the eyes of women in the field. Maybe one day we will all be celebrating together the inaugural awardee for an “Erika Cremer Prize in Gas Chromatography.” Maybe blogs and events and discussions like this will help us to achieve some of our dreams for the future of separation science with a diverse and inclusive workforce. One thing is for sure: Women have always been, and will continue to be, a major driving force behind advancement in the field of separation science.
Katelynn A. Perrault is an associate professor of Forensic Sciences and Chemistry at Chaminade University of Honolulu. She specializes in the application of comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography for odor analysis applications, and mentors numerous undergraduate researchers as part of her integrated teaching and research program. Her current interests include odor production from post-mortem microbes, development of GC×GC data processing workflows for dual-channel detection, promoting the adoption of GC×GC in the forensic sciences, and establishing GC×GC curriculum to be taught in undergraduate chemistry classes. Perrault was recently named the 2019 American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Satinder Ahuja Young Investigator in Separation Science. Direct correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog is a collaboration between LCGC and the American Chemical Society Analytical Division Subdivision on Chromatography and Separations Chemistry (ACS AD SCSC). The goals of the subdivision include
For more information about the subdivision, or to get involved, please visit https://acsanalytical.org/subdivisions/separations/.