What’s Up Alum? – Clare Rowland

23 Feb

Clare Rowland CCAS '09

Clare Rowland CCAS '09

Clare Rowland, CCAS ’09, graduated from the University Honors Program summa cum laude.  A chemistry major with departmental honors and a minor in Russian language and literature, Clare spent a year after graduation working as a research assistant for Chris Cahill in the GW Chemistry Department. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Northwestern University with a National Science Foundation Fellowship.

The chemistry program at GW is tiny, especially given the size of the undergraduate student body; and the few students who do graduate with a major in chemistry largely go on to med school. But the size of the program conceals a gem of an opportunity. Brace yourself; this could be life-altering. GW’s chemistry department has some truly excellent professors and researchers who have a real interest in seeing their students succeed. My professors, and particularly the two with whom I did research, have played a significant role in getting me to my current position as a graduate student at one of the top inorganic chemistry programs in the world. They did this by by writing me more letters of recommendation than I can count and by allowing me to work on independent research projects as early as my freshman year. Now, most freshman wanting to do research would get stuck washing glassware and making stock solutions. And, given how little freshman (my younger self included) know, that’s probably a good thing. But having research experience that early on gave me a leg up on every scholarship and fellowship application I’ve submitted since. And that’s definitely a good thing.

When it ultimately came time to graduate, I was reluctant to leave my productive (and beloved) research project. It also happens that my post-graduation plans A and B had fallen through at rather the last minute, leaving me wondering whether I might have to move back home (horror!). Dr. Cahill, however, very generously supported my staying on for a year as a research assistant. As a result, I had an extra year of research that really gave me direction for the future as well as the chance to go to conferences and workshops, publish papers, and make professional connections. I think I may have already mentioned this, but GW’s chemistry professors are awesome.

You may be thinking, ‘You could do those things anywhere. There’s nothing special about that experience.’ Yet talking to my fellow grad students at Northwestern, I am more and more convinced that my opportunities in chemistry at GW were superior to those of people both in large programs (where it’s easy to get lost and professors are often more interested in their own research than in the education of undergrads) and at small colleges (where it’s hard to find productive research programs and funding). Add to the mix a new science center, and I think chemistry at GW looks pretty darn bright.

As for my future, I will spend the next 4-5 years at Northwestern and Argonne National Lab researching exactly what I want to be researching. This must be getting old by now, but I again have GW to thank. It was through Dr. Cahill that I made the connections to set up this collaboration, and it was all that research experience and those wonderful letters of recommendation that got me the funding to work on this project. (For those of you who are interested, the focus of my research will the the interaction of polysulfide ligands with uranium, neptunium, and plutonium. Fancy-schmancy pieces of equipment that it will involve include, in order of descending fanciness, a synchrotron, a single crystal X-ray diffractometer, a dedicated glove box, steel autoclaves, and round-bottom flasks. It will be awesome.) Beyond grad school, I will either go on to a postdoc pursuing my passion for actinide chemistry or take over the world. Ultimately, both of these routes will likely lead me to a position as an actinide chemist at a national lab – the scientific equivalent of Disney World – which is just about the best job someone in my shoes could imagine.

And, one more time… Thanks, GW.


One Response to “What’s Up Alum? – Clare Rowland”

  1. maria frawley March 1, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Great post, Clare! Thanks for sharing. I hope your post inspires some of our current students to get engaged with research early…. MF

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