Chemistry PhD Student- The University of Pittsburgh Victoria Kong

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Where did you train for your career? I attended Carroll College for my undergrad, in which I studied both Chemistry and Art. I also interned over my undergraduate summers at Montana State University and at SRI International in the Silicon Valley.

What qualities or skills are important in your career? Creativity, Curiosity, and Perseverance!

What types of people do you interact with at your job? I mostly interact with other graduate students, all of which are anywhere between 1 and 5 years away from earning their PhD. There is also someone in our research group that is doing a post-doc, meaning she is devoting all hours of her work week towards researching and publishing her research. Lastly, I also interact with my research advisor.

What do you wear to work? The only rule at work is that there are no open- toed shoes allowed, and no shorts/ skirts/ dresses. Though modesty is a factor, the main reason for the requirement of wearing long pants is because of safety.

Was there a particular person or event that influenced your career choice? Since I was little, I knew that I wanted to be someone that worked in a lab environment. I loved the idea of wearing a white lab coat and sporting laboratory glasses. I actually started my undergraduate years off as a Biology major, but as I took more and more advanced Chemistry courses, I realized that I always found the Chemistry labs and lectures more interesting. Surprisingly, going to lab always put me in a better mood! Over the course of my undergraduate career, I've had numerous Chemistry mentors, all of which have helped me reflect on what kind of chemist I'd like to be when I grow up (yes, I still think about what I'd like to be when I grow up!) and what kind of environment and people I want to surround myself with.

What has surprised you about your career? Is it what you imagined it would be? What has surprised me most about my career is how accessible it has been. Yes, I have had to work harder in my Chemistry courses than I have ever had to work in school before, but the amount of help available for students that are passionate and dedicated to succeeding is amazing. So often, we put scientists on a pedestal and think of it as a hyper- competitive environment with every man and woman for him or herself. Though you can, of course, find people and places like that, there are so many scientists willing to reach out and mentor others and encourage the younger generation to pursue their dream of becoming a scientist. Once you know what you want, or even think you might know what you want, start asking around for help. More times than none, there are people that are willing to help.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? One of my favorite aspects of this job is going to lab and getting 'in the zone' of thinking and working independently. Though there's a lot of seemingly 'uncreative' math and science classes on the path to get to this point, at its heart, research is a creative act. It requires me to gather everything I know, and form connections between concepts and ideas that may seem completely unrelated on the surface. I love how this job pushes me to think and gives me the opportunity to actually test the ideas that come to my head. Lastly, I love how collaborative science can be as well. Though the physical work of researching in the lab might be done by one person in the lab, the research and experiments run are a product of countless hours of collaboration, communication, and teamwork between graduate students, research advisors, and the scientists that came before us.

What has been the most interesting or unusual experience of your career? Since I'm a first- year graduate student, this career is just getting started. However, one of the most interesting experiences of my career has been meeting all the different kinds of people that aspire to be, or already are, chemists. Outside of the science world, I think that people tend to think of scientists as bookish, introverted, and socially awkward. I think we're starting to move away from that stereotype, which is a great leap forward for us, because there's a place for every kind of person and personality in science.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job? One of the most challenging aspects of my job would be maintaining a sense of confidence in my decision to become a chemist. It's easy to fall into a loop of negative self- talk when you're surrounded by people that are so accomplished and intelligent, but I remind myself that I've worked hard to get where I am and I'm there for a reason.
What are some of your recent personal goals and/ or accomplishments? One of my recent goals is to get more involved in different programs that encourage young girls and women to pursue their interests and dreams in STEM (which is how I found this program!). While I was applying to graduate programs , I realized how important it was for me to be in a department or group that openly supported women and men equally, and were also self- aware of the current gender inequality in Chemistry between men and women. I really dislike walking into a room and realizing that there is a blatant gender disparity. Though I feel like the chemistry profession is getting better, there is a lot of work to be done, and I think there's a lot of potential for change in our younger generation in terms of normalizing STEM professions for young girls and women.