Major Mondays: Chemistry

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An interview with Emily Fok ’22, Chemistry major.

How did you pick your major?

I was actually deciding between chemistry and engineering when I was a freshman. Obviously, there’s no chemical engineering major at Mudd, but I heard you could either do chemistry and take engineering courses on the side, or you could do the reverse. I chose to do chemistry and take engineering classes on the side just because it’s more flexible. I really like chemistry, especially the lab portion. I really like, running reactions and just being able to make different things in labs. That’s really exciting. Having the classroom and hands-on portion, it’s really cool to see how things translated into the lab. Doing research over the summer also helped me decide that chemistry was something I want to continue pursuing.

What types of research have you done for your major?

Starting in the summer of my freshman year,  I’ve worked in Professor Johnson’s lab which is an organometallic inorganic lab. Early on, it was mostly organic synthesis, so running a lot of reactions and making a lot of different metal complexes and stuff. In my sophomore year, I continued working in that lab as well. During my sophomore summer, were virtual but I continued working in that lab and I basically just wrote the manuscript on what I’d done the previous summer. And then my junior summer I did an internship at Merck, which is a pharmaceutical company. There I also did synthesis work as well, but it’s a completely different setting, academia versus industry.

How has your major advisor been helpful?

I have my research advisor, Prof Johnson, and then I also have my academic advisor, Prof Hawkins. I was deciding between if I wanted to choose Prof Johnson as my academic advisor too, but I definitely thought it would be beneficial to have another viewpoint. I think it’s also really inspiring seeing women in chemistry. The department is kind of male dominated, so I definitely saw Prof. Hawkins as someone I looked up to. She’s definitely been very helpful in helping me make sure that I have a nice balanced schedule, that I’m not overloading myself, and making sure that I also have time for other things, aside from just classes, that I want to continue doing and whatnot. My advisors are not the only people who have been helping me. For example, through applying to Grad school I’ve also been talking a lot with Professor Vosberg since he does organic chemistry and that’s something I want to pursue. Something nice about Mudd that you can very easily become very close to a lot of different professors, even if they’re not your advisors and assigned to you or anything. I definitely think that a lot of the chemistry department has helped me in a lot of different ways.

What has been your favorite major class?

I actually really liked Chemical Analysis, taught by Professor Van Ryswyk. Even though it was virtual, I still had a lot of fun. It wasn’t just chemistry, there was also a statistics portion. Even though R (coding language) can be frustrating, it was still really cool to be able to use what we had learned from freshman year and do a little bit of coding. There was math involved as well, so I think it was a classic combined course– we used a lot of different types of things that we had learned in Core.

Is there one moment in your Mudd experience that stands out to you?

There was at one point during our virtual learning year when I was taking Organic Chemistry I which is a pretty hard class, and I definitely felt imposter syndrome. I would see everyone at Mudd be very passionate about what they do. Like “oh I love physics and, in my free time I like to read physics textbooks.” I just felt like I hadn’t discovered what I was really passionate about. I like chemistry, and I want to do this in the future, but it’s not something I necessarily want to dedicate 100% of my time to. This was kind of a negative moment that stands out, but getting over that idea and realizing that it’s okay, and there’s a lot of time for you to figure out what your passions are made it a memorable experience. Life is not just about academics or your work. Now I know this. I think it was really nice that Mudd encourages you to take classes off campus and in the humanities, since that really helped me understand that it was okay to have passions and interests in other areas as well and not just my major!

What is your thesis project?

Inside Prof. Johnson’s lab, my senior project has been looking at how can we take carbon dioxide and reduce it into other useful forms. A big part of my senior thesis will be doing a literature review trying to understand what other research groups have done and how we can incorporate that into our lab. Another part is trying to just make a bunch of metal complexes and see if procedures we found work. Also seeing if in the future, these complexes can aid us in reducing CO2 or if they have other applications.

What are your plans for after Mudd?

I’m hoping to pursue a PhD after Mudd, so grad school.