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#STEMStories: Danielle, Chemistry Ph.D. Student, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

Hi! My name is Danielle Maxwell and I am a Chemistry Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. As a first-year Chemistry Ph.D. student, I teach classes, conduct research, and take classes. I am a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for two General Chemistry Labs and am a Graduate Student Mentor (GSM) for the course as well. A GSI is like a chemistry teacher whereas a GSM is like a chemistry teacher’s coach. For my research, I am developing a chemistry curriculum that affirms students’ identities and provides them with the opportunity to conduct authentic snow chemistry research. I also study how a students’ personal identities and science identities interact with one another.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

When I started my undergraduate degree, I was a biology pre-medicine major. I had dreams of becoming a medical doctor, dreams that led me to accept an internship at a hospital in Guadalajara, Spain. However, after shadowing physicians, taking my General and Organic Chemistry courses, and being involved in my college’s Chemistry Club, I realized that my passion for medicine was now a passion for chemistry. During my undergraduate education, I did research in the field of Analytical Chemistry. While Analytical Chemistry research interested me, I became fascinated with the field of Chemistry Education. Therefore, during my senior year of undergrad, I applied to Chemistry Education Ph.D. programs across the country. After being accepted to multiple programs, I chose to attend the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor as it is close to my hometown and offered a research project that I love!

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

In Michigan we have a lot of cold, dark mornings, especially during the winter. On those mornings I think about how much fun I have working with two phenomenal groups of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and research advisors. In addition to being wonderful people, both of my research groups do amazing chemistry education and analytical chemistry research! Knowing that my work will directly impact the teaching and learning of undergraduate students both at my University and afar is what keeps me excited about my research and motivates me to get out of bed in the morning.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

Even though I am a Chemistry Ph.D. student at one of the top chemistry graduate programs in the United States, there have been many times where I thought that I accidentally got accepted into the program or didn’t deserve to be where I am today. When I have these kinds of thoughts, I think about how far I have come in both my career and personal life and how many obstacles I have overcome. By reminding myself of the journey I have been on, I am able to put my self-doubt to rest and focus on accomplishing the task in front of me.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I have had many role models of the years, many of whom I still look up to today. Instead of picking one person, I’d like to focus on a group of people who have inspired me to continue to pursue a career in STEM over the past decade. Throughout my high school, undergraduate, and graduate education, there have been many teachers in my life who have provided me with an environment to learn and grow, both academically and personally. Without these individuals, I would not be where I am today. My teachers are my role models because they have demonstrated servant leadership through their teaching and have inspired me to become a better educator.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to not be afraid of failure and rejection. I can recall many times where I spent countless hours trying to perfect something that was just not going to work. Once I accepted that failure is inevitable and frequent, especially in the sciences, I was able to reframe my failures into experiences that I could learn and grow from.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Don’t be afraid of your science and math classes. There’s a reason why you’re interested in STEM. Take that curiosity and run with it! You can do anything that you put your mind to.
  2. Explore the world around you and ask questions whenever possible. Scientists ask questions, form hypotheses, and solve problems through experimentation, a process that you too can replicate in your everyday life.
  3. To learn more about STEM, talk to people who work in STEM! Reach out to your teachers, your family, your doctors, anyone who might know something about the field you’re interested in. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn from these individuals.

8. How do you measure your success?

I measure my success after establishing realistic, yet challenging, goals for myself. If I reach the goals that I have set, I consider myself to be successful. However, if I don’t reach my goals, I reevaluate where I am and create an action plan so I can accomplish them. By creating my own set of standards, I am able to define what success means to me and develop my “toolbox” for success.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

If you want to find out more about my work, check out my Twitter (@Danielle_Maxwel), the Shultz Group website (https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/shultz-lab/) or the Pratt Group website (http://prattlab.chem.lsa.umich.edu/ ). The Shultz Group also has a Twitter and we routinely update that with photos, links to Chemistry Education publications, and more. Follow us on Twitter @ShultzGroupCER to learn more about our projects and Chemistry Education research in general!

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

If you’re interested in connecting with me, please follow me on Twitter @Danielle_Maxwel. I share a lot of things related to chemistry, education, and graduate school on my account. If you have any questions, please feel free to direct message me on Twitter as well! I’d be happy to answer your questions.