Lights, colour, action! It was these three things that first drew me to chemistry. My fascination with glow-in-the-dark toys and firework displays as a child paved the way to an education in this field. I quickly learned that an understanding of molecules and bonding could impact many other streams of science.
More recently, I learned to recognize that the broad scope of chemistry originated beyond colourful compounds with exciting reactivity. In fact, it starts with the diversity of the researchers themselves—the people working towards the next chemical breakthroughs.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of spending 10 days with 25 other early career chemists from across the globe as part of the 2016 SciFinder Future Leaders program. I met people from all over the world—like Australia, Brazil, France, India, Singapore, and Norway, to name a few. Not only were we an international bunch, but we also represented expertise in various streams of chemistry. I was finally able to put faces to names I recognized from chemistry literature and was pleasantly surprised to learn that people from other continents were familiar with specifics related to my own research.
Our time together was mostly spent sharing ideas, our career aspirations, ways to optimize scientific communication, and new approaches to achieve research goals. Because of our diverse backgrounds, we were able to find ways to help each other from technical standpoints or previous life experiences that vastly differed from our own. For example, when I mentioned that I was interested in a career in industry, a few people told me about their co-op experiences with different companies in Europe. Hearing their stories gave me insight into the various company cultures and what it might be like to work in countries abroad. After spending time with this group of talented young individuals, I certainly felt more inspired and confident to begin my career equipped with my skills and knowledge.
While at the CAS headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, I was also astonished and impressed to learn that SciFinder provided English summaries translated from the scientific literature published in over 50 different languages. This resonated with me, as there were several instances in which my PhD projects progressed thanks to findings reported in another language. Fortunately in chemistry, we have the advantage of our own descriptive language. We all understand chemical structures and reaction schemes. This led me to reflect on my research advancements. Those ideas were shaped by talks I attended and interactions I had with poster presenters at international conferences. This revelation, in combination with my Future Leaders experience, left a lasting impression on me.
As scientists, we are taught to approach our data with an unbiased mindset. I believe that by extending this open-mindedness to accept ideas from all parts of the world, scientific discoveries can be vastly accelerated. Embracing diversity will fuel ideas, which in turn will drive chemical innovations. I challenge you to actively seek opportunities to interact with people from all over the world. One chance encounter might just lead you to your next big idea.
Melanie Lui obtained her BSc from Western University, her PhD from the University of Alberta (Canada) and is starting a postdoctoral research position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her interests include main group chemistry, polymer synthesis, playing sports and slapping the uke.