Barbara Belmont is a lecturer at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Read on to learn about her work, her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, and her advice for making the field more welcoming to LGBTQ+ chemists.
What is the focus of your research? What inspired you to explore this field?
My research interests are in chemical education and analytical chemical methods development. I’m fascinated by how people learn, and like to create hands on experiences to support the theoretical. Right now we’re working on making our Quantitative Analysis lab experiments greener. Although my expertise is small molecule characterization by fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and mass spectrometry, lately I am attracted to something I don’t know enough about: electrochemistry. I enjoy computers, interfacing, and coding, so it’s natural to connect those passions up to electrochemical measurements. Our research group has been building low-cost devices for the undergraduate chemistry lab to use for specific ion experiments and potentiostat experiments.
Who are some of your professional mentors? How have they impacted your career?
My career has an unusual twist to it. After a failed three month attempt at grad school fresh out of undergrad, I worked as a clinical laboratory technician for 3 months, as a formulating chemist for 3 years, then as an analytical chemist for the next 25 years. I met my first mentor, Martin Fuller, at the place where I worked as a formulating chemist. Even though we were not in the same department, I used every excuse I had to learn his analytical chemistry techniques that he applied to spy on products that competed with ours. When I finally understood that analytical chemistry was my calling, I moved on to work at a testing laboratory. My mentor there taught me how to run a business, and I figured out how to run a laboratory. I was in my late 40’s when I started grad school at the Professional Science Masters in Analytical Chemistry at Illinois Institute of Technology. I am very fond of that entire program, an especially of my graduate adviser Walt Eisenberg and of Jeff Terry. I took several classes from Jeff, and was profoundly inspired by our “Electronics and Interfacing” course, in which we built a device. I’m still applying that experience to my current microcontroller-potentiostat project. During grad school, I started teaching undergraduate chemistry labs as a favor to a colleague. Teaching had been my original career goal, and I took to it like a duck to water. As time went on, I was given more teaching opportunity, and ultimately was teaching college chemistry full time…with a Professional Science Master’s degree in Analytical Chemistry!
What led you to co-found the Gay and Transgender Chemists and Allies subdivision of the ACS Division of Professional Relations? What is the role of organizations like that in promoting STEM careers to LGBTQ people?
Although I had been part of a small group of LGBTQ+ ACS chemists trying to create space and visibility since 1999, I credit the ACS Division of Professional Relations for the founding of the Gay and Transgender Chemists and Allies subdivision. The actual creation of the subdivision was a response to a PROF Executive Committee discussion about having no ACS division or governance home for LGBTQ+ people. And someone thought of this brilliant solution! Chris Bannochie and John Crawford probably had a lot to do with it. PROF appointed me to be the first chair of this subdivision. We spent our first few years creating programming to help people understand the need to include LGBTQ+ in diversity programming. Now the subdivision programming highlights the science of LGBTQ+ people. To develop our own career goals and career paths, we all need role models and need to see people like ourselves in successful careers. Having highly visible LGBTQ+ people in positions of ACS governance and featured in scientific symposia helps recruit and retain young LGBTQ+ people in chemistry.
What does the chemistry community need to do to attract LGBTQ chemists and help them thrive?
You know, the usual: Having welcoming environments, celebrating pride, facilitating mentoring, highlighting accomplishments of old and young alike.
Do feel like you’ve had to do “invisible labor” in the workplace as a member of an under-represented group in chemistry? If so, how has that manifested?
To me, “invisible labor” means closeted. When nobody knew I was LGBTQ+, they didn’t know anything about me at all. It was exhausting to filter my pronouns and stay quiet about people and things that were important to me. I came out a long time ago, when it wasn’t that safe to do so, and my world opened up. For me, it’s all been a fairly positive experience.
How did you celebrate Pride Month this year?
I hoisted my rainbow flag a notch higher.
This post is part of a series of interviews with LGBTQ+ chemists in honor of LGBT Stem Day. This annual international day for celebrating the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ People in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math is organized by Pride in STEM. To learn more about supporting LGBTQ+ chemists, consider joining the Gay and Transgender Chemists and Allies Subdivision of the ACS Division of Professional Relations.