LGBT STEM Day: Carolyn Hutchinson - ACS Axial
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LGBT STEM Day: Carolyn Hutchinson

Dr. Carolyn Hutchinson is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at Willamette University. Read on to learn about their work, their advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, and their 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 current research focuses on exploring the prevalence and fate of estrogens in wastewater and the environment. I grew up in a very rural area playing in creeks and the woods all summer long. I’ve always had a drive to explore and try to understand more about the world around me. This led me to ultimately majoring in chemistry at my undergraduate university where I fell in love with analytical chemistry. During my Ph.D. work, I used high resolution mass spectrometry to investigate bio-oils. While I enjoyed the project, I really wanted to shift my focus to more environmental during my postdoc. Investigating estrogens has allowed me to get back outside and continue learning more about the world through mass spectrometry.

Who are some of your professional mentors? How have they impacted your career?

I’ve been lucky to have a large group of professional mentors throughout my career–far too many to list. I’m a big believer in having many mentors to help navigate different parts of life. I’ve also been lucky enough to mentor several undergraduate students now. My mentors and my mentoring have hugely impacted my career by providing new prospective, helping me solidify my goals, and giving me the tools to succeed.

You recently presented at the LGBTQ+ symposium at the ACS National Meeting in Orlando. How did you become involved in that event? What was that experience like for you?

I became involved with the LGBTQ+ symposium at the ACS National Meeting by chance–I received an email requesting submissions and decided to apply. I’m extremely glad I did–it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had a conference. It was great to interact with other LGBTQ+ folks who sought us out, and to see the scope of research LGBTQ+ graduate students and postdocs are currently doing. One of my favorite moments was having someone tell me that I was the first scientist they’d ever met who held the same identities as them.

What does the chemistry community need to do to attract LGBTQ chemists and help them thrive?

In order to attract more LGBTQ+ chemists, the community needs to make space for them and work to create a supportive network. Retaining LGBTQ+ chemists is nearly as large a problem as attracting them. There needs to be support on all levels–from undergraduate schools up to large societies like ACS. Explicit statements of support help a lot–it’s much easier to go into a conference or field if you know that you are explicitly supported. Additionally, it’s important to have plans in place to combat discrimination before it happens. There are also a lot of little things that help, such as convenient gender-neutral restrooms, gender-inclusive language, and normalizing pronouns (such as including them on conference badges).

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?

I’ve had to do a lot of invisible labor in my workplace throughout my career. It’s manifested in a number of different ways. I’ve had to combat heteronormativity and transphobia among colleagues, been openly harassed, and had to handle expectations of being an expert and an open book on certain diversity questions. It definitely made my graduate career more difficult than it is for many other folks. However, it helped me learn my limits and learn how to balance a wide variety of expectations. I’m sure it’s something that I will always experience, but there’s been a wonderful positive trend in recent years, and I’ve had to provide less and less invisible labor in my workplace with every passing year.

What did you do to celebrate Pride Month?

June is a heavy conference month for me, so I have spent a lot of time presenting my research and representing queer scientists to broad audiences. I may not have had a chance to celebrate in a traditional sense, but getting out into the scientific community and show what kind of work queer scientists can do is just the kind of celebration I enjoy.

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.

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