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Stories from the Field

Women in Chemistry: Stories from the Field

Stories from the Field preserves and celebrates the contributions of women in science. From students striving for degrees to scientists looking back on their careers, this audio library captures triumphs, challenges, and insights in short, conversational interviews.

We at CHF thank all our Stories from the Field participants for sharing their experiences with us—and with generations of scientists to come.


“There are so many firsts in my career, it’s not funny.”

June Wispelwey, executive director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, shares what she's learned from a challenging career.  

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“There had been a national movement toward science education, and I benefited very much from that.”

After the launch of Sputnik in 1957 the new emphasis on science education in the United States helped spark an interest in a young Mary Jo Nye. She talks about an inspiring mentor who taught graduate-school material to her high-school class and discusses how understanding the humanities as well as technology can open up a “spectrum of choices.”

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“There’s no correct path to being successful.”

Mary Kirchhoff didn’t go about her education the usual way: she had four children before pursuing her Ph.D. She talks about what was “the most organized time” of her life and the importance of sticking to goals.

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“There’s nothing wrong in going out there and asking for what we want.”

As a woman as well as an immigrant to the United States, Valerie Fremont has faced particular challenges in her career. She discusses America’s “culture of risk,” the challenges of moving from academia to a position with a small biotech company, and how women are taught to be more assertive in the United States than in Europe.

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“We should tell women that they’re people—that they can do the same thing everybody else in the world can.”

Maria Maccecchini, president and founder of QR Pharma, shares her thoughts about her mentors and the encouragement that helped her go a long way.

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“What you want is not defined by whether you’re female or male.”

Carmela DeLuca was raised to feel there was no difference between being male or female. This obliviousness can be helpful, she says, because you don’t notice when people are trying to stand in your way. She talks about the importance of seeking like-minded people, taking care of your network, and knowing what you want.

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“When I’m in an environment where I need to rely on myself, I thrive.”

When navigating the career path, advises Cynthia Palmer, make sure the jobs you take are the ones you actually want. She talks about the importance of confidence, taking small steps, and getting a copy of the job description.

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“Whenever I’ve had a challenge, or people say ‘no, you can’t,’ I say ‘why not?’”

Marinda Wu chose her particular graduate program because she wanted to work for a famous professor. But when she arrived, she was told the professor didn’t accept female students.

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“Women in chemical engineering are very lucky.”

When Maria K. Burka began looking for jobs in chemistry, she was told not to use her first name on applications because “if the interviewer saw you were a woman, they wouldn’t even bother interviewing you.” She talks about the challenges she faced, the importance of letting go of the past, and why she believes chemical engineering is now the scientific field most welcoming to women.

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“You can’t be perfect—you have to let go of that.”

Cheryl Baldwin Frech, professor of chemistry at the University of Central Oklahoma, talks about her lifelong mentor and the importance of pace when juggling a family and a career in academia.

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Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry

Women in Chemistry

Follow the adventures of eight leading women in chemistry and celebrate their life-changing, chance-taking, thrill-seeking love of science.