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May 2017 GWIS Lead

Tuesday, May 16, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Allison Shultz
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May 2017
GWIS LEAD is a GWIS periodical profiling women leaders in science.  Subscribe
Rosalynn Quiñones-Fernández: Chemist, Mentor, Mother
As a mother of two, Dr. Rosalynn Quiñones-Fernández is well aware of the challenges that come with being a parent and an academic. We were fortunate to connect with Rosalynn and ask her to share with us her scientific journey and her experiences in balancing her career and family life.

Dr. Quiñones-Fernández is an analytical chemist and currently an Assistant Professor at Marshall University in West Virginia. She describes her research as follows:
 In my research, I modify metal oxide nanoparticles with polymers and organic acids to improve energy conversion in future solar cells. I also analyze pharmaceutical drugs for polymorphism, which is the ability of a compound to exist in more than one crystalline form.
In addition to her research, Dr. Quiñones-Fernández also teaches instrumentation, analytical chemistry, and general chemistry courses at the undergraduate level.
After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s degree in industrial chemistry, Dr. Quiñones-Fernández obtained her PhD in chemistry from Duquesne University under the supervision of Dr. Ellen S. Gawalt. She then pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan working with pharmaceutical screening and polymers with Dr. Adam J. Matzger. Afterwards, she joined Washington and Jefferson College as an NSF postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Robbie Iuliucci. Her decision to pursue an advanced degree was driven in part by her dislike of the industry job she got right after college:

After I finished my BS in industrial chemistry I worked in industry for two years. I didn’t like my job. I participated in the Undergraduate Research Program in 2001 and loved it! I decided to apply to graduate school to get my PhD in 2003. It was a very difficult decision since all my family was back in Puerto Rico and I had to go back to school. There were so many questions like: “Why would I leave my job since I was making money?” I was in a very comfortable and safe position. For me, I feel as though it is important to love the work that I do and to push myself to my limits so that I can feel satisfied that I have achieved the best work that I can possibly do.

During my time in college, I worked in a tutoring center helping young kids with math and science. Now that I look back on my path, I notice that I have always enjoyed teaching or mentoring students going all the way back to when I was a girl scout. I wasn’t the top student in college since I had to work while also attending school but I started doing research at my undergraduate institution. After I was in my PhD, I didn’t question my decision but rather thought that maybe I could use my new skill set to go back to an R & D department in industry and continue with research there. I followed many different paths, including a postdoc at the University of Michigan and a teaching postdoc at an undergraduate institution, before returning to my original path—teaching. I knew I didn’t want to be in a big research institution but in a place where they value research as well as teaching like Marshall University. Each institution that I attended granted me opportunities, such as professional workshops, teaching assistant-ships, conferences, and talks that helped to lead me to my decision to teach. I have always welcomed new things, adventures, and challenges.
Watch this video to see how Rosalynn Quiñones-Fernández' blends research, teaching, and family life at Marshall University.
Working at Marshall University is a perfect fit for Dr. Quiñones-Fernández:

I am very passionate about my job. It has the best of the two worlds that I was looking for: research and teaching in a very welcoming environment. I really appreciate the flexibility I have because sometimes I can participate in my kids’ school activities or in community service or work from home when I am not teaching.

Mentoring students and watching them learn is her favorite part of what she does:
I really like to see the students learn new things, help them struggle through why things may not work, and just be there as a mentor. I like to see students think critically and to give them options to obtain hands-on experiences in science. I like to be someone who the students feel comfortable asking questions. I also like being available to help resolve problems with instruments and to push students out of their comfort zone in order to promote learning. I think college is not just a time of career preparation, but also a way to grow and encounter other people’s ways of thinking.
Dr. Quiñones-Fernández believes that the general public misunderstands a few things about chemistry: 

This is difficult field but it is not impossible. I feel that I don’t know everything, but rather that I am more well-rounded and know a little bit of everything. I think my PhD experience helped me learn how to troubleshoot my research, projects, and instruments, but also made me aware that there is so much out there that I want to learn and experience. I think chemistry is one of the fields that has more women representation than in other physical sciences. Therefore, I think another misrepresentation of my work or field is that you can’t have a family or even be active in the surrounding community. Sometimes I have to work on a weekend or at night but I have a very flexible work schedule that allows for me to have both a family and community interactions.

The flexible and relatively unscheduled nature of life as an academic scientist fits well with Dr. Quiñones-Fernández's desire for work/life balance:

Academia allows you to have a very flexible schedule besides your classes and committee meetings. I have tried to schedule my classes for the middle of the day, when my kids are at school, so I can be with them in the morning and evenings in order to be available for their extracurricular activities. However, sometimes I have to work during the weekend or evenings. I try to work after both kids are in bed so I can maximize my time in the evening with them. Furthermore, I spend my lunch break at the campus rec center so that I do not have to take time away from my family during the mornings or evenings. During summer, I have to be available for our summer research program. That being said, I take some days off to enjoy the summer time while my kids are off from school. I think in academia, you need to a find a place that will understand your lifestyle, support your goals and be there for you in any way they can. My institution and department are very welcoming of women as faculty members and not just in the college of science. I think STEM careers vary a lot between industry, research institutions, undergraduate institutions, and community colleges because each place has different environments and requirements. In my situation, I have to be available to my students who are taking my classes and even more available to my research students who need my guidance. Therefore, sometimes I can have very crazy hours, but through that madness, I have the support of my husband.
Dr. Quiñones-Fernández maintains that sometimes attaining balance in one’s life means being out of balance for a time, and she attributes a portion of her success in balancing her own life to surrounding herself with trustworthy and capable people.
From my own experience, there are times that 70% of my time is work and there are other times that 70% is my personal life. Balancing a life means being unbalanced at times but allowing those fluctuations to help you grow as a person. Going to work for me may not be the same as going to work for someone else. A day has 24 hours and you have to try to achieve as much as you can in a day by prioritizing but also remembering that there is a tomorrow. Research is a life commitment and requires you to balance being in the lab, writing manuscripts, and preparing research grants. I think that the heart of the balance in a research environment is to have people you can trust and are well-trained. At that point, you can concentrate your efforts on other things like classes, writing, or having a personal life outside of the lab. I have to say that I have three awesome female undergraduate students working in my lab that I am so grateful to have because they enable me to have a better balance in my life and research workload.
She also recognizes that blending different parts of life together can help.
I try to blend my work with my family and my family with my work. For example, I travel a lot during summer due to some training, workshops, and conferences. I try to take my family with me on my trips. I will fulfill my duties, but I may meet my family for either lunch or dinner. I love to do community service, and I try to take my kids so they value what they have and learn how we can help other people in need or just to teach science to small kids.

What advice does Dr. Quiñones-Fernández have for aspiring scientists, particularly women in science?

Do not give up. You will find a lot of obstacles in your path, but you can foresee the good outcomes from your hard work. You can have as much fun as you want, but be organized in a way that will work for you. Sometimes due to research, deadlines, and classes, you may work a lot of hours but other times you will be able to relax more. In research, you have to be flexible and have a plan A, B, and sometimes a plan C because what you think will work may not. This is very important if you have students. They may get frustrated about their research outcomes, and you as faculty have to be positive or give them something else to do while you figure out how to move forward. Also, I think important advice in academia is that you may get questions that you don’t know the answer to, and it’s better to say “I don’t know” than to invent an answer [that may end up being inaccurate]. Students will have more respect for you if you are honest.
Contributed by Nicole Barra.
Video by Kayleen Schreiber and Maria Adonay. 
Copyedited by Rozzy Finn.
GWIS members can join a free, small group mentoring session with Dr. Quiñones-Fernández tomorrow, May 17th at 1pm EST/12pm CST/10am PST. You will receive an email with instructions for the webinar. The webinar will be accessible via Google hangouts; you will need to have a gmail account to participate.

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