Sydney Brooks, a PhD candidate in the Rosi lab, came to Pitt in 2018 after completing her undergraduate degree at West Virginia University. In Fall 2022, in addition to her graduate research, she had the opportunity to teach CHEM 0100 (Introduction to General Chemistry) as the instructor of record. We asked Sydney to share a few thoughts about why she chose this path and how it is influencing what she wants to do after Pitt – check out her answers below!
Why did you choose to come to Pitt for graduate school?
Initially, I applied just because there was no application fee, but visit weekend really won me over. The department was impressive and there were multiple groups I could see myself having a successful graduate experience with.
What are you working on in your PhD research?
I work on peptide-based nanoparticle assembly. Essentially, we learn design rules from assembly in biology (ie. amino acids to peptides to proteins) and leverage them to precisely synthesize nanoparticle superstructures with interesting optical properties.
What's the result you're most proud of in your PhD research so far?
Not so much a specific result, but this summer I was struggling to figure out what my final paper would be. I went through a lot of different ideas and projects, but when I finally found something that worked and was interesting it felt great.
Why were you interested in teaching CHEM 0100 this fall?
I've always enjoyed being a teaching assistant, and was looking for more than just lab or recitation. CHEM 0100 was a daunting but exciting opportunity.
What has been most challenging about teaching CHEM 0100, and what has been most rewarding?
The most challenging thing has been switching gears from the chemistry I most recently learned to the 0100 content. Recently, I was teaching electronic structures and I caught myself using the word "degenerate"... I'm sure quite a few students were a bit lost there. The most rewarding part is working with individual students and seeing them improve and succeed--even just B exam grade instead of a C can feel like winning the lottery.
What do you hope students will take away from your class?
I hope they learn that chemistry isn't nearly as scary as its reputation, and even if you aren't a science major it can be accessible and interesting
What do you think are the most important things you'll take away from your degree at Pitt?
I think the independence you develop as you become a senior graduate student. When I first started, I wanted help or affirmation at every step and I was wary of just figuring it out on my own. Now, even when random problems come up, I just handle them.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
CHEM 0100 has really impacted my goals. I've been looking at science education and outreach jobs, but now I would definitely consider a teaching track position as well.
What advice would you offer to students who are considering going to graduate school in chemistry?
You can do it--plenty of people smarter than you have completed this degree, but plenty of people not as smart as you have too. Make sure you take care of yourself along the way.