In addition to being first-year PhD students and undertaking classes, research, and teaching, Beca Roldan and Geraldo Duran-Camacho added another activity to their busy schedules: podcasting. Beca and Geraldo developed the idea for the My Fave Queer Chemist (MFQC) podcast shortly after the first-year orientation this past August. As Beca explained, “We were talking about how rare it was that there was a good percentage of our first-year class who were LGBTQ, which was unexpected… We got to thinking ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was some sort of platform or support system for LGBTQ graduate students in chemistry?"
Thus, the idea to create a podcast was formed. The first episode was released in late February 2020 and has enjoyed great success so far, with over 500 followers on Twitter and 15 episodes featuring chemists in a variety of different career stages. As the title suggests, Beca and Geraldo talk with a different LGBTQ chemist in each episode. I had the opportunity to interview the interviewers to hear about their background, stories, and how MFQC podcast came to be.
Beca is from Louisiana, and earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. They performed undergraduate research in the lab of Prof. Larryn Peterson, focused on medicinal and synthetic chemistry. Of their decision to attend graduate school, they said “my undergraduate research experience really solidified my decision to go to graduate school.”
Geraldo is from Puerto Rico and earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. His interest in chemistry was sparked early, when he was able to take inorganic and environmental chemistry as a high school student. Upon engaging in research with Prof. Ingrid Montes as an undergraduate, he directed his path towards a PhD in Chemistry.
Beca and Geraldo are both organic chemists, although their research interests are quite different. Beca is interested in utilizing photoredox catalysis and electrochemistry to perform total synthesis as a member of Prof. Corey Stephenson’s lab, while Geraldo has joined the lab of Prof. Melanie Sanford and is focused on methods for fluorination chemistry. Both were excited about chemistry due to its many applications and the constant challenge that it brings to the table. “One of the things that drew me to chemistry to begin with was the problem-solving aspect,” Beca said. “There’s so much to learn and puzzles that need solving.”
Beca and Geraldo were already friends and well into their first year when they began to solidify the dream of an LGBTQ community into the reality of the MFQC podcast. They recognized that there are many STEM-related LGBTQ organizations, including Out in STEM and 500 Queer Scientists, which are nationwide organizations for students and professionals. For chemists, there are resources such as the American Chemical Society’s LGBT and allies and Diversify Chemistry, which are professional networking tools bringing visibility to traditionallyunderrepresented groups in academia. Beca and Geraldo wanted to build on this foundation and carve out a niche to create visibility to the stories of LGBTQ chemists. By creating a podcast, “we all get to know these chemists on a personal level -- both their chemistry and their stories,” Beca said.
MFQC listeners can also hear from a variety of chemists across a spectrum of career stages, and have learned about the history of LGBTQ rights and visibility in the chemistry community. “We got to learn how the LGBTQ symposia at the American Chemical Society National Meetings was formed… We get to learn about the history of advocacy,” Geraldo said. Beca agreed, saying that they “get to talk to people who were around in the beginning of modern LGBT advocacy in chemistry, and we also get to listen to people who are current graduate students, and hear how all of this history of advocacy is affecting them.”
“University of Michigan Chemistry has been pretty good for both of us this first year -- one of the reasons being that it is so inclusive,” Beca said. Geraldo agreed, saying, “I feel very welcome and accepted. I love all the details that the Chemistry Department has, like pronouns pins for events. I think it’s been great coming to Michigan - it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. The research is great, and I always emphasize… that people are genuinely happy here.”
While Beca and Geraldo have found Michigan Chemistry to be an inclusive environment, they expressed that there is always room for improvement. “There’s an overall willingness to learn here, and to put in the effort to make spaces more important,” Beca said, but “there are blind spots in all departments…. One thing that would help any chemistry department feel more inclusive would be the act of asking and announcing pronouns,” they added. “For PIs and for graduate students, make your pronouns an integral part of your introduction so that the responsibility isn’t on the underrepresented person to make it a big, separate thing. It [announcing your pronouns] doesn’t take much effort but it makes it a little bit more of a safe and accepting environment.” Also, doing research to learn about any underrepresented group is crucial. Beca explained, “Something that I try to emphasize is that I can answer appropriate questions when I can, but the internet is a beautiful place. There are a million and a half resources if you want to learn more about becoming a better ally… We are all scientists, and we know how to do research and read literature to find out what we want to know.”
The future is bright for this podcast, having already featured graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, industrial chemists, and professors. In particular, MFQC’s fifth episode featured Prof. Teshik Yoon, who was one of the first LGBTQ professors of chemistry that Beca and Geraldo knew about. “He was the first out LGBT faculty member that I knew about,” Geraldo said. “That was a huge deal for us,” Beca added. Beca and Geraldo are excited to continue to interview chemists and share their stories with the world.
To learn more about the podcast, search “My Fave Queer Chemist” on your favorite podcast-listening platform, and subscribe to get notified of new episodes. You can follow them on twitter @MFQCPod. If you identify as a chemist and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and you’d like to be interviewed on the podcast, please nominate yourself by filling out this form.