BGSU chemistry student to attend prestigious American Chemical Society conference

A Bowling Green State University honors student is getting national recognition after being selected to attend the prestigious, highly competitive LEADS (Lasting Encounters between Aspiring and Distinguished Scientists) Conference hosted by the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., in July.

Brie Bradshaw will graduate with honors this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. She will leave BGSU equipped with an impressive resume that includes substantial teaching and research experience within the Chemistry Department and the university’s renowned Center for Photochemical Sciences.

Bradshaw’s undergraduate experience at BGSU has been nothing less than transformative.

“I started in Dr. (Jayaraman) Sivaguru’s group when I was a sophomore. I hadn’t even started my second organic chemistry class, so I had this very rudimentary knowledge,” Bradshaw said. “I didn’t think I was qualified to do anything, and I probably wasn’t. I would have been happy to be in the room and wash dishes all day and just peek over my shoulder and see what they were doing. But I got so much more than that.”

Selected from among the nation’s top chemistry students

As one indicator of Bradshaw’s stellar academic trajectory, she has been selected to attend this year’s prestigious LEADS Conference in July. Bradshaw, who hails from Riverside, California, is among a select group of “high potential early career professionals and students” who will have the opportunity to meet with some of the world’s top chemists, scientists and professionals – an esteemed group that includes Nobel Laureates.

BGSU chemistry professor Sivaguru, the Antonia and Marshall Wilson Professor of Chemistry and associate director for the Center for Photochemical Sciences, pointed to the great honor this represents, as well as the rare opportunity to “rub shoulders with giants in the chemical sciences and industry.”

“The ACS LEADS Conference was introduced to help the next generation of leaders in the field,” Sivaguru said. “I was glad to write a strong letter of recommendation as part of Brie’s application. She deserves this recognition and I think she will greatly benefit from the first-rate technical sessions, while also broadening her network of peers and high-profile scientists.”

Fertile ground to select a career path

Bradshaw’s conference application included a statement of her interests in sustainable chemistry and education, which she had developed as both a learning assistant teaching introductory chemistry courses and during her time doing organic chemistry research in Sivaguru’s lab. Siobhan Shay and Peter Blass were cited by Bradshaw for their strong influence on her growing interest in teaching.

“Dr. Blass is my faculty mentor and encouraged me to apply to be a learning assistant, as well as to join Dr. Sivaguru’s research group and to minor in mathematics,” Bradshaw said. “Dr. Shay was the first professor I worked for as a learning assistant, and I gained a lot of insight about the realities of teaching from her.”

Last summer, as she was applying to participate in the LEADS Conference, Bradshaw decided to focus on STEM education, with the goal of becoming a chemistry professor with her own chemical education research group. She recently committed to attend the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the fall to pursue her Ph.D. in chemistry, with a specialization in Chemistry Education Research. According to Bradshaw, her experience at BGSU has been life-changing.

“My time at BG took a mild interest in science and opened a world of new possibilities that I never imagined. I was able to experience all parts of the educational and scientific process through classroom instruction, peer teaching initiatives and undergraduate research.”

Her time as a research assistant with Sivaguru’s group had, perhaps, the greatest impact on her decision to pursue a Ph.D. The team culture stresses the importance of graduate students mentoring undergraduate students, promoting a deeper level of understanding and engagement that has given Bradshaw a significant edge.

The power of mentorship

Sivaguru recalled that as a student, his advisors emphasized that cutting-edge, results-oriented research is great, but you must be sure to transfer knowledge to the next person to make real progress and “complete the circle.”

“From the beginning, my group has emphasized that you must take the time and effort to mentor,” Sivaguru said. “That mentorship component starts with how our graduate students interact with the undergraduates. Graduate students are the bridge that makes consistent, effective mentorship possible. And that principle also applies with the high school students who are here during the summer as part of the Parents Involvement with Children Nurturing Intellectual Curiosity in Science program, or PICNICS for short.”

He pointed out that the typical professor is too busy to be consistently present in the lab to help students get to the next level. Graduate students, on the other hand, have a great deal of knowledge, critical skills and insights they can share with undergraduates. For Bradshaw, that “bridge” to the next level came in the form of third-year doctoral student Jayachandran Parthiban.

“Jay has been one of my biggest inspirations in life,” Bradshaw shared. “Watching him and learning from him has meant so much for me. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been at times for him because I repeated the same mistakes, and his patience with me was extraordinary.”

Bradshaw is especially appreciative of Parthiban’s commitment to selflessly share his knowledge and skills in ways that she can now pass along to others.

“We focused on practical things that could apply to any field. I learned how to be a part of the community in the lab as I learned the protocols and day-to-day practical skills, including safety procedures that are so important in organic chemistry,” said Bradshaw. “With Jay as my model and inspiration, I can mentor others because I know what really works.”

Bradshaw also pointed to the interplay of her classwork with time in the lab. As her academic education increased, she was able to ask increasingly competent questions that added to a deeper understanding of the chemistry principles and lab processes.

“Being able to take what I had learned in class and then apply it in the lab and see where it came together in a practical sense was, I think, the best part,” Bradshaw said. “Jay was always there to answer my questions and help connect the dots for me.”

Overcoming fear of the unknown

For Sivaguru’s part, he feels that Bradshaw’s contributions not only point to her own talents and abilities, but also confirm the efficacy of his group’s philosophy of research, teaching, outreach and mentorship.

“Brie is sincere and committed to the field. She has been very successful here and has been an inspiration to the next group of undergraduates whom she has actively encouraged,” Sivaguru noted. “All of us are scared of the unknown, and I think Jay’s work with Brie and her subsequent contributions are strong confirmation of what we already knew: Decreasing that barrier is the key and that’s what mentorship is all about.”

According to Bradshaw, she didn’t realize how unique her situation at BGSU was until she began comparing her experience to that of talented students from other universities as she went about applying to various graduate programs.

“I was welcomed as an integral member of Dr. Sivaguru’s group from the beginning,” Bradshaw said. “I really was in the group in a very meaningful way and was given opportunities normally associated with graduate studies. As I was told what to expect in my Ph.D. program, I came to realize that I was familiar with much of it through my work with Jay and the other students. It made my decision to pursue a Ph.D. easy because I had been doing much of the required work on top of my undergraduate classes for the past three years.”