Editorial in Chem of Materials: Resilient Women and the Resiliency of Science

24 August, 2021

In these challenging times, we recall the famous words of Helen Keller: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”(1) Our work, personal lives, and everything we define as “normal life” were put to the test over the past 2 years. From the perspective of an academic researcher, laboratories were shut down, group meetings were suspended, and even the mere pleasure of having a casual scientific discussion was simply taken away. For many of us, “going to work” does not correspond to just having a job where you get paid each month. It is a way of life. We are fueled by scientific discovery, having interesting and sometimes philosophical conversations with colleagues, having our papers reviewed and accepted, acknowledging that sometimes our best papers get rejected, fighting hard for our work and our rights, and, without a single doubt, enjoying the satisfaction of shining through it all! Now, as vaccines are becoming available and we introduce more in-person interactions into our lives, many are reflecting on our collective and individual experiences. Resiliency is commonly cited and is even the theme of the fall 2021 Conference of the American Chemical Society.

Women are resilient, as historically we had to overcome many hurdles and sometimes the same hurdle more than once! As Margret Thatcher put it, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”(1) The Baroness Thatcher served as the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and was dubbed as the “Iron Lady” for her resilience in politics. Interestingly, she studied chemistry and even worked as a research chemist early in her career. This combination of chemistry and politics manifested itself in another world leader: Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and a Ph.D. holder in quantum chemistry. Chancellor Merkel once said “I might bend, but I will never break. It’s in my nature as a strong woman.”(1) Resilience is not defined as holding strongly to one’s position or opinion but rather the ability to adapt to new circumstances without compromising one’s core beliefs and identity. Let us consider a chemical analogy. A resilient individual would be like a polymer that is not too brittle. One that is not easily broken, while, at the same time, is not too soft so to be easily reshaped and changed. Such a quality allows one to be true to oneself while evolving to meet new or emerging requirements. Read more...