When PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Ally Langley isn’t doing research, she can be found working with one of the two organizations she helps lead on campus: Females of Chemistry Uniting Scientists (FOCUS) and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) at Ohio State.
The Ohio State SACNAS chapter, of which Langley is the president, recently won the professional development award for chapter of the year at the 2019 SACNAS National Conference. Below, Langley shares how the organization is promoting diversity in STEM and creating a community of undergraduate, graduate and postdoc scholars and researchers prepared for the next steps in their careers.
Can you tell me a bit about SACNAS?
We have a few main areas that we focus on, one of them being professional development. We'll have abstract writing workshops or workshops for fellowship or scholarship applications. We also want to make sure students are doing well in their classes, so we'll have study tips during our meetings. We also have a social event once a month where we try a Latinx-owned restaurant or we'll go bowling or we'll go to salsa lessons.
Recently, we invited an organization to lead a session about self-care. We also have one coming up in February, which I'm really excited about, with Prudential. They're going to do a “Finance 101” on how to manage your student loans as well as some basics about credit. Every year, we also bring a Latinx or Native American scientist — usually from a STEM field — to campus to talk to and network with students and give a keynote.
Why do you think these opportunities and resources are important for students, particularly those who come from Chicano, Hispanic or Native American backgrounds?
Sometimes the resources are really lacking in teaching students how to apply for college or how to find scholarships or grants. Through outreach to high school students, we try to make them aware of this and give them these resources.
Often when we were undergraduates, we didn't know what graduate school was, much less how to apply or what is necessary to get in. So, we host programs about that at the university level. We'll have tips and tricks about getting into graduate school and what you can actually do with a PhD or a master's degree. Our national organization is opening doors and opportunities for underrepresented minority students who might not have been exposed to them otherwise because of some sort of implicit bias. A lot of our members have received internships — I actually did an internship at a major biotech company, Genentech — through attending the national conference.
What do you think is the most important or the most valuable thing that you've gained from being a member of SACNAS?
It's just the people involved. (With SACNAS) there's a really good community that we have. It's small, but it's growing, and it's a nice break from the lab. At the same time, a lot of people are in similar labs, so we'll talk about troubleshooting with our experiments. It's not just a good social community, but a place where you can learn about different things other labs are doing that you can bring back and that might help your research. It's just been really great to have this community of people that you feel comfortable around.
How did you find yourself at Ohio State?
I grew up in San Diego, California, and that's still my home. I will always be a California girl, but I knew I wanted something different for college, so I ended up going to St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia as a chemistry major. I loved science, and my whole family is in medicine, so I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Once medical school applications came around, though, I realized I didn't really want to pursue that route. I cared about the science and realized I wanted to go to graduate school instead, but I was starting the process late and didn’t know where to apply.
After my advisor told me about the amazing chemistry programs at Big 10 schools, I applied to and was accepted to Ohio State and traveled for a visit. Everyone I met with was so welcoming, and I met my soon-to-be advisor Tom Magliery and his whole family that day. I just really felt welcomed at Ohio state, so I decided to come here.
Do you have any advice for students who might be looking to more advanced degrees?
There should be more education about what you can do with science. For example, a PhD is a great option. It's hard. There's a lot of failure in science, but you learn to be a great problem solver and gain a lot of different skills that jobs or future employers are very interested in.
My advice would be that you should look at what else is out there and you should join an organization like SACNAS to learn more about these experiences, as well as talk to people older than you because they have likely been through similar experiences. Regardless of where you are in your education, there's always someone you can connect with to help you in the future.