Name: Emily L. Atieh
Major(s) and Minor: Major in Chemistry, Minor in Religion
Year: Graduated in 2013
Why did you choose chemistry as your major?
I’ve always loved all sciences, from microbiology to astrophysics. But all science stems from a good understanding of chemistry. In high school, I really enjoyed learning about cells, but I was never satisfied with the explanations in the book – everything was explained in a macroscopic sense. I wanted to know more about the underlying “why,” and it was only through chemistry that I could find those reasons. Still, every time I read a science article or even just witness some phenomenon in every-day life, I try to stop and think about what is going on at the molecular level.
What did you like most about it?
The chemistry major was well-rounded enough that I really got to broaden my skills. Through my chemistry courses, I learned more about mathematics than I did in my math courses. I learned to be a better writer from my lab reports, a better problem-solver from my failed lab experiments, and a critical thinker from the journal articles I read. It was a challenging major, no doubt, but it made me a better person for it and showed me what I was capable of when I really had no idea.
What is your current position, what do you do, and what do you enjoy most about it?
Currently, I am a third-year graduate student here at CCB. I work in Professor York’s lab, as the first (and currently only) chemistry education researcher. I am interested in how to help General Chemistry students succeed. I run the Teaching Internship Program in General Chemistry, which offers a variety of supplemental instruction to our students. Essentially, I teach them how to be better teachers to the students. I also teach the course, Introduction to Chemistry Education, which explores the current literature in chemistry education. Many students don’t know how much research is done on education, and the overwhelming majority are pre-meds/pharmacy students – so, not teachers. But they still enjoy it and become better learners and communicators, which is important in any profession. My favorite part is after the course, when they tell me how they had no idea this field existed, and many of the pre-meds have decided to explore medical education in the future as well. Also, I just saw my first set of students graduate, which was bitter-sweet, but also really heart-warming.
What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?
In my senior year, I was accepted into the Graduate School of Education’s Master’s program for the following fall, intending to become a high school chemistry teacher. I had taught the chemistry labs (171) in my senior year, and was looking for more teaching opportunities to earn some money in the summer. The professor for the lab courses instead recommended me to Professor York, who was just starting a new project in General Chemistry. The day after my undergraduate graduation, I started working full-time with Professor York and his eLearning team as a content developer. I mostly created videos, homework/quiz assignments, and other learning materials for General Chemistry and the summer ChemPrep course.
How did you move from that first job to your current position?
The summer job with eLearning turned into much more, as I continued to work there during my Master’s degree. After about a year in the program, I started the Teaching Internship in General Chemistry and I realized I didn’t want to teach high school anymore, I wanted to work in higher education. I completed my master’s degree in 2015, and joined Professor York’s lab as a Ph.D. student right after.
Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?
I would say two courses really contributed to my success, molecular biology/biochemistry and physical chemistry. MBB was tough, but it gave me a greater appreciation for the complexity of life. It is amazing all of the reactions that are constantly occurring, just for you to do something as simple as replicate skin cells after you get a scratch. Physical chemistry was the only course I was dreading as a chemistry major, and it was wonderful. I didn’t think I would be able to grasp the concepts, but I felt like I never actually understood chemistry until after that class. My religion minor provided me with a deeper knowledge of the world and greater empathy for people. Teaching the chemistry labs (via Chem-499) was the best decision I was ever talked into, and led to my love for teaching and current position.
What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?
College is a fresh start. Do all the things you didn’t think you were good at, because whether or not you were good is now irrelevant. Being “bad at math” or a “bad public speaker” is not an end state. No one knows you were bad at sports in high school, so go out there and play some soccer. Also, pick a major relevant to your field, and a minor relevant to your personal interests. Taking a history or art class is a great break from your science classes. Take every opportunity to learn about as many things as possible, even if “it’s not going to be on the test.” Make connections!! Put yourself out there – that random person you meet in class could be the one to recommend you to your first job!