Department of Chemistry Profile

Professor Fred Greenaway talks about Clark's undergraduate program in chemistry.

Why do you like teaching at Clark?

Dr. Greenaway: Obviously, the answer is the students. We have a lot of pretty bright students and a lot of very dedicated students. I hadn't taught for about 10 years—I was in the academic administration—and when I came back I was amazed at how much work students were doing in the courses, which is wonderful! So they're bright, they're very good.

I teach mainly advanced courses in chemistry these days, and they have maybe 10, maybe 20 students in them. They all have labs associated with them so I get to know the students really, really well. So I do get to know them and I see how much they learn. It's amazing, I don't think they appreciate how much they learn in one year because they're too close to it. Hopefully a couple years later they'll realize that they've just learned an enormous amount, because I'm teaching pretty complicated courses. It's not easy and there aren't necessarily always textbooks that lay out everything like the science students typically like. So I'm very impressed. It's a lot of fun. Just seeing the students develop is the main thrill you get out of this.

How many undergraduate students typically major in chemistry?

Dr. Greenaway: We typically have about 10 chemistry majors a year, and maybe twice as many biochemistry majors a year.

I know the chemistry department offers a Ph.D. in chemistry. In addition to the option to take advantage of the fifth-year program leading to a master's degree, what do you consider the strengths of the chemistry department, for undergrads specifically?

Dr. Greenaway: First of all, I think we offer a pretty high quality program. We are American Chemical Society accredited, and that means we have to meet certain standards and we do that easily. We have a research-intensive faculty, and that means that they are very much involved in up-to-date science. That gives students an advantage because they can get actively involved in research. Another advantage is having graduate students. That doesn't affect the students in the classes so much, but it really affects them once they start to do research. It's sort of like having an older brother or sister there to mentor your along, and that makes a big difference. So those are the main advantages.

One thing we really do encourage in this department--certainly it is a strength in this department--is research. We really like our students to get involved in research and since we have an active research faculty and offer a PhD program, all the faculty members are doing research. They love to get undergraduates involved as well as graduate students.

How soon would you recommend that undergraduates get involved in research?

Dr. Greenaway: My recommendation would be to start research as early as you can, at the beginning of your junior year so you get two full years of research- it helps you a lot. Even if you learn that research is one thing you do not want to do with your life, it's useful because you're applying your knowledge, thinking creatively, solving problems and you're socializing with people that enable you to learn science so much more easily.

Also, it helps you get a really good job, because if nothing else you know one professor really, really well and he or she can write you a wonderful letter of recommendation. We do place our students in very good jobs or graduate programs. That is one thing that distinguishes us from other liberal arts colleges, many of which do research but not so intensively. Because we have this research orientation, we also have pretty good instrumentation--a lot of equipment that smaller schools wouldn't necessarily have.

Are students leaving Clark with a B.A. in chemistry able to qualify for jobs in industry?

Dr. Greenaway: The vast majority of our students do go on to do a master's, or a Ph.D. or M.D. But quite a lot of students have placed directly into industry. There are a lot of biotech companies wanting well-trained analytical chemists, which covers biochemistry, too. Several of my students have gone on to get really good jobs, with starting salaries at $50,000 just for a bachelor's degree, which is really good.

What is it about studying the physical world that you find compelling from a chemist's perspective?

Dr. Greenaway: In contrast to many who like chemistry because they like making new molecules and carrying out reactions, I was always more interested in the structure of chemical compounds, from the level of bonding theories to the geometry of molecules.

Most of my career has been spent investigating the structure of chemical compounds, originally rather simple organic molecules, then metal-drug compounds, and, currently, the structure of metalloenzymes. I've been interested both in techniques for studying structure, especially various types of spectroscopy, and also in how structure relates to biochemical function.

Increasingly I'm finding that some parts of biology, which is a subject I never took any formal classes in, are very interesting from a chemist's perspective. Fortunately these days scientists collaborate with other scientists from a range of disciplines. You start to realize that there are many fascinating questions in all areas of science, and can usually work in areas beyond your own necessarily rather narrow interests. For example, for some time I have been quite interested in environmental chemistry and enjoy teaching Environmental Chemistry even though I don't do research in that area.