Department of Chemistry Profile

Kelley Shortsleeves began her college career studying chemistry at UMass Amherst, and then transferred to Clark at the beginning of her sophomore year to complete her chemistry major.

How did you begin your involvement with the chemistry department here at Clark?

Kelley: I started by taking organic chemistry and environmental chemistry last year. At the end of the year I noticed that there were signs up announcing over-the-summer science fellowships. I had wanted to do something over the summer related to chemistry, so I looked at what the professors were doing for research. I went to talk to Professor Turnbull and I decided his research was the stuff I wanted to focus on the most. So we created an abstract and I submitted that and then I did some research with him. Over the summer was when I really started to get into the department and started meeting all the professors and stuff.

What were you working on?

Kelley: Professor Turnbull's research focuses on the magnetic properties of metal organic compounds and how these magnetic properties change with temperature and structure. I created one family of compounds that I'm actually writing a manuscript on now, from the summer. My research carried on through this year and I'm actually just finishing up with that right now.

Was it difficult to get involved with research?

Kelley: No, it was really easy.

Since the chemistry department offers a Ph.D. program, do you interact at all with graduate students?

Kelley: Over the summer there were two grad students in the lab. They're great resources--really friendly and really approachable. I've asked them so many questions and they've helped me a lot with my research. It's interesting because the stuff that I'm doing isn't that much different from the stuff that they're doing. It's nice to be up on that level. We're not just doing stuff for the grad students, we're doing stuff with the grad students.

Was there a difference between your experience with chemistry at UMass and Clark?

Kelley: Yes, there was a really big difference. I had a chance when I was at UMASS to get involved in a little bit of a research project they had for freshmen. We were studying arsenic and all the different forms of arsenic. It was something that one professor was doing. There were probably 50 kids who signed up for the project, and we all got to do research, but they broke us up into groups of five, so I was doing research, but not really because a graduate student was doing most of the work. We were just kind of there to watch. It was kind of disappointing. But then I came to Clark and everyone was like, 'oh, you can get involved with research right away.' After my sophomore year, I had applied and I was already doing full-blown research, and I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting to be working with a graduate student or with a professor and being almost like their assistant, but I was doing my own work, and that was really exciting.

What do you think a prospective chemistry major should know about Clark's department?

Kelley: The department is really small, which is an advantage, I think, because the professors know your name and everyone knows who you are. It's really easy to get in and make appointments with professors, get help with homework and get into research. It's just a very tight-knit community. All the chemistry majors know all the other chemistry majors and it's a really nice resource to have.

What are you hoping to do over the coming summer and during your senior year?

Kelley: This summer I'll be working at Abbott Pharmaceuticals in Worcester with a team of chemists doing drug research. It's exciting, because Abbott is one of the top pharmaceutical companies in the country, and to be doing actual research with them is going to be a great opportunity. For my senior year, I plan on continuing my research with Professor Turnbull and work towards honors in chemistry..

How is learning through doing research different from learning in the classroom?

Kelley: You learn by mistakes. You learn what works and what doesn't, in terms of experimental technique. Also, I learned a lot about the writing process that's involved in science: writing drafts for manuscripts, more of the technical jargon that goes along with that. You learn a lot more about why things are happening the way they do, because in order to understand the results, you have to know the theory behind it. I spent a lot of time in Professor Turnbull's office, sitting down with him, being like 'Why is this? Why is this?' I had to solve a lot of crystal structures. I had been shown how to do it and that was fine and I thought I understood it, but then when he set me loose to do my own, it took me a really long time to be able to do it. But now I can do it pretty much on my own and I feel like I understand the theory behind why everything works a lot better because of the hands-on research.

What are you involved in, in addition to your major?

Kelley: I'm taking some photography courses and that's pretty much my number one hobby at this point. I'm actually working on a project right now where I'm taking pictures of apparatus in the chemistry lab.

View a slideshow of photos Kelley has taken of chemistry lab equipment