Robbyn K. Anand
Robbyn K. Anand joined the chemistry faculty at Iowa State University in August 2015 as an Assistant Professor. She earned her Ph.D. in 2010 from the University of Texas at Austin under the guidance of Prof. Richard M. Crooks with the support of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She developed microfluidic devices employing bipolar electrodes for electrokinetic focusing of charged species and membrane-free seawater desalination. Then, as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, she worked with Prof. Daniel T. Chiu at the University of Washington on the capture and analysis of circulating tumor cells. She pioneered a technique for dielectrophoretic manipulation of biological cells using extended electric field gradients. At Iowa State, Prof. Anand has led the development of a technology for the selective isolation and analysis of single cells with the aim of obtaining information that can improve outcomes in cancer therapy. Her research group has also advanced methodologies for separations in complex media (e.g., blood plasma) and for previously inaccessible target compounds. During this time, Prof. Anand founded the Midwest Women Chemists Retreat and Retreat for Diversity in Chemistry.
Selected honors and awards: National Science Foundation, CAREER Award (2019), Cottrell Scholars Award (2019), Top 40 Under 40 Power List, The Analytical Scientist (2018), Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh Starter Grant (2018), Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, Postdoctoral Training Grant (2014-2015), National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (2007-2010).
A few words from Robbyn K. Anand, founder of the Women Chemists Retreat and Retreat for Diversity in Chemistry:
I organized the first Women Chemists Retreat at a critical juncture in my life. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle, I was struggling with the transition back to work after giving birth to my daughter. My graduate advisor and mentor, Prof. Richard M. Crooks (University of Texas at Austin) not only put me in touch with some key contacts, but he also suggested that I get together a group of women at different career stages for a retreat...to discuss the challenges women face in science and in seeking career-life balance. In the process of networking, I happened to share the idea with Nick Milanovich, who was then the president of the Puget Sound Local Section of the American Chemical Society. With the help of Nick and the Local Section Executive Committee, I was able to successfully apply for an ACS Innovative Project Grant. With this funding in hand, I assembled a team of lab mates, and started further fundraising and planning.
The event took nearly a year to plan, it included all of the aspects of professional training that I felt had made a difference in my career as well as the part I wanted most for myself - a candid panel discussion, in a relaxed setting with successful women chemists. What I wanted was to understand what made each woman happy in her job, what challenges in terms of work culture she faced, and what strategies had led to her success. Note, this is not a typical career panel!
The outcome was truly astounding. When I arrived, I realized that there was no way on Earth I could relate to or mentor the diverse group of attendees. But, what I learned is that I didn't have to. We had brought in an equally diverse group of mentors and speakers. Everyone contributed. The Retreat was incredibly engaging.
We've now hosted three Retreats in the Northwest, and two in the Midwest region. I could not be more excited to work with this Midwest group. I've learned from this experience that mentorship can mean making connections for others, just as my advisor did for me. If there is one message I'd like to share with this year's attendees, it is that you have the power to change your environment. Just as with the way this Retreat began, if you get a start, others will join in and support you.
After organizing this event five times in total, I have come to understand that the effort to advance women in STEM needs to be in itself inclusive, increasing awareness among and mobilizing the whole scientific community. There are several specific instances that have contributed to this viewpoint including comments from other scientists indicating a lack of understanding about the challenges faced by women in STEM, an expressed desire from male students to be more involved, and there being a significant proportion of our attendees and speakers who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. These interactions have compelled me to rethink my approach, making it more inclusive, and to expand my role as an advocate.
A simple step towards increasing the inclusivity of the retreat has been to change the name of the retreat to “Midwest Retreat for Diversity in Chemistry”. While we have always clearly indicated that all are welcome to attend, this name is more open. Additionally, to encourage more diverse attendance and program content, the planning team is building multiple self-selected tracks into the retreat. For example, we have an afternoon of concurrent breakout sessions that address balance, climate, entrepreneurship, rights, etc. from which the attendees can choose. Moving forward, I envision incorporating this choice-based approach into the entire program.