Campus & Community

Chemistry Department creates Fieser Fellowship

4 min read

Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) has announced the creation of the Mary Fieser Postdoctoral Fellowships Program to promote the recruitment, development, and mentorship of women and underrepresented groups in areas across the chemical sciences.

Sponsored by CCB and the Provost’s Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and led by senior vice provost and Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies Evelynn M. Hammonds, the program will award up to 12 fellowships beginning in the spring of 2008. The fellows, selected by a committee of CCB faculty members, will receive support for an initial period of one year with the potential for renewal of up to one year. The overarching goal is to increase the number of scholars who will contribute to academic diversity and excellence at Harvard and to higher education as a whole.

“By targeting scholars in the transitional period between graduate studies and faculty or professional employment, we believe that we have the opportunity to create a highly impactive program,” said Andrew Myers, professor of chemistry and chemical biology and chair of CCB. “The fellowships have the potential to immediately and dramatically foster diversity in our community and are anticipated to have profound beneficial effects upon our graduate program as well as our faculty.”

The fellowships honor the late Mary Fieser, a highly influential author in chemistry and a research associate in CCB for more than 60 years. Noted for her research on the chemistry of steroids and for the landmark 16-volume reference series “Reagents of Organic Synthesis” created with her husband, the late Louis Fieser, Mary earned her A.B. at Bryn Mawr College and received a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Radcliffe College in the 1930s, one of only three women pursuing graduate studies in chemistry at the time. Fieser later joined the laboratory of her husband, former Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry in CCB, to conduct independent research. Long after Louis’ death in 1977, she continued the “Reagents” series and remained a vibrant member of the Harvard chemistry community until her own death in 1997, at age 87. Fieser bequeathed much of her estate to CCB, which has served many purposes, including sponsorship of the present program, with a majority contribution from the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity.

“Mary Fieser’s dedication to mentorship inspired generations of students at Harvard,” says Liza Cariaga-Lo, assistant provost for faculty development and diversity, who helped to spearhead the CCB-based initiative. “The fellows program will institutionalize such a tradition and help to promote a culture of diversity, especially during a time when so many talented scientists are leaving the academy.”

In November, a study conducted by University of Oklahoma chemistry professor Donna Nelson suggested that although an increasing percentage of researchers from underrepresented minority groups are receiving Ph.D.s in science-related disciplines, the increases are not leading to improved numbers on the faculties of the top U.S. universities. Further, the study found that the academic path from undergraduate degrees to tenured faculty members loses underrepresented minorities at each step.

“The establishment of the fellowship program by CCB is a critical step towards bolstering the University’s broader efforts to reach out to and foster the world’s best scholars,” said Steven E. Hyman, provost of Harvard University and professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. “Creating a climate and support structure where talented women and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups in the sciences may thrive is not only good for Harvard but it is the right thing to do.”

The initiative by CCB coincides with the efforts of the Harvard University Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, first established in 2005 to help the University realize its aspiration to find, develop, and retain the world’s best scholars by serving as a resource to individual Schools and providing the needed central coordination and oversight across the University.