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Amplifying the power of women in chemistry

Graduate students are eligible for the Merck Research Award, which promotes diversity in chemistry and career advancement opportunities for female chemists

March 8, 2023

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Merck scientist working in a lab

For Dr. Rebecca Ruck, having more women in science is personal. She remembers times early in her career when she was the only woman in the room. That’s why she co-founded the Merck Research Award, given annually by the Women Chemists Committee (WCC) of the American Chemical Society, to recognize and mentor talented women scientists in their third and fourth year of graduate school with a research focus in one or more chemistry-related disciplines.

Merck/s Rebecca Ruck and Anisha Patel

Patel (left) leads the WCC Merck Research Award program, co-founded by Ruck (right) and Ann Weber a former Merck chemist (not pictured).

For Merck, it’s a chance to build relationships with promising chemists and introduce them to the work we do.

“A key to attracting talent — especially diverse talent — is to build relationships early in people’s careers so they become familiar with our science, our people and our values,” said Ruck, an associate vice president in process research and development.

For the awardees, it’s a chance to present their research at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall National Meeting. They also receive a Merck mentor to prepare for their presentation at ACS and advise them on their career journey — an opportunity equally fulfilling for the mentors.

“That level of interaction with established chemists sets the program apart,” said Anisha Patel, a director in analytical research and development, and lead of the program for Merck. “It’s also a tremendous investment in diverse recruiting.” Merck ultimately recruited three of the 2022 winners for future employment at the company.

Paying it forward for the next generation

When Ruck co-founded the award in 2015 along with Ann Weber, a former Merck chemist, she wanted to inspire the next generation of women in chemistry and build a community of scientists to support each other. Fast forward, and the WCC Merck Research Award fosters advancement for eight graduate students in chemistry annually. Last year, approximately 120 students applied.

One past honoree who’s now a Merck colleague, Beryl Li,  developed a long-term relationship with her mentor. “After I won, we would meet regularly,” said Li, a senior scientist at the South San Francisco Discovery Center.

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“My mentor was a significant factor in my decision to join Merck — and in my success at the company.”

Beryl Li

Senior scientist

Those successes are also a reminder that every step forward matters. “There is still plenty of work needed to advance women — and all underrepresented groups — in science,”  Ruck said. “But thanks to initiatives like this one, we are making important progress.”

Learn more about the WCC Merck Research Award.

Woman scientist looking at vial

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