Prof. Madeleine Joullié’s Remarks for the Inaugural Women in Chemistry Newsletter


Congratulations to the Women in Chemistry group for inaugurating a Women in Chemistry newsletter that will be a forum for women’s accomplishments and ideas.

I am honored to have been asked to write a few words, and while I am not sure they would be “of wisdom”, they will reflect my own ideas and what I think is important to keep in mind as you walk through the challenges of our chosen profession.

First of all, I love chemistry. I would choose chemistry again if I could start over, although maybe not the same area. Chemistry is constantly evolving, and new possibilities and adventures are always arising, given the constant developments in the science. The possibility of discovering new interests is what makes the field so attractive, and this is what I have enjoyed most.

This possibility brings me to a point often misunderstood: the difference between optimization and innovation. We do optimization constantly because we need to show that we are working hard and producing results. Innovation is much harder; chemistry is an old science and many very creative people have already produced innovative results in many areas. Innovation is not just about improving a reaction, a catalyst, or even a new strategy for synthesizing a molecule that has already been made. To me, it is introducing an idea that did not exist previously. This is much more difficult; it requires a lot of thinking and risk-taking, including running the risk of having nothing to show from your work (which in today’s fund-depleted society is not allowed). Yet, this is how science develops, and, if we only do things that improve what is already known, we will never have true innovation. So, research should be planned accordingly.

I have spent my entire life surrounded by men, so I am much more aware of what this newsletter represents than most of you. As the only woman present for many years, I have been told that I did not know what I was saying and that I was stupid, ignorant, etc. While such comments are no longer allowed, they never bothered me. Mean-spirited comments that are only meant to hurt should be dismissed immediately and never remembered. On the other hand, constructive criticism is very important and should not be taken personally.

Men are still the role models in some areas, and I think there is a tendency in these areas for women to act like men. While men are good sources of knowledge, not all have the best social skills, and bad behavior can be contagious, especially when one is exposed to it daily. The real purpose of diversity is to introduce different reactions to problems, and I believe that women often have better feelings and intuition than men. So, don’t be afraid to speak up when you don’t agree; your opinion does count, and this is why, after so many years, we finally have a group that represents women’s concerns.

Wishing you a bright future and much success in your chosen profession.

Professor Madeleine M. Joullié