Mary Hatcher-Skeers was appointed as the Sidney J. Weinberg, Jr. Chair in Natural Sciences in 2012 in recognition of her outstanding teaching and contributions to scholarship in the natural sciences. The Office of Marketing and Communications recently interviewed Hatcher-Skeers as part of our series on faculty members who hold endowed chairs.
Scripps College: Your research into DNA blends physics, chemistry, and biology. Can you talk about how these fields intersect and how it has affected your teaching?
Mary Hatcher-Skeers: I use physical chemistry methods—spectroscopy in particular—to examine DNA structure and dynamics, which is a biological problem. My research is a blending of the things I loved as a student: cell/molecular biology and quantum mechanics. My broad training (I was an undergraduate biology major) has helped me easily include biological examples into my chemistry courses. It has also made my research group attractive to students from a variety of majors, helping us all to learn from each other.
SC: You actively mentor first-generation students as well as high school students interested in STEM majors who participate in Scripps College Academy. Why has mentoring been important to you?
MHS: As the daughter of teachers and school administrators, I have long understood not only the importance of education, but also the inequalities in the system. The Scripps College Academy and First Gen @Scripps programs help me to contribute in some small way to breaking down the barriers imposed on students because of these inequalities.
SC: What personal challenges have you experienced as a woman in science? What advice do you have for young women entering STEM fields?
MHS: One of my greatest challenges was believing in my abilities. I got good grades and did well in my math and science classes, but it never occurred to me to study science. Science just wasn’t a field for girls. Even after a wonderful mentor encouraged me to major in science, I did not have the confidence many of my peers had. It took a long time for me to embrace the title “scientist.” My advice to young women is to find friends and mentors who support and believe in you. Learn to trust your abilities, and know that you are capable of studying anything that interests you.
SC: Is there a fact about yourself that is surprising, or that people don’t know about, that you’d like to share?
MHS: I enjoy baking, and I have used my “mad chemistry skills” to develop my recipe for the perfect chocolate chip cookie!
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