Graduate Students Strengthen ‘Stay Safe’ Mentality

Awards Cap Annual Safety Awareness Week Events

By Roger AndersonMarch 7, 2019

Third-year graduate student Nic Watkins was hoping his message on personal protective equipment might stick. But to be certain, he made sure that Northwestern students who stopped by a safety-focused informational popup booth on the Evanston campus on February 21 left with stickers and information about when lab coats and gloves should — and should not — be worn.

Watkins was joined on the second floor of the Arthur & Gladys Pancoe NSUHS Life Sciences Pavilion by Research Student Safety Initiative (RSSI) board members Darren Hsu and Agnes Thorarinsdottir, as the three presented passersby with information to better sustain Northwestern’s culture of research safety. The booth — along with a launch event, panel discussions, and workshops — highlighted the RSSI’s second annual Safety Awareness Week held February 18-22.

Jay Walsh, vice president for research, and Michael Blayney, Research Safety executive director, opened the week during an event that featured presentations from Craig Merlic, executive director of the University of California Center for Lab Safety, and BioRAFT representative Bill Kallinich. Blayney also presented Di Wang, RSSI president, and Thorarinsdottir, RSSI vice president, with a distinguished award for their efforts in helping to establish the student-led research initiative at the University in 2017. Both are fourth-year graduate students in chemistry.

“The work done by RSSI over the past two years, especially that of Di and Agnes, inspired us to create this annual award to recognize those at Northwestern who have made significant and lasting contributions to improving laboratory safety,” said Blayney. “I would personally like to thank Di and Agnes for their commitment in establishing an enduring opportunity for student safety leadership.”

Inspired by a trip to the Lab Safety Academy at Dow in the fall of 2017, RSSI is comprised of a dedicated group of graduate students who continue to drive lasting change in laboratory safety at Northwestern.

“We surely feel a lot support and appreciation for our efforts,” said Wang. “More STEM researchers are becoming aware of our group and its activities as we see attendance numbers grow at every event we host.”

The group estimated that the number of people who stopped by the popup booth doubled this year.

Stephanie Ribet, a first-year graduate student at the Northwestern University Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center (NUANCE) said she found time most mornings to stop by the booth in Pancoe. Ribet researches the synthesis of composite materials and the characterization of their properties in Vinayak Dravid’s lab.

“We hope these RSSI activities increase safety awareness among researchers across all laboratories on campus,” said Wang. “One thing in particular we would love for people to learn is how relevant safety is to everyone, not just the safety designates of a lab. Anyone working in research should feel empowered to learn about safety and take that knowledge back to the lab.”

Wang to Present at ACS Meeting

Wang, a fourth-year graduate student in chemistry, will be presenting “Peer to a mentor: Engaging graduate students in laboratory safety at Northwestern” on April 2 at this year’s American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring National Meeting Presidential Symposium in Orlando.

She was invited to present in support of an ACS initiative on collaborations and safety, specifically “Bridging the (Safety) Gap between Academia & Industry.” She was asked to share her experiences with RSSI in improving student awareness of safety at Northwestern.

Gosavi, Zaccard Win McBride Awards

Abha Gosavi, a fifth-year doctoral student researching nanotechnology and fabrication techniques, will receive Northwestern’s McBride Student Award.

Named for Dwight A. McBride, former dean of The Graduate School, and associate provost for graduate education, the Dwight A. McBride Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Trainee Awards recognize one TGS student and one postdoctoral trainee who go above and beyond in any or all of the areas of diversity, service, and engagement: the strategic priorities McBride worked to foster in the graduate community at Northwestern. These awards recognize those who work to create an environment that is welcome to all. Physiology fellow Colleen Zaccard will receive the McBride Postdoctoral Trainee Award. The pair will be honored at The Graduate School's Spring Recognition Reception on Wednesday, April 10.

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