Dr. Suzanne Young, Tufts University
What was your first job?
I was a very lucky girl. I never had to work. I spent my summers reading extensively and traveling with family when I was in high school. During university years I wanted work experiences in the summer time. My first job was in a QC (quality control) lab in Borden Chemicals but within weeks I was promoted to the R&D (Research and Development) laboratory because I mastered everything very quickly and then overflowed with constant ideas; so they pulled me out of doing tests and let me fly with my ideas.

I tutored other students all through high school in math and all sciences. That actually was for pay, but really I did it because I wanted to. Also, during university years I had advanced placed in 7 subjects and so became a "supplemental instructor" teaching the recitation sessions and laboratories for many science courses right from the start.
What got you interested in science?
I was born. My entire life I have had a deep thirst to understand more. I was a terrible child to rear. I took apart absolutely everything in the household including refrigerators, ovens, stereo systems, TV, etc....nothing was safe from me with a screwdriver when I was a child. I found the workbench and tool box before I was 5 and that was it...nothing safe ever since. My mother had to negotiate with me to bring home things for me to take apart to get me to leave the stuff in our own home alone. I HAD to know how it all worked. And I started putting things back together and making them work too.

When I was 7, I tried tracking spiders by giving them all dots of different color on their backs but in my notebook full matching dots where I was going to write down where I found the colored spiders each day, I simply concluded on day 2 of the experiment that paint kills spiders as they were all little crumpled balls in the backyard by then!
Who has been a mentor for you and how was that helpful?
The ones who could accept me as I was and not be distressed when I'd show up a month into the year having finished the course book and asking for more. The ones who would just adjust and let me work at my pace and just keep feeding my thirst and didn't get all fussy about rules and staying with the rest of a class. I was really lucky though. By the time I was part was through high school, there were only 3 in my classes so it was naturally very personally tailored programs. I always just flew ahead and taught myself from books. No one ever had to make this interesting or anything.

My really good memories are a 5th grade teacher, Mr. McCarthy, who let me read philosophy and discuss Socrates and Plato with him instead of doing the boring history lessons. And in university, the head of the math department was someone I truly liked and admired, not for her teaching me, but for her being the personification of a balanced life. Dr. Williamson was an artist and a mathematician and she drove a fabulous red sports car and she allowed herself to express and enjoy all sides. All my life I have tried to maintain the same. To me she was a mentor in how to just live life in pursuit of beauty as well as a quest to further knowledge.

I do that. I write poetry, paint, dance, play cello and hike in the splendor of NH every week in addition to do research for NASA and other things. I try hard try to show my own analytical and physical chemistry students where the lines blur and how analytical chemistry relates to much more than just chemistry. I try to stretch their minds every day to well beyond chemistry and to show them it's fun.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I don't think the scientist can be squeezed out of me. Career is irrelevant. It's a mindset. It's a way of approaching life. I guess many who know me best would say the answer to your question is a writer.