#BlackinChem Feature: Kayla Storme

Happy #BlackinChem Week! For #BlackinOrganic day we would like to feature one of our own awesome chemists here at MIT. 

Meet Kayla Storme, a second year Organic/PPSM student who is co-advised between Prof. Tim Swager in Chemistry and Prof. Zach Smith in Chemical Engineering. Kayla works to synthesize and characterize novel microporous polymers for gas separations. 

Her favorite thing about being a scientist is being able to use her creativity to expand knowledge and promote learning in her community as well as learn so many new and exciting things from her peers. Kayla’s favorite technique is Prep-Gel Permeation Chromatography (Prep-GPC) or gas permeation system. 

During quarantine, Kayla has been having the most fun riding her motorcycle! 

You can follow Kayla at @KaylaStorme on Twitter and CADI at @MIT_CADI18

CADI Support and Resources for Allies in Response to Minneapolis Events

The members of CADI represent a diverse coalition of individuals that are committed to making the Chemistry Department a more inclusive space. We recognize that our identities as scientists cannot be uncoupled from our other identities. We aim to support our chemistry community and the Black & Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities of heavily impacted by systemic racism and injustice. Given the recent events of police brutality that have captured national attention, with the recognition that these events occur far more often than reported in the national media, we as CADI want to provide resources to individuals that identify as allies to the BIPOC community.

Below we share a non-exhaustive list of resources that can help to educate and enable our community to begin to do the work to enact change. As part of our mission, CADI seeks to facilitate the difficult conversations necessary to create a more inclusive and just department. We, like you, are learning and growing in our understanding to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our ever-changing society. We encourage you to engage with the following resources and to reach out to the CADI Board at cadi_mit_board@mit.edu to continue the conversations.  




Films and TV series to watch:

  • 13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
  • American Son (Kenny Leon) — Netflix
  • Dear White People (Justin Simien) — Netflix
  • I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin doc) — Available to rent or on Kanopy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) — Hulu
  • King In The Wilderness — HBO
  • See You Yesterday (Stefon Bristol) — Netflix
  • The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) — Hulu with Cinemax
  • When They See Us (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix

Organizations to follow:


For a more extensive list of anti-racism resources please visit the other resources on this website and the following collection

Meet CADI: Joseph Brown

Joseph Brown (he/him/his) is a chemical biology postdoc in the Pentelute Lab and a member of the CADI board. He grew up in Pilot Mountain, NC and did his undergrad at NC State University. Joe graduated with his PhD from Cornell University and joined the Pentelute Lab in 2019. Joe’s research focuses on expanding beyond the twenty canonical amino acids to make potent protein and peptidomimetic therapeutics.

We sat down with Joe over Zoom this week and asked him a few questions about his choice to postdoc at MIT, his favorite parts of Cambridge, and why CADI is important to him.

Why did you want to get a graduate degree?

I wanted to get a PhD because I wanted career in research and development. Of the exposure I had as an undergrad, R&D stood out because it meant working with new ideas and new technologies.

Plus, a PhD is like a certificate that says I don’t give up easily, and I can do research.

Why did you choose biomolecular engineering? Why postdoc in the Pentelute lab, in particular?

I wanted to choose a field that would be useful for the world, use my skills, and allow me to have a financially stable life. Biomolecular engineering needs chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, all of the cool stuff.

Within biomolecular engineering, the Pentelute lab specializes in peptide chemistry. In my PhD I worked on sequence-defined polymers, and specifically oligothioetheramides, but they’re not well known, and I always had to explain them to everyone. Peptides and amides are ubiquitous, and you can do so much with them. I wanted to work with a well-known system with a well-known PI like Brad.

Why did you decide to come to MIT for your postdoc?

MIT has actually been a dream since I was a kid. Postdoc-ing here is hands-down an excellent opportunity that I am very grateful and lucky to have. Everyone’s got this attitude like, “we have to do this.” There’s an internal pressure to do really big things, which is a good thing. It’s got this edge of creativity in a really empowering environment.

What’s on your MIT bucket list? What’s your favorite item you’ve checked off so far?

A couple of things are still on my list: Run a bridge loop around the Charles river, Take a picture with Tim the Beaver (he was going to be at visit weekend, but maybe next year…), and have Dim Sum in Chinatown.

My favorite thing so far was joining an a cappella group, The Pow! Arrangers, a semi-professional group, in the Boston Area. It’s just a great community of friends, and a great outlet for me. It’s also nice to have that space from MIT and an identity separate from research. It reminds to me to be a human, and not work myself to death.

What’s been your biggest challenge since coming to MIT?

Imposter Syndrome. I often think it’s really crazy that I’ve come from a very small rural town of just <2000 people and now I am here at one of the best universities in the world.

I had this a little bit during my PhD at Cornell, but MIT is somehow even more intimidating.

When the imposter syndrome rears up, I feel it is really important to talk to your friends and family, and get some perspective to remind yourself the things you’ve done that brought you to this point. When you get down to it, being good at research is just putting in the time and getting the positive attitude.

Also, shout-out to Science Blender, the podcast I co-founded at Cornell, for a wonderful imposter syndrome episode. We had people from the dean of engineering all the way down to a graduate student talking about their imposter syndrome. It doesn’t go away on its own, , no matter what career stage you’re at.

What part of the chemistry department are you most proud of/excited about?

Compared to other departments, there are a lot of large lab groups, and things are well organized. There’s a lot of freedom for creativity (graduate students can try thing out and have some space to explore) It’s a fragile part of research that isn’t always encouraged, but it’s here at MIT in a lot of labs.

How did you find out about CADI?  Why did you join CADI?

I learned about CADI largely from other Pentelute lab members. I joined because both diversity and inclusion are important. Aside from it being the right thing to do, diversity of perspectives and people are critical for problem solving, and we need every advantage with the challenging problems we face! And inclusion is similar; all of us can think of a time we felt excluded unfairly. It is easy for people to be excluded without any conversation, given the status quo. So, we need to actively consider and bring awareness to inclusivity, in order to bring out the best in our society and in science. Exclusion isn’t helpful when we’re trying to solve these grand challenges.

Why is CADI important to you? How has it impacted your life?

CADI is important to me because it is such a genuine community of people that are serious about supporting each other and improving the department.

As a postdoc, you don’t really fit in any one place in a university. CADI was one of the organizations that made me feel really welcome. I just really appreciated the community and the directness from the board. I was there to help, and everyone on the board just put me straight to work. It really made me feel welcome.

What are you doing to stay sane in quarantine?

For a while I was writing a fellowship, but that’s thankfully finished. Now I’m working on digital consolidation. I have so many hard drives, flash drives, and files I have saved that I said I would look at eventually, and I finally have the time. I haven’t gotten there yet, but honestly the video games will also start soon.

How are you keeping in touch with family and friends?

Video and phone calls are so important and wonderful. I have seven nephews and nieces and I am just trying to keep track of what they are doing! I’ve got to keep up my Uncle of the Year streak.

Have questions/want more CADI?

Follow CADI on Twitter!

Please email the CADI board with any questions!

Meet CADI: Francesca Vaccaro

Francesca Vaccaro (she/her/hers) is a 3rd year chemical biology graduate student and the co-president of CADI. She grew up in Yorba Linda, California and came to MIT in 2017 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University, New Orleans. Francesca’s research in Professor Cathy Drennan’s group focuses on understanding the structural and molecular basis of how proteins transport, deliver, and repair metal containing cofactors to ensure the correct reactivity of various metalloenzymes. 

We sat down with Francesca over Zoom this week and asked her a few questions about her choice to come to graduate school, her experience in the chemistry department, and why CADI has been so important to her.

Why did you want to get a graduate degree?

I grew up always really liking science. When I went to college, I was premed because the only people I saw that did science were doctors. But I had a really good advisor in undergrad, who realized I had the potential for a research career before I even really knew what research was.

After undergrad, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to do graduate school, or if it was just what everyone was telling me to do, so I took a year away from science to teach kindergarten. After only a month of teaching, I missed science so much that I took the chemistry GRE and applied to grad school. I knew I had to get a PhD to do what I really wanted to do.

Why did you choose bioinorganic chemistry? The Drennan lab in particular?

My undergrad research was in computational studies (making a set of compounds to mimic DNA bases and seeing how subtle changes in structure affect crystal packing and non-covalent interactions). Every time I talked to a professor, the structural work was always the most interesting to me – I have always had an interest in what these things look like on a molecular level, that’s how I comprehend things.

I clicked with Cathy Drennan because we both really just want to see what everything looks like. Having a female PI is really important to me, because she shows me what it means to be a woman in academia and how to navigate the academic space. Ultimately joining the Drennan was a gut feeling thing, from conversations with her and people in the lab. It was a huge leap of faith, and it ended up working out really well.

Why did you decide to come to MIT?

The main draw was that I could see myself working for the most people here. A lot of the research was really cool and I felt excited about it, and there were a lot of projects and groups to pick from. I wanted to move to the east coast, and MIT definitely felt like a safe option.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Cambridge?

I truly love the Charles river esplanade. I love that I can be close to water on-campus (I grew up close to the beach, and I’ve always lived by water). Being able to run along the river is really nice (especially during the work-at-home period, the river loops are anywhere from 2 to 20 miles!).

What’s been your biggest challenge since coming to MIT?

My biggest challenge has been feeling imposter syndrome and not always feeling like whatever I’m doing is enough to be here. But I’m aware of it – I even have a poster in my room that says “you are not an imposter, you are for real.”

The biggest help here has been the community. Community makes you brave enough to do really hard things. Having moments of vulnerability about how difficult grad school can be has been really helpful. It’s been really important to have people around who can remind me that I’m not alone. That’s the PhD – you find the people who make it better and hold on for dear life.

What part of the chemistry department are you most proud of?

I want to highlight the people that have been doing really hard work to make this a better and more inclusive place for a really long time, especially all of the people who did hard work before CADI even existed.

I’m always really excited to see how people being themselves and living their identities are expanding the idea of what a chemist is. If MIT chemistry wants to be the best, that includes being the best at supporting their students and community. I think they’re making progress which is exciting.

How did you find out about CADI?  Why did you join CADI?

I went to Jesús’ first introductory meeting and immediately joined the board (and recruited Tony and Dio to join with me).

I consider myself a very logistical, behind the scenes person, so I think Jesús and I complement each other very well as copresidents (he has the grand ideas and networking).

Why is CADI important to you? How has it impacted your life?

CADI has impacted my life in forming community here and helping form connections with people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s really exciting to feel like parts of my identity that aren’t always celebrated are actually acknowledged in CADI. CADI is important because it gives people a place to celebrate those identities and exist in them. You don’t have to put your identities on the backburner to be a chemistry student – you can be all of you in CADI.

What are you doing to stay sane in quarantine?

Am I sane? I haven’t really gone outside much, but I can see it through the window, at least. I think my extensive collection of plants is keeping me sane, because they just keep growing and they give me a nice set of defined tasks every day. And I’ve been connecting with people, old friends and the friends I’ve made here.

Have questions/want more CADI?

Follow CADI on Twitter!

Please email the CADI board with any questions!

Meet CADI: Maria Castellanos Morales

Maria Castellanos Morales (she/her/hers) is a 2nd year theoretical chemistry graduate student and a member of the CADI board. She grew up in Cali, Colombia and came to MIT in 2018 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Icesi University. Maria’s research in Professor Adam Willard’s group focuses on study the dynamics of dye molecules in exciton molecular circuits with applications in quantum computing.

We sat down with Maria over Zoom this week and asked her a few questions about her choice to do theoretical chemistry, her experience in the chemistry department, and why CADI has been so important to her.

Why did you want to get a graduate degree?

I wanted to go to graduate school since I started undergrad and discovered what a PhD was. I thought it was cool that I could do my own research and make important discoveries for humankind. It’s really the next step if I want to do impactful science.

Why did you choose theoretical chemistry? Why the Willard Lab in particular?

When I was in undergrad, I enjoyed physics and math, and I really liked my first quantum chemistry class. Theory is the field that mixes everything I like (plus computers, which I love). And you can do a lot of important and impactful stuff with theoretical chemistry.

I was convinced to join the Willard group after talking to Adam during my first semester. Adam told me about his new research project in quantum computers, which is something I’ve wanted to do since undergrad. I joined the group because of this project, but also because he’s a really cool person and a really good PI. Just by talking to the other students, I could tell the group dynamics were really great.

Why did you decide to come to MIT, in particular?

I decided to apply to MIT pretty last-minute, since I wasn’t sure of my possibilities of being accepted, coming from an undergrad in a different country. But when I got accepted, I didn’t think twice about coming here. MIT has a lot of opportunities, and it opens a lot of doors. Plus, the chemistry department has really good research groups, and the science was definitely cool.

What’s your favorite thing about MIT? What are you still looking forward to doing here?

I’m part of an MIT association of Colombians, where we do a lot of fun events with members of the Colombian community in Boston. That’s a huge part of what I like about MIT: that even away from my country, I have the opportunity of having a part of my culture here. I also love the research I’m doing here at MIT, of course.

I’m excited for summer in general, and I’m planning to go to the beach more often this summer. And there are a lot of restaurants I want to go to (especially going out for Italian food in the North End).

What’s been your biggest challenge since coming to MIT?

Academically the first semester was initially really hard for me, especially with the language barrier. It was challenging to adapt, and there were definitely gaps in my knowledge from undergrad. It felt like I was learning everything from scratch. But the other students in theory were actually really helpful. It didn’t feel like anyone was competitive or selfish at all, we were all working together (or suffering together). It was actually a good bonding experience in a way.

What part of the chemistry department are you most proud of?

I feel like there are a lot of people who really try to support us in the chemistry department. The chemical education office does a lot of wellness activities and really pays attention to the graduate student wellbeing. They actually know us all by name and check in with us, and they make sure funding and the stipend are never a source of stress. And we have the opportunity to have a lot of student groups – not every department has a CADI. I like that people in the department are trying to make it better for everyone.

How did you find out about CADI?  Why did you join CADI?

I initially found out about CADI during the orientation. In my first year I tried to go to as many events as possible, and in my second year (when I had more time) I joined the board.

As an international student, I think it’s really important to promote diversity and create a safe space for everyone to be a part of.

Why is CADI important to you? How has it impacted your life?

I think it’s really important for the department that there’s a student group making sure that everyone is feeling accepted.

It can be hard to be an international student when no one is talking about diversity, as you feel like you stand out. CADI is important because it makes people feel like the department really cares about diversity. It’s been impactful just knowing it exists, and the events are really fun. I feel like I’m working towards a better department.

What are you doing to stay sane in quarantine?

Because my work doesn’t really require a lab, I’m basically doing the same as always from home.

But I’m trying to keep a work schedule and build more structure into my day. Going outside for runs is nice though, because I feel a bit locked inside otherwise.

How are you keeping in touch with family and friends?

I’m trying to talk to my parents every day (I want to know how they’re doing in Colombia), and I’m still seeing my boyfriend and my roommate. The weekly CADI meetings have also been a great way to stay in contact with a lot of friends.

Have questions/want more CADI?

Follow CADI on Twitter!

Please email the CADI board with any questions!