Building Community in Chemistry with Dr. Nadine Borduas

November 25, 2015 by Mandy Koroniak

When Nadine Borduas departs U of T this winter, she will have left her mark not only as a scientist tackling problems in atmospheric chemistry with a unique approach, but also as a highly active member of the broader Chemistry community. During her time as a graduate student in the department, Borduas undertook numerous community initiatives and as a result, she leaves Chemistry a better place.

Borduas believes that “if you see something that could be improved, don’t wait for someone else to work on it, improve it yourself,” and that spirit is what led to her most recent initiative, advocating for a family room in the department. When a friend and fellow graduate student became a mother, Borduas realized the utility and importance of such spaces, also known as lactation rooms. Incredibly, the space in Chemistry, which opens this month, is only the second such space on the entire St. George campus. Borduas was shocked to learn of the lack of lactation spaces on campus. “But it’s just so easy,” she says. Borduas also sees the space as an important symbol that if a student chooses to start a family while in grad school, the department will support those decisions.

Community involvement seems to come naturally to Borduas; her other contributions to the department include organizing Chemistry Nuit Blanche, founding the Green Chemistry Initiative with several peers, and a term as president of Chem Club. While president of Chem Club, the student-run association for Chemistry graduate students, Borduas also founded the Chemistry Funding Initiative, which opened up funding to the department at large and invited community members to submit proposals for projects that would have a long-lasting impact on the department. Numerous projects were funded, including renovation of the grad student lounge and creation of a garden in the Davenport Courtyard.

More than anything though, Borduas, sees herself as a cheerleader. She gets excited about the great ideas of others, “I don’t see that as competition,” she says. “I think, no, that’s wonderful! I support you and all your great ideas!” Still, she’s had a few great ideas of her own, including developing a supervisor selection workshop for incoming graduate students. Having gone through the experience of switching supervisors, and moving from organic to environmental chemistry, Borduas knows how one can feel stuck, and she wants others to know that getting unstuck is doable. That’s one message that she conveys in her workshop, which all incoming grad students now experience during orientation.

In terms of her research, Borduas completed her PhD under the supervision of Professors Jonathan Abbatt and Jennifer Murphy and studied the fate of organic nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere. The list of awards for her research is long: she was awarded the NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize in 2009, named a Vanier scholar in 2010, and granted numerous institutional awards including the Adel S. Sedra Distinguished Graduate Award in 2014. She says she currently brands herself as an environmental organic chemist and is planning to head to ETH Zurich for a postdoctoral fellowship, where she will study aqueous phase mechanisms with an organic chemistry perspective. An avid skier, she’s also looking forward to hitting the slopes in pursuit of that often elusive work-life balance.

To be sure, Borduas has accomplished a great deal during her time in Chemistry, but ever modest, she gives credit to a positive environment that fosters community engagement. “I have a lot of ideas, but the fact is, this environment, and UofT, just makes everything easy to do,” says Borduas. “If you have an idea for a change or to make something better, it’s a very supportive environment.”