Tag Archives: 2021

CHAS Workshops 2021

The Division of Chemical Safety presents several workshops as part of the American Chemical Society’s continuing education program around chemical safety issues. CHAS has two workshop tracks, aimed at either specific stakeholders or chemistry professionals who need specific chemical safety education to complete their expertise, either in the lab or in business settings. The stakeholder workshops are taught by people from that group with safety experience (e.g. grad students teaching grad students), whereas the professional development workshops are taught by full time Environmental Health and Safety professionals.

To register for any of these workshops, click on the the workshop description for that workshop.

We can also help arrange presentations of these workshops in other venues. If you are interested in arranging any of these trainings for your company or local section meetings, contact us at membership@dchas.org

Also known as the Lab Safety Teams workshop, taught by chemistry graduate students with experience with implementing and maintaining laboratory safety programs at their home institution. This workshop will next be offered Sunday, October 17, 2021; you can register for it here.

Conducting risk assessments in the research lab requires special considerations. This workshop will explore using the RAMP paradigm to meet this need and will be offered this November. You can register for this workshop here.

NEW for 2021! This workshop addresses the ACS Publications expectation for publishing safety information related to your research. The registration page for this workshop on Monday, October 4 is here.

New in 2021! A proactive laboratory safety culture is the key to a safer laboratory. This workshop will explore what this means and provide concrete tools you can use to support a safety culture in your lab. Register here for this workshop to be held Saturday, October 16.

Our most popular workshop, the Chemical Hygiene Officer workshop prepares attendees to take the NRCC certification exam to serve this role. Register for the Friday, October 8 offering of this workshop here.

Regulatory requirements for laboratory wastes can be complex. This workshop provides an introduction to the key questions you need to ask to avoid legal problems when you dispose of your lab waste Register here forThursday, October 7 offering of the lab waste workshop.

This workshop explains had to adapt standard accident investigation practices to the laboratory setting. Register for the “blame free” workshop on Tuesday, October 5 here.

Safe organizations do not develop spontaneously; this workshop identifies ways that leadership can foster the development of a productive approach to safety in their organization. Register for this workshop on Thursday, October 21 here.

Chemical reactivity hazards present special planing and management challenges. This workshop will explore techniques for identifying these hazards and assessing these risks. Register for this workshop on Wednesday, October 6 here.
This LSI workshop provides practical details for moving your lab safety program forward.Register for this workshop on Monday, October 4 here.


The ACS Youtube channel hosts chemical safety related videos on a variety of topics and styles for specific audiences. They are all available for Creative Commons use in classes with attribution.


This extensive 15 hour course on chemical safety in the laboratory is designed for undergraduate STEM students and others with a need to review the fundamentals of chemical safety in the laboratory. Register at https://institute.acs.org/courses/foundations-chemical-safety.html

If you have any questions about these workshops, contact us at membership@dchas.org or complete the workshop below.

ACS Webinar: Working Together to Design Safer Laboratories

Designing laboratories that allow for safe and efficient research requires input and collaboration between researchers, architects, engineers and lab planners. Michael Labosky of MIT, Ellen Sweet of Cornell University, and Melinda Box of N.C. State University discussed the challenges of designing and operating labs from multiple perspectives, using concrete examples from the real world. This ACS Webinar is moderated by Environmental Safety Manager Ralph Stuart of Keene State College and is co-produced with the ACS Division of Chemical Safety and the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety. The webinar was recorded and is available to ACS members at http://www.acs.org/webinars Information from the webinar is provided below. If you have any follow up questions about this webinar, let us know at membership@dchas.org

References cited during the webinar include:

ACS Chemical Health & Safety special issue articles currently available:

 Safe Lab Design: A Call for Papers https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.1c00034

Code Considerations for the Design of Laboratories Which Will Also House Pilot Plants
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.0c00053

Planning and Building Laboratories: A Collaboration among Many
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.0c00081

Controls for University Fabrication Laboratories—Best Practices for Health and Safety
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.0c00093

Design and Practice of an Organic Analysis Laboratory to Enhance Laboratory Safety  
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.1c00008

Comments from the audience:

  • Working with Undergraduate Students is really a challenging task for us. The information shared through the webinars are really helpful and beneficial for us.
  • We are planning a new lab, it was just great!
  • Very good overview of the challenges associated with the design and maintenance of acceptable air handling for laboratories. The speakers were exceptionally knowledgeable, and this presentation was very useful.
  • This webinar is a new window of safety and security in labs
  • This was definitely for the inexperienced in lab safety design
  • This was an excellent and very relevant webinar. Re-consulting the notes and, more importantly, the recorded version will be useful as a significant amount of relevant information was given verbally and could barely be noted down (lack of time!). Maybe this can be corrected by adding more point-form keywords and statements on slides would help following the talks.
  • This was a great learning experience, I work indirectly with the labs almost every day. Our ventilation systems are top tier but it’s great to understand some of the design aspects and procedural steps to take in order to create an effective and comprehensive system. I may not use this information daily but it’s a great refresher.
  • Someone in the chat had a great suggestion for chemical inventory.
  • Showed me I am on the right track and pointed out some key things that I can further look into to make my lab safer
  • It was very informative and a very good overview.
  • It was beneficial to hear from peer institutions, especially with respect to ventilation. During the Q&A, the questions pertaining to core safety topics for the various levels if chemistry curriculum was also interesting.
  • I was provided with a great deal of additional resources to consult as we begin planning a revamping of our existing high school chemistry laboratory.
  • I hope to put in practice the knowledge acquired in laboratory design for safety and sustainability
  • I have benefited immensely from the little I was able to grab
  • I am working in a lab that has no such facilities and most of the time we ignored it as it was not in our hands. But here in this webinar, I have learnt many safety measures. I think this makes a difference in the safety measures of our lab.
  • I am planning to start a electroplating set up for my research work so definitely it has benefited me.
  • Excellent information from qualified professionals w/ real world experience and helpful insight.
  • El webinar me sirve como soporte para dar recomendaciones en la construcción del laboratorio de la CDMB que se está realizando en estos momentos en Bucaramanga – Colombia. Soy el jefe de ese laboratorio y debo estar preparado para emitir conceptos o aportar en la toma de decisiones para el laboratorio.
  • As EHS professional it is refreshing to see that lab users get more educated and aware of the lab ventilation issues and challenges
  • As an EHS professional, it primarily reinforced information that I already knew. However, the presenters offered good tips or ideas as well.

ACS Webinar: Changing the Culture of Chemistry – Safety in the Lab

Speakers at the webinar included:

  • Mary Beth Mulcahy, Manager in the Global Chemical and Biological Security group at Sandia National Laboratories, Editor-in-Chief of ACS Chemical Health & Safety
  • Michael B. Blayney, Executive Director, Research Safety at Northwestern University
  • Monica Mame Soma Nyansa, Ph.D. Student, Michigan Technological University
  • Kali Miller, Managing Editor, ACS Publications

The session closed with a question-and-answer session moderated by Kali Miller, an ACS Publications Managing Editor, where all three panelists were able to share more insights and advice.

CHAS Workshop: Empowering academic researchers to strengthen safety culture, October 17 2021

This 4-hour workshop is primarily directed at frontline researchers in academic institutions: graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and undergraduate students. Faculty and safety staff are also very much encouraged to participate.

Workshop goals are to:

  • Educate participants about the value of risk assessment
  • Guide participants towards gaining awareness of safety culture messages from the leadership at their institutions
  • Empower participants to expand their safety networks and develop laboratory safety teams.

The next workshop is scheduled for Sunday, October 17, 2021 from 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM Eastern Time. The workshop is $25 per participant. To register for this workshop date, please follow this link to our Eventbrite registration page. If you have any questions about the workshop, please email lstworkshop@dchas.org. 

For more information:

To see our Zotero list of Lab Safety Team resources. visit this page.

For information about the history of the workshop, visit this page.

ACS Short Video: Quality Data for Safer Experiments

The ACS Committee on Chemical Safety is pleased to release another short video about safety in the research lab setting, This video describes two tools that are important in sharing your safety lessons learned in your academic publications: RAMP and FAIR. Watch the video here and use the safety information resources below to implement these ideas in your lab!

Chemical Hazard Information

Scientific Sharing & Publication Opportunities and Considerations

Best Practice Reference Sources

Key points related to the poster:

  • Risk assessment is important for researchers to document locally and refresh on a regular basis as part of their laboratory planning and operations. This assessment needs to reflect specific aspects of their work, such as process variables, available safety equipment, and the expertise of the chemists doing the work. 
  • Lab process safety analysis is an important opportunity for professional collaboration with both environmental health and safety staff & information professionals. They can help you identify sources AND document your lab practices FAIRly; this assistance will help you build habits that will pay off when you are ready to publish your work. 
  • Industry is looking for chemists with the professional skill of formally assessing risk and share at the company level 
  • Digital/online information sharing in the 21st Century environment involves different skills than laboratory work in the 20th Century. There are new, broader expectations for sharing raw data and safe operations. The onus of documentation is on researchers in order to share your process, data, safety observations etc. with the community in peer reviewed articles

Highlights from ACS Webinar on Nanosafety Research

Nanoparticles are an area of increasing research interest in many fields. However, the risk data related to the safety, health and environmental impacts is still limited. How should lab researchers approach these uncertainties?

Speakers: Tilak Chandra, University of Wisconsin-Madison / Katie Kruszynski, University of Wisconsin-Madison / Markus Schaufele, Northwestern University

This ACS Webinar was moderated by Ralph Stuart and co-produced with the ACS Division of Chemical Safety and the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety.

References cited in the webinar:

Donaldson and Poland, Nanotoxicity: challenging the myth of nano-specific toxicity, Curr. Opin. Biotechnol., 24 (2013), pp. 724-734; 

Gebel et al. Manufactured nanomaterials: categorization and approaches to hazard assessment Arch. Toxicol., 88 (2014), pp. 2191-2211;

Nel et al., Toxic potential of materials at the nanolevel, Science, 311 (2006), pp. 622-627); Steve Oldenburg, Nanosafety: Conclusions From a Decade of Nanotoxicology Research (2017)

OSHA Fact Sheet: Working Safely with Nanomaterials https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA_FS-3634.pdf

Steve Oldenburg, Nanosafety: Conclusions From a Decade of Nanotoxicology Research, nanoComposix, (2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-HiWAjqYgg 

Nanotechnology, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/default.html 
•3D Printing with Filaments: Health and Safety Questions to Ask (2020)
•3D Printing with Metal Powders: Health and Safety Q. to Ask (2020)
• Continuing to Protect the Nanotechnology Workforce: NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Plan for 2018 – 2025

Dekkers, Susan et al; Safe-by-Design part I: Proposal for nanospecific human health safety aspects needed along the innovation process, NanoImpact, Volume 18, April 2020

Janeck J.Scott-Fordsmand et al, A unified framework for nanosafety is needed, Nano Today, Vol 9, I5, 2014, Pages 546-549 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1748013214001030 

Chandra, T.; Zebrowski, J. P.; McClain, R.; Lenertz, L.Y. Generating Standard Operating Procedures for the Manipulation of Hazardous Chemicals in Academic Laboratories. ACS Chem. Health Saf. 2021, 28, 1, 19-24.

Jaya Borgatta, et. al.; Copper Based Nanomaterials Suppress Root Fungal Disease in Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus): Role of Particle Morphology, Composition and Dissolution Behavior. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 2018, 6 (11), 14847-14856.

In addition, the Committee on Chemical Safety’s list of references on nanosafety can be found on its web site.

Report on National Meeting DEIR Networking Event

Diversity Equality Inclusiveness Respect

Diversity and inclusion in the workforce brings significant value to the employer[1]. Diversity in society broadens perspective, improves person to person socializing and creates a culture of openness and growth[2]. ACS has pledged to advance and embrace inclusion in chemistry, which includes promoting our core value of DEIR, identifying and dismantling barriers to success, and creating a welcoming environment so that all ACS members, employees, and volunteers can thrive.

A group met to discuss the DEIR challenges in Chemistry and Environmental Health and Safety in April, 2021. The slides used to lead the discussion are shown here.

The event was co-hosted by:

  • Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS)
  • Division of Business Development and Management (BMGT)
  • Division of Small Chemical Businesses (SCHB)
  • ACS Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS)
  • Board Committee on Corporation Associates (CA)
  • ACS Committee on Meetings & Expositions
  • ACS Department of Diversity Programs
  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rsmdiscovery/2018/08/22/why-workplace-diversity-is-so-important-and-why-its-so-hard-to-achieve/?sh=1e0b284b3096
  2. https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/what-is-cultural-diversity/

CHAS at a Glance, Spring 2021

The CHAS at Glance handout for the Spring 2021 ACS National Meeting is now available

Highlights of the program for this meeting are:

  • 3 Chemical Health and Safety Symposia on Thursday, April 8
    • Systems Thinking in Chemical Health and Safety
    • 2020 Chemical Health and Safety Awards
    • Safety Across the Scientific Disciplines: Where are the Successes, and What Needs Improvements
  • 4 Cannabis Chemistry Symposia on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 5-7
    • Advancements in Cannabis Analytical Methods 
    • Women in Cannabis: Shaping an Emerging Industry
    • The 2021 ElSohly Award Symposium Sponsored by Heidolph North America
    • Cannabis Derived Treatments for Specific Medical Conditions: Macromolecular Interactions and Justifications
  • 3 SCI-MIX papers on Friday, April 9
  • The CHAS EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING on Thursday, April 15. 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. PDT.
  • CHAS DISCUSSIONS and NETWORKING EVENTS
    • DCHAS Networking, April 8
    • Getting the most out of professional events, April 12
    • Preparing your NSF GRFP application, April 14
    • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in health and safety, April 21
    • Writing safety statements for publication, April 22

Please join us for any of these events that interest you!

Anaphylaxis Induced by Peptide Coupling Agents

On WEDNESDAY, March 24 the CHAS Art and State of Safety Journal Club discussed the paper “Anaphylaxis induced by peptide coupling agents: Lessons learned from repeated exposure to HATU, HBTU, and HCTU.” 1st author Kate McKnelly led this discussion on this paper.The full paper can be found at this link: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.joc.9b03280. Comments on the table read are found below.

INTRODUCTION After working for years with peptide coupling agents HATU, HBTU, and HCTU[a][b],[c][d] a twenty-seven-year old female researcher (K.J.M.) developed life-threatening anaphylaxis. She began working with the aforementioned peptide coupling agents in May 2015. During the next few years, she worked heavily with these uronium peptide coupling agents. In March 2016, she began developing allergy symptoms of sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose. During the next couple of years, her symptoms progressed[e] to the point of anaphylaxis. These coupling agents are especially insidious because a severe allergy developed slowly over the course of three and a half years of exposure to the point of a life-threatening incident.

About one and a half years after beginning to work with these coupling agents, she noticed she had allergy symptoms when she weighed out coupling agents and Fmoc-protected amino acids for use in solid-phase peptide synthesis. In July[f][g] 2018, she began suspecting she was becoming allergic to coupling agents because she experienced sneezing and a runny nose immediately after spilling HCTU onto her glove. It was not until September 2018 that she experienced her first brush with allergy-induced anaphylaxis. She was at the weekly research group meeting in a seminar room down the corridor from the laboratory, and she began wheezing slightly. The wheezing was fleeting and went away after the group meeting when she left the building. A couple of weeks later, she started wheezing as she drove two labmates home. This time, the wheezing was louder—her labmates could also hear it—so she took the antihistamine diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) to stop the reaction. Within 20 min, she could no longer hear wheezing.

Finally, in late October 2018, the researcher sat down at her desk in the lab and almost immediately began coughing, sneezing, feeling tightness in her throat, and subsequently wheezing. She attempted to remove herself from whatever she was exposed to in the lab and moved down the hallway to an office outside the lab. Once there, she continued reacting, and the wheezing progressed until she could hear a rattling wheezing sound when breathing through her nose. She immediately left the lab to obtain diphenhydramine. As[h] she exited the building, her symptoms stopped progressing. An hour after taking diphenhydramine, the wheezing subsided completely. In hindsight,[i][j][k] she should have called 911 for emergency medical help, because a throat-closing anaphylactic reaction can occur quickly, sometimes so quickly that there is barely enough time to avoid fatality.

How did this happen? How could this have been prevented?[l][m][n][o][p][q][r] We have been tackling these questions since the incident occurred. We provide this case study as a cautionary note about the potential hazards from chemical exposure that can develop over time and sneak up on a researcher. We first sought to determine what caused this anaphylactic reaction to occur. We then adjusted how peptide coupling agents were handled in the lab to minimize exposure and attempt to prevent other researchers from becoming sensitized as well. In sharing our experience here, we hope to contribute to the widespread implementation of standard operating procedures for peptide coupling agents and protect others who work with them.

LITERATURE SEARCH

We first scoured the literature for information on sensitization by peptide coupling agents HATU, HBTU, and HCTU and Fmoc-protected amino acids. Information regarding sensitization varied among chemical supplier material safety data sheets (MSDSs). HATU is reported to cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and is denoted by an exclamation mark hazard symbol. HBTU is reported to cause respiratory sensitization. HCTU is not reported to have known toxic effects. [s][t][u][v][w][x][y]We found only nine published cases of sensitization by the uronium coupling agents HATU and HBTU and none by HCTU or by Fmoc-protected amino acids. The first reported case implicating uronium coupling agents as chemical sensitizers came in 2003. Yung et al. described a researcher at a university that first developed eye irritation, a runny nose, and coughing (rhinitis) after weighing HBTU. Her symptoms progressed over the course of 2 weeks, developing into chest tightness, a cough, and skin rashes (urticaria) and culminating in sore, red itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, and urticaria within 1 h of being in the laboratory. The researcher was tested with skin prick tests for allergies to HATU, HBTU, and HCTU because all chemicals were present in the lab. She tested positive for sensitivity to HATU and HBTU but negative for HCTU and various Fmoc-protected amino acids[z][aa]. Because the researcher did not exhibit sensitivity to HCTU, the authors suggested that this uronium coupling agent may be a safer alternative for widespread use. Other publications report that HCTU is nontoxic and nonirritating.

The other published instances of chemical sensitization to uronium coupling agents have involved HBTU exclusively. In 2003, another researcher, this time in a pharmaceutical plant, developed occupational rhinitis and bronchial asthma from HBTU and TBTU, which is identical to HBTU except for the counterion. The allergies were confirmed by positive skin prick and nasal challenge tests. In 2005, Bousquet et al. reported a chemistry researcher who developed allergic rhinitis and dermatitis on the hands and fingers which then progressed over the course of a year to include his face, upper back, neck, elbows, and ankles. The authors confirmed the researchers’ sensitivity to HBTU through patch testing and found he was not allergic to dimethylformamide, dichloromethane, acetonitrile, triisopropylsilane, HATU, or BOP. From 2006 to 2010, six more instances of chemical sensitization from HBTU were reported with similar respiratory and skin reactions. One example, in 2006, involved a university researcher developing an anaphylactic response to HBTU over the course of three years, similar to the case reported in this paper. All of these examples were published in allergy and other medical journals, which are not generally read by researchers who use peptide coupling agents.[ab][ac][ad][ae][af][ag]

EXPERIMENTAL CONFIRMATION

We suspected that peptide coupling agents caused K.J.M.’s allergic reactions. An allergist and clinical immunologist (W.S.) tested the researcher for allergies to a panel of over 60 allergens by skin prick tests to determine if common environmental allergens accounted for her anaphylaxis. She was only slightly allergic to two environmental allergens, but not so allergic that they would cause anaphylaxis. Skin prick tests were then performed to determine if she was allergic to HATU, HBTU, HCTU, DCC, Fmoc-leucine–OH, Fmoc-phenylalanine–OH, and Fmoc-asparagine(Trt)–OH. The researcher worked with most of the canonical amino acids in their Fmoc-protected forms, so three were chosen as representative amino acids. DCC was included as a control because it is a notorious sensitizer that the researcher had never previously worked with.

As hypothesized, the researcher had severe positive allergic reactions to uronium peptide coupling agents but only mild responses to Fmoc-protected amino acids. The coupling agents HATU, HBTU, and HCTU all caused the formation of large hives, comparable in size to those formed by the histamine positive control. DCC did not cause any reaction, which is not surprising as the researcher was never previously exposed to DCC. Fmoc-leucine–OH, Fmoc-phenylalanine–OH, and Fmoc-asparagine(Trt)–OH all elicited minor reactions and produced hives much smaller in size than the histamine positive control. The lack of a strong reaction to the Fmoc-protected amino acids is not surprising, as they are not known chemical sensitizers.

ANALYSIS

This paper serves as the first reported case of chemical sensitization resulting in anaphylaxis from three common uronium coupling agents: HATU, HBTU, and HCTU. The sensitized researcher (K.J.M.) can no longer work in her research lab. She cannot go into the building where the lab exists; the hallways, rooms, and common spaces all cause her to react, first with a runny nose and throat tightness and then with wheezing.[ah][ai][aj][ak][al][am] Her allergic response is so severe that she risks anaphylaxis whenever exposed to these coupling agents, and she now must carry an epinephrine autoinjector (generic EpiPen) as a safety precaution whenever she is near researchers actively working with peptide coupling agents. She has become sensitive to colleagues who have been in her research laboratory and must be careful to ask them to change their clothes and in some cases wash or cover their hair to prevent her exposure to the pervasive coupling agents. These events prompted the research group as a whole to re-evaluate how the group handles peptide coupling agents and to change their standard operating procedures to prevent group members from becoming sensitized to coupling agents.

Chemical sensitization causes an immune response in the form of reactions as mild as seasonal allergy symptoms, like rhinitis, and as severe as dermatitis and anaphylaxis. Many[an][ao][ap][aq][ar] chemical sensitizers are chemicals that can modify human proteins. All reactive compounds that can modify proteins should be treated as potential sensitizers unless they are known with certainty to be safe. In spite of this hazard, most researchers do not treat compounds that can react with proteins with proper precautions. Peptide coupling agents are prime examples.

Peptide coupling agents induce the formation of an amide bond from the reaction of a carboxylic acid group with an amine group. The coupling agents react with the carboxylic acid and activate it for subsequent attack by a nucleophilic amine. After the amine reacts with the activated carboxylic acid, an amide bond forms. Human proteins display multiple carboxylic acid groups (e.g., glutamic acid and aspartic acid) and amine-containing groups (e.g., lysine) in the form of amino acid residues at protein surfaces. The reactivity of coupling agents toward amino acid residues primes them to cause sensitization by modifying proteins in the human body.

The carbodiimide coupling agent DCC (dicyclohexylcarbodiimide) is a notorious chemical sensitizer with a long history of causing sensitization. DCC was first reported as a peptide coupling agent by Sheehan and Hess in 1955. It quickly grew in popularity due to the ease with which it induced the formation of peptide bonds. Soon after its introduction, a publication reported that DCC caused three cases of allergy-induced skin rashes (contact dermatitis) in 1959. Zschunke and Folesky subsequently reported seven cases of DCC-induced contact dermatitis in a pharmaceutical plant in 1975. In 1979, two independent cases of DCC sensitivities were published in the journal Contact Dermatitis. In one case, a lab worker developed a blistering eruption rash on his hands and forearms, and in the second case, a research chemist developed a rash over nearly his entire body that persisted for five days before he was hospitalized. Since 1979, 11 more cases were reported of DCC causing similar skin contact allergic reactions. In one of these cases, the researcher also developed sensitivity to diisopropylcarbodiimide (DIC) and suffered a vesiculopapular rash on his cheeks and the backs of his hands from both DCC and DIC. The authors of each of these reported cases confirmed sensitization with skin patch tests.

The many reports of DCC sensitization lead to toxicology testing to confirm the hazard it poses to human health. DCC and DIC were nominated for testing by the National Toxicology Program in 1993. Hayes et al. then tested DCC and DIC on the skin of mice for their potential as sensitizers and in 1998 reported sensitization at concentrations as low as 0.006% (w/v) for DCC and 0.3% (w/v) for DIC. Another report in 2002 confirmed DCC and DIC as sensitizers to mice when examining the mechanism of DCC- and DIC-induced chemical sensitization. In 2011,[as][at][au] Surh et al. further characterized DCC and DIC for toxicity and carcinogenicity and determined that both DCC and DIC caused skin sensitivity in rats and mice, but only DCC exhibited carcinogenicity. The detrimental health effects of the peptide coupling agents DCC and DIC are worrisome for anyone who handles them.

HATU, HBTU, and HCTU were developed between the late 1970s and the early 2000s and are now widely used as coupling agents in peptide synthesis. Despite being implicated as sensitizers in at least ten reported cases, including the current one, they have not been rigorously tested for their immunogenic and toxicological properties.

LABORATORY ACTION PLAN

In response to the sensitization of K.J.M., we developed standard operating procedures to handle HATU, HBTU, and HCTU more safely. We found guidelines for handling sensitizers, which recommended never opening sensitizers outside of a fume hood and minimizing exposure if handling them outside of a fume hood. Our lab dedicated a portion of a fume hood to weighing out coupling agents and amino acids and placed a balance in the hood[av].[aw][ax][ay] A waste container was placed in this fume hood as a receptacle for weighing paper and other materials contaminated by coupling agents or Fmoc-protected amino acids. Coupling agents and amino acids are transferred into sealable containers before removal to individual researchers’ fume hoods. As with other standard operating procedures for handling hazardous chemicals, personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of a lab coat, eye protection, and disposable gloves [az][ba][bb][bc][bd]should be worn at all times when handling coupling agents. We anticipate that these procedures will reduce the risk of other researchers becoming sensitized in the future.[be][bf][bg][bh][bi][bj][bk][bl][bm][bn][bo]

Any research lab that performs peptide synthesis should take extra precautions to avoid exposing researchers to coupling agents. The Supporting Information provides a standard operating procedure to handle peptide coupling agents more safely in the research laboratory by minimizing exposure[bp].

CONCLUSION

Peptide coupling agents, regardless of whether they are carbodiimide reagents, uronium reagents, phosphonium reagents, etc., all perform the same chemical function of facilitating amide bond formation and therefore can all covalently modify human proteins. If a chemical can modify human proteins, it is a prime candidate as an immune sensitizer, even if it is not a known sensitizer. We hope that our laboratory’s experience of the hazards of HATU, HBTU, and HCTU will serve as a cautionary note to those working with any peptide coupling agents.

[a]I see that PF6- is frequently the counter ion. Was this tested as an allergen?

[b]In second paragraph of the literature search part they mention a researcher who became sensitized to both HBRU and TBTU, which has a different counter ions, so while it sounds like the counter ion wasn’t tested for specifically, it doesn’t seem to be the culprit here. This makes sense since the counter ions do not partake in the coupling reaction and only has a slight influence on coupling efficiency

[c]What is the best practices to handle these coupling agents? Tilak

[d]This is discussed towards the end – also if you are interested in the protocol they shared, that is in the SI if you follow the link to the paper.

[e]Why it is important to pay special attention to unusual symptoms.

[f]and report symptoms

[g]Reporting symptoms early is also important for legal (i.e. Workers Comp) reasons

[h]Another scenario I have seen a lab worker suffer was a techinician in a electron microscopy lab. She accidently brushed her hand against a container of an epoxy they used to set up samples for the microscope and didn’t think anything of it. The next day when she can to work, her fingers started itching and keep getting worse for a week. She eventually had to leave that job.

The difference from this report is that it was a single exposure that led to the sensitization rather than repeated exposure over time.

[i]Why it is important to keep an eye on our colleagues as well and ask questions. As wild as this sounds, it is so easy for us to dismiss our own symptoms as minor even if we would be incredibly concerned about those same symptoms if we observed them in another person!

[j]A lab tech reported to me a situation in which she and a colleague were transferring insect samples between killing jars which contained 70% ethanol in the open lab. After about half an hour, she noticed that her partner was getting goofy. She then realized that they were both getting drunk from breathing the ethanol that was evaporating as they did the transfers. It’s not likely that she would have noticed this without seeing that her partner was being affected.

[k]Really good point. Also, would she have noticed her own symptoms if she had been working alone? Could’ve just interpreted this as tiredness.

[l]Would a system where researchers can report any symptoms as soon as they occur would have prevented it from getting worse?

[m]I suppose it depends on whether or not people use the system, how easy it is to use, who they are reporting to – as well as how seriously the person themselves takes their own symptoms.

[n]There are many places the someone can be exposed to allergens and the pattern they describe in the paper is more evident in retrospect than as it occurs. Animal care workers have prospective monitoring for allergies to the mice, etc. they work with, but that doesn’t prevent many from having to retire from this profession due to allergies acquired over time

[o]When I was working at the USDA, I learned of multiple people who developed allergies to moth scales over time due to a protocol in regular use that essentially required them to gently suck moths into the tip of a tube in order to move them. Gross to think about now (I never did this), but it was standard practice for a long time and many still do it this way.

[p]I have seen similar techniques outside of the chemistry lab setting. I haven’t had any lab person defend mouth-pipetting of chemicals to me since about 2005; perhaps it is a past practice, at least in academia? I’d like to think so.

[q]I knew people doing this when I was working there up through 2016!

[r]I’ve never actually seen anyone mouth pipette chemicals, so I believe the campaign against that has been a bit more effective.

[s]So “looking up the SDS” provided no information in this case.

[t]GHS SDSs should include information about sensitization, but I suspect that a chemical supplier wouldn’t add that content to a SDS based on “anecdotal evidence”. I suspect that there would need to be a published peer review study before the information was added to a SDS.

[u]Well – that is my point. We are here working on the cutting edge, but official documentation like SDSs will be necessarily behind. I cringe every time a grad student tells me “well I just looked up the SDSs and carried on” w/o having talked to ANYONE ELSE about their projects.

[v]Toxicology studies will always lag behind the introduction of new reagents. Maybe it would help to have a recognition of what classes of chemicals could be potent sensitizers and apply the precautionary principle to those.  Here’s an example: “First, a chemical with dermal sensitization potential has to be able to penetrate into the skin—meaning it must have a low molecular weight, usually less than one kilodalton—and induce or elicit an immune response by being chemically reactive and electrophilic with skin proteins.”  (from: https://synergist.aiha.org/201911-dermal-sensitizers)  I understand that the above is broad, but it’s a start.  Peptide coupling agents certainly fit the bill.

[w]It is interesting that in most cases there was little allergic reaction to HCTU, but much more severe reactions to HATU and HBTU. I wonder if once one is sensitized to the latter there is an allergic reaction to HCTU? This was the case in this study.

[x]It is also so hard to know how many people experienced these symptoms and did not connect them to exposure to these agents – so they have effectively gone unreported.

[y]I think form a chemical standpoint that would make sense. HCTU is essentially HBTU with an added chlorine, so it’s not a stretch to believe that the immune system recognizes both of these reagents in the same manner

[z]Anyone doing work with coupling reactions for peptide. peptide-mimics ought to have training on sensitizers since most of these are amines which cause sensitization

[aa]Who determines this? When I sent this article to our chemical safety specialists, they were surprised to see it! As were the members of the 1 lab I know in our building that works with these.

[ab]Another frustration with “the literature.” Safety information about chemicals doesn’t seem to have a home – it is scattered throughout so many different places that it can be easily missed by the people who need to know the information. Case in point: This case study was published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry!

[ac]These should have been posted in C&EN. That was often done during that time period as a way to alert the general chemical community. Part of the other problem is that many biochemists don’t read ACS publications.

[ad]https://cen.acs.org/safety/lab-safety/Peptide-coupling-agents-cause-severe/98/web/2020/01

[ae]It took until 202 for this to come out in C&EN?

[af]2020

[ag]While it made the rounds at the time, there are plenty of undergrads and grads working in labs who aren’t reading C&EN. C&EN is a pretty specialized resource. When I was working in a molecular genetics lab, I hadn’t even heard of C&EN.

[ah]Is there that much of the sensitizer floating around the building? Why weren’t they working with this in the hood???

[ai]Hoods are not black holes. For example, when it comes to powders they can disrupt use of the material because of the air movement in the work area

[aj]We have seen similar reports in other settings. Usually anecdotal and not as clearly documented as this. Review the literature on “multiple chemical sensitivities”. I frequently have trouble with these reports as the claims seem very wild. However, we know that sub-picomol levels of agents such as we are discussing here can induce an allergic Rx in hyper-sensitive people.

[ak]Taysir shared a comment below on why these are difficult to work with in hoods.

[al]Agree with Ralph.  The appropriate engineering control for working with or weighing powders are enclosures with HEPA filtration design for that purpose, not fume hoods.

[am]Like Neal, I remember the emergence of the idea of Multiple Chemical Sensitivies and how much this confused the EHS world. There was a weird mix of science and pseudo-science that we were required to react to in addressing situations both in the lab and outside it

[an]A question this paragraph raises for me as a trainer is whether I should call attention to the chemical properties of the material the way this article does or whether I should alert people to the symptoms that they should be alert to as warning signs. The OSHA lab standard suggests training peiople on “signs and symptoms” rather than focusing on chemcials

[ao]Would it be better to do both? If one knows the symptoms but not the agent, then there could a wide range of things that could lead to these symptoms, even some not in the lab. It seems like there really needs to be causality established.

[ap]I would also think that this would be considered when discussing the design of experiments and lab protocols. You don’t want to wait until someone is having symptoms to do something about it.

[aq]I feel like the safety aspects of the research carried out in the lab doesn’t get discussed enough , even in group meetings. It’s only after something terrible has happened. I’m wondering how this culture can be affected.

[ar]Monica – that is a fundamental point of the increased interest among grad students in safety. As they move on to their careers they will become the safety leaders.

[as]1955 to 2011 – it is pretty wild to see how long it can take for a regularly used chemical to be recognized for the harm it can cause. This is important to keep in mind as we work on the cutting edge of scientific experimentation!

[at]Part of the problem, again, may be in the communication forums used during that time. I wonder if some of the more common social media will make this easier now…

[au]I may not be following the correct social media, I don’t see a lot of lab procedure information there. Where would one look for these stories?

[av]The measures taken are pretty basic – and involve things that are now available in virtually ALL labs. This is another important consideration.

[aw]Is there a process for decontaminating the balance and hoods in place? Can the agents be deactivated by other chemicals?

[ax]I believe bleach will not work with these chemicals, may be cleaning by ethanol is the best solution

[ay]We generally use methanol followed by water

[az]Since some of the agents are known to cause respiratory distress, would a face mask or any type of respiratory protection help?

[ba]We have been using N95 masks when working with these reagents. I don’t have any data to support this practice though

[bb]This will need fit tested

[bc]Yup, DEHS at my institution provides that testing

[bd]I suspect that the allergeric reactions could be triggered by skin exposure and other environmental contamination as much as respiratory exposure. The NP95 masks will help by avoiding cross contamination from your hands to your face, which may be helpful

[be]As a result of this paper, I convinced my group to buy a new balance to keep in the hood for weighing out HCTU and to follow the suggested protocol. The issue we ran into is that due to the hood flood it takes a very long time for the balance to tare. Since our peptide synthesizer is cartridge based we have to weigh the coupling reagent individually for each amino acid. As a result, it now takes days instead of hours to finish weighing all the amino acids. Many researchers in our lab have instead elected to wear N95 masks when weighing the coupling reagent instead of using the hood balance

[bf]That is interesting. We didn’t have any hoods in my lab with balances in them, but I have used them in other labs and had no issues with them taring. I’m wondering now what made the difference.

[bg]Probably due to our hoods being ancient to be honest. I am not happy about this solution, but I understand why people go for it

[bh]generally it is difficult to weigh powders inside the chemical fume hood due to air flow, however, crystalline material is ok

[bi]Housekeeping is very important to handle such chemicals in the lab

[bj]It also takes some time and practice to get used to working with powders and crystalline materials that I don’t think most students really get until they are working in a research lab. Working a hood does add to the complexity of this.

[bk]The lab I worked in in the 80’s had ventilation weighing station for working with silca and asbestos dusts. It takes a very careful ventilation design for sensitive balances to be able to operate in a wind current. We also had a special table which was very heavy to provide a steady surface for the balance.

[bl]A weighing enclosure will also work for this purpose

[bm]I agree with Jessica about the practice/ or hands-on on weighing

[bn]We just use a three side piece of acrylic around the scale and have no problems. As an alternative, you could teach people in the lab to weigh out chemicals using analytical subtractive techniques. This is the fastest method by far. (weigh out your vial, add some chemical to the vial in the hood, put the lid on and weigh again, add solvent to desired concentration)

[bo]Was working only with solutions considered? I.e., upon receipt of a new bottle of coupling agent, dissolve it in a solvent to a known concentration, then for each use, volumetrically measure what’s needed and then dilute? Wet methods are excellent for controlling exposures to dusts/particulate. Look at construction sites during large-scale demo…you usually see a big hose running to minimize dust.

[bp]We use a synthesizer often. All chemicals are weighed out and diluted in the hood. The sealed bottles are then transferred to the synthesizer. A tube is then use to carry any escaping vapors back to the fume hood.

Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment: CHAS Journal Club

Climate Survey Team representatives: Rebeca Fernandez (she/her/hers), Tesia Janicki (she/her/hers)

On March 10, 2021 the CHAS Journal continuing our discussion of the paper “Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment.” The original paper can be found at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00611 One of the authors, Rebeca Fernandez, led the discussion. Comments from the Table Read (that was led by Tesia Janicki) are also below.

03/03 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club
Excerpts from “Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment”

INTRODUCTION


Recent reports have emerged that highlight a prevalence of mental health disorders among graduate students. These studies show that graduate students are disproportionately susceptible to mental health disorders when compared to the general population, due in part to unique challenges associated with the graduate school experience[a][b][c][d][e][f][g]. The majority of incoming students are recent college graduates in their early 20s, and their transition to graduate life is typically preceded by a relocation that separates them from their social networks and support systems[h][i][j][k]. Graduate programs that are able to assist students during the transition into their departments will benefit from a happier, healthier, and more productive group of young researchers. Although it is not universally recognized among faculty [l][m][n]that chemistry graduate programs need to adapt to better support the needs of graduate students, a few departments have initiated major institutional efforts to improve the research and educational climate in graduate school.
Here, we define “climate” to encompass all aspects of the graduate student experience such as research practices, mentorship, social activities, work-life balance, and cultivation of a healthy lifestyle. Along with the general challenges associated with graduate school, each individual department has unique elements that influence its culture, such as size, demographics, geographic location, and whether the university is private or public. These differences notwithstanding, many challenges that graduate students experience appear to be universal[o][p]. The accurate evaluation of graduate program climate and student mental health has been hindered by the transient nature of the graduate student population[q][r], but encouragingly, graduate programs across the country have begun developing metrics to examine departmental climate and the graduate student experience. In 2014, the University of California, Berkeley administered a survey to assess the well-being of graduate students in all departments at the university. In 2018, Mousavi et al. demonstrated the successful implementation of a survey tailored to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota (UMN). At UMN, the development of a climate survey was initiated by faculty[s][t][u][v][w], with student involvement, and the survey results were used to guide institutional changes to improve graduate student culture. These results are further discussed alongside our Recommendations and Initiatives.

SURVEY PROCESS


Survey Development The UW−Madison climate survey was developed by the Climate Survey Team (CST), a group composed of eight students from different research laboratories[x][y] and years in graduate school who provided unique perspectives on the graduate school experience. The chemistry department at UW− Madison represents one of the largest national programs and has non-uniform demographics throughout the department, i.e., among research groups, across subfields, and between years (the breakdown of department demographics versus survey respondents is provided in the Supporting Information). Given these variations, we sought input from fellow graduate students, faculty, staff, representatives from University Health Services (UHS), and select department alumni, including a human resources expert, throughout each step of the survey design process.
[z][aa][ab][ac]

REPRESENTATIVE SURVEY FINDINGS[ad][ae]

Emotional Well-Being and Work-Life Balance


Graduate students and postdocs were asked what factors influenced their emotional well-being over the course of the previous year. It is clear from these data (Figure 2) that personal relationships, ranging from principle investigator (PI) involvement to peer interactions, have a significant impact on the emotional well-being of students. Notably, the advisor/PI was ranked highly as both a positive and negative influence, depending on the respondent, representing the outsized effect of PI−student interactions on the overall graduate school experience. [af][ag][ah][ai][aj][ak][al]Of the respondents who indicated that their relationship with their advisor/PI had a negative impact on their emotional well-being at least once per month (22%), 5% identified as male and 17% did not identify as male (details of how demographic responses were grouped can be found in the Supporting Information). From this data, it is clear that differences in PI−student relationships may be related to gender; however, we could not elucidate more specific causes from this survey. The significance of the PI−student relationship, regardless of gender, is further supported by a global PhD student survey in 2017 that reports, “good (PI) mentorship was the main factor driving (graduate student) satisfaction levels”.

Work Environment


Demographic correlations regarding perceived mentorship efficacy revealed some dependence on ethnicity. For example, 83% of those who identified as Caucasian experienced effective mentorship by senior graduate students/postdocs compared to only 58% of those who did not identify as Caucasian. Similarly, 90% of respondents who identified as Caucasian reported supportive interactions with their PI[am][an][ao], in contrast with 63% who do not identify as Caucasian. Variations in responses based on ethnicity reflect many factors, such as the diversity (or lack thereof) among the students and faculty members, which will vary across departments and over time. In response to trends revealed from demographic correlations and the negative experiences reported in Figure 3b, we recommend the installation of regular implicit bias training, mentorship,[ap][aq] and conflict resolution workshop[ar][as][at][au][av][aw]s.

Outside the scope of this survey, we and other departments are making a concerted effort to improve minority representation in chemistry[ax][ay][az], necessitating shifts in climate that respect and integrate a more diverse student pool. [ba][bb][bc][bd][be]These data serve as an important baseline from which to gauge the effect of new policies through future assessments. The climate survey administered by the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley echoes these sentiments and emphasizes the importance of creating a welcoming work environment for women and underrepresented minorities.

Mental Health[bf][bg][bh][bi][bj][bk][bl][bm][bn][bo]

A cumulative 59% of graduate students and postdocs reported feeling depressed or sad (a symptom of depression) at least a few times per month compared with 37% of adults surveyed among a broader population (one-month time frame)[bp][bq][br][bs][bt][bu]. Additionally, high percentages of graduate students and postdocs reported exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, with 25% of students experiencing a panic or anxiety attack at least once per month. For comparison, a 2012 study reported that 31.2% of adults had some anxiety disorder, where 4.7% had a panic disorder, specifically.

The most shocking observation from our climate survey was that 9.1% of graduate students and postdocs reported experiencing thoughts that they would be better off dead or hurting themselves at least a few days a month. This alarming number is comparable with that reported for graduate students from other universities using similar methods. To address and attempt to mitigate the struggles of graduate students and postdocs, we recommend increasing access to and awareness of mental health resources through education and structured conversations.

If faculty are educated about the mental health resources available on campus, they are in a better position to direct their students to the appropriate resources if needed[bv][bw][bx][by][bz]. Most, if not all, graduate schools will have an on-campus mental health organization (at UW−Madison this is the UHS). Collaboration with professionals is essential to making mental health support for graduate students and postdocs accessible.

Our department now hosts biweekly “Office [ca][cb][cc]Hours” with a UHS professional providing drop-in confidential consultation sessions for graduate students and postdocs inside of the chemistry building, significantly lowering the barrier to seek support. We encourage graduate students at other institutes to connect with their on-campus health professionals and inquire about implementing a similar program[cd][ce][cf][cg].

RECOMMENDATIONS AND INITIATIVES BASED ON CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS


Student buy-in for any climate discussions in the department is essential and faculty support is equally crucial to the success of implementing lasting change[ch][ci][cj][ck][cl][cm][cn][co]. Faculty acceptance of student participation in various activities (e.g., being a member of a student council) and engagement in conversations about mental health signals that students’ well-being is valued in addition to their research productivity.

With the coordinated efforts of students and faculty, department curricula can be updated to provide explicit and detailed program requirements for graduate students. We encourage graduate students in other programs to work with faculty and staff to design and carry out a plan to foster a healthy graduate school climate based on the specific needs of their departments[cp][cq]. Utilizing a survey such as ours provides a starting point to gather information that is critical to creating lasting change.

A list of the major initiatives, which have been implemented in the UW−Madison Department of Chemistry to address our own unique challenges, can be found below.

  • The advent of conversations surrounding graduate student struggles with stress, anxiety, and depression, which have provided a framework for both individuals and research groups to discuss related problems.
  • The organization of a regular department-wide town hall to discuss relevant issues.
  • An increase in the number of events focused on raising awareness about mental health disorders and resources available on campus.
  • Revision of graduate program policies[cr][cs][ct][cu][cv][cw][cx] to reduce stresses associated with the transition into a research group and subsequent graduation requirements.
  • An effort to develop an expectations document for independent research laboratories to mitigate stress surrounding graduation requirements.
  • A focus on providing leadership opportunities for graduate students and postdocs to further increase student involvement.


[a]Do we have any historical data to know if this is a change over either the short term or long term?
[b]Can you elaborate? I’m not sure I understand your question
[c]Related: Are we reporting differently just because we think about it differently?
[d]Sounds like we need more surveys!
[e]I wonder what the experience is in 2020 compared to 2010, compared to 1980 For example, when my father was in grad school in the 1970’s, my mother was typing his papes for him. I wonder if changes in the reasons and ways people go to grad school impacts their experience of the situation.
[f]Ohhhh wow. I really don’t know! We have data from 2015 at the earliest. And we really can’t compare because we used very different questions in 2017
[g]This reminds me of an essay written in the 1970s I think (can’t remember author) in which a feminist explains how she would really like to have a wife since they do all of the thankless things to support the success of their spouse :).
[h]Is this influenced by the demographics; i.e. are older grad students more likely to be international or vice versa?
[i]Interesting, I don’t think we have this data at hand but my thought would be no.
[j]Yes – I wondered about this assumption. I know that older students are coming back to school now (I’m one of them). There seem to be more people starting families while in grad school – so the idea that they are all singletons in their 20s doesn’t really seem to ring true anymore.
[k]In 2019, we included questions on family status for correlations, but not age.


[l]Is this because they accepted certain negative aspects of their programs in the past w/o complaint or is it because something has fundamentally changed about the structure of graduate programs?
[m]Also interested to know about the generational aspects of this (generational in terms of inherited structures, temporal changes, etc.)
[n]I think that the fundamental structure of graduate programs needs to change. It is built to publish and conduct research for the PI not to support graduate students in their achievements. This is especially true for those who identify as BIPOC. From our experience trying to implement changes not every faculty member is interested in helping or volunteering their time
[o]I presume this means universal across institutions rather than all individuals feel the same challenges
[p]Yes, for example across most institutions you do not have to be trained to manage people to be a PI
[q]To me, this seems to also be related to Jessica’s question above querying faculty’s resistance to adaptation and supporting new and/or old unaddressed needs, since the transient nature of the grad student population might only be a major source of hindrance to evaluation if the effort is taken up, pushed, and facilitated by graduate students
[r]Yes exactly.

[s]What motivated these faculty to take on this project?
[t]I believe this was one faculty member. I’m involved with the student group associated with the survey (they’ve repeated it since the initial survey) and the faculty advisor of the student group was also the director of graduate studies at the time and collaborated with psychiatrists from the health center on campus
[u]You can read some more about it here (https://cen.acs.org/articles/95/i32/Grappling-graduate-student-mental-health.html)
[v]Thanks – I’ll take a look. Is this something that the JST has taken on – or is this a separate group?
[w]A separate group. This is run through http://ccgs.chem.umn.edu/

[x]Were these all chemistry students?
[y]Yes, spanning years 2-6
[z]Was there a focus group phase to test the questions before they were used in the survey?
[aa]Yes. Our sample group included graduate students and postdocs, men and women, international and domestic. We also had some faculty and mental health advisors read the survey for their take.
[ab]Thanks. In my experience, that is a very helpful step that not all climate surveys undertake
[ac]It was especially important for us to ensure language was clear to those for whom English was not their first language.
[ad]The transition from U/G to grad school introduces the student to going from being one of the academic leaders of the class to being a lesser star in a peer group of academic stars. Coping with that can be difficult. Is this addressed in this study?
[ae]We did not address this specific phenomenon. Themes of imposter syndrome were pervasive in qualitative responses, however.
[af]In personal conversations, I definitely see evidence for this. While a grad student joins a dept, it really feels more like they join a PI. Two students in the same department can have wildly different experiences depending on who their PI is.
[ag]You can even at times see very different experiences within a group (e.g. the student that is fellowship funded vs. the student that requires support off the research grant).
[ah]I have had this exact same experience. I initially joined one group and after my first year I switched to a different group due to the terrible environment in the first group. My mental health improved tremendously as a result. Both were in the same department
[ai] Definitely true. On a personal note, I encourage fellow graduate students to seek as much funding outside of their PI as possible, even if they think they are covered, because money often = power.
[aj]Money helps, but at the end of the day your PI writes your rec letter, introduces you to collaborators, your future bosses, etc.
[ak]Securing outside funding can also make it easier to switch PIs or bring in a more supportive co-PI. I am speaking on a personal level here – it helps more than any other single factor.
[al]Absolutely agree on being self-funded leading to greater opportunities and flexibility.


[am]Is this data broken out in any way to see if caucasian students were having these more positive interactions with caucasian PIs or just all PIs? Also, for those who are not caucasian, do they also have more positive experiences when their PIs are not caucasian (or even identify in the same way as the student)?
[an]We did not collect PI identity/demographics of respondents. We would also run into small-numbers statistics here due to poor diversity among faculty in just our department. I think this is an excellent point to share with our future climate survey teams!
[ao]Definitely – it would also be interesting to compare to another institution that does have more diversity among its faculty, especially with the number of international faculty that exist in departments throughout the US.
[ap]Specifically to mentorship, are faculty required to go through any mentoring programs/trainings?
[aq]There is a huge limitation with requiring tenured faculty to attend these trainings. There has been recent discussion of having “digital badges” placed on faculty profiles for those who have completed the training. A very visual form of peer pressure, but again, not a requirement.
[ar]Are any proposals made to increase “buy-in” on these workshops? I feel that sometimes those going to events and programs of this nature tend to be those who already understand the importance of mental health and not necessarily those who need to hear it.
[as]I echo this sentiment. At my uni, the faculty most in need of training / the most egregious ones are the ones who think it’s a waste of time and won’t participate
[at]Hard AGREE.
[au]Absolutely. My dream would be to tie it to tenure and promotion but that has not happened yet. We do now host mentorship training for faculty though!
[av]While tying it to promotion would eventually fix this the Old guard which unfortunately is a lot of the more repeat offenders who are set in their ways would still be relatively left untouched more active / radical initiatives like linking mentorship performance to grant support would have a bigger effect. But this would be highly difficult to apply at the institutional level.

[aw]On the PI side, I am also curious who in the institution really sits down and thinks about how PI time is divvied up and what the expectations are. Given that PIs do not have a direct boss, I feel like there are a whole lot of “PIs should…” discussions without rebalancing the demands that already exist.
[ax]I am curious about how this is being done? Increased recruitment?
[ay]Currently, UW-Madison is working on recruitment as well as retention initiatives via mentoring programs. More on some of these programs here:
https://chem.wisc.edu/catalyst/
https://chem.wisc.edu/2013/10/09/opportunities-abound-chops-and-pgsec-programs-expose-undergraduates-to-graduate-school-life/
[az]At my uni, we have had some success with a student-led team called the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) – https://voices.uchicago.edu/grit/
They specifically work to target recruitment at URMs, work to create and maintain an accessible support network for the URM students they successfully recruited, and they work to address issues in application requirements (for instance, they were successfully able to get the GRE removed from admissions requirements across all graduate programs https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2018/11/16/grits-urging-biological-sciences-drops-gre-require/)
[ba]It is in my experience that when faced with the notion of recruiting more underrepresented minorities into graduate programs department leadership has come up with rather lackluster ideas of how this isdone.
As a matter of fact while recruitment seems to be increasing I would like to see how that compares to degree completion related to overall satisfaction with the program.
[bb]That is why I was asking because I personally believe increased recruitment alone hasn’t helped dealt with the issue.
[bc]Another factor is how is the overall climate in the department is adapting to increase presence of underrepresented minorities. Has it been embraced and flourished or have these students been tokenized in an effort to improve the outward appearance of a program?
[bd]Yes yes yes. these are all so important. Increased recruitment just forces someone into a space that can be toxic. We’re working on this (because we really need to). Like Tesia said we’re trying to change our department to create spaces and be supportive. Along the lines of supporting and promoting affinity groups, standardizing requirements, increasing transparency along every step of the program (graduation requirements and PI expectation documents). There’s definitely more but I can’t think of it off the top of my head.
[be]I’m just copying and pasting my comment from above about GRIT, since they are an organization that works diligently to support URM students that they’ve successfully recruited, as well. It’s a fundamental part of their functioning.
At my uni, we have had some success with a student-led team called the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) – https://voices.uchicago.edu/grit/
They specifically work to target recruitment at URMs, work to create and maintain an accessible support network for the URM students they successfully recruited, and they work to address issues in application requirements (for instance, they were successfully able to get the GRE removed from admissions requirements across all graduate programs https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2018/11/16/grits-urging-biological-sciences-drops-gre-require/)

[bf]How do you separate frustration related to failed experiments from other stressors? Isn’t part of the development as a scientist learning to deal with experiments not working and developing tools to create the desired outcome?
[bg]I don’t think you can necessarily separate those frustrations. The way stressors build on one another makes them entangled so that they cannot be dissected away from each other. I think it’s more so important to acknowledge that failed experiments will exist and find ways to minimize additional stressors that can exacerbate the frustrations associated with the experimental side.
[bh]Isn’t that learning to cope with failure?
[bi]I think even learning from failure can be facilitated so that it is not so detrimental to one’s mental health. My current PI is very good at this, and constantly tries to make my lab mates and not take failure personally, and constantly turn it into a learning experience. The end result of all of this is that while I still get frustrated due to inevitable failures, I am more often able to go home at the end of the day and not feel terrible about myself
[bj]This is an interesting thread to me. Actual results of my experiments never actually represented a “stress” for me – either when I was working in a research lab in undergrad or in grad school. The stress has all been centered around poor & neglectful relationships, lack of clarity on what goal posts are supposed to exist where. Every stupid little thing is some sort of mystery to figure out. It is incredibly unnecessary and takes away from the joy of the actual research.
[bk]I agree with you on this. It may seem trivial talking about teaching graduate students how to deal with failure of experiments or grad work in general but grad school is a journey. Not knowing how to effectively deal with frustrations from work can pile up real quick and that might lead to some detrimental mental health issues.
[bl]It’s also pretty important to recognize that one’s ability to “cope with failure” is heavily dependent on their support system, the degree to which they feel they have power/control over their environment and lives, the degree to which failures are expected as natural and normal by others in the environment, and their self-perceptions (which are themselves influenced heavily by the environment).
I think it’s too reductive to say that it’s a matter of “learning to cope.” Coping skills are very important, but they are only reasonable deterrents when your environment and support systems are reasonably sufficient.
[bm]For me, when my experiments failed most of the stress came from my former PI getting upset that I couldn’t make it work. I think the response to the failure from the PI dictates a lot more how the students will respond to it. Obviously, personalities dictate this to some extent as well, but having a PI who supports you despite the failures can minimize a lot of the frustrations due to the failure.

[bn]This is a really good point. It sort of alludes to a point I made above asking about the mental well being of PIs. How much unhealthy coping and overreaction to negative things (including data) is being triggered by the PI themselves reacting in a really inappropriate way?
[bo]Jessica’s point about the uncertainty for the ‘goal posts’ IMHO can’t be overstated. That’s a conversation that all grad students should have with the PI before ever deciding to join their group. And even then, things can shift during the student’s career, but having some idea up front (and confirming similar expectations with other students in the group) should be very high on the evaluation list for prospective research group selection.
[bp]I think one interesting question to ask would be, how has this value changed before and after starting grad school. In other words, did students enrolling in graduate school have a history/propensity towards problems with mental health
[bq]This is interesting. I also wonder if any studies have been done to see if those who become research faculty exhibit anxiety at a higher rate than the average population.
[br]I am wondering if it would help if PIs have some expertise in Psychology
[bs]I think that kind of begs the question. Is that important to address? If the answer to your question Taysir is yes, then that doesn’t mean we give up on not making graduate school a negative environment.
[bt]Not necessarily an expertise in psychology – but more having some training in team building and project management. It is shocking to me what PIs are expected to do when nothing about graduate training suggests that these types of things are part of the education.
[bu]@rebeca Fernandez. Oh absolutely, I fully agree that creating a more supportive is something that is essential. What I was alluding to is this: the answer to my question is yes, then that would warrant further investigation into the source of these metal health issues that arose prior to grad school, and how grad school exasperated them. If the answer to my question is no, which I find the most likely scenario, then that would even more conclusively show that grad school is indeed the source of these mental health issues, and further validate your efforts

[bv]I worry about this becoming a culture of faculty just handing off “troubled” students instead of acknowledging the role they may be playing in harming the mental health of their students.
[bw]I second this there are a lot of treat the symptoms not the cause initiatives when handling graduate student mental health.
[bx]Agreed. How much of the issue is “my mental health” versus “this relationship is incredibly harmful but I depend heavily on it”?
[by]I agree.
[bz]Yeah definitely. Cristian’s point is excellent. I think that is an easy flaw of Climate Survey data. It becomes much easier to treat symptoms then address the root cause of it

[ca]How has this been impacted by COVID? Do you have any post-publication information about attendance at these office hours?
[cb]This will be addressed in the 2021-2022 survey
[cc]These are still hosted now but via Zoom or phone call.
[cd]I wonder how grad student pay correlates with these findings. Are all grad students paid the same amount? Is it a living wage in Madison?
[ce]Ooooo interesting. We asked if stress was caused by financial factors. I believe that everyone is “paid the same” unless you are on NSF GRFP. International students have to pay more fees.
[cf]Many universities have different pay levels based on degree progress. It could also vary wildly by department a common occurrence pay discrepancies also tends to show up in summer funding for 9 month stipends. The summer funding can be either widely available or generously compensating. And this dichotomy has been observed way too much in higher education.
[cg]The financial aspects are definitely something that should be considered. Most are compensated at levels near (or below) the poverty line. Even those lucky enough to have compensation dictated by federal programs aren’t substantially better-off financially.

[ch]In addition to faculty and staff, there are over 100 staff members in the department. I suspect that they have a significant role to play in influencing the department’s climate
[ci]Great point. Also worth noting that Departmental leaders (e.g. Chair) aren’t always the most qualified to lead, but get that responsibility due to politics or the unwillingness of the more qualified to offer their time for those responsibilities.
[cj]This is so true. From the staff in the department office, the technical support people to the custodians.
[ck]Chemistry faculty rarely have any structured education in leadership or management. This lapse leads to difficulty managing people (students/staff) and causes unnecessary stress on those managed. I have no idea how to address this on a system level. Back when I was a PI and later as a business owner, I took some management classes.
[cl]Faculty support is mentioned specifically because of the present power structure. Recommendations in the survey are were developed for all department members (including staff). Discussions of staff climate surveys have occurred, but I don’t have much information on that development.

[cm]While technically true, it can feel very much like you really only answer to your PI. I have found it quite stunning how little I know about what is going on in my building – especially when I compare it to positions in which I worked before coming to grad school.
[cn]Yes, staff play an active role and we meet with faculty, staff and students frequently on various committees.
[co]when I was a new BS graduate, I was hired by an academic department to support international grad students who needed help with their English, etc. This was 1980 and most labs in the agronomy department had that kind of support that faculty could rely on to support their grad students. I get the impression that this support team has dwindled significantly since about 1990
[cp]Is there historical data about the drop out rate of the department’s grad students. A faculty friend of mine who went to UW Madison as a history major in the 1980’s said he was the only person in his entering class to actually get his degree there.
[cq]This likely exists in department records, but I do not have stats on this presently.


[cr]On a personal level, I have found it extremely frustrating how much time I have wasted learning about basic things at my university. Everything is do disjointed. While it is not “the” stresser, it adds an unnecessary layer that distracts you from focusing on the truly challenging parts of graduate school.
[cs]I agree! I think making it more transparent on how to do things and report things helps a lot! Especially if you encounter an abusive faculty, less hoops to jump through make it much easier to remedy the situation.
[ct]I suspect that the disjointed nature of the academic community is part of the education of the grad student, as opposed to the technical training aspects. This is not an efficient approach to sharing information, but primes people for being faculty members rather than scientists
[cu]Ha! It is literally the 1st thing I would fix – as I have in multiple companies. Why would I want my team distracted by pointless garbage when instead I would want their eyes on the prize and the focus on the actual work we are producing?
[cv]Actually there’s a lot of data that shows that this exact type of information specifically selects against minoritized students in academia. This is what we mean by increasing transparency and standardizing graduation requirements. SO that this information can be easily found and not create an undue burden.
[cw]It’s a feature not a bug if you’re trying to produce more faculty members
[cx]And there should be many arguments about whether or not we should be trying to produce more faculty members, given the job availability.

And, it only “primes people for being faculty members” under the assumption that the future of academic structure remains disjointed 😛