Science & Technology

UWF chemistry department achieves high acceptance rate for students attending top 25 doctoral programs

Students in the University of West Florida Department of Chemistry are proving that success is possible despite unprecedented challenges. Nine Spring 2021 chemistry graduates are heading to a doctoral program this fall. Additionally, 45% of students were accepted to top 25 graduate programs and another 10% accepted to top 50 ranked programs. This marks the highest percentage of a graduating class from the chemistry department moving on to doctoral programs since 2017.

UWF students conduct studies and experiments in the Roy and Henrietta Hemminghaus Chemistry Lab located in the Lab Science Annex on August 10, 2020.

“We are proud of all of our graduates, especially this year as they persevered through a pandemic to complete their degrees,” said Dr. Karen Molek, department chair and associate professor of chemistry. “Chemistry faculty and staff rose above the professional and personal challenges presented by COVID-19 to ensure our students continued receiving high quality teaching, cutting edge research opportunities, individual mentoring, and personalized resources. These student successes are a product of everyone’s diligence and dedication.”

Lali Gutierrez, a chemistry/biochemistry graduate, was accepted to the chemistry graduate program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which ranks among the top 10 programs in the U.S. She said her future career aspirations include working on neurodegenerative diseases or cancer in a research hospital, private lab or government facility.

“As a transfer student, I personally believe that I would not have been prepared or even accepted to top 10 graduate programs if I had not come to UWF,” she said. “The one-on-one interactions between faculty and students gave me a community where I could learn and freely ask questions. Both Chemistry Scholars and MARC scholars helped me grow professionally with all the workshops and seminars.”

Zahra Alikhani, a chemistry graduate, will attend the chemistry graduate program to pursue a doctorate at another top 10 ranked school, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She credits the UWF chemistry department with preparing her to overcome obstacles to achieve her dreams.

“We had a lot of sessions in the Chem Scholars program to talk with seniors about their plans and how they tackled obstacles,” she said. “That gave us an overview of what it would be like before we faced challenges ourselves. Additionally, faculty in the chemistry department helped us in any way they could, whenever we asked for it. They offered great advice, showed us various paths we could take to get to our chosen careers, and even walked a portion of those unknown paths to make sure we would be okay.”

Alikhani said her peers and faculty members became like a family to her during her undergraduate studies.

“My favorite memory is just how close it feels to be part of the chemistry department,” she said. “It feels more like a family that walks alongside you to make sure you’re in good shape – both mentally and physically – while advising you to take the highest academic path possible. Even if you yourself don’t believe you can, they believe in you and they make sure they show it to you time after time.”

The UWF chemistry department offers small class sizes, with personalized attention and state-of-the-art laboratories that provide hands-on training and unique research opportunities for undergraduates.

To learn more about the UWF Department of Chemistry, visit