Olga Bakulina, Assistant at the laboratory of chemical pharmacology at St Petersburg University, has returned from a trip to the USA for the winners of the prestigious CAS Future Leaders international competition. The researcher recounted how she became one of the 30 most promising chemists in the world in 2019 and what skills young scholars should develop today.

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CAS Future Leaders – is a competition for young researchers from all over the world, organised by a division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) – Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS). This year the prize was awarded to only 30 post graduate and post-doctorate students from such prestigious educational institutions as Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, Harvard University, and many others. Olga Bakulina, Candidate of Chemistry and Assistant at the laboratory of chemical pharmacology of St Petersburg University, was among this year’s winners.

‘To my great surprise and joy, I was shortlisted at the first attempt, despite big competition from young scientists from all around the world,’ Olga Bakulina said. ‘I had little hope of winning, as during 10 years of the competition, there has been only one winner from Russia. The application was assessed using three criteria: essay, biography, and a letter of reference. I am very grateful to my research supervisor Mikhail Krasavin, Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Head of the laboratory of chemical pharmacology at St Petersburg University. Not only did he create an excellent environment to achieve the results and developments that formed the basis of my essay, but he also presented a letter of reference for the competition, which contributed significantly to my victory.’

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The winners first went to Columbus, Ohio, where they visited the SciFinder centre for developing and recording data on chemical reactions. Then they went to San Diego, California, to attend the ACS National Meeting. Olga Bakulina said that the programme of the visit was aimed at developing communicative or soft skills. The participants took part in: master-classes in presenting scientific results to a non-scientific audience; classes in coaching in the professional sphere, writing a resume, and attracting project investments; and other useful activities.

The day spent in a hospital, when we met people who underwent chemotherapy and recovered from cancer, left the strongest impression. It is an example how the results of scientific research affect the real world and lives of people. It is very important to know that you are involved in something that is necessary. It strengthens your motivation.

Olga Bakulina, Assistant at the laboratory of chemical pharmacology of St Petersburg University

Olga Bakulina learnt about the competition from the SciFinder database website, which she uses at work almost every day. Victory in the competition allowed her to meet the editors of leading scientific publishing houses, representatives of industrial companies, businessmen, and professional speakers.

‘I assume that the most valuable experience for me was the communication with other participants. Even though we were from 16 different countries, we easily found a common language and became friends,’ said Olga. ‘It is always interesting and useful to learn how scientists work in other countries, what advantages and challenges they have, and what their approach is to solving problems. I hope that in future our communication will lead to scientific cooperation, and joint projects and publications.’