A Conversation with Antonio Brathwaite

About Antonio

Name: Antonio Brathwaite
Location: Atlanta, GA
Community Connection: Chemistry Faculty
Career: Senior Lecturer
Alma Mater: University of Georgia (Phd)/ Erskine College (BS)

How has your life changed — or not — as a result of COVID-19 closures?

The first week was miserable. However, as the students started to settle in, they began to reach out for assistance. The COVID-19 closures have forced me to slow down and reflect on the current status of my life.

How are you structuring your “work from home” schedule?

Haha….what schedule?

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Sleep, think, act.

Talk about a lesson you learned from something that could be categorized as a “failure.”

I did not even receive a phone interview from any of the industry jobs I applied for after finishing my PhD. Proctor and Gamble sent me a rejection email nanoseconds after I submitted my application (yes, I am still bitter about this.) I knew my skill set and talents were best suited for academia. However, I tried to avoid that path because I found the six-figure salaries in industry quite appealing. The lesson – stay in your lane.

How did you find your passion in science? What’s the story behind it?

My passion is helping people. Science is the vehicle that allows me to do this. I found my passion when I relinquished my selfish industry ambitions and embraced my future in academia.

What is a personal activity/hobby that you think complements your scientific skills or vice versa?

Soccer. The game is played using your feet and a round ball and mistakes are inevitable. Soccer helps me to be persistent in the face of disappointment.

What is something that you used to believe, but no longer do?

I used to believe that goals are essential for success. Instead, I now believe that having the right system is essential for success. Focussing on the system instead of the goal is more sustainable because once you achieve your goal, you already have a framework to keep pressing forward. Additionally, in the event that you do not achieve your goal, you can make strategic changes to your system to achieve your desired outcome or pursue another opportunity.

Do you have a system for being productive?

For me, productivity is connected to purpose. My purpose is to help students realize their fullest potential. Accordingly, my students are central to my system. This became painfully obvious during our recent shift to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although not as effective as in-person interactions, I have been able to maintain some level of productivity by interacting with my students via various communication platforms.

What makes you most excited about your work?

My students! The opportunity to play a part in the success of my students is my biggest source of motivation and excitement.

What has been your favorite paper or result that has come out of your work and why?

My recent paper on the vanadium-mediated trimerization of acetylene to form benzene in the gas phase is my favorite. I collected the experimental data and my former undergraduate research student was running theory on the complexes when she noticed that benzene formation was possible. We had not considered benzene as a reaction product prior to her discovery. This is my favorite paper because the outcome was shaped by the diligence of an undergraduate research student.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in completing your dissertation? What was the biggest factor contributing to your success?

My dissertation was relatively fairly straightforward. I would say the biggest challenge was not having anyone that looked like me to serve as a mentor. That being said, my PhD advisor, Mike Duncan, is the biggest contributing factor to my success. He never questioned my ability, gave me freedom to be creative, and has been a steadfast supporter.

What is the book you’ve given most as gift?

The Physician Philosopher’s Guide to Personal Finance: The 20% of Personal Finance Doctors Need to Know to Get 80% of the Results

What is your advice to chemistry students?

Find your purpose and develop the courage to pursue it. Also, it is OK to change your mind.

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