Katie Hunt was the 2017/2018 Brenton S. Halsey Distinguished Visiting Professor in Engineering at the University of Virginia. She was drawn out of retirement by the opportunity to teach future engineers how to thrive, not just survive, in the fast-paced world of work.
After completing an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale in MB&B (Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry), Dr. Hunt started working at Rohm and Haas in Philadelphia. Katie’s chemistry degrees include a BA from Smith College and a PhD from University of California, Davis. As the R&D Director of Innovation Sourcing & Sustainable Technologies at Dow, she developed technology partnerships across the company with universities, national labs, and the federal government.
Active in her profession, Dr. Hunt is a past president of the American Chemical Society (ACS), a Fellow of both ACS and AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), and the current chair of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Math and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee (MPSAC). She also serves on the advisory board for DeafTEC, an NSF Center for Deaf Technologies, at RIT/NTID (Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf), as well as for GCCA (Global Cool Cities Alliance).
Katie enjoys cycling for fun and fitness with family, friends, or solo, as necessary!
What is the one essential piece of personal tech you always travel with?
My lightweight and ergonomic Logitech R400 Wireless Laser Pointer. As advertised, “it helps you keep your audience in the palm of your hand.”
Window or aisle?
I always used to choose the aisle but now I go window—you get the view and no one climbs over you to go to the bathroom!
Where would your dream business trip take you? What appeals to you about this destination?
I love to travel and the one trip I missed because travel was cancelled was Spain. I was going to Pamplona to see the running of the bulls. I just finished reading “Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones” by Larry Loftis. One of these days …
Airport you are highly motivated to avoid, if at all possible. Why?
At this point, I’m committed to making the best of any situation. Bring a good book, good snacks, and be open to new adventures. That said, whenever possible, fly direct.
How do you pass the time while flying?
Always a great time to read—catch up on those C&EN editions that pile up sooooo quickly!
Where did your very first business trip take you? What do you most remember about that trip?
Pacific Grove, Calif., for the ENC, Experimental NMR Conference, at the Asilomar Conference Center--fabulous presentations from luminaries, great beach hikes with new colleagues, and one big dining area for eating and meeting!
What is your go-to snack to bring on-board the plane?
A mix of chunks of energy carob spirulina, raw almonds, and dried Turkish figs. Just pop them in your mouth, savor the flavor, and enjoy the energy burst. Of course, also hydrate with plenty of water.
Favorite ACS meeting site?
Like eating a Lays Potato Chip---how could I have just one?!? My favorite close location is Philly, as I just hop on the local train and I’m at the convention center! And who doesn’t love the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, the great restaurants, and the wonderful walkability! Most exotic was Hawaii; my first board meeting as ACS President Elect—ALOHA! Love San Francisco—I went to grad school in California and love dim sum, Golden Gate Park, trolley cars, and Muir Woods. Okay, I’m going to stop here before I exceed my word limit.
What do you do to alleviate jet lag?
Argonne National Lab Anti-Jet-Lag-Diet. You start eating and sleeping like you are in your destination time zone before you go (see details online). When you arrive, you are already on your new time. It’s brilliant!
Was there a business trip you have taken that went particularly badly? What happened?
It was 2007, I was headed to Mexico City to kick-off a multiday ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI). I was at PHL early, but the flight kept getting delayed. I was connecting through Dallas which was fogged in and not clearing. By 5 pm, despite attempts to reroute, rebook, etc., it was clear I was not getting there. I tried to cancel but they insisted that we move my talk to the next morning. Finally, rebooked on a very early flight, I headed to an airport hotel.
I ate at the hotel, charged it to my room, and headed upstairs. ARRRRGH, my room key didn’t work. After multiple tries, I suddenly realized this was not my room. I was so tired, and I was at the room number from my last business trip. Yikes--the restaurant charge!!! I rushed back downstairs, the restaurant was closing, the young waitress was getting royally reamed out for letting a scofflaw get a free dinner. They were going to doc her pay, I felt horrible, she was crying. I wished I was home, she probably did, too. I apologized, showed identification, and the manager got things sorted. I gave my waitress an extra tip on the side!
The next day I flew to Mexico City and I’m so glad that I did. The workshop was brilliant, the students so enthusiastic, and the professors so welcoming. The city was positively alive with spring!
And now for the best part. About five years later at a very packed Sci-Mix, a student walked up and introduced himself saying, “you probably don’t remember me … I heard you talk in Mexico City. During your talk I realized what I had to do next; as you said, “Make a difference, a positive difference.” I had to get a graduate degree in chemistry, green and sustainable chemistry. I didn’t know how I was going to afford it but, I was going to do it!” He jumped into action, got a scholarship to study in the U.S., and was finishing his PhD. His sheer energy and commitment were inspirational.
Bottomline: Thank you to ACS and GCI for bringing us all together, we couldn’t do it without you. Travel can be trying sometimes, but the next generation and the planet are worth it!
Your best business travel tip for readers of ACS Industry Matters?
Bring and wear comfortable walking shoes, especially at ACS meetings! I love my Merrell Vapor Glove barefoot shoes—so lightweight and comfortable. I always bring two pairs – one black and professional, one colorful and FUN! You have to train your feet to wear these minimalist soles. I’ve been wearing them since I was ACS president – thanks to NY Councilor, George Ruger for stopping me in the Convention Center and saying, “Madame President, Katie, you are from NY. NY women know how to wear comfortable shoes. I know you have them in your backpack.” I stopped right then and there, pulled out my Merrells, and have never looked back.
Stay healthy, get engaged, and travel safely!
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.