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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life May 11, 2021

Marva Tariq ’21: A Calling In Chemistry

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Marva Tariq ’21 found her calling in the chemistry lab in her first year at Smith when, she says, “I was blown away by the fact that I could apply classroom knowledge to solve real-world problems.”

Her curiosity has helped her remain unfazed by failed experiments or the need to master complex scientific concepts (organic chemistry, for one).

“Every time I encounter a challenge in the lab it pushes me further,” Tariq says. “I ask myself, ‘why isn’t this working?’ I’m just crazy to find out why things are happening.”

Her time at Smith has been marked by academic accomplishments, including the receipt of a Smith STRIDE scholarship in her first year, a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship and an Iota Sigma Pi Gladys Anderson Emerson scholarship in her junior year, and a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship to support her studies at the California Institute of Technology in the fall.

Her adviser, Professor of Chemistry Kevin Shea, says Tariq has not only shown “an impressive work ethic and dedication to her studies,” but has also been “an incredible partner” in mentoring fellow students and helping to create more inclusive teaching practices in the sciences.

“I value Marva’s opinion greatly,” Shea says. “I often ask her advice when I’m thinking of trying something out in the classroom.”

Growing up, Tariq says she was inspired by the example of her parents, who immigrated to New York City from Pakistan with the aim of “giving their kids a good education.”

Her older brother, Rehan—who was the first in the family to go to college and is now in his second year of medical school—was also a role model.

“I always saw him doing well in school, and that motivated me and my younger sister,” says Tariq, who graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School. “At the time, I thought my career would be as a doctor, too.”

During her first semester at Smith, she worked on a project in Shea’s lab that involved isolating chemicals found in plant leaves for use in treating neglected tropical diseases—and a lightbulb went off about her future.

“I wanted to become a doctor because I was passionate about medicine and helping people,” Tariq says. “Working on that project, I realized I could also help people behind the scenes by becoming a pharmaceutical chemist or a researcher.”

She began to focus on “exploring the chemistry puzzle pieces—how do you take a smaller molecule and make bigger molecules?” Her current research involves the use of cobalt to produce carbon atom rings.

“Marva is answering a question we have been working on for over a decade,” Shea says. “She hopes she can get her key result before graduation.”

Tariq gained valuable experience during internships in laboratories at Harvard and New York University. But she says studying at a women’s college is what truly helped her develop confidence in herself as a scientist.

“Smith is a super supportive environment, full of women who are empowering each other and encouraging each other to do their best and reach their full potential,” Tariq says. “I really value my time here. It has helped me become the person I am.”

She has worked to support other students by serving as a classroom assistant and mentor, and by participating in efforts to address equity and inclusion issues. Last year, Tariq gave a presentation at Framingham State University’s STEM Racial Equity Institute, along with Shea and Nathan Derr, associate professor of biological sciences.

“I wanted to share my experience as a first-generation college student and an Asian American who did not grow up with a lot of privilege,” Tariq  says. “I feel like it’s really important in STEM to have leaders who are students of color. Seeing ourselves represented can be encouraging—a sign of success.”

What will she miss most about Smith after graduating?

“My fellow chemistry sisters!” Tariq says, with a smile. “Without the relationships with my fellow students and the support my friends have given me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”