Arts & Culture / Mosaic / October 18, 2017

From student to professor: Helen Hoyt


Assistant Professor of Chemistry Helen Hoyt shows off the chemistry lab’s inert atmosphere glove-box, which students use for experiments. (Dan Perez/TKS)

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Helen Hoyt didn’t come to college thinking of herself as a “science person.” Initially interested in music or creative writing, but still unsure about her future career, Hoyt chose to attend Knox in hopes that a liberal arts education would help her decide. At Knox, she took a chemistry class and fell in love with the field.

“I guess I had this image in my head of what a scientist was,” she said. “I didn’t really think that I fit that. But coming to Knox it was kind of like, no, anybody who is interested and curious can pursue what they want.”

In 2001, Hoyt graduated from Knox with a B.A. in chemistry and went on to receive a Ph. D. from University of California-Berkeley in 2007. Going into graduate school, Hoyt already knew she wanted to teach at a place like Knox.

“It made such a difference for me,” she said. “It’s kind of cool to give that back a little bit.”

Hoyt’s face lit up as she gestured towards a collection of photographs.

“Those are my research students, and so we’re working together on stuff a lot,” she said. “Their enthusiasm for what we’re working on, and the cool stuff that they get to do, and that we all get to be a part of together, is just really exciting.”

For Hoyt, part of the appeal of Knox comes from the close personal relationships that can form between a student and a professor. “At Knox . . . I think everybody gets a chance to get to know a professor,” she said. “I think that I didn’t appreciate that as much as a student as I do now.”

Hoyt cites Knox’s emphasis on interdisciplinary study, which allowed her to foster her love of chemistry, as another one of her favorite things about the school. She is currently researching hemoglobin in the hope that it can help provide an alternative to toxic metals used in the chemical industry. Yet she appreciates that even as a professor, Knox gives her the opportunity to explore other fields.

“I get to teach Science Fiction and Human Identity, which is really fun for me,” she said. “I don’t always get to think about cool interpretations of literature in my everyday work, but now I can, once every fall.”

Since her time at Knox, Hoyt says that the biggest change has been the construction and renovation of campus buildings like the Alumni Hall and the Whitcomb Art Center. However, she thinks that the most important part of the college has stayed the same.

“The spirit of the Knox students is always just to be really engaged in what they do, you know?” she said. “I think the heart of the place is the same, and that’s what I really respond to and really like to be here.”

Cassie Womack

Tags:  chemistry helen hoyt interdiscipline Knox alumni student to professor

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