Get to Know WIC: Grace Putka Ahlqvist

Grace grew up in Columbus, Ohio and earned her BA in chemistry at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. She then worked in infant formula product development at Abbott Laboratories for a year before starting grad school at MIT in the fall of 2017. Now a third-year student in the Jamison group, Grace’s research focuses on the development of novel organic reaction methodology using continuous flow technology as an enabling tool. She lives off-campus with her husband Jakob and cat Burt, and enjoys cooking, baking, and singing in a choir in her spare time.

Why did you pick MIT?
My undergrad research advisor did his PhD in the Danheiser group at MIT, and he encouraged me to apply. After I visited all my options, MIT was the school I felt I could see myself at, and Boston was the city I could see myself calling home for 5+ years.

What are your favorite things about the Cambridge/Boston area?
I love how the city is big and small at the same time–big enough to have tons of things to do, but small enough to get around easily. Also, the huge amount of colleges and universities in the area make it a really unique place to be a grad student, and a really fun place to live.

What’s something that surprised you about life here?
I was surprised by how important my off-campus connections are. It’s been great for me to have friends and hobbies outside of MIT, both to remind myself that the world is bigger than building 18 and to really feel like I’m making a home here.

Real Talk: What’s been your biggest challenge since coming to MIT?
I went to a small liberal arts college, and initially it was really challenging to keep up in my classes when many of my classmates had already taken graduate level coursework and I hadn’t. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that I had been working in food science for a year, and hadn’t thought about reaction mechanisms in quite a while! While coursework was challenging, I got through it by studying with good friends (often finding out that everybody else was struggling as much as I was). Ultimately, I managed to do well in my classes and, more importantly, learned a lot!

What was your favorite part of your first year at MIT?
I really, really loved teaching. I was a TA for 5.13 (Organic II) in the fall and 5.12 (Organic I) in the spring, and leading recitations and interacting with students was definitely the highlight of my year.

What is your favorite thing about your cohort?
I lived off-campus with my husband my first year, so I was worried about making friends when everybody else was living together in the dorms. Thankfully, I made a lot of great friends in my cohort and always felt included even though I was living off campus. I’m still really close with people from my cohort, especially friends I TA’d with as a first year, even though most of us joined different groups.

Why did you join WIC?
I was active with a lot of student organizing in college, and when I got to MIT I was looking for a way to get involved and meet people outside my group and cohort. WIC was a great way to make friends and also have the chance to organize programming and advocate for grad students in the department.

What’s your favorite WIC program or event?
Definitely the mentorship program. I think it’s a really awesome, low-stress way to connect to an older grad student and get support during an often challenging time in your first year as you adjust to grad school. I’ve been active as a mentor for the past two years in addition to having my own mentor as a first year, and I’m thrilled that the department is expanding the program to serve students of all genders for the incoming class of 2020.

What’s your go-to for self-care in quarantine?
Baking! I actually had a sourdough starter for a while before the shutdown, so that’s been getting a lot of exercise as I experiment with new recipes like pretzels, muffins, and bagels in addition to my regular bread and pizza dough. It’s a nice way to slow down and focus on something not work-related that still feels productive.


Our series “Get to Know WIC” was inspired by MIT CADI, who did a similar series for their members. Thanks for the idea!