Curiosity and passion for teaching keep new chemistry fellow engaged with students, research

RICHLAND, Wash. – Allan Felsot tells students that imposter syndrome is a common denominator among many successful people, himself included.

Mug shot of Felsot
Allan Felsot

“Most good scientists often feel like imposters, having a sense that they could do or know more,” said Felsot, a professor and Extension specialist in Washington State University’s Department of Entomology. “It’s a natural feeling in honest people to think, ‘Do I really deserve this?’”

Imposter syndrome may be common, but receiving national recognition can help eliminate that feeling. Recognition like Felsot’s recent election as a fellow by the American Chemical Society (ACS), for example.

Felsot, who previously also served as the academic director for the math and science sector of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at WSU Tri-Cities, joined ACS in the late 1970s as a graduate student. He’s held past leadership positions in the organization but was still surprised when he heard about his election.

“I’m very honored to be recognized for the work I’ve done,” Felsot said. “I assumed I wouldn’t be elected, so I had a very stoic attitude about it. But it does make me feel like I’ve impacted  my field, not only with my research but by helping new generations continue to learn and develop.”

Felsot, who grew up in south Florida, came to WSU in the early 1990s after spending more than 14 years at the University of Illinois. He was program chair in his ACS division for a few years in the early 2000s and led an annual Young Scientist Symposium in ACS for 14 years.

Founded in 1876 and chartered by the U.S. Congress, ACS has over 150,000 members in 140 countries. Its mission is to advance the chemistry field and its practitioners and improve people’s lives.

For the past decade, Felsot has focused on teaching and less on new research, but he continues to keep up with the latest work done in his field of pesticides and environmental toxicology.

“If you have a real interest and love for something, you keep doing it,” said Felsot, 71. “I’m driven by curiosity. If you’re curious, you can make real contributions, whether in new research or as a mentor to the next generation of scientists.”

Mentoring is important to Felsot because he wouldn’t be where he is or who he is without those who mentored and helped him.

“They helped me realize I wanted to be a biologist, but that I really enjoyed the chemistry involved in entomology,” Felsot said. “I love working with current students to help them understand that scientists are real people who have similar thoughts about being imposters. I want them to exercise their curiosity by seeing my passion and curiosity.”