Dr. Ron Hunter (he/him) is currently Technical Director of Chemistry of North America for Mérieux NutriSciences. He works with policy, business, and research in wide-ranging environments (academic, government, and industry)—a fusion that allows him to take a more holistic approach to identifying and implementing solutions to solidify and advance the current movement to protect public health.
How did you first get interested in science?
While a lot of kids outgrew asking "why" over and over, I never did! I constantly questioned the workings of everything—how does grass grow, what happens if I mix women’s perfume with men’s cologne, why are teachers the boss, everything. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents allowed me to watch MacGyver and Goonies and bought me Lego kits, the "Mouse Trap" board game, and a microscope kit, among other imaginative toys. Exploration, play, and being a kid was encouraged. Whenever I needed a human subject, my little sister was a willing volunteer. As a result, my love for science and experimenting, while innate, started at home.
What experiences led you to your current career path?
Until my sophomore year of college, I only ever thought I would become a medical doctor. Then an internship at the National Science Foundation and meeting my mentor, Dr. Sherrie Green, expanded my knowledge of additional career paths in science. The following summer I completed a Research Experiences for Undergraduates at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras and pivoted to grad school. I entered grad school on the traditional organic chemistry track—it was my first love. However, I ended up attending a talk by Dr. P. Barry Ryan, who applied analytical chemistry to public health. Again, with the awareness of more paths, I pivoted to that track. Ever since, one of the themes of my career has been having a positive impact on and protecting public health.
What do you do in your current job?
In my current job as Technical Director of Chemistry for North America I ultimately protect public health. I direct quality control and technical functions of chemistry labs throughout the continent to ensure performance meets corporate standards. Day-to-day I serve in an advisory/consultancy role cross-functionally, interacting with all other roles at the company to include sales, customer care, operations, marketing, and the executive team. Questions I receive on any given day can range from being about our capability to analyze certain matrices to specific regulations for pesticides for food in Canada, the USA, and/or Mexico. Moreover, my colleagues and supervisor are based in Europe and responsible for different regions of the world. As a result, there are lots of opportunities to collaborate multi-nationally doing science and protect public health on a global scale.
You’re also involved with Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). Why each of these are important to you, and what are you currently involved in doing for them?
Attending a small liberal arts institution for undergrad, I had not discovered NOBCChE until I was part of Emory’s inaugural chapter in grad school. Even later, I discovered SACNAS during my postdoc. As a Black and Afro-Latino man, both organizations resonated with me as safe spaces to be myself. While I remained a member of NOBCChE, I found an opportunity for leadership training and mentorship from SACNAS that imprinted on me forever. A chance email advertising that the Linton-Poodry SACNAS Leadership Institute was looking for postdocs (applications due that same day!) came through my inbox as part of another listserv to which I belonged. I decided to shoot my shot knowing very little about the opportunity or organization.
Now I'm a 2011 graduate of the Linton-Poodry SACNAS Leadership Institute and a 2017 graduate of the SACNAS-HHMI Advanced Leadership Institute. Since joining SACNAS in 2011, I have served as a reviewer of abstracts and travel awards and a judge at each conference I have attended. I have also hosted several sessions at the annual conference including "Pauper to PhD: Financial Literacy for Scientists" (2017); "Stories from the Other Side of the Blurry Tunnel: It Gets Better After All!" (2013-2017); and "An Act of Translation: Transferring Your Research Skills into Something Meaningful to Society" (2016-2017), among others. Up until 2018, I anticipated joining the SACNAS Board of Directors. However, life circumstances, self-prioritization, and the pandemic limited my additional involvement on this scale with all organizations. Still, I continue what I call grassroots volunteerism with individual mentees and via several virtual speaking engagements.
Why was it important to you to contribute your story to the 500 Queer Scientists project?
Being who you are unapologetically is an act of resistance. Making yourself seen and heard and affirming your existence is revolutionary. As above-mentioned, when I learned something and was exposed to something, it literally allowed me to make life-changing decisions. My conclusions are my conclusions based upon the data I am presented with or have. With more data, I develop better theories and make better conclusions. This is why visibility is so important! It's my hope that anything I have contributed here helps someone say, “Well, hell, me too!” or “I didn’t know that but now I do!” and they run with it.
When first meeting persons in professional or personal spaces and revealing that I'm a PhD chemist, I routinely hear “I never would have guessed that!” with utter surprise. When I probe why, they say, “You don’t seem like a scientist.” Sometimes the follow-up conversation is kind, and other times it can be challenging. However, what I know and what I'm hearing based upon these data points is that I am exceptional, but not the exception. I challenge everyone to imagine how much progress we could make if diversity of thought, coupled with iterations of the scientific method, coalesced to solve problems. Simply, you add energy to break bonds and get energy by forming bonds. 'There is something beautiful about unforced bonds; the energy is real.'”