Making Molecules

The dream of being a chemist brought Diana Rachii to the U.S. from Ukraine.

Portrait of Diana Rachii in a lab

Diana Rachii, who is in her fourth year as a Ph.D. student, is originally from Ukraine. She came to the United States as a teenager and lived with her aunt in suburban Philadelphia while finishing high school, after which she attended Delaware Valley University.

“My undergraduate chemistry professor, Maria Winters, got her Ph.D. in this lab,” says Rachii, who spoke with the Bulletin recently from the lab of Professor Bill Malachowski. “She gave me a tour when I was a junior in college, and I actually did an undergraduate research project partially here over winter break that year.

“I was here for two weeks making molecules, and I got to know the area and the campus. I met Dr. Mal, and I just really felt like this was the place I could be for the next four or five years while I get my Ph.D. ... You always feel welcomed here.”

Being on a small campus also appealed to Rachii. “I like being in a close-knit community like this,” she says. “I feel like if I went to a larger university, I would just be a number, but here I can be more involved in the department and among the graduate students, talk to my advisor on a daily basis, and develop better relationships faster with other students.”

Rachii has taken advantage of the opportunity to travel to conferences. “Last spring, I went to San Diego to the American Chemical Society national conference,” she says, “and that was fully supported by the graduate school at Bryn Mawr.”

In her research, Rachii is developing new methodologies to make small molecules that can target different cancer cells. “We’re making a variety of different inhibitors,” she says. “We’ll send those out for cancer screening, and if they’re successful, those molecules can become drug candidates.”

Once she has her Ph.D., Rachii plans to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research. Rachii says the dream of one day becoming a chemist is a large part of what motivated her to come to the U.S.

“Getting good grades in other classes never felt as rewarding as performing well in chemistry courses,” she says. “Now, in my research, where I can apply my knowledge into practice, I get the same satisfaction when my experiments produce good results. Chemistry doesn’t let me settle because it is just so complex and demands so much effort in order to fully understand and comprehend it.”

Rachii’s father and grandmother still live in Ukraine but her mother was able to apply for humanitarian parole through the Uniting for Ukraine program and is now living here with her daughter as a refugee. The College played a critical role in  that process by offering Rachii’s mother a staff position in Housekeeping Services, helping her qualify for the program.

“The rest of my family is relatively safe because they are in Western Ukraine, which has been less impacted by the war, but I’m so happy my mother is here,” says Rachii.