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Sean Seymore lecturing
Professor Sean Seymore

Sean is professor of law and professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee.

Asking the president

Sean’s love for chemistry started at an early age when, aged nine, he sent a letter to the White House asking the president to grant him a patent for something he had made with his new chemistry set. Throughout his childhood, his love for chemistry continued and he went on to study chemistry at the University of Tennessee, where he was the first African-American student to participate in the University Honors Program. Sean then studied for his PhD at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where he worked on metal-mediated atom-transfer reactions.

Regarding diversity in the profession, Sean says “I think the data reveals that there’s a dearth of minority PhDs in chemistry.” Unfazed by the imbalances, Sean describes his positive attitude towards his work: “I didn’t view this as an obstacle. I set my eyes on a goal and worked towards it.”

Beyond the lab

Sean Seymore

Prompted by using a patented method to make a compound whilst teaching at university, Sean was keen to venture outside the lab and decided to study for a graduate degree in law. Sean found his logical thinking an asset but sometimes found there were stark contrasts between the two disciplines.

“In chemistry there is usually a right answer, but in law things aren’t so black and white.” 

After he graduated, Sean became full-time associate at Foley Hoag LLP in Boston, where he had previously completed a summer placement. His love for teaching, however, lured him back to academia and he became an associate professor of law. He currently holds the position of professor of law and enterprise scholar and a secondary appointment of professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University.

Advice to others

As an ambassador for conveying the versatility of a chemistry degree, Sean says:

“As I have changed my career path, I have extensively relied on my chemistry background – including substantive knowledge of chemistry and what I learned through research in graduate school. I’d encourage PhD students who are considering a non-traditional career path to finish the degree. As a general matter, PhD chemists are more attractive candidates for jobs in alternative careers like law, business, consulting, and science writing, than those without the degree.”

Sean’s dedication to both chemistry and law was recognised by the University of Tennessee Accomplished Alumnus award in 2012, and is further evident in his extensive publications. Not only has he followed his dreams from childhood in pursuing his chemistry interests, he has also used chemistry to fuel other interests and venture on to new pastures.

Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Sean Seymore
Published October 2014

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