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Northwestern remembers doctoral student Nic Watkins

Chemistry Ph.D. student known for his commitment that helped make Northwestern more welcoming and inclusive

Nicolas “Nic” Watkins, a doctoral student in Northwestern’s chemistry Ph.D. program, has passed away.

Nic Watkins
Nicolas “Nic” Watkins

“This loss is especially hard for all those who were touched by Nic’s generous spirit,” wrote Dean Kelly Mayo of The Graduate School and Dean Adrian Randolph of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in a message to their graduate communities. “Losing a member of our community affects us all, and the grieving process impacts us in different ways.”

In comments that were collected and shared by Jonathan Maendel, graduate program administrator for the Department of Chemistry, Watkins was remembered as a brilliant and extremely accomplished chemist. He earned some of the most competitive graduate honors, including induction into the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society and a fellowship with the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). In addition, Watkins published 11 co-authored papers and one first-author paper.

According to fellow students, faculty and friends, Watkins was invested in mentorship and advocacy for students from underrepresented groups.

“He was dedicated to promoting an inclusive graduate community by leading the way and being a representative voice for those who historically do not have one in STEM,” Mayo and Randolph shared.

Watkins joined the board of NU Building on Diversity, where he helped organize a speaker series to bring chemistry faculty from other institutions to Northwestern’s campus to share their science and advocacy work. A passionate and dedicated advocate, Watkins founded GoSTEM, the Northwestern graduate chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, where he served as president for three years. His vision was to build a network for LGBTQ+ graduate students to pursue professional development and mentoring opportunities, his friends said.

Colleagues describe Watkins as a phenomenal person whose friendship was a light to those he touched. He was someone who wanted to support and uplift everyone, and his passion and commitment helped make Northwestern a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

“They shared with us that Nic made the good days even better, the bad days much brighter and it is evident that his impact on the community was immense,” wrote Mayo and Randolph. 

Members of the University community are urged to reach out to friends and colleagues while respecting those who may need space and time to gather their thoughts and process their grief.

Those in need of support should use and share the following resources: