2018 STEM Research and Career Symposium Recap

The 2018 STEM Research and Career Symposium, organized by the Laney Graduate School, took place earlier this week.  Faculty and students from diverse backgrounds were invited to present their research, engage in networking opportunities, and get to know Emory’s graduate program. Attendees shared ideas and STEM experiences during oral presentations, breakout meetings, poster sessions, and meals. The Keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Jose Antonio Bowen, President of Goucher College and author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. In an entertaining and humor-filled presentation, he discussed the biology of learning, tips to success, and more.

Davies group members Robert Kubiak and Yannick Boni presenting the CCHF poster.

Dr. James Kindt served as a Co-Organizer for the event alongside Dr. Eddie Morgan from the Department of Pharmacology. Several graduate students in the Department of Chemistry were spotted at the symposium mingling with visiting undergraduate students and sharing their amazing research. The event even featured a poster highlighting all that the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (CCHF) has to offer.

Thank you to everyone who attended and represented the Department of Chemistry!

Photo from @Wuestlab on Twitter.

Congratulations, Dr. Lara Patel!

On Monday, July 16th, Lara Patel successfully defended her thesis, “Changes in state: From phase transitions to nucleation and aggregation”. Lara’s thesis committee included her thesis advisor, Dr. James Kindt, and members Dr. Joel Bowman and Dr. Francesco Evangelista.

During her time at Emory, Lara contributed to the publication of four manuscripts:

1.  Patel, L. A.; Kindt J. T., Simulations of NaCl aggregation from solution: Solvent determines topography of free energy landscape. J. Chem. Theory Comput. 2018. (Submitted)

2. Zhang, X.; Patel, L. A.; Beckwith, O.; Schneider, R.; Weeden, C.; Kindt, J. T., Extracting aggregation free energies of mixed clusters from simulations of small systems: Application to ionic surfactant micelles. J. Chem. Theory Comput., 2017, 13 (11), 5195–5206. (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jctc.7b00671)

3. Patel, L. A.; Kindt, J. T., Cluster free energies from simple simulations of small numbers of aggregants: Nucleation of liquid MTBE from vapor and aqueous phases. J. Chem. Theory Comput., 2017, 13 (3), 1023–1033. (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jctc.6b01237)

4. Patel, L. A.; Kindt, J. T., Coarse grained molecular simulations of DPPC vesicle melting. Soft Matter, 2016, 12, 1765-1777. (DOI: 10.1039/C5SM02560E)

Congratulations, Dr. Patel!

Congratulations, Dr. Morgan Vaughn!

On Wednesday, July 18th, Morgan Vaughn successfully defended her thesis, “Enzyme Dynamics Elucidated via Temperature Jump Fluorescence Spectroscopy”. Morgan’s thesis committee included her thesis advisor, Dr. Brian Dyer, and members Dr. Stefan Lutz and Dr. Vincent Conticello.

During her time at Emory, Morgan was awarded a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship and was selected as an ARCS Scholar. In addition, she served for a year and a half as the president of Emory’s graduate chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and is the proud author of a JACS Communications paper that was featured in JACS Spotlights.

Looking forward, Morgan plans to pursue a career in facilitating science communication in the classroom, to the general public, and/or among scientists.

Congratulations, Dr. Vaughn!

Graduate Student Spotlight: Tamra Blue Carries on the Family Legacy

For 38 years, Tamra Blue’s grandmother worked in food service at Emory so that her daughter, Tamra’s mother, could attend school here. So, when the time came for Tamra to apply to graduate school, Emory was at the top of her list. When she got her offer of admission, she remembers thinking, “I got into Emory. Emory University! That’s amazing!” And even though she had offers from several other universities, Emory had something that the others didn’t: Legacy. In fact, Tamra was so sure that she wanted to come here that she accepted her offer before recruitment weekend had even begun!

Tamra, her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt.

Tamra grew up in Lithonia, about half an hour’s drive from campus. She attended Georgia State for her undergraduate studies where she originally planned on studying biology. “While doing my biology degree, I had to take the equivalent of getting a minor in chemistry,” says Tamra. “I realized I really like chemistry.” She then began tutoring and teaching chemistry to other students, doing research in a chemistry lab, and falling even more in love with the subject. These experiences convinced her to go ahead with changing her major, and she never looked back.

In the lab of Dr. Suazette Reid Mooring, Tamra worked on synthesizing small-molecule CXCR4 antagonists. CXCR4 has been linked to breast cancer metastasis through a process whereby the CXCR4 transports cancerous cells around the body in pursuit of its high-affinity ligand, CXCL12. She used a metaphor to explain that the process of CXCR4-mediated metastasis is similar to a man driving his car to meet his wife, but with a serial killer in the trunk! “One of the ways we found to stop this or slow down this process is by making it so that CXCR4 has a higher affinity toward some other molecule,” she explains. “And we make that molecule.” Emory once again intersecting Tamra’s path, the molecules synthesized in the Reid Mooring lab are screened here at Emory in collaboration with Dr. Hyunsuk Shim in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Tamra and her grandmother at her graduation.

The enthusiasm with which Tamra explains her research highlights not only her love for the subject, but also her passion for teaching. Her goal, after earning her PhD, is to get a job at a four year college where she can teach and mentor students. She remembers learning a statistic about the significant decline in mental health of individuals pursuing advanced degrees and is hoping to use her own degree to become a valuable resource for those people.

Her desire to interact with and help others extends even beyond the realm of teaching. “I just like talking to people!” she says as she explains how she hopes that she can improve someone’s day with something as simple as a smile. In fact, meeting new people is one of the things she is most excited about when she thinks about starting at Emory. “This is a whole different environment from Georgia State,” says Tamra. “Not only do I get to meet some really cool people, but I also get to do some really awesome research.”

Even though she had already accepted her offer to come to Emory, Tamra still took the opportunity to visit the campus for recruitment weekend. She spent the weekend learning all about the diverse research projects going on in the department and meeting as many students and faculty as she could. She particularly liked the faculty trading cards and explained they how were a fun little souvenir that also gave her a chance to really get to know some of the faculty on a more personal level.

Tamra and her mother.

Recruitment weekend only added to Tamra’s already overflowing excitement to follow in her family’s footsteps as a member of the Emory community. “I can’t wait to start discovering something and seeing something new,” says Tamra. Her adventure will kick off this May when she joins the Heemstra Group for a summer rotation. Until then, Tamra is going to keep working,  spending time with her family, and “being ‘weird’ because that’s my normal.”

Victor Ma Selected to Participate in the 2018 CAS SciFinder® Future Leaders Program

Victor Pui-Yan Ma, a rising 5th year graduate student in the lab of Dr. Salaita, has been chosen to participate in the 2018 CAS SciFinder® Future Leaders Program.

According to their website, “The CAS SciFinder Future Leaders program aims to expand professional networks among emerging researchers, increase knowledge and exchange ideas about the role of information within the research process, and share lessons from industry and academic leaders about the role of science in the global economy, academia and the media.”

Selected from hundreds of applicants, Victor will join 30 other outstanding Ph.D. students and postdocs from around the world during a visit to the CAS headquarters in Columbus, Ohio in August. During their visit, the researchers will collaborate on new initiatives to shape the future of scientific information and innovation.

Congratulations, Victor!

To read the full announcement, click [here]!

Welcome to the Fall 2018 Entering Graduate Class!

We are excited to announce the names of our 2018 entering cohort. This group of early career scientists is distinguished by their broad research experience and training, including summer REUs and participation in programs including:

  • DAAD-Rise Fellowship
  • Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP)
  • Emory STEM Research Symposium
  • Barry Goldwater Scholarship
  • McNair Scholars
  • NIH Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD)

A majority of the class has at least one paper published or under review. Many students have experience with mentoring, including undergraduate TA, tutoring, and Peer Leader appointments. As a group, these students also share long-term engagement in volunteer projects and STEM outreach. While a majority of the class is joining Emory directly from their undergraduate careers, a handful  are moving on to the PhD track from post-grad laboratory careers. Several will be the first in their family to earn a PhD.

In addition, this class includes:

  • a former zookeeper/science educator
  • a pair of former college roommates
  • a Starbucks “Coffee Master”
  • a “Most Athletic” award winner
  • an Emory College alum and the child of an Emory College alum

Each of these students has their own story to tell and incredible potential to draw on Emory resources to forge an amazing scientific career.

Entering Class of 2018

Ryan Allen
Villanova University

Paul Beasley
Earlham College

Tamra Blue
Georgia State University

Ting Cheng
Peking University

Adrian Demeritte
St. John’s University

Zackery Dentmon
Mercer University

Christella Dhammaputri
Emory University

Ordy Manuela Gnewou
Lehman College

Ayda Gonzalez de la Nuez
Bard College

Amber Harris
James Madison University

Sheng He
Dalian University of Technology

Cecilia Hendy
College of Charleston

Michael Hollerbach
College of Charleston

Yuesong Hu
Lanzhou University

Renke Huang
Southern University of Science and Technology

Alyssa Johnson
College of Charleston

Diane Karloff
Duke University

Sara Konecny
Georgia Institute of Technology

David Laws
Coastal Carolina University

Maizie Lee
California State University – Fresno

Qinyi Lu
University of Science and Technology

Andrew Mahoney
Gettysburg College

Brea Manuel
Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge

Sam Mckinnon
Mississippi State University

Quincy McKoy
University of Richmond

Duong Nguyen
Mount Holyoke College

Selma Piranej
Loyola University – Chicago

Jessalyn Rogers
Western Washington University

Chase Schultz
Alma College

Jack Sharland
Bowdoin College

Racheal Spurlin
North Carolina State University

Jiayue Sun
Syracuse University

Tiffany Trieu
University of Central Florida

Ailing Yu
Lanzhou University

Cassandra Zaremba
Xavier University

 

Chemistry Postdocs Featured in the Science Writers Committee Quarterly Newsletter

The Science Writers Committee (SWC), part of the Postdoctoral Fellows Association (PDA),  is a group of postdocs with a knack for writing. In addition to disseminating information and announcements for the PDA, the SWC publishes a quarterly newsletter, each with a unique topic of interest. This Spring 2018 edition of the newsletter focused on Infectious Diseases and featured articles from Michelle Kim, Claire Jarvis, and Kim Clarke.

“The postdoc science writers magazine is a great venue to practice a different, important style of science communication,” says Claire, co-chair of the committee with Michelle Kim and editor of the newsletter. “As PhDs and postdocs we’re taught to write about our research in a very technical, formulaic way for publications or grants: we become very fluent in that language. To actually communicate our science to the public, we need to deprogram ourselves.” In addition, she hopes the magazine will give postdocs the confidence to communicate science to a diverse audience. “Some of the writers tried to downplay their writing abilities with me before they started…then they produced great pieces!”

Click here to check out the full newsletter.

Want to get involved with the science writers? Contact the PDA at emorypda [at] gmail [dot] com!

GRExit: Why We’re Dropping the GRE

The Science Commons Atrium in Emory’s Atwood Chemistry Center.

What is GRExit? A silly term for a big decision. Starting in Fall 2019, Emory’s Department of Chemistry is joining the “GRExit” wave by dropping the GRE test from our graduate application process.

The GRE (or “Graduate Record Exam”) administered by the Educational Testing Service has been a factor in graduate school admissions since the 1950s. At Emory, we have long required the test as one piece of a package intended to allow us to gauge how well students might do in our program. We are committed to the practice of whole file review, meaning we review all of the materials a student submits instead of using any one factor to “weed out” students from our applicant pool. In the past, we relied on this practice to mitigate any outsize impact on GRE scores. However, we were still faced with interpreting scores as a piece of the puzzle….and over time, our graduate committee found that it was very hard to look past particularly high or low scores as they reviewed the remainder of a file.

Added to that impression, we had access to data on students who accept our admissions offer and matriculate. We haven’t found the GRE to be a very good indicator for student success in the first year of our program. Our sample size is small compared to the large number of students who take the test, but there is more research out there that we can rely on. For instance, consider the following:

Research has also consistently shown that the GRE introduces bias into the review process, disadvantaging women, minorities, and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Some references of note:

We are very concerned about minimizing bias in our admissions process. Our entire graduate admissions team undergoes training about the role of implicit bias in their day-to-day life (a program that draws heavily on the book Blindspot.) We have also piloted the use of a shared evaluation form to help faculty review applications with the same questions in mind. And we are always considering new ways to minimize bias in our review process. With issues of efficacy, predictive value, and bias in mind, removing the GRE from our process seemed like the right path. It’s a decision we may revisit if new research or testing options make the GRE more useful. But for now, we are confident that “GRExit” is the way to go.

What does this mean for you as an applicant? Simply put, you do not have to take the GRE to apply to the Emory chemistry graduate program. We will still practice whole file review – we look forward to reading your personal statements, seeing your faculty of interest selections, and hearing the perspective of your recommenders. We also love when students submit the optional video statement!

Because we are committed to this path, we will not be accepting test scores in the application even if you want to report them. If we receive scores from some students but not from others, we reintroduce potential biases from this test, particularly as we suspect that students are understandably more likely to submit high scores. We will carefully review all of the information that we do request and feel confident in our ability to make a thorough review of each application without the assistance of GRE scores.

As another tangible benefit, we hope this will lessen the financial burden of the application process. You do not need to pay to send your scores to Emory, to take test prep classes or buy test prep books, or to sit the test itself.

What do you think about GRExit? Does it make you more or less likely to apply to Emory? Are you planning to take the GRE for other applications? Are you happy to skip it?

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Please feel free to share your comments and, as always, to contact our program if you have any questions.

Planning to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications open September 1st, 2018 and are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form to join our mailing list!