Young Emory scientists wanted a taste of what biotech business careers might be like. So they visited the world’s largest poultry industry conference, and got advice from officials at the Food and Drug Administration – all within a couple months.
“I learned a ton about chickens – more than I thought possible. I’ve been explaining it all to my friends,” says Henry Zecca, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.
Zecca’s experience and others emerged at a “Gala” Tuesday evening showcasing the Emory Biotech Consulting Club, which aimed to pair student advisory teams with fledgling startup companies emerging from university research.
“It was when we saw diffraction spots at high resolution for the first time! I spent a year setting up about one hundred crystallization trials and subsequently screening hundreds of beautiful crystals with not much success. It was very emotionally taxing to be sleep-deprived (most of our synchrotron times were during the night) and have your precious crystals diffract poorly. While I understood spending a year attempting to perform X-ray crystallography is not much time, as a starting graduate student, I couldn’t help but feel that I was a failed crystallographer. That one crystal ended up being all I needed, and the structure, along with the biochemistry, seemed to fall into place. We collected the X-ray data in October 2018 and wrote the paper in 3 months.”
Federal funding is indispensable for conducting cutting-edge research at Emory. In fiscal year 2018, Emory researchers received over $440 million in federal research awards, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) accounting for over 80% of the federal funds awarded. Although Emory has consistently received substantial federal awards, recent budget proposals from the White House suggest that the current administration is reluctant to bestow such awards to research institutions at the same level in the future. On March 11, the current administration released a budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year with deep cuts to most agencies that primarily fund basic research. While Congress is anticipated to reject such drastic cuts, a sense of widespread uncertainty persists with regards to the state of basic science funding. If enacted, these cuts will not only stunt the rate of the nation’s scientific growth, but also will likely put the jobs of thousands of graduate students and post-doctoral trainees at risk.
So, what can the students and trainees do, to push back against such cuts? One answer to that question is to get involved in science policy and advocacy. Along with fellow Emory graduate student Alynda (“Lyndie”) Wood (Neuroscience), I spent March 24-27 in Washington, D.C. as a participant in a workshop put on by the American Association for Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) learning how to do just that.
What is CASE?
The Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) Workshop is a three-day program designed to introduce early-career researchers in STEM disciplines to science policy and advocacy. The workshop featured presentations and talks delivered by leaders in science policy and advocacy, including AAAS CEO Rush Holt (a former U.S. Representative and a physicist by training), National Science and Technology Council Executive Director Chloe Kontos, and many more.
The rest of the program was comprised of interactive sessions with panelists including majority and minority staffers from the House Science Space and Technology Committee, representatives from the NIH, NSF, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Director Matt Hourihan who provided a crash course in understanding federal appropriations.
What topics were discussed?
The discussion was spread across a wide array of topics with detailed presentations on the federal appropriations process, how science and policy mutually influence each other, and how to effectively communicate with lawmakers about basic scientific research. In one exercise, attendees had the opportunity to experience the appropriations process by participating in a mock-debate in which individuals were asked to advocate for the issues they cared about in response to an extremely restrictive budget proposal. The program also involved an interactive session helmed by Judy Schneider, a specialist on congressional structure, who brought provocative conversational style to teaching about the complex nature of politics underlying major funding decisions.
How did the participants make use of the training they received?
On the final day of the workshop, we had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill to directly interact with the legislative aides of four U.S. Representatives from Georgia (Rep. Woodall, Rep. Ferguson, Rep. Graves and Rep. Carter). In these meetings, we discussed our own research and graduate school experience, placing an emphasis on the opportunities provided to us by organizations like NIH and NSF that predominantly support fundamental research. We also discussed economic benefits that federal research funding brings to the Georgia economy, and asked about how scientists can help lawmakers make a better case in support of federal research funding to the general public.
Most staffers we met with were both highly informed and enthusiastic about federal funding of fundamental science research. However, we observed that the staff of representatives from more rural parts of the state, while expressing a general support for the NIH, knew very little about other federal agencies that fund scientific research and the specificity of their mission and goals.
How was the experience overall?
The workshop provided us with a great introduction to the inner workings of Congress. Exercises involving the appropriations process introduced us to the challenges faced by policy makers on a day to day basis. We felt that our meetings with the congressional staffers were extremely positive and productive. Apart from providing a platform for highly informative content, the workshop also enabled invaluable networking opportunities with a diverse student body representing over 70 institutions across the country.
Would you encourage graduate students to attend the workshop in the future?
Yes! Lyndie and I both would highly encourage our fellow graduate students at Emory to attend the CASE workshop in the future. Emory University sponsors two students in the STEM disciplines to attend the workshop every year. Students can also apply directly through AAAS. (Note: the AAAS application deadline may be earlier than Emory’s.) There are no citizenship requirements to attend the workshop.
How can I get involved in science policy outside of the workshop?
There are a number of ways to get involved through organizations such as National Science Policy Network, Union of Concerned Scientists, March for Science, etc. Civic engagement, community outreach, and letter writing campaigns to local policy makers can make a huge difference as well. Students can also join the Emory Science Advocacy Network, a student group that hosts speakers and organizes advocacy campaigns on campus.
Can I pursue science policy as a career option?
Absolutely. AAAS offers several long-term fellowships, including but not restricted to the AAAS Mass Media Fellowships, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships, Community Engagement Fellows, etc. Organizations such as the American Chemical Society, Biophysical Society, The Optical Society, American Society for Microbiology, etc. offer several fellowship opportunities to work closely with congressional staff. The National Academies offer Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy fellowships, which are open to international students as well.
Gokul Raghunath is a 6th year graduate student in the Dyer Lab at Emory who studies the biophysics of membrane bending driven by protein association. Gokul can be reached at gokul [dot] raghunath [at] emory [dot] edu
Alynda (“Lyndie”) Wood is an NSF-funded 5th year graduate student in the Emory Neuroscience Program who studies the neurobiological basis of skill learning. Lyndie can be reached at alynda [dot] noel [dot] wood [at] emory [dot] edu (Twitter handle: @alyndanoel).
Dr. Suk Cho, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder of Joy Nutritionals, is no stranger to hard work. Guided by the mindset of “living life to the fullest”, he has seized numerous opportunities to expand his knowledge, gain experience, and truly develop as a scientist. The way he sees it, attitude is everything. “You don’t have to be the best chemist, and you don’t have to be the best manager,” he says. “But do your best.” His accomplishments have fueled his motivation, raising him through the ranks from graduate student to senior scientist to Chief Scientific Officer.
After earning his undergraduate degree from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, Dr. Cho attended Miami University, where he earned his master’s degree in organic chemistry. Having kept an eye on some of the great research going on here at Emory, he officially joined the Emory community in 1985 as a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Lanny Liebeskind.
“Suk Cho was a confident and strong PhD student during his tenure in graduate school at Emory University,” says Lanny. “His research generated high-quality scientific results and led to a number of significant peer-reviewed publications. I remember him as very personable, with an assured and engaging personality that, in retrospect, portended the future successes in his professional endeavors.”
Originally, Dr. Cho assumed he would use his expertise in chemistry to pursue a career in pharmacy. However, the more he learned about the importance of chemistry in the production of cosmetics, food, and other diverse products, he became more drawn to this side of research and development. “Everything is chemistry,” says Dr. Cho. “I’m very proud of becoming a chemist. I can apply it to just about everything.” As a curious, creative, and committed student, Dr. Cho felt confident that he could succeed in such an industry setting. Having assimilated to a new way of life after immigrating from Korea during his teenage years, Dr. Cho was prepared for a transition from academia to industry
With this can-do attitude and a freshly earned doctorate degree, Dr. Cho went on to work for Unilever, a company that strives to make sustainable living commonplace, supplying over 400 household brands from Dove and Vaseline to Lipton and Ben & Jerry’s. While working at Unilever, Dr. Cho was motivated to learn as much as he could about his industry. Beyond the basic chemistry behind the efficient production of household products, Dr. Cho learned about toxicology and environmental impact, large-scale production and its consequences, consumer demands, and sales and marketing. He also learned that these aspects of the industry truly guide the science behind production.
Dr. Cho went on to spend a brief couple of years as Sr. Scientist with PPG before becoming the Vice President of Research and Development at Melaleuca: The Wellness Company. In this role, he oversaw the production of hundreds of products for nutrition, personal care, skin care, and the household to be used around the globe. Dr. Cho then transitioned to Chief Science Officer at Isagenix, a company built to inspire and empower individuals to “live their best life through a journey of nutrition, health, and overall wellness.” He led the Product Innovation, Research and Science, Quality Assurance, and Regulatory teams at Isagenix, while also serving as Consultant/Owner of Ideate, LLC.
Now, with over 30 years of research and product development, he serves as Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Joy Nutritionals. With a mission to “promote healthy, energetic, active lifestyle choices”, Joy Nutritionals offers lifestyle-based solutions supported by science, community, and technology. The company strives to provide high quality, good-for-you products to promote everyday health and wellness. Dr. Suk Cho is responsible for developing such products, giving everybody a chance at a healthy life.
Echoing the messages of health and wellness that define his industry, Dr. Cho also hopes to encourage people to make decisions that guide them towards a healthier lifestyle. “A lot of our diseases stem from our poor lifestyle choices,” he says. “I want to advocate for investing in yourself mentally, physically, psychologically, and emotionally.” By reminding us to live life to the fullest, while protecting our health and well-being, Dr. Cho shows us a stunning example of how we, too, can find joy.
While his work has broad potential impact, Dr. Cho has already inspired the work of a very important future leader – his daughter, Belle. The business major and chemistry minor is studying at the University of Arizona where she is focused on a future in game development. (Her first game, “Furthest Reach,” has a release date set for 2020.) “There has never been someone to inspire me as much as my father has,” says Belle. “My dad came to the United States from Korea when he was sixteen years old, knowing very little English and [the] school he attended wasn’t really ‘prepared’ for a non-English speaking student at that time. However, it didn’t stop him from going to college and majoring in one of the most challenging science fields. My outlook on education has changed so much in the last two years and I really have my dad to thank for that. I am grateful for the life I have and all the things he has provided for the family.”
Rachel Kozlowski (Dyer Group) has been awarded the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship for the 2019-2020 academic year. Dean’s Teaching Fellowships are selected based on progress towards completing the Ph.D. degree as well as a strong commitment to teaching. This year, 12 students were awarded the fellowship, which provides financial support through a $19,000 stipend.
As a Dean’s Teaching Fellow, Rachel will be designing and teaching a section of CHEM-150: Structure and Properties as an instructor of record this coming fall. CHEM 150 is the first course in the Chemistry Unbound curriculum and focuses on starting students in their chemistry studies with an “atoms first” approach.
“Being awarded this teaching fellowship is an excellent opportunity for me, as my career goal is to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI),” says Rachel. “Professors at PUIs have a much greater emphasis placed on teaching, so while I will still have a small undergraduate research group, most of my job responsibilities will involve teaching students. Having the opportunity to be an instructor of record while still working towards my PhD degree is invaluable.”
Shannon Rivera successfully defended her dissertation, “Elucidating the Various Roles of the Globin Domain from Globin Coupled Sensors”, on March 21st, 2019. Shannon’s committee was led by Emily Weinert with Brian Dyer and Stefan Lutz as additional members.
During her time at Emory, Shannon was supported by an Emory Graduate Diversity Fellowship as well as a Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority (CSURM) Fellowship. She was also recognized with the department’s Outstanding T.A. Award for Analytical Chemistry in 2014 and the Quayle Outstanding Student Award in 2018.
Shannon has also been involved in several student organizations including Pi Alpha Chemical Society (PACS) where she served for one year as Vice President of Community Service and the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) where she served consecutive terms first as Co-Social Chair and then as Communications Chair. She has also been a long time member of the Chemistry Graduate School Prep Club sponsored by the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, serving as President in 2017 and 2018. CGSPC connects Atlanta-area undergraduates from PUIs and HBCUs (including Agnes Scott, Spelman, Morehouse, and Clarke-Atlanta) with mentors who help them to connect with mentors who can help them navigate the graduate school application process . Shannon was instrumental in bringing CGSPC students to Emory for an on-site mentoring event. “They got to talk to faculty, grads, and post-docs about admissions and the struggles of being under represented in the sciences. The effect the event had of them and the fact that it cemented the drive to go to graduate school for those students, that is what made it a huge accomplishment for me,” says Shannon.
Scientifically, Shannon’s work was recently recognized with an invitation to give two oral presentations at SERMACS and GRS/GRC Metals in Biology. SERMACS receives well over 1,000 applications for oral applications and awards only 12-15 spots. “Scientifically though, the most fun and impactful accomplishment was successfully crystallizing my protein, BpeGlobin,” says Shannon. “It was fun because my protein is red, so my crystals are red! They came in different shapes, but you could always see them. It is also very important for my scientific community because its the first crystal of the signaling domain of a Globin-coupled sensor with oxygen in the pocket; the gas responsible for activating the protein.”
At Emory, Caitlin’s work focused on developing structurally specific time-resolved infrared techniques to probe fast protein dynamics in vitro. Her work at Emory was supported by the highly competitive Clare Booth Luce (CBL) Scholar Program Graduate Fellowship as well as a Scholarly Inquiry and Research (SIRE) at Emory HHMI Fellowship, both from Emory’s Laney Graduate School. “As part of the fellowships, I spent about ten hours a week meeting with students and developed a course around professional development, science communication, and science ethics,” says Caitlin. “The positive experience I had mentoring these students was one of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in academia.”
Caitlin’s work at Emory was also recognized with the 2010 Outstanding T.A. Award for Physical Chemistry and a 2013-2014 Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Scholarship. In 2014, she won the Public Dissertation Abstract Award in Emory’s annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
More recently, Caitlin was an NSF Center for the Physics of Living Cells Postdoctoral Fellow in the Gruebele Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Work in the Gruebele lab allowed Caitlin to take her Emory experience in new directions as the lab pioneered efforts to move the temperature jump technique that she learned in the Dyer lab into living cells. Caitlin investigates bimolecular interactions between proteins and RNA using 2- and 3-color fluorescence microscopy and to collect measurements in cultured cells and zebrafish larvae.
At Yale, the Davis Lab will use spectroscopic imaging to quantify biomolecular interactions in living cells, contributing to a better understanding of diseases arising from the misregulation of proteins and RNA.
Caitlin credits Dr. Dyer’s mentorship with helping her to develop as an independent researcher and cultivating her interest in academic research. “When I entered Emory, I was interested in pursing a career in industry,” explains Caitlin. In the Dyer Group, Caitlin was allowed to pursue her own research ideas. Her original ideas resulted in twopublications (among nine total published during her time at Emory) and sparked her interest in an academic career that would allow a similar level of creative control over her research. Furthermore, she decided that an academic career would allow her to pursue a passion for mentoring young scientists sparked through her Emory fellowship experiences. “I find it incredibly fulfilling to see my mentees succeed. I’m excited to be in an environment where I can continue to assist with the development of future researchers.”
Caitlin will carry her Emory experience into her work at Yale. “The faculty at Emory have been my role models for how to balance research, teaching, and mentoring. As a graduate student I was supported not only in my research, but also to mentor in the lab or teach a course. This prepared me for the job market, because I had the hands-on experience to build an approach for teaching, mentoring, and outreach in addition to research.”
First Person: Caitlin’s Career Advice to Graduate Students
My tip for graduate students and postdocs is to start early and have a career development plan.
Dr. Dyer had us meet with him once a year to discuss our goals for the upcoming year. I used it as an opportunity to not only discuss my projects and publications, but also my professional and career development. For example, one of my goals was to improve my public speaking. We worked to find as many opportunities to present at local and regional meetings as possible so that I could become more comfortable presenting my work. This helped me better understand how I personally need to prepare to give a great talk.
I felt confident going into the job market this year, because I had prepared the first versions of my documents as a graduate student! As part of one of my graduate fellowships I developed a teaching statement and my original research proposal became part of one of my research proposals. Because I’ve been revisiting these documents for years, I’ve had time to refine them.
There are also many workshops specifically designed to assist with preparing for the job market. I participated in the NextProf Science workshop at University of Michigan, the Postdoc to Faculty workshop at the National ACS Meeting, and the Illinois Female Engineers in Academia Training (iFEAT). These workshops pair you with faculty and other applicants who review your application and give you feedback. Having many perspectives on my proposal helped me better balance project specific details with the broader impacts.
Alum Dr. Wallace Derricotte (Evangelista Group) has been awarded a Research Initiation Award from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $224,936. Wallace is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Morehouse College. The award, entitled “A Symmetry-Adapted Perturbation Theory Approach to Reaction Force Analysis”, will increase the research capacity of the Chemistry Department at Morehouse while creating more opportunities for STEM students.
Wallace received his B.S. in chemistry from Morehouse College in 2013 and his Ph.D. from Emory in 2017. During his time at Emory, he received the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award.
Fifth year graduate student Qi Yu (Bowman Group) has received an award from the China Scholarship Council. The award is considered the highest honor given by the Council in recognition of a student conducting graduate studies outside of China who does not receive financial support from the Chinese government.
To date, the recipients include students studying in 33 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Australia and Canada. More than half a million Chinese students leave China to study abroad each year, making this prestigious award highly competitive, with only 500 students awarded yearly. The award includes a one-time $6000 cash award and a certificate.
“Qi has done outstanding work on the quantum dynamical description of protonated water clusters, from the potential to the vibrational dynamics. He has joint papers with top experimental groups in the world working in this research area,” says his Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Joel Bowman.
We’re continuing our celebration of all the great things our chemists do both inside and outside of the lab! In volume two, meet chemists who compete in roller derby and golf, an animal photography volunteer, and more!