The Emory News Center recently published an article outlining a series of initiatives through which Emory University hopes to foster scholarly and research eminence. As part of its mission, titled “One Emory: Engaged for Impact”, Emory aims to inspire “Innovation through Scholarship and Creative Expression”. To achieve this goal, a Task Force on the Future of Basic Science Research was organized to identify how to maximize the success and impact of our research efforts.
This task force was co-chaired by Guida Silvestri and the Department of Chemistry’s own Dr. Huw Davies. Two priority research initiatives were decided upon as a result of this effort: “Biological Discovery through Chemical Innovation” and “From Molecular Pathogenesis to Global Pandemics”. Dr. Davies, along with Dr. Haian Fu, leads the “Biological Discovery through Chemical Innovation” initiative with the aim of accelerating the development of the next generation of research tools, effective and safe drugs, and diagnostic agents.
“The idea is to enhance molecular science at Emory broadly,” says Davies. “The focus is not just on the potential for developing drugs, but on achieving more impactful basic science by deepening knowledge of biology and novel chemistry.”
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.
Dr. Jen Heemstra has teamed up with C&EN for the new advice column, “Office Hours.” The monthly column will “engage the STEM community in dialogue on important issues–including prioritizing mental health, finding motivations, and coping with setbacks and failures.” A key feature will be questions or topic ideas from readers that will kick off each column, helping “Office Hours” become a catalyst for broader conversation.
Jen’s is also featured in the latest episode of the C&EN podcast, Stereo Chemistry. The podcast team spent several days in the lab getting to know Jen and her students and “learning how and why she’s helping create the next generation of chemistry’s thought leaders.” You can listen here.
“A ‘classical’ chemist is focused on getting a chemical reaction and creating new molecules,” explains Evangelista, assistant professor at Emory University. “As theoretical chemists, we want to understand how chemistry really works — how all the atoms involved interact with one another during a reaction.”
Emory University News recently published an article discussing the value and impact of the record-breaking research funding the University has been awarded this year. In fiscal year 2018, Emory University received $734 million in external research funding, increasing 17% from last year and setting the record for external funding support in the school’s history.
From the article:
“I commend our faculty and our research leaders for this tremendous accomplishment,” says Jonathan S. Lewin, Emory vice president for health affairs and executive director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.“This result reflects a long-term, sustained effort to create meaningful positive impact on health and wellness through our faculty’s groundbreaking discoveries, improving the lives of patients here in Atlanta, across the nation, and around the world.”
“Our center is at the forefront of a major shift in the way that we do chemistry. This shift holds great promise for creating new pathways for drug discovery and the production of new materials to benefit everything from agriculture to electronics.”
The Scialog on the Chemical Machinery of the Cell is based on the conviction that the time is right to bring together chemists and biologists to spark collaborations and develop interdisciplinary
projects that will catapult us to a deeper understanding of chemical machinery and reactions in the intact cell. The group will explore questions such as “How does the cell organize reactions in functionally distinct compartments that are not bound by membranes?” and “What combination of new chemical tools including chemical probes, optical techniques, and quantum methods can bring about molecular resolution of the chemical machinery in intact, living cells?”
Jen and Bill will have the opportunity to engage with other Chemical Machinery of the Cell fellows at the upcoming Scialog conference in Tucson, Arizona.
Dr. Christine Dunham, associate professor of Biochemistry at the Emory University School of Medicine and Associated Faculty in Chemistry, has been awarded the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Young Investigator Award. The award includes a $5,000 cash prize and recognizes outstanding research contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology by a scientist who has no more than 15 years postdoctoral experience. In addition to her research and teaching, Christine is an editorial board member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which the ASBMB publishes and has served on the ASBMB’s meeting program planning committee
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?
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.
Emory Magazine recently ran a feature highlighting some of the innovative curriculum that makes Emory a national leader in liberal arts and science education. The feature mentioned Chemistry Unbound, the new undergraduate chemistry program, which is designed to allow a more cohesive understanding of chemistry through its interdisciplinary courses. From the article:
“The idea is that you’re not just learning the facts, but also learning the chemistry behind how the world works,” says Doug Mulford, a senior chemistry lecturer and director of undergraduate studies for Emory’s chemistry department. “You’re also seeing how to construct a scientific claim and use evidence and reason to explain your argument. That level of critical thinking transcends chemistry.”
Craig L. Hill, Goodrich C. White Professor of Chemistry, has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). RSC Fellows must have spent five years or more in a senior position and be judged to have contributed work of impact in the chemical sciences. Professor Hill’s research encompasses fundamental structural and reactivity studies, catalysis, functional nanomaterials and solar energy conversion. He has over 20,000 citations with a current h index of 71. In addition to his membership in the RSC, Dr. Hill is an elected member of the Academia Europea, a Fellow of the American Associate for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a nominator for the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, and an ACS Herty Medal Winner, among other accomplishments.