Alum Caitlin Davis (Dyer Group) Accepts Assistant Professor Position at Yale

Caitlin Davis

Caitlin Davis, a recent alum of the Dyer Group, has accepted an Assistant Professor position in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University.

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 two publications (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.”

Congratulations, Caitlin!

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.

For more from Caitlin, follow her on Twitter @thedavislab!


I’m a chemist and…Vol. 2

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!

Click the image below to go to the full article!

Chemistry Students Host Second Annual ComSciCon Conference

SciComATL swag for attendees. Photo by @ComSciConATL on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Emory University hosted the second annual ComSciCon ATL. ComSciCon is an organization that provides workshops hosted by and for graduate students with a focus on science communication. The ComSciCon ATL event was a collaborative efforts between organizers from UGA, Georgia Tech, and Emory. Dyer Group graduate students Helen Siaw and Brooke Andrews, both in their fourth year, were Emory’s event leads. The conference was funded, in part, by a generous gift from Emory’s Laney Graduate School among other sponsors. All conference expenses and meals were covered for participants.

SciComConATL participants (attempt to?) take a photo together on the stairs in the Science Commons Atrium. Photo from @SciConComATL on Twitter.

The event, which took place in the Atwood Chemistry Center, was two days full of professional panels, networking, activities, and breakout sessions. Attendees were given the unique chance to hone their communication skills, while hearing from a diverse cast of science communication experts.

The event included four panels:

SciComm Audiences

This panel was organized to address the questions surrounding the target audiences of science communications. The three panelists, Barbara Coble (Founder of Emory’s Graduation Generation), James Porter (Professor of Ecology and Marine Sciences at UGA), and Marc Merlin (Executive Director of the Atlanta Science Tavern), shared their unique experiences to provide insight into a variety of SciComm audiences.

Ethics of SciComm

This panel, which addressed some of the ethical considerations in the realm of science communication, was comprised of Veronica van Montfrans (Director of Learning Sciences Innovation and Research at Georgia Tech and the joint Emory/GA Tech Biomedical Engineering program), Aaron Levine (Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech), and Paul Root Wolpe (Professor of Jewish Bioethics and Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory).

Data & Visual SciComm

Mica Duran (Board-certified medical illustrator), Michael Shaw (MD, educational filmmaker), Alex Nazzari (Emory undergraduate student, President of Science.Art.Wonder), and Becky Scheel (Service Designer with Harmonic Design) shared about possible advantages, obstacles, and applications of visual media in science communication.

Advocacy & Policy

The panel of Jasmine Clark (Lecturer of Microbiology and Anatomy and Physiology at Emory University), Berry Brosi (Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory), John Bowers (Chief of Game Management for the Wildlife Resources Division), and Robert Butera (Associate Dean for Research and Innovation in the Georgia Tech College of Engineering) discussed how scientists can use their voice to influence political action.

The workshop also featured an afternoon of activities where attendees were given the chance to make use of the valuable information they were learning throughout the day. During a write-a-thon, attendees were given constructive feedback on writing samples. Mock interviews were hosted to give advice on best interview practices for the field. During “Improv Hour”, attendees had the chance to show up in front of an audience and participate in fun and informative improvisation-based activities led by Highwire Comedy Company.

After a full first day, the evening wrapped up with a pizza and movie night featuring the documentary “Chasing Coral“—one of the many projects from Dr. Porter. The film explores what coral reefs can tell us about the health of our globe and the future of our planet. In addition, the film also provides a wonderful example of how scientists can make an impact through film and other forms of communication.

Storytelling training with Janece Shaffer. Photo by @HelenSiaw on Twitter.

On the second day, panel sessions were punctuated with short breakout sessions. One session was hosted by Janece Shaffer, Founder and Chief Story Consultant for Storycentric. Storycentric collaborates with companies to build impactful stories for marketing, brand development, and public speaking. Another breakout session hosted by Dan Samorodnitisky gave attendees the chance to develop a pitch that could be submitted to a media outlet. As an Editor with MassiveSci, Dr. Samorodnitisky is familiar with the ins and outs of story pitching, passing along some words of wisdom to those who are interested in submitting. Finally, the third breakout session focused on developing an online persona. In this session,hosted by Social Media Strategist Manu Muraro, attendees were given practical advice on best social media practices for building a brand.

Dr. Shepherd’s keynote address in Atwood Hall 360. Photo by @MAjayi_907 on Twitter.

The event concluded with a keynote address from Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a leading international expert in weather and climate. He hosts The Weather Channel’s award-winning Sunday talk show, “Weather Geeks“, and serves as the chair of the NASA Earth Sciences Advisory Committee. He shared his unique experience with science communication and emphasized the importance of effectively communicating science to the public.

Overall, the two-day workshop was a wonderfully fun and informative event. The perfectly curated cast of science communicators was able to provide unique insights and advice from all corners of the science communications arena. Attendees were given practical advice, networking opportunities, and the chance to ask questions and develop their skills.

Professional development workshops like this one are undeniably valuable to graduate students, so a huge “Thank you!” to everyone who made this event possible.

December Research Round-Up

Congratulations to our amazing research teams here in the Department of Chemistry for their publications this month!

Bowman Group

Babikov, D., Benoit, D., Bowman, J., Burd, T., Clary, D., Donovan, R., … & Kirrander, A. (2018). Quantum dynamics of isolated molecules: general discussionFaraday discussions.

Ban, L., Bowman, J., Bradforth, S., Chambaud, G., Dracinsky, M., Fischer, I., … & McCoy, A. B. (2018). Molecules in confinement in liquid solvents: general discussionFaraday discussions.

Qu, C., & Bowman, J. M. (2018). Assessing the Importance of the H2 (H2O) 2 3-Body Interaction on the Vibrational Frequency Shift of H2 in the sII Clathrate Hydrate and Comparison with ExperimentThe Journal of Physical Chemistry A.

Davies Group

Fu, J., Ren, Z., Bacsa, J., Musaev, D. G., & Davies, H. M. (2018). Desymmetrization of cyclohexanes by site-and stereoselective C–H functionalizationNature564(7736), 395.

Dyer Group

Zhao, J., Su, H., Vansuch, G. E., Liu, Z., Salaita, K., & Dyer, R. B. (2018). Localized Nanoscale Heating Leads to Ultrafast Hydrogel Volume-Phase TransitionACS nano.

Heaven Group

Kaledin, L. A., Kaledin, A. L., & Heaven, M. C. (2019). The electronic structure of thorium monoxide: Ligand field assignment of states in the range 0–5 eVJournal of computational chemistry40(2), 430-446.

Kindt Group

Zhang, X., Arce, J. G., & Kindt, J. T. (2018). Derivation of micelle size-dependent free energies of aggregation for octyl phosphocholine from molecular dynamics simulationFluid Phase Equilibria.

Lynn Group

McGill, T. L., Williams, L. C., Mulford, D. R., Blakey, S. B., Harris, R. J., Kindt, J. T., … & Powell, N. L. (2018). Chemistry Unbound: Designing a New Four-Year Undergraduate CurriculumJournal of Chemical Education.

Musaev Group

Fu, J., Ren, Z., Bacsa, J., Musaev, D. G., & Davies, H. M. (2018). Desymmetrization of cyclohexanes by site-and stereoselective C–H functionalizationNature564(7736), 395.

Salaita Group

Zhao, J., Su, H., Vansuch, G. E., Liu, Z., Salaita, K., & Dyer, R. B. (2018). Localized Nanoscale Heating Leads to Ultrafast Hydrogel Volume-Phase TransitionACS nano.

CCHF SACNAS and Outreach Events

Along with facilitating conversations about synthetic organic chemistry between professionals across a global platform, the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (CCHF), based at Emory University’s Department of Chemistry, also strives to increase scientific awareness to broader audience. They explain on their website, “A large part of the Centers mission is to bring C–H Functionalization into the mainstream of organic chemistry and one of the key ways we are seeking to do that is informing future generations of scientists by engaging students from K through 12.” By partnering with various organizations in outreach initiatives, the CCHF can connect with the community and share some of their fascinating scientific happenings.

Recently, some members of the Emory Department of Chemistry travelled to Utah to attend the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference. During the event, our representatives, in collaboration with the CCHF, participated in recruiting, dissemination of infomercials, research seminars, and poster judging. Dr. Cora MacBeth gave a presentation in a technical symposium organized by alumni, Omar Villanueva. Emory University even had a booth at the event where Dr. Lloyd Munjanja of the CCHF, Monica Kiewit of the Dyer Group, and Bryant Chica of the Dyer Group could interact with visitors.

During the conference, the Center partnered with the Leonardo Museum of Creativity and Innovation in an outreach event organized through the collaborative effort of the Directors of Education, Outreach, and Diversity from 3 NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation, Dr. Lloyd Munjanja (CCHF), Dr. Danielle Watt (CaSTL), and Christopher Parsons (CCE). CCHF members from the Sigman and Du Bois research labs interacted with over 100 middle school students and their teachers through a series of hands-on chemistry activities and demonstrations. One activity involved the students building molecules from marshmallows and toothpicks!

Some photos from the SACNAS conference and the outreach event at the Leonardo Museum of Creativity and Innovation are shown below.


Applying to Graduate School 101: Interview with a Graduate Student

Lasers in the Dyer Lab.
Lasers in the Dyer Lab.

This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post is the fourth in the series, an interview with current graduate student, Morgan Bair Vaughn (Dyer Group).

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Morgan in the lab. Photo provided by Morgan Bair Vaughn.
Morgan in the lab.

Q. What made you decide to apply to Emory?

There were a few factors . The first is that the chemistry program is one of the top ranking programs in the country. Additionally, Emory offered opportunities that would help me gain the experience I need for my desired career after graduate school. For example, the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship is an award that provides support for students to teach their own class for a semester in their last year at graduate school. Currently, I’m teaching a section of Chem 150, which will give me valuable teaching experience beyond a teaching assistantship. Finally, Emory is in the Southeast near my family. I am close to my family so staying close to them geographically was important to me.

Q. How did you choose Emory over other schools?

Weighing the pros and cons of each school can be difficult, but the one thing that pushed me to accept Emory over other schools is that there were multiple professors at Emory that I was interested in working with. I narrowed down my labs of interest after visitation weekends, and Emory was the only place where I could see myself in more than 1 or 2 groups. The piece of advice that I heard over and over again from professors and graduate students alike was not to go to a school where there was only one professor I’d want to work for. There is no guarantee that you will get a position in the lab, even if the professor likes you. Things happen; professors move, lose funding, or can only accept so many students into their lab in a given year. Additionally, at Emory first year students do a series of research rotations to learn what it is like to work in a few different labs. Student tend to start rotations with a particular lab as their top pick, but often their top choice changes throughout the rotations as students realize that they prefer certain areas of research, or they like the environment and culture of a particular lab, or they like the mentoring style best of one professor. It is important to go to a school where you have options and a chance to explore them prior to making a final decision on which lab you join.

Q. What was the most challenging part of the application process?

I found the writing the Statement of Purpose to be the most difficult part of the application process. (Hey! We can help with that.) When I was applying to graduate school, I wasn’t sure what research area I was interested in pursuing. I had bioorganic and organic synthesis research experience from undergrad, but I also enjoyed all of my chemistry classes. All areas of chemistry seemed interesting to me! So, deciding which professors I was interested in working with was quite a challenge for me. Ultimately, I picked professors from all different divisions. This isn’t necessarily a strategy that I would recommend, but it worked out because I was able to explain why I was interested in each research group. That is the important part, explaining why you are interested in a group and how your previous experience will be helpful.

Q. Now that you’re in grad school, what have you done to be successful? What do you think successful grad students have in common?

I think the most successful graduate students are the ones who start graduate school with a goal in mind and know why they are pursuing a PhD. The reasons for going to graduate school can vary, from wanting to become a professor, patent lawyer, industrial research and design scientist, or simply to gain a very high level of knowledge in a topic of interest. Having a goal provides focused motivation and allows students to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Starting graduate school, I knew that I enjoyed teaching and envisioned working at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI). Since being in graduate school, I’ve learned that there are many other options for education besides the traditional classroom. Now I am considering a much wider range of career options from medical science liaison, to science communication and writing, in addition to teaching at a PUI or community college. To learn more about these opportunities I attend events on campus with Emory Alumni such as a breakfast with science writers and a Q&A session with high school teachers.

Knowing your goal is important, but so is actually completing the work required to earn a PhD. To that end, I urge students to treat getting a PhD as a marathon and not a sprint. The research necessary to write a dissertation cannot be done all at once; it takes time. The way I’ve approached it is to find a nice comfortable pace to work at, one that I’m making good progress in the lab, yet I can sustain for many years. When a big deadline or yearly report comes along I can push a little harder when necessary for a short while. Then, I go back to the same pace as before. Often, I see students in crisis mode around yearly reports, frantically trying to complete as much work as possible, only upon passing, they drop down to doing almost nothing. I don’t like to do that; it is a very stressful way to operate! Work on your project every day, bit by bit. Just like science as a whole, occasionally there are leaps and bounds, but most of science happens incrementally, bit by bit.

Q. Is there anything you wish you had known before applying to graduate school?

I wish I had known how helpful visitation weekend would be to make a final decision about which school to accept. [Note: Emory Visitation Weekend is by invitation only and will take place February 23rd-25th, 2018.] When deciding which schools to apply to, be open minded. It is difficult to know the culture and environment of a school just by looking at the website. Pick several schools where there is some research you are interested in and where you wouldn’t mind living for several years. After visiting, I had a much better idea of what each school was like. If you can’t attend visitation weekend, I highly recommend contacting the school to ask about speaking with a few of the graduate students to get their perspective. I also wish I had known that lab websites are often out of date. While the overall research area of a group doesn’t change too much over the years, the current individual projects may be quite different than what’s posted online.

Q. Do you have any tips for students starting the application process?

Start now, don’t procrastinate! Applications take time and professors need advance notice to write reference letters. Conversely, you do have to actually submit the application. It is good to be detail oriented, but you must be able to let go.

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Ready to apply? Visit Applications are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

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


Morgan Vaughn (Dyer Group) Awarded Dean’s Teaching Fellowship

Morgan in the classroom.

Morgan Bair Vaughn (Dyer Group) has been awarded a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship for the 2017-2018 school year. The prestigious fellowship provides support to advanced students to allow them to design and teach a course as Instructor of Record while completing their dissertation. Morgan is using this opportunity to teach a section of CHEM 150: Structure and Properties. The course is the first in the core sequence of the new Chemistry Unbound curriculum and replaces “Gen Chem” or CHEM 142. CHEM 150 takes an integrated approach to teaching the chemical disciplines, giving students broad training in chemistry as the foundation of their studies. For instance, Structure and Properties incorporates aspects of Organic Chemistry, normally sequestered in its own course sequence later in the undergraduate career.

Morgan’s research in the Dyer Group focuses on enzymes via the unique method of temperature jump spectroscopy. “My research works to fill in the gaps in our knowledge to allow for the efficient development of new enzymes,” says Morgan. “A large portion of the scientific community focuses on determining the structure of enzymes and how the structure impacts function. While this work is enormously important, it doesn’t tell the full story. One major aspect that is often overlooked when examining structure-function relationships is that enzymes are dynamic molecules. This means that they physically move, bend, wiggle, and change shape during catalysis.”

Read more about Morgan’s research in her blog post, “A Unique Method for Studying Enzymes.”

Congratulations, Morgan!

Brian Dyer Meets His Majesty the King of the Belgians

conference_booklet710On Wednesday morning, October 19th, Dr. Brian Dyer met King Philippe of Belgium in Brussels, Belgium. Dr. Dyer is attending the 24th Solvay Conference on Chemistry and Catalysis in Chemistry and Biology hosted by the International Solvay Institutes.

The Conference is organized and chaired by Kurt Wutrich, Nobel Laureate 2002 and is being held at the Metropole Hotel where the very first Solvay conference took place in 1911. The historic conference has continued for over 100 years, hosting eminent scientists such as Albert Einstein and Hendrik A. Lorentz. The conference is the central activity of the Solvay Institutes.

Dr. Dyer will present an introductory statement at a session on “Catalysis by Protein Enzymes” on Friday, October 21st.