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.”

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!

Congratulations, 2017-2018 Graduates!

On Monday, May 14th, the Department of Chemistry celebrated the graduation of 63 undergraduate chemistry majors and 16 new PhDs. Congratulations to all of our graduates!

Jonah M. Adler
Raviteja Alla
Yusur Alsalihi
Eric Andreansky, Ph.D.
Rebecca Anne Bartlett, Ph.D.
Nia Nicole Bilal
Nika Braiman
Yulei Cao
Mandy Chan
Yuan Chang, Ph.D.
Bryant Chica, Ph.D.
Lekha Chilakamarri
Emily Bridget Crawford
Marika Deliyianni
Wallace Derricotte, Ph.D.
Long Di
Jose Armando Espinoza
Richard Xin Feng
Divine Joseph Francis
Up Next: Graduate School
Kyle E Giesler, Ph.D.
Akash R Gogate
You Na Ha
Ian I Heaven
Gillian G Hecht
Up Next: Graduate School at Columbia University Mallman School of Public Health(Future plans to attend medical school)
Daisha Holton
Up Next: PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences (Job offer for Teach for America in Houston)
Lillian Theresa Hough
Heejin Hur
Jessica Anna Hurtak, Ph.D.
Currently: Postdoc in the Tan Laboratory at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan
Cheston Husein
Ban-Seok Jeong, Ph.D.
Lisa Wang Jin
Yao Jing, Ph.D.
Verka Elena Williams Jordanov
Se Min Jung
Shashank Kalanithi
Parisa Keshavarz-Joud
Up Next: Research Technician with the Lutz Lab at Emory
(Future plans to attend graduate school for chemistry)
Carly Ryan Kies
2017-2018 Excellence in Undergraduate Educational Support Award (1st Year Mentor)
Up Next: Campus ministry in Australia for a year
Mooeung Kim, Ph.D.
Vishaal Kondoor
Georgia Kossoff
Carli Brooke Kovel
2018 Bobby Jones Scholar
Sang Don Kwan
Up Next: Medical school in Korea
Thomas Lampeter
Adonias C Lemma
2017-2018 Excellence in Undergraduate Educational Support Award (1st Year Lab TA)
Up Next: Emergency Department Medical Scribe with the Emory University Hospital
Yichen Li
Up Next: Grow Trainee in Manufacturing Department for BASF in Shanghai, China
Kuangbiao Liao, Ph.D.
Up Next: Senior Scientist at Abbvie Inc.
Yuhgene Liu
Samir Martin
Garett Michael
Charles Modlin, Ph.D.
Eddy Cristian Ortega
Analia Parana
Lilanni Perez
Thomas Nicholai Preiser
Chengyang Qian
Zheng Qiao
Ashwin Ragupathi
Up Next: Research Technician at MSKCC (Future plans to attend medical school)
Shambavi Jay Rao
Rolando Felipe Rengifo, Ph.D.
Adam M Ring
2017-2018 Excellence in Undergraduate Educational Support Award (2nd Year Lab TA)
Gabriela Rodriguez Bengochea
Daniel Rodriguez
Daniel Cristian Salgueiro
2017-2018 Outstanding Chemistry Major Award
2017-2018 Undergraduate Award in Organic Chemistry
Vivek Sawhney
Noah Allen Setterholm, Ph.D.
Nilang Nandlal Shah
Zoe Simon
Up Next: PhD in Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh
Houston Hartwell Smith
2015 Recipient of the Early Career Achievement Research Grant
2017-2018 Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award
2017-2018 ACS P-Chem Award
Andrew Donald Steele, Ph.D.
Leann Quertinmont Teadt, Ph.D.
Matthew John Tucker
Catherine Urbano
Up Next: Medical School at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Katherine June Woolard
2016 Excellence in Undergraduate Education Award (General Chemistry Lab)
Benjamin Aaron Yosen
Junchu Zeng
Up Next: MS in Operations Research at Columbia University
Qingwan Zhang
Xiancong Zhang
Xiaoyi Zhang

 

Congratulations, 2017-2018 Award Winners!

Congratulations to all of our 2017-2018 award winners!

 Undergraduate Student Awards

Outstanding Chemistry Major:

Daniel Salgueiro

Excellence in Undergraduate Research:

Houston Smith

Excellence in Undergraduate Educational Support:

Analytical: Frances Connor

1st Year Mentor: Carly Kies

2nd Year Mentor: Brett Weingart

1st Year Lab TA: Adonias Lemma

2nd Year Lab TA: Adam Ring

Outstanding 1st year Chemistry Student:

Alex Tang

Sarah Hanson

Early Career Achievement Research Grant:

Nathan Harper (Widicus Weaver)

ACS P-Chem Award

Houston Smith

Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry       

Liz Enyenihi

Undergraduate Award in Organic Chemistry

Daniel Salgueiro

William Jones Scholarship

Sam Zinga

Laura Briggs

Dian Ruby Ding

Paul Greenstein

Graduate Student Awards

Quayle Outstanding Student Award

Pui Yan “Victor” Ma (Salaita)

Quayle Senior Student Award

Colleen Keohane (Wuest)

Qiuyang Li (Lian)

Quayle Student Achievement Award

Benjamin Fontaine (Weinert)

Qi Yu (Bowman)

Amy Solinski (Wuest)

Ziwei Guo (Kindt)

Shannon Rivera (Weinert)

Ally Boyington (Jui)

Outstanding TA Award

Analytical:

Alexia Prokopik (Dyer)

Ha An Nguyen (Dunham)

Physical:

Nicholas Stair (Evangelista)

Organic:

Amber Scharnow (Wuest)

Cameron Pratt (Jui)

General:

Victoria Snider (Hill)

Elaine Liu (MacBeth)

Physical:

Carson Powers (Widicus Weaver)

Congratulations, Dr. Noel Xiang’ An Li!

Photo credit: Dr. Shaoxiong Wu

On Wednesday, April 25th, Noel Xiang’ An Li successfully defended his thesis, “Amyloid-beta strain amplification and their connection to tau in Alzheimer’s Disease”. Noel’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. David Lynn, and members Dr. Stefan Lutz, Dr. Vincent Conticello, Dr. Lary Walker (Emory Neurology), and Dr. Yury Chernoff (GA Tech Biological Sciences).

Noel is applying for jobs in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry while wrapping up some experiments in the Lynn Lab.

Congratulations, Dr. Li!

Congratulations, Dr. Andrew Steele!

On Friday, April 13th, Andrew Steele successfully defended his thesis, “Natural Products Enabling Biological Discovery: Promysalin and Baulamycins”. Andrew’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. William Wuest, and members  Dr. Huw Davies and Dr. Dennis Liotta.

Since moving with the Wuest Group to Emory, Andrew has published two papers, bringing his publication count to five. Andrew will be starting a post-doctoral position at Scripps in Florida where he will be working in the lab of Dr. Ben Shen.

Congratulations, Dr. Steele!

Recruitment Weekend 2018 Recap

What a wonderful weekend of chemistry and community as we welcomed our 2018-2019 recruiting class to our beautiful campus! We hosted over 50 recruits last weekend and had the chance to show them all the great things that our program has to offer. The weekend featured collectible faculty cards, matching baseball tees, a poster session, and many fun activities, from bowling to hiking.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, mentors, and faculty members who helped us organize and achieve such a fun weekend. Events like this remind us how amazing our department truly is!

And thank you to all of our recruits for spending the weekend with us! For information on how to respond to an Offer of Admission, please refer here.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu.

We look forward to hearing back from you, and thanks again for a great weekend!

Graduate Student Spotlight Round-Up

The Emory Department of Chemistry is an epicenter of cutting-edge research in organic, inorganic, biomolecular, and physical chemistry fueled by its motivated and passionate graduate students. We have featured a few outstanding graduate students in previous blogs who embody the mission of our department to engage in teaching and research efforts as a collaborative scientific community. With Recruitment Weekend kicking off today, it is the perfect time to reflect on some of the accomplishments and experiences of a few of our graduate students.

Roxanne Glazier

Roxanne Glazier of the Salaita Group is a student in the Biomedical Engineering Program, a joint graduate program shared by Emory and Georgia Tech. For her research on developing novel methods to elucidate the mechanobiology of podosomes, Roxanne was recognized with the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a funding opportunity providing financial support to promising scientists early in their careers.

 

 

Robert Kubiak

Robert Kubiak of the Davies Group joined the Chemistry PhD program at Emory after serving as a platoon senior medic in the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion. His research project focuses on developing novel catalysts for N-sulfonyltriazoles-nitrogen-based compounds, with an ultimate goal of saving time and money in pharmaceutical synthetic processes.

 

 

 

Brian Hays

Brian Hays of the Widicus Weaver Group defended his thesis in April 2015 and, a year later, was recognized as the winner of the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Dissertation Award. His award-winning research was focused on making and examining unstable molecules for their potential to lead to prebiotic molecules in space.

 

 

Yang Liu

Yang Liu of the Salaita Group defended his thesis, “Developing Nanoparticle-based Tools to Investigate Mechanotransduction at the Living/Nonliving Interface” in September 2016. In addition to his research on how our immune system can recognize and eliminate pathogens or cancer cells, he helped developed a technique for using single elastic molecules, such as DNA, protein, and polymer, as sensors to visualize membrane receptor mediated forces.

 

Jacob Burman

Jacob Burman of the Blakey Group has already seized two study abroad opportunities with the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (CCHF) since joining the Chemistry PhD program at Emory. His research focuses on the foundations of chemical reactivity, catalysis, and synthetic strategy, with potential impacts on solar energy conversion, touch-screen display technology, and therapeutics.

Congratulations, Dr. Kuangbiao Liao!

On Thursday, December 21st, Kuangbiao Liao successfully defended his thesis, “Site-Selective and Stereoselective Functionalization of Non-Activated C-H Bond.” Kuangbiao’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. Huw Davies, and members Dr. Lanny Liebeskind and Dr. Simon Blakey.

Kuangbiao was born in Heyuan, Guangdong Province, China in 1990. He attended Sun Yat-sen University for his undergraduate education in 2009, then he moved to Emory University for his doctoral studies in 2013. During his stay, he developed three catalysts to achieve selective functionalization of non-activated primary, secondary, and tertiary C–H bond under the supervision of Prof. Huw M. L. Davies. His work, including two Nature publications, has been recognized by the community and has earned several prestigious awards. After his successful defense, he moved to North Chicago to join Abbvie Inc. as Senior Scientist I.

Congratulations, Dr. Liao!