10 Great Things About the Emory Chemistry PhD Program

Curious to learn more about the Chemistry PhD Program here at Emory? Look no further! From research and resources to community and collaboration, Emory provides the perfect environment for cultivating ideas and inspiring innovation. Here, we have provided a comprehensive list to highlight some of the wonderful attributes that our university has to offer its graduate students.

1. Diverse Research Opportunities

The research opportunities within the Emory Department of Chemistry are far from limited, with over 20 research groups exploring topics ranging from catalysis to sustainable energy. Our research groups span the four major subdisciplines—inorganic, organic, biomolecular, and physical chemistry—providing graduate students the opportunity to pursue research in a variety of topics.

2. Size of Program

The chemistry PhD program at Emory is considered to be a mid-sized program. A program of this size, with 141 graduate students, 21 research groups, and 15 full-time staff members, is large enough to span most areas of chemistry, but small enough to facilitate effortless intradepartmental relationships. Graduate students in this scientific community find themselves surrounded by like-minded individuals and a supportive faculty providing a personalized and productive research environment.

3. Funding

With $11.7 million in research funding in the 2017 fiscal year, the research endeavors in the Emory Department of Chemistry are well-funded. External financial support affords our program high-end technologies, top of the line equipment, and all necessary laboratory resources.

4. Resources

As mentioned above, Emory is fortunate to be equipped with the latest and greatest instrumentation. With the Mass Spectrometry Center, the Solid-State NMR Center, the Robert P. Apkarian Integrated Electron Microscopy Core, the NMR Research Center, and the X-ray Crystallography Center, chemists in our department have access to an arsenal of state of the art equipment for all their scientific inquiries.

5. Collaboration Opportunities

Motivated by the idea that the best teaching and research happens in the context of a scientific community, everything from building design to department events are poised to promote collaboration. Graduate students in the chemistry department can connect with other researchers across the campus through seminars and courses and across the world through study abroad opportunities.

6. Support

Students in the department can find themselves armed with support throughout the duration of their graduate career. New students are paired with a senior graduate student at the start of their studies for mentorship and their progress is measured with yearly checkpoints. In addition, every new graduate student is automatically inducted into the social and service organization, Pi Alpha Chemical Society, where they will have the opportunity to strengthen relations with other graduate students in the program.

7. Future Careers

Graduate students from our department are uniquely equipped with the skills and training to be successful in a multitude of future careers. Some graduate students have gone on to hold faculty positions in colleges and universities across the country, while others hold positions in industry at companies such as DuPont or Pfizer. Our graduates are not limited to research-driven careers, with many branching out into law, medical practice, tech start-ups, government, science writing, or teaching. Strong alumni connections provide current students with networking opportunities and career resources.

8. Amazing Building

The heart of the program is centered in the beautiful, recently-renovated Sanford S. Atwood Chemistry Center on Emory’s main campus. With plenty of lab space, a glass-fronted atrium, numerous collaborative spaces, and an aroma-filled coffee shop, the Atwood Chemistry Center provides the perfect arena for innovation and discovery.

9. Beautiful Campus

Our main campus has been ranked by The Best Colleges as one of the top ten “most amazing college campuses”, ranking number 8 on the most beautiful campus list. Located in the magnificent Druid Hills neighborhood, the 630-acre campus features unique marble architecture amongst splendid trees and lush greenery.

10. Awesome City

Emory is situated in northeastern Atlanta, a city bursting with culture. The city, the capital and most populous city in Georgia, is home to Zoo Atlanta, the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and countless parks and museums. Atlanta takes pride in its dynamic culture, diverse cuisine, and southern hospitality, with no shortage of experiences for its tourists and residents.

Interested in learning more about our graduate program? Refer to our website or contact us at gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu.

Applying to Graduate School 101: An Interview with a Faculty Admissions Representative

Students pictured at work in the Wuest Lab in Emory's Atwood Hall.
Students pictured at work in the Wuest Lab in Emory’s Atwood Hall.

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 third in the series, an interview with Bill Wuest, Acting Associate Professor of Chemistry, Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator, and current faculty member of the Emory Chemistry Graduate Committee that reads and responds to applications.

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Bill Wuest. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.
Bill Wuest. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.

Q. What made you decide to apply to graduate school?

I was fortunate to have laboratory experience both as an undergraduate and during my summer internships at a pharmaceutical company where I interacted with both graduate students and research scientists. My first hand knowledge of what graduate school was about and the need for such a degree to get the job that I wanted drove me to apply.

Q. How did you choose where to go?

I remember sitting down with my undergraduate advisor during the Fall of my senior year and picking 8-10 schools that fit my interests. He pushed me toward some and away from others. I then visited some of the schools that I was accepted to (I regret not visiting all!) and based on those two trips I was able to make an obvious choice.

Q. When you’re reviewing applications now as a faculty member, what makes an applicant stand out?

First and foremost is research experience, especially those that have actively sought summer research experiences or other labs to expand their skill set. I also like to see some diversity in the applicant’s interests – did they play sports, do outreach, participate in clubs? Work-life balance and time management are critical to success in graduate school and showing that attribute in the personal statement is important.

Q. How much do you care about metrics like the GRE score and GPA?

They typically do not factor into my decision unless they are extraordinary (in either direction). I pay more attention to what classes the student has taken and how well have they done in courses that directly relate to the program they applied for (organic, physical, etc).

Q. What makes for a successful personal statement?

The best statements are those that are well-organized, well-written, and tell a unique story. Stick to the experiences that were transformational in your career and tell them in necessary detail. I love to hear about the book or class that challenged your perception or the experiment that wouldn’t work at first but you “tweaked it” and it transformed a project. The latter I find most important as >90% of graduate school is overcoming problems and persevering.

Q. What is the best way for applicants to share previous research experience? Can someone succeed in grad school if they don’t have much of a research background?

Use the personal statement to explain not only what you did in the lab but why you chose that area! Explain what you learned and also how you would either like to expand on it or change direction completely. Anyone can succeed in grad school even if they’re fairly new to research; however, if you can find research opportunities, it is worth pursuing them. That might mean looking for summer opportunities or internships or taking a gap year to work in a lab. These are all aspects of your application that will make you stand out!

Q. Are there common mistakes you see students make on graduate applications?

Try and tailor your application to the school you are applying to. Mention who you would like to work with, why you might want to be in that particular area, share any ties you might have to the department. Too many applications are boring – that is, generic and cookie cutter. Try and make yours stand out!

Q. How do you go about reviewing an application?

I typically look for any overlap to my research and network first. Do I know any of your advisors, letter writers, former students from your program? Any way I can obtain an extra data point to calibrate me to your file. If not, I will review your research history, transcript and personal statement to see how you would fit into the dynamic we have at Emory.

Q. What advice do you have for applicants?

This might get me in trouble with my colleagues but do not be afraid to contact the faculty you are interested in! Let them know about your application and your interest in their research. Your enthusiasm for the program will improve your application!

Q. What qualities make for a successful graduate student? 

Perseverance, work ethic, and open mindedness are the 3 most important skills in my opinion. Intelligence and experience come with the territory and are easily taught, the others are not.

Q. Many chemistry departments invite admitted students to a recruitment weekend. How can prospective students make the most of this experience?

Go to as many of these events as you can! Each department is different and you will learn a lot about the “personality” of each at the visit. During the weekend try and talk to as many people as possible. Find the student in the shadows who looks disgruntled, talk to faculty outside your research area, ask people what is their least favorite thing is, find out what the average time to graduation is, do the students go to conferences, where do they work afterward, etc.

Q. What advice would you offer to a student who is trying to decide if grad school is the right path for them?/What should students ask themselves before applying?

Again, talk to as many people as possible. Work with your advisor and ask if they can put you in touch with alumni who have gone in different directions. Grad school is a significant time investment during an important part of your life, I would strongly discourage people from applying if they think its just “the next thing to do.” You need to be invested and excited about the opportunity, not just lukewarm.

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. 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!

Dr. Wuest is accepting students for Fall 2019. For a list of all faculty accepting students, check out our Research page.

Recruitment Weekend Schedule

Current and prospective students enjoy s'mores at the S'mores Social during Recruitment Weekend 2015.
Current and prospective students enjoy s’mores at the S’mores Social during Recruitment Weekend 2015.

Welcome, Admitted Students!

All events are RSVP only and all events are FULL.

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Morning          Airport pick-ups

12pm               Targeted arrival for visitors (most flights arrive by noon)

1pm-4pm        Mentor/Mentee Meet-up and Department/Service Center Tours

Pizza lunch (12-2pm) and snacks available for mentors/mentees in Atwood 380 kitchen.

4:00pm            Welcome and Department Overview with Huw Davies, Director of Graduate Studies (Atwood 360)

4:45pm            Poster Session (Science Commons Atrium)

6:00pm            Dinner Stations Open, Poster Session Continues (Science Commons Atrium)

7:30pm            Dessert and Special Performance (PAIS 290)

An announcement will be made—follow the balloons and lights to the PAIS building.

8:45pm            Outings in Atlanta with students and faculty: Bowling at Comet Pub and Lanes in Decatur OR S’mores Social at the fire pit at the Emory Conference Center Hotel

 

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

8:30-9:30        Breakfast at the HB Coffee Lab for admitted students and faculty

9:30am            Individual Meetings with faculty, including lab tours

12:30pm          Lunch and Grad Student Q&A (Atwood 360)

2:00pm            Informal meetings with faculty and/or outings around Atlanta

  • Housing Tour/Beltline
  • Stone Mountain
  • Campus Tour/Coffee

6:00pm            Cocktail Reception at The General Muir (Emory Point)

7:00pm-11pm Dinner at The General Muir followed by board games (Emory Point)

 

Sunday, February 26th

Morning Departures to Airport and Continental Breakfast in the Emory Conference Center Hotel Lobby

Emory at SACNAS 2016

Ann Dasher. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography.
Ann Dasher. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography.

The graduate program in chemistry at Emory will attend the annual SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) conference in Long Beach, California. Ann Dasher, Graduate Program Development Coordinator will be at booth #414. Stop by to meet Ann along with some of our graduate students. We’ll have program literature available as well as some great Emory swag. Lloyd Munjanja from the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization–which has its headquarters at Emory–will also be attending the conference at booth #1019.

If you cannot attend SACNAS–or if you need more information about the graduate program–visit the Prospective Students page on our website. The fee-free application deadline is midnight on October 31st. The final application deadline is January 3rd, 2017.

 

Research Spotlight: A Summer Start at Emory

By: Michelle Leidy (Scarborough Group)

Last summer, I began my graduate career at Emory University doing research for Dr. Nate Jui in the Department of Chemistry. In his lab I was exploring how ureas and carbamates can be taken advantage of for use as catalysts in the ortho-functionalization of aniline and phenol, respectively.

A visualization of reactions-- ureas (top) and carbamates (bottom)
A visualization of reactions– ureas (top) and carbamates (bottom).

I tested these reactions under several sets of conditions. By the end of the summer, I learned that neither of the reactions worked. I even tried making the palladium-carbamate complex to see if the first steps in the catalytic process were going as they should. It turns out, that wasn’t working either.

Visualization of the palladium-carbamate complex--this didn't work either!
Visualization of the palladium-carbamate complex. Also did not work!

This was frustrating for me, as my two undergraduate projects had been successful, with virtually no setbacks. But I learned that when nothing works, you sometimes have to go one step back to (eventually) go two steps forward. As someone who grew up afraid of failure, I am only now realizing that it is the thing that drives new ideas and creativity, as long as we can learn and grow from it.

Overall this rotation was a good learning experience. I was able to transition into graduate life, become familiar with the facilities, and make some new friends without the stress of classes. 

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Michelle LeidyMichelle Leidy began her studies at Emory in the summer of 2015 and is an Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) fellow. Currently, she is a member of the Scarborough Group working on synthesizing catalysts that can activate hydrogen peroxide by using second sphere hydrogen bonding, which would be useful in challenging industrial oxidation processes. Outside the lab, Michelle enjoys music and the arts, and can often be found going to concerts, plays, or swing dancing the night away if not relaxing at home. After graduation, Michelle hopes to continue her career doing research in a lab. 

A version of this post originally appeared on the IMSD blog in February 2016. 

 

Research Spotlight: A Unique Method for Studying Enzymes

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

By: Morgan Bair Vaughn (Dyer Group)

Enzymes are responsible for catalyzing a myriad of reactions necessary for life. Because enzymes play such an important role in human physiology, they are often targets for drugs and disease treatments. Naturally occurring enzymes are capable of catalyzing a wide variety of reactions, but imagine if we could design an enzyme to catalyze any reaction we wanted. We would be able to create new antibiotics easily to combat antibiotic resistance or to quickly synthesize chemicals for industrial applications. Scientists have made a lot of progress towards creating new enzymes, yet there are still roadblocks. Modifying existing enzymes through directed evolution is inefficient and limited by the need for high throughput screening methods. Conversely, in the case of rational design, we are missing key information for the technique to work at its full potential.

My research works to fill in the gaps in our knowledge to allow for the efficient development of new enzymes. 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.

To study enzyme dynamics, I use temperature jump spectroscopy. There are only a few labs around the world that use this technique, and even fewer that use it to study enzymes. Temperature jump spectroscopy relies on rapidly initiating a change in equilibrium. For example, my samples contain enzymes and ligands. As determined by the equilibrium constant, some of the ligand is bound and some ligand is free in solution. The sample starts at equilibrium at a specified temperature. Then, a laser pulse is used to rapidly heat a small portion of the sample. The system must relax to a new equilibrium at the higher temperature. Since ligand binding is an exothermic reaction, there will be a net flux of ligands dissociating from the enzyme. However, as a system relaxes to a new equilibrium it will shift in the forward and reverse directions providing information about both processes. From this data I can determine the rate at which ligands are binding and unbinding, accompanying enzyme motions, and even conformational changes unrelated to ligand association. These changes occur on the microsecond timescale.

Although temperature jump spectroscopy could be applied to any number of enzymes, so far I’ve studied one enzyme in particular, dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). It is a small ubiquitous enzyme that is well known for changing conformations during its catalytic cycle. Thus, it is a good starting place for understanding enzyme dynamics. Furthermore, DHFR is an important enzyme for nucleic acid synthesis. Since nucleic acid synthesis is necessary for cellular replication, DHFR inhibition is a strategy for anticancer and antibacterial agents.

Understanding the motions of DHFR could lead to the development of new inhibitors to combat resistance developed in certain cancers. The technique I use can be applied to other enzyme systems as well. By studying multiple enzymes we can build an understanding of enzyme motions in general, which can then be used to inform computational simulations for rational enzyme design. This would ultimately allow us to efficiently design new enzymes as well as new drugs.

Further Reading

Reddish, M. J.; Vaughn, M. B.; Fu, R.; Dyer, R. B. Ligand-Dependent Conformational Dynamics of Dihydrofolate Reductase. Biochemistry 2016, 55 (10), 1485-1493.

 

Graduate Student Attends International Nobel Laureates Meeting

Graduate student Yoshie Narui (Salaita Group) attended the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting in Germany. Once every year, 30–40 Nobel Laureates convene at Lindau to meet the next generation of leading scientists: undergraduates, PhD students, and post-doc researchers from all over the world. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings foster the exchange among scientists of different generations, cultures, and disciplines.