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.
We are excited to announce the names of our 2018 entering cohort. This group of early career scientists is distinguished by their broad research experience and training, including summer REUs and participation in programs including:
Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP)
Emory STEM Research Symposium
Barry Goldwater Scholarship
NIH Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD)
A majority of the class has at least one paper published or under review. Many students have experience with mentoring, including undergraduate TA, tutoring, and Peer Leader appointments. As a group, these students also share long-term engagement in volunteer projects and STEM outreach. While a majority of the class is joining Emory directly from their undergraduate careers, a handful are moving on to the PhD track from post-grad laboratory careers. Several will be the first in their family to earn a PhD.
In addition, this class includes:
a former zookeeper/science educator
a pair of former college roommates
a Starbucks “Coffee Master”
a “Most Athletic” award winner
an Emory College alum and the child of an Emory College alum
Each of these students has their own story to tell and incredible potential to draw on Emory resources to forge an amazing scientific career.
Entering Class of 2018
Georgia State University
St. John’s University
Ordy Manuela Gnewou
Ayda Gonzalez de la Nuez
James Madison University
Dalian University of Technology
College of Charleston
College of Charleston
Southern University of Science and Technology
College of Charleston
Georgia Institute of Technology
Coastal Carolina University
California State University – Fresno
University of Science and Technology
Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge
If you received a 2018 offer to join our PhD program, congratulations!
Emory University’s Laney Graduate School is a member of the Council of Graduate Schools and we do not require any student to respond to an offer of admission prior to April 15th. However, we would love to hear from you as soon as you know your decision!
In her review, Ha An summarizes the major findings of the Metelev et al. paper and emphasizes the value of genome mining in the discovery of new antimicrobials. “We previously thought we had beaten bacterial infections with ‘miracle drugs’ but if you look at the numbers from the CDC, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections in the United States alone,” Ha An says. “Techniques such as genome mining used in this paper can help sift through tons of sequencing data and can lead us to places we would have never thought of to look.”
Beyond its scientific contributions to the field, this manuscript held particular value to Ha An. “As a novice scientist, this paper on klebsazolicin provides a nice story of a scientific study that walks through the project from conception in silico and into the laboratory for mechanistic and structural investigation,” she says. “It also let me dip my toes into making figures of ribosomes structures, which I am hoping to do a lot of during my time in the Dunham lab to tease out the details of bacterial translation with atomic-level resolution.”
On Friday, October 20th, Kyle Giesler successfully defended his thesis, “The Design, Synthesis, and Evaluation of Novel LipidProdrugs for Nucleoside Analogues.” Kyle’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. Dennis Liotta, and members Dr. Khalid Salaita and Dr. Frank McDonald.
During his time at Emory, Kyle designed a novel prodrug strategy for tenofovir and other antiviral nucleosides that “unlocks” their therapeutic potential and significantly rivals well-accepted conjugation strategies used in the clinic. His research contributed to 8 publications and a patent application. In addition, Kyle initiated a collaboration between Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine, developed analogs for the treatment of chronic viral infections and cancer, and was awarded the Graduate Diversity Fellowship awarded to outstanding graduate students showing academic excellence and “exceptional promise as future leaders in their fields”.
Looking forward, Kyle plans to pursue a post-doctoral position at U.C Berkeley with Dr. Nirem Murthy where he intends to jump into bioengineering and develop delivery strategies for genome editing technology. After that, Kyle hopes to land an industrial position at the interface of chemistry and biology and be a part of a creative and team that operates at the forefront of human knowledge to design and discover novel therapeutics to change the course of human disease.
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 provides tips on requesting reference letters to accompany your application.
Hi, Dr. H,
Can you write a reference for me? It’s due next week. I loved your class!
Katie, Dr. H is not amused.
It’s hard to ask faculty for reference letters. You are literally asking them to say nice things about you, on paper, and then submit this nice note to strangers for review. And your future seems to kind of depend on what they say.
Make it easy for yourself and your recommenders. Send an email to your intended letter writer that includes the following information:
What you are asking for, including where you are applying and why
How they know you (including full name and course titles, if applicable)
Deadline for submission (send EARLY!)
Please and Thank You
Any materials (resume, personal statement, etc.) that the letter writer might need to review before writing
Use your judgement to tailor your request to specific faculty, but those are the basics. If you know someone really, really well, you might not need to offer a lot of specifics about how they know you. But it is still helpful to tell them why you are asking for the letter–what story can they tell about you that will help convince an admissions committee that you will be an awesome grad student?
Most faculty will want at least 2-3 weeks to complete a letter. Some might need longer. For Emory Chemistry, you can submit requests for letters as early as September 1st (when our application goes live) and we will pair them with your application as they arrive. You will need to indicate the contact information (email and snail mail address) of your letter writers to submit your application, so you’ll want to make sure your writers already know that you’re listing them even if they plan to submit the letter at a later date. We will send your writers a direct request for their letter via email to keep the correspondence confidential.
One thing that can confuse applicants is whether or not they should waive their right to review their reference letters. It is your legal right to review letters submitted on your behalf. Graduate schools give students the opportunity to waive this right to help ensure that faculty feel comfortable writing a thorough and honest letter. Even if faculty have nothing but nice things to say, they may not want you to be looking over their shoulder! Generally, admissions representatives might assume that letters will be more honest and comprehensive when a student waives their right of review, so it is a good idea to do this if you feel comfortable. Faculty might also disclose statistics related to OTHER students (such as your grade compared to others or a class ranking) in a confidential letter that they could not include in a letter that you would have access to in order to protect student privacy.
In terms of who to ask for letters, the key criteria is to choose people who know you well. This might include:
instructors from college courses
Generally, each letter should come from someone who interacted with you in college (not earlier). For students applying to graduate school after being in the workforce, we are happy to review letters from people familiar with your college or work experience. Letters from friends, neighbors, and family are not useful (in the rare case that you were taught or supervised by someone in one of these categories, the letter should address these unique circumstances.)
It’s also helpful if letters can speak to your chemistry experience–three letters from non-chemistry professors might make it difficult for us to get a full picture of your preparation. Finally, keep in mind that it’s important to ask for letters from someone in a leadership role–a letter from your research supervisor is more appropriate than a letter from the graduate student who trained you on an instrument. If that graduate student really does know your work, you might ask them if it is okay to include them as a reference when you send that polite email to your P.I. to ask for the letter. For instance: “I worked closely with NAME on PROJECT and they are willing to provide you with details about my progress.”
Finally, it might be helpful to know that it is generally considered good practice for college faculty to decline to write a letter if they cannot be positive. This doesn’t mean that letters can’t provide real critique, but if a faculty member does not feel you are prepared for graduate school or actually didn’t enjoy working with you, custom dictates that they would decline to write a letter for you rather than sending a negative reference. This is a CUSTOM not a RULE. If you are in doubt as to whether a letter will be positive, you should have a professional conversation with your possible referee to ask if they would be willing to write you a supportive letter. If not, thank them for their time and, if you are comfortable, ask them for their advice on how you might improve your work so that they will feel comfortable writing for you in future.
Reference letters are a key component of your application. Request them early and thoughtfully. For the chemistry graduate program at Emory, we require three letters and allow up to four.
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).
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.
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.
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.