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.
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.
Bill Wuest has been named one of three recipients of the 2017 ACS Infectious Disease Young Investigator Award given by ACS Infectious Diseases and the ACS Division of Biological Chemistry. Winners received a plaque, an award of $1,000, and up to $500 in travel reimbursement to attend the 2017 ACS Fall National Meeting in Washington, D.C., and present at an ACS Division of Biological Chemistry symposium in their honor. In addition, they were honored at the ACS Infectious Diseases Young Investigator Awards Symposium during the meeting.
Brooke Howell interviewed Dr. Wuest regarding the honor.
What’s next in your research?
With my group’s recent move to Emory University, I felt that this would be an ideal time to expand our research focus beyond bacterial biofilms and look into other areas antibacterial research. More specifically, we are looking to expand our “narrow-spectrum” research program with a focus on Pseudomonad-specific therapies in collaboration with the CF-Atlanta group. Likewise, we also plan to work closely with the Antibiotic Resistance Center here at Emory to further investigate mechanisms of antibiotic resistance development by both using our current, and continuing to develop, chemical probes.
The Department of Chemistry at Emory University is pleased to welcome Bill Wuest to our faculty beginning in June 2017. Dr. Wuest joins Emory from Temple University where he was Daniel Swern Early Career Professor of Chemistry. At Emory, he will be the first Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Distinguished Investigator in Emory College of Arts and Sciences. He will be joined at Emory by six graduate students–Erika Csatary, Colleen Keohane, Kelly Morrison, Sean Rossiter, Amy Solinski, Andrew Steele–and postdoc Sara Zahim.
Bill was born in Centereach, NY in 1981. He received his B.S. magna cum laude in Chemistry/Business from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. As an undergraduate, he investigated intramolecular hydroamination reactions under the tutelage of Professor Paul Helquist. Bill then moved to Philadelphia, PA to begin his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania working with Professor Amos B. Smith, III. His graduate work focused on both the total synthesis of peloruside A and the development of Anion Relay Chemistry (ARC) culminating with a Ph.D. in 2008. Bill then traveled to Harvard Medical School as a Ruth Kirschstein-NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Professor Christopher T. Walsh, where he investigated unusual enzymatic transformations in the construction of non-ribosomal peptide natural products.
In July of 2011, Bill began his independent career as an Assistant Professor at Temple University. His research focuses on the development of chemical tools to better understand bacteria with a specific focus on anti-virulence targets and narrow-spectrum therapeutics. He is also a member of the Molecular Therapeutics Division of Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Scientific Founder of NovaLyse BioSolutions, which seeks to commercialize the QAC technology developed in collaboration with the Minbiole Group at Villanova University. Bill is the recipient of a number of awards including the NIH ESI Maximizing Investigators Research Award (MIRA), NSF CAREER Award, the Young Investigator Award from the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University, the New Investigator Award from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, the Thieme Journal of Chemistry Award, and the Italia-Eire Foundation Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award from the College of Science and Technology at Temple University.
Bill is an avid sports fan, with allegiances to the NY Yankees, NY Giants, and his alma mater, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Outside the lab he enjoys spending time with his wife, Liesl, and son, Max.