Bill Wuest Named Leshner Fellow

 

Bill Wuest speaks to a reporter during the 2019-2020 AAAS Leshner Leadership Fellows orientation week.

Human augmentation. Sounds like the theme of a highly-rated, futuristic SciFi movie, right? In the realm of chemistry, however, the idea of enhancing human capability often guides some of the most impactful research. For example, research in the Wuest lab is focused on the development of new antibiotics inspired by nature. From identifying and synthesizing to characterizing and optimizing, researchers in the Wuest lab hope to improve upon natural products with the ultimate goal of commercialization. Because of their ability to alter the human microbiome, the therapeutic use of these antibiotics lends itself to improving the human function.

These research efforts recently earned Dr. Wuest the distinction of being named a Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow. The Leshner Fellow program was developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to train scientists to be more active in public engagement and government policy discussions. Each year, the program selects a theme that they deem to be of importance in the realm of public engagement. The theme of the year was Human Augmentation, which followed such past themes as Infectious Diseases, Food and Water Security, and Climate Change.

Leshner Fellows visit with staff in Rep. Bill Foster’s office.

As a Leshner Fellow, Dr. Wuest was given the opportunity to participate in a week-long orientation designed to facilitate issue-specific scientific communication and to encourage attendees to serve as leaders in public engagement. Instructional modules covered topics from video production and graphics to social media. “We met with a panel of journalists to learn how to engage with them about research stories we are working on,” says Dr. Wuest. “We received training in how to engage policy makers on Capitol Hill and create one page ‘drop sheets’. We also were instructed on how to give televised interviews and participated in one recording for the Leshner video.” In addition, the meeting provided a stage for attendees to initiate collaborations with other leaders in the field.

Fellows on Capitol Hill.

“The highlight of the week was our visit to Capitol Hill,” says Dr. Wuest. He met with staff members of the Senate Commerce Committee, The House Committee on Science and Technology, and with the office of Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), with whom he was able to communicate his passion for graduate student training and the need for diversity and inclusion in the sciences (the current focus of two bills in Congress). “I focused my pitch on the specific training of graduate students through an increase in federal funding to fellowships and training grants as opposed to directly to the PI, which is the primary mode of funding graduate students currently,” he explains. This concept is also the topic of an op-ed that he is co-writing with 4 other fellows.

At the end of the orientation week, Dr. Wuest walked away with answers to such questions as “How do you engage writers and editors?”, “What is the best approach to impacting policy?”, and “What is the best way to make institutional change within your organization?”. Moreover, each fellow was guided towards developing and implementing two engagement plans for the upcoming year. For Dr. Wuest, the first plan is centered around educating the public on the issues of antimicrobial resistance and the development of new antibiotics. “My plan involves writing a number of op-eds to educate the public as well as organizing public forums around the topic,” he says. For his second plan, Dr. Wuest is focusing on the further development of a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at Emory University. This aim, he says, is derived from his relationship with the Georgia Research Alliance. In collaboration with Emory, this organization awarded him a Distinguished Investigator endowed chair when he moved here in 2017.

“The experience has made a significant impact on how I think about communicating my science and the reach I would like my findings to have,” says Dr. Wuest. He is already capitalizing on some of the training he received during orientation, having recently engaged with a number of journalists to help share his message. He had an interview with NPR regarding a recent publication that is set to air sometime this month, and he contacted Senator Isakson (R-GA) who currently has proposed a bipartisan bill, the DISARM Bill, which seeks to address the issue of antibiotic development in the private sector.

Beyond just sharing his interest in antibiotics and research, Dr. Wuest also hopes to inspire others to take a similar approach to communicating their own science. “I would encourage not only faculty but students as well to think more broadly about public engagement in all areas, whether it be social media, SciComm, writing op-eds, emailing local representatives, etc.,” he says. “Without public support, a lot of the science we do will not be possible.”

If you are a student interested in similar programs to the one described here, check out the AAAS Fellowships website!

To read more about the research in the Wuest lab, check out this article in Emory News.

2019-2020 AAAS Leshner Leadership Fellows

All photo credit to Mary Catherine Longshore, AAAS

Congratulations to the 2019 NSF GRFP Awardees and Honorable Mentions!

Congratulations to the 2019 NSF GRFP Awardees and Honorable Mentions!

The Department of Chemistry is so proud of its NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Awardees for 2019! The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program provides recognition and support for outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines. The GRFP selects recipients with great promise to achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional endeavors.

2019 NSF GRFP Awardees:

Anna Kaplan

Anna earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin college before coming to Emory University in 2018. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program for two different projects. She has since joined the Wuest Lab, where she works on organic synthesis of natural products and analogs thereof to discover new narrow-spectrum antibiotics. She is also involved in various outreach events with PACS and The Association for Women in Science  (AWIS), including the Atlanta Science Festival and the Emory Summer Science Academy.

 

Savannah Post

Savannah joined the Wuest lab in 2018 after earning her undergraduate degree from Berry College. While at Berry, she worked on methods for stereoselective synthesis and the synthesis of Lumacaftor analogues for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. Now, Savannah works on the total synthesis of an antibacterial natural product. Savannah is also actively involved with The Association for Women in Science (AWIS), currently serving as their Treasurer.

 

Daniel Salgueiro

Daniel, who graduated from Emory University in 2018, now attends graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He works in the lab of Dr. Dan Weix, where he uses Cross-Electrophile Coupling (XEC) to form sp3-sp3-sp2 C-C bonds. His NSF proposal was on the use of cooperative diaryl ketone/palladium catalysis to use allylic C-H bonds as pronucleophiles for traditional cross-coupling, based on the research he worked on in Blakey Lab during his time at Emory.

 

Ingrid Wilt

Ingrid is a member of the Wuest lab, currently working on total synthesis of a natural product with anti-fungal activity. Before joining the Wuest lab in 2018, Ingrid attended Colorado College where she conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Habiba Vaghoo. In addition to her research, Ingrid serves as the co-speaker chair for The Association for Women in Science (AWIS).

 

2019 NSF GRFP Honorable Mentions:

Rachel Bender

After graduating from Capital University with a B.A. in chemistry and biochemistry and minors in math and biology, Rachel came to Emory University where she is co-advised by Dr. Jen Heemstra and Dr. Khalid Salaita. Her project involves characterizing the biophysical properties of peptide nucleic acids with a goal of developing them into a tool for analyzing cell mechanics. In addition to her research, Rachel volunteers with Science for Georgia and the Atlanta Science Festival and serves as STEM Activity Leader with the Discovery Program Inc. Rachel has also been the recipient of an Emory Graduate Diversity Fellowship.

Aaron Bosse

Aaron joined the Davies Lab in 2017 after earning his bachelor’s degree from College of the Holy Cross. In the Davies Lab, he works on total synthesis of paracyclophane natural products, method development of new diazo precursors for C-H functionalization, and exotic C-H functionalization substrates useful to pharma. He actively works with the CCHF, having helped run their booth at the Atlanta Science Festival for the past two years. Aaron was named the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Most Outstanding Senior Undergraduate at Holy Cross and he was the recipient of the Quayle New Student Award here at Emory.

Ana Cheng

Ana came to Emory University from New College of Florida. She joined the Wuest lab in January 2018, where she currently works on synthetic retinoids with anti-MRSA activity. In addition to her interests in total synthesis and medicinal chemistry, Ana is a member of The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Ana is actively involved with Atlanta Roller Derby as both a skater and board member.

Maddie Dekarske

Maddie earned her Bachelor’s degree from Agnes Scott College before coming to Emory, where she now works in the Wuest Lab. She has two projects in the lab: making analogs of nTZDpa, which kills growing and persisitent S. aureus, and investigating the mechanism of action of honokiol derivatives, which kill S. mutans. Maddie has also received a Goldwater Honorable Mention in 2016 and another NSF GRFP Honorable Mention in 2017, she has been inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board, and she has been recognized in Who’s Who Among Students at American Universities and Colleges.

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.