Everything has to start somewhere.
For new graduate students, the first year can feel like going from warp speed back to zero. Top students are once again beginners, figuring out new courses and responsibilities. At Emory, those responsibilities include the first T.A. assignment and the whirlwind of research rotations.
On the first day of graduate school orientation, I sat next to two people. One of them is still my best friend. The other one became my husband.
Perhaps most importantly, new graduate students are faced with the task of getting comfortable with a new community and getting to know one another. The importance of peer support and collaboration means that friendships with other chemists are foundational rather than supplemental.
This year, chemistry's newest students kicked off the relationship building process with two days of cohort team building prior to the start of academic orientation. Advanced graduate students led the two days of activities.
Day one included workshops on "Crafting a Personal Mission Statement" and "How to Succeed in Graduate School." The latter workshop incorporated graduate school-themed stickers with phrases selected by advanced students and faculty to help new students celebrate the common successes - and failures - of the first year and beyond.
On day two, students had an opportunity for some friendly competition with an "Amazing Race"-style scavenger hunt across campus followed by the graduate program's first-ever faculty-student trivia night.
Following a more traditional academic orientation, students began the process of rotation selection with the "Group Exploration Period." The 22 research groups accepting students offered open group meetings, research talks, and lab open houses. "Explorers" were required to visit eight groups - but most visited more. At the conclusion of the three weeks, students selected three labs in which to spend another three and a half weeks prior to final group selection in December.
The extended rotation selection period provided first year students more opportunities than ever before to build connections to faculty as well as student peers. With Dr. Jen Heemstra leading a concurrent conversation on Twitter, new students were surrounded by encouragement to fully engage with a wide range of possible Emory futures.
1st year PhD students - hopefully your grad career is off to a great start, but just a reminder that if you do hit a roadblock:— Jen Heemstra (@jenheemstra) September 14, 2018
-Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice
-You're not alone in this - everyone faces challenges and doubts
-You belong here and can do this!
Nailed it. This is totally how I felt starting grad school...and my postdoc...and my faculty career. https://t.co/dWu6iP1mOA— Jen Heemstra (@jenheemstra) September 16, 2018
Grad students, as you work to become an "independent researcher," an important distinction is:— Jen Heemstra (@jenheemstra) September 18, 2018
Independent does not mean alone.
Independent means you take ownership, gather knowledge, formulate ideas, then bring all of that into dialogue with others who can help. #PhDchat
1st year grads - as you choose a PhD advisor, research is super important, but also think about: Who will coach and mentor you with your career goals as the top priority? Who do you want as your advocate throughout your career? Who will care personally about your well-being?— Jen Heemstra (@jenheemstra) September 25, 2018
Earning a PhD is about learning to be an independent thinker. Independent thinkers become thought leaders. Thought leaders become leaders of others. Is your PhD experience preparing you to be a leader? It should be.— Jen Heemstra (@jenheemstra) September 30, 2018
For a closer look at our first year students, we selected seven of them for a more in-depth interview. We aren't playing favorites! While all 35 of our first year students are amazing, these seven students spent part of their summer completing an early rotation, making them available for interviews and photos.
“I would love to become a professor eventually."
Ryan moved to Georgia from Pennsylvania, where he attended Villanova University. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry with a minor in Spanish Literature and Language.
Joining the Wuest Lab for his first rotation was a natural transition for Ryan because he was already familiar with and interested in the research. Moreover, the Wuest Lab gave him an opportunity to continue to explore his interest in developing new antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antibiotic compounds.
"I know that Emory really is the school for me."
Tamra, pictured in the video above, comes to Emory from Georgia State University. Driven by her life motto - everything is easy when you know how to do it, so let's learn how to do it! - Tamra is already distinguishing herself as a leader among her peers.
Tamra also carries on an Emory legacy - her grandmother was a staff member at Emory allowing her mother to attend Emory via a courtesy scholarship. Read their story.
“I really enjoy optimizing. I like taking something that you see 3% of your product in, and making it so you get 90% .”
Michael Hollerbach's pre-Emory experience included rehabilitating flying squirrels, outsmarting otters, and bonding with Fletch the Vulture. Originally drawn to the study of animal veterinary science, Michael worked at a zoo as a keeper and trainer and in a vet clinic as a surgery technician. He still has a special place in his heart for Steven Seagull, who he trained with McDonald’s French fries instead of small fish.
Michael is joined at Emory by two fellow College of Charleston alums - Cecilia Hendy and Alyssa Johnson. He spent the summer in the McDonald Lab, where he worked on modifying bonds of a cancer drug.
“It’s different than undergrad in that it is more about investigating than answering a question.”
David previously attended Coastal Carolina University where he studied biochemistry with a research focus on organic chemistry. A summer rotation in the McDonald Lab allowed him to explore his interest in methodology, total synthesis, and natural products.
David has really enjoyed the independence and innovation of graduate school. He particularly loves having access to six NMRs!
“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!”
Quincy came to Emory from the University of Richmond where he majored in Chemistry and minored in Mathematics and Economics. Having grown up in Brooklyn, New York, the relocation to metropolitan Atlanta wasn’t a big deal for Quincy. By contrast, the transition from a computational lab to a wet lab during a summer rotation in the McDonald Lab was a major shift.
Luckily, Dr. McDonald was always available when Quincy, David, or Michael needed some extra guidance or mentorship. The three students adopted an “we’re in this together” attitude, learning from and teaching each other. "It was really nice to have them working in the lab," says Dr. McDonald. "They were all working on a new project area for us and that made it a bit challenging. I was also learning a lot. Everyone made progress!"
"What I think is the most interesting about this chemistry is the application of C-H functionalization to pharmacology, total synthesis, and drug design.”
Jack's interest in chemistry developed in the eighth grade when he first saw the classic “Rainbow Milk” experiment. When the time came for him to look at colleges, he prioritized the ones with the best research opportunities, landing him at Bowdoin College where he studied both Chemistry and Religion.
Jack is particularly excited about connecting with Emory labs researching C-H functionalization. He spent the summer in the lab of Dr. Huw Davies, Director of the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalziation.
“Everyone is excited about what’s going on and the research is interesting! It’s one thing to read it and it’s another thing to actually do it.”
Cassie attended Xavier University where she researched total synthesis and graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry.
Before joining Emory, she spent some time working in Research and Development, but is excited to get back into the classroom again in the Fall. Her career goal is to one day teach at a primarily undergraduate institution.
Ground state - where things start. With all the opportunites available at Emory, we know there are exciting things ahead for our first year graduate students. If Michael, Tamra, Cassie, Ryan, Jack, and Quincy ever need support...they can always get the band back together.
Interested in getting your chemistry career off the ground at Emory? Applications to our graduate program are open now through December 1st, 2018. For details, visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply.