On Sunday, May 7th, graduating seniors in the UConn Chemistry Department will receive their diplomas. Below are some of the talented students who will be walking on Sunday. Click on their photos to learn more about their journey through UConn and where they plan to go next.

Stephanie Aguilera
Jessica Murdzek
John Ovian
Kevin Stein
Thomas Xu

 

Stéphanie Marie Aguilera

Chemistry, B.S.; Molecular and Cell Biology Minor

Stéphanie Aguilera will be pursuing biomedical research as part of the INDICASAT program in Panama.

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

Although I am somewhat uncertain as to what career I would like to pursue, I do know that I would like to contribute more to research in biomedical settings and pursue a higher degree in biological chemistry.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue this career?

I’ve always wanted to contribute in the medical field from a young age; however, the idea of exposing myself to a more biological chemistry setting did not come about until my first semester of senior year.

Have you had any specific experiences at UConn that influenced your career path?

During the summer of my junior year in high school, I had the privilege of working with the Kumar group on the investigation of HB-PAA polymer conjugates as part of the UConn Mentor Connection program. As an undergrad, I joined Dr. Angeles group where he was very welcoming of my interests. I also had the opportunity to do research while performing different supramolecular projects (foldamers) in China, which was mind-boggling in itself.

What is your job title/professional school/graduate school?

I will be a research assistant through the INDICASAT program in Panama where I will be exposed to different domains of biomedical research.

What were some of your biggest worries and concerns going into the application process? How did you address/overcome those fears?

My two biggest concerns were that I would be postponing graduate school if accepted and the fact that there were only 4 spots available for this position. I tackled my fears by communicating with the program director as well as other professors about my worries. Dr. Beshir and Dr. Angeles were both very helpful with their advice.

How has UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after university?

UConn chemistry has been very instructive in showing me that there are so many opportunities to both grow inside and outside the classroom. It has enabled me to truly experience chemistry at the international level through the Fudan Exchange Program. The faculty has shown me that trying to survive both in financial limitations and other aspects of life should not be an obstacle to pursue my academic endeavors.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

I wish I had starting doing research earlier during my freshmen year rather than waiting until my sophomore year to do so. I also wished I looked for more research opportunities through REU programs.

Is there anything else you would like us to include?

I want to formally thank Dr. Jie He, Dr. Eddy, and Dr. Vaze for their academic support. I really am grateful to Osker and Dr. Beshir for challenging me to grow both as a student and as a person. I also wanted to thank Dr. Kumar for enabling me to work in his lab as a high school student. That summer was truly the summer that made me want to become a chemistry major. Lastly, I wanted to thank the best PI in my eyes, Dr. Angeles for having faith that even through my troubles and my desires of becoming a nun, he still believed that I deserved a place as a UConn chemistry student.

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Jessica Murdzek

Chemistry, B.S.; Mathematics Minor

Jessica Murdzek will be attending the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she will learn more about inorganic chemistry and materials science.

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

I would like to pursue a career in research. I am interested in inorganic chemistry and materials science, although I'm not sure specifically what I want to do within that field. I decided to go to graduate school so I can learn more about the research process and tools used to conduct research. Grad school will give me more experience with different types of research and with different scientists, so I can make a more informed decision about where I want to start my career and what I want to do. 

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue this career?

I decided I liked research after my sophomore year at UConn. I have been working in Dr. Suib's lab since my freshman year, and I really enjoyed the project I worked on during my second year. I had the chance to present at Frontiers that spring, and I received some helpful feedback about my project that just made me more excited to figure out the problems that had come up. 

Have you had any specific experiences at UConn that influenced your career path?

The summer before my senior year, I had the opportunity to continue my research because I was awarded a SURF grant. The entire process of applying for the grant, and then doing the research was very helpful. The grant asked for a research proposal, budget, and timeline, so I needed to define specific and attainable goals for my project, and then describe how I was going to achieve them. The research over the summer gave me a glance into what grad school might be like, which was helpful for me solidifying plans to apply to grad school. The work I did over the summer would also eventually be part of my senior honors thesis. 

What is your job title/professional school/graduate school?

I have accepted admission to the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

What was the application process like?

The application process was very long, at least for me. I had been looking into and researching grad schools since the summer before my junior year. This is because I attended an REU at Yale, and there were many workshops about the application process, such as about writing personal statements and critiquing resumes. I started drafting my personal statement the summer before my senior year, and much of my time during first semester senior year was given to applications. I feel like I had plenty of help along the way, from advisors, professors, and friends, so the process was not very stressful. 

What were some of your biggest worries and concerns going into the application process? How did you address/overcome those fears?

My biggest worry was that I wouldn't get in to grad school (I feel like that's the obvious answer). Looking at my application and credentials objectively helped me see that I was a competitive applicant, so I didn't need to worry so much. 

How has UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after university?

UConn has given me so many opportunities to further explore chemistry. I started working in a lab during my freshman year and I quickly gained experience and an appreciation for research. My experience made me a competitive applicant when I applied for an REU. Another asset UConn has is the people. They all really have the best interests of the students in mind. My advisors have encouraged me to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could, which has helped me get in to multiple grad schools. 

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

I wish I had declared my major when I entered UConn. When I first came in, I was nervous that I wouldn't like chemistry as much in college, so I came in undecided. I decided on chemistry within the first few months of college. I wish I had the confidence in myself to declare the major from the beginning. 

What advice do you have for chemistry students starting their career at UConn?

I would encourage entering chemistry majors to get involved in a lab as soon as they can. Research is one career path that you can experience while still in college, and you can decide if you like it or not. Getting a summer internship is also really helpful, since you would have the chance to experience a workplace environment. With that sort of background, when you get closer to graduation, you will have a better idea for what you like and don't like to do as far as career paths go. 

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John Ovian

Chemistry, B.S./M.S.; Mathematics minor

Next year, John Ovian will be attending Harvard University as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow. There, he hopes to hone the skills necessary to pursue a career in academia.

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

I am looking to pursue a career in academia at a research I institution.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue this career?

I think it organically grew out of my experience with excellent teachers and professors and my time working in a research lab. I want to inspire, educate, and mentor future students, while simultaneously conducting high level research.

Have you had any specific experiences at UConn that influenced your career path?

My experience working in Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater’s group has endowed me with the critical thinking and technical skills needed for succeeding in a graduate program. Also, my ability to serve as a Teaching Assistant for both organic and general chemistry as well as the opportunity to learn from excellent faculty instructors (Dr. Bailey and Dr. Neth) have expanded my pedagogical skillset. These two experiences have merged to form my current career goal.

What is your job title/professional school/graduate school?

NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Harvard University

What was the application process like?

It was a stressful but doable process. If you get started on your personal statement early and seek edits, it is manageable.

What were some of your biggest worries and concerns going into the application process? How did you address/overcome those fears?

Obviously, my main worry was the doomsday scenario in which I wouldn’t be accepted to any schools; however, I realized that there wasn’t anything I could do about that other than put together the strongest application package possible.

How has UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after university?

UConn Chemistry gave me numerous opportunities to perform frontier research on topics about which I am interested, while also enabling and supporting me in my efforts to teach and take graduate-level courses. My experience at UConn Chemistry has provided me with both the technical and intellectual framework to succeed in graduate school.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

I might have studied or conducted research abroad.

What advice do you have for chemistry students starting their career at UConn?

Reach out and engage your professors. Most enjoy interacting with undergraduates and bringing them into their research. All you have to do is talk to them and show your interest and desire to work hard and learn.

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Kevin Stein

Chemistry, B.S.

After interning for two summers at Pratt & Whitney, Kevin Stein will be joining the company as a Process Chemist.

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

I am pursuing a career in materials chemistry or the pharmaceutical industry. The world of new materials is very interesting to me with all of the new discoveries, and the pharmaceutical industry intrigues me due to its importance with medical breakthroughs. I decided these interests sophomore year when I began looking for summer internships.

What is your job title/professional school/graduate school?

Process Chemist at Pratt & Whitney

What was the application process like?

The application process was fairly straightforward, just repetitive: filling out application after application. The hardest part was finding jobs that were entry level and weren’t too advanced for a recent college graduate. My biggest worry was the interview process. I find interviews very nerve-wracking, but once I began speaking it all came naturally and easy for me. I had two summer internships with Pratt, which made my job application process much easier.

How has UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after university?

UConn Chemistry has prepared me for the real world through offering undergraduate research. I have had experience working with real samples and problems that were not just set up in a classroom setting.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

I would become even more involved than I was over the last four years. I was a brother of Alpha Kappa Lambda and was a treasurer of the Chemistry Club for two years, but I would have liked to become involved in another club or two.

What advice do you have for chemistry students starting their career at UConn?

My advice for incoming chemistry students is to get involved with undergraduate research early. Another piece of advice is to make sure you allow yourself to relax and have fun. The course load for a chemistry student is tough and overwhelming at times. It is important to study hard, but it is just as important to give your brain a break and make friends and socialize. College is a place to gain knowledge but also to develop socially as well.

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Thomas Xu

Chemistry, B.S.; Molecular and Cell Biology Minor

Thomas Xu has always wanted to be a medical doctor. Next year, he will be attending the University of Virginia, School of Medicine.

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

I want to be a medical doctor. I've known for sure since middle school and it has always been a career that I've wanted to pursue.

Have you had any specific experiences at UConn that influenced your career path?

My research at UConn with the Chemistry Department and at the Health center has definitely influenced the way that I will approach evidence-based research in the future with medicine. Not only that, I think the experience I gained will help me significantly in the future with medical research as I will be able to apply the skills I learned in chemistry research to any sort of research. 

What is your job title/professional school/graduate school?

University of Virginia, School of Medicine 

What were some of your biggest worries and concerns going into the application process? How did you address/overcome those fears?

The medical school application process is very long and arduous. There are a lot of expectations that need to be met for a medical school applicant. My biggest concerns were if I was able to stand out. I think my experience and research as a chemistry student definitely did that since most medical applicants tend to study and research more in the biomedical sciences. My research here at UConn was mainly focused around graphene and polymers.

How has UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after university?

UConn Chemistry has prepared me to be able to think critically and search for my own opportunities.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

I wish I knew more about the "process" of research as a freshman, although I recognize that it was through my time at UConn where I was able to learn about "research" as a process.

What advice do you have for chemistry students starting their career at UConn?

I suggest trying to get in contact with the professors as early as you can. I think the chemistry professors are some of the coolest.

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