UConn Chemistry's notable alumni pursue professions in fields such as academics, industry, and medicine. Click on their photos below to learn about their life after graduation and how a degree in Chemistry prepared them for the future!

Chunhu Chen
Justin Fair
Vahid Farrokhi
Sadagopan Krishnan
Priya Pradhan
Paul Sabila
Megan Sandberg
Jason Schmink

Meet:

Chunhu Chen

Chunhu Chen

Graduation: Ph.D. '10

Research Group: Suib Group

Current Employment: National Sun Yat-Sen University

I am so glad that I selected UConn's chemistry graduate program as the starting point of my professional career. Beyond the professional scientific training, there were many diverse aspects and possibilities that have contributed to my professorship in the chemistry department of National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan. All my experiences at UConn became the most precious, essential basis for the future development of my faculty career. 

My research experience in Professor Suib's group was full of open-minded thinking, inspiration, and diversity. As a UConn Chemistry Ph.D. student, I was encouraged to create original ideas with complete freedom to explore material chemistry. Many surprising results, new excitements, and even cool chemistry greatly enriched the quality of my work as well as the passion for chemistry research. I am leading my current group in the same way, and it turns out the students—after years nurturing—develop much crazier ideas than I can come up with!

Another unexpected experience was that I was given the opportunity to collaborate with many UConn faculty members, staff, and students across the departments of Chemistry, Materials Science, Geoscience, and Mechanical Engineering, in addition to participating in projects that involved collaborating with industrial representatives. All these experiences not only broadened the domains of my research interests, but also helped me to incorporate different elements that I now use to educate chemistry students within the field of interdisciplinary chemical science.

The three-year teamwork experience as a General Chemistry Teaching Assistant (TA) became a great plus to my career in education. TA experience made me learn how to interact with students in regards to both academic and personal issues. Discussion between TAs from different colleges and programs was really helpful. This helped to sharpen my teaching skills. Since joining National Sun Yat-sen University as a faculty member, my teaching and education philosophy has been recognized by students for an "Excellent Lecture" three years in a row. I believe that my UConn Chemistry TA experience contributes to that.

As an international student, people in UConn Chemistry—my supervisor, all the faculty members, staff, group members, and friends—established a warm and friendly environment for my stay. UConn Chemistry provided all the essential steps I needed to achieve my career goals. I am proud to be a UConn Chemistry Husky!

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Justin Fair

Justin Fair

Graduation: Ph.D. '09

Research Group: Bailey Group

Current Employment: Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Before graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2009, I worked with Dr. William F. Bailey on organolithum cascade reactions. Now a tenured professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I prepare the next generation of scientists for STEM careers. Teaching chemistry is a passion.

My teaching load consists mostly of organic chemistry for allied health majors as well as premedical and chemistry students, but I have recently branched out into courses such as “The Chemistry of CSI” and “Chemical Safety.” In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I serve as the College Chemical Safety Officer, as a member of University Wide Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and University Senate, and multiple college and departmental Committees. Other interests include training and responding with the regional hazmat team, responding to hazmat calls, and participating in drug raids.

My research interests incorporate green chemistry, organolithium methods, and undergraduate education in the organic lecture and laboratory.  My most recent publication in J. Chem. Ed., “A Survey of Industrial Organic Chemists: Understanding the Chemical Industry’s Needs of Current Bachelor-Level Graduates,” focuses on the attributes departments should impart into their curriculum. 

I acknowledge Dr. Bailey for much of what has made my career a success. Bill taught me there is more than simply coming to graduate school and working hard at course work and research. I always strived to have new data or results each time Bailey would walk down to the research laboratory, but it was the little things that made transitioning to a tenure-track career successful.

I worked in a research group that collaborated. Group members supported each other with their projects, use and repair equipment, and other general items that kept the laboratory running smoothly. It was this type of collaborative effort that allowed me to become a successful team member of an academic department. As a professor, you do more than just teach. Sometimes it feels you do more service just to keep things running smoothly. Indeed, teaching is only a portion of the teacher, scholarship, service, and community engagement model.

Dr. Bailey gave me ample opportunity to probe research questions not central to organolithium methodology, the focus of our research group. His selfless support assisted in acquiring outside funding that supported a two year research assistantship working with the EPA and Inficon on vapor intrusion. This led to two collaborative, peer reviewed papers.

I currently maintain a large research group of 4-8 undergraduate students.  I aim to make literature searching a large portion of training undergraduates and strive to emphasize the importance of not relying on someone else’s experience.  I encourage my students to find the source and not rely on word of mouth; you never know what people have changed from the source as they share information, or even what has been lost. During my second semester, I wanted to know how to run a flash column, but everyone had their own way of running one with no real justification other than “well that is what works for me.” Bailey and Leadbeater allowed me time to research the best way to find the conditions and to run flash columns. The literature took me to the 1970’s and Bailey encouraged me to fully understand the technique. The outcome led to an Excel spreadsheet that predicted retention volumes based on thin-layer chromatography and was published in the Journal of Chromatography.

The support and opportunities I received at UConn working for Dr. Bailey made me the chemist I am today. I learned many lessons running a group while preparing for a career in chemistry.  I am appreciative to all those who I worked with while at UConn and the process that trained me not only as a chemist, but as a person.

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Vahid Farrokhi

Vahid Farrokhi

Graduation: Ph.D. '14

Research Group: Yao Group

Current Employment: Pfizer

I work for Pfizer, a multinational firm that is the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. I am based in the Pharmacokinetics, Dynamics and Metabolism (PDM) Department, one of the many research units in pharmaceutical companies where many analytical techniques are practiced together with translational sciences.

Much of the basic science and technology that is developed and expanded in academia and industry gets translated into therapeutics in companies like Pfizer. Part of my work in Pfizer’s PDM is to utilize proteomics technologies and mass spectrometry for the pre-clinical assessments of biological drug candidates and targets that are still in the discovery or early development stages. The experiments that we design in our team have a direct or indirect effect on making decisions on a particular drug target or drug candidate. These experiments can help to solve a piece of a puzzle that can lead to a therapeutic molecule that can be life-changing for humans in various ways.

It is remarkable that some of the same knowledge and experiences that I gained during Ph.D. study at UConn Chemistry in the Yao Group are directly tied to the skills that help me to solve real-world problems. Evidently, my skills gained in the Chemistry Building set a foundation for an impactful career. The course load that I took at UConn was complimented by lab practices for preparation to take on different exciting and challenging projects. That combination helped me to learn how to independently explore in the field. Furthermore, collaboration with UConn Health Center, as part of my academics, gave me an opportunity to explore new areas and learn more, both in scientific and interpersonal communication skills.

I would like to say thanks to UConn Chemistry for having given me this opportunity!

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Sadagopan Krishnan

Sadagopan "Gopan" Krishnan

Graduation: Ph.D. '10

Research Group: Rusling Group

Current Employment: Oklahoma State University

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2010 with a Ph.D. in Bioanalytical Chemistry under the supervision of Dr. James F. Rusling. I then moved to Oxford University to pursue postdoctoral work under Dr. Fraser Armstrong.

UConn is the place where I acquired all the essential research skills in bioanalytical research from the excellent and effective guidance and mentoring offered by Dr. Rusling. This foundational training was further strengthened by the research mentoring of Dr. Armstrong at Oxford which enabled me to begin my independent academic career at Oklahoma State University in Fall 2012. My research group is currently supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, and focuses on clinical biosensors, biocatalysis, biomarker validation, novel anticancer drug-screening arrays, bioelectrochemistry, and biological fuel-cells.

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Priya Pradhan

Priya Pradhan

Graduation: Ph.D. '09

Research Group: Bailey Group

Current Employment: UConn - Greater Hartford Branch

My name is Priya Pradhan and I graduated from UConn in 2009. During my Ph.D. program, the focus of my research was to study a novel oxidizing reagent commonly known as “Oxoammonium salt.” During my graduate studies, I had the privilege to work under the guidance of Dr. William F. Bailey and Dr. James Bobbitt. I currently work as an Assistant Professor in Residence at UConn-Greater Hartford branch.

During my graduate studies, my advisors taught me various life lessons in their own unique ways. These lessons are proving to be immensely helpful in both my career and in my personal life. During my graduate studies, I served as a Teaching Assistant [TA] in the Chemistry Department. I taught general chemistry as well as organic chemistry. A TA in the Chemistry Department is given the opportunity to tutor, teach discussions and labs, as well as grade assignments and exams under guidance of the course instructor. This experience has proved to be instrumental to my career.

When I first came to this country as an international student, I did not understand the academic environment. Being a TA gave me the opportunity to understand and appreciate my undergraduate students. This is now helping me to connect with my students as a professor. At UConn-Greater Hartford campus, a lot of the students are the first in their families to attend college. We also have a very diverse population. Being able to recognize the various struggles students go through gives me the ability to help them in a better way. As a TA, I had seen the interactions of various professors with their undergraduate students. One such interaction which I can never forget happened between my advisor, Dr. Bailey, and one of the students in his undergraduate organic chemistry class. The student was visibly upset because he did not do well on his exam and hence believed that he wouldn't be able to pursue his dreams of becoming a doctor. Dr. Bailey very patiently heard everything the student had to say and then empathized with him and showed him a way of moving forward. I learned a very important lesson that day. As a teacher, it is not only our job to teach chemistry but to also help students in their overall development if need be. I have learned many such lessons from different professors which I am very grateful for.

I believe the knowledge and experience gained in the Department of Chemistry helps in the overall development of an individual’s personality. As a graduate student, you are not only given the opportunity to do innovative research, but also to acquire various skills that help you excel in different aspects of your life. Finally, perhaps most importantly, I am able to see my students succeed, which is very rewarding for me as a teacher.

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Paul Sabila

Paul Sabila

Graduation: Ph.D. '06

Research Group: Howell Group

Current Employment: Gallaudet University

My dissertation work at the University of Connecticut focused on the preparation of strained organic compounds where we developed a stereospecific approach for the synthesis of 2-alkylidene oxetanes by mesylate elimination. We also discovered a new ring-expansion silyl-migration protocol of silyloxy oxetanes to afford 3-silyloxy tetrahydrofurans.

Upon graduating from UConn Chemistry's Ph.D. program, I completed a postdoctoral position at the UConn School Of Pharmacy in the laboratory of Dr. Dennis L. Wright.

Currently, I work as an Associate Professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. My research has spanned various areas including synthesis of natural-product like molecules from quinine. This project is ongoing. I have also been exploring some cross-metathesis using ultra-low concentrations of catalysts.

I am the Gallaudet PI on a "Forward to Professorship" grant and a "Pay It Forward" grant. The goal of "Forward to Professorship" is to encourage the advancement of women and minority faculty in science, technology, and engineering fields. As a follow-up on this, we obtained a new grant, "Pay It Forward," which has enabled us to train, mentor, and support ten teams from all over the USA targeting various demographics and geographical areas. As a result of "Forward," we have been able to reach over 1,500 women with Ph.D.s in STEM.

My lab has been working on the synthesis of gallium amide (GaN) and molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) nanomaterials. Both GaN and MoS2 nanomaterials have interesting properties and are currently being studied for applications in the semiconductor and electronics industry. Their potential applications include the fabrication of transparent, wearable, and bendable electronic devices. My research involves developing methodologies for synthesis of organic intermediates of gallium amides and MoS2, which will then be used for large scale synthesis of nanomaterials by the Metal-Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD) method at relatively low temperatures. As part of this project, my research group has also been working on the optimization of lithium-mediated exfoliation of molybdenum disulfide nanomaterials. We have now synthesized and characterized thin films of MoS2 on silicon and on silicon oxide wafers.

Part of my work at Gallaudet has been to mentor Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HoH) students by involving them in research and steering them towards majors and careers in STEM. Through this mentorship program, I have initiated collaborations that have enabled our students to attend summer internships at various institutions. These internships help reduce the barriers between D/HoH and hearing individuals. The internships also provide D/HoH students with important research skills while allowing them to fine-tune the skills required to pursue a successful career in the “Hearing World.”  I also provide these institutions with guidance on what is needed to successfully accommodate and integrate our students into their summer programs and research groups.  Having the D/HoH students work at these institutions provides their hearing counterparts (faculty, students and staff) with the first-hand experience of working with a deaf person. This helps inform their opinions when they find themselves in positions of authority where they have to make decisions that impact minority populations or people with disabilities.

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Megan Sandberg

Megan Sandberg

Graduation: Ph.D. '12

Research Group: Birge Group

Current Employment: Battelle

I completed my doctoral research in 2011, under the guidance of Dr. Robert Birge, before taking a position with Battelle as a Research Scientist in the CBRNE Defense Threat Assessment group. My work involves contract research that varies in topic depending on the objectives and mission of our clients. For the past several years, I have served as a subject matter expert and program task lead, the duties of which largely involve briefing clients, communicating task progress with my program manager, and discussing task plans with my team. Similar to my research at UConn, the tasks that I lead are diverse and require expertise in multiple technical areas. 

My graduate school experience involved the development of a strong knowledge base in multiple scientific areas, including organic chemistry, molecular cell biology, analytical chemistry, and computational chemistry. Although my focus was synthetic organic chemistry, my doctoral research required mastering skills in other scientific fields in order to fulfill my experimental and theoretical research objectives. This diverse set of tools has proven very useful in my current position.

One of the most invaluable parts of my graduate work was the frequency with which I was standing in front of an audience and presenting. Whether I was presenting my research at a group meeting or teaching general chemistry concepts to undergraduate students during my tenure as a teaching assistant, I developed the ability to convey complex concepts to individuals with varied backgrounds. My advisor, Dr. Birge, strongly believed in the value of having his students frequently present their research in both written and oral form. Therefore, as often as I was presenting, I was also writing for a variety of applications: journal articles, grant proposals, book chapters, and a patent.

The UConn Chemistry Graduate Program provided me the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and develop multidisciplinary skills that have directly contributed to my success at Battelle. Furthermore, working in Dr. Birge’s research group strengthened key skills–critical thinking, communication, team management, and collaboration–that I use in my job on a daily basis. I have very fond memories of my time working in the Chemistry Building; the program, faculty, and staff are not only fervently invested in furthering the field of science but also in the success of their students.

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Jason Schmink

Jason Schmink

Graduation: Ph.D. '10

Research Group: Leadbeater Group

Current Employment: Bryn Mawr College

After graduation from UConn in 2010, I accepted a postdoctoral position that involved collaboration between Merck & Co. and the University of Pennsylvania. I spent a year on Merck’s campus in Rahway, NJ, where I was introduced to a technique called “High-Throughput Experimentation.” I then moved to Philadelphia and helped to transfer this knowledge into academia, where I incorporated the approaches learned in the industrial setting at Merck to the research labs at Penn. I was one of four postdocs hired over a four-year period. Throughout that time, I conducted research within three different academic labs at Penn and collaborated on research projects with a number of scientists at Merck. Besides working alongside a number of bright, energetic scientists in those two years, I was afforded an opportunity to be the instructor of record for three classes at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2012, the success I had at Penn and Merck both in the classroom and as a researcher helped me to land an enviable position as an Assistant Professor at Bryn Mawr College, a prestigious liberal arts institution. I often think back fondly to my time as a graduate student at UConn, realizing the formative experience in research and teaching settings laid the groundwork for the successes that followed. While certainly not a comprehensive list, here are a few of the experiences that made UConn such a time of intellectual growth:

  • Rigorous, bright, engaged graduate student faculty mentors and classroom instructors: I still have all my class notes on the shelf behind me in my office and I have used parts of my “original research proposal” in a grant submitted to the NIH.
  • A collaborative environment: In my second year, I shared a research publication with researchers from the Brückner group.
  • Support for academic growth outside chemistry/material science: the Institute for Teaching and Learning was a fantastic resource that allowed me to shape my teaching philosophy, learn of alternative pedagogical techniques (and their proper implementation), hone résumés, and interact with graduate students in other (non-science) disciplines.
  • Support for academic growth within the Chemistry Department: during my time at UConn, I acted as a substitute or guest lecturer on at least 40 occasions for 7 different classes at the behest of three different professors.
  • Support for academic growth within the Chemistry Department, again!: I had the great opportunity to act as a student mentor to seven different undergraduate researchers, and I am proud to share four publications with some of those undergraduates!
  • Tremendous support staff: success in research is so much easier with the well-oiled underpinnings that typify the Department of Chemistry at UConn.

I cannot stress enough how crucial the many opportunities afforded to me while at UConn shaped me as a researcher, as a teacher, and as a mentor, and have put me in the position to shape the minds of the next generation of scientists and non-scientists alike!

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