These impressive students offer a snapshot of the nearly 140 students that pursue a graduate degree in Chemistry at UConn. Click on their photos below to learn about their academic and research experiences, life as a graduate student, and plans for the future!

Matthew Guberman-Pfeffer
Lei Jin
Karteek Kadimisetty
Mark Daben Libardo
John Ng'Ang'A
Shannon-Poges
Jennifer Satterwhite-Warden
Bobbi Stromer

Meet:

Matthew Guberman-Pfeffer

Matthew Guberman-Pfeffer

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '19

Research Group: Gascon Group

Hometown: Stratford, CT

Awards/Scholarships: 2014 NextGenCT Scholarship,
2016 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 
LearningAlly Scholarship,
The Lighthouse Guild for the Blind Scholarship, &
National Federation for the Blind of Connecticut Scholarship

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

As a discipline that seeks to understand and utilize the molecular language of nature, chemistry has always attracted my curiosity—my desire to understand the "secret motions and causes of things," to use Sir Francis Bacon's phrase—and I rapidly bonded with the subject matter. The possibility of “seeing" further than the eye can see into the nature of the universe is an exciting prospect. I chose graduate studies in chemistry to become a more fluent speaker of the universal chemical language, to embark on great research adventures, and to make a contribution, however small, to expanding the bounds of the possible. I find it an endlessly captivating thought that every medical and material improvement in human life has come from an increased fluency in speaking nature's chemical language, the knowledge of how to arrange timeless atoms in new ways to unleash the hidden potential of the world in which we live.

Why did you choose UConn?

I chose to come to UConn after my first visit to the Chemistry Department. I loved the personal, one-on-one interactions, and the encouragement to experiment and excel.

What is your academic/research area of focus?

My interests primarily relate to physical and organic chemistry. However, at UConn, I have been fortunate to be involved in a range of projects that are at the boundaries of many areas of chemistry. From sub-2 nm thiolated gold nanoclusters to protein-antigen interactions, and the properties of light harvesting molecules, my research involves the use of computational methods to gain fundamental insight into a variety of cool chemical problems.

How did you choose your research group?

I chose the Gascon Group because I want to understand chemical phenomena at a fundamental level. By using computational chemistry, we have the potential to gain insights into experimental observations at an atomistic level that enrich our understanding, and which in turn, may suggest new experiments. I was also attracted by the breadth of projects addressed by the Gascon Group from protein-ligand recognition, to the properties and design principles of gold nanoclusters, as well as many other exciting topics.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

Choosing a favorite is very difficult, because all my courses have been amazingly great. My dual love for physical and organic chemistry does not make the choice any easier. But, of the courses I have had so far, Dr. Howell's Organic Reactions and Dr. Gascon's Statistical Mechanics were my favorite.

How has your research experience impacted you?

When I came to UConn, I helped develop an efficient computational approach to model the structure, dynamics, and intermolecular interactions of thiolated gold nanoclusters (AuNCs). The use of these sub-2 nm complexes for biomedicine, environmental protection, and industrial catalysis can benefit from an elucidation of design principles to optimize application specific physicochemical properties. From not being aware of the existence of AuNCs, I quickly became addicted to the adventure of finding parameters so that simulations on these computationally demanding and interesting complexes could be performed rapidly with reasonable accuracy. The research was very iterative, like a game you cannot stop playing until all the challenges have been mastered. I became convinced that a solution had to exist, and could be revealed with enough effort. I gained a similar outlook on exploring the literature from this project, which has resulted in countless hours of database searching and a deluge of journal articles. From this project, I came to fully understand what Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman termed the "pleasure of finding things out."

I have had even more fun with another project on ring-expanded bacteriochlorins. By looking and playing with the structures for a very long time, I found a cool structural mechanism that may contribute to optical property modulation.

Has a certain class had a significant impact on you?

An assignment for Dr. Howell's Organic Reactions course involved profiling an early career organic chemist, and I chose to write about Dr. Martin Burke at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This assignment turned out to be much more than a course project. Dr. Burke's story illustrated for me how decades of scientific consensus could be proven wrong, and actually shown to be an impediment to optimizing the pharmacology of an important anti-fungal medicine by thinking differently about how to elucidate the mechanism of action of the drug.

Were there any challenges that you had to overcome while at UConn so far?

The greatest challenge I have, and continue to face at UConn, is the 24 hour day. There is simply not enough time to explore the literature, experiment in the lab, and to daydream about still unanswered questions. I love every aspect of being a graduate student at UConn, particularly the overwhelming opportunities to learn and to make discoveries.

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Lei Jin

Lei Jin

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '19

Research Group: He Group

Academic/Research Focus: Nanomaterials design and application in catalysis and energy

Hometown: China

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

My research experience started with hybrid materials in energy storage devices when I was at Donghua University. I enjoyed research in this area, so I was planning to join a group working on nanomaterials synthesis and applications. Dr. He's group focuses not only on nanomaterials, but also on the combination of polymers, so I decided to join his research because it seemed like the best fit for me and I believed I would learn more than I had even originally planned.

Please describe your TA experience and the impact it has had on you.

Being a TA is a precious experience in the Ph.D. process. At first it was not easy to balance my time teaching, studying, and doing experiments. However, after having more experience, I now enjoy being a TA. I also found it is a good way to improve my presentation and communication skills. I like the lab section as well because helping students solve the problems in the experiments makes me feel happy. Being with younger people makes me feel younger as well.

Has a certain advisor had a significant impact on you?

Dr. He is a talented and hard-working advisor. He has helped me a lot with studying and research. I like the discussions I have with him because he always encourages me to find the novel ideas in the research.

What is your favorite memory of UConn?

The chemistry orientation impressed me most. During the three-week orientation, I became more familiar with UConn and Chemistry. I also made many friends.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I am planning to find a postdoc position first. That's a great way to improve myself and also get acquainted with more high-level individuals.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Since you choose to be a graduate student, try to enjoy the wonderful life of a graduate student.

When you join a research group, find the area you are interested in and then keep going. It's always hard at first, but more reading and more discussions with labmates and your advisor will help you solve the problems.

As a TA, enjoy the time with your students. It's a good way to improve your presentation and communication skills. Also, it will help you remember some chemistry knowledge that you forgot.

In your own courses, enjoy the time in class. These might be your last several courses at school.

Lastly, in your free time, have fun with your friends. It's also important to do some exercise to keep healthy.

Choose it, and enjoy it.

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Karteek-Kadimisetty

Karteek Kadimisetty

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '16

Research Group: Rusling Group

Academic/Research Focus: Analytical Chemistry

Hometown: Andhra Pradesh, India

Awards/Scholarships: RT Major Outstanding Poster Award (2014 & 2015)

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

Chemistry has been an integral part of my life since childhood. Growing up in a community that needs special health care motivated me to get my bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. During my bachelor’s degree, my interest in chemistry grew tremendously because it was the core of all the basics. Later during my master’s degree in chemistry, my fascination towards chemistry further increased under the guidance of my mentor and advisor, Dr. Shyam S. Shukla. That’s when I decided to further extend my existing knowledge—including theories, techniques, and creative capabilities—by pursuing research in chemistry through a Ph.D. program.

Why did you choose UConn?

My choice of UConn for graduate program is based on it being well renowned in the field of liberal arts and sciences; its modern, state-of-the-art research facilities; and collaborations nationally and internationally. UConn Chemistry also had experienced faculty members and research interests of my choice. Based on suggestions from alumni and my mentor during my master’s program, I learned that UConn had the best environment for study and research with diverse interests.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

Dr. James F. Rusling is a pioneer in toxicity screening and cancer diagnostics. Having backgrounds in both pharmacy and chemistry, my interests led me towards the health care and diagnostics fields.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

Dr. James F. Rusling’s Electroanalytical Chemistry course and Dr. Steven L. Suib’s Inorganic Chemistry course.

How has your research experience impacted you?

My research focuses on developing biomedical devices for cancer diagnostics. We use several bioanalytical and electrochemical techniques to direct our research from laboratory setup to point-of-care diagnostics. My major research goal is to develop analytical tools that are easy to use and inexpensive, yet are able to sensitively and accurately detect multiple biomarkers in blood serum, leading to better patient outcomes. So far with my research, we were able to achieve inexpensive and highly automated sensors of high diagnostic significance. My research in cancer diagnostics motivated me to pursue public health care, where I hope to play an important role in bringing diagnostic techniques to those in need.

Has a certain advisor had a significant impact on you?

My advisor, Dr. James F. Rusling, has been a great mentor with significant impact on both my professional and personal life. His excellence and passion in the field of analytical chemistry has motivated me to challenge myself to push the limits and be creative. Dr. Rusling has a great balance of professional excellence and personal life. This has made me more organized so that I could perform extensive research without affecting my personal life.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

Work towards developing biosensors and diagnostic devices in an industrial setting as a research scientist for better home health care in developing economies.

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Mark-Daben-Libardo

Mark Daben Libardo

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '17

Research Group: Angeles-Boza Group

Academic/Research Focus: I study a multitude of host-defense and antimicrobial peptides with an emphasis on how they utilize metal ions for their biological activity

Hometown: Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines

Awards/Scholarships: Charles E. Waring Scholarship & Bobbitt-Chou Fellowship

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

The centrality of chemistry among all basic sciences and its ability to explain almost all natural phenomena are what hooked me to chemistry from the start.

Why did you choose UConn?

Mostly for the research: UConn gave me the most options for research groups I could possibly join. The fact that the department is expanding while still being small enough to foster intradepartmental collaborations helped in making my final decision.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

I worked on antimicrobial lipopeptides for my undergraduate thesis and Dr. Angeles’s lab offered a fresh perspective in the field. I figured since I have the experience, a new approach on studying this class of molecules would be very informative.

How has your research experience impacted you?

Back when I did my undergraduate thesis in the Philippines, we didn’t have as many resources. In fact, we only had the bare minimum. Coming and doing research here at UConn was definitely a monumental leap in this aspect. Not only does the department have plenty of instruments available, individual labs are also willing to share whatever resources they have. This generates an environment where us students can focus more on the science instead of trying to make the science happen. I definitely feel like a kid who is allowed to buy all the candy that I want in the biggest candy store around.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life (i.e. balancing being a TA, taking classes, conducting research, and managing life outside the Chemistry Building)?

I subscribe to the mantra “work hard, party harder.” Keeping a balanced lifestyle, for me, is key to surviving the pressures of grad school. I try to manage my time wisely, sometimes scheduling my day down to the minute to fit everything I need to do. Having spent 4 years in grad school so far has definitely taught me to recognize which things need to be done urgently and which ones can wait. I’ve been taking grad school one week at a time; setting a specific goal (i.e. a particular set of experiments) and working towards completing it. As for life outside the department, I think every grad student doesn’t need to have hundreds of friends; a few dear ones is sufficient. I am fortunate enough to have those kinds of friends. Finally, I really enjoy doing research (even though it’s very frustrating sometimes), so it feels less like work and more like play.

Were there any challenges that you had to overcome while at UConn so far?

It will definitely be living literally on the side of the planet from my family and friends back home. But I made new friends here who take away all the homesickness I had. It was also a shock to adjust to Connecticut’s freezing winter!

What advice would you give to incoming students?

(1) Find a research area that you are really interested in since you will be working on it for a sizable chunk of your life. Make a very wise decision on choosing your adviser since he/she will decide your future.
(2) Get a feel of how much intellectual and emotional support a professor can give you when you first talk to them.
(3) Remember to be patient, not all of your experiments will work the first time around (or the tenth, remember Murphy’s Law?). Nobody said that grad school was easy, and you knew that coming in.
(4) It's okay to complain about the difficulties of grad school but dwelling over these issues (rather than overcoming them) will not solve anything.
(5) Have a good sense of responsibility, taking only what can you handle, and recognizing your limits. That being said, always work hard for perfection, and never settle for mediocrity.

What are you plans after you secure your degree?

Most likely apply for a post-doc position and hope to eventually start my own lab as an independent researcher. I have a very strong interest in the molecular mechanisms of infectious diseases and I hopefully want to study diverse roles played by antimicrobial effectors (including peptides) in the host-pathogen interface.

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John Nganga

John Ng'Ang'A

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '17

Research Group: Angeles Group

Academic/Research Focus: Inorganic Chemistry

Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya

Clubs/Activities: ACS Member,
French Club, &
Lions Club

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

In my formative years, I was privileged to work in my local community as a volunteer in various efforts. Initially I was more intimately involved with public sensitization on healthy lifestyles to combat illnesses such as AIDS, tuberculosis, heart disease, and many more. A turning point was when I became involved with conservation agencies focused on preserving the fragile natural capital. I then got involved in aspects of chemical diagnostics, focusing on the chemical state of the earth’s environment and analysis of relevant data. However, my participation was only peripheral as I was vastly under-resourced in the technical aspects. Since I was already a chemistry student, this naturally made me consider pursuing graduate education to acquire new and advanced skills and an in-depth knowledge of chemistry, thus laying a solid foundation and broadening my perspectives on scientific issues.

Why did you choose UConn?

As I was researching graduate schools, I became overwhelmed when they all started to look the same. Then I applied to UConn on recommendations from mentors and friends who informed me that UConn was a unique institution where I would be assured of a close-knit community of students, faculty, and administrators that provided a learning atmosphere unparalleled in support and encouragement. This has turned out to be so.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

Since I had a keen focus on environmental issues including the effects of certain chemicals on the natural environment, I was delighted to become part of Dr. Angeles’s group, where one of his research aims focuses on reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

Bioinorganic chemistry. Bioinorganic chemistry is designated as the gateway of inorganic chemistry and biochemistry. The class enabled me to appreciate the function of inorganic “substances” in living systems, which include the transport, speciation and, eventually, mineralization of inorganic materials. The class also focused on the importance of inorganics in medicinal therapy and diagnosis.

How has your research experience impacted you?

The research environment has given me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in my subject of interest, which would have been otherwise difficult to do outside of academia. This has allowed me ample time to reflect and to carefully wade through tons of valuable scientific information.

What is your favorite place on campus and why?

The Dairy Bar. Nothing is more delicious and refreshing than a cup of cherry vanilla ice cream, especially on a hot afternoon summer.

What is your favorite memory of UConn?

Being part of the UConn community that witnessed the UConn Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams win the 2014 NCAA championships.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

For their graduate endeavors, the resounding words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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Shannon Poges

Shannon Poges

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '18

Research Group: Suib Group

Academic/Research Focus: Inorganic Chemistry, Advanced Ceramic Materials, & Electron Microscopy

Scholarships: Charles E. Waring Scholarship

Hometown: Swanzey, NH

Clubs/Activities: Graduate Student Advisory Committee,
Tutoring College Students,
Women in Science at the Science Center,
Connecticut Science Olympiad Judge, &
UConn Chemistry Summer Softball

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

After I took AP chemistry in high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in chemistry at the collegiate level. During my bachelor’s degree I had an internship where I was introduced to the various levels in industry that each degree could give you (B.S., M.S., Ph.D). I decided then that I wanted to be at the Ph.D. level where I could help a company make critical decisions to solve problems as well as lead a team of scientists

Why did you choose UConn?

The variety of research advisors and available advanced research facilities/instrumentation. There was also a clear sense of community between the students during my visit and I knew I would fit in well here.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

When I first started here at UConn, I really didn't have a focus on which division I wanted to join. Upon taking Dr. Suib's Inorganic I class, I remembered from undergrad how much I enjoyed Inorganic chemistry. From there, Dr. Suib's group was the perfect fit. Not only is he an experienced advisor, but he also has many connections in the scientific community and access to facilities on campus that some other research groups don't utilize. He also allows each student to work in direct collaboration with industry and on personal projects that we feel passionate about.

How has your research experience impacted you?

My research experience has been very broad thus far. I began in the ceramics lab with a project on electroless plating. No one in the lab has done electroless plating so it was a good opportunity to be independent and develop the system on my own. The large CVD projects are very collaborative in our group and it was a great opportunity to work together to solve important time sensitive problems. CVD is also an opportunity to highlight the importance of lab safety protocols because the nature of the work can be very dangerous. I also thoroughly enjoy my work with characterization of these materials. In particular the electron microscopes over in the IMS building are amazing to work with and not a lot of young scientists get opportunities to use them as freely as we do. 

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life (i.e. balancing being a TA, taking classes, conducting research, and managing life outside the Chemistry Building)?

Graduate school can be very time consuming. To remain on top of your work/teaching/studying you must have good time management skills. I like to view grad school as a full time job. I work very hard while I am at work but try as best I can to wrap up by 6PM to go home and relax. Some times this is not possible when there are deadlines fast approaching, but a majority of my days are spent this way where I can relax and take my mind off of work in the evening at home. It is easy to get lazy if your advisor takes a hands off approach, but you need to remember that this is your degree and if you get lazy and take too much time off it will only negatively effect you in the long run. It is also important to have friends in the department that you can rely on and vent to when work gets tough because they know exactly what you are going through. 

What has been your most influential UConn experience so far?

Recently the Graduate Student Advisory Committee put on an event where alumni were invited back to talk to the graduate students about how they got their jobs and where they are now. I found myself at the beginning of my 3rd year here in the classic "this is never going to end" mindset. I know many graduate students go through this around that time. When I attended the event, it brought me new hope about life after the Ph.D. and how much this degree is going to further my career. This taught me to keep my head up and my eye on the prize even when things get busy in life and lab. 

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I hope to secure a job in industry. I have not yet decided whether that will be in Advanced Ceramic Materials or Electron Microscopy, but I am preparing for the ability to apply to both. From there I would like to move up the corporate ladder and help make high impact research and development decisions.

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Jennifer-Satterwhite-Warden

Jennifer E. Satterwhite-Warden

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '16

Research Group: Rusling Group

Academic/Research Focus: Analytical Chemistry

Hometown: Hickory, North Carolina

Clubs/Activities: Gamma Chi Epsilon Sorority Alumni (Social Chair/Rush Chair),
Phi Lambda Upsilon Chemistry Honor Society (Social Chair/President),
American Chemical Society Analytical Chemistry Division,
The Golden Keys,
Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society,
Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, &
UConn Chemistry Summer Softball

Volunteering: Chemistry Graduate Student Advisory Committee,
Tutoring College and High School Students,
MCAT/DAT Review Instructor,
Women in Science at the Science Center,
Relay for Life,
Connecticut Science Olympiad,
& Northeast Science Bowl

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

Since I was a young girl, my dream was to be a scientist. As school progressed I excelled in science and math. I was inspired by my late Uncle Carl Satterwhite’s battle with several bouts with cancer and developed a passion for problem-solving. My desire to always learn leads me to a career as a top scientist, which meant acquiring my Ph.D. in Chemistry.

Why did you choose UConn?

Why did you choose UConn?: After visiting several universities, UConn had the atmosphere of scientific growth. Faculty, instrumentation and common research facilities were updated compared to alternate research institutions. Most importantly, faculty were encouraging of collaborations between groups, departments, and universities, as well as desiring independence for solving scientific problems.

Did you have an internship experience? How has your internship impacted you?

In 2013, I was provided the privilege of a Summer Research Internship in Padova, Italy with Dr. Flavio Maran’s research group. As an analytical chemist, this internship enhanced my research level and skills, as I learned new instrumental techniques and synthetic methods. I would never have had the opportunity to travel to Italy to observe and conduct research if I had not attended UConn. This was a trip of a lifetime!

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life (i.e. balancing being a TA, taking classes, conducting research, and managing life outside the Chemistry Building)?

While being a TA, taking classes and conducting research, I took advantage of the small gaps of time by doing homework and/or performing an experiment rather than sleeping or playing on the computer. Those gaps of time added up and as a result, my social life blossomed. Even now as an RA, I multi-task between a project with Dr. James Dixon in Psychology and our main Immunoassay project within the Rusling group. Lastly, I make a point to meet for Thursday night football and have a date night with my husband on the weekend!

What has been your most influential UConn experience so far?

The most influential moment was unexpectedly eating breakfast with the 2009 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Ada E. Yonath in April 2015. She asked about research, graduation and future goals. After attentively listening, she told me she was called the “world dreamer” as distinguished scientists were in disbelief about her hypothesis concerning the ribosome, but she forged ahead amidst all doubt. It was in that moment she encouraged me to never let my dreams be dictated.  

What advice would you give to incoming students?

My advice to incoming students: choose an advisor that you know will enhance your scientific knowledge and provide the best for your future. Stay focused on your research, but do not get tunnel vision. Lastly, take the time to volunteer and be social in and out of Chemistry, as this will enhance your networking and future collaborations.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

After obtaining my Ph.D. in Chemistry, I plan to start in a Research and Development position for several years, while also learning the ins and outs of industry. Once my children have grown, my dream and plan is start a small Research and Development company.

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Bobbi-Stromer

Bobbi Stromer

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '16

Research Group: Kumar Group

Academic/Research Focus: Biological/Physical Chemistry

Hometown: Trumbull, NE

Clubs/Activities: Graduate Student Advisory Committee &
Phi Lambda Upsilon

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

I knew I wanted to teach chemistry but I didn't want to give up research. I love working at the bench. Going to graduate school so I could be a professor seemed like a good way to get the best of both the teaching and research worlds.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

I had looked at several different groups the first semester. I finally landed in the Kumar Group because I felt this group had the most of what I needed. I loved the project I joined to work on, it was work that I could easily see myself continuing in the future when I get an academic job, and I liked the atmosphere of the group.

Please describe your TA experience and the impact it has had on you.

I loved being a TA. It was so much fun to work with the students. I was so nervous my first semester teaching. I wasn't even sure thats what I wanted to do but once I got comfortable with the idea of being a TA, I found that I really enjoyed it.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life (i.e. balancing being a TA, taking classes, conducting research, and managing life outside the Chemistry Building)?

The two best things I learned for balancing graduate school were organization and disconnecting! If I kept everything organized and written down, I didn't stress later on when I couldn't find something! And being able to unplug from chemistry and do something else for a while made it much easier to focus on research and classes when I was working.

What has been your most pivotal UConn experience so far?

Presenting at the National ACS meeting was definitely a pivotal moment for me. It was encouraging to get out, talk to people, and get feedback about the research I was doing at UConn.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Talk to everyone, about anything! There are people in the department who can help with everything from choosing groups, teaching, places to live, anything!

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I would like to find a post doctoral position for a couple of years and then ultimately end up at a university where I can teach and do research.

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