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!

Cristian Aviles-Martin
Searle Aichelle "IC" Duay
Esraa Elsanadidy
Svetlana Gelpí-Domínguez
Jessica Martin
Jyoti Nandi
Louis Pascal Riel
Mark Tolentino

Meet:

Cristian Aviles

Cristian Aviles-Martin

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '22

Research Group: Pinkhassik Group

Academic/Research Focus: Analytical Chemistry/ Polymer Chemistry

Hometown: Lajas, Puerto Rico

Scholarships/Awards: NSF LSAMP Bridge to Doctorate Fellowship

Clubs/Activities: ConnCAP/Upward Bound STEM Field Panelist, Volunteer Teaching at North Windham Technical High School, Graduate School Recruiting through Bridge to Doctorate

 

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

As an undergrad I kind of flipped flopped in what I wanted to major in.  By my sophomore year I made my final decision and switched majors to Chemistry.  From there on I joined a research group and basically got hooked on research and finding solutions to problems. I ended up pursuing my graduate degree in chemistry with the plan of being able to stay in a research lab for longer.  I also I did a lot of Science Communication outreach in undergrad and through it I discovered that a lot of important, yet simple concepts aren’t well known to the public.  I decided to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry to further prepare myself as a researcher and gain skills that will help me in raise awareness about important scientific issues in our community.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

I worked in an inorganic synthesis group during my undergraduate education, however when I entered graduate school I felt it was time for a change in my research focus.  I still wanted to work in nanoscience, but I didn’t want to work with inorganic chemistry as much.  I was also looking for some amount of freedom to explore my own ideas.  After evaluating a couple of groups, I found my place in Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik’s group.  His style of mentoring fit quite well with how I worked, and I also liked the overall dynamic there is with the other members of the group.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

Of the classes I’ve taken so far Dr. Suib’s Advanced Inorganic course was definitely the most engaging.  Before this course, I didn’t think it was possible to go as in depth into the material as we did in just one semester.

Please briefly describe your research experience and the impact is has had on you.

Working in an inorganic group with limited resources in undergrad, I didn’t get to perform a lot of advance techniques. So, coming to UConn and working in a polymer group was quite the contrast. Fortunately, the other members of my group were incredibly helpful, so I never felt out of place. One thing I would like to bring up is how open the access to advanced equipment is here. The NMR facilities and electron microscopes are available to any student if they have taken the proper training and approval from their advisor.

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

I honestly underestimated how rough the winters could be up here in Connecticut.  I mean I lived in a tropical island all my life and was seriously not expecting how bad it could get. But hey, I can assure you get used to it after the first month.  Although having it snow late April was a bit annoying.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life?

Basically, I try to do as much as possible on campus during the day.  Either research or any other coursework I do exclusively during the day in my lab or desk, if I take home work it’s usually reading or answering emails.  This way I keep myself productive by associating my lab and workplace with active work. This has helped me avoid wasting time during the day.  Another thing that’s helped me a lot was dedicating time in my schedule for free time.  Sometimes there’s a thousand things to do and it feels like a waste of time but trust me after going like that for 3 months straight you’re way less productive than you’d think.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I plan to obtain a position in academic research, although with time my plans might change.  While tenure track positions are my focus up until now, I have also considered a job in Science Communication or consulting firms.  I enjoy figuring out and explaining complex concepts to others, and I figure that this field will allow me to do that at a professional and more widespread and both career paths would allow me to do this.

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Searle Aichelle "IC" Duay

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '21

Research Group: Alfredo Angeles-Boza Lab / Eric May Lab (MCB)

Academic/Research Focus: Biophysical Chemistry, Computational/Theoretical Biochemistry

Hometown: Baliwag, Bulacan, Philippines

Scholarships/Awards: Bobbitt-Chou Graduate Summer Research Fellowship, Masterton-Hurley Teaching Award

Clubs/Activities: Research Mentor, McNair Scholars Program Organizer, UConn Chem-MCB Symposium 2019, Joint Safety Team 2018-2019, Graduate Students Advisory Committee 2016-2017

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

Primarily, I enjoy educating and mentoring students on scientific research. My fascination in science grew when I was in Philippine Science High School, and I was originally fond of Physics. I got into the undergraduate Chemistry program at the University of the Philippines, where I was exposed to computational research and teaching younger students. I realized that I would be able to expand my experience, opportunities, and connections in research and teaching by getting a graduate degree in Chemistry. I envision myself being in academia, mainly focusing on showing students how Chemistry is relevant in their lives and helping in molding aspiring scientists interested in Chemistry research.

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

I work in two labs, Dr. Angeles-Boza's lab in Chemistry and Dr. May's lab in MCB, and their individual expertise provided me an enjoyable research niche. That is, doing molecular dynamics (MD) on biochemical systems, particularly peptide-membrane systems, to be able to understand the mechanism of interaction between different peptides and membrane compositions. I see MD simulations as "atomistic microscopes" that helps us visualize small systems on an atomistic scale based on our basic understanding of interactions between atoms and molecules. I enjoy showing movies of MD trajectories to people and sharing with them my results and findings. I always look forward to attending research conferences because I have the opportunity to meet other scientists and learn about their research. From there, I look for inspiration that I can apply to my own research, and possibly open up collaborations with them. Attending research conferences has also developed my interpersonal communication skills with people from different backgrounds, and helped me in keeping an open and critical mind when conducting research.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I would like to get a teaching postdoc position for a few years. Then, I'll go back in the Philippines and, hopefully, get a faculty position in one of the top universities. Or, I could also apply for a teaching position in a science high school. If everything else fails, I'll probably study music (majoring in Voice), or study law or medicine!

Please briefly describe your experience as a TA and the impact is has had on you.

I’ve enjoyed being a TA here in UConn, especially since I was able to TA for both the Chemistry and MCB department. It was challenging at first because coming from a Philippine education system, I had to adapt and change my teaching style based on the US education system. I was initially worried that the language barrier would be a big problem, but positive feedback from the students, the department, and the University inspired me to excel in teaching. Sometimes, just a simple and sincere "Thank you!" from a student brightens up my day and puts me in a good mood.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life?

For research, I set daily goals based on how busy my day will be and try to finish them all. Because I am conducting computational research, I do tasks that require focus in the lab and I do minor tasks at home. When my brain gets tired from thinking, I play a few games of Solitaire on my PC and get back to work after I win a number of times. On weekends, I go out with friends to travel and eat! I try to make sure that I have the energy and right mindset to conduct research everyday. I guess the most challenging part of my life here is writing papers while doing research. I still find it hard to focus on them at the same time, but hopefully, I'll find my groove!

Has a certain class had a significant impact on you?

Oh, definitely! Taking CHEM 5360 (Biochemistry I) under Dr. Jessica Rouge has been the most impactful class so far. Before coming to UConn, I did not like Biochemistry as much as I enjoyed Analytical Chemistry. Then, I joined Alfredo's and Eric's lab, which both focus on biochemistry-related research, so I ended up being in the Biochemistry Division. This required me to take CHEM 5360, and I remember being anxious during the first day, because I could not remember the majority of Biochemistry concepts. But, the way Dr. Rouge taught and handled the class helped me a lot in overcoming my "fear" of the field. I enjoyed taking her class, especially the part where we were required to write a research proposal as the final requirement. I believe that it has helped me in writing research articles and research proposals for my career.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Do not be afraid to try new things in research! Stepping out of your comfort zone is never an easy feeling, but it will definitely help you expand your capabilities as a scientist. Yes, your experiments will fail and you will redesign them a lot of times, but that is the essence of science, right? If you get tired, rest and prepare for the next day. Your health is more important than your work. Celebrate even the smallest achievements. Enjoy every result, may it be positive or negative. Talk to other graduate students, and I'm sure you'll get a lot more of good advice from them!

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Esraa Elsanadidy

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '20

Research Group: Rusling Group

Hometown: Egypt

Scholarships/Awards: iQ UConn Innovation Quest - Finalist for Entrepreneurs (2019), Accelerate UConn Fellowship (2018), Teaching Recognition Letter from UConn Provost (2018), Academic Excellence Award - Ministry of Higher Education of Egypt (2011), Tanta University Award - Highest GPA award for BSc. Students (2010)

Clubs/Activities: PLU Executive Board member - UConn

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

It took my dad a few minutes showing his little daughter a kitchen experiment of adding vinegar to baking soda and watching the bubbles to get me hooked to what seems to be the magic world of chemistry. My dad is a chemist and I inherited the love of chemistry from him. I pursued my undergraduate degree in biochemistry in Egypt studying both chemistry and biology before joining Rusling group where chemistry and biology meet at the surface of functional devices forming biosensors and bioelectronics.

Why/How did you choose your advisor/research group?

I was very interested in the technology perspective of the chemistry research. I wanted to learn how to use my basic understanding of chemistry to create functional devices that solve health problems. This was the basis of choosing Rusling group which is well known for creating interesting biosensors and bioelectronics.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

I enjoyed almost all the classes and it is hard to pick only one. I learned something new from every class which was not only from the course material itself but also from the professor teaching it. For example, in Advanced Organic Chemistry with Dr. Bailey, I saw organic chemistry from a new angle, I enjoyed the history that he provided behind the reaction discovery. Furthermore, the separation methods class with Dr. Yao, greatly encouraged the independency and creativity to get the best out of the students. In addition, In the teaching course with Dr. Selampinar and Dr. Peczuh, I have learned different teaching styles which made me more confident at teaching while trying different methods with different students for best teaching performance. 

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I have strong passion of translating my research into commercial products that could solve an unmet need for someone. I recently co-founded a start-up company named VoltxOn inc which translates the technology we produced in Dr. Rusling Lab to the market. I’m so excited to embark on this new challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing VoltxOn grow and have strong impact.

Please briefly describe your experience as a TA and the impact is has had on you. 

Before joining the program, I had the impression that teaching duties would be distraction of efforts away from research, but after 3 years of teaching, I believe that being a TA is one of the most wonderful things in the Ph.D. program. I enjoyed teaching so much, and the happiness that can be drawn on the students faces after fully understanding their material. I like connecting with my students, supporting them, and even advising them of their career steps. After my first semester of teaching, I was surprised to receive a recognition letter from the UConn provost for Excellence of teaching based on the student’s evaluations. That was a delightful moment which left a very positive impact on me.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life?

Being a mom of two children and a graduate student was kind of challenging in the beginning. However, I realized that it is all about disciplining my time wisely. There is no right formula for balancing my daytime. Some days, I have to work more to meet a deadline or preparing for an upcoming exam, while other days I spend more time with my family. In both kinds of days, I feel accomplished and satisfied. In my perspective, I deeply believe that time management is the key to accomplish the balance between my research, classes, teaching and my personal life.

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

I had some challenges. First, the language challenge. I did not pass the microteaching test the first time, but I overcame this challenge after my first semester, thanks to UCALI instructors and our amazing main stockroom manager, Charlene Fuller, who offered some of her lunchtimes to help me practice for my microteaching test. Second, I started grad school after spending six years off school. Consequently, I could not remember some of the material basics I studied back in college. This required me to study harder for my graduate courses at UConn which led to passing all the classes so far at UConn with straight A’s and even some courses with A+ 's. One of the wonderful things here at UConn is the appreciation of everyone’s efforts and the support that we receive from all the UConn chemistry community.

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Sventlana Gelpi-Dominguez

Svetlana Gelpí-Domínguez

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '20

Research Group: Gascón Group

Academic/Research Focus: Physical Chemistry/Computational Chemistry

Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Scholarships/Awards: Kinesis Foundation Scholarship, Bridge to the Doctorate LSAMP Fellowship, GEM Ph.D. Science Fellowship, Computational Chemistry and Materials Science Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Clubs/Activities: SACNAS at UConn, PLU, ACS, SIAM, KUBE Outreach, UConn Chemistry Summer Softball, CALAHE, UConn NSF REU Summer Activity Coordinator, Invited Judge at the 2015 McNair Symposium at Tufts University, ASEE NE 2016 Conference, 2017 Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, UConn SECRET

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

When I started my undergraduate career I thought I wanted to be a volcanologist. I was a geology major who discovered I was not being challenged enough by the material I was studying. I remember having to choose between taking general chemistry or biology as a science elective towards my major. I remember enjoying chemistry in high school so I chose chemistry. Once I got my hands on my course book “Chemistry: A Molecular Approach” by Nivaldo J. Tro I was hooked. I love how interdisciplinary chemistry is. My favorite courses as an undergraduate student were Quantum Chemistry and Modern Physics. Even though I had performed wet lab research in my undergraduate institution I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Computational Chemistry because it gives me the opportunity to revisit, question, and contribute to our knowledge of the fundamental principles that make chemistry.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

In 2013 I was a UConn NSF REU summer student in the Gascón group. During those ten weeks that I spent in his laboratory, he gave me the independence I needed to perform research but was always flexible and open to meet when I needed his guidance if I was stuck. His group members at the time were knowledgeable, patient, and eager to help me learn and explore. Another aspect that pulled me into the group was how involved Dr. Gascón is with the community. During my summer here I was able to help with the outreach activity School of Exploratory Chemistry Research Experience & Training (SECRET). After the summer experience, Dr. Gascón was always available to help me with career advice. All of these variables plus others was what convinced me that I wanted to be in his group.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

I have had two favorite classes. The first one was Quantum Chemistry, taught by Dr. Gascón. The second one was Density Functional Theory taught by Dr. Ramprasad. These classes taught me the history, development, and the nuts and bolts behind Computational Chemistry. These professors passion and enthusiasm was also a big factor into why they were enjoyable classes.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I was once told by one of my mentors that I should be flexible when it comes time to apply for jobs. I have had many people in my life who have constantly tried to push me away from the tenure track. While I was being pushed away I found the national laboratory system in the United States and connected with most of their missions. Although I have no secure plans I would like to focus on research that involves making our nation a safer place.

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

I was invited to work with the Biophysical and Biochemical Systems group in the 2017 Computational Chemistry and Materials Science summer institute at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. When I came into the internship I was feeling insecure about myself as a scientist. I thought that I was not fully prepared to represent UConn’s Chemistry Department. This internship taught me that I was prepared and also what is in store for someone in my field after acquiring a degree in computational chemistry. The national laboratory system is filled with highly motivated and enthusiastic people working towards a common goal. It is similar to industry in which you are given a budget and deadlines. It is similar to academia in which there are groups focused on working towards understanding fundamental scientific phenomena—you are constantly learning and applying knowledge. This internship gave me the motivation and confidence I needed to continue confidently in my career.

What has been your best/most influential UConn experience so far?

My most influential experience at UConn was when I took a required pedagogy course for chemistry teaching assistants. I have never been a big fan of public speaking and knowing that I had to teach and be in control of discussion anywhere from 50 minutes to 3 hours terrified me. This course introduced me to people who were passionate about teaching, how to deal with difficult situations in the classroom, and helped me create a support system here at UConn. After having taken the course I am still learning new techniques but I still ask my support system for advice.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

  1. Find a support group. I came from an island in the Caribbean where Spanish was the main language. The best thing about the chemistry department is the diversity of people inside of it. Find people you can relate to during work and after.
  2. Do not be scared to ask questions. I work in an interdisciplinary field and I do not pretend to know every aspect about chemistry. The professors and graduate students in our department are very approachable and open to answering questions people might have even if it is not directly related to their research.
  3. Get involved in outreach. I love seeing people who are genuinely excited and curious about science. Besides exposing people to STEM it also helps you practice your presentation skills.
  4. Join groups on campus. This is a big one. I joined the Graduate Student Senate my first and second year of graduate school. Besides there being free food (pizza, salad, and boneless wings) you were up to date with graduate student issues and concerns, and you met people from other degrees other than the hard sciences.
  5. Have a hobby. My hobbies range from taking pottery classes weekly to visiting breweries all around Connecticut (I have a map of all of the breweries in Connecticut if you are interested). This has helped me release any stress I have and has helped me meet new people in Connecticut.

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Jessica Martin

Jessica Martin

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '21

Research Group: Pinkhassik Group

Academic/Research Focus: Biological Chemistry

Hometown: Garden Grove, CA

Scholarships/Awards: 2018 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (3-year stipend)

Clubs/Activites: Graduate Student Career Council, Skype a Scientist, Graduate Student Advisory Council, Stall Street Journal Contributor

 

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

Advances in microscopy and chemical manipulation enable us to better understand the world around us and open up opportunities to solve complex problems we have never been able to solve before.  It is an exciting time to take on the age-old challenges of energy and food production, and basic survival.

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

When I initially joined the program, I had no idea who I wanted to be my research advisor.  Through serendipity (and perhaps a bit of networking wisdom from my department chair, Dr. Nina Barcenas at Heritage University), I ended up with an excellent research advisor during my undergraduate years.  Not only was he an astute and experienced scientist, he had a personality that worked with mine very well.  When I was talking to the scientists in the Department of Chemistry, personality trumped the science.  I wanted to make sure that I found an advisor who was prepared to support me in an effective way, and who was also prepared to be honest with me in a constructive way.  Finally, I was seeking lab mates who saw the value in helping one another succeed.  I found all of this with Dr. Pinkhassik and the Pinkhassik Lab.  Now that I am 2 years in, I think I made a good choice, and I anticipate a great deal of success in the future.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

My favorite class has been MCB 5002 - 001L Biochemistry Laboratory.  I have been disappointed by how few graduate level courses are laboratory-based.  While my high GPA is a testament to how well I can read and regurgitate information, I don’t truly learn something until I actually do it.  I chose chemistry because I enjoy benchwork, and the class I gained the most demonstrable value out of here at UConn is the one laboratory-based class I was able to take.  It is also a great deal more engaging (and, dare I say it, fun) applying theory and analysis to the data that you have generated yourself.

Please briefly describe your research experience and the impact is has had on you.

After my first year studying chemistry as an undergraduate, I was awarded a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) opportunity in the lab of Dr. Stephen F. Garczynski in the Yakima Agricultural Research Laboratory of the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA.  After this 10-week NSF-REU project, Dr. Garczynski hired me as a Biological Laboratory Technician to continue work on projects.  In the 3 1/2 years I spent in his research lab, I received excellent mentorship from Dr. Garczynski, as well as others, I was involved in exciting, cutting-edge research work in insect genetics, and this work culminated in 2 research publications in peer-reviewed journals of which I am very proud.  Working in his lab convinced me that I had made the right decision in returning to school to switch careers.

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

Last summer (2017), I was invited to Jena Bioscience in Jena, Germany for a 12-week internship funded by the DAAD of Germany.  I enjoyed this experience immensely, both because of the opportunity to live in another country for a period, and also because of how inspiring it was to work with Dr. Barbara Zschornig and the Jena Bioscience team. The product I did the preliminary work on at this time is expected to be launched commercially in the next few months. This is both exciting and quite gratifying.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life?

Time-management and learning to prioritize are essential.  It is also important to stay attuned to the opportunities that present themselves, and apply for everything that you want.  When someone tells you that winning a certain thing is highly competitive, remember that they have to give it to somebody, and you cannot be that person unless you apply!  I have certainly been through periods in the last 2 years when I have been letting someone (or two or three) down in some realm of my life.  Quite frankly, this is inevitable.  However, if you keep your priorities straight, and do your best to adequately maintain everything else, you will find your way through the woods.  That’s not just graduate school — that’s life!

What advice would you give to incoming students?

It is important to know why you are doing what you are doing.  Sacrifices are far easier to manage when you have your eyes on a prize you actually want.  Also, as you make choices about advisors, activities, and scheduling, it is important to be in tune with who you are and how you best succeed.  Then you are far more capable of recruiting people around you to help you be successful.  Finally, never forget that nothing happens in isolation.  Teams are pivotal to success.  Choose yours wisely and nurture it.

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Jyoti Nandi

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '20

Research Group: Leadbeater Group

Academic/Research Focus: Organic Chemistry

Hometown: Kolkata, India

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

My experience as a student researcher during my undergraduate program motivated me to pursue a graduate degree and nurture my knowledge of organic chemistry. 

Why/how did you choose your advisor/research group?

The first step was to identify the research groups that aligned with my research interest, followed by meeting with the professors and the senior graduate students. After that, I worked in the lab for a few days to experience the lab atmosphere before making the final decision. 

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I am planning to undergo postdoctoral research training and eventually transition to an R&D position in an industry.

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

I have been a TA for several undergraduate courses including General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Advanced Organic Chemistry. I have enjoyed motivating students and helping them understand the fundamentals of chemistry. This experience has helped me to develop my communication and public speaking skills.

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

My internship at Boehringer Ingelheim has strengthened my ability to think out of the box to tackle challenging problems. I have gained hands-on experience in the state-of-the-art techniques used in the pharmaceutical industry. 

What is your favorite place on campus and why?

UConn Dairy Bar. It is the best place in the school to relax and enjoy delicious ice cream in front of the beautiful Horse Barn Hill. 

What advice would you give to incoming students?

UConn provides various facilities such as Library, Center for Career Development, Student Recreation Facility, among others. Make good use of these resources for your all-round development.  Always stay focused, organized, and manage time effectively to get things done and enjoy your time at UConn.

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Louis Pascal Riel

Louis Pascal Riel

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '21

Research Group: Howell/Yao Group

Academic/Research Focus: Organic/Bioanalytical (MS-Proteomics)

Hometown: Tucson, AZ

Clubs/Activities: Graduate Student Advisory Committee & UConn Outdoor Recreation

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

I enjoy organic chemistry as I imagine it as a never ending puzzle composed of sub puzzles that might be solved but the entirety of it which cannot. Furthermore, seeing students have that “Eureka” moment where they suddenly see/comprehend the molecular architecture is immensely pleasing.

Why did you choose UConn?

It’s a matter of lineage, really. At my undergraduate institution, I was taught introductory organic chemistry by professor Lisa Dollinger (a product of the Howell group), her enjoyment of Organic Chem was contagious and instilled a similarity in me. Doing some post-baccalaureate work to bolster my candidacy for graduate school, I worked for professor Nooshin Hashemzadeh (another Howell group product). She suggested UConn and after visiting the campus and meeting faculty, I was sold!

How did you choose your advisor/research group?

Organic chemistry is my passion, and something I wish to pursue in my future career, but the bioanalytical skills I will acquire in the Yao group working on MS-based proteomic experiments leaves me with a vast skill set that I believe will be of use in the competitive job market that I will be in come graduation.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

It’s hard to bring one to the forefront, as they have all been useful/thought-provoking. Separation methods dealing with HPLC and GC was taught well by Dr. Yao and provided a good mixture of the theory and practicality that is necessary in crafting a good chromatographic protocol. Organic Reactions provided me both a good refresher and increase to the repertoire of organic reactions I know, Dr. Howell taught this course. Perhaps my favorite course so far has been Organic Synthesis which dealt primarily with total synthesis. Dr. Peczuh taught this course, it was a delightful mixture of class discussion and presentation where we started to grasp the level of minutiae necessary for a successful total synthesis campaign.

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I’m drawn to academia for the relative freedom it affords one, so I either see myself pursuing a research position or a teaching position or a mixture of both. Or I might open a food truck selling French Macarons (Sweet Louis’), the future is muddled.

Please briefly describe your experience as a TA and the impact is has had on you.

TAing for Dr. William Bailey is a daily enjoyment. The anecdotes and apocryphal stories he sprinkles throughout his honor Organic Chemistry lectures are enjoyment entire. An example being Vladimir Prelog, of Kahn Ingold Prelog fame, being an active-noncombatant moments before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the catalyst of WWI. I try and track these stories, and the good methods to teach organic for use in my potential future role as a teacher.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life?

I make sure to exercise occasionally, eat moderately well, and do things outside of chemistry such as kayaking/ice skating or reading Sci Fi novels.

What is your favorite memory of UConn?

Being from an arid desert, I take immense pleasure in the snow/winter weather. A day after the last big blizzard, a contingent of the chemistry graduate students went sledding at Horsebarn Hill, a large mound that is perhaps a 15 minute walk away. This was a rosy experience and students, both domestic and international enjoyed taking part.

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Mark Neil Q. Tolentino

Expected Graduation: Ph.D. '21

Research Group: Rouge Research Group

Academic/Research Focus: Biological Chemistry

Hometown: Bataan, Philippines

Scholarships/Awards: Bobbit-Chou Summer Fellowship

Clubs/Activites: Reading non-fiction novels, watching TV series and movies

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Chemistry?

I want to pursue a career in pharmaceutical science so that I can contribute in discovering cures and in addressing diseases that negatively impact society.

Why did you choose UConn? 

UConn is a very research-oriented University and it’s Chemistry department has a strong materials chemistry program which I was initially interested in.

Why/how did you choose your advisor/research group? 

I wanted to switch from materials chemistry to biological chemistry, and I looked for a research group that could offer me a multidisciplinary research experience and at the same time, have projects that could be clinically translated.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far? 

Biological Chemistry I has been my favorite class so far, because it greatly helped me to solidify and expand my knowledge in biological chemistry by allowing me to read a lot of journals and writing critiques.

What are your plans after you secure your degree? 

I have two options in my mind: first, apply for a post-doctoral position in a prominent research institution (i.e. Broad Institute, the Scripps Research Institute) or second, get a scientist position in a pharmaceutical industry which focuses on developing a more effective and targeted drug delivery.

How have you learned to balance the graduate student life? 

You have to be mentally tough and have a clear mindset every day. Focus on the goals you have to achieve and be easy on yourself when things don’t go the way you want it. Also, effective time management is important.

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

First, coming from a very far country, I had to battle homesickness for the first few months. But once I got used to the routines and demands of the graduate school, I slowly recovered from it. Second, there will be a lot of times that you will be disappointed and frustrated with yourself because your experiments are not going the way you wanted them to be. But you have to keep moving forward, don’t give up on looking for possible mistakes, learn from the past errors and work smarter next time. You also have to accept your failures. Own and grow from them. 

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