Nicole L. Snyder
Professor of Chemistry and Assistant Dean for Research and Creative Works
Not everyone’s path is linear, and sometimes it is the short stops and deviations along the way that make everything more interesting.
Additional degrees & licenses received
Working on MPH in Applied Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
What is your current (or most recent) job, what does a typical day look like, and how did UConn prepare you for this role?
I am currently a Professor of Chemistry at Davidson College in NC. I also serve as an Assistant Dean for Research and Creative Works. At Davidson, my primary responsibilities include teaching Introductory Organic Chemistry with lab, Experimental Organic Chemistry with lab and advanced topics courses in Immunology, Pharmacology and Advanced Organic Chemistry. I have also taught Introductory Biochemistry with lab. This past spring, I was awarded the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award at Davidson.
In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I am the principal investigator of a federally and privately funded research program that focuses on synthesizing glycoconjugates for studying bio-preservation, cancer, and host-pathogen engagement. I believe that research benefits the most from strong interdisciplinary collaborations and as such I have built collaborations with other investigators here in the U.S. and around the globe. In 2000, I received a Research Corporation Cottrell College Scholar Award for my work.
Finally, in my role as Assistant Dean for Research and Creative Works, I help students and faculty find funds to support their research and creative projects. On a day-to-day basis, I can be found in the classroom for 1-2 hours, in the lab for 1-2 hours, and grading and participating in many different activities related to my ongoing work. I am also the beneficiary of an NSF-IRES program that allows me to take several students to Germany each year to work with our German collaborators in the Group of Prof. Dr. Laura Hartmann at HHU in Düsseldorf.
Tell us about your experience as a Chemistry student at UConn.
I credit my success as a Chemistry student at UCONN to two very patient and caring faculty: Prof. Mark W. Peczuh and Prof. Amy R. Howell. Without them, I would not be where I am today.
I began my UCONN career in 2000, and although I had earned good grades as an undergraduate, I joined the program with a significant number of holes that were revealed in my very first semester in the program. My mother has only a high school education, and my father holds a degree in industrial arts (wood working, electrical etc.). As the first person to pursue this path, I struggled a lot. I was not used to asking for help and I carried a bit of a chip on my shoulder that was blinding my ability to see the opportunities that were right in front of me. It probably would have been easier to let me leave the program, but Dr. Howell would not give up on me. She held me responsible for my own education, but she also understood my challenges and she spent a significant amount of her own time with me over the winter break in my first year helping learn the material I would need to succeed in the program. She taught me organic chemistry, but she also taught me that you do not give up on your students, which is a lesson I carry with me into every class I teach. If you’re in the room, you have the potential to succeed. Sometimes, some students just need a little extra support.
I had also started the laboratory portion of my work at UCONN in Prof. Gary Epling’s lab. Prof. Epling was Department Chair at the time and was doing some interesting photochemistry work with Merck. Unfortunately, he passed away in my second year at UConn and I needed to find another advisor. Dr. Peczuh had just joined the faculty and graciously accepted me into his synthetic lab despite knowing the struggles I had in my first year. As a new faculty member, he understood the importance of building a strong team of scientists to ensure the success of his ideas. I was a bit of a wild card, but he saw the potential in me, and he took a chance on me. He then worked side-by-side with me for almost a year to help me learn the skills I would need to succeed from learning how to work the rotary evaporator (I had never seen one in my life prior to graduate school), to proper canula techniques for adding nBuLi to a reaction. I learned my lab skills from the best and his mentorship inspired me to use the same approach in my own lab, where I can often be found every semester working side by side with my own students, many of whom are also learning how to use the rotavapor for the first time.
Can you tell us about your experience post-graduation?
My plans were disrupted when my husband Christopher Lee (Navy SEAL and B.A. History, UCONN ’06) was recalled in 2004 to participate Operation Iraqi Freedom. I needed to stay local so he could return and finish his degree. I was lucky enough to secure a two-year position as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Wellesley College (MA) from 2005-2007 which allowed me to get my start as a faculty member at predominantly undergraduate institution (PUI). After two years at Wellesley, I accepted a tenure track position as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Hamilton College (NY). I spent five years there (along with a pre-tenure sabbatical in the laboratory of Professor Peter Seeberger) from 2007-2012 before I accepted an accelerated tenure track position at Davidson College (NC) where I am currently located. I received tenure at Davidson in 2015 and became a full Professor in 2020. I have been a Wildcat for nearly ten years!
What is one piece of advice that you would give to current students?
You will get out of your degree what you put into your degree. There really is no substitute for commitment, hard work and dedication. But remember that you are not alone. The faculty and your fellow students are there to help you, now and ten years from now.
What is one thing you wish you would have known as a graduate student that would have helped you?
Do not be afraid to take risks, even if it means you might fail. Some of the biggest lessons I have learned came through the chances I took. Sometimes they paid off and sometimes they did not. But even the ones that set me back still helped me become who I am today. Not everyone’s path is linear, and sometimes it is the short stops and deviations along the way that make everything more interesting.