Give a brief description of your work. What do you find most interesting about it? What would you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?
Class of 2000
My work has been very interdisciplinary—I get to make peptides, grow
cells (from bacteria and yeast to mammalian cancer cell models),
analyze proteins with molecular biology and mass spectrometry, design
and develop kinase enzyme assays and play around with all kinds of
exciting mass spectrometers. My research has been incredibly fun, and
my greatest professional achievement has been the growth of my
confidence in my abilities and insights, and my communication skills
for explaining those insights to other people. This is what really made
it possible for me to develop my own ideas for research directions and
go for a faculty position—skills and knowledge are essential, but
feeling sure of yourself and being ready to tell the story of your
science to anyone, anytime is what makes the difference when it comes
to becoming an independent scientist. I’m proud of how I have
professionally developed to where I am ready to do that.What did you need to do after graduating from St.Thomas to prepare you for your career?
I graduated from St. Thomas with a B.A. in chemistry in 2000. I went
from there to graduate school at the University of Glasgow in Scotland,
working on synthesizing anti-cancer drugs, and got my Ph.D. in organic
synthetic chemistry in 2003. For the last ~five years I have been doing
post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago in chemical biology
and proteomics with two mentors: Steve Kent (a synthetic peptide and
protein chemist) and Steve Kron (a yeast and signaling biologist with
proteomics interests). I am starting a tenure-track assistant professor
position at Purdue University this fall, in the Department of Medicinal
Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology.What parts of your St. Thomas education do you look back on as most helpful in preparing you for your career?
These were things that came with the process of going through graduate school and working as a post-doc for many years, they don’t come from how hard you study or what grades you get (although those things ARE important!). My experience at St. Thomas prepared me to do this through excellent teaching, valuable research experience and nearly unconditional support and enthusiasm for students that the faculty gave us. Dr. Ippoliti in particular gave me a research environment where I was free to learn and try anything I wanted to, and where making chemical compunds was fun, success was exciting, and synthesis failures turned into intriguing chemistry problems to solve. One of the most important things I learned was the importance of paying attention to details and always trying to figure out the mechanism for whatever results I saw, whether good or bad. Those habits apply to all branches of science—no matter if you are doing synthesis, or analytical work, biology, or trying to use a mass spectrometer, never take “I don’t know” for an answer. Don’t let anything you do be a black box: try to get to the bottom of it and understand what is going on inside (inside the cell, inside the reaction, inside the machine) and you’ll always put yourself in a position to solve the problem.